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Why the End of Federal Marijuana Prohibition May Be Only Five Years Away [FEATURE]

This article was written in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Rob Kampia thinks so, and he's a very well-placed observer. As head of the Marijuana Policy Project, Kampia has his finger on the pulse of pot politics as well as anyone, and he made a pretty startling prediction at the International Drug Reform Conference in suburban Washington last month.

MPP's Rob Kampia (YouTube)
At a panel on "Marijuana Reform in Congress," Kampia suggested that a handful of state-level marijuana legalization victories next year is going to set in motion a congressional debate on legalization that could see an end to federal marijuana prohibition before the end of the decade.

Legalization campaigns are already well-advanced in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, and while getting on the ballot is no guarantee of victory next November, polling so far suggests that most of them will win. And next year could also be the year the first state, and even perhaps a second, legalizes it through the legislative process.

Kampia said, "Vermont is most likely to legalize through the legislature, and Rhode Island has a good shot, but those are the only two states in play."

But then there are the initiative states.

"It could be that four or five initiative states legalize it, and then all of this is facing Congress in 2017," Kampia continued. "Then there will be a vigorous debate on legalization, and then, I predict, Congress could pass the states' rights bill in 2019."

Kampia is talking about something along the lines of this year's Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2015 (HR 1940), sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), which would amend the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) so that it would not apply to persons in compliance with marijuana laws in their state.

Passage of such a bill would not make marijuana legal everywhere -- that would be up to the individual states -- but would end the federal government's role in enforcing marijuana prohibition.

Kampia even suggested that Congress might get around to passing a bill to end federal pot prohibition before it gets around to passing a bill allowing states to enact medical marijuana laws without federal interference. That means legislation similar to this year's Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act of 2015 (S 683), sponsored by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rand Paul (R-KY) could languish while Congress leapfrogs its way to embracing legalization (or at least getting out of its way).

"All the attention will be on legalization," Kampia said, "and there's not a lot of tax revenue for the federal government with just medical marijuana, but if you're talking about the whole ball of wax, with substantial tax revenues, Congress might be inclined to go for the whole enchilada."

The MPP leader wasn't the only one in the room sounding upbeat that day. Drug Policy Alliance national affairs director Bill Piper said that when it comes to marijuana legalization, the train has already left the station.

"I'm very optimistic," Piper said. "The toothpaste is out of the tube. Even Chris Christie can't stop marijuana legalization. Once these initiatives pass in 2016, there's no way back."

The conventional wisdom among drug reformers used to be that we might see federal pot prohibition crumble by the middle of the next decade. But given the lack of disaster and the bonanza of tax revenue in legalization states so far, and the likelihood that a handful more will legalize it next year, that timetable is accelerating.

Chronicle AM: Canada Still Legalizing Weed, GAO Rakes Drug Czar Over Drug War Failures, More (12/7/15)

Canada reiterates its intent to legalize pot, there's strong support for expanding medical marijuana in Georgia, the GAO reports that federal drug policy goals are not being met, and more.

Oh, Canada.
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Doctors Oppose Legalization. Doctors with the Massachusetts Medical Society voted over the weekend to reaffirm their opposition to marijuana legalization. The move comes as a legalization initiative appears poised to go before voters next year. The doctors voted to continue their opposition to legalization, a policy first adopted in 1997, and also urged that if legalization were to occur, people under 21 should be barred from use.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Poll Finds Strong Support for Expanding Medical Marijuana Law. Under current Georgia law, people with certain illnesses are allowed to use medical marijuana, but it can't be grown or produced in the state. A new poll has 84.5% of respondents supporting expanding that law to allow for in-state cultivation with strict regulation. Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has sponsored legislation that would do just that.

Illinois Tells Patients They Can't Be Gun Owners, Then Retreats. Illinois state police sent letters to a handful of patients saying their firearms cards were being revoked, but now say the letters were sent in error. Patients remain skeptical.

