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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

Denver Man Shot, Killed in Undercover Drug Operation

A Denver man was shot and killed during an undercover drug investigation last Wednesday afternoon. Joseph Valverde, 32, becomes the 24th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Denver Post, citing Denver Police Chief Robert White, Valverde was shot and killed in the parking lot of Overland Pond Park. White said that when uniformed Denver police officers arrived to arrest Valverde, he pulled a gun. An officer then opened fire, striking Valverde.

White said Valverde threatened officers, but did not fire his weapon. He was pronounced dead later at a local hospital.

Denver 9 News, which first named the victim, reported that Valverde was shot by a SWAT team member, that police sources said the bust involved "a significant amount of cocaine" and that "law enforcement believed the suspect was very violent and dangerous."

In a separate story, Denver 9 News reported that Valverde had prior convictions for drug possession, assault, weapons charges, and criminal mischief.

Denver, CO
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 3, 2014

The Afghan poppy trade is spilling over into Central Asia, legal marijuana goes on sale in Washington state on Tuesday, Georgia holds off on welfare drug testing, a California sentencing reform bill is now one vote away from passage, and more. Let's get to it:

Central Asian countries are getting in on the Afghan drug trade, according to a new report. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Retail Marijuana Sales Begin at Noon Tuesday in Seattle. The first legal retail marijuana sale in Seattle will take place at noon Tuesday, the owner of Cannabis City says. But the first pot sold legally in Washington state may actually be purchased in Bellingham, where Top Shelf Cannabis says it will be open at 8:00am.

DC Mayor Calls for 4th of July Boycott of Maryland Shore to Protest Congressman's Move to Mess With City's Decriminalization Law. DC Mayor Vincent Gray (D) is joining DC activists in calling for city residents to not spend their holiday weekends in Ocean City or St. Michaels, Maryland. That's the area represented in Congress by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), who authored a successful amendment to a House budget bill that would effectively overturn the District's decriminalization law. DC residents who want to enjoy the beach should instead go to Rehoboth Beach, DE, or Chincoteague Island, VA, instead, Gray suggested.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Governor Signs Limited Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Law. Gov. Pat McCrory (R) has signed into law a bill that will allow people suffering from certain epilepsy conditions to use cannabis extracts containing less than 0.3% THC and more than 10% CBD. But only neurologists in a pilot study may recommend it.

Drug Testing

Georgia Governor Holds Off Welfare Drug Testing. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) has announced that even though a new law to drug test welfare recipients went into effect Tuesday, he will delay implementing it until a federal appeals court rules on a similar Florida law. But the Florida law mandates suspicionless mandatory drug testing, while Georgia's law, House Bill 772, only requires drug testing upon suspicion of drug use, so some critics are wondering if something else is at play. The Georgia law also had a food stamp applicant drug testing provision, but that part has already been nullified by the US Department of Agriculture, which runs the food stamp program.

Sentencing

California Fair Sentencing Act Wins Final Assembly Committee Vote. The California Fair Sentencing Act (Senate Bill 1010) was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on a 12-3 vote Wednesday and now heads for an Assembly floor vote. Sponsored by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), the bill would correct the sentencing and other disparities between crack and powder cocaine. The bill has already been approved by the Senate.

Law Enforcement

US Indicts Three Peruvian Shining Path Leaders on Drug, Terrorism Charges. Three leaders of the Peruvian Shining Path guerrilla group have been indicted in New York on drugs, weapons, and terrorism charges. They are accused of cocaine trafficking and committing terrorist acts against Peruvian -- not American -- civilians and military personnel. They are Florindo Flores Hala, also known as Comrade Artemio, and Victor and Jorge Quispe Palomino. Flores Hala is in custody, but the Quispe Palomino brothers are not. Among other things, they are charged with providing material support to a terrorist organization, i.e. themselves.

ACLU Sues Massachusetts SWAT Teams for Refusing to Release Public Records. The ACLU of Massachusetts has filed a lawsuit against SWAT teams in the state after they refused to release records sought in a freedom of information request. The SWAT teams are making the novel legal argument that they are not required to comply because the law enforcement councils that operate them are not public entities, but private, not-for-profit groups. Click on the link for a lengthy article on the issue.

International

Afghanistan's Central Asian Neighbors Complicit in Drug Trade, Report Says. About the only substantive cooperation between Afghanistan and its Central Asian neighbors comes in turning a blind eye to the opium and heroin trade, according to a new report from Afghanistan Analysts. The report is Between Cooperation and Insulation: Afghanistan'sa Relations With the Central Asian Republics.

