Drug War Chronicle #922 - March 29, 2016

Dear Drug War Chronicle reader:
 
Please accept my apology for the absence of Chronicle emails from your inbox these past few weeks. My time has been consumed with our work on global drug policy reform, as next month's "UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem" (UNGASS) approaches. You can read something about what we've been doing in a news article here. Some important work like the Chronicle email editions unfortunately slipped through the cracks amidst the press of things.
 
Please note that Chronicle articles are published straight to our web site on most days, and can be accessed through our home page or at http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle on any timetable you'd like, whether or not an email has gone out. Today's issue of Drug War Chronicle includes the major pieces we published during the last few weeks, as well as the most recent of our daily "Chronicle AM" roundups and other standard pieces.
 
Lastly, if you subscribe to the full-text edition of Chronicle emails, please note that those will probably return next week, but may wait until the last week of April after the aforementioned UN session is completed, due to the time constraints. If so, you'll continue to receive these table-of-contents editions in the meanwhile.
 
- David Borden, Executive Director

1. With Final House Vote, Pennsylvania Set to Become 24th Medical Marijuana State

The bill had been held up for months, but now it is moving fast.

2. Open Letter in Advance of the UNGASS Calls for Obama to Go Bold

More than 200 organizations have signed on to a letter to President Obama urging him to take a strong stance for reform at the UNGASS on Drugs next month.

3. Bill Maher-Inspired Protest Will Smoke Out the White House

DC's leading legalization advocate reschedules 4/20 to protest Obama's inaction.

4. Review Essay: Drugs and the Mutation of Criminality in Latin America

Fed by poverty and social inequality and fueled by the drug war and the profits to be made, novel forms of criminality are emerging in Latin America. Two reporters and a novelist try to understand.

5. European Drug Reform Stalwart Joep Oomen Dead at 54

One of our friends is gone too soon.

6. Medical Marijuana Update

A medical marijuana bill is promised in Ohio, bills to expand medical marijuana get filed in New York, patients and supporters rally to demand action in Iowa, and more.

7. February's Drug War Deaths

Police enforcing the drug laws killed four people last month, two of them unarmed.

8. Drug War Idiocy: One Indiana Deputy Killed, Another Wounded in Midnight Drug Raid Over a Syringe

That's a pretty poor reason for a midnight drug raid.

9. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A crooked Louisiana deputy working on a DEA task force pleads guilty, an Ohio reserve police officer gets caught slinging ecstasy, and more.

10. Chronicle AM: Pain Pills to Get "Black Box" Warning, FL to Get Syringe Exchanges, More... (3/23/16)

The Vermont marijuana legalization bill gets a first House hearing, it's do or die tomorrow for Georgia CBD legislation, the FDA orders "black box" warning for quick-acting prescription opioids, Florida's governor has signed a syringe exchange bill into law,and more.

11. Chronicle AM: TN Pregnant Women Drug Law Fails, AR Welfare Drug Testing Starting, More... (3/24/16)

An asset forfeiture reform bill moves in New Hampshire, Arkansas and West Virginia advance welfare drug testing, a global commission on public health calls for drug decriminalization, and more.

12. Chronicle AM: New AP Poll Has 61% for Pot Legalization, PA MedMJ Bill Not a Done Deal Yet, More... (3/25/16)

Sixty-one percent of respondents said "legalize it" in a new AP poll, Vermont's pro-legalization governor attacks the Massachusetts legalization initiative, a Georgia CBD bill dies, a drug war justice caravan begins heading from Central America to the UN in New York, and more.

13. Chronicle AM: Michiganders Say Legalize, Kansas MedMj Mom Sues Over Son's Removal, More... (3/28/16)

Popular sentiment favors marijuana legalization in Michigan, Denver activists plan an initiative to approve cannabis social clubs, Florida's CBD cannabis oil law gets expanded, and more.

1. With Final House Vote, Pennsylvania Set to Become 24th Medical Marijuana State

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Following a 10-month delay since the state Senate first approved Senate Bill 3, which will allow residents suffering from specified medical conditions to use medical marijuana with their doctor's approval, the House Wednesday approved an amended version of the bill.

The Senate is expected to approve the amended bill, and Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has said he will sign it into law.

"Today's vote comes as huge relief to countless Pennsylvanians," said Latrisha Bentch of Harrisburg, whose daughter suffers from mesial temporal sclerosis, a condition marked by frequent seizures that could be treated with medical marijuana. She is a founding member of the Campaign for Compassion, a local organization of patients and families advocating for comprehensive medical marijuana legislation.

"This has been a long and difficult journey for many patients and families, and our destination is finally in sight," Bentch said. "We gave House members a lot of grief for not getting this done quickly, but we are grateful for the incredible bipartisan support the bill received during the floor debate and final vote. We commend them for showing that compassion is not a partisan issue."

The amended bill would allow for up to 25 growers and processors licensed by the Department of Health. The department would also license up to 50 dispensaries, each of which could have up to three locations. Home cultivation will not be allowed.

Qualifying conditions under the bill include cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, seizures, autism, sickle cell anemia, and intractable pain if conventional therapies or opiates are contraindicated or ineffective.

"Patients and families throughout Pennsylvania have been waiting for years to see this day," said Becky Dansky, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. "We applaud the members of the House for passing this important legislation, which will significantly improve the quality of life for tens of thousands of seriously ill Pennsylvanians. The Senate and Gov. Wolf have already demonstrated extraordinary leadership on this issue. We hope they will act quickly to get this bill approved and signed into law."

Once they do, Pennsylvania will become the 24th state with a full-fledged medical marijuana law. About a dozen more states only allow access to low- or no-THC cannabis oils made with cannabidiol.

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2. Open Letter in Advance of the UNGASS Calls for Obama to Go Bold

With the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs at UN headquarters in New York City just a little more than a month away, more than 230 civil rights, health, faith-based, and other organizations sent a letter to President Obama Thursday urging him to use the UNGASS on Drugs to make an international push for a fundamental shift in drug policy away from criminalization and toward public health and human rights approaches.

UN headquarters, New York City (Creative Commons)
The signatories form a broad range of groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, AIDS United, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the World Hepatitis C Council, as well as dozens of drug reform and harm reduction nonprofits.

The signatories also include NGOs from around the world, from Accion Semilla Bolivia to the Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network. As with the domestic sign-ons, the international groups include dozens of drug reform and harm reduction organizations.

All the signatories are united in calling for the US and President Obama to take "a stronger US stance" in areas like human rights, public health, and development and urging the US to promote the initial steps the UN can take in reforming the international drug conventions that form the legal backbone of the global prohibition regime.

