Drug War Chronicle #876 - March 5, 2015

1. Louisiana Man Gets 13 Years for Two Joints, Commutation Campaign Underway [FEATURE]

The case of Bernard Noble is raising serious questions about race, justice, and profit-taking in the Bayou State.

2. Florida SWAT Cop Guns Down Unarmed Man in Marijuana Raid

A 26-year-old Deltona man was shot in the face and killed in a SWAT raid over small-time marijuana sales. Police said he was a threat; his friends dispute that.

3. Maraschino Cherry Mogul Kills Self As Cops Discover Huge Marijuana Grow

When the cops discovered a large marijuana grow-up beneath a historic Brooklyn maraschino cherry company, the owner killed himself on the spot.

4. Medical Marijuana Update

A near total victory for the Kettle Falls Four, California continues to wrestle with medical marijuana, CBD cannabis oil bills pop up, and a Utah medical marijuana bill stays alive.

5. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

This week, the focus is on bad departments. We have two cases where cities and the departments that police them are running into trouble.

6. Chronicle AM: Paul v. Bush on Drug Policy, Russians Warn of DC Addicts, Global Drug War Report, More (2/26/15)

The Russians go all Reefer Madness on DC, Rand Paul takes on Jeb Bush's drug policy "hypocrisy," a second Ohio legalization initiative hits a road block, a new report examines the harms of global drug prohibition, and more.

7. Chronicle AM: Ted Cruz Shifts on State Legalization, Mexico Captures "La Tuta," Forfeiture Action, More (2/27/15)

Ted Cruz sees the light (or at least, which way the wind is blowing), a new poll has a majority for legalization in Maryland, asset forfeiture reform gets killed in two states, The Washington Post rethinks drug testing, and more.

8. Chronicle AM: TX Border Surge Flops, Belize Decrim Proposal, British Drugged Driving Law, More (3/2/15)

There will be a smoke-out in Trenton later this month, medical marijuana is moving in Utah, the Texas "border surge" accomplishes little, KY cops ignore asset forfeiture reporting, a tough, new British drugged driving law has gone into effect, and more.

9. Chronicle AM: INCB Scolds US, Uruguay on Pot; DC & NYC Top Cops on Marijuana, Iran Executions, More (3/3/15)

The top cops in DC and New York City offer wildly contrasting remarks on marijuana, Iran hangs drug offenders, while Indonesia prepares the firing squad for them, a Florida man gets acquitted of a marijuana cultivation charge in Florida by convincing a jury it was medical, and more.

10. Chronicle AM: Nationwide Majority for Pot Legalization, WV Welfare Drug Test Bill Dies, More (3/4/14)

The General Social Survey for the first time has a majority for marijuana legalization, DC cops start returning arrestees' marijuana, a Utah medical marijuana bill is still alive, Canada's Tories ponder decriminalization, Britain's Lib Dems talk drug policy reform, and more.

1. Louisiana Man Gets 13 Years for Two Joints, Commutation Campaign Underway [FEATURE]

This article was written in collaboration with AlterNet and originally appeared here.

Bernard Noble has already spent nearly four years in a Louisiana prison for being caught with two marijuana cigarettes -- and he's still less than a third of the way through a 13-year sentence with no shot at parole. The sentence is outrageous, but hardly unique in a state with one of the harshest marijuana laws in the country.

Under Louisiana law, possession of any amount of marijuana up to 60 pounds is punishable by six months in jail on a first offense, up to five years in prison for a second offense, and up to 20 years in prison for a third offense. While first- and second-time offenders are eligible for probation, third-time offenders are not. Distributing any amount of pot, even a joint or two, garners a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, and that includes possession with intent to distribute.

Add in the gross racial disparities in marijuana possession busts -- African-Americans in the state are 3.1 times more likely to be arrested for than whites and account for nearly two-thirds of all pot arrests while making up less than one-third of the population -- and you have a pipeline to prison for black Louisianans.

In Bernard Noble's case, getting caught with a couple of joints morphed into more than 13 years behind bars because of the way the state's harsh marijuana laws intersect with its harsh habitual offender law (known colloquially as "the bitch.") Because Noble had two previous drug possession offenses, one 12 years old and one 24 years old, he fell under the purview of the habitual offender law.

Even though his current offense was trivial (marijuana is decriminalized in nearly 20 states and possession is legalized in four others and DC) and even though his previous offenses were low-level and nonviolent, the statute called for the 13 years, without parole.

Taking into account Noble's minor criminal history, his work record, and his role as the breadwinner for a family with seven children, and making special note of his overpayment of child support to children not living with him, his sentencing judge departed from the statute and sentenced him to only five years. Orleans Parish prosecutors appealed the lower sentence to the state Supreme Court and got the 13-year sentence reinstated last year.

"Thirteen years in prison for two joints is obscene," said Daniel Abrahamson, director of the Office of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance and a lead author of a brief to the state Supreme Court in the case. "The punishment is so far out of proportion to the conduct that we really can't call it 'punishment' -- it is more like torture."

It has also shattered Noble's family and destroyed his fledgling business, a restaurant in Kansas City. Noble had relocated there after Hurricane Katrina and has just returned to New Orleans for a family visit. He left his grandmother's house on a bike ride four years ago and never made it back. He's been locked up ever since.

