Drug War Chronicle #813 - December 12, 2013

Call Senate Judiciary Committee Members for Sentencing Reform TODAY! (Calls needed from voters in AL, AZ, CA, CT, DE, HI, IL, IA, MN, NY, RI, SC, TX, UT, VT.)

1. Uruguay Legalizes Marijuana! [FEATURE]

In an historic vote, the Uruguayan Senate gave final approval Tuesday night to the government's marijuana legalization bill. Once President Mujica signs it, Uruguay is 120 days away from legal marijuana commerce.

2. DPA Files California Marijuana Legalization Initiative, But… [FEATURE]

The Drug Policy Alliance has filed a marijuana legalization initiative with authorities in California, but the group says it hasn't decided whether it will actually move forward for 2014. Two other initiatives have also been filed, but others are counseling patience.

3. 55% Say Legalize Marijuana in New California Field Poll

California's Field Poll reports a majority for marijuana legalization. That's in line with other recent polls suggesting Californians are ready to free the weed.

4. Cambodia Drug Detention Centers Rife With Abuse

Human Rights Watch has issued another scathing report on the abuse of drug users and other "undesirables" in Cambodian drug detention camps. Drug treatment isn't on offer, but torture, sexual abuse, and forced labor are.

5. Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Filed

Missouri activists have filed a series of marijuana legalizaiton initiatives with state officials, laying the groundwork for taking the issue to the voters next November.

6. Medical Marijuana Update

A busy Tuesday in California, herbal medicine experts make a call, New Jersey's third dispensary opens, Florida's Supreme Court hears a challenge to an initiative, and more.

7. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Busy, busy. Cops on pain pills, crooked drug task force commanders, and more.

8. Chronicle AM -- December 5, 2013

Busy, busy on the marijuana policy front today, and there is also medical marijuana news, a new report on coerced federal plea bargains, a call for call-ins to the Senate on mandatory minimums next week, and more.

9. Chronicle AM -- December 6, 2013

A new marijuana legalization has been filed in California, the Florida medical marijuana initiative faces a pair of challenges, the British Columbia decriminalization initiative is struggling, and more.

10. Chronicle AM -- December 9, 2013

A West Virginia man gets a first degree murder charge in his wife's accidental drug death, a Utah "Good Samaritan" overdose bill is moving, some US senators grumble about Zohydro ER, and we have a pair of stories about opiates in India. And more.

11. Chronicle AM -- December 10, 2013

African-American faith leaders observe International Human Rights Day by calling for an end to the drug war and mass incarceration, Texans are ready for criminal justice reform, and Mexico's prohibition-related violence continues apace. And more.

12. Chronicle AM -- December 11, 2013

Uruguay legalizes the marijuana trade (and the usual suspects object), Denver provides a helpful guide to legalization there, Human Rights Watch scorches Louisiana for its AIDS-enhancing policies, and more.

1. Uruguay Legalizes Marijuana! [FEATURE]

The Uruguayan Senate voted Tuesday to approve a government-sponsored bill to legalize marijuana commerce. The Senate vote was the final vote needed for the bill to pass; all amendments to the bill were defeated previous to Tuesday's debate, so it now goes to the desk of President Jose Mujica, who supports it.

Once Mujica signs the bill into law, it will go into effect in 120 days.

The Broad Front coalition government headed by Mujica first introduced the plan to legalize marijuana a year and a half ago as part of a broader package of measures designed to reduce the crime and violence associated with the black market drug trade. After retooling in the face of significant opposition, the bill passed the lower chamber of Congress in July.

Uruguay now becomes the first signatory to the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to break with the UN on the issue of marijuana legalization. The Netherlands has turned a blind eye to small-scale retail sales for decades now, but such acts remain formally illegal so the Dutch can remain in formal compliance with the treaty.

Under the bill, the Uruguayan government will regulate the importation, cultivation, harvesting, distribution, and sale of marijuana. Would-be pot smokers will have to register with the government in order to grow their own (up to six plants), grow it collectively in a club, or buy up to 40 grams a month at a pharmacy.

The bill was not without opposition. During debate Tuesday, Colorado Party Sen. Alfredo Solari, a former health minister, said that children and teens would be able to more easily obtain marijuana.

"The effects of this policy on public health will be terrible," he warned.

But Broad Front Sen. Roberto Conde retorted that easy access to marijuana is already the status quo.

"Marijuana is already established in Uruguay," he said. "It's a drug that is already seen as very low risk and enormously easy to get."

Opposition didn't just come from conservative lawmakers. Some marijuana users aren't very keen on the idea of having to register with the state in order to legally obtain their drug of choice.

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica
But President Mujica and the Broad Front argued that the bill would weaken drug traffickers and help reduce the estimated $80 million a year the country spends fighting drugs and imprisoning traffickers. The estimated 128,000 Uruguayan pot smokers (user groups have a higher estimate of around 200,000) make up the largest illicit drug market in the country.

The government is vowing to entice consumers with marijuana that is both cheaper and of higher quality than that produced by the black market, most of which comes from Paraguay, which produces plentiful but low-grade crops.

"We are keeping in mind the prices on the black market, until we start to dismantle the functioning of the market," said Julio Calzada, secretary of the National Drug Board.

