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Chronicle AM: TX MJ Decrim Bills, Canada Study and BMJ Call for Drug Decrim, More... (11/15/16)

As more states legalize weed, Colorado's governor warns of gray market dangers, Texas sees a slew of early marijuana decriminalization bills, the British Medical Journal calls the drug war a failure, and more.

Marijuana

Colorado Governor Warns of Dangers of Gray Market. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said Monday that the state's gray market in marijuana is a "clear and present danger" that demands tougher regulations and enforcement. The state must "move swiftly and aggressively to make sure illegal activity is stamped out," he said. "If we don't stamp it out right now, it becomes acceptable. And then, all of a sudden, people are going to start getting hurt. If you let crime grow, it will breed on its opportunity." Hickenlooper's remarks come as he asks lawmakers to set aside $16 million in pot tax revenues for new efforts to control the gray market.

Texas Marijuana Decriminalization Bills Filed. Lone Star State lawmakers filed several decriminalization bills Monday, the first day of filing for the 2017 legislative session. One would create a special court for first-time possession offenders; another would reduce criminal penalties for possessing up to a half ounce. Similar bills have been offered in Austin in the past, but have so far failed to pass. House Bill 58 by state Rep. James White (R-Woodville) would create a specialty court for certain first-time marijuana possession offenders based on the principle that first-time defendants are often self-correcting. House Bill 81, filed by Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) would replace criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana with a civil fine of up to $250. The bill also allows Texans to avoid arrest and possible jail time for possessing a small amount of marijuana. House Bill 82, filed by Rep. Harold Dutton, Jr. (D-Houston), would make a pot possession a Class C misdemeanor, down from a Class B. And Sen. Joe Rodriguez has filed Senate Bill 170, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce.

International

Canadian Federal Study Calls for Drug Decriminalization. A research paper from the Canadian Justice Department has noted that that are healthier and less costly ways of dealing with drug users than arresting them, and urges the Canadian government to seriously consider drug decriminalization. "It is becoming more challenging to justify the criminalization of drug users," the study says.

British Medical Journal Says War on Drugs Has Failed. The prestigious British Medical Journal has called for ending penalties against drug users and for governments to regulate legal drug markets. "All wars cause human rights violations, and the war on drugs is no different," the Journal said in an editorial, "Prohibition and stigma encourage less safe drug consumption and push people away from health services."

Chronicle AM: ME Recount Possible, DEA Bans "Pink," WI Welfare Drug Tests Start, More... (11/14/16)

Cannabis cafes are coming, Maine legalization foes seek a recount, Massachusetts legislators are threatening to "improve" the legalization initiative, the DEA bans "pink," and more.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte wants to get rid of habeas corpus as he wages lethal drug war. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia
Marijuana

Marijuana Victories Will See Cannabis Cafes Coming. The victories for marijuana legalization initiatives in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada last week will set the stage for social marijuana consumption at licensed venues. Three of the states make provisions for social consumption, while the fourth leaves the issue for legislators. And in Denver, voters approved a local initiative that will allow local businesses to designate "consumption areas" for customers who bring their own weed.

Maine Legalization Foes Seek Recount After Narrow Defeat. Unofficially, the Question 1 legalization initiative won by a mere 5,000 votes out of about 750,000 cast, and that's too close a call for the "no" campaign to just accept. "No" spokesmen are threatening to seek a recount. They have until the end of work Wednesday to collect a hundred signatures in order to seek a recount from the secretary of state's office.

Massachusetts Legislators Turn Eyes on "Improving" Legalization Initiative. Senate President Stan Rosenberg said last Thursday said the Question 4 initiative will need "improvements" to address issues such as marijuana sales taxes, infused edible products, and driving while high. Rosenberg said the legislature could take up the issues shortly after returning in January. But the Question 4 campaign pushed back, saying that legislators should "respect the will of the voters," let regulators do their job crafting regulations, then see if anything needs fixing.