The letter urges the administration to call on the UN to appoint an "Expert Advisory Group," whose mandate would be to study tensions faced by the international drug control regime today, and to recommend options for moving forward. Groups argue that the current US stance toward marijuana legalization and international treaties, which relies in part on continued federal prohibition, is "likely to face shrinking credibility internationally as legalization spreads to more states."

"US agencies have played an important role promoting positive reforms like alternatives to incarceration and people-centered public health drug policies," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org, who coordinated the sign-on letter. "Unfortunately, the current US UNGASS stance avoids engaging with a number of contested human rights issues, such as the death penalty for nonviolent drug offenses, and punts on the obvious treaty questions that legalization raises. We think this is unfortunate at a time when real strides are being made in reforming our domestic policies, partly because of President Obama's vision for criminal justice reform. We think the administration has viable options available to take further productive steps on global drug policy too."

The letter calls on the Obama administration to:

  • Acknowledge the ramifications of recent drug reforms, such as marijuana legalization in Uruguay and some US states.
  • Stand up for human rights by calling for an end to the death penalty for drug offenses, reducing racial disparities in drug law enforcement, and respecting indigenous traditions.
  • Craft a people-centered approach to drug policy by explicitly adopting harm reduction practices, such as syringe exchanges, and rejecting the criminalization of peasant farmers and the eradication of their drug crops in favor of sustainable development.
  • Take a stronger stance on criminal justice reforms by moving toward drug decriminalization, urging sentencing reforms around the globe, and treating pregnant women who use drugs as patients, not criminals.
  • Work toward a more open dialog by having key documents finalized at the UNGASS rather than at closed sessions of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna and taking a more inclusive posture toward NGOS and civil society.

We will see next month how much Obama is listening.

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3. Bill Maher-Inspired Protest Will Smoke Out the White House

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Inspired by a warning from comedian Bill Maher that progress on marijuana reform could be rolled back after President Obama leaves office, advocates in the nation's capital have announced a bold protest next month to press Obama to move on marijuana while he still can.

While Obama has largely not interfered with marijuana legalization in states that have approved it, he has also signaled that he is not going to be proactive on the issue. A little more than a month ago, he said marijuana reform is not on his list of end-of-term priorities, and his press spokesperson, Josh Earnest, paraphrased his position thusly: "'If you feel so strongly about it, and you believe there is so much public support for what it is that you're advocating, then why don't you pass legislation about it and we'll see what happens.'"

Led by indomitable DC activist Adam Eidinger, the man behind the District's successful marijuana legalization initiative in 2014, the DC Cannabis Campaign is instead calling for supporters to gather in front of the White House to demand that Obama reschedule marijuana through executive action as he has the power to do, and that he pardon people jailed for marijuana crimes. Attendees will be encouraged to fire up in acts of civil disobedience.

In an interview with US News and World Report, Eidinger predicted at least a thousand people would show up, and maybe many, many more.

"There is a huge pent-up demand for this right now, we actually do have the support to do this," he said. "We're calling on the whole country to come. This is a national mobilization. Some of us may end up in jail, and that's fine. It's actually necessary at this point."

Eidinger said the DC Cannabis Campaign has polled its supporters on whether to organize the protest after Maher warned on his HBO show legalization in the states is at risk as long as federal pot prohibition remains. Maher toked up on air as he issued his warning. Maher will be invited to attend the protest, Eidinger said.

"We have to take action now, that's the idea," Eidinger explained. "If it's not going to happen under Obama, it's sure as hell not going to happen with Hillary."

Obama, who has said he considers marijuana no more harmful than alcohol, represents the best chance for rescheduling marijuana, and for emptying the prisons of pot offenders, Eidinger argued.

"He should pardon tens of thousands of marijuana growers in jail right now. And he should be pardoning them all," he says. "The war on drugs is a failure? Mass incarceration is a failure? Then do something about it."

Protestors are not anti-Obama, Eidinger said, they just want him to do the right thing.

"This is going to be an extremely personal protest with the president," Eidinger says. "It is not going to be Trump people out there. This is going to be his so-called base that thought he would do something for us essentially giving up. The only way to stop this protest is to start doing something. We threw the gauntlet down today, essentially."

See Maher's comments here:

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4. Review Essay: Drugs and the Mutation of Criminality in Latin America

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Ioan Grillo, Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America (2016, Bloomsbury Press, 377 pp., $28.00 HB)

Misha Glenny, Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio (2016, Alfred E. Knopf, 293 pp., $27.95 HB)

Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014, Riverhead Press, 688 pp., $28.95 HB)

Beginning in the 1960s, following the success of Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution, popular guerrilla movements rose up across Latin America as masses of people revolted against poverty, inequality, and dictatorial rule, and between then and now, hundreds of thousands were killed in the conflicts that followed, usually with the US on the counter-revolutionary side. Now, with the leftist guerrillas of the FARC set to put down their guns in the wake of drawn out negotiations with the Colombian government, the last remnant of armed insurgency in the region is about to come to an end.

But the violence hasn't stopped -- it has only been displaced from the sphere of politics to the sphere of criminality. As Ioan Grillo notes early on in Gangster Warlords, his sterling reportage on the leaders of the powerful of Latin American crime organizations, more than a million people have died in the criminal conflicts (and state response to them) around these groupings.

The so-called cartels in Mexico, their brethren in Colombia, the "posses" of Jamaica, the criminal "commands" of Brazil, and the transnational gangsters of Mara Salvatrucha are all in Grillo's sights as examples of a new, and deeply disturbing, form of crime, largely unmoored from ideological struggle yet acting as parallel power or alternative to the state. Whether it's the government yards of Trenchtown, the favelas of Rio and Sao Paulo, the mean streets of Tegucigalpa and San Salvador, or the fields of western Mexico, national governments have effectively ceded control of huge segments of the population to criminal overlords.

In Rio de Janiero alone, more than two million people live in the favelas, the unsanctioned, unsupported, and poverty stricken communities crawling up the hillsides above the Copacabana and the city's other glorious beaches. There, the presence of the state is almost nil, except for the occasional intrusions of police or military raiding parties, the formal power is in residents' associations, but the real power is almost always the crime overlord.

And bizarrely enough, those Brazilian crime lords are as strong and organized as they are because of a fateful decision by the military dictatorship back in the 1970s, when the generals, in all their wisdom, decided to punish imprisoned leftist guerrillas by putting them in the general prison population with Rio's criminal masterminds. Grillo interviews some of the hard men behind what became the Red Command (Comando Vermelho), the largest and most powerful of the criminal gangs, unraveling that fateful decision decades ago and unspooling the consequences that still play out today.