"This law will return us to the vanguard of Latin America," added Broad Front Sen. Constanza Moreira. "For many of us, today is a historic day. Many countries in Latin America, and many governments will take this law as an example."

Uruguay's move to legalize the marijuana business won accolades from drug reformers around the globe. In an open letter organized by the International Drug Policy Consortium,114 civil society organizations from around the world welcomed the vote.

"The path taken by Uruguay establishes the basis for a new paradigm in drug policy," the groups said. "The organizations that have promoted these changes cannot ignore the efforts undertaken by the Uruguayan state. We will support Uruguay and every other state and jurisdiction as they seek to develop more sensible drug policies to tackle the problems related to health and security of their citizens, in full respect with international human rights treaties."

"It's about time that we see a country bravely break with the failed prohibitionist model and try an innovative, more compassionate, and smarter approach," said Hannah Hetzer, who is based out of Montevideo, Uruguay, as the policy manager for the Americas for the Drug Policy Alliance. "For 40 years, marijuana prohibition has been attempted and it simply hasn't worked. But rather than closing their eyes to the problem of drug abuse and drug trafficking, Uruguay has chosen responsible regulation of an existing reality. Let's hope others soon follow suit!"

"We applaud President Mujica and members of the Uruguayan General Assembly for their leadership on this important issue," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Support for regulating marijuana and taking it out of the underground market is not only growing in the United States, but also internationally. It will not be long before more states and nations decide to end marijuana prohibition."

"Marijuana prohibition creates underground markets that generate billions of dollars in tax-free revenue for violent drug cartels and traffickers," Riffle said. "Regulating marijuana will allow authorities to control it and ensure profits are being used to benefit communities instead of criminals."

Uruguay has just punched a big hole in the edifice of global marijuana prohibition. Who is going to be next?

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2. DPA Files California Marijuana Legalization Initiative, But… [FEATURE]

A California marijuana legalization initiative backed by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) was filed Wednesday with the state attorney general's office. But the national drug reform group said it has not yet decided whether to campaign to get it on the November 2014 ballot.

The Control, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana Act would legalize up to an ounce and four plants for people 21 and over and create a statewide system of regulated marijuana commerce. It would also impose a 25% tax on retail sales.

A year ago, in the wake of the legalization victories in Colorado and Washington, major players in the California marijuana reform movement, including California NORML, the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, the ACLU of California, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, and late drug policy reform funder Peter Lewis's representative, Graham Boyd, met in San Francisco and came to a tentative agreement that they would work together toward putting an initiative on the ballot in 2016.

Reluctant to risk another defeat at the ballot box like Proposition 19 in 2010, the movement heavyweights jointly decided to let other states take the lead in 2014 rather than act precipitously and potentially see the reform movement suffer a major blow with another defeat in the nation's most populous state.

But momentum in favor of marijuana legalization was growing quickly, as evidenced by a September Gallup poll's 58% in favor of legalization nationally and polls out of red states like Indiana, Louisiana, and Texas showing majority support. That was also the case in California, with a September Public Policy Institute of California poll showing 60% of registered voters favoring legalization and an October Tulchin poll that had support for legalization at 65% among likely voters.

Those numbers prompted some key players to reconsider, especially given that two other marijuana legalization initiatives -- not vetted by the heavyweights -- are already floating around. The first, the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative of 2014, the perennial effort by acolytes of the late Jack Herer, is in the signature gathering phase, but shows little sign of having the financial wherewithal to actually gather enough signatures to make the ballot. The second, the Marijuana Control, Legalization, and Regulation Act of 2014, described by its proponents as "the world's first open source initiative," is pending approval at the attorney general's office after its proponents handed in its second amended version Friday.

Now DPA has stepped in with its own 2014 initiative. "The Drug Policy Alliance is the primary force behind this and primary drafter of this initiative," said Steve Gutwillig, DPA's deputy director of programs. "We wanted to make sure that a responsible and well-drafted initiative would be available in 2014 should a full-fledged campaign become possible. Filing this initiative is making sure that there is a viable initiative vehicle if we go forward in 2014. We think it reflects what the voters will support."

Gutwillig emphasized that no decision to move forward had been made, but that one would be forthcoming early next year.

The clock is ticking. The deadline for gathering signatures for November 2014 is April, and given that state officials have up to 60 days to return a ballot summary and let signature gathering commence, that means the window for signature gathering could be as short as three months. With more than 500,000 valid signatures needed to make the ballot, that would be a daunting and very expensive prospect.

It may still be better to wait for 2016, said Dale Gieringer, the longtime head of California NORML.

"I don't see that this does much for patients or consumers," he said. "The fact that we have three initiatives proposed for 2014 shows a relative lack of unity and a lack of adequate consultation among the various groups. And it's really late in the day."

Gieringer pointed to language leaving the state's medical marijuana system intact as one issue. "We would have two systems, one with a special tax, one without," he noted. "Guess which one most people would patronize. The legislature might respond by getting rid of collectives or dispensaries. Medical marijuana regulation is the elephant in the room, and these are complicated issues that will require consultation by a lot of interest groups."

He also counseled patience.

"People started panicking when those strong poll numbers came out in the fall and started thinking 'Gee, this is really feasible,'" Gieringer said. "But it was so late in the day that people couldn't really get together and plan and vet to come up with a well-conceived plan. This is a stab in the dark, especially until we see how Colorado and Washington play out, especially the tax and regulate part. How is this going to work in the marketplace? Will people patronize highly taxed marijuana shops or not?"