Bobby Jindal has a chance to do the right thing. (gov.state.la.us)
But there's renewed hope for the black, 48-year-old New Orleans family man, even if it's a longshot. Lawyers working on his case are preparing to formally seek a commutation for him from Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) within the next few days, and they, supporters, and advocates are hoping to light a fire under the governor hot enough to make him act. A rally is set for Sunday to draw attention to his case.

If Jindal's record is any indication, though, it will have to be quite a fire: During his time as governor, Jindal has granted only 40 of 390 commutations requested.

"This is one of the most egregious cases, a real heart breaker," said Yolanda Cadore, director of strategic partnerships for the Drug Policy Alliance. "He's been in there 44 months, and he's not even close to finishing his sentence. He's just passing time. The only rehab available is drug treatment."

Noble's sentence also plays into another ugly dynamic in Louisiana: imprisonment for profit. Back in the 1990s, during another overcrowding crisis, parish sheriffs were offered a cut of future profits if they covered the cost of building prisons in their counties. Now, more than half of state prisoners are held in parish jail administered by sheriffs.

The state pays them $24.39 a day per prisoner, much less than the $55 a day if would cost to house them in state prisons. If a sheriff can keep jails full, he can pull in as much as $200,000 per jail per year, all the while keeping expenses -- staffing and inmate care and programs -- as low as possible. Other sheriffs lease their prisons to for-profit prison companies in return for guaranteed annual payments.

Sheriffs have a direct financial incentive to keep their jails full, and they know it. Sentencing reforms would hurt their bottom line, and they have organized to make sure that doesn't happen. The Louisiana Sheriffs Association consistently lobbies against sentencing reforms, and its political action committee uses its financial clout to help elect politicians who agree with them.

Orleans Parish, the most populous in the state, acts as a conveyor belt for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders to fill the cells and the coffers for other parishes.

"Orleans Parish is the parish that is fueling the prison system in other parts of the state, and it's mostly black men fed into the prison system from there," said Cadore. "Look at Bernard Noble, look at Victor White, who was stopped, frisked, questioned, and ended up dead in the back of a police car after they found marijuana on him."

Case after case after case of black men being sent away for years for relatively trivial offenses is starting to have a cumulative effect on public opinion.

"What's rising to the surface is the impact these current laws have on a particular community -- the black community," Dore pointed out. "We are noticing that the drug war has a color, and that's black, and it has a gender, and that's mostly male, and it has a location, mainly urban, where the young black men are. In all of that, Louisiana is no outlier."

Winning a commutation for Bernard Noble would be a step in the direction of social and racial justice. But he's just one prisoner. The state has 40,000 more, many of them also nonviolent drug offenders.

"If we are ever going to make a dent in reducing the incarceration rate and having a serious conversation about policy reform, we have to look at the impact of these draconian, regressive policies that are fueling the incarceration problem in the state," said Cadore.

"We also have to point out where lawmakers are making policy not based on evidence, but on tradition or notions of morality. We're in an age where evidence-based policy-making is not only the right thing, but the fiscally and socially responsible thing to do," she continued. "Louisiana has been casting a blind eye to evidence. Is it that they're not paying attention or that they're not paying attention to things that are profit-generating?"

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2. Florida SWAT Cop Guns Down Unarmed Man in Marijuana Raid

A Volusia County sheriff's deputy on a dawn SWAT team pot raid shot and killed an unarmed resident of the home Tuesday. Derek Cruice, 26, becomes the 10th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Cruice was unarmed and no weapons were found in the house. Police did find about nine ounces of marijuana, as well as a scale, a drug ledger, marijuana smoking pipes, plastic bags and about $3,000 in cash.

Sheriff Ben Johnson said that Deputy Todd Raible, a member of the Sheriff's Office SWAT Team, shot Cruice in the face as the SWAT team came through the door of the residence at 6:30am.

"They (deputies) were met with resistance and a shooting occurred," Johnson said without offering further detail. He said he could not elaborate because his office had not yet interviewed Deputy Raible.

But sheriff's spokesman Gary Davidson added that Raible fired his weapon after perceiving Cruice's actions as a threat.

Cruice was pronounced dead at Florida Hospital Fish Memorial in Orange City.

"The deputy, he's all right, actually he is very shaken," Johnson offered.

Sheriff Johnson said Cruice was listed in the search warrant as the subject of an ongoing "narcotics" investigation. He was one of six adults -- four men and two women -- in the house when deputies arrived.

Matt Grady, 24, was another one of them. He said he was awakened by banging on the door and opened it.

"A bunch of guys came around the corner and they are pushing me down," Grady said. "And as I was going down on my knee I heard gunfire," he told The News-Journal.

Steven Cochran, 24, was another resident. He said Cruice was not resisting anything.

"He had no weapons on him or in the house," Cochran said. "Nobody was making any kind of resistance or keeping them from doing their job." Cruice had been working as a delivery driver at Monster Pizza in Deltona. His coworker, Thomas Figueroa, who had known him for nine years, stopped by the scene and broke down crying behind the yellow crime scene tape.

"He is not the kind of person that would do that (attack a deputy)," he said, adding that the pizza shop had closed for the day to mark Cruice's death.

Deputy Raible, 36, is now on administrative leave, as is standard for deputy-involved shootings. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will investigate the death because a police officer was involved.

