Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: Trump Drug Czar Nominee Withdraws, NFL Endorses Sentencing Reform, More... (10/17/17)

Stories pile up when you spend a week at the drug reform conference: Trump's choice for drug czar is out, the NFL endorses sentencing reform, California's governor signs a sentencing reform bill, and more.

The National Football League has formally endorsed a federal sentencing reform bill. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Marijuana Conviction of Vehicle Passenger. The state Supreme Court last Thursday threw out the marijuana possession conviction of a car passenger, saying the mere fact that he was in the vehicle didn't mean he actually possessed the drug. Marvin Carver had been charged after the car his half-brother was driving was pulled over and marijuana was found. The half-brother said the marijuana was his, and prosecutors never proved that Carver knew about or intended to possess the pot, the court noted.

New Hampshire Marijuana Study Group Holds First Meeting, No Legalizers Included. A commission charged with studying the potential impact of marijuana legalization is holding its first meeting today. Created by the legislature, the commission includes lawmakers and representatives of several state agencies, including banking, law enforcement, and the medical community. Of the legislators, several have voiced opposition to legalization and none are on record in support of it.

Maine Legalizers Reject Legislative Rewrite of Marijuana Law. Legalize Maine, the group behind last year's successful legalization initiative, has come out against the proposed legislative rewrite of the law, saying it "isn't ready for prime time." The group strongly objects to bill language requiring localities to "opt in" to the legal marijuana business instead of having to "opt out." Such a provision will only create chaos and encourage the black market, the group says.

Pennsylvania ACLU Report Finds Large Racial Disparities in Marijuana Arrests. In an analysis of 2016 arrest data, the ACLU found that black adults in the state were eight times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites. Marijuana arrests in the state have increased in recent years, and so has the racial disparity in arrests. It was less than six to one in 2011. The arrest figures don't include Philadelphia, which decriminalized in 2014 and saw arrests plummet 88%. But even in Philly, blacks were still three times more likely to be arrested for pot than whites.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Issues First Medical Marijuana Grow License. The state Department of Health has approved Cresco Yeltrah's 40,000-plus-square-foot indoor grow operation, making it the first medical marijuana grow in the state to be approved. The planting of seeds should commence shortly, with the first crop ready in about four months.

Drug Policy

Trump Drug Czar Nominee Withdraws in Wake of Report He Pushed Bill to Hinder DEA Opioid Pill Enforcement Efforts. Pennsylvania US Rep. Tom Marino (R), who President Trump nominated last month to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), has withdrawn his nomination in the wake of reports that he shepherded through Congress legislation lobbied for by drug companies and pharmaceutical chains that decreased the DEA's ability to stop suspect shipments of prescription opioids. Marino had come under fire from Democratic lawmakers after the report went public Sunday.

McCaskill Will File Bill to Undo 2016 Law Marino Pushed. Sen. Claire McCaskill said Monday she would fill a bill to repeal the 2016 law Rep. Marino shepherded through Congress at the behest of deep-pocketed drug companies and pharmaceutical chains.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Moves a Step Closer to Drug Testing Food Stamp Recipients. The state Health Department announced last Friday that it has submitted its plans for the drug testing of food stamp recipients to the office of Gov. Scott Walker (R). Critics of the plan say it requires getting a waiver from the US Department of Agriculture, but the Walker administration disagrees. Look for a court challenge.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Announces First Ever Indictments Against Chinese Fentanyl Makers. The DOJ announced Tuesday that federal grand juries in Mississippi and North Dakota had returned indictments against two Chinese nationals and their US-based traffickers and distributors for separate conspiracies to peddle large quantities of fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, and other opioids in the United States. These are the first indictments returned against Chinese nationals for manufacturing and distributing fentanyl destined for the US.

Florida Man Wins Cash Settlement After Police Field Drug Test Mistook Sugar for Meth. In 2015, police arrested Daniel Rushing for meth possession after they mistook glaze from a Krispy Kreme donut for methamphetamine. Rushing was held in jail for 10 hours before bonding out. The charges were dropped when subsequent tests showed the substance was indeed glazed sugar. Last week, the city of Orlando agreed to pay him $37,500 to settle his wrongful arrest lawsuit.

Sentencing

In Midst of National Anthem Controversy, NFL Endorses Federal Sentencing Reform Bill. In a letter sent Monday to leading senators, the National Football League offered "full support" for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 1917). "Over the last two seasons, one particular issue that has come to the forefront for our players and our teams is the issue of justice for all," the league noted, obliquely addressing the controversy surrounding NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality in the criminal justice system, while at the same time supporting progressive sentencing reform.

California Governor Signs Major Drug Sentencing Reform. Last Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 180, authored by State Senators Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach). With his signature, Brown repealed a three-year sentence enhancement that added additional years to a sentence for prior drug convictions, such as drug sales and possession of drugs for sales. SB 180, the RISE (Repeal of Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements) Act, was part of Mitchell and Lara's Equity and Justice Package, bills intended to address racially biased sentencing.

Massachusetts Takes Aim at Mandatory Minimums. State Senate leaders are rallying around a sentencing reform bill that would repeal mandatory minimum sentences for small-time drug offenses, lower probation fees, and up the threshold for felony larceny. Supporters of the proposal from Sen. William Brownberger (D-Belmont) rallied last Thursday to champion the bill, which the Senate should be taking up in the next few weeks.

