Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Study Finds Drug Use Rose During Pandemic, San Francisco Sues to Block Dealers from Tenderloin, More... (9/25/20)

The Michigan legislature is moving forward on a couple of front, San Francisco prosecutors try an innovative tactic against Tenderloing drug dealers, and more.

Police in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood. (AdamChandler86/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Legislature Passes Expungement Bill. A bill that would automatically expunge criminal records for those convicted of marijuana offenses has passed the legislature. Under the bill, people convicted of those offenses would not have to apply and their records would be cleared seven years after their misdemeanor sentence or 10 years for a felony offense. The bill is part of a six-bill package, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign into law, also would allow people with misdemeanor marijuana convictions to clear the offenses sooner if they would not have been considered crimes after voters’ legalization of marijuana in 2018. They could start applying 180 days after the law is enacted— late March or early April.

Drug Policy

Drug Use Rose During Pandemic, Study Finds. A study published Wednesday in the American Medical Association's JAMA Network found that drug test positivity rates for cocaine, fentanyl, heroin and methamphetamine have increased nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. Co-authored by the Department of Health and Human Services and Millennium Health, the study was based on urine drug test results from 150,000 patients between Nov. 14 and July 10. The study found that people were 19% more likely to test positive for cocaine, 67% more likely to test positive for fentanyl, 33% more likely to test positive for heroin, andd 23% more likely to test positive for methamphetamine.

Michigan Bill to Lift SNAP Drug Felony Ban Advances. A bill that would end the state's permanent ban on food assistance for people with two or more drug convictions passed out of the Senate Families, Seniors and Veterans committee this week. The measure, SB 1006, is sponsored by State Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint), and is now headed for a Senate floor vote.

San Francisco Sues 28 Tenderloin Drug Dealers, Seeks to Ban Them from Area. The city has sued 28 alleged drug dealers in the Tenderloin, where drug dealing and open drug use is common, in a bid to clean up the area. City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the lawsuits would bar the defendants from a 50-square-block area of the Tenderloin and part of the adjoining South of Market neighborhood. Of the 28 defendants, 27 live outside the city, and all have multiple arrests for sale or possession of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl.

OR Democrats Endorse Drug Reform Initiatives, CA East Bay County Ends Drug Possession Prosecutions, More... (9/24/20)

The Drug Policy Alliance on the Breonna Taylor non-indictments, Oregon Democrats go all in for drug decriminalization and therapeutic psilocybin initiatives, and more. 

If you get arrested for drug possession in Contra Costa County, CA, prosecutors will not file charges against you. (CC)
Drug Policy

Oregon Democratic Party Endorses Legal Psilocybin Therapy and Drug Decriminalization Ballot Measures. The state Democratic Party officially endorsed two statewide drug reform initiatives Wednesday. The party is getting behind both  Measure 110, which would decriminalize drug possession, and Measure 109, the therapeutic psilocybin initiative.

Law Enforcement

Drug Policy Alliance Statement on Release of Grand Jury’s Findings in Breonna Taylor Killing by Louisville Police. In response to the release of the grand jury’s findings--only indicting one of the three officers on a charge of “wanton endangerment”--in the horrific killing of Breonna Taylor by Louisville Police in what was a baseless no-knock warrant in a drug investigation, Kassandra Frederique, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), released the following statement: "Breonna Taylor should be alive today, but instead, the systems we have in place—as a result of the drug war—failed her. And they robbed her of the bright future she was just beginning. Had it not been for the drug war—which provides the military-grade equipment to local police departments through military weapons transfer and earmarked federal funds—Breonna would be alive today. And had it not been for the drug war that incentivizes drug arrests with said federal resources, the police likely would have never gone to her home to begin with. While this decision is upsetting and certainly doesn’t go far enough, it does not change the fact that as long as the drug war remains, people of color will continue to have a bounty on their heads. They will continue to be gunned down in their beds, or held down until they can’t breathe with an officer’s knee on their necks. And worse, those responsible for their deaths will use drugs—or alleged drug involvement—as a cover for their merciless actions. This isn’t an isolated incident. These aren’t ‘a few bad cops.’ It is a system that has been created through the parasitic relationship between policing, the drug war and racism. And until we completely terminate those connections, we are simply adding fuel to the fire and no court or jury will be able to stop the police violence that ensues."