New Psychoactive Substances

DEA Bans Synthetic Opioid Known as "Pink." Using its emergency scheduling powers, the DEA has banned the synthetic opioid U-47700, commonly known as "pink." Effective today, the drug is now a Schedule I controlled substance. The drug has been linked to dozens of confirmed fatalities, and is now banned for 24 months while the DEA decides if it should be permanently placed in Schedule I.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Welfare Drug Testing Starts Today. As of Monday, people seeking welfare benefits will be subject to drug testing. Republican Gov. Scott Walker painted the move as helping families and employers. "Employers across the state frequently tell me they have good-paying jobs available in high-demand fields, but need their workers to be drug-free," Walker said in a statement. "These important entitlement reforms will help more people find family-supporting jobs, moving them from government dependence to true independence."

International

Philippines President Threatens Drug War Suspension of Habeas Corpus. President Rodrigo Duterte said he is considering suspending habeas corpus because it's just too much work to build cases against individual drug suspects. And he doesn't worry about legality. "I am the president. Of course I have the powers," he said Friday. "I can be ordered by the Supreme Court to stop it, but there are things that they cannot, and maybe, I will not, stop I can go to jail. File all the charges that you can think of. But this country, in my time, will not deteriorate any further." The Philippines constitution says the president may suspend habeas corpus "in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it."

Berlin Set to Move on Marijuana Liberalization. The city's governing coalition of Social Democrats, Greens, and the Left Party has agreed to push for partial decriminalization of marijuana. The move would require a waiver from federal authorities to allow experimenting with drug policies that contradict the Federal Intoxicants Law.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Border Patrol agent goes down for dirty-dealing, an NYPD cop gets nailed for peddling cocaine and ecstasy, an Indiana narcotics supervisor gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and more. Let's get to it:

In McAllen, Texas, a US Border Patrol agent was arrested last Monday after he admitted working with drug dealers to stage a seizure of fake cocaine so that the real drugs could be distributed. Agent Eduardo Bazan Jr., 48, admitted taking $8,000 from a drug ring that ripped off cocaine from other suppliers, diluted the drugs, and then ensured that police seized them. It's not clear what the exact charges he faces are.

In Buckingham, Virginia, two state prison guards were arrested last Thursday after they were filmed buying drugs that federal agents said were intended to be smuggled into the Buckingham Correctional Center. The bust was part of a larger gang racketeering bust that netted 20 arrests in Virginia and New York. The two guards, Shonda Jones and Jaymese Jones, face as yet unspecified federal charges.

In New York City, a former NYPD officer was convicted last Thursday of helping to run drugs throughout the Bronx and providing protection to drug gangs. Merlin Alston, 33, was part of a long-running conspiracy to traffic large amounts of cocaine and ecstasy in the Bronx. He was convicted of one count of conspiracy to distribute narcotics and one count of possession of firearms in furtherance of the narcotics conspiracy. He's looking at a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence.

In Columbus, Indiana, a former Columbus police narcotics supervisor pleaded guilty last Thursday to stealing drugs from the department's evidence room under the guise of using them for training purposes. Jeremy Coomes, 39, checked out drug evidence from as many as 10 cases, and when it was returned, some of it was missing, some had been replaced with other substances, and evidence seals had been tampered with or altered. Coomes was originally hit with seven felonies, but copped to a single count of felony meth possession. He's looking at between three and 16 years in prison.

In Charleston, South Carolina, a former prison guard was sentenced last Wednesday to six months in prison for giving marijuana to a prisoner at the Estill Federal Correctional Institution. Anthony Jermaine Creech, 39, admitted delivering an ounce of pot to an inmate in exchange for money. 

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana went four for four on Election Day, the feds give up on trying to shut down the Berkeley Patients Group, and more. 

