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Marijuana: Initiative to Legalize Marijuana in Nevada Filed, Vote Will Come in 2012

Organizers of an initiative that would tax and regulate marijuana in Nevada filed it with the secretary of state's office in Carson City Wednesday. That is the first formal step in getting it before voters in the November 2012 elections.

The initiative would:

  • Legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults;
  • Provide for up to 120 licensed retail outlets statewide; and
  • Provide for up to 50 licensed growers to supply licensed retailers.

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Retailers would have to pay a $2,500 licensing fee, and would collect sales tax on retail sales. Growers would have to pay a $5,000 licensing fee and would collect a wholesale tax of $50 an ounce from retailers.

The initiative has no provision for growing your own.

Backers will need to gather 97,002 valid signatures to send the measure to the 2011 Legislature. If lawmakers fail to act, it would be placed on the 2012 ballot.

The initiative is sponsored by Nevadans for Sensible Marijuana Laws, which is backed by the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). MPP and local affiliates have tried three other times in the past decade to legalize marijuana in Nevada. In 2002, voters rejected a proposal to legalize up to three ounces; in 2004, a second attempt failed to make the ballot; and in 2006, a proposal to legalize up to one ounce lost with 44% of the vote.

Backers are counting on changing public attitudes toward marijuana to take them over the top this time. "The environment we feel has changed," said campaign manager David Schwartz at a press conference before filing the papers. "The discussion has become nationwide."

The campaign will hammer away at the increasingly popular "marijuana is safer than alcohol" argument, Schwartz said. "We will encourage voters to consider this fact and decide for themselves whether it makes sense to allow adults to use alcohol freely, but punish them if they choose to use a less harmful substance, marijuana."

That makes five states where marijuana legalization is on the agenda. California is a two-fer, with both a pending legalization bill (which will get a hearing and a committee vote next week) and at least one legalization initiative with a number of signatures gathered that virtually guarantee its qualifying for the ballot. Meanwhile, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Washington state have legalization bills pending or about to be filed too.

Sentencing: New Jersey Legislature Rolls Back Mandatory Minimums, Governor Will Sign Bill Into Law

With a 46-30 vote Thursday, the New Jersey Assembly gave final approval to a bill that will end mandatory minimum sentences for some "drug free zone" drug offenses. The bill passed the Senate in December. Outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has said he will sign the bill into law. When that happens, New Jersey will become the first state to roll back a mandatory minimum school zone law.

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misleading concept
Under a sentencing law in place since 1987, drug offenses that occurred within 1,000 feet of a school incurred mandatory minimum sentences of one to three years. Critics had argued for years that the law had a disproportionate impact on minority inner city residents and that it unnecessarily filled the state's prisons with low-level drug offenders who could be better served by drug treatment. The state spent $331 million last year to imprison drug offenders.

The bill just passed, A2762, would allow judges the discretion to impose a lesser sentence or probation, depending on whether school was in session, how close to a school it was, and whether children were present. Mandatory minimums would stay in effect if the offense took place on school grounds or involved violence or a gun.

According to the state Department of Corrections, 69% of drug offenders doing time are doing mandatory minimums. This bill will allow those doing mandatory minimums for school zone offenses to appeal those sentences.

"The mandatory minimum sentencing the zones require has effectively created two different sentences for the same crime, depending on where an individual lives," said Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer), one of the bill's cosponsors. "This is geographic discrimination at its most basic."

"This is a progressive solution to a complex problem," said Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), another cosponsor.

The legislature's action won praise from sentencing and drug policy reform groups that were part of a broad coalition to pass the bill. "Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) commends the legislative leaders who fought for smart on crime sentencing policies in New Jersey. State lawmakers are increasingly disenchanted with ineffective and costly mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent, drug-related offenses and are turning to policies that allow the courts to individualize punishments based on the facts of each case. This move signals a better course for New Jersey, and fairer sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders," said Deborah Fleischaker, FAMM's director of state legislative affairs.

Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office, said the vote signals a new willingness on the part of elected officials at both the state and national level to reform failed sentencing and drug policies.

"At one time, these types of mandatory minimum laws were considered untouchable," said Scotti. "But there is a growing public backlash against these failed policies and a growing willingness on the part of elected officials to address the mistakes of the past."