The imprisoned guerrillas imbued the criminals with a Marxian social critique and their habits of political organization, and the criminals applied those lessons well in building their organizations. The nascent alliance between the left and the lumpenproletariat fell apart when the ex-guerrillas won amnesties and began political careers (they were white), leaving their darker hued criminal compatriots to their own devices. Now, all that's left is the organizational ability, along with some limited social solidarity in the form of Robin Hoodism -- stealing from the rich to give to the poor, at least to the degree that the commands provide services and goods to the poor in their districts.

Relations between the commands and the state are complex, intricate, and finely balanced -- or else there could be real trouble. While generally content to be left to run their affairs in their favela strongholds, the commands have repeatedly, and spectacularly, shown they have the ability to bring serious mayhem down from the hills to the "asphalt," as the poor refer to the thriving city that surrounds them.

When Sao Paulo's First Capital Command, the largest criminal organization in the country, grew unhappy with the government -- or more precisely, with the police -- in 2006, it unleashed a wave of attacks that unnerved the city, with assaults on police stations and buses burned on city streets. It did the same thing again six years later, complaining that cowardly police were killing its members and responding by executing one or two police officers every day for a month until suddenly and without explanation stopping. Maybe the command figured the cops had gotten the message.

As Grillo reports, when the commands killed 139 police in a burst of mayhem, the whole world took horrified note. The more than 500 killings committed by police in the days that followed didn't make the global news.

It's worth mentioning that the number of killings by trigger-happy police in the US has risen to the level of national political discourse, American cops are like school crossing guards compared to their bloody-handed brethren in places like Brazil and Jamaica. Indeed, as here in the US, the thuggery of the state's agents leads to festering hatreds and their being seen as if they were an occupying army, only more so.

Grillo reports similar intricate relationships between the criminals and the state in Jamaica, where the leaders of the neighborhood "posses" in tough neighborhoods like West Kingston become intermediaries between residents and the state, which, again, is generally absent except in the form of the police and military. Posse leaders and their paramilitarized gangs work with competing political factions, who cede effective responsibility and control for votes at election time.

In all the cases, the trade in prohibited drugs is providing the oxygen that the criminal organizations breathe. Brazil's favelas are the ground zero of the retail cocaine trade in the world's second largest cocaine market, where the nice, white, middle-class kids of the city go to score and dance the night away at favela funk balls. In Jamaica, the neighborhood gangs of the 1970s metastasized into powerful and deadly posses with international reach thanks to the cocaine trade. And in Mexico and Central America, it is again the cocaine traffic that has enabled what were once ma-and-pa smuggling operations and neighborhood street gangs to morph into the cruelly violent cartels of today.

Grillo, along with policymakers throughout the hemisphere, doesn't know quite what to make of this phenomenon. These groups are not simply gangs, and they're not guerrillas. Grillo calls them "criminal militias," which is as good a phrase as any, but simply naming them isn't making it any easier for governments to figure out how to deal with them.

Journalist Misha Glenny, another veteran of the global crime scene, drills down a bit deeper in Nemesis, his account of Antonio Francisco Bonfim Lopes ("Nem"), a former favela crime boss now ensconced for the next few decades in a Brazilian supermax prison. Glenny focuses on a single, famous favela, Rocinha, nestled on a hillside above the Copacabana, and home to 200,000 people with a birds-eye view of the riches beyond their grasp.

Like Grillo, Glenny does extensive interviews, including hours' worth with Nem over a period of years, as well as favela residents, gang members, police, politicians, and analysts, and he is able to shed considerable light on the shadowy interconnections between the powers that be in the favela and the various police forces, most of which are thuggish and corrupt, as well as the politicians that reach out to favela voters at election time.

Along the way, he opens a window on the class and race stratification pervasive in Brazil, but also shows how the gang lords make the favelas work for their residents. It is the gang lords who donate food and clothing to the poorest, provide security for all (at the price of outbreaks of exemplary violence aimed at lawbreakers like rapists and murderers), and even take over the administration of "justice" in the areas they control.

Nem's story is a classic favela crime lord tale. Born poor, he quit school in order to earn his keep, got work in the legitimate service economy, got married, had a child, and was on the path to the straight and narrow when his daughter's illness forced him to turn to the local crime boss to pay for her treatment. That led to working for the boss to pay off his debt, and that in turn led to his march to the top (however briefly) of the criminal command.

Unlike many of his peers, who were uneducated and largely uninterested in conventional life, Nem had management and accounting skills, and the kind of temperament that led him to negotiate conflict when possible and avoid indiscriminate violence. In an ideal world, he might have been a Payless Shoe Store manager. Instead he became a crime lord.

The reporting from Glenny and Grillo is mind-bending and terrifying, rich in detail and nuance, and both books come highly recommended. But neither seem to fully confront the role of drug prohibition within poverty-stricken, highly unequal countries. Grillo at least devotes a few pages at the end of his book to denouncing the drug war, but Glenny seems to just take it, and the social injustices of late Latin American capitalism, as givens. He shines a bright line of them, but really has nothing to say about them. That's too bad.

A Brief History of Seven Killings is not reportage, it is fiction, thinly-veiled, but is included here because fine literature can educate and illuminate as well as the finest journalism. Kingston-born Marlon James won the prestigious Booker Prize for this sprawling, horrifying, and intensely rich novel centered around the attempted assassination of reggae superstar Bob Marley in 1976.

James treads some of the same ground as Grillo, who reported on the Shower Posse and its leader, "Jim Brown," whose son, Dudus Coke, was the object of a military raid on the Tivoli Gardens shantytown that left 73 dead in 2010. "Jim Brown," Dudus Coke, and other real life posse leaders are barely fictionalized in James' work, which follows their ascent from local bosses to fearsome international crime bosses thanks to Colombian cocaine.

But where Grillo is limited to factual reporting, James can soar, and soar he does. His writing takes us deep into the minds of posse gunmen, their bosses, and the politicians that embrace them from a safe distance, laying bare the machinations and entanglements that seemingly compromise everybody on the island. He immerses the reader in the political intrigues, including the involvement of the CIA in a Cold War struggle against left-leaning Michael Manley and on behalf of his rival Edward Seaga, he illuminates the role and stature of Marley as cultural icon and political focal point, and he lays bare more than enough of the brutal nastiness of life for poor Jamaicans.

But the attempted murder of Marley, who was seen as a Manley supporter ("Rasta don't work for no CIA," he sang), by gunmen working for a posse leader allied with Seaga, and the fates of those who ordered and carried out the failed hit, are only part one of the novel. In part two, James follows the posses from their two-bit shantytown kingdoms to their rise as global, and brutal, players in the burgeoning US cocaine markets of the 1980s and 1990s.