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3. Maraschino Cherry Mogul Kills Self As Cops Discover Huge Marijuana Grow

The owner of a historic maraschino cherry company in Brooklyn, New York, committed suicide at his plant Thursday morning moments after officers discovered a massive marijuana grow-up behind a false wall in the factory basement. Arthur Mondella, 48, becomes the 9th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Dell's Maraschino Cherries factory in Red Hook has been around since 1948 and was founded by Mondella's grandfather. It is a major player in the industry, supplying cocktail cherries to clients including TGIF Fridays, Chick Filet, and Caesars. The plant has the capacity to process 400,000 pounds of cherries a week.

It also had the capacity to crank out large quantities of indoor marijuana. Once investigators discovered a hidden room behind a flimsy wall in a basement storage room, they uncovered a grow-op that could hold 1,200 plants.

According to the New York Post, police had received a tip that the factory was a front for a marijuana grow, but, unable to develop evidence to obtain a search warrant, they resorted to sending in the Department of Environmental Protection to do a "routine Inspection" -- and see if they could find any signs of pot operation.

When investigators unearthed a basement full of luxury cars, suspicions were aroused, and they then found some "suspicious shelving," which turned out to be a fake wall held fast by magnets. They opened the door and the rich, rank odor of marijuana burst from it.

That's when Mondella, who had been cooperating in the hours-long "inspection," ran into a nearby bathroom, locked the door, told his sister "Take care of my kids," and shot himself in the head.

Cops said they thought they had just missed a harvest in the operation that used 125 grow lights in a 2,500-foot hidden space divided into several rooms. They found 100 pounds of pot, $125,000 in cash, and 60 different varieties of marijuana seeds.

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4. Medical Marijuana Update

A near total victory for the Kettle Falls Four, California continues to wrestle with medical marijuana, CBD cannabis oil bills pop up, and a Utah medical marijuana bill stays alive. Let's get to it:

California

Last Tuesday, the Riverside city council voted to send an initiative to the ballot that would allow some medical marijuana dispensaries. The measure will be on the June 8 ballot.

Last Thursday, the Clear Lake city council adopted an ordinance banning grows within the city. Councilmembers said that was the only way to eliminate large grows, but patients and advocates protested loudly, to no avail. Legal action by patients and advocates is coming next.

On Monday, the Pismo Beach city council killed a proposed ban on medical marijuana deliveries. The council had voted last month to introduce an amendment to do so, but chose not to conduct a second reading.

On Tuesday, the San Diego city council cleared a key hurdle for dispensaries to open by rejecting environmental appeals filed against them. That means the six proposed dispensaries are one step closer to getting final approval from the Planning Commission.

Also on Tuesday, Tehama County supervisors voted to ban medical marijuana grows. The only exception is for locked outbuildings. Gardens that are currently in compliance will be grandfathered in, but only until next January.

Florida

On Monday, a jury acquitted a medical marijuana patient in a historic verdict. A Broward County jury effectively nullified the state's marijuana laws by acquitting a defendant who testified that he grew and used pot for medicinal purposes. Jesse Teplicki testified at his trial that he smoked marijuana to treat the nausea and suppressed appetite that had been plaguing him for years. The jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning with a verdict of "not guilty." Teplicki, 50, was looking at up to five years in state prison if convicted.

Georgia

Last Thursday, a CBD cannabis oil bill passed the House. The House approved House Bill 1, which allows for the use of low-THC, high-CBC cannabis oil to treat seizures and other major health conditions. The measure now goes to the Senate.

On Monday, a new, weaker CBD cannabis oil bill was filed in the Senate. The House last week passed a CBD cannabis oil bill, but now, Sen. Lindsey Tippins has filed a new bill that would not make the drug available, but would instead set up a four-year study. The Tippins bill is not yet up on the legislative website.

Iowa

On Sunday, a new poll showed strong support for medical marijuana in the state. A new Des Moines Register poll has support for medical marijuana at 70%, up from 59% a year ago. The state approved a CBD cannabis oil bill last year, but patient advocates say that law is useless because it doesn't provide for distribution of the medication.

Kansas

Last Monday, a CBD cannabis oil bill won a House committee vote. For the first time, a measure allowing some form of medical marijuana has won a vote in the state legislature. The House Health and Human Services Committee Monday approved House Bill 2282, which would allow for the use of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil for seizure disorders.

Missouri

Last Thursday, the state issued licenses for CBD cannabis oil production. The Department of Agriculture this week issued two licenses for the cultivation of low-THC marijuana to be used to make CBD cannabis oil for patients. The licenses went to two St. Louis-area nonprofits.

Tennessee

Last Thursday, a CBD cannabis oil bill got delayed. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee is delaying a bill that would legalize low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil. Lawmakers decided Tuesday to bump any action back by at least two weeks. The bill is House Bill 197.

Utah

Last Friday, a medical marijuana bill won a Senate committee vote. The state Senate Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 259, a full-blown medical marijuana bill (except that it doesn't allow smoking it).

On Tuesday, the bill moved again. A bill that appeared delayed only a day earlier was approved for a third Senate reading Tuesday night. Senate Bill 259 would allow people with qualifying illnesses to use marijuana in edible or liquid form and would establish dispensaries to distribute it. If the Senate approves it one more time, it then goes to the House.