Europe: Dutch Delay Plan to Make Border Cannabis Cafes Members Only

A plan to make Dutch border town cannabis cafes members only in a bid to thwart "drug tourism" is on indefinite hold, a Dutch official said Monday. The plan, which was supposed to go into effect January 1, needs further study, the official said. "We need to finalize our preparations before we can put the project into operation," said Petro Hermans, a project officer for the southeastern city of Maastricht. "We are studying the legal feasibility of the project," he said, adding the date of January 1 "was not practicable". Maastricht is one of eight municipalities in southern Limburg province that announced jointly last May they would make the 30 coffee shops in their jurisdictions members only. The plan would also reduce the daily limit on marijuana purchases from five grams to three and require that payment be made with a Dutch debit card. The measures are a bid to reduce the estimated four million visitors to Limburg each year who come from more repressive neighboring countries—France, Germany, and Belgium—to buy marijuana. Limburgers have complained that the drug tourists cause problems ranging from traffic congestion to public urination to hard drug dealing. The Dutch government decriminalized the possession of up to five grams of marijuana in 1976 and allows for retail sales through licensed coffee shops. There are about 700 coffee shops throughout the country. Back in Limburg, Hermans said that a report on the feasibility of the members only plan was due by mid-month. "We will then decide how to proceed," he said.
Location: 
Maastricht, LI
Netherlands

Canada: Mandatory Minimum Bill for Pot Growing Dies Sudden Death When Prime Minister Shuts Down Parliament

In a political maneuver designed to shield his embattled Conservative government from criticism during the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper Wednesday "prorogued," or shut down, parliament until a new session begins in March. The move kills all pending legislation, including a Tory "tough on crime" bill, C-15, that included mandatory minimum nine-month prison sentences for growing as much as a single marijuana plant. Prorouging parliament is not a routine move, but this is the second time Harper has done it in a year. Last December, he did it to head off a looming vote of no-confidence, with a coalition of New Democrats, Liberals, and Bloc Quebecois looking to replace his Conservative government. Now, he says he is doing it to introduce a new budget, but the maneuver also kills all parliamentary committees, including one looking into allegations Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan turned detainees over to Afghan authorities who abused them. That inquiry has raised embarrassing questions about Canada's policies in Afghanistan. To the relief of drug reform advocates and Canada's cannabis culture, the move kills a bill that was very harsh and very near to passage. Under the provisions of C-15 as passed by the House, people growing between one and 200 marijuana plants faced a minimum of six months if the "offense is committed for the purpose of trafficking." That would rise to nine months if it were a rental property, if children were endangered, or if the grow presented a public safety threat, i.e. was stealing electricity. The bill mandated a one-year minimum for between 201 and 500 plants or for producing hashish and two years for more than 500 plants. It also had one-year minimums for importing or exporting marijuana and for trafficking more than three kilograms if it was for the benefit of "organized crime," there was threat or use of violence or weapons, or if the offender had a serious previous drug offense. The trafficking minimum jumped to two years if it occurred in a prison, if the trafficking was to a minor, or if it was "in or near a school, in or near an area normally frequented by youth or in the presence of youth." The bill had been amended earlier this month by the Senate Constitutional Affairs and Legal Committee to remove the mandatory minimum provisions for under 201 plants, but only if the grows were not in residential areas and owned by the grower. That meant anyone growing in a residential neighborhood or in a rental property still faced a nine-month minimum, limiting relief to rural home-owners. The bill awaited only a final vote in the Senate. Now, Harper has sacrificed it on the altar of his political calculations. But like a vampire, C-15 is likely to rise from the grave. It has been a central plank in Harper's appeals to his law-and-order constituencies, and his government is almost certain to reintroduce it when the new session begins in March, or after he calls snap elections, which the Conservatives seem well-positioned to win as their main rivals, the Liberals, flounder. Don't put away those wooden stakes just yet.
Location: 
Ottawa, ON
Canada

Heroin Maintenance: SALOME Trials Set to Begin in Vancouver

In the Chronicle's review of the top international drug policy stories of the year last week, the slow spread of heroin maintenance was in the mix. This week, it's back in the news, with word that a new Canadian heroin maintenance study in Vancouver is about to get underway.

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Hastings St., on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (courtesy vandu.org)
The Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALOME) will choose a Downtown Eastside location next month and begin taking applications from potential participants in February, according to a Tuesday press release from the Inner Change Foundation, which, along with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, is funding the trial. With selection of participants supposed to last only three weeks, that means SALOME could be underway by March.