It isn't pretty. In fact, the craziness (much of drug induced, some of it deprivation-induced) and the wanton brutality, the glaring sexism and homophobia of Jamaican yardie life can make for some difficult reading. But you don't learn about ugly things by only looking at pretty ones.

"Seriously, Alex, prison library serious to fuck," says a posse leader imprisoned in the US. "Me go to plenty library in Jamaica and not one have book like the number of books me see in Rikers. One of them is this book Middle Passage. Some coolie write it, V.S. Naipaul. Brethren, the man say West Kingston is a place so fucking bad that you can't even take a picture of it, because the beauty of the photographic process lies to you as to just how ugly it really is. Oh you read it? Trust me, even him have it wrong. The beauty of how him write that sentence still lie to you as to how ugly it is. It so ugly it shouldn't produce no pretty sentence, ever."

Marcus James can write some pretty sentences, but they serve to make the ugly even uglier. And the reality, whether it's Kingston or Rio or San Salvador or Michoacan, is pretty ugly. Grillo, Glenny, and James don't let us turn our eyes away from the festering sores, and that's a good thing. We need to try to understand what is going on. Because it's crazy down there.

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5. European Drug Reform Stalwart Joep Oomen Dead at 54

Joep Oomen, a key figure in European civil society drug reform efforts, has died unexpectedly of natural causes at his home in Antwerp, Belgium. He was found by colleagues dead in bed Friday when they went looking for him after he failed to show up for a meeting. He was 54 years old.

Joep Oomen RIP (voc-nederland.org)
A veteran activist with more than a quarter century of organizing under his belt, Oomen was the cofounder of numerous drug reform NGOs, including the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD), the Trekt Uw Plant cannabis cultivation social club in Antwerp, and the Dutch Union for the Abolition of Cannabis Prohibtion (VOC).

Joep's vision of a world without drug war drew his attention beyond Europe's borders as well. He had been active with groups like Mama Coca and Friends of the Coca Leaf in working to see the coca plant treated with the respect it deserves, and had been a steady presence at organizing around the United Nations' international drug prohibition bureaucracy.

"Joep was the kind of activist you only very rarely come across," wrote VOC chairman Derrick Bergman. "He combined a seemingly inexhaustible drive and perseverance with impeccable integrity and transparency. Joep spoke fluent Spanish since his studies in Amsterdam in the eighties, he became half-Flemish in Antwerp, but in the end he was primarily a world citizen. I consider myself lucky to have known Joep and to have worked closely with him for eight years with the VOC and Encod. He was not only a hugely effective and inspiring activist, but also a very dear friend."Oomen was present at many international drug reform conferences, where he shared his knowledge and experience about Europe and eagerly sucked up the latest information from around the world. He was also a key source on European drug policy reforms for this newsletter (Drug War Chronicle), always responsive to our requests for information and clarifying the sometimes murky goings on across the water.

We consider Joep a friend and colleague. We are shocked and saddened by his untimely departure.

He leaves behind a wife, Beatriz, two sons, and a grandson.

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6. Medical Marijuana Update

A medical marijuana bill is promised in Ohio, bills to expand medical marijuana get filed in New York, patients and supporters rally to demand action in Iowa, and more.

Georgia

On Wednesday, a CBD expansion bill had only one day left to get through the legislature. The legislative session ends at midnight tomorrow, and lawmakers will have a chance to take up a bill that would expand qualifying conditions for the state's CBD medical marijuana registry. The measure, House Bill 722, was defeated earlier in the session, but lead sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has added it as an amendment to another bill to try to get it through tomorrow.

Iowa

On Sunday, patients and supporters rallied in Des Moines. Hundreds of people gathered on the steps of the state capitol Tuesday to urge lawmakers to approve a comprehensive medical marijuana program. "This is not a partisan issue. This is something for the health and safety of our citizens," said Windsor Heights Mayor Diana Willits. "It truly is heartbreaking that legislators are not paying attention to their citizens and their constituents. It's time for everybody to put their political obstacles aside and do what's right in a nonpartisan way." The state passed a 2014 law allowing patients with epilepsy to use CBD cannabis oil, but that law did not provide for manufacturing or distributing the medicine in the state. A bill this year, House File 2384, would establish two grow facilities in the state and allow use of CBDs by patients who suffer from epilepsy, multiple sclerosis or terminal cancer. It is still being debated at the committee level. A recent poll had support for medical marijuana at 78%.

New York

Last Wednesday, a state senator unveiled a medical marijuana expansion package. State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) has introduced a package of bills -- Senate Bills 6998, 6999, and 7000 -- designed to expand the state's constricted medical marijuana program. One bill would allow nurse practitioners to recommend medical marijuana, another would allow the five organizations licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana to double the amount of dispensaries they can open from four to eight, while another would expand the conditions for which marijuana could be recommended.

Ohio

On Monday, the attorney general rejected two more initiatives. It's back to the drawing board for two more medical marijuana initiatives after Attorney General Mike DeWine found problems with their ballot language. The Medical Cannabis and Industrial Hemp Amendment, submitted by a group led by attorney and veteran marijuana activist Don Wirstshafter, had inconsistencies between its text and its summary, DeWine said. Last Friday, he rejected a fourth petition for the Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment for similar reasons. The groups behind the initiatives will now have to gather an additional 1,000 signatures and then resubmit their initiatives.

On Tuesday, a state senator said a medical marijuana bill is coming soon. Sen. Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) said Tuesday he plans to introduce a medical marijuana bill shortly. Yuko said the legislature needs to act on medical marijuana this spring or see the decision possibly taken out of its hands by the voters. There are at least three medical marijuana initiative campaigns brewing.

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

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7. February's Drug War Deaths

The war on drugs continues to exact a lethal toll, with drug law enforcement-related deaths occurring at a pace of just under one a week so far this year. There were three in January, and four more last month, bringing this year's toll so far to seven.

Of the February killings by police, one was of an unarmed white man, one was of an unarmed black man, and two were of armed black men. In all four cases, police shooters claimed they feared for their lives. In the cases of the three black men killed in the drug war, protests broke out after each killing. That didn't happen with the white guy, though.

The unarmed white man allegedly struggled with an arresting officer, the unarmed black man was holding a cell phone mistaken for a weapon, one armed black man was shot fleeing from police in disputed circumstances, and the other was shot by police as he wore a holstered weapon.

Where the war on drugs intersects with the American obsession with firearms possession, the bodies fall fast. None of the victims actually fired at an officer, but officers' fears of being shot impact the way they approach their duties, and the results are deadly -- even when there's not actually a real gun around.