The DPA effort may not be the perfect marijuana legalization initiative -- that elusive creature has yet to be spotted -- but it is out there now, at least as a place holder. The other two initiatives appear unlikely to actually make the ballot, so the decisions made early next year by DPA and its allies are likely to determine if California votes on marijuana legalization next year or not.

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3. 55% Say Legalize Marijuana in New California Field Poll

California's Field Poll is reporting majority support for marijuana legalization in the Golden State. The poll had support for generic marijuana legalization at 55% and, somewhat surprisingly, support for an actual initiative at 56%.

The Field Poll is in line with other recent polls showing California majorities in favor of legalization. A September Public Policy Institute of California poll had 60% of registered voters favoring legalization and an October Tulchin poll had support for legalization at 65% among likely voters.

In addition to the generic marijuana legalization question, the Field Poll asked specifically about the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative of 2014 (CCHI), which would legalize all uses of marijuana and hemp for adults 21 and over. Support for that perennial and perennially under-funded initiative was at 56% statewide, reaching 70% in the San Francisco Bay area.

The CCHI won more support from Democrats (65%) and independents (62%) than Republicans (39%), and more support men (58%) than women (55%). Support was more likely among whites (60%) and blacks (55%) than among Latinos (46%) and more likely among young voters (64% for the 18-to-49 age group) than people in their 50s (50%) or over 65 (47%).

The CCHI isn't the only initiative out there. Two more are at the state attorney general's office awaiting approval to begin signature-gathering, including one filed last week by the Drug Policy Alliance, the Control, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana Act. But Field didn't ask about them.

The Field Poll, which has been tracking California voter attitudes since 1947, illustrates a dramatic shift on marijuana policy. In 1969, the first year the poll asked the question, only 13% supported legalization. By 1980, that number had climbed to 30%, and by 2010, it had reached 50%. Now, it's up another five points in the past three years.

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4. Cambodia Drug Detention Centers Rife With Abuse

Cambodian authorities illegally imprison hundreds of drug users and other "undesirables" in detention centers where they don't get drug treatment but instead face torture, sexual abuse, and forced labor, Human Rights Watch charged in a report released Sunday. The rights group called for the centers to be closed immediately.

Cambodian "intervention" truck rounding up drug users and other "undesirables" in Phnom Penh. (hrw.org)
The report, "They Treat Us Like Animals": Mistreatment of Drug Users and 'Undesirables'in Cambodia's Drug Detention Centers, documents the experiences of people recently confined in the centers, who described being thrashed with rubber water hoses and hit with sticks or branches. Some described being punished with exercises intended to cause intense physical pain and humiliation, such as crawling along stony ground or standing in septic water pits.

Former female detainees described rape and other sexual abuse by male guards. Many detainees said they were forced to work unpaid in the centers -- and in some cases, on construction sites -- and those who refused were beaten.

"The only 'treatment' people in Cambodia's drug detention centers receive is being beaten, bruised, and forced to work," said Joseph Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. "The government uses these centers as dumping grounds for beggars, sex workers, street children, and other 'undesirables,' often in advance of high-profile visits by foreign dignitaries."

The report identified eight of the drug detention centers and is based on interviews with 33 people who had been held in them. It wasn't just drug users, either. According to the report, authorities also use the drug detention centers to hold homeless people, beggars, street children, sex workers, and people with disabilities.

People interviewed said they saw unaccompanied children as young as six in the detention centers. The children were held in the same rooms as adults, forced to perform exhausting physical exercises and military-like drills, chained, and beaten.

"The government admits that 10% of those held in the centers are children under 18," Amon said. "Children who use drugs or who live on the streets should be protected from harm, not locked up, beaten, and abused."

Human Rights Watch issued a similar report on drug detention center abuses in 2010, Skin on the Cable, which focused national and international attention to the issue of compulsory drug dependency "treatment" centers in the country. Following that report, the United Nations and donor agencies condemned the lack of due process and abusive treatment in centers in Cambodia and the region, while Cambodian government officials largely sought to dismiss the report as "untrue."

A dozen UN agencies issued a joint statement last year calling on countries with such centers "to close them without delay and release the individuals detained," but Cambodian authorities have not responded to that call, nor have they investigated or prosecuted anyone over the reports of torture and abuse at the centers.

"The Cambodian government should conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of arbitrary detention, torture, ill-treatment, and forced labor in its drug detention centers," Human Rights Watch said. "In line with the 2012 UN agency statement, everyone detained in the centers should immediately be released and all the centers closed. The government should replace the centers with expanded access to voluntary, community-based drug treatment."

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5. Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Filed

Activists with Show-Me Cannabis have been crisscrossing Missouri to lay the groundwork for marijuana legalization, and now, they've taken the next step. Columbia-based attorney Dan Viets, the group's chairman Wednesday filed a series of initiatives that would legalize marijuana via a constitutional amendment.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/show-me-cannabis-regulation.jpg
Show-Me Cannabis logo (show-mecannabis.com
The initiatives are all variations on a theme; all would legalize marijuana for persons 21 and over, but vary on the number of plants allowed to be grown, whether convictions of previous offenders should be expunged, and how to regulate advertising. Show-Me Cannabis Reform will do polling to see which has the most support among Missourians.