Chronicle AM -- July 1, 2014

July 1 sees new drug-related laws and regulations going into effect in various places, a University of Arizona researcher falls victim to anti-medical marijuana politics, Massachusetts is cracking down on caregivers, Ohio activists give up on a medical marijuana (and hemp) initiative this year, and more. Let's get to it:

Legal marijuana purchaser eyes the products on offer. (Sandra Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Marijuana Legalization Enters New, Expansive Phase. As of today, any state resident can apply to open a marijuana retail outlet in Colorado. Until now, only owners of already existing medical marijuana dispensaries could apply. It is expected that this new phase of the state's marijuana legalization experience will add hundreds of new marijuana-related businesses in the state.

Berkley, Michigan, Decriminalization Petitioners Hand in Signatures Today. Campaigners for a municipal decriminalization initiative in Berkley plan to turn in 700 signatures today. Berkley is one of about 20 Michigan towns where Safer Michigan is working to get similar initiatives on the ballot for either the August or November elections. Local ordinances that ease penalties for possessing marijuna already are on the books in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Ferndale, Flint, Grand Rapids, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Lansing and Ypsilanti.

Medical Marijuana

University of Arizona Fires Medical Marijuana Researcher. The University of Arizona has abruptly fired Dr. Suzanne Sisley, who months earlier had received approval from the federal government to study the effects of medical marijuana on people suffering from PTSD. Now, her research is in jeopardy, and she is blaming state legislators who threatened university funding after her research plans made the news. "This is a clear political retaliation for the advocacy and education I have been providing the public and lawmakers," Sisley said. "I pulled all my evaluations and this is not about my job performance."

Massachusetts Crackdown on Caregivers. The state Department of Public Health has sent letters to more than 1,300 patients and 17 caregivers warning that state regulations bar caregivers from selling marijuana to more than one patient. Caregivers are the only legal avenue for patients to buy medical marijuana until dispensaries open, and that won't happen until November at the earliest. The move has forced Bill Downing, the operator of Yankee Care Givers, which supplies an estimated 1,000 patients to quit selling medical marijuana. He is urging patients to join him in a lawsuit challenging the state's interpretation of the law. "DPH is more concerned with their regulations than they are with the well-being of the citizens of Massachusetts," Downing said.

Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Laws Go into Effect in Iowa, Utah. At least two of the states that passed limited, low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana laws this year see those laws go into effect today. Those states are Iowa and Utah. It is unclear what impact those laws will have or how many people they will help.

Vermont Medical Marijuana Improvements Go into Effect Today. A medical marijuana improvement bill, Senate Bill 247, goes into effect today. The new law eliminates the cap of 1,000 patients who may access dispensaries, allows naturopaths to certify patients, and allows dispensaries to deliver marijuana to patients. It also authorizes a study of whether PTSD should be added as a qualifying condition.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative Gives Up on 2014. Medical marijuana won't be on the ballot in the Buckeye State this year. The campaign by the Ohio Rights Group needed 385,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot this year, but had only 100,000. The good news is that those gathered signatures are still good in future years and can supply a starting point for a new campaign down the road. The initiative would also have legalized hemp production.

Drug Testing

Tennessee Food Stamp Drug Testing Law Goes into Effect. A law passed in 2012 that mandates drug testing for food stamp applicants if state workers have reason to believe they are using drugs goes into effect today. The ACLU of Tennessee is not happy: "This law singles out limited-income people and requires them to submit to humiliating and intrusive searches of their bodily fluids because they need temporary help making ends meet," said Hedy Weinberg, state director for the ACLU. "Research indicates that TANF recipients are no more likely to use illicit drugs than farmers, veterans, and students, who also receive government support. ACLU-TN wants to hear from any potential TANF recipients who do not want to submit to the required drug testing." The ACLU of Tennessee also has a web page for those who need help dealing with the law.

Sentencing

Rep. Keith Ellison is Latest Cosponsor of Smarter Sentencing Act. The Smarter Sentencing Act (House Resolution 3382) has picked up another cosponsor, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN). The measure now has 42 cosponsors -- 28 Democrats and 14 Republicans. The bill remains stuck in the House Judiciary Committee, where it has been sitting since October.

International

Mexican Soldiers Kill 22 Cartel Members in Michoacan Confrontation. The Mexican Army reported that it killed 22 members of the La Familia Michoacana cartel after soldiers on patrol in Tlatlaya, Michoacan, came under fire from cartel gunmen.

Another Mexican Town Tries to Ban Narcocorridos. Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, in northwest Mexico has banned the playing or performing of narcocorridos, the border ballads that glorify drug traffickers and recount their adventures. The ban follows the killing in the city of a narcocorrido singer from Phoenix, Tomas Tovar Rascon. But more than a year ago, the Mexican Supreme Court overturned a similar ban in the state of Sinaloa, so it is unlikely this ban could withstand a legal challenge -- if anyone brings one.