Here's the February death toll:

On February 5, San Antonio police Officer John Lee shot and killed Antronie Scott, an unarmed black man, after an officer trying to arrest him said he mistook a cell phone in Scott's hand for a weapon. Scott, who was wanted on drug possession and weapons warrants, was being tracked by two detectives, who radioed the uniformed officer to make the arrest.

According to My San Antonio, at a press conference the following day, Police Chief William McManus explained that: "Officer Lee stated that he feared for his life when he discharged a single round" and the shooting happened "in the blink of an eye."

Audio of the incident confirms that Lee shouted, "Show me your hands!" and then shot within seconds. Lee told McManus he though Scott was holding a gun, but it turned out to be a cell phone.

There is no video of the incident because San Antonio police are not yet equipped with body cameras and the officer's dashcam had an obstructed view.

The killing sparked angry protests organized by activist Alvin Perry and Scott's family the following week.

"Just like my shirt says, 'Will I be next?' Anyone one of us could be next," said Perry. "Things like this have happened in San Antonio, but it's been swept under the rug or overlooked."

By the week after that, Scott's family had filed a federal lawsuit against Officer Lee, the police department, and the city of San Antonio. The lawsuit charges that "no reasonable police officer and/or law enforcement officer given the same or similar circumstances would have initiated such a vicious and unwarranted attack on Mr. Scott within a second of directing Mr. Scott to show his hands."

The lawsuit also cited department policy, which allows police too much discretion in use of lethal force.

Chief McManus moved to fire Officer Lee, placing him on "contemplated indefinite suspension" as the first step toward termination.

*****

On February 21, a Seattle police officer shot and killed armed black man Che Taylor, 47, after they encountered him apparently selling drugs while they conducting surveillance in the Wedgewood neighborhood.

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, citing police accounts, officers spotted Taylor wearing a holstered handgun and, knowing he was barred from carrying firearms because of a past felony conviction, swooped in to arrest him as he stood beside the passenger window of a parked car. When officers tried to detain him, he allegedly refused to show his hands and lower himself to the ground as police ordered. So one officer opened fire on him.

The Seattle Police made available dashcam video of the shooting, but it does not clearly show Taylor's actions before he is shot. It does show two police officers armed with rifles approaching an apparently oblivious Taylor, who jerks his head up as they draw near, and then appears to be trying to comply with their contradictory demands -- "Hands up!" and "Get on the ground!" -- before being shot repeatedly by one of the officers.

While police said Taylor was trying to reach for his holstered handgun, the video doesn't show that. It does show the second officer opening fire on Taylor as soon as he (the officer) comes around the car, in what looks an awful lot like a summary execution.

The officer has been identified as Michael Spaulding. This wasn't his first killing. In 2013, he shot and killed a mentally ill man after slipping and falling, arguing that he no choice but to defend himself. That killing was ruled as justified by a King County inquest. The following year, he signed onto a desperate lawsuit to block Justice Department-mandated police use-of-force reforms.

The alternative weekly The Stranger consulted with several veteran police officers who criticized police for issuing contradictory demands and said that, contrary to the police account, he was complying with police orders. One, recently retired from the Kings County Sheriff's Office, who asked not to be identified had this to say:

"From the angle presented, I cannot draw any type of conclusion [about whether the shooting was justified]," he said. "If those officers had body cameras, it would be a lot easier." They were not wearing body cams.

"If they know they're dealing with a person that's armed," he said, "then you want to come in with force showing."

The way officers rush toward the car with their guns out is "standard stuff... That looks pretty textbook."

"From what I saw, he was told to get down, and he was getting down. And while he was down, I don't know what prompted them to shoot... He's getting down. But we can't tell if he's getting all the way on the ground."

"He was obeying commands," the former officer said. "And it looks like the other officer was going in to take control of him, when the officer with the rifle began to shoot."

Here's the video:

 

*****

On February 26, a Pennington County, South Dakota, sheriff's deputy shot and killed Abraham Mitchell Fryer, an unarmed white man. According to the Rapid City Journal, citing police sources, Deputy Robert Schoeberl pulled over Fryer, who was wanted on drug charges, in Rapid Valley just before midnight. Within moments, Fryer was dead, with the Journal reporting that "the shooting apparently came after the two men had fought."

Both men were transported to a local hospital, where Fryer was pronounced dead. Deputy Schoeberl was treated for unspecified injuries and released.

Police were quick to release Fryer's criminal history, calling it "extensive," and noting that he was wanted for failure to appear on marijuana possession, drug possession, and possession with intent to distribute charges in neighboring Meade County. He was also wanted by federal authorities on a weapons charge, but was unarmed at the time he was killed.

The shooting is under investigation by the state Department of Criminal Investigation, which is expected to issue a report within 30 days.

*****

On February 29, Raleigh, North Carolina, police Officer J.W. Twiddy shot and killed Akiel Denkins, an armed black man, after a foot chase. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, Twiddy was attempting to arrest Denkins on outstanding felony drug charges when Denkins took off running.

Police and witnesses agreed that the pursuit began outside a business on East Bragg Street, in a heavily African-American neighborhood, but disagreed on much else. According to a preliminary report from Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown, Twiddy caught up with Denkins behind a nearby house and grabbed him. As the pair struggled, Denkins allegedly pulled a handgun from his waistband and "began to move it toward Officer Twiddy," the report said.

"While still struggling with Mr. Denkins, Officer Twiddy drew his duty weapon and fired multiple shots as Mr. Denkins continued to move the firearm in his direction," the report said. "After the first shots were fired, Officer Twiddy felt Mr. Denkins' hand or arm make contact with his duty weapon. Officer Twiddy, fearing that Mr. Denkins was either going to shoot him or attempt to take his duty weapon, stepped back and fired additional shots at Mr. Denkins, who still had the firearm in his hand."

But the report clashes with accounts from witnesses. Denkins' former basketball coach, M.M. Johnson, said he talked to numerous people who were on the street when Denkins got shot.

"They said he took off running," Johnson said. "Everybody that was standing out there was talking about it. Ain't nobody said nothing about a struggle. They said he took off running and the police officer fell and started busting (shooting) because he couldn't catch him."

A preliminary autopsy report showed that Denkins was hit by four bullets -- one in his chest, one on his left forearm, one on his right upper arm, and one on his right shoulder. But the report does not say whether any of the shots came from behind.

Joe Jabari, owner of the building where the pursuit began, said he heard "a lot of people" say Denkins had been shot in the back and that he was "absolutely shocked" at the police chief's report.

"This kid came to me many times, saying, 'I wish I didn't have a felony charge because I need to change,' " he said. "He was trying, honest to God he was trying. That day, I don't know what happened. I'm not defending nobody, but some of these kids feel like they have no choice."

