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The Capture of El Chapo: A Capo Gone, But the Trade Goes On [FEATURE]

Special to the Chronicle by Bernd Debusmann, Jr., who is currently studying for an MA in International Journalism at City University London. Prior to that, he lived and worked in his native Mexico, most of it as a full-time freelancer for Reuters TV, also contributing to Fox Latino. Earlier he worked as a reporter in New York City and as a freelance producer for the Reuters Latin American Television Desk in Washington DC, during which time he dealt with many drug trafficking stories. During 2010 and 2011 he authored the weekly Mexico Drug War Update published by this newsletter, available in our Mexican Drug War archive section.

At around 06:40 on the morning of Saturday, February 22nd, Mexican marines and police officers arrested Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman at a condominium in the Pacific resort town of Mazatlan. Without a doubt, Guzman is the most significant organized criminal captured or killed since the current Mexican drug war began in December 2006. But what effect will his capture have on the violence in Mexico and the flow of drugs to American consumers? Not much.

El Chapo in the custody of Mexican Marines Saturday (sedena.gob.mx)
Guzman was widely regarded as the world's most powerful drug trafficker, and his aggressive organization has been a significant contributor to the violence that has gripped Mexico in recent years. This is especially true in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, where the Sinaloa Cartel's bloody and drawn-out takeover of the access routes to the US drug market left thousands dead over the course of a three year orgy of violence.

Since his January 2001 escape from prison, Guzman turned into a mythic figure, Mexico's answer to Osama bin Laden. For much of his administration, former president Felipe Calderon was dogged by accusations that he was protecting Guzman, and ridiculed for not being able to find him. In February 2013, the Chicago Crime Commission named him "Public Enemy #1" for his role trafficking wholesale quantities of cocaine and heroin to the city.

Given his notoriety, Guzman's successful capture is a significant PR victory for the PRI administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto, as well as for the DEA and other American law enforcement agencies. But the victory may well prove much more symbolic than strategically meaningful.

Guzman's capture does not mean an end to the Sinaloa Cartel, a long-established and sophisticated organization whose tentacles spread across the world. The cartel is often referred to as "The Federation," of which Guzman was not the only leader. In his absence, much of the organization will likely come under the control of Ismael Zambada Garcia, aka "El Mayo," a capable and intelligent career drug trafficker considered by many to have been Guzman's equal. The organization can also count on the services of Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, aka "El Azul," a crafty former police officer well known for serving as a peacemaker between rival criminal organizations.

Another possibility is that Guzman may well be able to continue to exercise some control over the organization from inside prison, as he did the last time he was incarcerated. Mexico's prisons are notoriously corrupt, and many drug traffickers and criminals have been able to continue to direct the day-to-day operations of their organizations in relative comfort in posh cells.

Guzman's capture is very unlikely to have an effect on the overall level of violence in Mexico, and may actually lead to an increase in more bloodshed and mayhem if the Federation were to break up into rival factions fighting to fill the vacuum. Many Mexican narco-blogs are already theorizing that Guzman was given up by members of his own organization, perhaps even El Mayo himself.

This was the case after the 2009 killing of Arturo Beltran Leyva, which led violence to spike as his underlings fought amongst themselves to fill the void. It should also be noted that Beltran Leyva's organization was considered part of the Sinaloa Cartel until a violent split with Guzman in 2008, demonstrating the fickle and fluid nature of these organizations.

Another possibility is that -- sensing an opportunity -- Sinaloa Cartel rivals such as the notoriously violent Zetas will take advantage of the arrest and go on the offensive in Sinaloa's turf. This is not without precedent. In mid-2012, the Zetas, along with elements of the Beltran-Leyva organization and the Juarez Cartel, made a push into Sinaloa-controlled territory in mountains of the Sierra Madre.

By the American government's own admission, the Sinaloa Cartel has dozens -- if not hundreds -- of distribution cells across the US, as well as Europe. Additionally, the cartel is thought to have an organized logistical network across Central and South America. Guzman's arrest leaves these networks intact, and business will continue regardless of who is in charge.

That happened after the 1993 killing of Pablo Escobar in Colombia. Despite having eliminated the world's most wanted drug trafficker of the time and leaving the Medellin Cartel in tatters, the northbound flow of cocaine continued. His organization splintered into several smaller organizations, which, while being less capable of challenging the state, were more than up to the task of keeping business going at a steady pace.

Guzman was an immensely important drug trafficker with few equals and had the blood of thousands on his hands. His freedom had become an embarrassment to the Mexican government, and his eventual downfall was inevitable. But it is unlikely to have any significant impact on the flow of drugs from and through Mexico, or on the violence that continues to plague large swathes of the country.

As long as Mexican cartels can deliver the illegal commodities that American (and European) customers want, drug trafficking organizations will continue to exist. While there are very few drug traffickers currently of the same calibre as Guzman, as long as prohibition continues there will be ruthless, violent and intelligent individuals who want to profit from it. This means that there will always be a pool of people to replace men like Guzman. Only through sensible drug laws and demand reduction can these organizations be weakened and eventually driven out of business.

Mexico's El Chapo Guzman Reportedly Captured

Reports are coming out that Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the elusive head of the Sinaloa Cartel has been captured in a joint operation by US and Mexican forces.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman--busted?
In a report this morning, Reuters cited "a US government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity" as saying he had been captured, with "a Mexican security source" saying it had happened in Mazatlan, a seaside city in Guzman's home state of Sinaloa.

But in Mexico City, presidential spokesman Eduardo Sanchez would say only that police have "captured an individual" whose identity has not yet been confirmed.

If they actually have El Chapo, this will be a huge victory for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, which, like its predecessors, has been criticized for its inability for years to track down the head of the country's most powerful drug trafficking organization.

Many, many Mexicans (and others) believe it was not the lack of ability of the government to find Guzman, but the lack of will -- that his huge narco-wealth had protected him from capture for more than a decade since he bought his way out of prison in Mexico.

Somewhere around a hundred thousand people have died in the multi-sided Mexican drug wars in which Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel battled rival drug trafficking organizations, and the cartels fought the police and the Mexican military. (Or, sometimes, the military or the police fought for the cartels, especially Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel.)

Location: 
Mexico

Chronicle AM -- February 19, 2014

NORML endorses a US Senate candidate, pressure mounts for medical marijuana in New York, West Virginia wants to make Sudafed prescription only, and more. Let's get to it:

West Virginia cold sufferers watch out! They're coming for your Sudafed.
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has 51% for Legalization. A poll from Arizona's Behavior Research Center has support for marijuana legalization at 51%, with 41% opposed. In recent months, other polls have showed majorities both for and against legalization.

