Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

New Coalition Unveils Plan to Legalize Interstate Marijuana Commerce, Colombia Cocaine Regulation Bill, More... (9/21/20)

People with small-time pot possession convictions in New York state can not move to get them expunged, Secretary of State Pompeo promises more anti-drug aid for Colombia, and more.

Cocaine is driving US policy toward Colombia,and the illicit trade is sparking violence and calls for reform. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

New Marijuana Coalition Unveils Plan to Legalize Interstate Marijuana Commerce. A group of advocacy groups and marijuana businesses calling itself the Alliance for Sensible Markets has rolled out a plan to allow marijuana commerce between states that have legalized it even while federal prohibition remains. The alliance will urge governors of legal and hopefully soon-to-be legal states to create an interstate compact to establish a framework for cannabis to be transported and marketed across state lines. If at least two governors agree, the compact would then go to Congress for approval.

New York Courts Ready to Begin Expunging Marijuana Convictions. In line with a law passed last year, the state's court system is now ready to begin expunging low-level marijuana convictions for people previously charged and convicted of specific possession offenses. Under the process, individuals must fill out an application with the court where they were convicted. From there, the applications  are then sent to the Division of Criminal Justice Services and applicable law enforcement agencies, who will destroy the already expunged records. For an application with instructions click here.

Foreign Policy

Secretary of State Pompeo Promises More Anti-Drug Aid for Colombia. During his tour of Latin America, US Secretary of Sate Mike Pompeo on Saturday pledged to Colombian President Ivan Duque continued assistance to help fight drug trafficking. The country is under strong pressure from the Trump administration to reduce the size of its coca crop. Pompeo also praised Duque for his stance against Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro, who the US does not recognize.

International

Colombia Legislature to take Up Coca, Cocaine Regulation Bill Next Month. A bill from a coalition of leftist legislators that would have the national government take control of the drug market by purchasing coca leaf from farmers and regulating cocaine sales will be debated next month. It faces long odds, but the bill's backers say it could reduce the waste of public funds, help protect the environment and led to a better public health approach to drug consumption. They also argue that it would lead to a reduction in violence, which persists despite the 2016 peace treaty with the FARC as other guerrilla groups, FARC dissidents, paramilitaries, drug traffickers, police and the military fight either to control or repress the trade.

Seven Killed in Latest Colombia Massacre. At least seven people died after they were gunned down at a cock fight in the municipality of Buenos Aires in Cauca province, where various armed groups are fighting over control of territory abandoned by the FARC after the 2016 peace deal. This is the ninth mass killing in Cauca this year and the 60th in the country. Cauca has been the scene of some of the worst violence in the fight over control of the coca and cocaine trade.

Web Highlight: "Claiming the Moral High Ground" DrugTruth Interviews

Posted in:

All star hour-and-a-half compilation of interviews conducted by our friend Dean Becker of the DrugTruth Network. (Trailer here.)

AZ Poll Has Pot Initiative With Bare Majority, White House Releases Annual Drug Certification List, More... (9/16/20)

A new poll has the Arizona marijuana legalization initiative at 51%, the natural psychedelic decriminalization movememnt comes to Ann Arbor, and more.

President Trump released the annual certification of other countries' compliance with US drug policies on Wednesday. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has Marijuana Legalization Initiative with Bare Majority. A new Monmouth University poll has the Prop 207 marijuana legalization initiative winning the support of 51% of registered voters, with 41% opposed, 6% undecided, and 3% who said they would not vote on the issue. That is an uncomfortably close

Foreign Policy

 White Houses Releases Annual Presidential Determination on Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries for Fiscal Year 2021. In an annual exercise in which the US grades other countries' compliance with US drug policy objectives, President Trump on Wednesday named 20 countries as "major drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries." They are:: Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. Although Venezuela is not a drug producing country, Trump named "the Venezuelan dictator, Nicholas Maduro" as "the most complicit kingpin in the Hemisphere." He also called on Colombia to "move forward with aerial spraying" of coca crops and Peru "to resume eradication operations in the country’s high yield coca producing regions, including the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers." He also warned Mexico that it must step up anti-drug operations if it wants to avoid being considered a country that "failed demonstrably to uphold its international drug control commitments."

Psychedelics

Ann Arbor, Michigan, City Council to Take Up Natural Psychedelic Lowest Priority Ordinance. The Ann Arbor city council will take up a ordinance that would make enforcement of laws against plant- and fungi-based psychedelic drugs the lowest law enforcement priority next Monday. Those drugs include psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, ayahuasca, mescaline, ibogaine and others. The move is being pushed by an activist group, Decriminalize Ann Arbor.

International

Brazil Fast-Tracks Legislation to Legalize Cultivation of Hemp, Medical Marijuana. The Brazilian legislature is moving a bill that would legalize the cultivation of medical marijuana and hemp. While efforts have been underway since 2015 to revise the country's marijuana laws, this new version of the legislation calls for cultivation, processing, research, storage, transportation, production, industrialization, commercialization, import and export of medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp be legalized.

House Postpones Marijuana Legalization Vote Until After Election Day, BC Expands "Safe Supply" of Drugs, More... (9/17/20)

There will be no House voe on marijuana legalization until after the election, Vermont lawmakers reach agreement on regulated legal marijuana sales, British Columbia moves to expand access to a "safe supply" of drugs to replace street drugs, and more.

The House punts on passing marijuana legalization right now. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Postpones Vote on Marijuana Legalization Bill Until After Election Day. A House Democratic member and several aides said Thursday that a pending vote on the MORE Act marijuana legalization and expungement bill will not happen until after Election Day. The bill was set to be voted on next week, but there were already reports that it would be pushed back to allow the House to concentrate on getting a pandemic relief package passed. Some moderate House Democrats have been expressing concern that passing a marijuana bill before the relief bill was passed would leave them open to attacks by Republicans.

Pennsylvania Governor Reiterates Call for Marijuana Legalization. At a news conference Wednesday, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) once again pleaded with lawmakers to move on legalizing marijuana in the state. Republicans control both chambers of the legislature and have said legalization is not on the table. "The COVID-19 pandemic has caused enormous disruptions to Pennsylvania's economy, and with the additional federal aid stagnating in Congress, we need to do everything we can right here in Harrisburg right now, to help ourselves recover from this pandemic," Wolf said. "Some states that have legalized adult use cannabis have received literally hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue."

Vermont: Lawmakers Finalize Marijuana Retail Sales Legislation. A legislative conference committee has finalized an agreement on Senate Bill 54, which would allow for the regulated commercial production and retail sale of marijuana to adults. Now, the revised language must be approved by the House and Senate and then be signed by Gov. Phil Scott (R).

International

British Columbia Moves to Increase "Safe Supply" of Drugs. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry issued a public-health order on Wednesday that will allow registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses to prescribe, make more medications available, and expand eligibility to people who are at risk of overdose, including those who may not necessarily be diagnosed with a substance use disorder. "We know the pandemic has only made the street drug supply in B.C. more toxic than ever, putting people who use drugs at extremely high risk for overdose," Dr. Henry said in a statement. "Giving physicians and nurse practitioners the ability to prescribe safer pharmaceutical alternatives has been critical to saving lives and linking more people to treatment and other health and social services." Since the COVID crisis began, the province already allowed doctors to prescribe take-home doses of pharmaceutical alternatives to street drugs. Now, they will be available to anyone at risk of overdose.