Drug Policy

GAO Says National Drug Policy Goals Not Being Met. In a report released today the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) and other agencies "had not made progress toward achieving most of the goals in the 2010 National Drug Control Strategy (the Strategy) and ONDCP had established a new mechanism to monitor and assess progress. In the Strategy, ONDCP established seven goals related to reducing illicit drug use and its consequences to be achieved by 2015. As of March 2013, GAO's analysis showed that of the five goals for which primary data on results were available, one showed progress and four showed no progress. GAO also reported that ONDCP established a new monitoring system intended to provide information on progress toward Strategy goals and help identify performance gaps and options for improvement. At that time, the system was still in its early stages, and GAO reported that it could help increase accountability for improving progress. In November 2015, ONDCP issued its annual Strategy and performance report, which assess progress toward all seven goals. The Strategy shows progress in achieving one goal, no progress on three goals, and mixed progress on the other three goals. Overall, none of the goals in the Strategy have been fully achieved."

Law Enforcement

The Sickening Use of Young People as Confidential Informants in the Drug War. "Supporters of the drug war often claim that we need to wage this unwinnable war to "protect" young people. 60 Minutes ran an explosive piece last night showing one of the many ways that the war on drugs actually endangers young people: the sickening use of young students as confidential informants," writes the Drug Policy Alliance's Tony Newman. Click on the link for the whole piece.

International

Canada's New Liberal Government Reiterates Vow to Legalize Marijuana. In the annual throne speech last Friday, Governor General David Johnson reiterated Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's plans to legalize marijuana. The effort should get moving once parliament is back in session.

Chilean President Removes Marijuana From Hard Drug List. President Michelle Bachelet has signed an order removing marijuana from the country's list of hard drugs and authorizing the sale of marijuana-derived medicines in pharmacies. Marijuana production and distribution remain criminal offenses, but the Congress is expected to discuss wider reforms of the drug laws early next year.

Five More Useless Drug War Deaths Last Month

At least five people died at the hands of law enforcement officers attempting to enforce the drug laws between October 30 and the end of November, bringing the Drug War Chronicle's drug war death toll so far this year to 54. The tally includes only people who died as a result of drug law enforcement activities.

Two of the victims were white; three were black. Four of the dead had been armed and fired at police (according to police accounts); one was unarmed.

Here is this month's toll:

  1. Floyd Ray Cook, 61, was shot and killed by two Kentucky state troopers and a US Marshal on the night of October 30, ending a seven-day manhunt that began when he shot a Tennessee police officer who had tried to pull him over. At the time, Cook was wanted on methamphetamine trafficking charges after failing to appear at an August hearing in his case. After shooting the Tennessee officer, Cook managed to elude authorities for a week before being cornered at the side of a highway and engaging in gunfire with police. His case made national headlines, with some media reports describing him as a "fugitive rapist," even though his rape conviction had occurred in 1970.
  2. Timothy Gene Smith, 47, was shot and killed by San Diego police November 2 after he fled arresting officers who were looking for him and his wife, Janie Sanders, 32, on a Missouri drug possession warrant. Officers on patrol spotted Smith and gave chase, but lost sight of him until a police helicopter spotted him hiding in a shed between two apartment buildings. Smith then bolted and was bitten by a police dog before hopping a fence and climbing onto the ledge of an apartment building. Police said he turned toward Sgt. Scott Holslag while refusing to show his hands and Holslag, who "feared for his safety," then shot and killed him. No weapons were recovered. Hours later, police arrested Sanders after she refused to leave a Pacific Heights apartment. "Officers killed my husband today, unarmed," Sanders said as she was cuffed and placed in a squad car. While San Diego police said Smith was an armed and dangerous felon wanted on warrants, a Missouri bondsman said the only warrant was for Sanders.
  3. Randy Allen Smith, 34, was shot and killed by a Manatee County (Florida) sheriff's deputy the night of November 17 after allegedly pulling a gun on deputies during a struggle in a Winn Dixie store parking lot. A deputy had spotted a "suspicious" vehicle parked in a side lot and called in back up, and two deputies then approached the vehicle. Smith was ordered out of the car, but refused to show his hands, police said, so they attempted to Taser him, but the Taser hit Smith's dreadlocks and failed to incapacitate him. Police said Smith punched the second deputy in the face, causing him to fall and injure his head. "So he's woozy, and he thinks he sees a gun. Then one of the deputies, we're not sure which one at this point, started saying, 'Gun, a gun, a gun,'" sheriff's spokesman Dan Bristow said. "And that's when our guy shot him (Smith)." A gun was recovered at the scene. Bristow said heroin and cocaine were found on Smith, and while he didn't specify the quantity, he said they appeared packaged for sale. Smith was out on bond for possession of a controlled substance. He had also been previously convicted of cocaine possession, marijuana possession, possession of a firearm by a felon, and resisting an officer without violence.
  4. Demetrius Bryant, 21, was shot and killed by Cayce, South Carolina, police officers in what they called a "drug-related incident" the night of November 17. He died after allegedly exchanging gunfire with officers at an apartment complex in the town. Police said Bryant opened fire, wounding one officer before they returned fire, fatally wounding him. A later report said that police had been attempting to arrest Bryant on unspecified drug charges. "During that arrest procedure, the subject appears to have begun resisting, and a struggle ensued between himself and our two officers," said Sgt.Evan Antley with the Cayce Department of Public Safety.
  5. Darius Smith, 18, was shot and killed by Atlanta police on the night of November 30 after police tried to pull over a drug-laden vehicle in which he was riding. As the car attempted to elude police, it was involved in an accident, and the two men inside jumped out and fled. The driver was arrested a block away, while Smith ran several blocks to the rear of a nearby hotel. "The fleeing male began shooting at officers, which caused officers on scene to return fire striking the suspect multiple times which resulted in his death," Atlanta Police spokeswoman Elizabeth Espy said in a statement. Smith's body was found behind a trash bin. Police said they recovered about two pounds of marijuana, 60 grams of cocaine, Ecstasy tablets, six grams of powder Ecstasy, and $6,000 in cash in the car. The driver, 18-year-old Isiah Irby, is charged with possession of a firearm during commission of a felony, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and trafficking cocaine.