Maine US Senate Candidate Wins NORML PAC Endorsement. NORML PAC, NORML's political campaign arm, has endorsed Shenna Bellows in her campaign to represent Maine in the US Senate. "Shenna Bellows has been at the forefront of the fight for marijuana legalization even before beginning this campaign," stated NORML PAC Manager Erik Altieri, "During her tenure leading the Maine ACLU, Shenna has demonstrated she has the skill and determination to fight for sensible reforms and has proven to be a vocal and articulate leader in calling for the end of marijuana prohibition. We believe she will be invaluable in the United States Senate to help move the country away from our failed war on marijuana and towards a new, smarter approach." Bellows is seeking the Democratic Party nomination.

Medical Marijuana

Almost Nine Out of Ten New Yorkers Support Medical Marijuana, Poll Finds.A new Quinnipiac poll has support for medical marijuana at 88%, with only 9% opposed. The poll also had a 57% majority for marijuana legalization. Click on the link for more poll details.

Two New York GOP State Senators Announce Support for Medical Marijuana Bill. Two Republican state senators, George Maziarz (R-Newfane) and Mark Grisanti (R-IP-Buffalo), have announced their support for the pending medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Care Act. They are the first Republicans to do so. The Compassionate Care Act has passed the Assembly four times, and Governor Cuomo's administration has said the governor would sign it, but the legislation has long been stuck in the Senate.

Oregon Bill to Block Cities and Counties from Banning Dispensaries Passes Senate. The Oregon Senate Tuesday passed Senate Bill 1531, which would let cities and counties regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, but not ban them. A number of cities have already passed ordinances banning dispensaries before a new state law allowing them goes into effect next month, and the Association of Oregon Cities is threatening to sue if the bill passes. It now goes to the House.

New Mexico Patient Survey Finds Program Not Providing Enough Medical Marijuana. A state Department of Health survey of patients enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program finds that only about 20% of patient demand is being met through legal channels. Licensed growers are producing about 2,250 pounds a year, but the survey put the annual demand from patients at more than 11,000 pounds. The Health Department is now "weighing its options about whether to increase production" and whether to increase the number of producers or the number of plants each can produce, a spokesman said.

Drug Testing

Indiana Food Stamp Drug Test Bill Now Targets Only Those With Misdemeanor Drug Convictions. A bill that would have required drug screening for all food stamp applicants and drug testing for those deemed likely to be using has been amended to now apply only to people who have misdemeanor drug convictions in the past 10 years. (People with drug felonies are ineligible for food stamps under a federal law that Indiana has not opted out of.) House Bill 1351 passed the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee after being amended. It has already passed the House.

Methamphetamine

Bill Making Sudafed Prescription-Only Passes West Virginia Senate. A bill that would make access to OTC cold medications containing pseudoephedrine available by prescription only passed the state Senate Tuesday. Senate Bill 6 now goes to the House. The measure is aimed at reducing the number of meth labs in the state, although it has had only temporary effects in the other two states where it has been adopted. Pseudoephredrine is a precursor chemical in meth manufacture.

International

Georgia to Ban Synthetic Cannabinoid Chemicals. Georgian Minister of Labor, Health and Social Affairs Davit Sergeenko said Wednesday a law on criminalizing the basic biochemical formulas used to create synthetic cannabis has been almost completed. "From now on, these substances will be considered as illegal and all the control mechanisms and limits that are set on other legal or illegal drugs will be valid for synthetic cannabis too," Sergeenko said.

Myanmar Extends Opium Crop Substitution Program in Northern Shan State. The Myanmar government, working in cooperation with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, is extending its crop substitution program for poppy farmers in Northern Shan State. The idea is to increase farmers' food security in areas where eradication has taken place. Last year, Myanmar eradicated about one-fifth of the estimated poppy crop.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM -- February 11, 2014

California's narcs are whining about Obama's marijuana remarks, Coloradans seem happy with legalization, a Good Samaritan overdose bill is filed in Maryland, an Israeli newspaper talks pot policy, and a Colombian FARC representative lays out the guerrilla's drug proposals, and more. Let's get to it:

Coca plants. The FARC has plans for them. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization More Popular Than Ever in Colorado. A year after marijuana possession became legal in the state and a month after retail marijuana sales began, Coloradans are more supportive than legalization than ever, according to a new poll. A Quinnipiac poll released Monday had support for legalization at 58%, three points higher than 55% who actually voted for it in November 2012. And 73% said they wouldn't mind if their neighbors grew marijuana in their homes.

California Narcs Unhappy With Obama Marijuana Comments. California's narcs are displeased with President Obama's recent remarks suggesting that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol. In an open letter Monday, the California Narcotics Officers' Association took "strong issue" with the president's statements and warned that marijuana poses "significant risks to public health." The full text of the letter is at the link.

Wyoming Activists "Walk for Weed" at State Capitol. Several dozen marijuana legalization activists demonstrated at the state capitol in Cheyenne Monday armed with signs reading "Legalize, Not Legal Lies" and "Turning a Red State Green in 2016." The protest was an action by Wyoming NORML, which aims to put a legalization initiative on the ballot then.

North Carolina Legislator Vows to Introduce Legalization Measure. Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg) said Monday he will introduce a marijuana legalization constitutional amendment when the legislature reconvenes in May. "It's an inevitable thing," he said. "Trying to stop that movement reminds me of somebody marching out to the beach, holding up their hand and saying the tide will not rise."

Medical Marijuana

Washington State Bills to Fold Medical Marijuana into Legal Marijuana System Moving. A pair of state Senate bills that would end collective gardens for medical marijuana patients advanced last Friday, while a House bill that would reduce the amount of medicine and the number of plants patients or caregivers can possess moved on Monday. Senate Bill 5887 and Senate Bill 6178 each passed 6-1 in the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor on Friday. Both were second substitute versions. House Bill 2149 passed out of the House Appropriations Committee Monday.

Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Needs Revisions, Sponsor Says. After a three-hour committee hearing Monday, state Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), the sponsor of the CBD medical marijuana bill, House Bill 885, said it needed significant revisions before it could advance in the House. The hearing included searing testimony from parents of children suffering seizures, but also from physicians who said the use of CBD cannabis oils needed more study. Another hearing is set for Thursday.

Drug Testing

Illinois Bill to Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients, General Assembly Candidates Filed. A bill that would require candidates for the state House and Senate to undergo drug testing and bar them from running if they test positive has been filed in Illinois. Rep. Bill Mitchell (R-Forsythe) said he introduced House Bill 5292 with the political candidate provision because he thinks elected officials should be held to the same standards as food stamp recipients. The bill also calls for mandatory suspicionless drug testing of food stamp recipients. Requiring drug tests of candidates for office, and requiring drug tests of public benefits recipients without individualized suspicion, have both been held unconstitutional by the federal courts.