The initiative petitions must be approved by the secretary of state's office, and after that, the office has 10 days to approve draft ballot summary language. Even if approved, initiative supporters face a daunting task. To qualify for the ballot, organizers must collect the signatures of roughly 320,000 registered voters by May 4 and they must gather signatures from at least 8% of registered voters in six of the state's eight US congressional districts.

Show-Me Cannabis Reform has commissioned polling that shows majority support for marijuana legalization. A September 2012 poll had legalization winning 50%-45%, with support climbing to 54% when respondents were given more information. Still, that is outside the comfort level for most initiative-watchers, who will argue that initiatives should be polling at least 60% at the beginning of the campaign.

But Show-Me Cannabis Reform is undaunted and moving forward. While some marijuana reform-friendly state legislators would prefer that lawmakers deal with the issue instead of voters, the group doesn't want to wait for the legislature to get around to it.

"We believe the legislature is totally out of touch with the voters of Missouri on this," Viets told the Columbia Missourian Wednesday.

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6. Medical Marijuana Update

A busy Tuesday in California, herbal medicine experts make a call, New Jersey's third dispensary opens, Florida's Supreme Court hears a challenge to an initiative, and more. Let's get to it:

National

On Wednesday, the American Herbal Pharmacopeia classified marijuana as a botanical medicine. Americans for Safe Access called it "an historic move" that will "lay the scientific foundation for quality assurance and expanded research." The American Herbal Pharmacopeia is the world's leading expert organization on herbal medicines.

California

On Tuesday, Fresno County supervisors took a first step toward banning grows. The board voted unanimously for a total ban, rejecting a second option that would have banned outdoor cultivation and allowed limited indoor cultivation. A final vote is expected on January 7.

Also on Tuesday, about 200 people showed up for a Lake County Board of Supervisors meeting to provide input on a proposed new cultivation ordinance. The county's interim ordinance, passed last summer, linked plant numbers to parcel size and banned cultivation on vacant lots, but placed no limit on indoor grows. The proposed ordinance would go further, banning outdoor cultivation in community growth boundaries and limiting indoor cultivation to 100 square feet with indoor lighting not to exceed 1,200 watts. Outside of community growth boundaries, plant numbers are capped at six mature or 12 immature plants on parcels larger than one acre. A vote is expected at next week's board meeting.

Also on Tuesday, the Long Beach city council punted on providing new guidelines for where dispensaries can operate. With only two-thirds of members present, the council decided to wait until next week to deal with the issue. The council had earlier proposed a raft of restrictions on dispensary locations, but city staff said they were unworkable.

Also on Tuesday, Santa Cruz County supervisors voted to push large grows out of the urban areas. Under the new rules, only 100-square foot personal grows are allowed in residential areas, while rural properties of less than five acres can grow 1,000 square feet, and larger parcels can grow up to 3,000 square feet.

Also on Tuesday, Butte County supervisors amended their cultivation ordinance to require each lot with a garden to have an occupied residence with water and sewage and to increase civil penalties for violations to $500 a day for the first violation and $1,000 a day for subsequent ones. It's not going to stop there. The county says it will seek to reduce the number of plants allowed and enact other restrictions at the next board meeting in January.

Also on Tuesday, the San Jose city council rejected a ban on dispensaries, but voted instead to enact stricter enforcement rules. Effective immediately, dispensaries are barred from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, rec centers, libraries and other marijuana vendors, or within 500 feet of rehabilitation centers and 150 feet of residential properties. Dispensary advocates vowed to repeat a successfully signature drive that staved off implementation of new rules in 2011 if necessary.

On Wednesday, San Jose began enforcing the new regulations with a crackdown on dispensaries located next to residences. While the city had previously gone after clubs that drew complaints, it is now broadening enforcement and is sending letters to dispensaries located next to residences telling them to shut down or relocate.

Also on Wednesday, California NORML announced that a patient will file a petition to ask the state Supreme Court to review the recent Third District Appellate Court decision upholding the city of Live Oak's ban on medical marijuana cultivation. The patient is Live Oak resident James Maral, who suffers from a painful life- and limb-threatening condition caused by insufficient blood supply to muscles and nerves.

Colorado

Last Friday, a Loveland doctor was convicted of a criminal offense for recommending medical marijuana to an undercover police officer. Dr. Dallas Williams, 75, was arrested in March 2012 after the narc wore a wire to the doctor's office and said he needed marijuana for "severe pain." Prosecutors argued there was neither a proper assessment nor a proper doctor-patient relationship. He was convicted of attempting to influence a public servant.

Connecticut

Last Wednesday, the Watertown city council voted for a six-month moratorium on dispensaries. The city wants time to develop new regulations.

On Monday, the Wallingford planning and zoning commission voted for a nine-month moratorium on dispensaries. The moratorium will "give this commission time to determine how it wishes to deal with these uses," Corporate Counsel Janis Small said.

Florida

Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court heard arguments on whether a medical marijuana initiative should be approved to go on the ballot. Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) is seeking to have it disqualified on the grounds that the initiative language is misleading and that it would clash with federal law. But People United for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the initiative argued that the initiative is clear. The high court will decide in a few weeks.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the Fairhaven planning board approved a medical marijuana zoning bylaw. The 7-1 vote marked a departure from the board's discussions just two months ago, when it voted to institute a temporary moratorium on all medical marijuana dispensaries in town, but now a dispensary wants to come to town. The vote must be approved by a town meeting.