Washington

On Wednesday, the Kettle Falls Four won acquittal on most counts. A federal jury in Spokane acquitted the medical marijuana-growing family of four out of five counts, including the most serious ones, but found them guilty of growing between 50 and 100 plants. Federal prosecutors brought the case despite pot being legal in Washington state and despite federal guidance that suggests they shouldn't have. After the verdicts were read, prosecutors sought to jail the four pending sentencing, much to the disbelief of the courtroom crowd, but the judge didn't go for that.

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

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5. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

This week, the focus is on bad departments. We have two cases where cities and the departments that police them are running into trouble. Let's get to it:

In Detroit, the US Attorney's Office is now investigating the police department's drug unit. Police Chief James Craig said that part of an FBI investigation into the disbanded unit was now under review by federal prosecutors. An related investigation into theft by narcotics officers is being reviewed by the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office. The unit has since been reconstituted and restructured. "There had been some cultural norms that probably could facilitate or breed criminal misconduct," Craig said. "This is not suggesting that everybody in narcotics was involved because they were not. There were some practices that were allowed that had been historic, that really didn't amount to criminal misconduct, but just poor management practices."

In Schaumberg, Illinois, a 16th lawsuit has been filed against the city and former members of the police department's dope squad. The lawsuit names two former and one current officer who have been linked to a scheme to rip off drug dealers during arrests and sell their goods. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges that the officers falsely arrested him and charged him with drug offenses. Facing a lengthy prison sentence, he copped a plea to 11 years in prison, but that conviction was vacated when the Schaumberg officers were charged in connection with the drug scheme. The city has already settled seven of the wrongful arrest lawsuits for an average of $19,000 each. The police officers are now in prison.

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6. Chronicle AM: Paul v. Bush on Drug Policy, Russians Warn of DC Addicts, Global Drug War Report, More (2/26/15)

The Russians go all Reefer Madness on DC, Rand Paul takes on Jeb Bush's drug policy "hypocrisy," a second Ohio legalization initiative hits a road block, a new report examines the harms of global drug prohibition, and more. Let's get to it:

How Russia views DC residents after legalization.
Marijuana Policy

Russia Warns DC Marijuana Legalization Will Create City of Addicts. The chief drug specialist for the Russian Health Ministry, Yevgeny Bryun, has warned that, after legalization, the entire city is set to become addicted to weed. "When the authorities take their cue from the sinister interests of the population, what happens is everyone becomes a drug addict," Bryun said."The path from marijuana use does not always lead to hard drugs in 100% of the cases," he said. "But there is a pattern. The use of marijuana is a gateway to more serious drug addiction, and people who have genetic and inherent risk factors will definitely become drug addicts."

Rand Paul Criticizes Jeb Bush for "Hypocrisy" on Marijuana. The Kentucky senator criticized the former Florida governor for "hypocrisy" on drug policy Wednesday. Bush has admitted to using marijuana in his student days, but opposed medical marijuana. "When Jeb was a very wealthy kid at a very elite school, he used marijuana but didn't get caught, didn't have to go to prison." Paul said. "I think it shows some hypocrisy that's going to be very difficult for young people to understand why we'd put a 65-year-old guy in jail for medical marijuana. What I'm talking about is not the hypocrisy of wealth, it's the hypocrisy of evading the law, because the law seems to target and seems to go after poor people, often people of color," Paul continued. "What's hypocritical is if you're very wealthy, [if] you're able to escape the long arm of the law is then to really want to throw long sentences, 15 years, 20 years, 50 years in prison for marijuana at people, so I think that's where the hypocrisy comes in."

Ohio Attorney General Rejects Second Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Mike DeWine announced Wednesday that he had rejected the End Ohio Cannabis Prohibition Act because it didn't come up with the 1,000 initial signatures required to get a ballot summary. Responsible Ohioans for Cannabis are the sponsors of this initiative. They're not to be confused with ResponsibleOhio, whose own initiative was recently rejected because of ambiguities in its ballot language.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho Senate Committee Approves Introduction of CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The Senate State Affairs Committee today approved introducing a bill that would "clarify" that CBD cannabis oil is not marijuana under the state's Controlled Substances Act. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Curt Mckenzie (R-Boise) is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Hearing. Doctors gave conflicting testimony Wednesday at a hearing on Senate Bill 3, a full-blown medical marijuana bill. Representatives of the Pennsylvania Medical Society balked, saying there weren't enough studies to show medical marijuana works, but other physicians disagreed. Click on the link for more detail.

Utah Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced. State Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) has introduced Senate Bill 259, which would allow for the use of "non-combustible" marijuana on a doctor's recommendation. He said he decided to file the bill after traveling to Colorado and trying it there to ease back pain. "Frankly, at a certain point they told me to wait and that the effects would come over time but after a couple of hours I asked myself, 'Is this what all the fuss is about?' I mean it helped, but, 'Schedule 1' The most dangerous drug there is? I'm not sure that's true and the basis for good policy."

Virginia Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bills. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has signed into law a pair of CBD cannabis oil bills, Senate Bill 1235 and House Bill 1445. The drug could now be available for Virginians as early as April.

