psmith's blog

Prisoner Re-Entry: New Mexico Becomes Second State to "Ban the Box;" New Law Bans Criminal History Query on Public Job Applications

Gov. Bill Richardson (D) Monday signed into law a bill that removes one obstacle to employment for people with criminal convictions. The bill, http://legis.state.nm.us/lcs/_session.aspx?chamber=S&legtype=B&legno= 254&year=10" target=_blank_>SB 254, the Consideration of Crime Convictions for Jobs bill, will remove the question of public job applications about whether a person has been convicted of a felony, leaving such questions for the interview stage of the hiring process. The bill applies to job application for state, local, or federal public jobs. It does not apply to private sector employers. It passed the Senate 35-4 and the House 54-14. Known as "ban the box," such bills are designed to allow ex-convicts a better opportunity to re-enter the job market. Having a job is a key means of reducing recidivism. The measure passed the Senate 35-4 and the House 54-14. New Mexico now becomes the second state to pass such legislation. Minnesota passed a similar measure in 2009. Some cities, including Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, and San Francisco have passed similar measures as well. "Lots of young people - and old people, too - have that one stupid mistake they made years ago," said Republican Sen. Clint Harden, a former state labor secretary who sponsored the bill. The bill gives them a chance to explain before they are shut out of the hiring process: "Yeah, I had a felony when I was 22, I got caught for possession with intent, I did probation, that was 15 years ago, and I don't do drugs now and yadda yadda," he told the Associated Press late last month. "We thank Gov. Richardson for signing the 'ban the box' bill," said Julie Roberts, acting state director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico. "The governor and the New Mexico legislature affirmed their support for people with convictions to be given this opportunity for a second chance. This bill will make our communities safer and keep families together by providing job opportunities to people who need them most." One in five Americans has a criminal record, and Roberts is one of them. She had a drug bust at age 18. "Since then, I've gone to college, I have had internships, I haven't been in trouble for eight years but I still have to check the box," she said. "There's a lot of people like me. This new law will allow individuals who are qualified for a position the chance to get their foot in the door," she said. "As a person with a criminal conviction, this law will not only help me, but others around the state who made a mistake years ago and are now rebuilding their lives." In addition to the Drug Policy Alliance, the bill was supported by the New Mexico Conference of Churches, the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry of New Mexico, the New Mexico Public Health Association, the Women's Justice Project, and Somos Un Pueblo Unido.
Location: 
Santa Fe, NM
United States
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For the record: State Department Report, NYC ODs drop, Guatemalan Top Cop & Head Narc Busted, Salvia Banned in Wisconsin

Even though there was no Chronicle last week--due to your editor's death-battle with a vicious Mexican bug; I only returned to the land of the living on Friday--things continued to happen anyway. Here are a handful of items that would have been in the Chronicle had there been one last week: On Monday, the State Department released its annual state on the world on drugs report. The report, called the 2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy, was going to be the subject of a feature story last week before I got sick. I may still go with it this coming week. Also on Monday, the New York City Health Department reported overdose deaths fell in 2008 to the lowest level since 1999. OD fatalities fell from 874 in 2006 to 666 in 2008. Increased use of naloxane, an opioid agonist used to undo overdoses may get some of the credit. On Tuesday, Guatemala's national police chief and its head narc were arrested for links to drug traffickers and for the murders of five policemen. Police Chief Batlazar Gomez and anti-drug head Nelly Bonilla were arrested during an "investigation into a drug robbery (in April 2009) in Amatitlan, which those detained today are believed to have participated in", said Attorney General Amilcar Velasquez. Five police officers were killed during the robbery. The pair currently face charges of conspiracy, breaking and entering, abuse of power, making illegal arrests, drug trafficking, obstruction of justice, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition. On Thursday, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle signed into law a bill banning salvia divinorum. That makes Wisconsin the 19th state to move against Sally D. A few states have limited its sale to adults, but most of those states have simply banned salvia. The Wisconsin bill, AB 186, bans the manufacture, distribution, or sales of salvia—although not its possession—and backs it up with a $10,000 fine. I'm back at it now, and that means the Chronicle will be back on Friday. In the meantime, I'll most likely post a story or two in the blog just to see if you're paying attention.
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Is it Time for Mexico to Cut a Deal With the Drug Cartels? Jorge Castaneda Wonders If It Hasn't Happened Already