Chronicle AM: No Oregon MJ Social Clubs, Huge Chilean MedMJ Crop, More (12/4/15)

Oregon's cannabis cafes face a bleak future after running afoul of the state's anti-smoking laws, a no-smoking Florida medical marijuana bill advances, a huge medical marijuana crop grows in Chile, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Oregon Marijuana Cafes Must Shut Down By Next Month. Operations that allow people to smoke marijuana inside will have to shut down by January 1 or face fines for violating the Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act. Some cannabis café owners, such as Madeline Martinez, operator of the World Famous Cannabis Café, say they will fight. "People will be forced to consume in the street, in their car, at the park," she said. "It's a nightmare. I'm going to have to close my doors."

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Wording on Medical Marijuana Initiative. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) has rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to allow for medical marijuana in the state, saying the wording is ambiguous. Initiative proponent David Crouch, a Little Rock attorney, will have to submit revised language if he wants to move forward.

Florida Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. A bill that would allow for cannabis oils containing higher levels of THC-- but not for smokable medical marijuana -- passed the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice Thursday. The measure, SB 460, would amend the state's Right to Try Act, which allows patients facing death to try experimental medicines. A companion measure is also moving in the House.

Asset Forfeiture

Virginia Panel Rejects Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. The Virginia State Crime Commission voted 9-3 Thursday against endorsing civil asset forfeiture reform legislation. Virginia doesn't have a problem with asset forfeiture, asserted Brunswick County Sheriff Brian Roberts, who sits on the panel. The legislature considered asset forfeiture reform last year, but refused to vote on it and instead bumped it over to the crime commission for further study.

International

Latin America's Largest Ever Legal Marijuana Crop Planted in Chile. Regional agricultural authorities in central Chile last month approved a 6,900-plant medical marijuana grow operation that will produce 20 strains of high-potency marijuana. The resulting buds will be converted to cannabis oil after being harvested next spring (fall in the Southern Hemisphere).

Chronicle AM: Drug Czar Calls Overdoses Top Priority, Just One MA Init Left, More (12/3/15)

The drug czar is concerned about the rising toll of heroin overdose deaths. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: Marijuana Legalization Not a High Priority for Californians. Californians are more concerned with school funding, increasing the minimum wage, and tax levels than they are with marijuana legalization, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California poll. The poll found that 88% thought school funding was "very" or "somewhat" important, 80% though increasing the minimum wage was, 76% thought extending tax increases was, but only 49% though legalizing pot was. Fully one-third (32%) of respondents said legalization was "not at all important."