Harm Reduction

Maryland Good Samaritan 911 Overdose Prevention Bill Proposed. Delegate Jon Cardin (D-Baltimore) today proposed a bill that would offer limited immunity for nonviolent drug possession charges if that person contacts police or emergency personnel for reports of an overdose. "While I don't condone illegal drug or alcohol use or abuse, we should make sure overdose victims are brought to safety and not allow them die out of fear of being arrested," said Cardin in a statement. "There is strong evidence that overdose victims and their friends would often rather let someone die than call emergency personnel. This should never happen. This law is a common sense way to literally save thousands of lives." The bill was not yet on the legislative web site as of Tuesday afternoon.

International

In-Depth Interview with FARC Representative on Colombian Guerrilla Group's Drug Policy Proposals. The Voice of Russia has recorded an extensive interview with FARC peace delegation member Laura Villa on the FARC's drug policy proposals, which begin from the premise that drug prohibition has failed. FARC policies call for respect for the coca leaf, decriminalization of the coca crop (in the context of land reform), a public health approach to drug consumption, as well as demilitarization, an end to aerial eradication, and compensation for victims of eradication. The entire interview is quite illuminating and worth the read.

Israel Hayom Debates Marijuana Legalization. Editors and contributors to Israel's largest circulation daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, debated marijuana legalization in the Holy Land. Check out the debate by clicking on the link.

Chronicle AM -- February 10, 2014

State legislatures are busy with drug policy issues, particularly marijuana and medical marijuana, a Texas grand jury refuses to indict a man who killed a cop in a no-knock drug raid, Mexican vigilantes are duking it out with the Knights Templar in Michoacan, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Southern Cannabis Reform Conference in Atlanta Next Month. Peachtree NORML is hosting a marijuana reform conference in Atlanta on March 22. Click on the title link for ticket information.

Washington Bill Would Use Marijuana Revenue to Help Fund College Tuition. A bill introduced by Sen. Mike Baumgartner (R-Spokane) to effectively cap tuition rates at state colleges and universities relies in part on expected marijuana tax revenues. The bill, House Bill 6043 is part of Baumgartner's broader plan to improve basic education and ease the tuition burden on college students.

Legalization Bill Stalls in New Mexico Senate. A bill that would let New Mexico voters decide whether to legalize marijuana is stalled -- at least for now -- in the state Senate. The Rules Committee last Friday failed to debate it, but bill sponsor Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino said he hoped the committee would take it up this week.

New Hampshire House Subcommittee Meeting on Legalization Bill Today. A House Ways and Means Committee subcommittee is discussing the revenue and regulatory aspects of a bill that would make marijuana legal and regulate it like alcohol in the Granite State. House Bill 492 would make personal possession and home cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana legal for adults age 21 and older. It would also direct the state to license and regulate marijuana retail, cultivation, production, and testing facilities. The subcommittee is expected to consider changes to the bill's proposed system for taxing and regulating marijuana. The bill has already passed the House once, but must do so again before heading to the Senate.

Los Angeles Mayor Suggests He Could Support Legalization. In an interview with a local TV station, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti suggested he could support an initiative that legalized marijuana. "[Legalizing marijuana] would make life easier to me in terms of the regulations... I think there's probably a majority of Californians that would like to see that, and I generally would be for that. I've never seen much of a difference between marijuana and alcohol... alcohol has rules around it," Garcetti said. "If we had something similar with marijuana it would probably be a good revenue generator." To listen, go to the 3:23 mark in the second video.

Hawaii Appeals Court Nixes Local Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Initiative. The Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled last Friday that a voter-approved Hilo County initiative directing law enforcement to make adult personal use of marijuana on private property its lowest priority is unenforceable. The 2008 initiative won handily in Hilo, but the county council failed to implement it. Both a district court and now the appeals court have ruled that state marijuana laws preempt it. Advocates vowed to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Oregon Bill to Refer Legalization to Voters Gets Hearing Tuesday. A bill that would put a legislature-written marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot gets a hearing Tuesday. Senate Bill 1556 is set for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Bill to Let Localities Ban Dispensaries Gets Hearing Tuesday. A bill that would allow cities and counties to ban dispensaries gets a hearing Tuesday. The bill, Senate Bill 1531, will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Colorado Patient Wins Fight to Stay in Federal Housing. A quadriplegic medical marijuana patient who was threatened with eviction from the Longmont Housing Authority has prevailed in her struggle to remain, and she has prompted the housing agency to create a new policy. Ashley Weber is that patient.

Support for Medical Marijuana in Guam at 55%. A University of Guam poll has support for medical marijuana at 55%. The poll comes as the Guam legislature considers a bill that would ask residents to vote in a referendum to approve medical marijuana.

Support for Medical Marijuana in Kentucky at 52%. The latest Bluegrass Poll has support for medical marijuana in Kentucky at 52%, with 37% opposed. Last year, the same poll had support for "prescribed" marijuana at 60%. This year's poll dropped "prescribed," and that accounted for the difference, said pollster Jay Leve of SurveyUSA. A CBD medical marijuana bill is currently before the legislature.

Support for Medical Marijuana Amendment in Florida at 57%. A Gravis Marketing poll has support for the state's medical marijuana initiative at 57%, with 31% opposed. But support dropped dramatically when voters were reminded that the production and sale of marijuana remained illegal under federal law, with 54% opposing, 27% supporting, and 19% uncertain.

Arizona Officials Propose Easing Rules. State health officials are proposing changes for Arizona's medical marijuana program, including one that would allow additional permit holders to grow their own. Click here to check out the proposed draft rules.

Wisconsin CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Hearing Wednesday. A bill that would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil gets a hearing in the Assembly Committee on Children and Families Wednesday. The bill, Assembly Bill 726, has three Republican cosponsors, but faces other hostile Republican legislators.

Methamphetamine

South Dakota Bill to Add State to National Monitoring System Passes Senate. A bill that would add South Dakota to the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) passed the Senate last week and now heads to the House. Senate Bill 24 is supported by Attorney General Marty Jackley and other state officials. Under the bill, retailers selling pseudoephedrine (e.g. Sudafed) would electronically submit the purchaser's name, date of birth and address, along with the quantity sold at the specific time and date. [Ed: Methamphetamine manufacturing rings have gotten around pseudoephedrine purchase limits by hiring "smurfers" to buy the substance for them. It's not clear how the national database will be more effective in this regard than previous monitoring systems.]

Drug Testing

West Virginia Public Benefits Drug Testing Bill Targets Felons and Drug Offenders. Convicted felons and drug offenders would have to pass a drug test before obtaining federal or state assistance under a bill introduced in the state legislature last Thursday. House Bill 4433 would mandate that those who fail the drug tests would be ineligible to apply for assistance for two years, but that would drop to six months if they took drug treatment and passed a second drug test. The bill is before the House Judiciary Committee.