The Winds of Change: Drug Policy in the World opened yesterday in Colonia Napoles, a ritzy area of Mexico City. I would have blogged about it yesterday, but I was in the conference all day long, and in the evening, I attended a related event where they plied us with wine, so I never got around to it. Former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda got it all started in fine provocative form. He suggested during the opening session that Mexico needs to go back to the "good old days" of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), at least when it comes to dealing with drug trafficking organizations. The PRI, of course, ruled Mexico in a virtual one-party state for 70 years before being defeated by Vicente Fox and the conservative National Action Party (PAN) in the 2000 elections. It was widely (and correctly) seen as not fighting the drug trade so much as managing it. Fox, under whom Castaneda served, started to move against the cartels, and his successor, Calderon, accelerated the offensive by bringing in the military in a big way. The result has been a bloody disaster, with Mexico being wracked by an ever mounting death toll as the army and federal police wage war on the so-called cartels, the cartels wage war on the police and the army, and when they're not busy killing cops and soldiers, turn their guns on each other. And the drugs keep flowing north and the guns and cash keep flowing south. Perhaps it is time to return to a quiet arrangement with the cartels, Castaneda suggested. "How do we construct a modus vivendi?" he asked. "The Americans have a modus vivendi in Afghanistan," he noted pointedly. "They don't care if Afghanistan exports heroin to the rest of the world; they are at war with Al Qaeda." Castenada's comments on Afghanistan rang especially true this week, as American soldiers push through poppy fields in their offensive on Marja. The US has made an explicit decision to arrive at a modus vivendi with poppy farmers, although it still fights the trade by interdiction and going after traffickers—or at least those linked to the Taliban. President Karzai's buddies, not so much. Casteneda also came up with another provocative example, especially for Mexican leftists in the audience. "We had a modus vivendi with the Zapatistas in Chiapas," he noted. "We also pretended they were real guerrillas with their wooden rifles. We created a liberated zone, and the army respected it, and it's still there. But it is a simulation—the army could eliminate it in 90 seconds." And in yet another provocative comment on the theme, Casteneda suggested that somebody may already have arrived at a modus vivendi with the Sinaloa Cartel—a suggestion that is getting big play in Mexican newspapers these days. "Why is it that of the 70,000 drug war prisoners in Mexico, only 800 are Chapo Guzman's men?" he asked. "Many people think the government has made a deal with the Sinaloa cartel. I don't know if it's true." This isn't the first time Castaneda has made provocative statements in recent months. At the Drug Policy Alliance conference in Albuquerque in November, he said bluntly that the Mexican military is committing extrajudicial executions of drug gang members and blithely repeated the charge when called on it. All of the Mexicans I've been talking to think Castaneda has political ambitions. Perhaps he's angling for a cabinet appointment in the next presidency or perhaps he's getting ready to run for political office himself. In any case, he certainly has no problem stirring things up when it comes to making allegations about what's going on beneath the surface in Mexico's drug war. Stay tuned for some more blog posts about the conference, which ended just a couple of hours ago. Now that it's done, I have some time to write about it.
Location: 
Mexico City
Mexico
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Do You Think the Drug War Isn't a Big Deal in Mexico? Check This Out

I flew into Mexico City last night to attend the Winds of Change: Drug Policy in the World conference on Monday and Tuesday. I'll be blogging about and reporting on that next week. But today, I want to provide you with one example of how much the narco-violence and the Mexican government's response to it dominates the political discourse in Mexico these days. In today's print edition of the well-respected, slightly left-leaning Mexico City newspaper La Jornada, we have the following headlines on the front page and adjoining main news section: The front page is mainly a come-on for the rest of the paper. The big headline is "In Cancun, [Bolivian President] Evo [Morales] Announces a New OAS Without Canada or the United States." Then there is a half-page photo of the secretary of defense and two generals with a bikini-clad woman facing them, her upturned bottom getting plenty of space. The generals are announcing a pay raise for the troops. I have no idea what the bikini-clad woman was doing there. Then there are some teasers... Page 2--letters to the editor Page 3--The politics page. A story about Cuban-Mexican relations. Page 4--"The PAN [ruling party] 'Unauthorizes' Criticisms by [PAN Sen. Manuel] Clouthier [of Sinaloa]. Clouthier had accused the federal government of coddling "a state government that colludes with delinquency [the narcos]." Clouthier is talking about the state government of his own state, home of the Sinaloa Cartel. Page 5--"Secretary of Defense: It is Inconvenient and Undesirable to Make Permanent the Military Fight Against the Narco." On the same page, a cartoon with the defense secretary saying, "We need a legal framework for the drug war," and President Calderon replying, "Yes, a law that prohibits persecuting El Chapo [Guzman, head of the Sinaloa cartel], for example." Page 6--"The Defense Department Reinforces Security at its Headquarters Fearing Possible Attacks From the Hampa (Narcos). The subhead reads: "The Navy is Also Taking Measures After the Death of [cartel head] Arturo Beltran Leyva," who was gunned down by Naval Marines a few weeks ago." Also on page 6: "Complaints Against the Army Increase 400%, Says the National Commission on Human Rights.' Page 7--"It's Not the Army's Role to Fight the Narcos, Say Senators of the PRD, PRI, and PT." Those, of course, are the opposition parties. Also on page 7: "Initiatives Over Military Participation" about a legal framework for the military's role in the drug war. Also on page 7: "Colin Powell Singles Out the Work of Intelligence Against the Cartels" at a speech in Monterrey. The subhead reads: "He Recognizes the Role of the US in the Growth of Violence Here." Page 8--"The Federal Government Will Inaugurate an Office in Ciudad Juarez to Make Social Programs More Responsive." Also on page 8: "Yesterday's Wave of Violence Leaves 31 Executed, 11 of the Victims in Chihuahua." It is only by page 9 that La Jornada gets around to rest of the national news. The violence in Mexico may get the occasional 30-second treatment on the US networks and the occasional story in the US press, but down here it is a very big deal, all day and every day.
Location: 
Mexico City
Mexico
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Iowa Board of Pharmacy Recommends Medical Marijuana