Down to One Legalization Initiative in Massachusetts. The legalization situation is clarifying. Bay State Repeal, which had mounted a grassroots effort to get its own legalization initiative on the ballot next year, has conceded that if failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. That leaves the Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol as the sole possible contender next year. The latter group turned in more than 100,000 voter signatures earlier this week; it needs some 67,000 valid ones to qualify for the ballot.

Drug Policy

Drug Czar Says Heroin, Prescription Opiate Overdoses Top Priority. Michael Botticelli, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), told a congressional hearing Wednesday that heroin and prescription opiates overdoses are the most urgent issue facing his agency. "There is no more pressing issue," said Botticelli, who testified at a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing on the nation's drug policy. "We have seen a reduction in prescription drug misuse among young adults but that has been replaced by a significant increase in heroin overdose deaths. We know some of this is related to the vast supply of very cheap, very pure heroin in parts of the country where we haven't seen it before." He said that more than 8,000 people died of heroin overdoses in 2013 and that he expects last year's figure to be substantially higher.

Sentencing

Massachusetts Poll Shows Broad Support for Repealing Mandatory Minimums. A poll conducted by Suffolk University's Political Research Center for Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) found that voters there support repealing mandatory minimum sentences by a margin of three-to-one. Some 62% supported repeal, while only 21% were opposed. Other poll questions showed broad support for sentencing reforms as well. "Massachusetts voters get it," said Barbara J. Dougan, Massachusetts project director for FAMM. "They know that mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses are a failed public policy. They want these ineffective and expensive laws repealed. The only question left is whether state lawmakers will listen to their constituents."

International

Malaysian Truck Driver Faces Death Sentence for Less Than a Pound of Pot. Abdul Sukur Saiful Bahri, 38, a driver for a government agency, faces a mandatory death sentence after being charged under the country's draconian drug trafficking laws. He was caught with 305 grams of marijuana, about 11 ounces of weed.

Australian Government Creates National Medical Marijuana Licensing Scheme. The federal government has announced a national licensing plan that will remove the need for states and territories to come up with their own regulatory schemes. The national government will now oversee all regulations for medical marijuana. A bill is being drafted to turn the plan into law. That's expected to happen next year.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Border Patrol agent gets caught with a trunk-load of cocaine, a California narc was working for the other side, a whole bunch of jail and prison guards go bad, and more. Let's get to it:

In Fort Pierce, Florida, a St. Lucie County sheriff's deputy was arrested November 16 after a search of her residence turned up more than 81 grams of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. The raid against Deputy Heather Tucker, 27, came after authorities received a tip she was involved in drug activity. She is charged with marijuana possession with intent to distribute.

In Indianapolis, a Marion County sheriff's deputy was arrested November 19 after he sold marijuana to an undercover informant. Deputy Jed Adams, a 7-year veteran, went down after showing up to a meeting and providing the drugs. He is charged with possession of methamphetamine and marijuana, distribution of marijuana, and official misconduct.

In Bakersfield, California, a Bakersfield Police narcotics detective was arrested November 20 for funneling information about police activities and snitches to a drug dealer in return for bribes. Detective Damacio Diaz is charged with bribery, drug trafficking, obstruction of justice, and filing false tax returns. Diaz is a 17-year veteran of the department, and before that, he was sheriff of Tulare County.

In Marana, Arizona, a US Border Patrol agent was arrested last Monday after state troopers pulled over his vehicle and found 110 pounds of cocaine. Agent Juan Pimental was driving a rental car headed for Chicago when he was stopped. According to court documents, Pimental said he was being paid $50,000 to transport the drugs. He is charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

In New York City, a Rikers Island jail guard was arrested last Tuesday after he was caught trying to smuggle 16 packages of synthetic cannabinoids and seven scalpel blades into the prison. Guard Kevin McCoy, 30, and found with 125 grams of synthetic cannabinoids, and when police searched his home, they found a half-pound of marijuana, another 101 grams of synthetic cannabinoids, 18 suboxone strips, nine more scalpel blades, and two ounces of loose tobacco. Formal charges have not been announced.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, a Santa Fe County jail guard was arrested last Wednesday after he was caught bringing marijuana, Xanax, and suboxone strips into the jail. Authorities said a prisoner's wife had paid Brandon Valdez, 19, $300 to bring the drugs into the jail. Formal charges have not been announced, but he has been fired.