National

On Monday, a new report called marijuana a "promising option" for dealing with opioid addiction. A new report from the National Cannabis Industry Association finds that increasing legal access to marijuana can be a potent weapon in the fight against opioid addiction. The report finds significant progress in reducing addiction and overdose deaths in states that have legalized it.

Arkansas

Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court rejected a bid to reinstate a medical marijuana initiative. The state's high court Thursday denied a petition for a rehearing on its decision to disqualify Issue 7. Another medical marijuana initiative, Issue 6, remains on the ballot.

On Tuesday, Arkansas voters approved Issue 6.

California

Last Monday, the feds gave up on trying to shut down Berkeley's flagship dispensary. The Justice Department has given up on its efforts to shut down the Berkeley Patients Group. The three-year effort came to an end Monday, when federal prosecutors in San Francisco filed a motion to dismiss their civil forfeiture case against the dispensary. City officials had supported the dispensary in its battle with then-US Attorney Melinda Haag. The move is the latest sign the federal government is winding down efforts to go after marijuana businesses in states where they are legal. 

District of Columbia

Last Thursday, the DC council approved letting out of state patients purchase medical marijuana. The council has approved a measure to let medical marijuana users from other states use their registration cards to purchase their medicine in the District. The vote was unanimous.

Florida

On Tuesday, the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative passed with 71% of the vote.

Montana

On Tuesday, the I-182 medical marijuana initiative passed with 57% of the vote.

New Mexico

Last Friday, a panel voted to allow medical marijuana for "opiate use disorder." A state advisory board that makes recommendations to the Health Department on New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program voted 5-1 in favor of adding "opiate use disorder" to the list of conditions that qualify. Now, it's up to incoming Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher to accept or deny the recommendation. Such a move could add thousands of new patients to the state's rapidly expanding medical marijuana program.

North Dakota

Last Friday, the medical marijuana initiative campaign got a nice cash boost. North Dakota for Compassionate Care, the group behind the Measure 5 medical marijuana initiative has received an unexpected last-minute donation of $15,000 from Drug Policy Action, the lobbying and campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance. The group will use the money for a final advertising push to get their message out to voters ahead of next week's elections.

On Tuesday, Measure 5 passed with 64% of the vote.

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

Mass Legalizes Marijuana; Maine Still Too Close to Call

New England has become the first region of the country outside the West to embrace marijuana legalization, with voters in Massachusetts approving an initiative Tuesday, while as of early Friday morning, a similar measure in Maine was still too close to call.

At this juncture in the vote count, with 84% of the vote counted, Maine's Question 1 initiative was winning with 51% of the vote, while Massachusetts' Question 4 initiative has won with 53% of the vote. The Associated Press called the Massachusetts victory late Tuesday night

The Maine initiative allows people 21 and over to possess and transport up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana, along with associated paraphernalia. They may also "gift" up to 2 ½ ounces to other adults. Individuals may also grow up to six flowering plants and 12 immature ones at their residences and keep the fruits of their harvest, which could be considerably more than 2 ½ ounces. They can also purchase up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana at a time at licensed marijuana retail stores.

If it squeaks through, the Maine initiative will create a thoroughly regulated and licensed system of marijuana cultivation, production, processing, and retail sales, with a 10% tax on retail sales. Tax revenues beyond program costs will go to the state's general fund.

Cities and towns will have the right to regulate and even prohibit marijuana businesses, and the initiative offers no protection against employer drug testing.

The Massachusetts initiative allows people 21 and over to possess an ounce in public and up to 10 ounces at home, as well as the fruits of their harvest of up to six plants. It also legalizes the possession of pot paraphernalia.

And it creates a commission similar to an Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission to oversee and regulate licensed marijuana cultivation, production, testing, and retail facilities. Retail marijuana sales will be subject to the sales tax of 6.25% and an excise tax of 3.75%, or a 10% tax. Cities and counties could add another 2%.

They can also regulate marijuana businesses, or opt out altogether. The initiative offers no protection against employer drug testing. 