The Iowa Board of Pharmacy voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend that state lawmakers reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II controlled substance and set up a task force to study how to create a medical marijuana program. Medical marijuana bills have failed to move in the state legislature, but the board's action could help spur forward momentum. Similarly to the federal Controlled Substances Act, Iowa law currently classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug with no proven medical use and a high potential for abuse. By recommending that marijuana be rescheduled to Schedule II—a potential for abuse, but with accepted medical use—the board acknowledged the herb's medical efficacy. Given the board's initial reluctance to take up the issue, the unanimous vote comes as something as a pleasant surprise to advocates. In May 2008, Iowans for Medical Marijuana founder Carl Olsen petitioned the board to reschedule marijuana, arguing that the evidence did not support its classification as Schedule I. The board rejected that request, and Olsen, three plaintiffs, and the ACLU of Iowa sued to force it to reconsider. (See the filings in the case here). Last year, a Polk County judge ordered the board to take another look at the matter. The board again declined to reclassify marijuana, but did agree to a series of four public hearings. It was after those hearings, which were packed with medical marijuana supporters, and after a scientific review of the literature, that the board acted this week. In doing so, it becomes the first state pharmacy board in the nation to take such a step before voters or lawmakers have legalized medical marijuana. The board's action also puts it squarely in line with popular sentiment in the Hawkeye State. According to an Iowa Poll released Tuesday, 64% of Iowans want medical marijuana to be legal. Now, if only the legislature will act on the recommendation of the board and the will of the voters.
Location: 
Des Moines, IA
United States
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DEA Raids Legal Grower in Colorado, Threatens to Target Dispensaries

For the second time in as many weeks, DEA agents in Colorado raided a medical marijuana operation last Thursday. Highland Park medical marijuana patient and provider Chris Bartkowiscz had been seen showing off his basement garden Tuesday night in a blurb for an upcoming local news report. On Thursday, the DEA raided him, seizing his plants and growing equipment. Bartkowiscz has been jailed pending a decision from the US Attorney's Office on whether to charge him. That decision could come tomorrow. This despite last October's Department of Justice memorandum instructing federal agencies to lay off medical marijuana in states where it is legal—unless the provider is violating both state and federal law. DEA Denver Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Jeffrey Sweetin apparently didn't get the memo. Either that, or he is blatantly thumbing his nose at his bosses, the American attorney general and president. In a Saturday interview with local TV 9 News, Sweetin said that even though state law allows for medical marijuana, federal law does not. "We will continue to enforce the federal law. That's what we are paid to do," he said. Sweetin said the Justice Department guidelines give him discretion. "Discretion is: I can't send my DEA agents out on 10-plant grows. I'm not interested in that, it's not what we do. We work criminal organizations that are enterprises generating funds by distributing illegal substances," Sweetin said. Sweetin left open the door to go after medical marijuana dispensaries. "Technically, every dispensary in the state is in blatant violation of federal law. The time is coming when we go into a dispensary, we find out what their profit is, we seize the building and we arrest everybody. They're violating federal law; they're at risk of arrest and imprisonment," he told the http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/22561621/detail.html " target=_blank_>Denver Post. "Technically, every dispensary in the state is in blatant violation of federal law." The October Justice Department memo said the feds should not go after people in "clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana." The memo said nothing about "large grows" or dispensaries not be included. Denver medical marijuana attorney Robert Corry is waiting to see whether the feds will charge Bartkowiscz. On Saturday, he filed a complaint with the Justice Department against Sweetin and the DEA, saying the raid on Bartkowiscz violated the agency's policy on enforcing drug laws in states that allow medical marijuana. Has Sweetin gone rogue? Or is the Obama administration retreating from the position staked out in the October memo? Stay tuned.
Location: 
Denver, CO
United States
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Europe: Anthrax Heroin Toll Rises as England Marks First Death

English authorities announced Wednesday that a Blackpool heroin user died of anthrax, making him the first fatality in England from what is apparently a batch of heroin contaminated with anthrax. The bad dope has been blamed for nine deaths in Scotland and one in Germany since the outbreak began in December. The anthrax fatality announcement from the National Health Service (NHS) in Blackpool came just five days after the Health Protection Agency issued a statement warning that a female heroin user in London had been hospitalized with anthrax. The spate of anthrax cases among heroin users is baffling police and health experts, who have yet to actually come up with any heroin samples containing anthrax spores. There is speculation that the heroin could have been contaminated at its likely source in Afghanistan, perhaps from contaminated soils or animal skins, or that it was present in a cutting agent added there or at some other point on its transcontinental trek to northern Europe. The cases in Germany and England have no known link to those in Scotland, leading to fears that tainted dope could be widespread. On the other hand, the numbers infected remain relatively small. Although harm reductionists and drug user advocates have called for measures including public information campaigns among users, swift access to drug treatment, and making prescription heroin more widely available, British health officials continue to do little more than tell users to quit. Dr. Arif Rajpura, director of public health at NHS Blackpool, was singing from the same official hymnal this week. He repeated warnings for users to stop using and advised them to be on the lookout for symptoms of anthrax, including rashes, swelling, severe headaches, and high fevers. "Heroin users are strongly advised to cease taking heroin by any route, if at all possible, and to seek help from their local drug treatment services. This is a very serious infection for drug users and prompt treatment is crucial," he said.
Location: 
Blackpool
United Kingdom
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Canada: Federal Government to Appeal Ruling Okaying Vancouver Safe Injection Site