Book Review: Hell in the Heartland [FEATURE]

Hell in the Heartland: Murder, Meth, and the Case of Two Missing Girls by Jax Miller (2020, Berkley Books, (319 pp., $27.00 HB)

Early on the morning of December 31, 1999, a northeast Oklahoma couple headed to work in the predawn hours spotted a rosy glow on the rural horizon. The glow was turned out to be a mobile home in flames. It was home to Danny and Kathy Freeman and their teenage daughter Ashley, whose best friend, Lauria (not a typo) Bible, was spending the night.

Rural volunteer firefighters arrived to douse the flames of the now-collapsed trailer, followed shortly by a county sheriff's deputy—and a crowd of curious neighbors gawking from the road. But when firefighters reported finding a body, but no sign of the presumed other three occupants of the home that night, the Craig County sheriff promptly bowed out of the case, handing it over to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI). That's because the Freemans had a serious beef with local law enforcement: A Craig County deputy had shot and killed 17-year-old Shane Freeman a year earlier, and now the sheriff feared Freeman had flipped, killing his wife and taking the girls hostage in his rage over his son's death.

And so begins journalist Jax Miller's Hell in the Heartland, a chilling bit of nasty prairie noir that explores an enduring mystery replete with still-missing girls, stunningly incompetent and possibly corrupt police, and a deeply criminal meth-cooking and -using subculture in the forgotten dead end towns and environmental cleanup sites of far northeast Oklahoma, where it butts up against Kansas and Missouri.

Were the local cops really scared of Freeman or, as relatives would later argue, had they eliminated a threat to them? Was the OSBI agent truly clueless—as he comes off for years in the book—or was something more sinister going on? In any case, both the deputies and the OSBI managed to miss the charred body of Danny Freeman in the ruins of the trailer, leaving them fruitlessly searching for their "suspect" in the critical first hours after the girls vanished and leaving family members searching the unsecured crime scene for clues to make the gruesome discovery themselves.

That was only the first in a years-long litany of police bungling or seeming indifference toward finding the killers of the Freeman couple and even more shockingly, finding the missing girls. Miller, who began working on the book in 2015, meticulously sifts through the evidence, pointing out misstep after police misstep. The years went by, rumors abounded, and in the meth subculture of the neighboring towns, whispers were heard of Polaroids and videos of bound and gagged girls and a New Year's Eve party where the captive teens were sexually abused and tortured before being murdered and their bodies thrown into one of the numberless pits that dotted the hellish landscape of Picher, Oklahoma, once a lead and zinc mining center, now a toxic wasteland of mineshafts and hills of mineral tailings that is now part of the Tar Creek Superfund site.

Miller shows how police on both sides of the Kansas-Oklahoma line heard those same whispers but failed to put two and two together. People in the meth subculture knew early on exactly who committed these atrocities, but when they said as much to law enforcement, nothing happened. For years. And while there were attempts to tell the cops, the incentive to keep quiet was strong, since those same killers were still around and scarier than ever.

It takes 18 years for Oklahoma authorities to announce an arrest in the case, with most of the legwork actually being done by the parents of the Bible girl, and just this month, one of the three men named as the killers, Ronny Busick, 69, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to accessory to murder. It is an unsatisfying denouement. The true mastermind of the murder, a maniacal meth-cooking preacher universally described as "evil" by everyone who knew him, died without meeting justice, as did the second henchman. And the girls have still not been found.

Miller excels at evoking the schizophrenic ambience of small-town pastoral rusticity mixed with bedraggled dead-enders cranked out of their heads, and she digs deep, interviewing dozens of people involved, from sheriffs and OSBI agents to current and former tweakers, family members, and townspeople. In those small towns, people know who is up to what, and Miller finds out, too.

Hell in the Heartland is true crime. It doesn't interrogate drug prohibition; it just accepts meth as a social problem. Nor does Miller talk about the history of meth in Oklahoma—they may not have been smoking marijuana in Muskogee in the 1960s, but there was a trucker/cowboy speed culture tweaking in Tulsa—or how harm reduction or other policy responses to an underground drug trade might have shaped a reality where teenaged girls don’t get raped and murdered over drug deals gone bad. That's too bad, but she at least gets at the underlying social context. At one point, she writes how the good people of one nearby town "expected nothing but trouble from [those] boys, poor boys, boys of angry fathers and neglected mothers."

Hell in the Heartland is a compelling read, a horrifying mystery, still unsatifyingly unresolved. It's a real page-turner that sheds a very creepy light on that little corner of Oklahoma. 

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A former DEA task force member and a former DEA agent are the sole members of this week's rogue's gallery. Let's get to it:

In McAllen, Texas, a former DEA task force member was arrested last Wednesday as part of an anti-corruption drive called Operation Blue Shame. Johnny Jacob Domingue had been a federal task force officer for the DEA in Louisiana and is accused of negotiating the purchase of four kilos of cocaine and the transport of another four kilos of cocaine. On September 9, he traveled from Louisiana to Edinburgh, Texas, where he picked up a vehicle "loaded with eight kilograms of cocaine concealed inside a secret compartment." according to a news release from federal prosecutors. "Domingue intended to transport the vehicle to Houston and on to Louisiana to further distribute the cocaine to buyers," they added. He faces federal cocaine trafficking charges and is looking at 10 years to life in prison. 

In Tampa, Florida, a former DEA agent pleaded guilty Monday to plotting with a Colombian cartel to launder money for it. Jose Irizarry pleaded guilty to 19 federal counts, including bank fraud and diverting millions of dollars in drug proceeds from DEA control. He also copped to filing false reports and ordering DEA staff to wire money to be used in undercover stings to international accounts he and his associates controlled. The prosecution was a scandal for the DEA and calls into question its undercover money-laundering operations. It also raises questions about the level of supervision Irizarry had during his tenure at DEA, where he had been entrusted with setting up front companies, shell bank accounts, and courtiers to fight international drug trafficking. He's looking at decades behind bars, although a sentencing date has yet to be set.

Marijuana Legalization Appeal Garners Broad Amicus Support, Pending Singapore Drug Execution Slammed, More... (9/16/20)

Despite marijuana legalization, Black DC residents still make up 90% of pot arrestees; human rights groups challenge a pending drug execution, and more.

The US Supreme Court ponders taking up an appeal of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of marijuana prohibition. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization Appeal Receives Unprecedented Support with the Filing of Nine Amicus Briefs. Plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the federal law that criminalizes marijuana are getting support. Nine amicus briefs supporting the lawsuit have been filed as it goes to the Supreme Court. Those filing supporting briefs include seven members of Congress, 19 major organizations, and a pair of prominent marijuana researchers and scientists. Only eight cases since 2008 have inspired as many amicus briefs. A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is expected during this 2020-2021 term.

Washington, DC, Still Sees Huge Racial Disparity in Marijuana Arrests After Legalization. While marijuana arrests have declined by half in the five years since the city legalized the substance, police remain far more likely to arrest Blacks than Whites on marijuana charges. Blacks still account for just under 90% of all marijuana arrests, even though they make up only 45% of the population. Similarly, while Blacks and Whites are equally likely to use marijuana, Blacks made up 84% of all public consumption arrests.

International

Human Rights Groups Slam Singapore's Planned Execution of Drug Trafficker. A 44-year-old Malaysian man, Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin, is set to be executed for drug trafficking in Singapore on Friday, and human rights and anti-death penalty advocates are crying foul, calling the country's resort to capital punishment "callous."Human Rights Watch called the pending execution "barbaric" and called for the sentence to be commuted, while Amnesty International called on Singapore to "immediately halt this callous hanging."

Settlement in Breonna Taylor Drug Raid Killing, UN Human Rights Chief Criticizes Philippines Drug War, More... (9/15/20)

There is a landmark settlement in the killing of Breonna Taylor, the federal government hints at a move toward the use of hair follicle testing for federal employees, and more. 