Legalization initiatives also won in California and Nevada Tuesday. A legalization initiative in Arizona appeared to be losing early Friday morning. 

Massachusetts Legalizes It, Arkansas Okays Medical Marijuana

The Associated Press has called Massachusetts, saying Question 4 will win. It's currently at 54% with 77% of the vote counted. 

And Arkansas media sources have reported that the Question 6 medical marijuana initiative will pass. It's currently leading 53% to 47%, with 81% of the vote counted. 

California Legalizes Marijuana!!!

California voters approved the Prop 64 marijuana legalization initiative Tuesday, more than tripling the number of Americans who live in weed-legal states. Although four other states had legalized marijuana before this year's election, legalization in the nation's most populous state will provide momentum for nationwide legalization like never before.

"This is the most important moment in the history of the marijuana legalization movement," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "California is the sixth-largest economy in the world and is hugely culturally influential. Most importantly, this vote will dramatically accelerate the end of federal marijuana prohibition."

Only 13% of the votes had been counted by 8:30 p.m PST, but the measure never trailed and the trend is clear. As of now, Prop 64 is cruising toward victory with 55% of the vote. The Associated Press called the race at 8:13 p.m., less than a quarter-hour after the polls closed.  

The victory in California, along with other marijuana victories Tuesday, will greatly increase the pressure on Congress to consider repealing pot prohibition, Angell said.

"California alone has just added 53 more U.S. House members to the list of federal lawmakers who represent places where marijuana is legal. Last year we came only nine votes shy of winning an amendment to stop federal interference with state marijuana laws. Do the math," he said.

"With California’s huge vote and other results tonight, our movement is in perfect position to increase our already strong momentum," Angell continued. "Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have repeatedly pledged to respect state marijuana laws. And in an interview last week, President Obama said federal marijuana prohibition would be ‘untenable’ if California legalized marijuana. He was right, and it’s time for Congress to get to work passing legislation to get the DEA out of the way of full and effective implementation of these state laws."

Under Prop 64, people 21 and over can possess up to an ounce of weed and grow up to six plants at home and keep the harvest. The new law also creates a system of state-regulated and –licensed marijuana cultivation, processing, manufacturing, testing, transporting, and retail licenses, and includes provisions designed to protect small ma-and-pa cultivators—the people who made California the marijuana mecca it is today. The new law also sets a 15% excise tax on retail marijuana sales.

State-regulated marijuana commerce won't go into effect until January 1, 2018, but the personal possession and cultivation provisions go into effect now. Forty million people just got legal weed.

Twenty years after California opened up the contemporary marijuana revolution with the passage of the Prop 215 medical marijuana initiative in 1996, the Golden State is now prepared to take legal marijuana to a whole new level. 

CA
United States

AP: California Legalizes Marijuana!

Prop 64 is only leading 51% to 49% with 4% of the vote counted, but AP says it's a done deal. 

Florida Votes in Medical Marijuana!

Florida voters easily passed a constitutional amendment to approve the use of medical marijuana Tuesday. A number of Southern states, including Florida, have in recent years passed limited, CBD-only medical marijuana laws, but passage of Amendment 2 means the South has its first full-blown medical marijuana law.

Coming soon to Florida. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
With returns 90% complete at 8 p.m. on election night, Amendment 2 was winning with 71% of the vote. Under Florida law, constitutional amendments not need a simple majority but 60% of the vote.

The second time was the charm for attorney John Morgan and United for Care, which led the charge for Amendment 2. Their first effort in 2014 came up just short, winning 57.6% of the vote, a solid majority, but enough votes to overcome the 60% hurdle. The 2014 effort also had to fight headwinds generated by a "no" campaign financed to the tune of $5 million, primarily thanks to prohibitionist zealot and Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Amendment 2 overcame that electoral hurdle and another multi-million dollar "no" campaign, again with significant contributions from Adelson, as well as Florida arch-prohibitionist Mel Sembler. It also benefited from strong presidential election year turnout and two more years of attitudinal shifts toward tolerance of marijuana in general and medical marijuana in particular.