Chronicle AM -- June 27, 2014

Things are looking good after legalization in Colorado, a medical marijuana bill moves in Pennsylvania, food stamp drug testing is on hold in Mississippi, hash battles break out in Libya, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DPA Issues Report on Six Months of Legal Marijuana Sales in Colorado. Crime is down, tax revenues are up, and the marijuana industry is generating thousands of new jobs in Colorado, according to a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance. The report is Status Report: Marijuana Regulation in Colorado After Six Months of Retail Sales and 18 Months of Decriminalization.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Senate Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Law and Justice Committee voted unanimously yesterday to approve Senate Bill 1182, which would allow qualified patients to obtain marijuana through dispensaries, but not grow their own. Neither could patients smoke their medicine, but they could use edibles or vaporize it. Now, the bill is on to the Appropriations Committee and, if it passes there, a Senate floor vote. Companion legislation in the House has yet to move.

Tulsa Medical Marijuana Petitioners Say Tulsa Cops Backed Off After They Went Public. Signature-gatherers for the Oklahomans for Health medical marijuana initiative report they are no longer being harassed by Tulsa Police after they went public with their complaints. Police had, on several occasions, stopped and investigated petitioners, at least twice after purportedly receiving complaints they were selling or smoking marijuana. The group hasn't had any formal response from Tulsa Police or city officials, but they are no longer being harassed, they said.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Food Stamp Drug Testing Implementation Delayed. A Mississippi law approved this year that would require food stamp applicants to be subject to drug testing is being delayed. It was supposed to go into effect July 1, but will be held up pending a public hearing set for July 22. The delay comes thanks to ACLU of Mississippi and the Mississippi Center for Justice, which challenged the start-up on grounds that it violated the state's administrative procedures law.

Methamphetamine

Michigan Governor Signs Package of Meth Bills. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) Thursday signed into law three bills increasing the criminalization of methamphetamine users and producers. One makes it a crime to purchase pseudoephedrine knowing it will be used to make meth, another makes it a crime to solicit someone else to do so, and the third specifies that the second mandates a 10-year prison sentence. Click on the link for more bill details.

International

Are the Latin American Drug Cartels on the Wane? Council on Hemispheric Affairs analyst Claudia Barrett has penned a provocative analysis suggesting the era of the cartels may be coming to an end. The piece is The Breakdown of Cartel Culture -- An Analysis.

Reductions in Coca Cultivation Don't Necessarily Mean Less Cocaine. The Global Post has a think piece on the reported decline in coca production and why it doesn't necessarily mean cocaine supplies are decreasing. Click on the link to read it.

Libya Hash Bust Sparks Deadly Battle. A hash bust in Benghazi last Saturday erupted into a pitched battle when armed gunmen attacked government forces who were destroying a major stash of hash seized from a cargo ship. At least seven people were reported killed. Government officials accused Al Qaeda of being involved.

Tunisia Will Reform Its Drug Laws. Tunisia is going to revamp its drug laws, a vestige of the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali dictatorship. The North African country has some 25,000 people in prison for drug offenses. Current laws don't differentiate between hard and soft drugs and require mandatory minimum prison sentences for any drug offense. A commission is expected to submit to parliament this summer an amended law that does away with the mandatory sentences of one-to-five years for drug possession.

New Zealand Poll Has Majority for Marijuana Reform. A majority of New Zealanders polled in a recent survey support reforming the country's marijuana laws. The New Zealand Herald-DigiPoll had 32% supported decriminalization and another 22% wanting it completely legalized, while 45% were opposed to any reform. Even among members of the ruling National Party, which opposes reform, 45% supported decrim or legalization.

Worldwide Protests Set for UN Anti-Drugs Day This Thursday [FEATURE]

This Thursday, June 26, is the United Nations' International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, which has been used by many governments to justify harsh crackdowns and promote harsh punishments, including exemplary executions. This year, activists around the world will hold their own demonstrations calling not for war more drug war, but for less.

While most UN anti-drug events are fairly anodyne -- last year's highlights include a "sharing best practices" seminar in Vienna and the release of the annual World Drugs Report -- other activities associated with the day are downright gruesome. In 2008, Indonesia marked the day by resuming drug executions; in 2009, China celebrated it by executing 20 people, and last year, China got a jump on events by executing six people in the run-up to anti-drug day.

Civil society is saying "enough." In more than 80 cities across the globe, activists gathering under the banner "Support, Don't Punish: Global Day of Action" will be taking to the streets to protest against policies that have led to mass incarceration, the exacerbation of health crises, and the prospering of violent criminal drug trafficking organizations. Instead, "Support, Don't Punish" will call for a more effective and humane approach to the drug issue, one based on public health, harm reduction, and human rights.