Sentencing

Missouri Criminal Code Revisions Would Cut Drug Sentences. An 1,100-page bill that revamps the state's criminal laws reduces a number of drug sentences. Marijuana possession would be reduced from up to a year in jail to no jail time for first offenders. Felony drug possession maximum sentences would drop from seven years to four. The bill has more support in the Senate than in the House, where Rep. Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia), head of the House Judiciary Committee, said he opposed using the bill to change the drug laws. The bill is Senate Bill 491.

Federal Judge Cuts Marijuana Sentences, Citing Likely Federal Sentencing Reforms. Why wait? A Tennessee federal judge last Thursday gave reduced prison sentences to three major marijuana offenders, saying he expects Congress to act to lower sentences for drug offenders. Judge Curtis Collier citing the pending approval of the Smarter Sentencing Act and recommendations from the US Sentencing Commission. The three defendants got about half the prison time they otherwise would have.

Law Enforcement

Innovative Diversion Program Underway in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Santa Fe city council has approved adoption of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program pioneered in Seattle. Instead of sending minor offenders back into the criminal justice system, LEAD offers them a chance to obtain essential wraparound services, such as housing, job training, transportation, counseling and addiction treatment -- all of which might help them stay away from crime and live a better life. The Drug Policy Alliance is credited with turning local leaders on to the program.

Utah Cops Pay $75,000 to Settle Wrong House Drug Raid Lawsuit. Salt Lake City will pay $75,000 to settle a claim filed by a 76-year-old woman after narcotics detectives raided the wrong house and pointed a gun at her. The no-knock raid in 2012 led to an immediate apology by the police chief and new leadership in the narcotics division. The claim was actually settled in November, but local media only unearthed it after filing FOIA requests.

Texas Grand Jury Refuses to Return Murder Indictment Against Home Owner Who Killed Cop in No-Knock Drug Raid. A Central Texas grand jury has refused to return a murder indictment against a Burleson County man who shot and killed sheriff's Sgt. Adam Sowders as Sowders led a group of law enforcement raiders through the door of the man's mobile home in a no-knock, pre-dawn drug raid on December 19. The raiders had a search warrant for the home of Henry Goedrich Magee and were looking for marijuana plants and guns. But when they burst through the door, Magee, who was sleeping with his girlfriend, feared a home invasion robbery, grabbed a gun from his bed side, and opened fire, killing Sowders.

International

Britain's Nick Clegg Continues Stirring the Pot on Drug Reform. Liberal Democrat leader and coalition government junior partner Nick Clegg continues to demand that drug reform be taken seriously in Britain. He penned a strong op-ed in The Observer Sunday bewailing the failures of the drug war and calling for an end to "the tradition where politicians only talk about drug reform when they have left office because they fear the political consequences."

Colombians Say Mexican Cartels are Now Cooking Their Own Cocaine. Mexican drug cartels are moving on from importing South American cocaine and are now manufacturing their own, according to Colombian authorities. The claim came after Colombian police busted a load of more than a thousand pounds of coca paste as it was being loaded on a plane to Mexico. "It's the first time we've made that kind of seizure," General Ricardo Restrepo, head of the police anti-narcotics unit, said. "If they're buying paste, it's because they have a laboratory there."

Mexican Vigilantes Take Over Cartel-Held Michoacan City. Anti-cartel vigilantes now organized as part of state police forces arrived in the Knights Templar stronghold of Apatzingan, Michoacan, on Saturday. Hundreds of vigilantes, backed by armored vehicles and army troops moved into the center of town. Searches for Knights Templar leaders and members are now reportedly underway.

Chronicle AM -- February 4, 2014

Legalization proves profitable for Colorado's coffers, decrim moves closer in DC, more drug test bills get filed, Vermont attempts to do something about its opioid problem, a crime lab scandal brews in Florida, and more. Let's get to it:

meth house (assumptionsheriff.com)
Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Approves Decriminalization Bill. The District of Columbia city council today gave initial approval to the "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014" (Council Bill 20-409), which would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing or using marijuana and ensure that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing. The bill still faces another council vote, needs the approval of the mayor, then needs Congress to let it happen.

Colorado Takes in $1.2 Million in Marijuana Taxes in First Month. According to an NBC News survey of Colorado retail marijuana shops, pot sales in the month since they were legal have contributed at least $1.24 million in tax revenues to state coffers. But wait -- there's more: The survey only counted tax receipts from half of the shops that opened New Year's Day, meaning the month's total is probably in the $2.4 million to $3 million range.

Arizona Democrat Files Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Rep. Ruben Gallegos (D) and 12 other Democrats have filed a bill to "regulate and tax marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol." The measure, House Bill 2558, allows for the possession of up to an ounce and a small number of plants as well. Another bill, House Bill 2474, would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce.

Medical Marijuana

CBD Oil Medical Marijuana Bill for Epileptic Kids Filed in Utah. A bill that would allow for the importation into the state of marijuana extracts containing cannabidiol for use by epileptic children has been filed in Salt Lake City. Rep. Gage Froerer (R-Huntsville) introduced House Bill 100 yesterday.

Hemp

Indiana Senate Passes Hemp Bill. A bill that would allow the production of industrial hemp in the Hoosier State was approved unanimously by the Indiana Senate Monday. Senate Bill 357 would require a waiver from federal law before hemp could be grown there. The bill now heads to the House.

Drug Testing

Georgia Food Stamp Drug Test Bill Filed. State Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia) has filed a bill to require mandatory, suspicionless drug testing for food stamp recipients. The bill is House Bill 772. Similar legislation ordering mandatory, suspicionless drug testing for welfare recipients was signed into law in 2012, but never implemented after a federal judge struck down a similar Florida law.

Northern Marianas Bills Would Require Drug Tests for Candidates, Elected Officials. Bills that would require that candidates for political office and elected officials submit to mandatory drug testing have passed the House Committee on Judiciary and Government Operations. House Bill 18-21 requires testing for candidates, and House Bill 18-152 requires testing for elected officials. The US Supreme Court has found a similar Georgia law unconstitutional.

Drug Treatment

Vermont Rolls Out Early Intervention Program for Criminal Drug Users. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) and other state officials Monday announced a new program to divert crime-committing drug users into a pre-court, 90-day drug treatment program. If they successfully complete the program, they will not be prosecuted. Only those with nonviolent offenses will be eligible. "Instead of treating this as a crime, let's treat it as the disease that it is and offer addicts the opportunity to get into treatment, get the support they need and if they succeed, never to have to go through the criminal process," Shumlin said Monday at the Rutland County Courthouse.

Law Enforcement

Crime Lab Scandal Has Florida Police Reviewing Thousands of Drug Cases. Hundreds of drug convictions may be jeopardized and thousands of drug cases are under review in Florida after a single chemist at a state-run crime lab was accused of tampering with evidence. The chemist, who works at the Pensacola Regional Crime Lab, is suspected of removing "large" quantities of prescription pills from evidence packages and replacing them with over-the-counter medications, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced Saturday. That chemist handled at least 2,600 drug cases.