California East Bay County to Stop Prosecutions for Drug Possession, Other Non-Violent Misdemeanors. Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton announced Thursday that her office will no longer file charges against most people arrested for small-time drug possession and other non-violent misdemeanor offenses. The county had not been pursuing such charges under a pilot program in effect since early this year. Now that policy has been made permanent. The county says the move will divert low-level recreational users out of the criminal justice system and into the health care system with the goals of both reducing the strain in the courts and on law enforcement.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.

Will New Jersey Be the Next State to Legalize Weed? [FEATURE]

New Jersey looks set to be the next state to legalize marijuana. It's on the ballot come election day, the polls are looking good, and while it's not the only state with marijuana legalization on the ballot, the others -- Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota -- are all out West, and the Garden State should beat them by a few hours.

The New Jersey legalization initiative, Public Question 1, would amend the state constitution to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and its cultivation, processing, and retail sale. It also designates the existing Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC), which currently handles medical marijuana, to regulate all legal marijuana commerce. Retail marijuana sales would be subject to the state sales tax of 6.625%, but any other states sales taxes would be prohibited. The initiative authorizes the legislature to let local governments add a 2% local sales tax.

It also leaves it up to the legislature and the CRC to address unresolved issues. Those include whether and how home cultivation would be allowed, how much weed people could possess, and detailed retail regulations.

If the measure passes, New Jersey will be not only the first to legalize it this election day, it will also be the first Mid-Atlantic state to do so, and the first to legalize it via a legislatively-initiated voter referendum. Of the 11 states (and the District of Columbia) that have so far legalized marijuana, nine did it through citizen-based ballot initiatives, while in the other two, Illinois and Vermont, the legislatures passed legalization bills.

But even though Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on marijuana legalization in 2017 and vowed to get it passed in 100 days, legislative infighting, opposition within the Legislative Black Caucus, and bickering over revenues blocked the legislature from ever getting it done. As a last resort, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) and marijuana reform champion Sen. Nick Scutari (D) filed the resolution giving the voters the final decision. It passed with overwhelming Democratic support over strong Republican opposition last December.

And the polls have consistently shown it winning in November.An April Monmouth University poll of registered voters had the measure winning 61% of the vote, while a July Brach Eichler Cannabis Poll of likely voters had support at 67.6%. An August Brach Eichler Cannabis Poll had support at 66%, a barely noticeable decline and still a number to warm the hearts of legalization supporters.

That latter poll also had a large majority (74%) saying the state should make sure that racial equity issues are addressed, while another large majority, 71%, wanted tax revenues to be used for drug awareness and education. More than half (55%) wanted to see higher marijuana taxes.

"The [poll] shows that as we get closer to the November election, public awareness and support for the legalization of adult cannabis use is steady or growing," John D. Fanburg, co-chair of the Cannabis Law Practice at Brach Eichler, said in a press release accompanying the poll. "Additionally, we can see that voters are recognizing the importance of addressing the social justice impact of disproportional enforcement and arrests against New Jersey's minority population."

For Ken Wolski, RN, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana -- New Jersey (CMM-NJ), supporting the initiative is a no-brainer. Wolski and CMM-NJ are part of a broader coalition, NJ CAN 2020, that is working with Head Count's Cannabis Voter Project to end marijuana prohibition in the Garden State. Other coalition members include the ACLU-New Jersey, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, the Latino Action Network, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, and the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association.