The Conservative federal government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper will ask the Canadian Supreme Court to overturn a provincial court ruling that okayed Vancouver's InSite safe injection site. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the government will appeal because the case raised important questions about the division of powers among the federal and provincial governments, the CBC reported Tuesday. InSite in the only supervised drug injection site in North America. It has been in place since 2003, when British Columbia health authorities won a temporary exemption from Canada's federal drug law. While the then Liberal government approved, the now governing Conservatives do not. InSite originally won a three-year exemption from the federal drug law. Under tremendous pressure, the Conservatives grudgingly gave InSite a 15-month extension, then extended it to 22 months ending in June 2008. But fearing the Conservatives' intentions, InSite operator the Portland Hotel Society, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), and two InSite clients filed a lawsuit in the BC courts seeking to have the provincial government, which under Canadian law is responsible for health care, declared the sole authority over InSite—not the federal government and the federal drug laws. InSite and its supporters won in the BC Supreme Court in 2008 and won again last month in the province's highest court, the Court of Appeals. It is those decisions, which puts decisions on whether to keep InSite open firmly in the hands of BC health officials, that the federal government now seeks to overturn. In his remarks Tuesday, Justice Minister Nicholson said nothing about shutting down InSite, instead saying the appeal was about clarifying provincial versus federal powers. "The case we'll be presenting before the court is to ask for clarification," he said. "I think it is important to do that." But Portland Hotel Society director Mark Townsend was running out of patience with the Conservatives. "The courts have now ruled twice in favor of InSite," he said in a statement Tuesday. "Last time, they thought the feds were so out of line they made them pay all the costs. We wish Stephen Harper would stop wasting court time and the taxpayers' money and start helping to solve the drug problem in our community."
Location: 
Ottawa, ON
Canada
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Harm Reduction: Washington Senate Passes Good Samaritan Bill; Would Protect Against Prosecution in Overdose Cases

The Washington state Senate Friday passed SB 5516, the 911 Good Samaritan Act, on a vote of 47-1. One member was absent. The bill now goes to the House. The measure provides immunity from prosecution for drug possession offenses for overdose victims and people who seek medical assistance for overdose victims. It does not grant immunity from prosecution for drug distribution offenses. It also allows expanded access to naloxone, a powerful opiate antagonist that can bring people back from the brink of death from overdoses in a matter of moments. The bill comes as the number of drug overdose deaths in Washington state have increased from around 403 in 1999 to 707, or nearly two a day, in 2006. Drug overdose is now the second leading cause of accidental death in the state, second only to traffic accidents. The bill was opposed by the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, who argued that because there was no budget for publicizing the bill, it would not affect drug-taking behaviors, and thus would be no more than another complicating factor in drug prosecutions. Drug overdose fatalities now outrank traffic accidents as the leading cause of accidental deaths in more than a dozen states. But only one state, New Mexico, has approved a Good Samaritan law. Now, perhaps Washington will be next.
Location: 
Olympia, WA
United States
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Ibogaine Pioneer Howard Lotsof Dead at Age 66

Ibogaine advocate Howard Lotsof, 66, died January 31 in Staten Island, New York. Liver cancer killed him. In 1962, Lotsof, a Bronx native, was strung out on heroin when he ingested a sample of the West African psychoactive substance ibogaine. Rocked by the hallucinatory experience, Lotsof was even more stunned when he realized that after ibogaine he no longer felt compelled to use heroin. For 20 years after that, Lotsof went about his life in the television and movie business, but when an accident cut that career short, he returned to ibogaine and began working to make it available as an addiction treatment. In 1986, he founded a company, NDA International, and began treating clients in Amsterdam. Lotsof originated numerous patents for ibogaine in treating addictions and provided data to the National Institute on Drug Abuse that laid the groundwork for still ongoing research on ibogaine and its use as an anti-addictive substance. More than 60 peer-reviewed scientific papers on ibogaine have been published so far. Thanks almost entirely to Lotsof and his supporters, including Dana Beal and Cures Not Wars, an international network of ibogaine clinics is now in place and treating addicted clients. Lotsof was not a doctor or scientist—his college degree was in film—but an outsider who still managed to bring ibogaine in from the cold and win it academic and scientific respect. He will be missed.
Location: 
New York City, NY
United States
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Medical Marijuana: Colorado Bill to Rein-In Booming Scene Passes Senate