In Baltimore, a former Maryland prison guard was sentenced on November 20 to three months in jail for his role in a prison drug smuggling operation. Kenyatta Trotter, 42, went down after an inmate cooperating with prison officials snitched him out. He was actually sentenced to 12 years, but all except the three months was suspended. He had pleaded guilty to bribery of a public official and misconduct in office.

In Ocala, Florida,a former federal prison guard was sentenced November 20 to two years in federal prison after being caught accepting a $2,600 bribe from a cooperating witness for items already smuggled into the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex. Robert Lawrence Brown, 32, had pleaded guilty to bribery in September and had been looking at up to 15 years.

Medical Marijuana Update

A patient sues the Border Patrol over harassment at checkpoints, Minnesota expands its program to include chronic pain, a New Hampshire patient wins permission to seek medical marijuana next door in Maine, and more.

National

On Monday, a medical marijuana patient sued the Border Patrol over his right to carry medical marijuana. A New Mexico man filed a federal lawsuit Monday charging that Border Patrol agents are not following a new rule that allows him to carry medical marijuana without risk of federal charges. Raymundo Marrufo is seeking an injunction against the agency over questions it asks travelers at border checkpoints. Marrufo contends that the Rohrabacher Amendment, which bars the Justice Department from interfering in medical marijuana states, makes questioning travelers about medical marijuana illegal. "Whether it is a sense of entitlement, indifference or simply ignorance of the law, the court must immediately issue an injunction enjoining the United States Border Patrol from asking questions and conducting searches that violate that Rohrabacher Amendment," the complaint states.

Arizona

Last Friday, the state Supreme Court issued a mixed ruling on medical marijuana DUID. The state's high court ruled last Friday that medical marijuana cardholders don't have immunity from prosecution under the state's DUID law, but also held that cardholders can try to mount a defense showing that they did not have enough marijuana or pot metabolites in their system to actually be impaired.

California

On Monday, the city of Eureka began a temporary moratorium on commercial medical marijuana grows. The move is designed to ensure local decision-making when the state's new Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act goes into effect on January 1. Localities that have not acted to regulate medical marijuana by then will lose control of regulation to the state.

On Tuesday, the Newport Beach city council gave final approval to a medical marijuana ban ordinance. The ordinance bans the cultivation, processing, distribution, and delivery of medical marijuana, but appears to have been enacted to ensure the city -- not the state -- is able to regulate medical marijuana when the state's new Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act goes into effect on January 1.

Also on Tuesday, a state appeals court upheld Fresno County's ban on medical marijuana grows.. The 5th District Court of Appeals held that the local ban does not conflict with state laws allowing medical marijuana cultivation because those laws do not expressly bar a local government from restricting land uses.

Florida

Last Friday, the state approved five medical marijuana growers. The state Department of Health has named the five operations that will be allowed to grow high-CBD, low-THC marijuana. The state's law limits the use of oils derived from the plants to patients suffering from cancer or a disease that"chronically produces symptoms of seizures or severe and persistent muscle spasms that can be treated with low-THC cannabis."

Minnesota

On Wednesday, the state announced it would allow medical marijuana for people in chronic pain. State Health Commissioner Ed Ehringer announced today that people suffering from chronic pain will be allowed to participate in the state's medical marijuana program beginning next August. The public had backed broadening access, but a panel of medical experts had advised against it. "The relative scarcity of firm evidence made this a difficult decision," Commissioner Ehlinger said. "However, given the strong medical focus of Minnesota's medical cannabis program and the compelling testimony of hundreds of Minnesotans, it became clear that the right and compassionate choice was to add intractable pain to the program's list of qualifying conditions. This gives new options for clinicians and new hope for suffering patients."