Drug war victim Breonna Taylor. Her family has settled with the city of Louisville. (Taylor family)
Medical Marijuana

Utah Lawsuit Over Legislature's Replacement of Voter-Approved Medical Marijuana Initiative Dropped. Proponents of a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative have dropped a lawsuit challenging the state legislature's replacement of it with a more restrictive program have dropped their lawsuit against the state after the legislature backed off of a plan to have the state dispense the medicine to qualifying patients.

Drug Testing

Feds Push for Hair Follicle Drug Testing Despite Known Racial Disparities in Results. The Department of Health and Human Services has announced a proposal to set scientific and technical guidelines for the use of hair follicle specimens for drug testing federal workers—even though the hair follicle tests are known for producing racially disparate results. The proposal would allow executive branch agencies "to collect and test a hair specimen as part of their drug testing programs with the limitation that hair specimens be used for pre-employment (i.e., for applicants applying for federal testing designated positions) and random testing."

Law Enforcement

City of Louisville Reaches Settlement with Breonna Taylor Family. The city of Louisville has settled a lawsuit with the family of Breonna Taylor, the black women killed by Louisville police in a badly botched no-knock drug raid in which no drugs were found. In addition to a $12 million cash settlement, the settlement will require police commanders to approve all search warrant application, require police to undergo extensive risk assessments before applying for a warrant, and require that an EMT or paramedic by on site during the execution of search warrants. The settlement does not impact ongoing criminal investigations of the police involved in the raid.

International

UN Human Rights Chief Calls for End to Policies, Rhetoric That Lead to Abuses and Killings in the Philippines. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Monday that the Philippine government should change policies that lead to killings and other human rights violations. Her remarks came during her opening statement at the 45th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. She said that human rights principals "require accountable policing and access to justice help to avert the escalation of tensions and grievances into violence and conflict." Bachelet acknowledged that the Philippine government has committed to investigate more than 5,000 drug war killings, but said that was just a first step. "We are seeking details from the government so we can advise and assess the review panel's scope, process and efficacy," Bachelet said. "However, beyond this initial process, there is clearly an urgent need to revoke the policies that continue to result in killings and other human rights violations, to bring to justice the perpetrators, and to halt the use of rhetoric inciting violence against people who use or sell drugs."

VT House Passes Marijuana Expungement, House Methamphetamine Emergency Bill Filed, More... (9/14/20)

Montana's marijuana legalizers are now facing organized opposition, House members have filed a law enforcement-supported meth bill, and more.

Bills seeking to declare a national methamphetamine emergency have been filed in both the House and Senate. (DEA.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Draw Organized Opposition. The Initiative 190 marijuana legalization initiative and its companion Constitutional Initiative 118 have finally drawn organized opposition. A group calling itself Wrong for Montana formed last week to focus on the "societal ills" of the substance, and the Montana Contractors Association, a builders' group, which opposes the initiatives, said it would help finance the group's efforts.

Vermont House Votes to Approve Marijuana Expungements by Wide Margin. The House last Friday voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill that would automatically expunge thousands of low-level marijuana convictions and double the amount of marijuana that people can grow and possess. The moves were included in a miscellaneous Judiciary Committee bill that still needs final action this week before heading to the Senate, which passed a similar bill in May.

Methamphetamine

New Bipartisan House Bill Would Declare Meth an Emerging Drug Menace. Following in the steps of the Senate, where Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) filed an identical bill last month, a bipartisan handful of House members last Friday filed the Methamphetamine Response Act, a bill that would declare methamphetamine an emerging drug threat and would require the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to develop, implement and make public a national plan to prevent methamphetamine addiction and overdoses from becoming a crisis. The bill would require the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office) "to develop, implement, and make public, within 90 days of enactment, a national emerging threats response plan that is specific to methamphetamine." The bill is supported by the Fraternal Order of Police, HIDTA Director’s Association, The Sergeant’s Benevolent Association, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), and The National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), and the National Criminal Justice Association.

NE Supreme Court Throws Out MedMJ Init, Bipartisan Federal Bail Reform for Drugs Bill, More... (9/11/20)

The Nebraska Supreme Court blocks the state from voting on a medical marijuana initiative, both houses of the Virginia legislature pass marijuana expungement bills, and more.

A new federal bill would ease bail requirements for drug offenses. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Legislature Passes Marijuana Expungement Bills. Both the state Senate and the House approved bills this week that would allow people with prior marijuana convictions to clear their records. The House passed its bill, HB 5146, Wednesday; the Senate followed suit with SB 5043 Thursday. The House bill has now been sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now, the two chambers have to negotiate their differences to get an expungement bill to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam (D).

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Supreme Court Invalidates Proposed 2020 Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative. The state's highest court ruled Friday that the medical marijuana initiative set to go before voters in November will not appear on the ballot because its language violates the state's single subject rule. The 5-2 ruling came in a case from a county sheriff and reversed a ruling from the secretary of state that rejected that argument. The court held that: "As proposed, the NMCCA contains more than one subject -- by our count, it contains at least eight subjects. In addition to enshrining in our constitution a right of certain persons to produce and medicinally use cannabis under subsections (1) and (2), in subsections (3) and (4), the NMCCA would enshrine a right and immunity for entities to grow and sell cannabis; and in subsections (6), (7), and (8), it would regulate the role of cannabis in at least six areas of public life. These secondary purposes are not naturally and necessarily connected to the NMCCA's primary purpose. As such, they constitute logrolling… The decision of the Secretary of State is reversed. We issue a writ of mandamus directing him to withhold the NMCCA from the November 2020 general election ballot."

Criminal Justice

Bipartisan Trio of Senators File Bill to Stop Feds from Throwing Drug Defendants in Jail Before They're Convicted. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Chris Coons (D-DE) have introduced a bill that could potentially keep people charged with federal drug crimes out of unnecessary pretrial detention. The Smarter Pretrial Detention for Drug Charges Act of 2020 would change federal bail policies that currently presume people facing drug sentences of 10 years or more will be detained before trial. Under this bill, people facing such charges would no longer be treated with the presumption that they would be denied bail. Bail could still be denied, though, in the case of flight risk or danger to the community. The bill has the support of criminal justice reform groups across the political spectrum. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Innocence Project, and the Drug Policy Alliance all support it, as do Americans for Prosperity, Justice Action Network, Americans for Tax Reform (federal pretrial detention costs taxpayers $18,615 per defendant), and FreedomWorks.

Federal MJ Research Bill Wins Committee Vote, MA Report on Racial Sentencing Disparities, More... (9/10/20)

The federal Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2019 is heading for the House floor, New Jersey Republican party leaders come out hard against marijuana legalization, and more.

A marijuana research bill heads for a House floor vote after winning a committee vote Wednesday. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Key House Committee Advances Marijuana Research Bill. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Wednesday voted unanimously by voice vote to advance HR 3797, the Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2019. The bill would "amend the Controlled Substances Act to make marijuana accessible for use by qualified marijuana researchers for medical purposes, and for other purposes." The bill would remove all limits on the number of research entities that could be federally approved to grow or distribute marijuana and require the Department of Health and Human Services to report to Congress within five years on a review of marijuana research and whether it should be rescheduled. The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

New Jersey Republicans Formally Oppose Marijuana Legalization Initiative. GOP leaders from all 21 counties in the state unanimously backed a resolution Thursday opposing the legislatively sponsored marijuana legalization referendum that will appear on the November ballot. The Republican County Chairmen's Association called on its on their supporters to vote it down. "Pro-pot legislators may not care about the damage that legal pot will do to our children, families, schools and neighborhoods, but as an organization deeply dedicated to promoting a healthy and safe New Jersey, my chairmen colleagues and I felt obligated to speak out against the ballot question," Hudson County Republican Chairman Jose Arango said.