Stunned at the rapid increase in the number of registered medical marijuana patients in the state, the Colorado Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to impose new restrictions on physicians who make medical marijuana recommendations. The Senate voted 34-1 to pass SB 109. Sponsored by Sens. Chris Romer (D-Denver) and Nancy Spence (R-Centennial), the bill would require physicians who make medical marijuana recommendations to have a "bona fide" relationship with patients, including treating a patient before he applies for medical marijuana, conducting a thorough physical exam, and providing follow-up care. The bill would also bar doctors from being paid by dispensaries to write recommendations and require that they not have any restrictions on their medical licenses. Doctors would have to keep records of all medical marijuana recommendations and provide them to state health agencies seeking to investigate doctors for violating state laws. The bill would also require persons between 18 and 21 to get recommended by two different physicians. Colorado began registering medical marijuana patients in June 2001 after voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing its use. For years, the number of patients hovered around 2,000, but after state courts last year threw out a regulation limiting the number of patients caregivers could provide for to five and the Obama administration signaled that it was not going to interfere in medical marijuana states, the numbers exploded. By last September, there were more than 17,000 registered patients, and now the number is near 40,000. A similar boom has gone on with dispensaries, with Colorado now second only to California in their numbers. The bill was supported by Colorado law enforcement and the Colorado Medical Association, but was opposed by most medical marijuana patients and providers. "This is the beginning of the end of the Wild West" for the state's booming medical-marijuana industry, said bill sponsor Sen. Chris Romer. "This bill is an unprecedented assault on the doctor-patient privilege that would hold medical marijuana doctors to a higher standard than any other doctor," medical marijuana attorney Robert Correy told lawmakers. "This would cause human suffering. The most sick and the most poor would be disproportionately harmed. You're going to see the Board of Medical Examiners conducting witch hunts against medical marijuana providers." The bill now moves to the House.
Location: 
Denver, CO
United States
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LA City Council Approves Medical Marijuana Ordinance; Hundreds of Dispensaries Will be Forced to Close, Thousands of Jobs Lost

The Los Angeles City Council voted 9-3 today to approve a medical marijuana dispensary ordinance that, if enforced, will shut down more than 80% of the city's estimated nearly one thousand dispensaries. The ordinance also bars dispensaries from operating within a thousand feet of schools, parks, day care centers, religious institutions, drug treatment centers, or other dispensaries. The ordinance allows for only 70 dispensaries to operate in the city, but grandfathers in 137 dispensaries that were licensed before the council imposed a moratorium on new dispensaries. The number of allowed dispensaries could shrink even further if suitable locations that do not violate the 1,000-foot rule cannot be found. With this vote, the city council will effectively push thousands of dispensary employees onto the unemployment rolls. Look for a feature article on the council vote and its ramifications on Friday.
Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States
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Southeast Asia: Human Rights Watch Charges Torture, Rape, Illegal Detentions at Cambodian Drug "Rehab" Centers; Demands They Be Shut Down

In a scathing 93-page report released today, the international human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Cambodian drug detention centers of torturing and raping detainees, imprisoning children and the mentally ill, and illegally detaining and imprisoning drug users. The centers are beyond reform and should be closed, the group said. "Individuals in these centers are not being treated or rehabilitated, they are being illegally detained and often tortured," said Joseph Amon, director of the Health and Human Rights division at HRW. "These centers do not need to be revamped or modified; they need to be shut down." The report cited detailed testimonies from detainees who were raped by center staff, beaten with electric cables, shocked with cattle prods, and forced to give blood. It also found that drug users were "cured" of their conditions by being forced to undergo rigorous military-style drills to sweat the drugs out of their systems. "[After arrest] the police search my body, they take my money, they also keep my drugs...They say, ‘If you don't have money, why don't you go for a walk with me?...[The police] drove me to a guest house.... How can you refuse to give him sex? You must do it. There were two officers. [I had sex with] each one time. After that they let me go home," said Minea, a woman in her mid-20's who uses drugs, explaining how she was raped by two police officers "[A staff member] would use the cable to beat people...On each whip the person's skin would come off and stick on the cable," said M'noh, age 16, describing whippings he witnessed in the Social Affairs "Youth Rehabilitation Center" in Choam Chao. The title of the HRW report is "Skin on the Cable." More than 2,300 people were detained in Cambodia's 11 drug detention centers in 2008. That is 40% more than in 2007. "The government of Cambodia must stop the torture occurring in these centers" said Amon. "Drug dependency can be addressed through expanded voluntary, community-based, outpatient treatment that respects human rights and is consistent with international standards." Cambodian officials from the National Authority for Combatting Drugs, the Interior Ministry, the National Police, and the Social Welfare Ministry all declined to comment when queried by the Associated Press. But Cambodian Brig. Gen. Roth Srieng, commander of the military police in Banteay Meanchy province, denied torture at his center, while adding that some detainees were forced to stand in the sun or "walk like monkeys" as punishment for trying to escape. Children as young as 10, prostitutes, beggars, the homeless, and the mentally ill are frequently detained and taken to the drug detention centers, the report found. About one-quarter of those detained were minors. Most were not told why they were being detained. The report also said police sometimes demanded sexual favors or money for release and told some detainees they would not be beaten or could leave early if they donated blood. The report relied on testimony from 74 people, most of them drug users, who had been detained between February and July 2009.
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In US First, California Assembly Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill

A bill to legalize the adult use, sale, and production of marijuana was approved Tuesday by a 4-3 vote in the California Assembly Public Safety Committee. While the vote was historic—it marked the first time a state legislative committee anywhere had voted for a marijuana legalization bill—a Friday legislative deadline means the bill is likely to die before it reaches the Assembly floor. hearing room audience Still, supporters pronounced themselves well pleased. "The conversation is definitely gaining traction in Sacramento," bill sponsor Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-SF) told a press conference at the capitol after the vote. "This is a significant vote because it legitimizes the quest for debate. There was a time when the m-word would never have been brought up in Sacramento." “This historic vote marks the formal beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition in the United States,” said Stephen Gutwillig, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, who testified before the committee both Tuesday and in an earlier hearing. “Making marijuana legal has now entered the public dialogue in a credible way. Decades of wasteful, punitive, racist marijuana policy have taken quite a toll in this country. The Public Safety Committee has demonstrated that serious people take ending marijuana prohibition seriously.” "The mere fact that there was a vote in the Assembly to regulate and control the sale and distribution of marijuana would have been unthinkable even one year ago," said former Orange County Judge Jim Gray, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, who also testified before the committee last fall. "And if the bill isn't fully enacted into law this year, it will be soon. Or, the bill will be irrelevant because the voters will have passed the measure to regulate and tax marijuana that will be on the ballot this November," Gray pointedly added. The bill, AB 390, the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act would impose a $50 an ounce tax on marijuana sales and would task the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to regulate them. It was amended slightly from the original by Ammiano. In one example, the bill strikes "legalize" and replaces it with "regulate." It also strikes out language saying the bill would go into effect after federal law changes. And it adds language to clarify that medical marijuana does not come under its purview. Tuesday's Public Safety Committee opened to a hearing room packed with legalization supporters, but also by more than a dozen uniformed police chiefs and high-ranking police officers from around the state. Law enforcement was out in force to make its displeasure known. police and preacher present to oppose the Ammiano bill But first came Ammiano himself, recusing himself from his position as committee chair to testify in favor of his bill. "This is landmark legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana," Ammiano told his colleagues. "It would generate nearly a billion dollars annually in revenues, according to the Board of Equalization, and would leave law enforcement to focus on serious crimes, violent crimes, and hard drugs. The drug wars have failed," the San Francisco solon said emphatically. "Prohibition has fostered anarchy. Legalization allows regulations, and regulation allows order." Since the primary hearing on the bill took place last fall, Tuesday's hearing was limited to 30 minutes (it was closer to 45), and witnesses either said their pieces succinctly or were gently chided by committee Vice-Chair Curt Hagman (R-Chino Hills). The Drug Policy Alliance's Gutwillig recapped testimony he gave last fall, as did the Marijuana Policy Project California state director Aaron Smith. "AB 390 is a historic reversal of failed marijuana policies," said Gutwillig. "It would begin to control a substance that is already commonly available and consumed, but unregulated. Prohibition has created enormous social costs and jeopardized public safety instead of enhancing it." "This legislation would finally put California on track for a sensible marijuana policy in line with the views of most California voters," said Smith. Also endorsing the bill was Matt Gray of Taxpayers for Improving Public Safety, a California group lobbying for more progressive criminal justice policies. "We support the bill," said Gray. "Marijuana is the state's largest cash crop, and this bill will remove a revenue stream from organized crime and decrease availability for youth." The opposition, led by law enforcement, church and community anti-drug groups, and a former deputy drug czar, threw everything short of the kitchen sink at the committee in a bid to sink the bill. Hoary old chestnuts reminiscent of "Reefer Madness" were revived, as well as new talking points designed to discourage members from voting for legalization. bill sponsor Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, with Dale Gieringer,
Stephen Gutwillig and Aaron Smith in background "I traveled here with a heavy heart," said former deputy director for demand reduction for the Office of National Drug Control Policy Andrea Barthwell, the big hitter leading off for the opposition. "The eyes of America are upon you," she told the committee. "We don't want you to set a course that worsens the health of Americans for years to come. This is a scheme that will benefit drug cartel kingpins and corner drug dealers and create chaos in our public health system," she warned. "People all over the country are afraid California will have this leverage in the same way the medical marijuana initiative was leveraged to create a sense that these are reasonable policies," Barthwell continued. "We've reduced drinking and smoking through public health, and prohibition is working for our young people to keep them drug free," she added. "Legalization of marijuana will only increase the challenges facing us," said San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer. "What good can come from making powerful addictive drugs more cheaply available? Don't we have enough trouble with the two legal drugs? Adding an additional intoxicant will lead to increase drugged driving and teen sex," she told the committee. "Marijuana of today is not the dope your parent's smoked," she added for good measure. After mentioning that in the Netherlands cannabis cafes have "run rampant," asserting that "drug cartels will become legal cultivators," and that legalization would bring about "quantum increases" in the availability of marijuana, Manheimer swung for the fence. "To balance the budget on the back of the harm caused by illegal intoxicants is mind-boggling—I would call it blood money," she said. Worse, "the addictive qualities of these drugs will cause more crimes as people struggle to find money to buy marijuana. We are very concerned about marijuana-related violence." Then it was the turn of Claude Cook, regional director of the National Narcotics Officers Associations Coalition. "This is dangerous work we do," Cook said by way of introduction. "We are strongly opposed to AB 390, we see no benefit for our communities. Marijuana is also carcinogenic. If we want to raise revenue, maybe it would be safer to just bring back cigarette vending machines. This is human misery for tax dollars." And by the way, "Drug offenders who are in prison have earned their way there by past criminal conduct," he added. Cook predicted downright disaster were the bill to pass. "Use by juveniles will increase. Organized crime will flourish. California will become a source nation for marijuana for the rest of the country. The cartels will thrive. Highway fatalities will rise," he said without explaining just how he arrived at those dire conclusions. police waiting to speak at anti-drug rally after committee vote "I see the devastation of marijuana and drugs in my community," thundered Bishop Ron Allen, "CEO and president" of the International Faith-based Coalition, and a self-described former crack addict who started with marijuana. "If marijuana is legalized and we have to deal with it in our liquor stores and communities, you have never seen a devastation like you're going to see. It's going to lose us a generation. You don't want this blood on your hands." "I'm going to discount the ad hominems and alarmist attacks," Ammiano replied after the testimony. "Some of the arguments today reminded me of Reefer Madness," he said Before moving to a vote, committee members briefly discussed their positions. Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) noted that because of the state's medical marijuana law, "We have created a class difference, where a certain class of our population can utilize dispensaries for their own reasons to use marijuana, and on the other hand, we have the street activity around marijuana that is not under semi-legal status." Skinner voted for the bill, while saying she was not sure she would support it on the Assembly floor. "I'm not supporting marijuana, but the question is who we regulate it and is it time to have a serious debate." In the end, four of five Democratic committee members—all from the Bay area—supported the bill, while one Democrat joined the two Republicans on the committee in opposing it." The bill would normally head next to the Assembly Health Committee, but given the time constraints on the legislature, no further action is likely to be taken this session. Still, Tuesday was a historic day in Sacramento and in the annals of the American marijuana reform movement.
Location: 
Sacramento, CA
United States
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New Jersey Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Bill, Set to Become 14th Medical Marijuana State (Plus DC)