Hemp

Minnesota Hemp Bill Advances. The House Agriculture Committee has unanimously approved House File 683, which would allow limited hemp growth in the state. Sponsored by Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria), the bill now goes to the House Government Operations and Election Policy Committee. A similar bill is moving in the state Senate.

International

Global Drug War Wreaking Havoc on Farmers, Women, Environment, Report Says. A new report from the Britain-based advocacy group Health Poverty Action, Casualties of War, says that wealthy countries are exacerbating poverty by pressuring governments to enforce prohibitionist policies that hurt farmers and waste billions of dollars each year on enforcement. The global drug war is also wreaking environmental damage, hurting health care systems, and eroding women's rights in drug producing countries such as Afghanistan, Colombia, and Guinea-Bisseau, the report says.

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

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7. Chronicle AM: Ted Cruz Shifts on State Legalization, Mexico Captures "La Tuta," Forfeiture Action, More (2/27/15)

Ted Cruz sees the light (or at least, which way the wind is blowing), a new poll has a majority for legalization in Maryland, asset forfeiture reform gets killed in two states, The Washington Post rethinks drug testing, and more.

Sen. Ted Cruz. The Texas Republican now says he is okay with states legalizing marijuana. (congress.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Ted Cruz Changes His Mind on Marijuana Legalization. A year ago, the Texas Republican senator and possible GOP presidential candidate criticized President Obama for allowing Colorado and Washington to legalize marijuana, but now he's singing a different tune. "If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that's their prerogative," he told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). "I personally don't agree with it, but that's their right."

Iowa Bill to Reduce Marijuana Possession Passes Senate. Earlier this week, the Senate approved Senate File 219, which would reduce the maximum sentence for possessing up to five grams from up to six months in jail to up to 30 days. The bill now goes to the House.

Maryland Poll Has Narrow Majority for Legalization. A new Goucher College poll has support for legalization at 52%, with 44% opposed. The poll comes as the legislature considers a legalization bill.

Pennsylvania Legalization Bill Filed. State Sens. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) and Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) have filed Senate Bill 528, the "Regulate Marijuana Act." But they don't expect it to go anywhere this year.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Issues Licenses for CBD Cannabis Oil Production. The Department of Agriculture this week issued two licenses for the cultivation of low-THC marijuana to be used to make CBD cannabis oil for patients. The licenses went to two St. Louis-area nonprofits.

Asset Forfeiture

Colorado Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Killed in Committee. A bill that would have required a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture in the case of joint state and federal asset forfeiture proceedings has been killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill was Senate Bill 006.

Florida Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) Thursday filed Senate Bill 1534, which would bar civil asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction.

Wyoming Attempt to Override Governor's Asset Forfeiture Reform Veto Fails. The state Senate voted today not to override Gov. Matt Mead's (R) veto of bill that would have required a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture reform could take place. The Senate voted 23-7 to uphold the veto. The bill had passed both houses with veto-proof majorities, but some senators changed their minds after the gubernatorial veto.

Drug Courts

Under Federal Pressure, Kentucky Drug Courts Consider Allowing Opiate Maintenance. After federal drug czar Michael Botticelli said earlier this month that drug court programs that do not allow opiate maintenance therapy could lose federal funding, Kentucky drug courts are considering getting with the program. A court spokesperson confirmed the courts are looking into it, but that they haven't reached a firm decision.

Drug Testing

Arkansas Welfare Drug Testing Bill Filed. State Sen. Blake Johnson (R-Corning) has filed Senate Bill 600, which would require people seeking government assistance to be screened for drug use. Those deemed at suspicion of using drugs after screening would have to be tested for drugs.

The Washington Post is Rethinking Its Employee Drug Testing Policy. "The Washington Post is reviewing its policy in light of the changes to DC law," the newspaper said Thursday without elaborating any further. It also ran an opinion piece by Gina Tron arguing that employers in general should quit such screening.

International

Mexico Captures "La Tuta," Most Wanted Drug Lord. Mexican authorities said today they had captured Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, head of the Michoacan-based Knights Templar cartel. The capture is a boon to the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, which has been under fire for months for the disappearance and apparent murder of 43 teachers' college students by corrupt police in league with drug gangs.

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

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8. Chronicle AM: TX Border Surge Flops, Belize Decrim Proposal, British Drugged Driving Law, More (3/2/15)

There will be a smoke-out in Trenton later this month, medical marijuana is moving in Utah, the Texas "border surge" accomplishes little, KY cops ignore asset forfeiture reporting, a tough, new British drugged driving law has gone into effect, and more.

Indiana has to try again to ban synthetic drugs. (MN Dept of Public Health)
Marijuana Policy

Indian Tribes Gather in Washington State to Talk About Marijuana Production. Representatives of at least 75 tribes attended a conference in Tulalip last Friday to discuss legalizing, regulating, and producing marijuana on their reservations. The move comes after the Justice Department announced that it would not block tribes from doing so. Many tribes are cautious or reluctant to consider the notion, but there appears to be plenty of interest, too.

Colorado's 2014 Marijuana Sales Numbers. According to a to new report from the state, nearly five million pot-infused edibles and nearly 75 tons of marijuana were legally sold in Colorado last year. And that's with only 67 of the state's 321 local jurisdictions allowing for the sale of recreational or medical marijuana. Of course, those 67 localities are where most of the people are. Medical marijuana accounted for nearly 110,000 pounds of marijuana sales, while recreational accounted for nearly 39,000 pounds.