Drug Policy

New Report Highlights Racial Disparity in Massachusetts Drug and Weapons Charges. Researchers at Harvard Law School released a report Wednesday that finds Black and Latino defendants are more likely than White ones to be imprisoned for drugs and weapons crimes and more likely to get longer sentences than White ones. The study was sought by the chief justice of the state's highest court, and found that racial disparities in sentencing length are largely because Black and Latino tend to be initially charged more harshly for crimes that "carry longstanding racialized stigmas." The disparities remain even "after controlling for charge severity and additional factors," according to the report from the law school's Criminal Justice Policy Program.

Drug Testing

Supreme Court of Ohio Gives Employers the Green Light to Drug Test At-Will Employees Under Direct Observation When the Employees Give Broad Consent. The state's highest court has ruled that if an employer has a substance abuse policy that requires workers to undergo random suspicionless drug testing and workers sign a consent form allowing "any testing necessary," they implicitly agreed to allow "direct observation" testing and have no privacy claim. "Direct observation" testing mean having someone watch workers as they provide a urine sample to be tested.

Medical Marijuana Update

Mississippi

Mississippi Poll Has Very High Support for Medical Marijuana Initiative. Polling firm FM3 Research recently conducted a survey of state voters and found a whopping 81% supported legalizing the use of medical marijuana. Voters will have the chance to vote on two competing initiatives, one championed by Mississippians for Compassionate Care, and another watered-down created by state legislators. The survey found voters preferred the original initiative, Initiative 65, over the watered-down one, Alternative 65A.

Nebraska

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Survives Legal Challenge. The secretary of state in late August rejected a legal challenge against a medical marijuana initiative headed for the November ballot. The move came just one day after the initiative had officially qualified for the ballot. The legal challenge claimed the initiative violated the state's single-subject rule and that it "creates doubt about what will be authorized after the election."

Nebraska Supreme Court Hears Lawsuit Seeking to Block Medical Marijuana Initiative. The state Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday from both sides on the constitutionality of a medical marijuana initiative that has already qualified for the ballot. The initiative is being challenged by Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner, even though it has already passed constitutional muster by state officials. The court has until September 11th to rule on this ballot measure and decide whether Nebraska voters will get to decide on medical marijuana.

Mass Murder at Illicit CA Marijuana Grow, Meth & Other Drug Use Up Amidst Pandemic, More... (9/9/20)

Maine finally issues its first adult-use marijuana business licenses, a mass killing at an illegal California marijuana grow leaves seven dead, and more.

Meth and other drug us is up during the pandemic, a testing lab company reports. (Warner Robbins, GA, PD)
Marijuana Policy

Seven Killed at Illicit California Marijuana Grow. Seven people were shot and killed over the weekend at an illegal marijuana grow outside the Riverside County town of Aguanga. Investigating authorities seized more than a thousand pounds of processed marijuana and hundreds of marijuana plants. The property had facilities to process that raw marijuana into high-THC cannabis oil. All of the victims were of Laotian descent.

Maine Issues First Active Licenses for Legal Marijuana Shops. The state Office of Marijuana Policy on Tuesday issued the first active licenses for recreational marijuana businesses, bringing the state one step nearer to actually allowing sales nearly four years after voters approved marijuana legalization in November 2016. Authorities issued three licenses for cultivation facilities, two for marijuana retail outlets, and one for a testing facility.

Methamphetamine

Meth Use Rose During Early Days of COVID Pandemic, Lab Report Finds. The drug testing laboratory firm Millennium Health reports that urine samples from across the US came back positive at a rate 20% higher in the early weeks of the pandemic compared to the same period before the pandemic began ratcheting up in early March. The increase was particularly dramatic in some states, with meth positives increasing two-fold in Nevada and nearly as much in Mississippi. The lab also reported increases in use of other drugs, such as fentanyl. "All US census divisions had a significant increase in adjusted UDT positivity rate for at least one drug, except the South Atlantic and West North Central. Notably, the East North Central and the East South Central had significant positivity rate increases for all four drugs. The West North Central saw significant decreases in positivity rates for all four drugs," the report said.

Biden Calls for Mandatory Treatment for Drug Law Violators, VT Lawmakers Closer to Legalizing MJ Sales, More... (9/8/20)

Joe Biden's approach to drug policy appears still rooted in the last century, the Trump administration releases mandatory guidelines for hair follicle testing for truck drivers, and more.

Joe Biden wants treatment not jail for drug offenders, but he wants to make treatment mandatory. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Lawmakers Get Closer to Deal on Legal Marijuana Sales. The House and Senate are drawing nearer to a final agreement on legislation that would allow for legal marijuana sales in the state. The main sticking point now appears to be how towns will earn revenues from the trade. The Senate wants to impose a 2% tax on towns that host dispensaries, but the House wants to give towns money from marijuana licensing fees. Negotiators will meet later this week where they'll continue to hammer out the details of the bill.

Drug Testing

Trump Administration Releases Mandatory Guidelines for Hair Testing for Drugs in Truck Drivers. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last Friday released for comment long-awaited mandatory hair-testing guidelines to screen drivers for drugs. The proposed Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs using Hair (HMG) "will allow federal executive branch agencies to collect and test a hair specimen as part of their drug testing programs." Under the guidelines, federal agencies doing drug testing, such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) -- must collect at least one other specimen type, such as urine or oral fluid, authorized under the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs. The agency also must provide procedures for use of an alternate specimen when a donor is unable to provide a sufficient amount of hair for faith-based or medical reasons, or due to an insufficient amount or length of hair, according to the proposal.

Drug Treatment

Joe Biden Calls for Mandatory Drug Treatment for Drug Offenders. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has called for mandatory drug treatment for drug offenders in return for not jailing them and clearing their records. "Anybody who gets convicted of a drug crime -- not one that is in terms of massive selling, but consumption -- they shouldn't go to prison. They should go to mandatory rehabilitation," Biden said at a campaign event in Kenosha, Wisconsin last week. "Instead of building more prisons, as I've been proposing for some time, we build rehabilitation centers." Drug reform advocates generally oppose coerced treatment.

International

Poll Has Support Dropping for New Zealand Marijuana Legalization Referendum as Election Day Nears. With a September 19 election day drawing near, a new poll has support for marijuana legalization declining. In March, 43% favored the referendum, with only 33% opposed. Now, a new poll has support at 39%, with 46% opposed. If voters approve the referendum on the Cannabis Legalization and Control Bill, the bill will then be introduced in Parliament.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. 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.)

Drug Reform Pioneer Kevin Zeese Dies at Age 64

The American drug reform movement lost one of its pioneers on Sunday. Attorney Kevin Zeese died of a heart attack at home after going to bed Saturday night. He was only 64.

Kevin Zeese addresses a rally in Washington, DC, in 2006. (Elvart Barnes/Creative Commons)
Upon graduating from George Washington University School of Law in 1980, Zeese moved immediately into what was then a very lonely movement to end marijuana prohibition, becoming general counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and then being selected as NORML's executive director from 1983 to 1986. During his time at NORML during the dark days of the Reagan era, he emerged as one of the earliest advocates of medical marijuana and successfully fought to end the spraying of herbicides on Mexican marijuana crops.

He didn't stop there. After leaving NORML, Zeese joined with the also recently passed Professor Arnold Trebach in 1987 to found the Drug Policy Foundation, which after merging with the Lindesmith Center in 2000 became the Drug Policy Alliance, the largest and most influential drug reform group in the country. He served as vice president and counsel to the Drug Policy Foundation from 1986 to 1994.