SALOME will enroll 322 hard-core heroin addicts -- they must have been using at least five years and failed other treatments, including methadone maintenance -- in a year-long, two-phase study. During the first phase, half will be given injectable heroin (diacetylmorphine) and half will be given injectable Dilaudid® (hydromorphone). In the second phase, half of the participants will be switched to oral versions of the drug they are using.

The comparison of heroin and Dilaudid® was inspired by unanticipated results from SALOME's forerunner, NAOMI (the North American Opiate Medication Study), which began in Vancouver in 2005 and produced positive results in research reviews last year. In NAOMI, researchers found that participants could not differentiate between heroin and Dilaudid®. The comparison of success rate among injection and oral administration users was inspired by hopes of reducing rates of injection heroin use.

SALOME was also supposed to take place in Montreal, but Quebec provincial authorities effectively killed it there by refusing to fund it. SALOME researchers have announced that it will now proceed in Vancouver alone.

With an estimated 5,000 heroin addicts in the Downtown Eastside and a municipal government that has officially embraced the progressive four pillars approach to problematic drug use -- prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and law enforcement -- Vancouver is most receptive to such ground-breaking research. It is also the home of Insite, North America's only safe injection site.

The NAOMI and SALOME projects are the only heroin maintenance programs to take place in North America. Ongoing or pilot heroin maintenance programs are underway in Britain, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

[Editor's note: Bernd went on holiday Sunday; look for the rest of this week's Mexico news in the next issue of Drug War Chronicle.]

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Ciuded Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed over 16,000 people, with a death toll of over 7,000 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Friday , December 18

An assistant soccer coach of Mexico's first division team Indios was killed in Ciudad Juarez. Pedro Picasso, 34, was found dead in a cell phone store along with another unidentified person.

Saturday , December 19

In Nuevo Leon, a high ranking Gulf Cartel member nicknamed "The Korean" was killed, along with five others, after a gun battle with army personnel. Two of the dead were municipal police under the employ of the drug traffickers. The army also seized 616 kilos of marijuana and several weapons, including two assault rifles, from the men.

Additionally, in Sonora, a federal police official in charge of combating retail drug distribution was gunned down in Nogales, and six bodies were found in Puerto Penasco. In other violence across Mexico, four people were killed in Durango, four in Baja California, two in Puebla, and one in Aguas Calientes.

In Ciudad Juarez, four policemen were killed after a series of attacks on patrol cars across the city. In one of the attacks, two brothers who worked for different police agencies but were patrolling together were killed. Two other policemen were wounded in the shootings.

Tuesday , December 22

The family of naval commando Ensign Melquisedet Angulo Cordova, who was killed in the raid that led to the death of drug lord Arturo Beltran-Leyva, was executed in their hometown of Villahermosa. Just hours after the family had returned from an elaborate state funeral for Ensign Argulo, gunmen burst into their home, killing his mother, sister, aunt and brother. Another sister was wounded in the attack.

The following day, four people were arrested in connection with the murders. Two are accused of paying the hitmen, while the other two are accused of acting as lookouts. All four are accused of being members of the Zetas organization, which is allied to the Beltran-Leyva cartel.

In Coahuila, gunmen opened fire on a restaurant with the mayor of a US town inside. Chad Foster, mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas, was dining with Coahuila Attorney General Jesus Torres when gunmen sprayed the restaurant with gunfire. A woman standing outside was killed. Torres was quickly spirited away by security personnel and Foster returned to the US on his own.

Thursday , December 24

In the state of Guerrero, ten bodies were found in two mass graves. Authorities found the bodies after being tipped by an anonymous phone call. Based on the state of the bodies, it appears that the bodies were killed and buried two months ago. Also in Guerrero, seven members of the Beltran-Leyva organization were arrested, including one man suspected in the killing and decapitation of military personnel.

In the town of Tulum, on Mexico's Caribbean coast, a journalist was killed by two gunmen on a motorcycle. Jose Alberto Velazquez Lopez, who owned a magazine and worked for a TV station, was driving to work when he was shot and lost control of his car. Two men were later taken into custody, but released because tests could not determine whether they had discharged firearms or not.

Saturday , December 26

In a 36-hour period, 10 people were killed across Sinaloa. Among the dead were two men who were found bound and executed with shots to the head, and a teenage boy who was killed when a group of gunmen opened fire on a group of people Christmas morning.