"Legalizing marijuana is the best way to get the right medicine to the most people," Wolski told the Chronicle in an email exchange. "Legalization will make it much easier for adults to take advantage of the tremendous therapeutic potential of cannabis. No longer will adults need a specific diagnosis and multiple visits to physicians to obtain cannabis. Adults in New Jersey will be able to purchase cannabis over the counter, like they purchase aspirin now. NJ currently has some of the most expensive medical cannabis in the country, but increased competition will bring down those prices. Home grow should also come into play. Easily available marijuana will improve public health," he said.

Wolski is counseling reefer revolutionaries who don't think the measure goes far enough to think again. There will be opportunities to further shape what legalization looks like down the road, he said.

"Unfortunately, some marijuana reform advocates oppose the amendment because it does not address their specific concerns about guaranteeing home cultivation, ensuring that ex-felons can participate in the new legal industry, ensuring reparations for individuals and communities harmed by the war on marijuana, etc.," he explained.

"To those who say the question does not go far enough, I point out that the CRC must follow the regulatory process, which ensures input from the people of the state," Wolski continued. "The CRC will hold public hearings before they draft the regulations, then there will be a Public Comment period before they adopt the regulations. This will be the time to make opinions about home grow, social equity, affordable licenses, etc. known. The entire process will be transparent. If some of our demands are not met in the first go-round, we can immediately file to amend the regulations. The very first step is to give whole-hearted support for the ballot question, without which, there will be no reform of marijuana laws in New Jersey for the foreseeable future."

And he'll be fighting for home cultivation, he said.

"We anticipate arguments in civil and criminal courts that the amendment does, in fact, allow home cultivation," Wolski explained. "We plan to work with the CRC in the development of regulations to ensure that home cultivation is part of legal cannabis in New Jersey. At the same time, we will continue to work with legislators for a bill to specifically allow New Jersey medical marijuana program patients and caregivers to grow a limited supply of cannabis for their medical needs."

But first, the measure needs to win.

"If the ballot question fails, the war on marijuana will be business as usual, and we will be that much further away from home cultivation, legalization, expungement, social justice, etc.," Wolski warned. "The first step is victory in November that we can build on. We encourage New Jersey residents to join us in our efforts to pass this ballot question."

No Indictments for Killing Breonna Taylor, Vermont MJ Commerce Bill Goes to Governor, More... (9/23/20)

A Vermont legal marijuana commerce bill goes to the governor, Michael Bloomberg has paid the fines of 32,000 Floridians with felony records so they can vote this year, and more.

One Louisville officer was indicted for endangering others in the killing of Breonna Taylor during a drug raid.
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Lawmakers Send Marijuana Retail Sales Bill, Automatic Expungement Measure to Governor's Desk. With final votes in the state Senate, the legislature has approved two bills, one, S. 54, that allows for the regulated cultivation and sale of marijuana and the other, S. 234, which allows for the automatic expungement of past low-level marijuana possession convictions. The House approved the measures days earlier. The bills now go to the desk of Gov. Phil Scott (R).

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Poll Shows Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new WGHP/Emerson College poll finds that nearly three quarters (72.5%) of respondents support the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Fewer than one out of five (18.9%) were opposed. Support for recreational marijuana, on the other hand, remains a minority position, but just barely, with 48.1%.

Felon Voting Rights

Michael Bloomberg Pays Fines For 32,000 Floridians with Felony Records So They Can Vote. Former New York City mayor and billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg has donated more than $16 million in a bid to help Floridians with felony records register to vote. Voting rights activists estimate the funds have already paid off fines for some 32,000 felons. Florida voters in 2018 approved an initiative that allowed felons to vote once they pay off all fines, fees, and restitution. Activists had challenged the provision requiring that all fines be paid before allowing felons to register, but the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law last week.

Law Enforcement

Kentucky Attorney General Announces One Louisville Police Officer Indicted in Breonna Taylor Killing, But Not for Killing Her. State Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) announced Wednesday that a grand jury his office empaneled had indicted former Officer Brett Hankinson on a charge of endangering neighbors with reckless gunfire, but no officer was charged with causing Taylor's death. Taylor was shot and killed during a no-knock middle-of-the-night drug raid in March after her live-in boyfriend opened fire on police he believed were home invaders. As of Wednesday afternoon, the streets of Louisville were filling with angry demonstrators.