Denkins had previous drug convictions and was out on $10,000 secured bond after being charged in October with two counts of selling or delivering cocaine and one count of felony possession of cocaine with intent to sell or deliver. He had failed to show up for a court date, and an arrest warrant had been issued days before he was killed.

After the shooting, neighborhood residents broke into spontaneous protest, chanting "No Justice, No Peace," and later that evening, a small group gathered around "an anti-police sign with an expletive" that was hoisted on a utility pole.

Denkins' funeral last Friday was attended by more than 200 people, with "people wearing baggy jeans, red bandanas and anti-police T-shirts mingled with people wearing smart suits," as ABC News put it.

"Justice will be served whether we know it or not. Not by men, not by a judge but by the ultimate Supreme Court, Jesus Christ," said friend Aaron Cummings.

Officer Twiddy has been placed on administrative leave while the State Bureau of Investigation looks into the matter.

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8. Drug War Idiocy: One Indiana Deputy Killed, Another Wounded in Midnight Drug Raid Over a Syringe

Howard County Sheriff's Deputy Carl A. Koontz, 27, was shot and killed and Sgt. Jordan F. Buckley, 35, was shot and wounded in a midnight drug raid gone wrong Sunday night in Russiaville, Indiana. The target of the raid, Evan Dorsey, 25, was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside the mobile home that was raided.

According to Drug War Chronicle, which has been tallying deaths directly related to domestic drug law enforcement activities since 2011, the killings bring this year's total to nine. Over the past five years, drug war deaths have occurred at a pace of roughly one a week, and this year so far is right on track.

In this case, they died over a syringe. That's right -- as the Indianapolis Star reported, the deputies were serving an arrest warrant on Dorsey for failure to appear in court over possession of a syringe.

The deputies went to the mobile home where Dorsey was staying shortly after midnight Sunday. According to Howard County Sheriff Steven Rogers, they were part of a team that included sheriff's deputies, Kokomo police officers, and the Russiaville town marshal.

Rogers said officers knocked on the door and announced their presence, but got no answer. He said the deputies "were shot as they entered the home."

Roger's account (or the Star's reporting) doesn't make clear just exactly how officers "entered the home." No one answered the door, so they either just opened it and entered or broke it down and entered. In either case, there were now armed intruders in the residence in the middle of the night. They were met with gunfire from Dorsey.

A SWAT team was called to the scene, but got no response from Dorsey. Two hours later, the SWAT team entered the home and found Dorsey dead of a gunshot wound. An autopsy released Monday described the wound as self-inflicted.

The death of a sheriff's deputy and a citizen in this incident should call into question the decision-making that led to the fatal encounter. Is failure to appear in court for possession of a syringe such a serious offense that it requires a midnight drug raid? In a nation where owning guns is seen as an inalienable right, should police be risking their lives breaking into homes in the night when they could reasonably assume an armed resident might mistake them for intruders? And above all, in retrospect, was it worth it?

While some states have legalized the possession of syringes without a prescription, many continue to criminalize their possession through drug paraphernalia laws. In Indiana, possession of a syringe is a violation of the paraphernalia law, and possession of a syringe with any detectable amount of an illicit drug exposes carriers to drug possession charges.

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9. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A crooked Louisiana deputy working on a DEA task force pleads guilty, an Ohio reserve police officer gets caught slinging ecstasy, and more. Let's get to it:

In Rocky River, Ohio, a Linndale reserve police officer was arrested last Tuesday on charges she was slinging marijuana and ecstasy. Reserve Officer Jonida Alicka and her sister, Denisa, are accused of obtaining ecstasy in Canada and distributing it in Ohio. They are both charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and ecstasy.

In Mount Holly, New Jersey, a state prison guard was arrested last Thursday on charges he was selling drugs to inmates. Guard Jacquae Hollinshead went down after a long-term investigation by the Department of Corrections into prisoner drug use at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility. She is charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, official misconduct, money laundering, and providing contraband to inmates.

In Covington, Louisiana, a former Tangiapahoa Parish sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty March 11 in a scheme to re-sell seized drugs. Johnny Domingue, 27, was arrested in January for crimes that occurred while he was a member of DEA task force. A second Tangipahoa deputy was arrested on similar charges last month. They were both accused of stealing oxycodone pills and cash during one drug raid, stealing methamphetamine and cash in another, and Domingue was accused of also breaking into the evidence room and stealing 20 pounds of marijuana.

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10. Chronicle AM: Pain Pills to Get "Black Box" Warning, FL to Get Syringe Exchanges, More... (3/23/16)

The Vermont marijuana legalization bill gets a first House hearing, it's do or die tomorrow for Georgia CBD legislation, the FDA orders "black box" warnings for quick-acting prescription opioids, Florida's governor has signed a syringe exchange bill into law,and more.

The FDA is mandating a "black box" warning for opioid pain pills. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Campaign Has Raised Ten Times More Funds Than the Opposition. According to a new report from the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has raised $1.1 million for its legalization effort, while the leading group opposing legalization, Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, has raised only $90,000. The legalization campaign needs 150,642 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. It already has 180,000 raw signatures and says it aims to collect 225,000 to have a nice cushion.

Vermont Legalization Bill Gets House Panel Hearing. The House Judiciary Committee Tuesday heard testimony on the legalization bill, Senate Bill 241, from representatives of state police, prosecutors, and sheriffs. The witnesses said legalization would not end the black market, worried about out-of-state pot tourists driving under the influence, and called for a marijuana DUID law. More hearings are coming.

Dallas City Council Rejects Ticketing Instead of Arresting Pot Possessors. The city council has backed away from a plan to ticket small-time pot possessors after realizing that state law prevents the city from imposing the policy outside of Dallas County. Tiny portion of the city of Dallas extend into neighboring Collin, Denton, Kaufman, and Rockwell counties. The idea had been supported by the police chief and several council members.

Medical Marijuana

Last Chance for Georgia CBD Expansion Tomorrow. The legislative session ends at midnight tomorrow, and lawmakers will have a chance to take up a bill that would expand qualifying conditions for the state's CBD medical marijuana registry. The measure, House Bill 722, was defeated earlier in the session, but lead sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has added it as an amendment to another bill to try to get it through tomorrow.

Iowa Patients, Supporters Rally in Des Moines. Hundreds of people gathered on the steps of the state capitol Tuesday to urge lawmakers to approve a comprehensive medical marijuana program. "This is not a partisan issue. This is something for the health and safety of our citizens," said Windsor Heights Mayor Diana Willits. "It truly is heartbreaking that legislators are not paying attention to their citizens and their constituents. It's time for everybody to put their political obstacles aside and do what's right in a nonpartisan way." The state passed a 2014 law allowing patients with epilepsy to use CBC cannabis oil, but that law did not provide for manufacturing or distributing the medicine in the state. A bill this year, House File 2384, would establish two grow facilities in the state and allow use of CBDs by patients who suffer from epilepsy, multiple sclerosis or terminal cancer. It is still being debated at the committee level. A recent poll had support for medical marijuana at 78%.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Bill Coming. Sen. Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) said Tuesday he plans to introduce a medical marijuana bill shortly. Yuko said the legislature needs to act on medical marijuana this spring or see the decision possibly taken out of its hands by the voters. There are at least three medical marijuana initiative campaigns brewing.