New Jersey is set to become the 14th state to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana after the state Assembly Monday approved the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act" by a vote of 46-14. Later Monday evening, the state Senate, which had already approved its version of the measure, voted final approval by a margin of 25-13. Outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has said he will sign the bill. The Assembly debated the bill for half an hour Monday afternoon before approving it. The debate took place before galleries backed with bill supporters and opponents. It was a similar scene in the Senate a few hours later. "It does not make sense for many of New Jersey's residents to suffer when there is a viable way to ease their pain," said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), one of the sponsors of the bill. "Medical marijuana can alleviate a lot of suffering, and there is no evidence that legalizing it for medical use increases overall drug use." The bill will be one of the most restrictive in the nation. Patients diagnosed by their primary care physician as having a qualifying medical condition would be allowed to obtain—but not grow—medical marijuana through one of at least six "alternative treatment centers," or dispensaries. But patients would be able to register with only one dispensary at a time and would have to use the written recommendation within a month of when it was written. Qualifying medical conditions include severe or chronic pain, severe nausea or vomiting or cachexia brought on by HIV/AIDS or cancer ("or the treatment thereof"), muscular dystrophy, inflammatory bowel diseases, and terminal illnesses where the patient has less than a year to live. Chronic pain was removed from the original bill in an Assembly committee vote last summer, but reinserted last week when the Assembly approved an amendment by Assemblyman Gusciora. Patients could possess up to two ounces and be prescribed up to two ounces per month. That is an increase from the one ounce possession limit in earlier versions of the bill. Patients would be able to name a caregiver, courier, or delivery option to pick up medicine at the dispensary and deliver it to them. "This will be the strictest medical marijuana law in the nation," Gusciora said at a statehouse press conference Monday. "We have a good bill that will be very strict and will not decriminalize marijuana, but will allow doctors to prescribe the best treatment for their patients." Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office, who has lobbied tirelessly for passage of a medical marijuana bill, agreed that the final Garden State bill is very tight, but said it was a start. "There will be some patients who will be able to get some relief," she said. "We think once the program's up and running and people see that there aren't problems, we'll be able to go back and get in some more of our patients." Also at the press conference were patients Diane Riportella and Mike Oliveri. Riportella was diagnosed with Lu Gerhrig's Disease in 2007 and given no more than five years to live. Oliveri suffers from muscular dystrophy. "I'm so excited to be able to be alive and to be here for this moment," said Riportella, 53, of Egg Harbor Township. "Within a few seconds, I'm relaxed and I'm smiling and I go to Disneyland just for a few minutes and say 'It's not so bad, I can live another day,'" Riportella said. Oliveri, 25, said he moved from his New Jersey home to California in order to be able to legally access medical marijuana. He said he vaporizes about an ounce a week to ease the pain in his legs and back and calm his digestive tract and that he had used it illegally before leaving for the West Coast. "I took every medication known to man before I took weed," said Oliveri, 25. "I knew it was a risk …but it was a life or death matter." The bill was supported by organizations including the New Jersey State Nurses Association, the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians, the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the New Jersey League for Nursing, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the New Jersey chapters of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Special credit goes to the Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, the patients' and advocates' group that has fought for years to get the bill over the top. New Jersey will now join Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington in the list of medical marijuana states. That list also includes the District of Columbia.
Location: 
Trenton, NJ
United States
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New Jersey Assembly Approves Medical Marijuana Bill, One More Vote in the Senate This Afternoon