While the global drug war is estimated to cost $100 billion a year -- with unclear impact for reducing harms related to substance abuse -- "Support, Don't Punish" calls for investments in proven, cost-effective harm reduction responses for people who use drugs, and for the decriminalization of people who use drugs and the removal of other laws that impede public health services.

The campaign is truly global, with the endorsement of more than 150 organizations, including not only well-known groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance and the International Drug Policy Consortium, but also local, regional, and national groups from every continent except Antarctica.

Mass demonstrations and other actions are planned in London, New York, Paris, Warsaw, Mexico City, Kathmandu, Rome, Phnom Penh, Tbilisi, Kuala Lumpur, Moscow and more than 70 other cities. The actions include peaceful demonstrations, street performances, public meetings and workshops, social media campaigns and advertisements on public transportation and billboards.

A trio of activists in different cities around the globe contacted by the Chronicle provide a hint of what to expect.

"In London, we will be holding a demonstration outside Parliament to highlight the failure of the war on drugs and calling on the UK government to end the criminalization of people who use drugs under the 'Support Don't Punish' banner," said Niamh Eastwood, executive director of the British drug NGO Release, which is organizing the London event. "Additionally, we will be writing to the Prime Minister asking for reform of national policy and asking that the British government commit to meaningful engagement in the international discussions leading to the UN drugs summit in New York in 2016 allowing for discussion of alternatives to prohibition."

"In Mexico City, we have created a microsite that summarizes the ten reasons why every Mexican should be involved and interested in drug policy reform," said Adam Barra, program officer for the youth-oriented organization Espolea. "The site includes video capsules of public figures, as well as info graphics that present the most relevant information to form one's own opinion on drug policy. Lastly, the site includes the support of over 20 national organizations from various sectors of society and diverse thematic focuses," Barra added.

"The site will be launched on June 26, as Bee Open Space in Mexico City, and will be followed by a panel with renowned experts on the subject who will make a balance of the punitive versus the health approaches currently used in Mexico," he continued. "After the panel, guests will be invited to watch a screening of the documentary The House I Live In. We expect 50 people be present at the launching, but we expect half a million unique visits to the site over the next month."

"In Katmandu, we will convene a national symposium, as well as demonstrations and marches here and in five other Nepalese cities, said Anan Pun, founder of the Nepalese Coalition for Health, Human Rights, and Harm Reduction (Coalition H3). "We will be doing awareness-raising and media outreach, as well as building the leadership and advocacy skills of various actors, including media, civil society and community groups, and their networks."

While "Support, Don't Punish" protestors around the planet will be united in calling for reform of the UN drug control system -- the legal backbone of global drug prohibition -- each country has its own particular issues, and the campaign will be addressing those as well.

"We will be highlighting the damage caused by our drug laws at a national level," said Release's Eastwood. "In particular, the fact that drug policing disproportionately targets the Black and Asian communities, with black people being six times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs than white people, and Asian people twice as likely to be searched. This is despite the fact that both groups use drugs at a lower rate than the white population. This is driving the racial disparity that exists in the criminal justice System in England and Wales," he explained.

"Our drug laws allow for the mass searching of certain communities. In London, for example, drugs searches make up 60% of all stop and searches. Despite being given ample opportunity to reform their practices the police have not been able to address racial disproportionately and we believe real change can only be achieved by reforming the laws and in the first instance ending criminal sanctions for possession of drugs," Eastwood explained.

"Mexico is one of the countries that has taken the war to its last consequences," said Espolea's Barra. "Official figures report over 60,000 deaths and 20,000 disappeared people in the period 2006-2012. In Mexico, only 1.8% of the population reported using drugs in the last year, yet we are seeing an average of 15,000 killings a year because of our drug policies. Former President Felipe Calderon addressed the UN and joined other countries in the region in calling for al revision of the global drug war consensus, and now we await the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs. It is crucial that Mexico improves its drug policy before then."

"In Nepal, we are urging all stakeholders, including the government, policymakers, and parliamentarians to make policy based on science and evidence -- fostering human rights, health and well-being of mankind rather than on total elimination of drugs from the world," said the Coalition 3H's Pun. "This is an important opportunity to build the country capacity for advocacy and mobilize the country for public health and rights-based drug policies. We need to hold our government and every other actors accountable and stand up for humane and evidence based drug policy in Nepal and elsewhere in the globe," he said.

This coming UN anti-drug day is about to get a response like never before. With the global demonstrations, the drug reform movement demonstrates both its worldwide reach and its imperative to change the world not just at the highest international levels, but at home as well. Different countries have different issues, but all of them are burdened by an international drug prohibition regime from the last century. There appears to be a growing consensus that it is time for something new.

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