Michigan

On Tuesday, three medical marijuana bills passed the House Judiciary Committee. One would allow the use of edibles, one would allow for dispensaries, and one would allow pharmacies to sell medical marijuana -- if federal law ever changes. The legislature adjourns Thursday, so action on the first two is unlikely before then, but the third bill has already passed the Senate, so the House could vote on it before adjourning.

New Jersey

Last Wednesday, the state's third dispensary officially opened in Woodbridge. The Garden State Dispensary began registering patients last month, and 400 people have already purchased their medicine there. The other two medical marijuana dispensaries in New Jersey are located in Egg Harbor and Montclair.

Oregon

On Wednesday, the legislative panel charged with crafting statewide dispensary regulations held its final meeting.The committee has met since September to hammer out details such as security, background checks and marijuana testing. A draft version of the rules -- covered in 30 pages -- lays out requirements for Oregon's medical marijuana industry.

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

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7. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Busy, busy. Cops on pain pills, crooked drug task force commanders, and more. Let's get to it:

In Sunrise, Florida, the Sunrise Police Department has opened an investigation into whether its highly lucrative drug stings broke the law. The investigation comes after the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported that the department used the addresses of unwitting homeowners and a business when it created a fake company as part of its drug sting scheme. The newspaper earlier reported extensively on how the small-town department has made millions luring would-be cocaine buyers there and then seizing their cash and other goods.

In Maysville, Kentucky, a former Maysville police officer was indicted last Thursday on charges he stole money from a federal drug task force. Timothy Fegan, 52, is the former director of the Buffalo Trace-Gateway Narcotics Task Force. He is accused of stealing money seized in drug raids as well as cash kept on hand for drug buys. He's looking at up to 10 years in federal prison.

In Wilmington, North Carolina, a former Hanover County sheriff's lieutenant was indicted Monday on more than 120 criminal counts related to mishandling drug evidence and violating the department's policy on truthfulness after he got strung out on pain pills. Joey LeBlanc, who was second in command of the department's vice and narcotics unit, faces 28 counts of obtaining controlled substances by fraud; four counts of obtaining property by false pretenses; four counts of embezzlement; four counts of altering, destroying, stealing evidence; four counts of obstruction of justice; 21 counts of misdemeanor possession of schedule II controlled substance; 28 counts of trafficking, 4 to 13 grams; 14 counts of trafficking, 14 to 27 grams; and one count of trafficking, 28 grams or more. His bond was set at $500,000.

In Atlanta, a former Newton County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty last Friday to carrying a weapon while selling drugs. Darrell Mathis copped to one count of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime after being busted for selling 2 ½ pounds of marijuana over a four-month period to a snitch and an undercover FBI agent. He made the sales while in uniform and armed, often showing up in his patrol car. The weapons charge in this case carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a mandatory minimum sentence of five years' incarceration, as well as a maximum fine of $250,000.

In Sparta, Wisconsin, a former La Crosse police officer pleaded guilty Monday on charges related to his theft of drugs from the evidence room. Brian Thompson copped to one count of felony attempted possession of a narcotic after being arrested in an August sting. After Thompson aroused suspicions, a police captain packed a duffel bag with clothes and a fake bottle of Oxycontin pills, which Thompson then stole.

In Birmingham, Alabama, the former head of the West Alabama Narcotics Task Force was sentenced last Thursday to a year and a day in federal prison for stealing money seized by the task force. Jeffrey Snyder, 55, pleaded guilty in June to stealing at least $125,000 over a two-year period ending in June 2012. Snyder had spent 29 years with the Tuscaloosa Police Department before retiring a year ago and commanded the task force since 2002.

In Houston, an ex-Harris County jailer was sentenced Monday to six months in jail at his former place of employment for smuggling drugs and cell phones into the jail. Patrick Perkins, 27, copped to one count of bringing prohibited items into a correctional facility and one count of drug possession after he agreed to take prescription pain pills to an inmate who was a snitch.

In San Luis Obispo, California, a former San Luis Obispo narcotics detective was sentenced Monday to 18 months in federal prison after he stole cash and drugs from people, used drugs on the job, and got himself addicted to pain pills. Cory Pierce was arrested in February. Now, all the narcs on the squad face random drug testing.

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8. Chronicle AM -- December 5, 2013

Busy, busy on the marijuana policy front today, and there is also medical marijuana news, a new report on coerced federal plea bargains, a call for call-ins to the Senate on mandatory minimums next week, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Possession Legal in Portland, Maine, As of Tomorrow, But... The voter-approved ordinance legalizing the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana by people 21 and over goes into effect Friday. But tokers beware: The police chief says he is going to continue to enforce state law, which is stricter. Maine is a decriminalization state, so getting caught with a small amount of pot will still get you a fine.

Legalization Initiative Filed in Missouri. The Missouri marijuana reform group Show-Me Cannabis Regulation has filed an initiative that would amend the state constitution to legalize marijuana. Petitioners will have to collect signatures from about 320,000 registered voters by May 4 to qualify for the November 2014 ballot.