Methamphetamine

Indiana House Passes Meth Property Disclosure Bill. A bill that would require Indiana property owners to disclose to potential new buyers whether the property had previously been used to manufacture methamphetamine passed the House Monday. The bill, House Bill 1141, would require that such properties be listed on a state web site until at least 90 days after it has been certified as decontaminated. The measure now goes to the Senate.

International

Scholar Francisco Thoumi Offers Comprehensive Analysis of FARC Illicit Drug Cultivation Proposals. Colombian scholar Francisco Thoumi, a long-renowned expert on drug production and trafficking there, has authored a lengthy analysis of the FARC's proposals in peace negotiations with the Colombian government in the area of illicit crop cultivation. The article is Las FARC y el campesinado cultivador de plantas ilícitas: dilemas, ideología y decisiones (The FARC and the Drug-Growing Peasantry: Dilemmas, Ideology, and Decisions). It is in Spanish, but can be translated.

In Colombia, British Liberal Democrat Leader Says UK Should Abandon Current Drug Policies. During a visit to Colombia, British Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said Britain should abandon its current drug policies because they're not working. He said new approaches were needed, but declined to back full legalization. He said the Lib Dems would offer their own alternative proposals shortly.

Chronicle AM -- January 29, 2014

Superbowl-linked banners chiding the NFL on marijuana policy go up, drug testing of students, workers, and welfare recipients is in the news, a federal sentencing reform bill picks up support, Guatemalan peasants pick up rocks and sticks to chase off eradicators, and more. Let's get to it:

MPP's Superbowl billboards take advantage of the hoopla to challenge the NFL.
Marijuana Policy

Obama's State of the Union Remarks on Marijuana Policy. Sorry, there weren't any. Nor did he speak about sentencing reform or any other aspect of drug policy.

Superbowl Banners Chide NFL on Marijuana Hypocrisy. The Marijuana Policy Project has launched a billboard blitz on the NFL, using five billboards around MetLife Stadium, where the game will be played Sunday, to highlight the hypocrisy of the leagues' marijuana policy. The group also delivered a petition with more than 12,000 signatures to league headquarters in New York City Wednesday calling on the league to stop punishing players for using pot.

Wall Street Journal/NBC Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55%. Yet another poll is out showing majority support for marijuana legalization. The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll has it at 55%. Click on the link for more details.

Nevada Legalization Advocates Focus on 2015. Nevada marijuana activists are crafting language for an initiative to legalize the herb with an eye on gathering enough signatures this year and next to put the measure before the state legislature. If the legislature then fails to approve it, it would go before the voters in 2016.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Announces Selection of First Medical Marijuana Producers. State officials Tuesday announced that four applicants have been chosen as the first-ever producers of medical marijuana to serve the needs of seriously ill patients in Connecticut. Each of the four businesses now must establish escrow arrangements in the amount of $2 million, and pay their annual license fee, at which time their operating license will be issued. Producers must be operational within 180 days of licensure. Additional information about the licensed producers will be made available in the near future.

Harm Reduction

10th Annual National Harm Reduction Conference Set for Baltimore in October. This is the nation's largest annual harm reduction event. Click on the link for all the details.

Drug Testing

New Jersey School District Abandons Random Student Drug Testing Bid. The Northern Valley Regional School District has given up its effort to impose random drug testing on students involved in extracurricular activities. After a year of debate, with many parents fiercely opposing the plan, the school board voted it down 5-4.

Maine Workplace Drug Testing Bill Under Consideration. A bill backed by conservative Republican Gov. LePage and the state Department of Labor is designed to encourage an expansion of drug testing by private employers. Legislative Document 1669 would remove the current provision that requires employers to maintain an employee assistance program and pay for half the costs of drug treatment. The bill would also make it easier for employers to identify potential drug abuse by creating a probable standard for testing that could be triggered by a single accident within the workplace. The bill is opposed by labor unions and the ACLU of Maine, which calls it a serious invasion of employee privacy.

Indiana Welfare Drug Testing Bill Passes House. A welfare drug testing bill easily passed the Republican-dominated House Tuesday. House Bill 1351 would require welfare applicants to take a written test that measures their propensity to use drugs. Those whom the test says are likely to be drug users would be required to undergo drug testing. Persons who fail the drug test could keep their benefits, provided they undergo drug treatment. But, as bill critic Rep. Vanessa Summers (D-Indianapolis) pointed out, the state doesn't offer low-cost drug treatment. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Sentencing Reform

Federal Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up More Supporters. The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013, which would reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, give judges more discretion to sentence beneath the mandatory minimums, and apply retroactive sentence reductions to some crack cocaine offenders, has picked up more support this year. It was introduced with two cosponsors, Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Angus King, Jr (I-ME) came on board last fall, and Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) have joined as cosponsors this month. The link is to the bill itself.

International

Canada Opposing Harm Reduction Policies in UN Fight. In the fight over new guidelines for the global drug control regime at the United Nations, Canada is opposing efforts to place a stronger emphasis on harm reduction measures. Drug policy groups monitoring the negotiations say Canada has joined ranks with China, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and Russia in aggressively opposing European endorsements of health policies aimed at reducing harms, such as HIV transmission, among drug users. Canada also opposes the participation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in future UN drug policymaking sessions. "The Government of Canada believes that the best way to address the public health consequences of injection drug-use is to prevent people from using illicit drugs in the first place," said a Canadian government spokesperson, refusing to elaborate further.

Guatemalan Peasants Attack Opium Poppy Eradicators. Scores of opium-growing peasants in a community near the Mexican border attacked a national police contingent sent out to eradicate their crops Monday. Indian peasants in Tajumulco blocked the way and threw rocks, sticks and incendiary bombs at the contingent to stop it from reaching the croplands. Three police officers were injured, but police said they would continue eradication efforts. Last month, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina floated the idea of legalizing the poppy crop.

No Marijuana Decriminalization for Guyana, Home Affairs Minister Says. Guyanese Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee Tuesday shot down any talk of liberalizing the country's marijuana laws. "As we speak at this point in time, at twenty minutes to five, on the twenty-eighth day of January, the position and the policy of the government of Guyana is to pursue a zero tolerance policy in respect of trafficking in narcotics, possession of narcotics and any other form of activity in respect of drugs that are deemed illegal according to the laws of our country and according to the treaties and conventions of an international nature which we have signed on to," the Home Affairs Minister declared.

Jamaican Government Still Scared of Western Opposition to Marijuana Reform. Foreign Affairs Minister AJ Nicholson warned Monday that Jamaica must proceed cautiously with calls to decriminalize or legalize marijuana because of fears of violating global drug control treaties and offending the US and European countries. "There is no consideration at this time about changing the treaties, but there are still some concerns about how some Western countries would view our move towards decriminalize, depenalize or anything like that," he said.