Total Body Count since last update: 321

Total Body Count for the Year: 7,598

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Latin America: Bolivia's Morales Says He Will Legalize Small Coca Holdings

Bolivian President Evo Morales said Saturday he wants to legalize the small holdings farmers use to grow coca. Morales, who rose to power as the head of a coca growers' union, said he wants to permit farmers to cultivate a coca plot, or cato, of 130 feet by 130 feet.

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coca seedlings
Under Bolivia's coca law, Law 1008, farmers can produce up to 30,000 acres of coca nationwide for traditional uses. But the law makes no provision for how much individual farmers can grow.

"We need to achieve a legal market for coca, and because of that, we are rationalizing the cato of coca," he told coca growers in Cochabamba. "It is our obligation to plan how to legalize the cato of coca in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly," Morales said, using the new name for the Bolivian congress.

Morales handily won reelection on December 6 with 64% of the vote, and his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) holds a two-thirds majority in the assembly. Noting these facts, Morales predicted that the measure will pass.

If it does, it will only add to tensions between Bolivia and the US and between Bolivia and International Narcotics Control Board. In the past year, the US has criticized Morales' policies allowing an increase in coca production, while Bolivia has expelled DEA agents and US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, accusing them of meddling in internal Bolivian affairs. Bolivia under Morales is also demanding that the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs be amended so that coca is removed from its list of controlled substances.

While the US-sponsored Law 1008 allows for up to 30,000 acres of coca cultivation, the actual area under cultivation this year was nearly three times that, according to the UN. Morales and his supporters argue that amending Law 1008 both to increase the overall legally permitted acreage nationwide and to limit each farmer to one cato will serve to allow more farmers to grow coca without allowing individual farmers to grow so much they can divert it to the black market to be made into cocaine.

Bolivia is the world's third largest coca and producer, behind second place Peru and first place Colombia.

Hemp: North Dakota Farmers Lose Appeal in 8th US Circuit

The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis last Tuesday upheld a lower court's decision to dismiss a lawsuit by a pair of North Dakota hemp farmers who argued they should be able to grow hemp crops without fear of federal prosecution.

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first North Dakota hemp license signing (agdepartment.com )
Farmers Wayne Hauge and David Monson, who is also a Republican state representative, were awarded licenses from the state department of agriculture to grow hemp three years ago. They sought approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and after the DEA failed to respond, they filed suit in US District Court in Bismarck. There, US District Judge Daniel Hovland dismissed their suit.

The DEA considers hemp to be marijuana. It took a successful federal court challenge to force the DEA to continue to allow for hemp food products to be imported, but American farmers are still forced to stand on the sidelines and watch as their Canadian, Chinese, and European counterparts fill their wallets with profit from hemp sales.

"I guess the next step is we'll have to take it to Congress," Hauge told the Associated Press. "The fastest and easiest way to handle this would be for the president to order the Department of Justice to stand down on all actions against industrial hemp," he added, alluding wistfully to the department's announced policy shift on medical marijuana.

But Congress has other things on its plate, Monson told the AP. "With all the other things, hemp is not high on their priority list, and I can understand that," Monson said. "Somehow, we need to get enough states involved so Congress can take action on it," Monson said.

Adam Eidinger, a spokesman for the industry association VoteHemp, said he was disappointed, but not surprised, by the decision."The 8th Circuit is kind of conservative, so I can't say I'm totally surprised," he said.

No word yet on whether VoteHemp and the farmers will pursue the case any further.

Medical Marijuana: Rhode Island Releases Draft of Proposed Dispensary Rules

Last spring, the Rhode Island legislature approved a bill to allow for the creation of dispensaries for medical marijuana patients. Last week, in response to that legislation, the state Department of Health issued its proposed dispensary rules. A public hearing on the draft is set for February.

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Rhode Island patient activist Rhonda O'Donnell, at DC protest
Rhode Island approved the use of medical marijuana in 2007, but that law had no provision for dispensaries for patients unable to grow their own or find caregivers to grow it for them. This year's law allows for up to three nonprofit dispensaries to operate in the state. There are currently about 900 registered patients in the state and about 775 registered caregivers.