Washington State Marijuana Business Applications Surpass 1,300. Lots of people want to get into the legal marijuana business in Washington state. Regulators there are reviewing over 1,300 applications and there are still two weeks left for people to apply. More than 600 have applied for commercial growing licenses, more than 450 to produce edibles, and 230 have applied to open retail outlets. Regulators will license up to 334 pot shops, and there is no limit to the number of growers or producers, although the state wants to limit production to two million square feet.

Seattle City Attorney Wants More Marijuana Stores. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said Wednesday that he has asked the State Liquor Control Board to allow at least 50 marijuana retail sales licenses to be issued in the city. The Board has proposed allowing only 21, but Holmes said that will not be enough to meet demand in the city.

Legalization Referendum Proposed for Dane County (Madison), Wisconsin. Dane County voters could vote on whether the state should legalize marijuana after a member of the county Board of Supervisors said he planned to introduce a measure that would ask them just that. The proposal has to pass the board, and if it does, voters would vote on a non-binding advisory referendum on the spring 2014 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Action on Medical Marijuana Bills Delayed in Michigan. The Associated Press reported Thursday that votes on pending medical marijuana bills are unlikely until next year, although it didn't say why. Still, hundreds of people jammed legislative committee rooms to voice their opinions on improving the state's medical marijuana law.

Hearing Today on Medical Marijuana in Buffalo. Legislators in New York held a public hearing to gain support for medical marijuana legislation in Buffalo Thursday. More than two dozen speakers were invited to testify about the proposed legislation. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), chair of the Assembly Health Committee, chaired the meeting.

Sentencing Reform

Call Your Senators on Mandatory Minimum Reform Next Tuesday. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing next Thursday on mandatory minimum sentencing reform and the Smarter Sentencing Act, S. 1410. If passed, that bill would benefit thousands of nonviolent federal offenders facing mandatory minimum sentences (including some crack offenders who are already in federal prison). Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) is urging people whose senators are on the committee to call in to voice their support next Tuesday. Click on the link for more details.

Human Rights Watch Report Condemns Forced Pleas in Federal Drug Cases. Human Rights Watch Thursday released a report condemning coercive plea bargaining by federal prosecutors in drug cases and calling for sentencing reform. The report is An Offer You Can't Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty.

International

Israeli Health Ministry Bill Would Expand Medical Marijuana Program. The Israeli Health Ministry is proposing legislation that would increase the number of doctors authorized to prescribe medical marijuana and allow it to be distributed through pharmacies. The ministry is resisting allowing even broader access.

British Drug Think-Tank Offers Guide to Marijuana Regulation. The British drug think-tank Transform Drug Policy Foundation has issued How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide for policy makers, drug policy reform advocates and affected communities all over the world, who are witnessing the question change from, "Should we maintain cannabis prohibition?" to "How will legal regulation work in practice?"

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9. Chronicle AM -- December 6, 2013

A new marijuana legalization has been filed in California, the Florida medical marijuana initiative faces a pair of challenges, the British Columbia decriminalization initiative is struggling, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

A New California Marijuana Legalization Initiative is Filed. The Control, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana Act was filed with the California attorney general's office Wednesday. It would legalize up to an ounce and four plants for people 21 and over and create a statewide system of regulated marijuana commerce. It's not clear, however, whether its backers will seek to gather signatures for 2014 or will use it as a place marker for 2016. Another legalization initiative, the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative of 2014 is in the signature-gathering phase, but lacks deep-pocketed financial backing.

Thinking About a Post-Pot Prohibition World. Martin Lee, the author of Acid Dreams and Smoke Signals, about the cultural histories of LSD and marijuana, respectively, writes about marijuana legalization as a beginning, not an end, and has some interesting and provocative thoughts about what should come next.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Hears Challenge to Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Florida Supreme Court Thursday heard arguments on whether the proposed constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana should go on the November 2014 ballot. Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) had challenged it as misleading and in violation of federal law. The justices did not decide the issue, but a decision will be coming shortly.

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Needs a Lot of Signatures in a Hurry. The state Division of Elections reported Thursday that People United for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the initiative, has just under 137,000 signatures that have been validated. They need 683,149 by February. There is some lag between signatures gathered and signatures validated, and organizers say they have collected 400,000 signatures so far. But that means they need probably another 400,000 in just a few weeks just to have a cushion that would allow for the inevitable invalid signatures.

International

British Columbia Marijuana Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Struggling. Sensible BC's signature-gathering campaign to put a decriminalization initiative on the ballot in British Columbia looks like it is going to fall short. The group needs 310,000 valid signatures by Monday, but only has 150,000 gathered. But if they don't make it this time, that won't be the end of it. "Sensible BC is here to stay," said the group's Dana Larsen. "You can be quite sure we're going to try this campaign again sometime in the next year to year-and-a-half, if we don't succeed this time. We're not going away."

Report Says SE Asia Amphetamine Use is Fueling Rise in HIV Risk. An increase in injection use of amphetamines in Southeast Asia is raising the risk of the spread of HIV and requires "urgent" action, according to a new report from the Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) and the Asia-Pacific Drugs and Development Issues Committee. Not only injection drug use, but risky sexual behavior as well among amphetamine users, is part of the problem, the report says.