He didn't stop there. In 1993, he helped found the Harm Reduction Coalition, a groundbreaking organization that has successfully advocated for such measures as needle exchanges, treatment on demand, and overdose prevention campaigns, and is currently leading the fight to introduce the proven harm reduction practice of safe injection sites in the United States. The Harm Reduction Coalition is also notable for emphasizing the rights of drug users and demanding that their voices be heard in setting drug policies.

He didn't stop there, either. His next move was to found Common Sense for Drug Policy (CSDP) along with businessman Robert Field and attorney Melvin Allen. CSDP sought to broaden support for drug policy reform through a campaign of advertising in serious national magazines across the political spectrum ranging from Reason and the National Review on the right to the Nation and the Progressive on the left. Ever since 1998, CSDP has published and updated the pamphlet Drug War Facts, a veritable activists' Bible of facts and citations related to drug policy issues. Zeese served as CSDP president up until his death.

Nor did he stop there. Broadening his horizons in the current century, and reflecting his disgust with the two-party political system, where he saw both major parties as corrupted by corporate capital, Zeese helped organized against the Iraq war and joined with Ralph Nader's Democracy Rising to push the group to embrace an antiwar position. Two years later, in 2006, he founded the national antiwar group Voters for Peace and served as its director until 2011.

Moving on to progressive third-party politics, Zeese advised campaigns for local Green Party candidates and joined the 2004 Ralph Nader presidential campaign, where he served as press secretary and spokesman for the candidate. In 2006, he ran for the US Senate in Maryland supported by the Greens, the Libertarians, and the Populist Party. He campaigned on withdrawing the US military and corporate interests from Iraq, economic and social justice, and electronic voting reform. He got only 1.5% of the vote.

And he didn't stop there. Zeese was active in the 2011 Occupy movement, participated in the takeover of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC, last year to protect it from Washington-supported foes of leftist President Maduro, and had continued to be involved in Green Party politics up until his last breath.

Kevin Zeese left a powerful legacy for the drug reform movement and for progressive politics more broadly, but this recitation of biographical facts hardly does him justice. He was whip-smart, passionate, curious, fun and fun-loving. He was always ready to share a joint or a laugh (or both). I'm deeply saddened that he is gone so soon. And when I position his photo for this piece, I will make sure that it aligns left, not right.

MN Forfeiture Report Released, PA GOP Continues to Block Marijuana Legalization, More... (9/4/20)

The Nebraska Supreme Court hears a challenge to the state's medical marijuana initiative, Minnesota releases an audit of asset forfeiture practices in the state, and more.

An audit of asset forfeiture practices in Minnesota finds it hurts poor people more than it helps law enforcement. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Republicans Block Governor's Call for Marijuana Legalization. A day after Gov. Tom Wolf (D) called on the legislature to pass marijuana legalization to help the state budget, legislative Republicans are still blocking any progress. "There is just not the support in the caucus for legalizing marijuana right now," Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre) said Thursday.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Supreme Court Hears Lawsuit Seeking to Block Medical Marijuana Initiative. The state Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday from both sides on the constitutionality of a medical marijuana initiative that has already qualified for the ballot. The initiative is being challenged by Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner, even though it has already passed constitutional muster by state officials. The court has until September 11th to rule on this ballot measure and decide whether Nebraska voters will get to decide on medical marijuana.

Asset Forfeiture

Minnesota Audit Criticizes Asset Forfeiture Practices. State Auditor Julie Blaha released an annual report on asset forfeiture practices on Wednesday, and highlighted the fact that most seizures are from low income people and hurts them more than they help law enforcement. "The data shows that when it comes to the impact of forfeitures, the big story is in the small numbers," Blaha said in a statement. "Those kinds of amounts have a small impact on government systems, but they have a big impact at the individual level. If you are managing a public safety budget, small forfeitures are a minor and unpredictable part of your revenue stream," Blaha continued. "But if you are a low-income person experiencing a forfeiture, those amounts can have a big effect on your life. Having a few hundred dollars seized can mean the difference between making rent or homelessness. Losing that old car can lead to missing work and losing your job."

CA Safe Injection Site Bill Killed, Good Polls on MS MedMJ and DC Natural Psychedelic Initiatives, More... (9/3/20)

There are good polling results for medical marijuana in Mississippi and a natural psychedelic initiative in DC, Pennsylvania's top elected officials call for marijuana legalization, and more.

A psilocybin molecule. The plant-based drug would be effectively decriminalized if a DC initiative passes. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Governor, Lt. Governor Call on Legislature to Legalize Marijuana. Governor Tom Wolf (D) and Lt. Governor John Fetterman (D) called Thursday for the General Assembly to go beyond medical marijuana and legalize marijuana outright, not just medical, in Pennsylvania. According to the governor's office, legalization will provide a revenue stream that will help the state's economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Poll Has Very High Support for Medical Marijuana Initiative. Polling firm FM3 Research recently conducted a survey of state voters and found a whopping 81% supported legalizing the use of medical marijuana. Voters will have the chance to vote on two competing initiatives, one championed by Mississippians for Compassionate Care, and another watered-down created by state legislators. The survey found voters preferred the original initiative, Initiative 65, over the watered-down one, Alternative 65A.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Killed. Legislative leaders in Sacramento last week killed Assembly Bill 362, which would have allowed the cities of Oakland and San Francisco to establish safe injection sites in a bid to reduce drug overdoses. The bill had already passed the Assembly but was shelved in the Senate.

Psychedelics

DC Poll Has Solid Support for Psychedelic Decriminalization Initiative. A new poll of DC residents has support for Initiative 81 at 60%, up nine points since the poll was last conducted in April. The measure would make natural psychedelics the lowest law enforcement priority in the nation's capital.

International

Australian Officials Ponder Allowing MDMA, Magic Mushrooms for Mental Health Treatment. The country's medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, is seeking feedback on a proposal to legalize MDMA and psilocybin -- the active ingredient in magic mushrooms -- for mental health treatment purposes. Mind Medicine Australia, a non-profit that advocates for new treatments for depression and PTSD has asked the regulator to allow psychiatrists to use MDMA and the hallucinogenic psilocybin in therapy sessions.

One State is About to Vote on Radical Drug Policy Reform [FEATURE]

Oregon residents will have a chance in November to approve the most far-reaching drug reform measure ever to make the ballot in this country when they vote on Measure 110, the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act. While the initiative indeed expands drug treatment, what makes it really revolutionary is that it would also decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of all drugs, from psychedelics to cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as heroin and other illicit opioids.

Possession of illicit drugs will no longer be a criminal offense under Oregon law if this measure passes. (DEA)
"Our current drug laws can ruin lives based on a single mistake, sticking you with a lifelong criminal record that prevents you from getting jobs, housing and more," Bobby Byrd, an organizer with the More Treatment, A Better Oregon campaign," said in a press release.

If Oregon voters approve the measure, the state will be in select company. At least 19 countries, mostly in Europe and Latin America, have drug decriminalization laws on the books, with the most well-known being Portugal, which pioneered the way, decriminalizing drug possession in 2001. Instead of being arrested and jailed, people caught with illicit drugs there are given a warning and a small fine or asked to voluntarily appear before a local commission whose aim is to determine whether the person needs drug treatment and if so, to offer it to them at no expense. (It helps that Portugal has universal health care.)