New Jersey Legalization Advocates Plan "NJ Spring Smoke-Out Rally" in Trenton. A coalition of groups advocating legalization will hold a "Million Marijuana March" for legalization or "any progressive measures on marijuana" on March 21. The groups include the East Coast Cannabis Coalition, the Coalition for Medical Marijuana -- New Jersey, CB Delaware, Delaware NORML, Decarcerate the Garden State, The Legalize Marijuana Party, Legalize Cannabis in Atlantic City and Fully Baked Radio. Check the event's Facebook page for more details.

Medical Marijuana

New, Weaker CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Filed in Georgia Senate. The House last week passed a CBD cannabis oil bill, but now, Sen. Lindsey Tippins has filed a new bill that would not make the drug available, but would instead set up a four-year study. The Tippins bill is not yet up on the legislative website; the House bill that passed is House Bill 1.

Poll Shows Strong Support for Medical Marijuana in Iowa. A new Des Moines Register poll has support for medical marijuana at 70%, up from 59% a year ago. The state approved a CBD cannabis oil bill last year, but patient advocates say that law is useless because it doesn't provide for distribution of the medication.

Utah Medical Marijuana Wins Senate Committee Vote. The state Senate Judiciary Committee last Friday approved Senate Bill 259, a full-blown medical marijuana bill. The measure should go to the Senate for a floor vote this week.

Heroin & Prescription Opiates

Illinois Lawmakers File Omnibus Bill to Battle Opiate Addiction. House Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Lou Lang (D) and GOP Rep. John Anthony were set today to file a comprehensive, 240-page bill to deal with heroin and prescription opiate use and addiction. It would allow the overdose reversal drug naloxone to be distributed more widely, require the creation of a drug prevention program for schools, require that coroners report all overdose deaths to the Department of Public Health, require pharmacies to serve as drug "take back" sites, and limit pain reliever prescriptions.

Kentucky Senate Panel Hears House's Heroin Bill. Although the state Senate has already passed its own omnibus heroin bill, Senate Bill 5, the Senate Standing Committee on the Judiciary last Friday took up the House's omnibus heroin bill, which has lesser sentencing increases for heroin offenders, has a Good Samaritan provision, and allows for the broader use of the overdose reversal drug naloxone. The committee took no action on the bill.

New Synthetic Drugs

Indiana Supreme Court to Hear State's Appeal of Ruling Throwing Out Ban on Synthetic Drugs. The state's high court has agreed to hear an appeal from the state attorney general of a January Court of Appeals decision throwing out the state's ban on synthetic drugs as unconstitutionally vague. The appeals court explicitly rejected a list of more than 80 chemical compounds, look-alike substances, and synthetics as too difficult to understand.

Asset Forfeiture

Kentucky Cops Generally Ignore State's Asset Forfeiture Law. LEX 18 TV News has looked into state law enforcement agencies' compliance with asset forfeiture statutes and has found that "a state law designed to give oversight of Kentucky asset forfeiture practices is mostly ignored by Kentucky police agencies." According to the station, only 63 of about 400 law enforcement agencies in the state filed required annual reports on their drug-related seizures last year, "leaving potentially millions of dollars' worth of goods unaccounted for."

Law Enforcement

Texas "Border Surge" Accomplishes Little. Last year's "surge" on the Mexican border, which saw Texas National Guard troops, state troopers, and game wardens flood the border, has done little to stop the flow of drugs, state officials said Friday. But they still want another $815 million for two more years' worth of surging.

International

New British Drugged Driving Laws Now in Effect. New drugged driving laws went into effect yesterday in the UK. Officers can now do roadside tests for cocaine and marijuana with a "drugalyser." Previously, they had to arrest suspect and take them to a police station for a blood draw under medical supervision. Other drugs will still require going to the police station for a test. The law also covers prescription drugs. Under the law, police will not be required to prove impairment, only that the drugs were present.

Israeli Leftist Party Embraces Marijuana Legalization. With elections looming, the leftist Meretz Party is looking for a boost by embracing marijuana legalization. "Legalization and decriminalization have a political home, and that home is Meretz," said Tamar Zandberg in a video released on the party website last week. Zandberg is number five on Meretz's list for the Knesset.

CARICOM Agrees on Commission to Look at Pot Legalization. The Caribbean Community agreed over the weekend on the composition of a commission to look into marijuana legalization. Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie, currently chairman of the group, said members expect the commission to "soon begin its work to look into the economic, health and legal issues surrounding the use of marijuana and to consult with stakeholders to get a view on the issue." The move comes just days after Jamaica gave final approval to decriminalizing marijuana.

Belize Decriminalization of Marijuana Committee Issues Report, Calls for… Decriminalization. After nearly three years of pondering, the decriminalization committee has called for decriminalization. The committee is calling for possession of less than 10 grams to be subject only to administrative penalties.

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9. Chronicle AM: INCB Scolds US, Uruguay on Pot; DC & NYC Top Cops on Marijuana, Iran Executions, More (3/3/15)

The top cops in DC and New York City offer wildly contrasting remarks on marijuana, Iran hangs drug offenders, while Indonesia prepares the firing squad for them, a Florida man gets acquitted of a marijuana cultivation charge in Florida by convincing a jury it was medical, and more.