Filipino Legislators Ponder Medical Marijuana. Minority lawmakers in the Philippines are considering medical marijuana. Rep. Rodolofo Albano III said that he planned on filing a bill in March that would permit the sale and purchase of cannabis strictly for medical use.

Chronicle AM -- January 28, 2014

The hemp amendment gets included in the farm bill, Colorado's Supreme Court will review medical marijuana patients' employment rights, we have a couple of drug war horror stories, Mexico's security apparatus is joining forces with anti-cartel vigilantes, Saudi Arabia's premarital drug testing program isn't working, and more. Let's get to it:

Destiny Hoffman sat in jail for 154 days after a drug court judge forgot about her. (Clark Co. Jail)
Marijuana Policy

New Poll Has Rhode Island Majority for Legalization. A Public Policy Polling survey conducted at mid-month has 53% of Rhode Island voters in favor of changing state law to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol. Only 41% were opposed.

Wisconsin Marijuana Legalization Bill to Be Filed. State Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) is looking for cosponsors for a marijuana legalization bill. The bill, not yet filed, would allow adults to possess limited amounts of pot and create a system of regulated marijuana commerce.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Supreme Court to Review Case of Fired Medical Marijuana Patient. The state Supreme Court announced Monday that it would review the case of Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who was fired from his job for using medical marijuana on his own time. For the first time, the court will consider whether the state constitution gives residents a right to use medical marijuana. A state appeals court had ruled that patients don't have a right to use marijuana, and that employers can fire them for any marijuana use.

Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill to Be Filed Today. State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) was expected to file a bill today that would allow children suffering from epileptic seizures to use high-CBD cannabis oil. The bill has not appeared on the legislative web site as of this afternoon.

Hemp

Hemp Amendment Included in Farm Bill, Votes Coming Soon. Congressional negotiators have included an amendment allowing for research into the uses of industrial hemp in the omnibus farm bill. Votes in both houses of Congress are expected soon.

Drug Testing

Testing for Drugs of Abuse a Multi-Billion Dollar Industry. Thar's gold in them thar urine samples, and we're not talking about the color of the liquid within. According to a new research report from Transparency Market Research, the global market in testing for drugs of abuse was valued at $2.6 billion in 2012 and is expected to grow at an annual rate of 4.8%, reaching a value of $3.4 billion by 2018. The report notes that North America, including the US, is the largest market for drug testing, followed by the UK, Japan, Germany, and other European countries.

White House Okays Drug Testing Database Plan for Truckers. The White House's Office of Management and Budget Monday signed off on a Department of Transportation draft rule that would establish a central database for positive drug and alcohol tests for commercial driver's license holders. Such a move was required by the 2012 highway spending authorization bill. It would require the employers of CDL license holders to report positive test results and refusals to the central database. Previously, results were only disclosed by carriers to other carriers seeking employment verification.

Law Enforcement

Drug Dog Bites Off Part of Woman's Face. An Oklahoma woman suffered severe injuries after a police drug dog searching her vehicle lunged into her car and bit her in the face. Emily Newman had been pulled over for speeding when a Cherokee Nation marshal asked if he could have a drug dog sniff her vehicle. The officer took her to a nearby hospital, while another officer took a family member back to the scene to pick up a piece of her face left lying on the road. It was later stitched back on at the hospital. Police said unspecified drug charges are pending.

Drug Court Judge Forgets He Jailed Woman for 48 Hours; She Rots There for 154 Days. An Indiana woman sentenced to 48 hours in jail for having violated her drug court program sat there for more than five months because her judge failed to order her release. Emily Hoffman had provided a diluted drug test, and drug court Judge Jerry Jacobi ordered her "to be held until further order of the court." The order was done without a hearing or the presence of legal counsel. Hoffman rotted behind bars until a county prosecutor reviewing old cases noticed her and ordered her immediately released. Hoffman's attorney said a civil suit is likely.

International

New Zealand Labor Party Not Interested in Marijuana Decriminalization. The Labor Party has no intention of decriminalizing marijuana even as it courts the Green Party as a potential coalition partner after upcoming elections. The Greens have long called for decriminalization and reiterated that call this week, but only half-heartedly, making clear that the issue wouldn't be a deal-breaker in coalition negotiations.

Saudi Arabia Premarital Drug Testing A Flop, Health Ministry Says. A mandatory drug testing program for prospective brides and grooms has proven useless in determining addiction levels and thus determining marriage eligibility, a top Health Ministry official said. The testing program was made mandatory after reports of widespread drug use among Saudi youth, but the ministry found that "addicts" fooled the test by abstaining from using drugs before undergoing it. [Editor's Note: "Addicts" who are able to abstain from their drug at will sort of beggar the notion of addiction.]

Canada Supreme Court Rejects Random Drug and Alcohol Testing of Employees. In a decision Monday, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that an arbitrator's decision striking down an employer's random alcohol testing program was reasonable. The company, Irving Pulp and Paper, had unilaterally imposed the testing program, and the employees' union challenged it. The case is Communications, Energy and Paper Union of Canada, Local 30 v Irving Pulp & Paper, Ltd.

Mexico Reaches Agreement with Vigilantes to Form Rural Police. Mexican authorities and anti-cartel vigilantes in the western state of Michoacan reached an agreement Monday that would turn the paramilitary forces into "rural police." The agreement is "the integration of citizen groups into institutional life," the interior ministry said, and requires the vigilantes to provide a list of their members and arms to be vetted by security forces. In return, the authorities will provide the new rurales with "the necessary tools for their communication, movement and operation." The vigilantes are at war with the Knights Templar Cartel; some, including Knights Templar members, have accused them of being a front for another cartel, New Generation Jalisco.

Chronicle AM -- January 27, 2014

Florida's medical marijuana initiative will go to the voters in November, the DEA administrator is being both jeered and cheered for her criticism of President Obama's remarks on marijuana, the Supreme Court makes it harder to punish drug dealers for deaths related to their wares, and much more. Let's get to it:

Drug War Chronicle takes no position on the game.
Marijuana Policy

DEA Head Criticizes Obama Marijuana Remarks, Faces Calls to be Ousted. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart last week got a standing ovation from a convention of sheriffs when she criticized President Obama's remarks on the relative safety of marijuana compared with alcohol. But now, drug reformers are calling for her head.

Colorado and Washington NORML in Superbowl "Bud Bowl" Challenge. The contenders in Sunday's NFL Superbowl game, the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, both come from states where marijuana is legal. In honor of their hometown teams and their respective states' legal marijuana status, NORML chapters in Washington and Colorado have engaged in a friendly wager. If the Denver Broncos win, WA NORML has agreed to dress in Bronco colors of blue and orange and sing Karaoke-style Colorado's (second) official state song "Rocky Mountain High" by John Denver. If the Seattle Seahawks win, CO NORML will do the same, but in Seahawk blue and green and singing "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix, a native son of Seattle. [Ed: StoptheDrugWar.org has no position on either the game or the wager.]