International

US Offers $5 Million Reward for Arrest of Colombia Rebel Leader. The US is offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest of a leader of the Colombian rebel group the National Liberation Army (ELN). The US accuses Wilver Villegas Palomino of participating in an ongoing scheme to distribute Colombian cocaine in the United States to finance the rebel group. The ELN was founded more than 50 years ago to fight for a more just Colombia, but like other armed actors there, has been involved in the cocaine trade. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently described Palomino as an "indicted terrorist."

British Labor MPs Call on Their Leader to Embrace Drug Law Reforms. A group of Labor MPs organized as the Labor Campaign for Drug Policy Reform (LCDPR) are calling on party leader Keir Starmer to get behind the need for urgent drug law reforms. The group, which consists of 20 MPs, launched a manifesto yesterday calling for an explicitly public health-based approach to drug use, the introduction of safe injection sites to prevent overdoses, the expansion of pill-testing services, and the diversion of drug possession offenders out of the criminal justice system.

SD Marijuana Poll Has Good News, UC Berkeley to Open Psychedelic Research Center, More... (9/22/20)

A Texas judge has temporarily lifted a ban on smokable hemp, the Ann Arbor city council approves a resolution effectively decriminalizing plant-based psychedelics, and more.

Marijuana legalization and medical marijuana initiatives are polling well. If they can win in South Dakota... (CC)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Opposition Group's Polling Shows Voter Support for Marijuana Legalization Initiatives. A poll commissioned by a group opposing the state's marijuana legalization initiative, Constitutional Amendment A, and medical marijuana initiative, Initiated Measure 26, finds both leading by a sizeable margin. The survey found that 70% supported the medical marijuana initiative and 60% supported the legalization initiative.

Hemp

Texas Judge Lifts Ban on Smokable Hemp Until 2021. A Texas judge has granted a temporary injunction barring the state from enforcing a ban on smokable hemp products until a challenge from the industry can be heard on court. The ban was written into legislation legalizing hemp in the state, but four hemp producers challenged it in court. Last week, Travis County Judge Lora Livingston found that the plaintiffs "have demonstrated a probable right to relief," Livingston granted the injunction, which will be in effect until the issue is litigated in February.

Psychedelics

New Psychedelics Research and Education Center Launched at UC Berkeley As Reform Movement Grows. The University of California at Berkeley will launch a new center dedicated to psychedelics research and education, the school announced Monday. Researchers will study psychedelics to "investigate cognition, perception and emotion and their biological bases in the human brain," according to a press release. At the same time, the new entity will be putting resources toward informing the public about "this rapidly advancing field of research." Johns Hopkins University opened a similar center last year.

Ann Arbor, Michigan, City Council Approves Psychedelic Decriminalization Resolution. The city council voted Monday night to approve a resolution effectively decriminalizing plant-based psychedelics (or entheogens). The resolution passed unanimously.

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

People with small-time marijuana possession convictions in New York state can now 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 MJ Init 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 movement 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 margin, but at this late stage also a hopeful one. Traditionally an initiative campaign hopes to begin a campaign with 60% support, expecting to lose some voters as election day approaches and details of the initiative get debated.

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 vote 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 BC 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

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.

Zeese with then-governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson and reformer group, probably late 1990s
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 keep it from Washington-supported foes of leftist President Maduro, and had continued to be involved in Green Party politics up until his last breath.

Joey Tranchina, who opened a syringe program in the early 1990s, and fought San Mateo County to make it legal with Zeese's help, wrote, "Kevin is the best activist field commander I've ever worked with. I never had more fun working with people or arguing with them. Kevin was not into the romance of lost causes; he fought to change evil things, that most people could not imagine ever changing."

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.

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