Iranian drug executions (handsoffcain.info)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Governor Says Legalization Won't Happen on His Watch. "We've got a lot more to learn" before legalizing marijuana, Gov. Jack Markell (D) said in an interview. "I'm certainly willing to look at the decriminalization aspect. I am not in support of doing what they've done in Colorado or Washington state or a few other places, doing full legalization," Markell added. "It's not gonna happen while I'm governor. It may be the right thing. But I don't think we know. I think we need to take a few years and see what the impact has been in some of these other states." The legislature will take up a decriminalization bill this month.

DC City Council Approves Emergency Action to Ban Cannabis Clubs. The council voted unanimously today to ban cannabis clubs, as well as smoking it in bars, clubs, and virtually anywhere else outside a private residence. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the legislation was needed to close a loophole that could allow cannabis clubs, but legalization proponents criticized the move, saying it was unneeded and overly broad. They also warned that passage could render void an agreement they had with Bowser to try to tamp down public displays of pot smoking that could provoke congressional hardliners.

DC Police Chief Says All Marijuana Arrests Do Is "Make People Hate Us." DC Police Chief Kathy Lanier has said that alcohol is a bigger problem than pot and that arresting people for marijuana doesn't accomplish anything. "Marijuana smokers are not going to attack and kill a cop," Lanier said while speaking at the American News Women's Club. "They just want to get a bag of chips and relax. Alcohol is a much bigger problem. All those marijuana arrests do is make people hate us."

NYPD Commissioner Blames Marijuana for Jump in Murders. The NYPD blames marijuana for a 20% increase in homicides in the city. "The seemingly innocent drug that's being legalized around the country -- in this city, people are killing each other over marijuana," said Commissioner Bill Bratton. Reform advocates were quick to point out that the killings were a function of prohibition, not anything intrinsic to marijuana.

Maine Bill Seeks to Block Local Legalization Initiatives. Rep. James Campbell (I-Newfield) has filed a bill that says municipal marijuana legalization petitions "may not be approved for inclusion on the ballot or considered at any town meeting." The measure, LD 67, is currently before the Senate Committee on State and Local Government. Legalization proponents have successfully used local initiatives to win votes in some of the state's largest cities.

Texas Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) yesterday introduced House Bill 2165, which would legalize marijuana by removing all mention of the drug from state statutes. "Let's allow the plant to be utilized for good -- helping people with seizures, treating warriors with PTSD, producing fiber and other products -- or simply for beauty and enjoyment," Simpson said.

Washington Senate Passes Bill to Ban Marijuana Vending Machines. The Senate voted 47-0 yesterday to approve a bill banning pot sales in vending machines or drive-through windows. The measure is Senate Bill 5903. It now moves to the House.

Medical Marijuana

In Historic Verdict, Jury Acquits Florida Patient on Marijuana Charge. A Broward County jury effectively nullified the state's marijuana laws Monday by acquitting a defendant who testified that he grew and used pot for medicinal purposes. Jesse Teplicki testified at his trial that he smoked marijuana to treat the nausea and suppressed appetite that had been plaguing him for years. The jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning with a verdict of "not guilty." Teplicki, 50, was looking at up to five years in state prison if convicted.

Utah Medical Marijuana Bill Held Up. Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) tried to persuade his colleagues to hold a quick vote on Senate Bill 259 after a brief debate yesterday, but that didn't happen. The bill is now on hold with 10 days left in the session.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Legislative Interim Committee Could Take Up Asset Forfeiture Reform. After the state Senate failed to override a veto of a civil asset forfeiture reform measure by Gov. Matt Mead (R), the Joint Judiciary Committee met yesterday to come up with a list of topics it wants to consider before the next session. Asset forfeiture reform is one of them, but the final decision will be made by a Management Committee consisting of legislative leaders from both parties.

Rehabilitation and Reentry

New Mexico Bill Restricting Use of Criminal Record Queries for Job Applicants Passes Senate. The Criminal Offender Employment Eligibility Act (Senate Bill 583) passed the Senate yesterday and heads to the House. The "ban the box" bill bars private employers from asking on an application form if someone has a criminal conviction, or from considering a conviction before the final round of an employment decision. Six other states have similar law. New Mexico already has a similar law that applies to public employees.

International

INCB Annual Report Scolds US, Uruguay Over Marijuana Legalization. The UN's drug watchdog body, the International Narcotics Control Board, has wagged a finger at Uruguay, which became the first country to legalize marijuana, and at the US, where two states were singled out for criticism for having legalized it. The scolding came in the INCB's annual report, released today.

Leading Paraguayan Senator Calls for Marijuana Reforms. Senator Blas Llano, chair of the National Congress, has called for an end to pot prohibition in a bid to "put an end to the drug traffickers' business." Paraguay is the leading marijuana producers in South America and second only to Mexico in Latin America.

Iran Hangs Eight for Drug Offenses in Past Week. At least people have been executed for drug crimes by Iranian authorities in the past week, according to the death penalty watch group Hands Off Cain. Iran executed hundreds of drug offenders last year and dozens so far this year. It is the world's leading drug executioner.