New Jersey State Senator Announces Plans to Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D) said late last week that he plans to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. The bill is not yet filed, but envisions language that would tax and regulate marijuana like alchohol.

Harris County (Houston) DA Says Decriminalize It. Responding to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) remarks last week in Davos that he supported decriminalization of marijuana possession, Harris County DA Devon Anderson said she agrees with his call for decriminalization.

Seattle City Attorney Wants More Marijuana Stores. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes last Thursday reiterated his request that the Washington State Liquor Control Board increase the number of marijuana retail stores allowed in the city. The board has set the number at 21, but Holmes has said that is not going to be enough.

Oregon Marijuana Legalization Referendum Bill Filed. State Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-District 4) and several cosponsors have introduced Senate Bill 1556, which would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana possession and commerce for adults. If passed by the legislature, the measure would then go before voters on the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Approves Medical Marijuana Initiative -- It's Going to the Voters! The Florida Supreme Court Monday removed the final obstacle to the state's medical marijuana initiative appearing on the November ballot. It rejected a challenge to the measure's language by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R). The initiative has already had enough signatures validated to qualify. Click on the link to read the opinion and the text of the initiative.

Guam Medical Marijuana Bill Now Calls for Referendum. Sen. Tina-Muna Barnes, sponsor of medical marijuana Bill 215, announced Monday that she has rewritten the bill "to allow for a referendum, thus placing the question before the People of Guam in the 2014 General Election." She made the change, she said, because "the overwhelming majority of senators from both parties felt that an issue of this importance should be decided by the people directly."

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licenses Set To Be Awarded In Massachusetts. The state Department of Public Health says it hopes to award up to 35 medical marijuana dispensary licenses this week. More than a hundred applications have been submitted. State law allows up to five dispensaries in each county in the state.

Drug Testing

Bangor (PA) School District Wants Random Drug Tests for Teachers. A policy that would make the Bangor Area School District the only one in the state to require random, suspicionless drug testing of teachers is part of negotiations for a new union contract. The contract being discussed wouldn't impose random drug testing, but would require teachers to put it to a vote. The issue came to the fore in the area after a teacher died of a heroin overdose in the apartment of a wrestling coach in 2009.

Illinois Welfare Drug Testing Bill Introduced. State Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) has introduced a bill that would require welfare applicants to undergo a drug test before becoming eligible to receive benefits. House Bill 4255 does not include an intermediary step of drug screening to determine which applicants are likely to be drug users, but goes straight to testing all applicants. The federal courts have found similar laws unconstitutional.

Sentencing

US Supreme Court Restricts Heroin Death Sentencing Enhancement. The US Supreme Court ruled Monday that a heroin dealer cannot be held liable for a customer's death if the heroin use was only a contributing factor and not necessarily the sole cause. Federal law imposes a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence when "death or serious injury results from the use" of an illegal drug, and prosecutors have used the statute to win the tough sentences, but the high court held Monday that prosecutors must prove that the drug was the specific cause of death, not just a contributing factor. The case is Burrage v. United States.

San Francisco Jail Population Dropping Because of Decrease in Drug Arrests. A report from the San Francisco board of supervisors' budget analysts says the jail population has dropped because of decreased drug arrests and city policies that promote alternatives to incarceration. The jail population is down 30% since 2008. The report comes as supervisors wrangle over whether the city needs a new jail and how big it should be.

Law Enforcement

DEA Busts Bitcoin Exchange CEO for Silk Road Money Laundering. Charlie Shrem, the CEO of BitInstant, a Bitcoin exchange, has been arrested by the DEA and is charged with money laundering for selling over $1 million in Bitcoins to users of the Silk Road dark web drug sales site, who used the currency to buy drugs there. Shrem faces federal money laundering charges. Shrem and an unnamed coconspirator were both charged. "Hiding behind their computers, both defendants are charged with knowingly contributing to and facilitating anonymous drug sales, earning substantial profits along the way," DEA agent James Hunt said in a release.

Virginia Bill to Criminalize "Secret Compartments" Filed. A bill introduced by state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) would make it a crime to knowingly have a secret compartment in a car -- even if there isn't anything in it. The bill, Senate Bill 234, makes having such a compartment a felony and defines a "false or secret compartment" as any enclosure that is integrated into or attached to a vehicle or vessel, the purpose of which is to conceal, hide, or prevent the discovery of a person, controlled substance, or other contraband.

International

Mexican President Invites Anti-Cartel Vigilantes to Join Security Forces. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said last Thursday that anti-cartel vigilantes or militias were a result of institutional weakness within national security forces and asked them to join those same security forces. He asked them to do "to do it by observing the principles and formalities of the law, fulfilling the requirements to become part of the security corps." The vigilantes are engaged in ongoing battles with the Knights Templar cartel in the state of Michoacan.

Dutch MP Calls on Government to Allow Marijuana Growing Pilot Projects. Labor MP Marith Rebel called last week for Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten to allow experiments with the legal production of marijuana. "Turning a blind eye to the fact the cafes are selling marijuana but not recognizing the fact they also have to buy it is helping criminals," Rebel said. Opstelten last month rejected calls from local councils to allow regulated grows, even though polls show majority support for the move.

New Zealand Greens Will Push for Marijuana Decriminalization, But Not Too Hard. New Zealand's Green Party says it will push for decriminalization in any post-election negotiations with Labor, but that the issue will not be a deal breaker. "I would like to progress a vast amount of our policy, and that would be one," said party coleader Metiria Turei. "We believe a drug-free lifestyle is the healthiest, but we don't believe people should be convicted of a crime, adults, if they smoke cannabis. So we still consider decriminalization is the wisest policy." But she also said the party had no bottom lines as it ponders the prospect of a coalition government with Labor.

Chronicle AM -- January 16, 2014

Florida's medical marijuana initiative appears poised to qualify for the ballot (if it survives a challenge in the state Supreme Court), a new poll finds the country evenly split on marijuana legalization, Afghanistan was on the agenda in the Senate yesterday, and more. Let's get to it:

harvesting opium poppies in Afghanistan (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

ABC News/Washington Post Poll Has Americans Split on Marijuana. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll has support for marijuana legalization nationwide at 49%, with 48% opposed. The poll is in the same ballpark as other polls since the November 2012 elections, where support for legalization has ranged between 45% and 58%. Click on the link to see full poll results.