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10. Chronicle AM -- December 9, 2013

A West Virginia man gets a first degree murder charge in his wife's accidental drug death, a Utah "Good Samaritan" overdose bill is moving, some US senators grumble about Zohydro ER, and we have a pair of stories about opiates in India. And more. Let's get to it:

Zohydro ER
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts High Court Rules against Prosecutors in Small-Time Marijuana Cases. Possession of up to an ounce of pot is decriminalized in Massachusetts, even if that less-than-an-ounce amount is divided up in separate baggies. The state Supreme Judicial Court ruled last month that possessing small amounts of marijuana in separate baggies is not sufficient evidence to charge someone with possession with intent to distribute. Prosecutors are grumbling.

Harm Reduction

Utah "Good Samaritan" Drug Overdose Bill Moving. A bill that would provide limited criminal immunity for people who report a drug overdose has passed the Criminal Justice Committee and will be taken up by the full legislature when it reconvenes next month. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss (D-Holladay) and has the backing of harm reductionists and the Utah Statewide Association of Prosecutors alike. There were more than 500 drug overdose deaths in Utah last year.

Law Enforcement

COPS Program Worried About Police Militarization. Cop-watcher Radley Balko notes that the monthly newsletter of the Justice Department's Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) program is raising the alarm about the militarization of policing in the US. Balko cites a warning from COPS program senior policy analyst Karl Bickel: "Police chiefs and sheriffs may want to ask themselves -- if after hiring officers in the spirit of adventure, who have been exposed to action oriented police dramas since their youth, and sending them to an academy patterned after a military boot camp, then dressing them in black battle dress uniforms and turning them loose in a subculture steeped in an 'us versus them' outlook toward those they serve and protect, while prosecuting the war on crime, war on drugs, and now a war on terrorism -- is there any realistic hope of institutionalizing community policing as an operational philosophy?"

West Virginia Man Faces First Degree Murder Charge in Wife's Drug Overdose Death. Prosecutors have charged a Roane County man with first degree murder in the accidental drug overdose of his wife. Todd Honaker thought he was buying LSD, but instead gave his wife the synthetic drug 25b-NBOMe ("N-bomb"). The man who supplied the drug has been charged with delivery of a controlled substance. It's not clear why Honaker is facing such severe charges.

Pain Pills

Four Senators Scold FDA on Zohydro Approval. Four US senators have sent a letter to the FDA saying they disagree with its decision to approve Zohydro ER, a long-acting version of the pain reliever hydrocodone. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) said the decision "will only contribute to the rising toll of addiction and death" caused by the misuse of prescription drugs. Zohydro can be crushed and snorted by people seeking a strong, quick high, which the senators called "irresponsible." [Ed: As the item immediately below about pain control in India demonstrates, poorly conceived control measures can and do have a devastating impact on the lives of pain patients who end up under-medicated or un-medicated. We have this problem in the US too. Other measures than bans are needed to address prescription drug misuse -- the FDA was right to approve Zohydro.]

International

Less Than 4% of Indians Suffering From Chronic Cancer Pain Have Access to Morphine. Legal restrictions on access to opioid pain medications leave millions of Indians suffering from severe and chronic pain without access to relief, leading to an "epidemic of pain in India." Ironically, India produces 99% of the global supply of licit opium, most of which it exports.

Indian Authorities Warn of Rising Opium Cultivation in Northeast. Illicit opium production is on the rise in states such as Manipur and Nagaland, Indian drug experts said at a Saturday conference in Guwahati. Cultivation was increasing both as a cash crop and for personal consumption, the experts said. In some villages, between 60% and 90% of families were growing opium, they said.

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11. Chronicle AM -- December 10, 2013

African-American faith leaders observe International Human Rights Day by calling for an end to the drug war and mass incarceration, Texans are ready for criminal justice reform, and Mexico's prohibition-related violence continues apace. And more. Let's get to it:

African American faith leaders called Tuesday for an end to the drug war and mass incarceration. (sdpconference.info)
Medical Marijuana

Michigan Medical Marijuana Bills Pass House Committee. A pair of bills that would allow for the use of medical marijuana-infused products, as well as legalizing dispensaries for cannabis, passed the House Judiciary committee Tuesday morning on unanimous votes. A third bill, which would allow pharmacies to produce and sell medical marijuana, also passed, but on an 8-1 vote. With the legislature adjourning for the year Thursday, it's unlikely they will get final votes before then.

Law Enforcement

California Appeals Court Rules Only Prosecutors -- Not Police -- Can Initiate Asset Forfeiture Proceedings. California's 5th District Court of Appeals in Fresno ruled last week that police agencies cannot initiate asset forfeiture proceedings, which must instead be undertaken by prosecutors. Police had seized $16,000 in cash from Adolfo Cuevas and a friend sitting in a car and moved to forfeit it when traces of methamphetamine were found on a $5 bill. Only prosecutors can make that call, the court held. The case is Cuevas v. Superior Court of Tulare County.

Pain Pills

American College of Physicians Calls for Pain Med Contracts, Database, Educational Programs. In a policy paper released Tuesday, Prescription Drug Abuse, the American College of Physicians set out 10 policy positions and recommendations aimed at reducing "the significant human and financial costs related to prescription drug abuse." They include supporting a national prescription drug monitoring program, more education and prevention efforts for doctors and patients, and considering the use of written agreements ("pain contracts") for doctors and patients when treating pain. [Ed: Patient advocates often regard databases and pain contracts with suspicion. We commonly receive reports about pain contracts in particular having a chilling effect on the availability of pain medication for patients who need it. It is not clear whether this paper fully considers the plight commonly suffered by pain patients because of the war on drugs.]