Indonesia Prepares to Execute 10 For Drug Offenses. Nine foreigners and one Indonesian citizen are set to be executed by Indonesian authorities later this week. Preparations at the execution site have been completed, and the prisoners are set to be transferred there tomorrow. The killings of foreigners have led to diplomatic disputes with some of their home countries, but that has not deterred Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who has consistently supported the death penalty for drug smuggling.

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10. Chronicle AM: Nationwide Majority for Pot Legalization, WV Welfare Drug Test Bill Dies, More (3/4/14)

The General Social Survey for the first time has a majority for marijuana legalization, DC cops start returning arrestees' marijuana, a Utah medical marijuana bill is still alive, Canada's Tories ponder decriminalization, Britain's Lib Dems talk drug policy reform, and more.

The "gold standard" of public opinion polls has a majority for marijuana legalization nationwide. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

"Gold Standard" of Polls Finds Majority Support for Legalization Nationwide. For the first time, the General Social Survey, considered to be the gold standard for public opinion polls, has a majority of Americans favoring legalization. The survey, conducted between March and October of last year, has 52% saying pot should be legalized, with 42% opposed, and 7% undecided. Support for legalization is up nine points over the last General Social Survey, conducted two years ago. As recently as 1996, only 32% supported legalization.

DC Police Return Arrestee's Marijuana. This is what happens when pot is legal. A man who had been arrested and released at the 6th District police station in Northeast DC demanded that police return his marijuana. "You have my marijuana, you have my weed," witnesses reported the man saying. The cops gave it back. "This property was less than two ounces of marijuana, and was returned to the arrestee with the other property held at the time of his arrest," explained Gwendolyn Crump, the DC police department's chief spokeswoman.

Georgia Legalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Curt Thompson (D-Tucker) has filed a bill that would legalize marijuana and allow retailers to sell up to two ounces at a time to people 21 and over. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Responsible Ohio Files Revised Legalization Proposal. The group, which wants to create 10 designated commercial grows in the state for its financial backers, handed in 3,164 signatures along with its revised constitutional amendment initiative language. State Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) had earlier rejected the group's initial ballot summary language. If the new language is approved, Responsible Ohio must gather 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Kettle Falls Four Win Acquittal on Most Counts. A federal jury in Spokane acquitted the medical marijuana-growing family of four out of five counts, including the most serious ones, but found them guilty of growing between 50 and 100 plants. Federal prosecutors brought the case despite marijuana being legal in Washington state and despite federal guidance that suggests they shouldn't have. They continued the prosecution after Congress passed language barring the Dept. of Justice from spending funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. After the verdicts were read, prosecutors sought to jail the four pending sentencing, much to the disbelief of the courtroom crowd, but the judge didn't go for that.

Utah Medical Marijuana Bill Moves. A bill that appeared delayed only a day earlier was approved for a third Senate reading Tuesday night. Senate Bill 259 would allow people with qualifying illnesses to use marijuana in edible or liquid form and would establish dispensaries to distribute it. If the Senate approves it one more time, it then goes to the House.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Welfare Drug Testing Bill Killed. Sponsor of the bill, Del. Patrick Lane (R) conceded today that the bill was dead for the session after the House voted yesterday to table it. The bill would have mandated drug testing based on reasonable suspicion.

Law Enforcement

Detroit Cops Launch 17th Mass Drug Raid. Police Chief James Craig's Operation Restore Order resulted in the city's 17th mass drug raid yesterday. Nearly 180 officers were involved, but at the flagship bust of the day, a "drug house," police found no one, only a small amount of drugs, but managed to shoot and kill a pit bull. Craig said the raids have resulted in 1,172 arrests, the vast majority on drug charges, and the seizure of $4.5 million worth of drugs. He didn't say whether they had had any demonstrable impact on drug availability in the city.

International

Canada Tories Ponder Decriminalization Bill. The Conservatives are considering whether to introduce a bill to let police issue tickets to people caught with small amounts of marijuana. The decision on whether to move forward in the current parliament, which only lasts another 12 weeks, is in the hands of Justice Minister Peter McKay. Even if no bill is filed this session, Tories could use the notion as a means of countering the Liberals in forthcoming elections. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has called for outright legalization.

British Lib Dems Promise Drug Policy Reforms. Liberal Democrat Party leader Nick Clegg said today his party would hand control over drug policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health, review marijuana legalization in the US, and consider decriminalization. The party, which is an uneasy junior partner with the Conservatives, says their proposals are "the most far-reaching drug reform policies ever put forward by a major political party ahead of an election."

Mexico Nabs Zetas Cartel Leader Omar Trevino Morales. The Zetas leader is only the latest of an ever-growing list of top drug gang leaders captured or killed by Mexican authorities. Trevino Morales, known as "Z-42," was arrested in a predawn raid in Monterrey. He is the brother of Zetas leader Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, who was arrested in 2013. The Zetas' other original leader, Heriberto Lazcano, was killed by Mexican marines in 2012.

Mexico Cartel Violence Spiking in Tamaulipas. The northeastern state, which borders Texas's Rio Grande Valley region is seeing road blockades, assaults on media, and deadly shootouts. At least 12 people were killed in Reynosa and Matamoros shoot-outs last month, and two more were killed in Nuevo Progreso last Saturday. The violence is being blamed on rival factions of the Gulf Cartel.

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Permission to Reprint: This issue of Drug War Chronicle is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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