New Hampshire

Last Tuesday, a New Hampshire woman won approval to seek medical marijuana in Maine. A woman suffering from late-stage lung cancer can seek to buy medical marijuana in neighboring Maine, a judge ruled last Tuesday. Linda Horan, 64, said she could be dead by the time dispensaries open in New Hampshire, so she sued the state to get an ID card that would allow her to purchase it in Maine. The state had argued that issuing her an ID card would undermine its need to control distribution, but the judge wasn't buying that argument. "She is suffering from a painful, terminal disease and is also undergoing chemotherapy. There is no dispute that cannabis can ameliorate some of her suffering," wrote Judge Richard McNamara. "She will suffer irreparable harm if relief is not granted."

North Dakota

On Monday, a medical marijuana initiative was approved for signature gathering. An initiative campaign led by North Dakotans for Compassionate Care has been approved for signature gathering. Organizers will need some 13,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Ohio

On Tuesday, a House medical marijuana task force was announced. House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) said that the House is preparing to launch a task force to study the legalization of medical marijuana. The move comes a month after voters defeated a pot legalization initiative that would have also allowed for medical marijuana.

Pennsylvania

Last Wednesday, the medical marijuana bill won a committee vote. The House Rules Committee voted 25-8 last Wednesday to advance a medical marijuana bill. The bill has already passed the Senate, but still needs a House floor vote. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has said he will sign the bill.

Wyoming

On Sunday, the state's medical marijuana initiative was faltering amid inflighting. The head of Wyoming NORML resigned and said he believes the effort to get a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot is over. Chris Christian said petitioners had gathered only about 5,000 of the 20,000 voter signatures required to make the ballot. NORML Deputy Director Lee Roth wasn't ready to call it quits, though; he said he hoped new leadership would bolster support.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: USPS Warns Newspapers on Pot Ads, MX to Debate Cannabis Next Month, More (12/2/15)

The Postal Service has warned newspapers in the Pacific Northwest that carrying pot business ads could violate federal law, a New Mexico medical marijuana patient is suing the Border Patrol over access to his medicine, Minnesota has approved medical marijuana for chronic pain patients, and more.

Minnesota chronic pain patients will participate in the state's medical marijuana program beginning next August. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

US Post Office Warns Pacific Northwest Newspapers About Carrying Pot Business Ads. In a memo last Friday, the USPS in Portland warned newspapers that they could be violating federal law by running advertising for marijuana businesses. The memo noted that is illegal "to place an ad in any publication with the purpose of seeking or offering illegally to receive, buy, or distribute a Schedule I controlled substance." Newspapers in Oregon have contacted Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), both of whose offices said they had been in contact with USPS about "what appears to be an outdated interpretation" of the law.

Arizona Poll Has Voters Evenly Split on Legalization. There will likely be a legalization initiative on the ballot next year, and a new poll suggests it will be in for a fight. The Morrison-Cronkite Poll has the issue in a statistical dead heat, with 49% of voters in support and 51% opposed. The demographics favor the opposition, the pollster said. "Predictably, those 30 and younger (69%) and those age 31 to 55 (57%) are more likely to favor legalization than those 56 and older (36%)," said David Daugherty, associate director at Morrison Institute, who oversees the survey. "It is important to note, Republicans and older adults vote in larger numbers than either Democrats or young adults, which would, at least at this point in time, point toward likely defeat of the legalization of recreational marijuana."

Medical Marijuana

Patient Sues US Border Patrol Over Right to Carry Medical Marijuana. A New Mexico man filed a federal lawsuit Monday charging that Border Patrol agents are not following a new rule that allows him to carry medical marijuana without risk of federal charges. Raymundo Marrufo is seeking an injunction against the agency over questions it asks travelers at border checkpoints. Marrufo contends that the Rohrabacher Amendment, which bars the Justice Department from interfering in medical marijuana states, makes questioning travelers about medical marijuana illegal. "Whether it is a sense of entitlement, indifference or simply ignorance of the law, the court must immediately issue an injunction enjoining the United States Border Patrol from asking questions and conducting searches that violate that Rohrabacher Amendment," the complaint states.