Decriminalization has worked for Portugal. According to a Drug Policy Alliance report after a delegation visited Lisbon in 2018, before drug decriminalization, the country suffered rapidly increasing drug overdose deaths, a high number of people who caught HIV through needle-sharing, and led the European Union in drug-related AIDS. Since decriminalization, though, "the number of people voluntarily entering treatment has increased significantly, while overdose deaths, HIV infections, problematic drug use, and incarceration for drug related offenses has plummeted." Not bad at all.

It was just three years ago that the Oregon legislature approved drug defelonization -- making possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony -- but now advocates are already prepared to push further down the Portuguese path. That's because while, according to the state Criminal Justice Commission (CJC), drug defelonization indeed resulted in felony drug convictions dropping by nearly two-thirds, it also included a near 10-fold increase in misdemeanor drug possession convictions. That translates into only a slight decline in overall drug arrests, from just over 10,000 in Fiscal Year 2016 to 8,903 in Fiscal Year 2018.

Under Measure 110, those misdemeanor drug arrests would vanish as drug possession gets reclassified as a mere violation punishable only by a $100 fine or by completing a health assessment with an addiction treatment professional. Those who are deemed to benefit from drug treatment could go to an addiction recovery center, one of which will be located in every organization service area in the state. Those centers, as well as additional funding for treatment, would be paid for with revenues from marijuana sales taxes.

The measure is backed by Drug Policy Action, the political and lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which has put $2.5 million into the campaign already, DPA director of media relations Matt Sutton said in an email exchange. And that's just the beginning, he added.

"We'll continue to invest in terms of what it takes to win it," he said. "The campaign is starting a variety of different ads and raising awareness in the final push. We've invested a lot already and we're very committed to it financially. We think this is winnable."

So, why Oregon and why now?

"We have to start somewhere," said Sutton. "Oregon is a very progressive state and has really been the leader on a lot of drug policy reforms. It was one of the first to decriminalize marijuana, one of the first to legalize medical marijuana, one of the first to legalize marijuana, one of the first to defelonize drug possession. It's no surprise that Oregon would be an attractive state to do this in."

The special nature of this year, with its double whammy of enduring pandemic and its long, hot summer of street protests, makes drug decriminalization all the more relevant, Sutton said.

"Having a state like Oregon that has been a progressive leader take this on will signal to the rest of the country that this can be done and that it's not actually that radical of a proposition," said Sutton. "And just in terms of everything that's happened this year -- COVID and the awakening to racial injustice -- it just doesn't seem as such a radical proposition. With COVID we've seen the discrepancies in the health care system.

"It's the same communities that are being overpoliced and have been hit hardest by the war on drugs," he continued. "And people are realizing that the war on drugs is racist. The real reason behind the war on drugs was to criminalize and marginalize communities of color, and we've demonized drugs and the people who use them. The drug war hasn't made drugs less accessible to youth, but instead we get a lot more people incarcerated and dying of drug use. The more we criminalize it, the more dangerous it becomes."

In an August report, the state CJC made clear just what sort of impact drug decriminalization would have on racial inequities, and the results are impressive: Racial disparities in drug arrests, using an academically accepted comparison measure, would drop by an astounding 95%.

The report also found that decriminalization would radically reduce overall drug convictions, with projected convictions of Black and Indigenous people declining by an equally astounding 94%.

"This drop in convictions will result in fewer collateral consequences stemming from criminal justice system involvement, which include difficulties in finding employment, loss of access to student loans for education, difficulties in obtaining housing, restrictions on professional licensing, and others," the report found.

"This report only scratches the surface," Kayse Jama, executive director of Unite Oregon said in a press release. "Drugs are too often used as an excuse to disproportionately target Black and Brown Oregonians and economically disadvantaged communities."

"This initiative addresses those racial disparities more than anything," said DPA's Sutton. "It will help those communities that have been down for far too long. A lot of the economic problems we see there are a result of decades of drug war, taking generations of people out of their homes and saddling them with felony convictions. This would be a huge win in taking drug reform to the next level. It doesn't solve all the problems of drug prohibition -- people would still be charged with distribution and drug induced homicide -- but it would still be a huge step forward."

And now, a broad coalition of change agents are uniting to push the initiative to victory in November. Endorsements range from national and international groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, AFSCME, the National Association of Social Workers, and Human Rights Watch, as well as dozens and dozens of state and local racial justice, human rights, and religious groups and groups representing health and social welfare professionals.

"We've received an incredible amount of support, and it's really broad," said Sutton. "And there is no organized opposition."

If things go well in November, DPA and its lobbying and campaign arm, Drug Policy Action, are already planning next moves.

"We just a few weeks ago released a national framework for drug decriminalization, the Drug Policy Reform Act," Sutton said. "This has been a goal of DPA all along and where our work is focused today, all drug decriminalization. We think that people are ready for that. We decided to release the framework right now just because of everything happening in the country especially around racial justice issues. People are seeing the direct impact of the war on drugs and the racial disparities."

"We're already looking ahead at other states where we could replicate this," Sutton revealed. "Some of the first states to legalize marijuana would likely be the first to consider drug decriminalization."

Once again, Oregon voters have a chance to burnish their drug reform credentials, only this time with the most dramatic attack yet on drug prohibition. If they approve Measure 110, they will truly be the drug reform vanguard -- and blaze a path others can follow.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org, and we participated in the Lisbon delegation.

House to Vote on Legal Marijuana This Month, NE MedMJ Initiative Qualifies for Ballot, More... (9/2/20)

A bill to ban police searches based soley on the odor of marijuana is moving in Virginia, Pennsylvania's governor wants to legalize marijuana to help coronavirus-ravaged state economy, and more.

There will be a historic vote in the House this month. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization Bill This Month. The House will vote this month on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, HR 3884, this month, according to an email from Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC). The measure would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and expunge records of some marijuana-related offenses.

Pennsylvania Governor Wants Marijuana Legalization as Effort to Fix State Economy Ravaged by Coronavirus. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is calling on the Pennsylvania legislature to legalize recreational marijuana and use the tax revenue to help small businesses that have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. "Repairing the damage of this pandemic is not going to be easy," Wolf said at a news conference last Tuesday. "The legislature can act right now to get us back on track as quickly as we possibly can."

Virginia Senate Approves Bill to Ban Police Searches Based Solely on the Smell of Marijuana. The state Senate approved a bill last Friday that would bar searches and seizures based solely on the odor of marijuana. The measure, SB5029, now needs approval in the House. The House version, HB5058, passed the House Courts of Justice Committee last Wednesday. Marijuana possession has been decriminalized in the state since June.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Survives Legal Challenge. The secretary of state last Thursday rejected a legal challenge against a medical marijuana initiative headed for the November ballot. The move came just one day after the initiative had officially qualified for the ballot. The legal challenge claimed the initiative violated the state's single-subject rule and that it "creates doubt about what will be authorized after the election."

Canada Gov't Must Respond to Psychedelic Decrim Petition, Colombia Court Halts Coca Eradication, More... (8/24/20)

At least one Mexican drug cartel has resorted to using drones armed with explosives, the Canadian federal government must respond to a petition calling for psychedelic decriminalization after signatures hit a trigger mark, and more.

The black market in cocaine is driving violence and conflict in Colombia and Mexico. (CBP)
International

Canadian Government Will Respond to Petition to Decriminalize Psychedelics. A petition calling for the decriminalization of psychedelic drugs has garnered nearly 15,000 signatures -- enough that the Canadians government will have to officially respond to it. The petition calls for the government to "immediately discontinue enforcement of statutes or regulations that prohibit or impose onerous restrictions on informed adult use, growing, or sharing of any plant or fungi, where an established record of traditional use exists. It also calls on lawmakers to amend federal drug laws to "distinguish and exempt these organisms when used for therapeutic practices, as adjuncts to medical care, for healing ceremonies or solitary spiritual growth and self-development."