State health officials told the Providence Journal that if, after the public hearing, no revisions in the draft were necessary, the new rules could be enacted within 45 days. Then, the licensing process allows for up to 60 days to approve the applications. That brings the timeline to mid-2010, and that's if there are no additional public hearings and no major revisions demanded.

Even after dispensary operators are approved, it will take time to find financing and suitable locations. Once the facility is set up, it will take at least an additional three months before the first medicinal crop can be harvested. It could well be a year before Rhode Island sees a dispensary.

Under the proposed rules, a dispensary is defined as nonprofit entity that "acquires, possesses, cultivates, manufactures, delivers, transfers, transports, supplies, or dispenses marijuana... to registered qualifying patients and their registered primary caregivers."

Patients are limited to 12 plants and 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana. Dispensaries would be able to provide for multiple patients and would be allowed to keep on hand only 12 plants and 2.5 ounces per patient. The dispensaries could not provide a patient with more than 2.5 ounces in any 15-day period.

The proposed regulations do not address what prices dispensaries could charge. Instead, they say only that as licensed caregivers, they would be allowed to be reimbursed for the costs associated with helping a patient.

People complying with the Rhode Island medical marijuana law would be protected from arrest or prosecution, and they could not be penalized by schools, employers, and landlords. Dispensaries could not operate within 500 feet of a school and must have an alarm system.

The proposed rules bar people with drug felonies -- but not other felonies! -- from operating or working for a dispensary, unless their offenses would not be offenses under the Rhode Island medical marijuana law. It also allows the Department of Health to waive that requirement if it wishes.

Afghanistan: US Anti-Drug Strategy Lacking, State Department Report Finds

The US counternarcotics mission in Afghanistan, a key element in Western efforts to defeat the Taliban, is short on long-term strategy, clear objectives, and a plan to hand over responsibility to Afghan authorities, the State Department said in a report released last Wednesday. The report was written by the State Department's Office of the Inspector General.

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opium poppies
The department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (known colloquially as "drugs and thugs") is responsible for shaping and administering counternarcotics policy in Afghanistan, but it is not doing its job very well, the report said. "The department has not clarified an end state for counternarcotics efforts, engaged in long-term planning or established performance measures," it noted.

With the Taliban making hundreds of millions of dollars a year off the Afghan opium and heroin trade, a smart, effective counternarcotics strategy is critical to US plans to defeat the Taliban by sending in an additional 30,000 troops. There are already 68,000 US and NATO troops in the country, where they have suffered their worst losses so far this year. The number of US military dead in Afghanistan this year sits at 310, exactly double the number killed last year. Overall US and NATO fatalities topped 500 this year, up from 300 last year.

While an effective anti-drug policy may be critical to US plans, it may also be impossible to achieve. As analysts consulted by the Chronicle five years ago -- when opium production was just beginning to reemerge as a problem area -- noted, opium is deeply implicated in the Afghan economy, with more than a million families dependent on it for a living.

"In this case, even if you support drug prohibition in general, the war on drugs is not something we can pursue if we want a rational, effective policy in Afghanistan," said Ted Galen Carpenter, an international affairs analyst for the Cato Institute. "It will undermine everything else we're trying to achieve. The international supply side drug war is complete folly no matter where it is applied, but even if you don't accept that analysis, one ought to be aware that our top priority needs to be going after radical Islamic terrorists, not Afghan farmers," he said.

But heeding the views of the bureau's hard-line drug warriors, the report said that poppy eradication was "essential" to the success of the strategy. But Richard Holbrook, Obama's emissary to the region, abruptly ended the US role in eradication earlier this year, arguing that it served only to alienate poor poppy farmers and drive them into the arms of the Taliban. Instead, Western forces have concentrated on capturing or killing traffickers linked to the Taliban.

Even so, the report found, the bureau had "no clear strategy for transitioning and exiting from counternarcotics programs in Afghanistan." It added that while Afghan contractors working on poppy eradication were meeting agreed-upon goals, vague performance measures in their contracts made it difficult to tell how effective they were.

The report did cut the bureau some slack, noting that it faced tough challenges in Afghanistan, including "a weak justice system, corruption and the lack of political will" in the Afghan government. It also acknowledged the powerful economic incentives for poor Afghan farmers to grow opium poppies.

It recommended setting "a defined end state" for US anti-drug programs, in-country monitoring of contractors, and establishing benchmarks for measuring the Afghan takeover of anti-drug programs.

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