Minnesota to Allow Medical Marijuana for Chronic Pain. State Health Commissioner Ed Ehringer announced today that people suffering from chronic pain will be allowed to participate in the state's medical marijuana program beginning next August. The public had backed broadening access, but a panel of medical experts had advised against it. "The relative scarcity of firm evidence made this a difficult decision," Commissioner Ehlinger said. "However, given the strong medical focus of Minnesota's medical cannabis program and the compelling testimony of hundreds of Minnesotans, it became clear that the right and compassionate choice was to add intractable pain to the program's list of qualifying conditions. This gives new options for clinicians and new hope for suffering patients."

Ohio House to Create Medical Marijuana Task Force. House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) said Tuesday that the House is preparing to launch a task force to study the legalization of medical marijuana. The move comes a month after voters defeated a pot legalization initiative that would have also allowed for medical marijuana.

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Effort Falters Amid Infighting. The head of Wyoming NORML resigned on Sunday and said he believes the effort to get a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot is over. Chris Christian said petitioners had gathered only about 5,000 of the 20,000 voter signatures required to make the ballot. NORML Deputy Director Lee Roth wasn't ready to call it quits, though; he said he hoped new leadership would bolster support.

International

Mexico to Open National Debate on Marijuana Legalization Next Month. Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said Tuesday that the government will launch an informational website about marijuana with scientific and technical papers and will begin a series of public debates on marijuana policy in the third week in January. "To be effective, we must consider the different alternatives as well as the costs, benefits and viability of each of them and their impact on the population," he said. "Mexico will have to decide in the next months which policy it will need to face a phenomenon that affects different areas and aspects of the lives of millions of Mexicans."

Police Took More From Citizens Than Burglars Did Last Year

This article was written in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

When you think about getting property stolen, you think about criminals, but maybe you should be thinking about the police. Law enforcement use of asset forfeiture laws to seize property -- often without a criminal conviction or even an arrest -- has gone through the roof in recent years, and now the cops are giving the criminals a run for their money -- and winning.

According to a new report on asset forfeiture from the Institute for Justice, police seized $4.5 billion in cash and property through civil forfeiture last year. That exceeds the $3.9 billion worth of property stolen in burglaries during the same period. The valuation of burglary proceeds is from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report.

Now, not every dollar seized by police is "stolen." Some of it is seized legitimately from real criminals who should pay for the damage their crimes cause. But in too many cases, property is seized from people who have not been convicted of anything, like Charles Clarke.

Clarke, a 24-year-old college student, was relieved of $11,000 in cash by federal agents at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport after a ticket agent reportedly told them he smelled like marijuana. They stopped and searched him at the airport, found no drugs or other banned items, and never charged him with a crime, but they took his money.

Clarke says the cash was money he had saved over five years for college tuition. A federal judge this month said he was inclined to believe Clarke and has ordered the feds to actually show he made the money from drug dealing, as they claimed.

Clarke may get his money back, but it is an uphill battle. Unlike criminal law, where prosecutors must prove the guilt of the defendant, under civil asset forfeiture law, the burden of proof falls on the person from whom the money or property was seized. The property owner must prove that the property was not the proceeds of crime. And he must pay attorneys to fight for him. And he may not win.

With police racking up billions in seizures each year, law enforcement itself begins to take on the appearance of a criminal enterprise. It's an enterprise with an ever-expanding appetite. According to Armstrong Economics, federal prosecutors seized an estimated $12.6 billion between 1989 and 2010, and the trend is upward. Federal asset forfeiture proceeds hovered at just under a billion dollars a year until 2007, doubled to two billion by 2009, and doubled again to over four billion in both 2013 and 2014.

Abuses of civil asset forfeiture have struck a chord with the public, and states are now beginning to pass laws banning or severely restricting civil asset forfeiture. Both New Mexico and Michigan did this year, and so did Wyoming, but that law fell victim to a governor's veto.

Likewise, the issue is again gaining attention in Congress, which passed minor asset forfeiture reforms after a similar outcry 15 years ago. There are at least two bills going after civil asset forfeiture in this Congress, including one from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and a bipartisan bill that would bar the use of civil asset forfeiture funds by the DEA to eradicate marijuana.

But until federal legislation actually passes, it's still open season on the citizenry.