Asset Forfeiture

Mississippi Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Survives Legislative Deadline. Tuesday was the day bills approved by one chamber had to see committee action in the other chamber or die, and House Bill 1410, the Asset Forfeiture Transparency Act, survived. It was approved by the Senate Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency Committee Tuesday afternoon and is now headed for a Senate floor vote. The bill would not end civil asset forfeiture, but require state officials to maintain a searchable database of all cash and property seized by law enforcement.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

FDA Says Opioid Pain Relievers Will Have to carry "Black Box" Warnings. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Tuesday it will require immediate-release opioids to carry a "black box" warning label alerting users to the risks of misuse, addiction, overdose, and death. The warnings will refer users to the manufacturer's website for details. "Opioid addiction and overdose have reached epidemic levels over the past decade, and the FDA remains steadfast in our commitment to do our part to help reverse the devastating impact of the misuse and abuse of prescription opioids," FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, MD said in a news release. "Today's actions are one of the largest undertakings for informing prescribers of risks across opioid products, and one of many steps the FDA intends to take this year as part of our comprehensive action plan to reverse this epidemic."

Democratic Rep. Tears Into Pharma Company for Price-Gouging on Overdose Reversal Drug. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) used his opening remarks at a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on heroin use to rip into Amphastar Pharmaceutical, the manufacturer of the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan), for trying to profit off the crisis. "We can no longer allow drug companies to keep ripping off the taxpayers for life-saving medications," Cummings said. "Cities all around the country have recognized the need to equip their first responders, police officers and public health officials with naloxone -- a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses in a matter of minutes."

Harm Reduction

Florida Governor Signs Syringe Access Bill. Gov. Rick Scott (R) today signed into law the Miami-Dade Infectious Disease Elimination Act (IDEA Act), which will allow for the creation of needle exchanges.

International

Commission on Narcotics Drugs Meeting Ends, Now on to the UNGASS on Drugs. The 59th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) ended Tuesday in Vienna. The meeting and its outcome document are laying the groundwork for the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs at UN headquarters in New York next month.

Latin America's Largest Medical Marijuana Crop Now Being Harvested. Workers near the city of Colbun in central Chile have begun harvesting some 6,000 marijuana plants destined for 4,000 Chilean medical marijuana patients. The operation is being overseen by the Daya Foundation, which has hired 60 local temporary workers for the job. "It is an important day. We want it to be the first harvest of many more to come in Latin American countries," Ana Maria Gazmuri, president of the Daya Foundation.

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11. Chronicle AM: TN Pregnant Women Drug Law Fails, AR Welfare Drug Testing Starting, More... (3/24/16)

An asset forfeiture reform bill moves in New Hampshire, Arkansas and West Virginia advance welfare drug testing, a global commission on public health calls for drug decriminalization, and more.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana House Committee Approves Bill to Set Up Medical Marijuana Shops. The House Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday approved House Bill 446, sponsored by Rep. H. Bernard LeBas (D-Ville Platte). The bill would create a licensing scheme for the distribution of medical marijuana products. The bill now heads for a House floor vote. It must still be approved by the Senate.

More Michigan Protests Over Dispensary Raids. Dozens of patients, advocates, and supporters took to the steps of the state capitol in Lansing Tuesday to protest a new wave of raids by the Michigan State Police and local narcotics teams. Both state Sen. Coleman Young (D-Detroit) and Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) addressed the crowd.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Kentucky Senate Restores Funding for Heroin Fight. The Senate Wednesday agreed to restore $12 million in funding for anti-heroin efforts that had been proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin (R), but cut by the House last week. House Democrats had slashed the $32 million over two years proposed by the governor to $20 million. Now, the House and Senate will have to thrash out the difference in conference committee.

Asset Forfeiture

New Hampshire House Approves Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. The House Wednesday approved House Bill 636, which would require a criminal conviction before assets could be seized and which would move seized goods from the drug forfeiture fund to the state's general fund. Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) is threatening to veto the bill, saying that because of the state's opioid crisis, this isn't the time to eliminate law enforcement resources.

Drug Policy

Hawaii Lawmakers Take Up Resolution Urging Study on Drug Decriminalization. The House Judiciary Committee today is hearing a resolution, HCR 127, that calls on the state's Legislative Research Bureau to "conduct a study on the feasibility and advisability of decriminalizing the illegal possession of drugs for personal use in Hawaii" so that it "would constitute an administrative or civil violation rather than a criminal offense." If the resolution passes both chambers, the study would be due before year's end to be ready for next year's legislative session. The study would examine Portugal's experience with decriminalization as a possible model for the state.

Drug Testing

Arkansas Welfare Drug Testing to Begin Within Days. The head of the Department of Workforce Services, Daryl Bassett, said Wednesday that the state's welfare drug testing program would get underway within "seven to 10 days." Under the program, all applicants for government aid would be screened for possible drug use and those deemed likely to have been using drugs would have to undergo drug testing. Refusal to take the drug test will result in being denied benefits for six months. Someone who tests positive can continue to receive aid if he follows treatment and recovery plans set by state officials.

West Virginia Governor Signs Welfare Drug Test Bill. Gov. Early Ray Tomblin (D) today signed into law a bill that mandates screening of all welfare applicants for drug use and drug testing those for whom case workers have "reasonable suspicion" of drug use. Applicants who fail drug tests can continue to receive benefits as long as they enroll in drug treatment and job training programs, but a second failed test could mean loss of benefits for up to a year, and a third would earn a lifetime ban.

Harm Reduction

King County Sheriff Says He Would Not Arrest Drug Users Going to Seattle Safe Injection Site. King County Sheriff John Urquhart edged ever closer Tuesday to outright support of a safe injection site in Seattle. "I guarantee you," said Urquhart, "that if you're going into a safe injection site, you will not be arrested by any of my deputies, period." But he was careful to add that while he was "intrigued" by the success of Vancouver's InSite supervised injection facility, he is not yet ready to endorse them for Seattle.

Pregnancy

Tennessee Law That Allows Assault Charges for Pregnant Drug Users Not Renewed. The state's two-year experiment with arresting pregnant drug users is about to come to an end after the legislature failed to re-authorize the law this week. At least a hundred women have been prosecuted under the program, which has been condemned by human rights, civil rights, and pregnant women's rights advocates.