Colombian Court Orders Army to Halt Coca Eradication, Implement Peace Deal. In a blow to the government of President Ivan Duque, an administrative tribunal in the southwest department of Cauca has ordered the National Army to halt the forced eradication of coca crops and emphasize crop substitution instead. The ruling came after farmers from three towns sued the army for eradicating their drug crops after they had expressed interest in joining a crop substitution program that is part of the 2016 peace deal with the leftist rebels of the FARC. The court ruled that the army cannot carry out eradication until and unless crop substitution has failed. The ruling only applies to those three municipalities in Cauca, but could set a legal precedent which other communities across the country could use to see eradication bans enacted there, too.

Mexican Drug Cartel Using Armed Drones Against Rivals. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (JNGC) has started using drones packed with the military explosive C4 and metal pellets to attack rival cartels in the southwestern state of Michoacan. Self-defense groups in the town of Tepalcatepec recovered two of the drones and four packages of explosives. The cartel has targeted the self-defense forces there in a bid to take over lucrative lime and avocado exports, in addition to running drugs. The only other known use of armed drones by cartels was last year in the southeastern state of Puebla.

AZ Legalization Initiative a Go, Oakland Cops Raid Mushroom Church, More... (8/21/20)

A British prescription heroin pilot program gets extended after promising first year results, police in Oakland raid a club that was selling magic mushrooms, and more.

Magic Mushrooms. In Oakland, apparently you can have them, but you can't sell them. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Supreme Court Rules Legalization Marijuana Legalization Initiative Stays on the Ballot. The state Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a lower court decision that the description on the Smart and Safe Arizona Act marijuana legalization initiative "accurately described the proposition," ending a legal challenge to it and clearing the final hurdle before it can go to voters in November.

Psychedelics

Oakland Police Raid, Close Nation's Only Magic Mushroom Church. Police in Oakland raided the Zide Door Church of Entheogenic Plants last week, seizing marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and cash after calling firefighters to break open the church's safe. Zide Door was the most prominent "magic mushroom" club in the country and likely the only brick and mortar place where one could purchase the mushrooms. Zide Door was originally a "cannabis church," but added mushrooms to its offerings after the city council approved a resolution making enforcement of laws around certain psychedelic plants law enforcement's "lowest priority." Police say the church went beyond the law by selling marijuana without a license and by selling magic mushrooms. "The council said mushrooms should not be our priority, and they're not," said Oakland Police Captain Randell Wingate, who supervises the unit that conducted the raid. "You can use mushrooms, you can grow your own mushrooms -- but selling mushrooms is still not legal."

International

British Heroin Maintenance Pilot Project Extended for Another Year. The United Kingdom's first heroin prescribing pilot project has been extended for another year after an evaluation found it created reductions in crime and homelessness. The first year's results were "very promising," the evaluation found. The project in Middlesborough led to a a large reduction in reoffending rates and street drug use, and significant improvement in participants' health and quality of life, including seeing initially homeless participants placed in stable housing.

DEA Loses Bid to Kill MJ Rescheduling Lawsuit, Canada to Stop Prosecuting Most Drug Possession Cases, More... (8/20/20)

A new poll shows bipartisan support for marijuana legalization, Colombian coca eradication goes into high gear amidst the pandemic, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New Poll Has Bipartisan Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Data for Progress has support for marijuana legalization at 58%, including 69% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans. Support among Democrats jumped to 79% when respondents were provided details of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which is currently pending before Congress. So did Republican support, which jumped to 60%.

Law Enforcement Professionals Call on Congress to Legalize Marijuana. More than 50 current and former law enforcement professionals have sent a letter to Congress urging it to move swiftly on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. The letter was signed by the National Black Police Association, Fair and Just Prosecution and Law Enforcement Action Partnership, in addition to dozens of current and former prosecutors, judges and police officers. Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) were among the list of signees.

Federal Appeals Court Rejects DEA Challenge to Marijuana Rescheduling Lawsuit. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a DEA request to throw out a lawsuit challenging marijuana's listing as a Schedule I drug. The lawsuit was filed in May by a group of scientists and veterans who argue that marijuana's classification is unconstitutional.

International

Canadian Federal Prosecutors Directed to Avoid Drug Possession Charges in Most Cases. The Public Prosecution Service of Canada has issued a directive to prosecutors to not prosecute drug possession cases unless major public safety concerns are involved. Charges should be filed only "in the most serious cases," said agency director Kathleen Roussel. In most cases, prosecutors should seek alternative approaches, such as restorative justice and indigenous approaches. "When deciding whether to initiate and conduct any prosecution, PPSC prosecutors must consider not only whether there is a reasonable prospect of conviction based on the evidence available but also whether a prosecution serves the public interest," she said.

Colombia Coca Eradication Goes into High Gear During Pandemic. Manual coca eradication is occurring at levels not seen for a decade even as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic. In June alone, more than 32,000 acres were forcibly eradicated, more than any month since the government and the FARC signed a peace treaty in 2016. "The government has taken advantage of the pandemic to do an eradication campaign and not to support farmers," said Eduardo Diaz, director of the Agency for the Voluntary Substitution of Illegal Crops under former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. "If the government wanted to support farmers, they would also take the opportunity to be present in the territories and support them in the production of food, support them in productive development. It takes the same effort to bring troops to do forced eradication as to bring technicians to do training and plant the fields... They have to pursue drug traffickers, but the farmers aren't drug traffickers."

Book Review -- Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed

Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed by David Farber (2019, Cambridge University Press, 214 pp., $24.95 HB)

As we live through the year of the pandemic, with its disproportionate impact on poor and minority communities, it is striking how those differential impacts mirror what happened with crack cocaine in the 1980s. Crack was never pandemic nor even truly epidemic -- its users numbered in the hundreds of thousands and only a vanishingly tiny number of Americans ever tried it -- but like the coronavirus, it ravaged predominantly Black communities, as did the heavy-handed official response to it.

University of Kansas historian David Farber takes the reader back to the days of vial-filled streets, especially the mid-1980s, when the emergence of this smokable form of cocaine, available in cheap, single dose units (rocks) made a drug that was formerly the province of the wealthy and well-connected a mass market commodity. A gram of powder cocaine, after all, was going for $100, but you could pick up a rock of crack and get an instant high for $5.

The problem was that the $5 high was gone in a few minutes. A lot of people, Farber notes, used crack recreationally. They'd buy a pocketful of rocks, smoke 'em up, and call it a night. But for some people, the crack high proved so alluring, the urge to hit the pipe so irresistible, that they lost everything to the drug. Their possessions -- pawned for pennies on the dollar to get another rock -- and then their friends' and families' possessions, thieved for more rocks, their cars, their homes -- all gone to feed a habit so compulsive women would give blow jobs in alleys for enough money for another rock and men would steal old ladies' purses in the street.

But who would find something like that alluring? Farber points to ethnologist Philippe Bourgeois, who lived among and wrote about a group of Queens crack dealers and their clientele, for an explanation: "Crack as a preferred drug of abuse only appeals to desperate population subgroups who are victims of extreme forms of structural violence," Bourgeois wrote.

Farber himself elaborates on that theme: "Crack become so popular and then so problematic in poor communities... because most of the people drawn to chronic crack use were already in deep trouble of all kinds before they took their first hit," he writes. "The trouble -- economic, educational, psychological, cultural… the list goes on -- was shaped by the callous and racist society in which they lived. And then once these troubled people started using crack, most every kind of authority, from the police to social workers to local prosecutors, mostly made their lives worse rather than trying to help them."