Did "LSD Toxicity" Kill Troy Goode, Or Was It The Police Hogtie? [FEATURE]

This article was written in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

A man who died after being hogtied by police in South Haven, Mississippi, earlier this year, was killed by "complications of LSD toxicity," the State Medical Examiner office announced Tuesday, ruling the death "accidental" in an official autopsy report. But given that there are no known cases of fatal LSD overdoses, the examiner's findings are hard to credit.

Troy Goode and his wife (family photo)
The family of Troy Goode isn't buying it. And they have their own, independent autopsy findings and the science of psychedelics to back them up.

Goode, his wife, and friends were in the parking lot of a Widespread Panic concert before the show when he began behaving erratically after taking several hits of LSD. His wife attempted to drive him home, but at some point, he got out of the car and began creating a disturbance. Police were called, and they chased and arrested him, hogtieing him face down on a stretcher. He was charged with resisting arrest, then taken in an ambulance to a hospital, where he died two hours later.

Last month, Goode's family and their attorney, Tim Edwards, cited an independent autopsy report that found Goode died after being hogtied and left prone for an extended period. That stress position caused him to have trouble breathing and, as his heart attempted to compensate, it went into cardiac arrhythmia.

"He was suffocating. His heart increased into what is called tachycardia," Edwards said. "There is no scientific basis to attribute his death to LSD. This was lethal force, putting someone in a prolonged hogtied position," Edwards said. "This was not a situation where a 300-pound man attacked a police officer in the dark. This was a science nerd."

At the time, Edwards said the family was asking the Justice Department to open a civil rights investigation into Goode's death and that the family planned to file a lawsuit in January seeking compensation and a ban on hogties.

The Goode family, now represented by attorney Kevin McCormack, isn't any happier today. McCormack said he was "shocked and surprised" by the official autopsy finding.

"It says the cause of death was due to complications resulting from LSD toxicity. My initial reaction when I read that was shock and surprise. As I mentioned numerous times, there's not a single reported death in all of the medical literature from the beginning of human time, not a single reported death due to LSD toxicity," said McCormack.

"In the medical literature there are cases where people took 1000 and 7000 times more LSD than Troy did and ended up fine," said McCormack. "I have no idea what they would mean by complications. What we do know is that LSD, even extremely high doses, is very unlikely to kill anyone and that hogtieing is extremely likely to kill someone," said McCormack.

"We know why Troy died, we know what caused it, and we know it was not LSD," said McCormack.

The widely-acclaimed drug information website Erowid has reviewed the evidence around LSD fatalities, and it backs up what the Goode family lawyers have been saying: "Put simply, LSD does not cause death at recreational or therapeutic doses… Fewer than a handful of human deaths have been tied in the medical literature to the pharmacological effects of LSD, and none of these deaths have been unquestionably attributable to LSD's actions."

Erowid is relying on the scientists:

"No well-documented human deaths resulting directly from the toxic effects of LSD itself have occurred, though LSD has been implicated in accidental deaths, suicides, and homicides," Haddad and Winchester noted in 1990.

"LSD is not toxic in the biological sense," Dr. Paul Gahlinger wrote in his 2001 book "Illegal Drugs: A Complete Guide to Their History, Chemistry, Use and Abuse."

"There have been no documented human deaths from an LSD overdose," a 2008 review of the scientific literature by Passie et al concluded.

Erowid expanded on the accidental death theme to note that some deaths have been associated with inebriated or combative behavior, "including falling or jumping from a height or dying after beaten by police."

Goode was beaten by police, bitten by a police dog, and then restrained. The official autopsy notes cuts to his cheek and chin, bleeding between his scalp and his brain, more cuts or scrapes on his chest, and three fractured ribs. Goode also suffered puncture wounds from a dog bite to his left arm and bruises on both wrists, both ankles, "multiple contusions on the lower left leg," and bruises and cuts or scrapes to his right thigh.

But it was the LSD that killed him, according to Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Erin A. Barnhart, M.D., who signed the autopsy report: "Based on the autopsy findings and current investigational information, the 30-year-old male died as a result of complications of LSD toxicity."

DeSoto County District Attorney John Champion is prepared to wrap it all up. He said Tuesday that, based on the evidence, there was no police misconduct. Now it's up to the family to decide whether to pursue other means of recourse.

Southaven, MS
United States

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