Under the measure, patients with "debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed Florida physician" will be able to buy weed legally through state-regulated dispensaries. But they won't be able to grow their own. 

Chronicle AM: Obama Says Federal Pot Prohibition "Not Tenable" After Tuesday, More... (11/07/16)

Marijuana Policy 

President Obama Says Federal Pot Prohibition in Question After Tuesday's Vote. Appearing on the Bill Maher Show Friday night, President Obama said federal marijuana prohibition will not "be tenable" if more states vote to legalize the weed on Tuesday. "The good news is is that after this referenda, to some degree it’s gonna call the question, because if in fact it passed in all these states, you now have about a fifth of the country that’s operating under one set of laws, and four-fifths in another," Obama said. "The Justice Department, DEA, FBI, for them to try to straddle and figure out how they’re supposed to enforce laws in some places and not in others — they’re gonna guard against transporting these drugs across state lines, but you’ve got the entire Pacific corridor where this is legal — that is not gonna be tenable," he said.

 

Maine Legalizers Have Huge Cash Advantage. Supporters of the Question 1 marijuana legalization initiative have raised more than $2.4 million dollars, according to campaign finance reports, while opponents have raised only $201,000. Most of the pro-legalization money has come from the New Approach PAC, the instrument of the heirs of late Progressive Insurance founder and drug reform philanthropist Peter Lewis, while 99% of the anti-legalization money has come courtesy of Project SAM's Kevin Sabet, who now heads the newly formed non-profit Alliance for Healthy Marijuana Policy.

Las Vegas Casino Magnate Sheldon Adelson Again Kicks in Against Nevada Pot Initiative. The Sands Corporation head honcho and prolific funder of anti-drug reform efforts has given more than $1.35 million to the campaign trying to defeat the Question 2 marijuana legalization initiative in recent weeks, according to campaign finance reports. That's on top of $2 million he gave opponents in September. In fact, Adelson is virtually a one-man opposition campaign, having provided 97.4% of all reported opposition campaign contributions. Proponents of Question 2 have raised only $1.2 million.

Medical Marijuana

New Report Calls Marijuana a "Promising Option" for Dealing With Opioid Addiction. A new report from the National Cannabis Industry Association finds that increasing legal access to marijuana can be a potent weapon in the fight against opioid addiction. The report findssignificant progress in reducing addiction and overdose deaths in states that have legalized it.

New Mexico Panel Votes to Allow Medical Marijuana for "Opiate Use Disorder." A state advisory board that makes recommendations to the Health Department on New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program voted 5-1 Friday in favor of adding "opiate use disorder" to the list of conditions that qualify. Now, it's up to incoming Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher to accept or deny the recommendation. Such a move could add thousands of new patients to the state's rapidly expanding medical marijuana program.

Asset Forfeiture

Montana Supreme Court Affirms Right to Jury Trial in Civil Forfeiture Cases. In a ruling last week, the state high court upheld and strengthened a 2015 law that reformed asset forfeiture procedures. The ruling came in the case of a man whose land was seized after police found 300 marijuana plants on it. The man was convicted of federal drug charges, but not prosecuted by the state. Even though he faced no state charges, the state seized his land. He requested a jury trial, but was denied in lower court, and a judge turned the property over to the state. But the Supreme Court said the 2015 law supplanted older law on which the trial judge based his decision.

Law Enforcement

Even As Arrests Drop, California Racial Disparities Persist. A new report from the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris finds that arrest rates for all racial groups have dropped in the past decade, but blacks were still much more likely than whites to be arrested on felony charges. When it comes to drugs, black men were six times as likely as whites to be arrested, and black women were nearly three times as likely to be arrested as whites. Latinos, on the other hand, were arrested for drugs at roughly the same rate as whites. 

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