It didn't help, Farber explains, that the crews getting rich off selling crack were almost entirely Black, whether Dominicans, Jamaicans, or African-Americans. That made it all the easier for mass media and politicians to demonize them, and indeed, fed by a feast of sensational crack stories, by 1988, nearly two-thirds of American cited drugs as the worst problem facing the country. And by drugs, they largely meant crack.

The political response to the ravages of crack -- not just the decimation of its users but also the violence and disorder of the black-market crack trade -- was savage. At the federal level, Farber traces the three separate crime bills in the 1980s and 1990s (including one in which Joe Biden played a significant role) that paved the way for mass incarceration), including the creation of the infamous 100:1 crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing disparity.

But going after Michelle Alexander's thesis in The New Jim Crow that the crackdown on crack was driven almost entirely by racism, Farber draws out the leading role played by Black politicians, particularly Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, who hounded the Republicans in power in the 1980s to lower the hammer. In so doing, Rangel was responding to increasingly loud complaints from his Black constituents, who for obvious reasons didn't want gun battles, thefts, and dissolute behavior on their doorsteps.

But while federal crack prosecutions helped stuff the federal prison system to the rafters, states and localities certainly added to the repression. Farber points to Chicago, where by 1987 the number of drug cases alone more than doubled the total number of felony cases in the county just a dozen years earlier. The creation in 1989 of a special drug court to handle crack cases dramatically accelerated a streets-to-prison pipeline. The special crack court simply rationalized and made more efficient the effort that sent thousands of mainly Black Chicagoans into the state prison system.

Farber also takes a fascinating look at the links between crack, crack culture, and hip-hop, which all emerged at roughly the same time in the same places, and some of whose stars (Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Biggie Smalls) grew up in the trade. The garish displays of wealth endemic to both the trade and hip-hop culture, were symbols of status in impoverished communities.

And wasn't that what America was all about? The 1980s, after all, was the era of "greed is good," and if that attitude held on Wall Street, it also held on the streets. Farber doesn't excuse the violence of the trade -- it precipitated a large increase in murders nearly everywhere it emerged -- or the callousness of knowingly selling an addictive, life-wrecking drug to one's neighbors -- nor does he minimize the damage done to the users most in its grip (and their families and their communities), but he expresses some sympathy for the people whose only real access to the American dream was through slingin' rocks.

"For a short while in the 1980s and 1990s" he writes, "crack was the main chance for tens of thousands of unemployed, undercapitalized young men who dreamed of a world where they were rich and respected and admired. The crack sellers and the crack bingers invented a consumer marketplace with the tools they had on hand and within the possibilities they could imagine. Within their economic and cultural realm, in a broader culture of entrepreneurial greed, what they did made sense."

Crack is a fine work of social and cultural history. If you thought you already knew all about crack, think again, then go out and add this to your library.

Border Meth Seizures Surge, VT Lawmakers Aim for Accord on Legal Marijuana Sales, More... (8/19/20)

Vermont legislators look to reconcile House and Senate legal marijuana sales bills, UN officials in Colombia denounce an increasing number of massacres, and more.

methamphetamine (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Lawmakers Meet to Advance Legal Marijuana Market. A group of lawmakers are meeting today to try get a bill approved that would allow for legal marijuana sales in the state. The House approved a bill with a 20% sales tax in February; the Senate approved a bill with a 16% sales tax last year. Now, a conference committee of lawmakers will try to iron out the differences. Some nonprofits and small businesses are opposing the current Senate bill, S.54, because they say it fails to provide opportunities for Black people to participate and it fails to include local families and small businesses.

Methamphetamine

US Border Officials See Methamphetamine Resurgence. Meth seizures on the border are rising, US officials say, pointing to the seizure earlier this month of nearly 800 pounds of meth valued at $16 million on the Pharr International Bridge near McAllen, Texas. Days later, another 650 pounds of meth was discovered in a semi-truck crossing the border at San Diego. According to Customs and Border Patrol statistics, its officers have seized 59 tons of meth in the fiscal year beginning last October. That's one and a half times the amount seized in the previous fiscal year, and we still have two months to go.

International

UN Peace Mission Condemns Spike in Colombia Massacres. The UN's peace mission in Colombia, set up to monitor adherence to the 2016 peace deal with the FARC, is condemning what it calls spiraling violence around the country. The mission says it has documented 33 massacres so far this year. It also said it was investigating the killings of 97 human rights defenders since then and that at least 41 former FARC combatants had been killed. In the past week alone, at least 13 people were killed, including eight gunned down at a birthday party in Narino department and five Afro-Colombian teenagers whose bodies were found in a field outside Cali. The UN defines a massacre as the killing of three or more people in the same event by the same group.

State Treasurers Lobby for Marijuana Banking in COVID Bill, Journalists Harassed in Colombia, More... (8/18/20)

A coalition of state treasurers is urging Congress to pass marijuana banking reforms as part of any coronavirus relief package, Arizona's Maricopa County improves the way it handles smalltime pot busts, and more.

Can the marijuana industry catch a break with the coronavirus relief bill? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

State Treasurers Group Lobbies for Marijuana Banking in Coronavirus Bill. A coalition of state treasurers from around the country are calling on Congress to include marijuana banking reforms in the next coronavirus relief package. The move would boost the economy by giving it a much-needed infusion of capital, while protecting workers in the sector, the treasurers argued. The House included the SAFE Banking Act in the relief bill it passed in May, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has long opposed marijuana reforms, sharply criticized House Democrats for including marijuana in the bill. Negotiations on the relief bill are currently going nowhere.

Arizona's Most Populous County Will Defer Pot Possession Prosecutions if Offenders Get a Medical Marijuana Card. Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney Allister Adel has announced that anyone who gets arrested in Maricopa County on a simple marijuana possession charge can apply for a medical marijuana card to avoid prosecution. "In cases where the defendant was not in compliance with the AMMA [Arizona Medical Marijuana Act] at the time of the crime solely because the person did not have a valid medical marijuana card, MCAO will dismiss a charge involving any crime covered by the AMMA if the defendant obtains a medical marijuana card and provides proof by the [initial pretrial conference]," the new policy says. That's a vast improvement over past practice under former County Attorney Bill Montgomery. Under the reign of Montgomery and his predecessors, low-level, first- and second-time marijuana offenders were sent to a drug treatment program called TASC, where they would shell out thousands of dollars and submit to frequent urine tests. The county attorney's office would get a cut of the profits.

Drug Policy

Minneapolis Suburb Repeals "Crime-Free, Drug-Free" Ordinance. The city council in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park voted unanimously Monday to repeal a controversial housing ordinance that police used to order landlords to evict tenants over suspected criminal activity. Tenants who were never convicted or even charged with a crime lost their housing, and once a local news station went public with its investigation, the city council moved quickly to repeal the policy.

International

Committee to Protect Journalists Calls for Investigation After Colombian Soldiers Shoot at Journalist, Threaten Reporters Covering Coca Protests. The Committee to Protect Journalists called Monday for Colombian authorities to undertake a thorough and transparent investigation into an incident where soldiers fired weapons at journalists Fernando Osorio and Edilson Álvarez as they covered a coca grower protest, then detained them for six hours and accused them of being left-wing guerrillas. "Colombian authorities should thoroughly investigate soldiers' brazen attacks on journalists Fernando Osorio and Edilson Álvarez and ensure that all those responsible are held to account," said CPJ Central and South Americas Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. "The fact that this is the second shooting attack by soldiers on Osorio highlights the disregard that some in the Army appear to have for journalists. Impunity in these attacks will only perpetuate violence against journalists."

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