International

Leading Global Health Commission Calls for Reform of Drug Policies Worldwide. A leading global public health commission is calling for new policies that would transform our approach to drug use, addiction and control worldwide, including the decriminalization of minor and non-violent drug offenses. According to a report released this morning by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and The Lancet, the war on drugs and zero-tolerance policies have undercut public health across the globe and have directly contributed to many of today's most urgent public health crises, while doing little to affect drug markets or drug use. The Johns Hopkins University -- Lancet Commission on Public Health and International Drug Policy calls for worldwide reform of drug policies, including: the decriminalization of minor and non-violent drug use, possession and petty sale; enactment of policies that reduce violence and discrimination in drug policing; increased access to controlled medicines that could reduce the risk of overdose deaths; and greater investments in health and social services for drug users. The report is based on an extensive review by the Commissioners of the published evidence, and on original analyses and modeling on violence, incarceration and infectious diseases associated with drug policies.

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12. Chronicle AM: New AP Poll Has 61% for Pot Legalization, PA MedMJ Bill Not a Done Deal Yet, More... (3/25/16)

Sixty-one percent of respondents said "legalize it" in a new AP poll -- sort of -- Vermont's pro-legalization governor attacks the Massachusetts legalization initiative, a Georgia CBD bill dies, a drug war justice caravan begins heading from Central America to the UN in New York, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New AP Poll Has Record Support for Legalization. A new survey released today from the Associated Press and University of Chicago has a whopping 61% saying they support marijuana legalization. But there is some nuance in the poll. Some 24% of legalization supporters said it should be available "only with a medical prescription," and 43% said there should be "restrictions on purchase amounts." About a third of legalization supporters said there should be no restrictions.

Vermont's Pro-Legalization Governor Slags Massachusetts Legalization Initiative. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), who supports a carefully crafted legalization bill in his own state, is taking pot-shots at the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol initiative next door in Massachusetts. "The [Vermont] bill's approach is in stark contrast to the one proposed in the Massachusetts referendum that will be voted on in November, which would allow edibles that have caused huge problems in other states, smoking lounges, home delivery service, and possession of up to 10 ounces of marijuana. Vermont's bill allows none of that," Shumlin wrote in a blog post on his official webpage. "If Massachusetts moves forward with their legalization bill while Vermont delays, the entire southern part of our state could end up with all the negatives of a bad pot bill and none of the positives of doing the right thing." The Massachusetts folks were not impressed, with initiative campaign manager Jim Borghesani retorting that Shumlin is obsessed with edibles and is "falling into the same exaggerations when it comes to edibles that a lot of people have."

Medical Marijuana

Georgia CBD Expansion Bill Dies on Last Day of Session. A bill that would have made the state's CBD cannabis oil law workable by allowing companies outside the state to ship it into Georgia has died as the legislative session ended. The bill, House Bill 722, was defeated earlier in the session, but sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) managed to add it as an amendment to another bill in a last ditch effort to get it through. That didn't work either.

Pennsylvania State Senators Have Issues With House Version of Medical Marijuana Bill. Key senators are expressing reservations about the medical marijuana bill passed by the House last week and may press for changes that would require another vote by both chambers. It had been hoped that the Senate would simply vote to approve the House bill, but Senate bill sponsor Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) suggested the flaws in the House bill needed to be fixed first.

International

'No More Drug War' Caravan to Visit Five Impacted Countries on way to UN Session in NY. Starting in Honduras on March 28th, the Caravan for Peace, Life and Justice will travel through El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States with the goal of reaching New York City on the eve of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs beginning on April 19. Made up of a diverse group of people including victims of the drug war, families who have lost relatives to violence or incarceration, human rights defenders, journalists, faith leaders, activists and others, the Caravan will travel through some of the places most affected by the war on drugs with the purpose of giving way to an inclusive, collective and open dialogue on drug policy and creating alternatives to the failed prohibitionist regime.

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13. Chronicle AM: Michiganders Say Legalize, Kansas MedMj Mom Sues Over Son's Removal, More... (3/28/16)

Popular sentiment favors marijuana legalization in Michigan, Denver activists plan an initiative to approve cannabis social clubs, Florida's CBD cannabis oil law gets expanded, and more.

Shona Banda is suing the state of Kansas, local police, and a local school district over her son's removal from her home.
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Majority Support for Legalization. A new SurveyUSA poll commissioned by Michigan marijuana activists finds support for legalization at 54%. The poll comes as activists there struggle to get legalization initiatives on the ballot.

Denver Activists Renew Push for Cannabis Clubs. Activists with Responsible Use Denver submitted ballot language last Friday for an initiative to allow for private marijuana social clubs and to allow for public pot use at special events with a permit. The move comes a year after backers of a similar measure dropped it in favor of working with city officials to craft a policy. The initiative will need 5,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot; the group says it is aiming at 10,000 raw signatures.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Governor Signs CBD Expansion Bills Into Law. Gov. Rick Scott (R) has signed into law House Bill 307 and House Bill 1313, which expands the state's CBC cannabis oil law and fixing some problems related to that law which resulted in patients not getting their medicine because of challenges setting up the industry.

Kansas Medical Marijuana Mom Sues Over Son's Removal. Activist Shona Bana last Thursday filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last Thursday over the state's questioning and removal of her 11-year-old son after he spoke up in school about her using and possessing marijuana. She is claiming the state deprived her of her civil rights by not allowing her to use medical marijuana to treat her Crohn's Disease and that local police and school officials improperly questioned her son.

MPP-Backed Ohio Initiative Cleared for Circulation. The initiative from Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, which is backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, has been cleared for circulation. Attorney General Mike DeWine last Friday approved the summary language. At least two other proposed medical marijuana initiative have been rejected by DeWine, as was an earlier version of this one.

Heroin

Pennsylvania Coroner Now Classifying Heroin Overdoses as "Homicides." Lycoming County Coroner Charles Kiessling has started listing accidental fatal heroin overdoses as homicides. "If you are selling heroin to someone and they die, isn't that homicide?" he asked. "If you are dealing drugs, you are a murderer." Most coroners in the state list heroin overdose deaths as "accidental," not "homicide."

Drug Testing

West Virginia Imposes Drug Testing on High School Students in Tech Ed Courses. All high school students in third and fourth year career technical education courses will be required to submit to drug tests beginning next school year. It's part of the Department of Education's Simulated Workplace program. It's unclear whether the drug testing complies with Supreme Court rulings that limit mandatory, suspicionless drug testing to select groups of students, but would appear to be ripe for a legal challenge.

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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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