Sentencing

On International Human Rights Day, Black Leaders Call for End to Drug War, Mass Incarceration. The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, a major grouping of African-American faith leaders, called for an end to the war on drugs and mass incarceration Tuesday, International Human Rights Day. The call came as the group released key findings from a series of community-based hearings on mass incarceration it has held around the nation. Click on the link for the recommendations.

Poll: Texans Ready to Reform Drug Punishments. A poll released Monday by the Texas Public Policy Foundation finds that nearly four out five (79%) Texans support drug treatment instead of prison for people caught possessing drugs. The poll also found overwhelming (84%) support for broader criminal justice reforms in the state.

International

Mexican Drug War Deaths Show No Decline. One year after Enrique Pena Nieto assumed office as president of Mexico, the deadly prohibition-related violence that has plagued the country for the past six years shows no sign of abating. According to Frontera NorteSur, citing Mexican press reports, there were 19,016 people killed in the drug violence in the first 11 months of Pena Nieto's term, compared to 18,161 during the last 11 months of Felipe Calderon's government. The violence also appears to have shifted geographically, from border states to states in the south and center of the country.

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12. Chronicle AM -- December 11, 2013

Uruguay legalizes the marijuana trade (and the usual suspects object), Denver provides a helpful guide to legalization there, Human Rights Watch scorches Louisiana for its AIDS-enhancing policies, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Denver Debuts Marijuana Legalization FAQ Web Site. The city of Denver has created a web site seeking to address questions from residents and visitors, parents and neighbors, business and property owners, and marijuana retailers and home growers about how legalization will work.

New York Marijuana Legalization Bill Announced. State Sen. Liz Kreuger (D-Manhattan) Wednesday unveiled a proposal to legalize and tax marijuana in the Empire State. Pot prohibition is "a policy that just has not worked," she said. Advocates concede that the bill is unlikely to pass this session, but you have to start somewhere.

Medical Marijuana

American Herbal Pharmacopeia Classifies Marijuana as Botanical Medicine. The world's leading expert organization on herbal medicine, the American Herbal Pharmacopeia, has released the first part of a two-part monograph on marijuana that classifies it as a botanical medicine, alongside many other accepted complementary and alternative medicines. Americans for Safe Access calls it a "historic move" and will host a Google Hangout Thursday at 5:30pm PT to discuss its ramifications.

Oregon Medical Marijuana Regulation Panel Meets for Last Time. The committee charged with creating Oregon's first statewide medical marijuana dispensary regulations is meeting for what is supposed to be the last time today. The panel has been meeting since September to craft rules around security, background checks, and marijuana testing. A 30-page draft version of the rules should be finalized.

Guam Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Another Hearing Today. Guam residents will have another chance to voice their opinions on medical marijuana at a hearing set for today. Sen. Tina Muna Barnes has introduced a measure, Bill 215, that would allow the use of medical marijuana for various illnesses. The hearing starts at 5:30pm Guam time.

Drug Testing

Pennsylvania School Employee Drug Testing Bill Passes House. A bill that would require prospective public school employees to submit to drug testing passed the House Tuesday. The ACLU of Pennsylvania calls House Bill 810 "invasive, impractical, and unconstitutional" and vows to challenge it -- and win -- if it ever becomes law. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Harm Reduction

Human Rights Watch Report Slams Louisiana Laws, Police Practices as Increasing AIDS Toll. Human Rights Watch issued a report Wednesday charging that Louisiana laws and practices that bar access to clean needles and criminalize sex work contribute to a raging HIV epidemic and a very high AIDS death rate. The report is In Harm's Way: State Response to Sex Workers, Drug Users, and HIV in New Orleans.

Push Is On for Naloxone and Good Samaritan Law in Minnesota. Elected officials and members of law enforcement called Tuesday for new state laws that would allow deputies to carry and administer the overdose reversal drug Naloxone and provide legal protections for people who contact authorities to report a drug overdose. The moves are a response to a rising toll of heroin overdose deaths, particularly in the Twin Cities.

International

Uruguay Legalizes Marijuana Commerce. The Uruguayan Senate Tuesday night gave final approval to the government's marijuana legalization bill. Now, once President Jose Mujica signs it into law, Uruguay will be 120 days away from a legal commerce in marijuana.

UN Anti-Drug Bureaucrats Say Uruguay Legalization Breaks Treaty. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) reacted unhappily to Uruguay's Tuesday night legalization vote. "Uruguay is breaking international conventions on drug control with the cannabis legislation approved by its congress," the INCB complained in a Wednesday press release. The INCB qualified itself as "surprised" that Uruguay had "knowingly decided to break the universally agreed and internationally endorsed legal provisions of the treaty."

Russian Drug Czar Says Drug Legalization "Impossible." Reacting to Uruguay's move to legalize marijuana, Viktor Ivanov, head of Russia's Federal Service for Drug Control, said the legalization of any drug is "impossible, and I think it will not be possible" in Russia. "Moreover, we have strengthened our political will with an anti-drug strategy," he added, although he also said it was possible that Russia could grow hemp and low opiate content poppies for agricultural purposes.

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