DEA Operations Chief Bemoans Marijuana Legalization Trend. DEA operations chief James Capra told a Senate committee Wednesday that marijuana legalization at the state level was "reckless and irresponsible" and could lead to dire consequences. "It scares us," Capra said, responding to a question. "Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again." [Editor's Note: No country had legalized marijuana until Uruguay did late last year, and that hasn't gone into effect yet. If Capra is referring to Amsterdam, where sales are tolerated, if not technically legal, cannabis coffee shops are now in their fourth decade of existence, and the problems associated with them are relatively trivial.] "There are more dispensaries in Denver than there are Starbucks," he continued. "The idea somehow people in our country have that this is somehow good for us as a nation is wrong. It's a bad thing. This is a bad experiment. It's going to cost us in terms of social costs."

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Petitions Approved for Circulation. Secretary of State Jason Kander announced Wednesday that 13 marijuana legalization initiatives had been approved for signature-gathering. The bakers' dozen initiatives are all variations on a theme: legalize and regulate marijuana in Missouri. They were submitted by Columbia defense attorney Dan Viets, the chairman of the activist group Show-Me Cannabis. To make the November 2014 ballot, organizers must gather 157,778 valid voter signatures for at least one of them by May 4.

Maryland Coalition to Legalize Marijuana Launched. Maryland legislators Thursday launched an effort to get a marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Control Act of 2014, passed this year. They were joined at a press conference by members of the newly formed Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland, which includes the ACLU of Maryland, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Maryland League of Women Voters, the Marijuana Policy Project, and the Maryland NAACP.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Campaign Has Gathered 1.1 Million Signatures. The folks behind the Florida medical marijuana initiative, United For Care/Patients United for Freedom, announced Wednesday night that they had gathered 1.1 million signatures, nearly half a million more than needed to qualify for the ballot. While all the signatures haven't been validated yet, organizers are now confident they will pass that hurdle. Now, they have to wait and see if the state Supreme Court is going to allow the effort to move ahead.

Washington Patients, Advocates Speak Out Against Bill That Would Gut Medical Marijuana System. The House Health Committee got an earful from medical marijuana advocates at a hearing Wednesday on House Bill 2149, which would eliminate cultivation cooperatives (and thus, dispensaries) by 2020 and reduce the amount of marijuana patients could possess and the number of plants they could grow. The bill mirrors many of the recommendations of the state Liquor Control Board, which is charged with implementing I-502 marijuana legalization.

Hemp

Indiana Hemp Bill Introduced. State Sen. Richard Young (D-Milltown) has introduced Senate Bill 357, which would allow the Department of Agriculture to license industrial hemp growing and production. The bill requires the department to get necessary approvals from the federal government, which has yet to approve any such production anywhere in the US.

Illinois Hemp Bill Seeks New Life in 2014. State Rep. Kenneth Dunkin (D-Chicago) introduced a hemp bill, House Bill 2668, last year, but it has languished in committee despite picking up some bipartisan support. He said Wednesday that he was cautiously optimistic that opposition may be softening, and the bill could move this year.

Heroin

Maine Heroin Deaths Up Fourfold from 2011 to 2012. The number of heroin overdose deaths in Maine quadrupled between 2011 and 2012, according to numbers released by state officials Wednesday. Officials said the increase was due to tightening restrictions on the use of prescription opiates, a cheap heroin supply, and, possibly, cuts in MaineCare. But while the increase was dramatic, the 28 heroin overdose deaths reported in 2012 is well below the 2005 peak of 43. In the years between 2005 and 2011, heroin deaths declined steadily.

Heroin Prevention Bill Package Passes Wisconsin Assembly. The State Assembly Wednesday passed the HOPE (Heroin Opiate Prevention and Education) package of four bills designed to reduce the number of overdose deaths in the state. Sponsored by Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), one bill would allow anyone to use naloxone to reverse overdoses, another would grant legal immunity to drug users who call for help in an overdose emergency, a third would allow communities to establish prescription drug drop-off points, and the fourth would require people to show ID when picking up prescription drugs. The naloxone and legal immunity bills are Assembly Bill 446 and Assembly Bill 447. The package now moves to the Senate.

Kratom

Oklahoma Wants to Ban Kratom, But Meets Resistance. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics wants to ban the Southeast Asian herb kratom, which it calls "the legal form of heroin," but kratom fans are responding with dismay and disputing the narcs' assessment. Kratom is not a controlled substance under federal law, but narc Mark Woodward said he planned to ban it until it is federally proven to have medical benefits. Kratom users have started a petition to challenge efforts to ban Kratom.

Drug Courts

Study Finds Drug Courts Ignore Science When it Comes to Opiate Substitution Therapies. A small study of drug courts in New York state finds that their skeptical approach to opiate substitution therapies (OST), such as methadone and buprenorphine, can be a barrier to successful treatment. "Many courts do not respect medical consensus on scientifically sound treatment standards. Some courts included OST as part of court-mandated treatment options, while others allowed OST for a court-defined period of time as a bridge to abstinence. Still others showed intolerance and even disdain for anything having to do with methadone and buprenorphine, or -- as with the drug court in Albany County -- refused outright to admit people on methadone or buprenorphine treatment," the authors wrote. "Ordering people who are dependent on opioids to get off their prescribed methadone or buprenorphine medicines can force patients to seek out and become dependent on other opioids like prescription analgesics. Addiction to prescription opioids has been recognized as a priority problem by U.S. policy-makers, but drug courts may be exacerbating it."

Search and Seizure

ACLU Sues Border Patrol Over Interior Border Check Point Searches. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed suit against the Border Patrol, claiming its agent routinely violate the constitutional rights of local residents by stopping and searching them at interior checkpoints on highways near the border. In a 1976 ruling, the US Supreme Court ruled that immigration checkpoints were permissible if the stops were brief, involved "a limited enquiry into residence status," and a visual inspection of the exterior of the vehicle. "But that's not what's happening here," said ACLU attorney James Duff Lyall in Tucson. He said the cases mentioned in the lawsuit provide strong indications that the Border Patrol is using the checkpoints for general crime control, "which the courts have said is not acceptable for a checkpoint. The same thing is happening over and over again to many border residents," Lyall said. "They're going on fishing expeditions where there's no reasonable suspicion."

International

Afghan Drug Situation "Dire," Federal Auditor Tells Senators."The situation in Afghanistan is dire with little prospect for improvement in 2014 or beyond," Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko told the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Wednesday. Poppy cultivation is at record levels and the drug trade now accounts for 15% of Afghan GDP, Sopko said.

US to Help Afghanistan With Drug Problem, State Department Official Tells Senators. At the same hearing mentioned in the story above, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs") William Brownfield vowed the US would remain committed to helping Afghanistan fight drug production and trafficking even after US and NATO troops pull out at the end of this year. "We will continue to ensure our counternarcotics programs are well integrated with broader US efforts, including assistance programs aimed at supporting a vibrant legal economy," he testified Wednesday. "The expanding cultivation and trafficking of drugs is one of the most significant factors putting the entire US and international donor investment in the reconstruction of Afghanistan at risk," he said.

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