On the last day of the legislative session, the New Jersey Assembly has approved the state's medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Use Act, on a vote of 48-14. The state Senate will vote on it later today. Outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has said he will sign it. Look for a feature post on this once the Senate votes.
Location: 
Trenton, NJ
United States
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Europe: Dutch Delay Plan to Make Border Cannabis Cafes Members Only

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

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

In the Chronicle's review of the top international drug policy stories of the year last week, the slow spread of heroin maintenance was in the mix. This week, its back in the news, with word that a new Canadian heroin maintenance study in Vancouver is about to get underway. The Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALOME) will choose a Downtown Eastside location next month and begin taking applications from potential participants in February, according to a Tuesday press release from the Inner Change Foundation, which, along with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, is funding the trial. With selection of participants supposed to last only three weeks, that means SALOME could be underway by March. SALOME will enroll 322 hard-core heroin addicts—they must have been using at least five years and failed other treatments, including methadone maintenance—in a year-long, two-phase study. During the first phase, half will be given injectable heroin (diacetylmorphine) and half will be given injectable Dilaudid® (hydromorphone). In the second phase, half of the participants will be switched to oral versions of the drug they are using. The comparison of heroin and Dilaudid® was inspired by unanticipated results from SALOME's forerunner, NAOMI (the North American Opiate Medication Study), which began in Vancouver in 2005 and produced positive results in research reviews last year. In NAOMI, researchers found that participants could not differentiate between heroin and Dilaudid®. The comparison of success rate among injection and oral administration users was inspired by hopes of reducing rates of injection heroin use. SALOME was also supposed to take place in Montreal, but Quebec provincial authorities effectively killed it there by refusing to fund it. SALOME researchers have announced that it will now proceed in Vancouver alone. With an estimated 5,000 heroin addicts in the Downtown Eastside and a municipal government that has officially embraced the progressive four pillars approach--prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and law enforcement—to problematic drug use, Vancouver is most receptive to such ground-breaking research. It is also the home of Insite, North America's only safe injection site. The NAOMI and SALOME projects are the only heroin maintenance programs to take place in North America. Ongoing or pilot heroin maintenance programs are underway in Britain, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland.
Location: 
Vancouver, BC
Canada
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Search and Seizure: Ohio Supreme Court Rules Police Need Warrant to Search Cell Phones

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police officers must obtain a search warrant before reviewing the contents of a suspect’s cell phone unless their safety is in danger. The ruling came on a narrow 5-4 vote of the justices. The ruling came in State v. Smith, in which Antwaun Smith was arrested on drug charges after answering a cell phone call from a crack cocaine user acting as a police informant. When Smith was arrested, officers took his cell phone and searched it without his consent or a search warrant. Smith was charged with cocaine possession, cocaine trafficking, tampering with evidence and two counts of possession of criminal tools. At trial, Smith argued that evidence derived through the cell phone search should be thrown out because the search violated the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. But the trial judge, citing a 2007 federal court ruling that found a cell phone is similar to a closed container found on a defendant and thus subject to warrantless search, admitted the evidence. Smith was subsequently convicted on all charges and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Smith appealed, but lost on a 2-1 vote in the appeals court. In that decision, the dissenting judge cited a different federal court case that found that a cell phone is not a container. In the majority opinion Tuesday, state Supreme Court Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote that the court did not agree with the appeals court and trial judge that a cell phone was a closed container. "We do not agree with this comparison, which ignores the unique nature of cell phones," Lanzinger wrote. "Objects falling under the banner of 'closed container' have traditionally been physical objects capable of holding other physical objects. ... Even the more basic models of modern cell phones are capable of storing a wealth of digitized information wholly unlike any physical object found within a closed container." "People keep their e-mail, text messages, personal and work schedules, pictures, and so much more on their cell phones," Craig Jaquith, Smith's attorney, said in a statement. "I can't imagine that any cell phone user in Ohio would want the police to have access to that sort of personal information without a warrant. Today, the Ohio Supreme Court properly brought the Fourth Amendment into the 21st century." But Greene County prosecutor Stephen Haller complained to the Associated Press that the high court had gone too far. "I'm disappointed with this razor-thin decision," Haller said. "The majority here has announced this broad, sweeping new Fourth Amendment rule that basically is at odds with decisions of other courts."
Location: 
Columbus, OH
United States
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