Chronicle AM: Dutch to Pilot Legal Marijuana Grows, OR Marijuana Tax $$$, More... (10/10/17)

The Dutch finally begin to address their marijuana "back door problem," Canadian Mounties and tribal members clash over a pot shop, California's governor vetoes an opioid task force bill as redundant, and more.

The coffee shops of Amsterdam have no legal source of supply, but that is about to change. (Wikmedia)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Again Rejects Legalization Initiative. State Attorney General Leah Rutledge has again rejected a proposed marijuana legalization initiative from Mary Berry of Summit. The initiative would have allowed people to grow up to 25 mature pot plants, but Rutledge expressed concern about that provision and several others, sending it back to Berry for a rewrite. This is the second time this year for Berry, who is recent years has been a prolific filer of legalization initiatives.

Oregon Distributes Marijuana Tax Funds. The state Department of Revenue announced last Friday that it is disbursing some $85 million in marijuana tax revenues. The taxes, from sales between January 2016 and August 2017, will go to schools, public health, police, and local government.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Edibles Must Be Tested for Potency Beginning Next Month. As of November 1, all medical marijuana edibles and other infused pot products will be subject to mandatory potency testing by state testing laboratories, the Marijuana Enforcement Division announced last week. The move is a result of bill passed last by the state legislature. Products manufactured before November 1 will be grandfathered in.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

California Governor Vetoes Bill Creating Prescription Opioid Task Force, Says It's Redundant. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has vetoed Assembly Bill 715, which would have creating a new state working group to determine best practices for opioid prescribing. In his veto message, Brown acknowledged the opioid crisis, but said the bill was "unnecessary" because the state public health department had established such a group three years ago.

International

Seeking Finally to Solve Back Door Problem, Dutch Give Nod to Pilot Regulated Marijuana Production Projects. The new Dutch cabinet will approve pilot projects for regulated marijuana production to supply the country's cannabis cafes, a belated move to end the country's chronic "back door problem," where sales and possession of marijuana is legal, but there is no legal source of supply for the cafes. Between six and 10 local councils will be given permission to license producers in their communities.

Canadian Mounties Battle First Nations Tribe in Medical Marijuana Shop Raid. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police raided a new medical marijuana shop on the Tobique First Nations reservation last week, leading to a blockade by tribe members that could have turned into "full-out conflict," according to Tobique Chief Ross Penley. Nearly a hundred tribe members and several vehicles blocked officers from leaving for several hours before tribal officials negotiated their release. The RCMP say the shop is illegal and subject to a cease and desist order, but it reopened within hours of the raid.

Scottish Nationalists Call for Drug Policy to Be Devolved, So They Can Decriminalize Drugs. The ruling Scottish National Party has approved a motion at its Glasgow conference calling for drug law-making powers to be passed from London to Edinburgh. The motion called for the devolution of the policy-making power so the Scottish parliament can consider "all options for harm reduction, including drug declassification, decriminalization, and regulation."

Chronicle AM: Fed Sentencing Reform Bill Filed, Colombia Coca Clashes, More... (10/6/17)

Leading senators roll out a federal sentencing reform bill, Jeff Sessions ramps up the Safe Neighborhoods program, the VA doubles down against medical marijuana, more clashes erupt in Colombia's coca producing areas, and more.

A newly filed Senate bill seeks to address prison overcrowding. (supremecourt.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Just Keeps On Selling More and More Legal Weed. The state broke its marijuana sales record for the sixth consecutive month in August, a trend that officials expect to continue when September figures come in. Farmers sold 734 pounds of buds and 444 pounds of other marijuana plant parts to retailers in August, generating nearly $700,000 in taxes for the state.

Kentucky State Senator Calls for Legalization to Ease Budget Crunch. With the state facing a $200 million budget deficit this year, state Sen. Dan Seum (R-Fairdale) has suggested that legalizing marijuana could help. "My argument is before any new taxes, let's explore the potential of new monies," he told WKYT Thursday.

Maine Legalization Bill Now Requires Town to Opt In, Not Opt Out. Under the latest iteration of the legislature's bill to implement voter-approved marijuana legalization, localities would have to act affirmatively to allow medical marijuana businesses. That's the opposite of what the legalization initiative intended, which was to make localities opt out of participation if they didn't want pot businesses. The latest version of the bill is now headed for a floor vote on October 23.

San Diego Sets Legal Marijuana Business Rules. California's second largest city has made itself ready for legal marijuana. The city has finalized rules for pot growing and manufacturing ahead of the scheduled January 1 start date for legal marijuana sales. It will allow both indoor cultivation and manufacturing, as well as testing labs.

Medical Marijuana

Veterans Department Reiterates Opposition to Medical Marijuana Use. VA policy has been to disallow government doctors from recommending medical marijuana, but now, the agency has updated its website to state that opposition more firmly -- and inaccurately. As Tom Angell at Marijuana Majority noted, the website's claim that "as long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as Schedule I drug, VA health care providers may not recommend it or assist veterans to obtain it" is not technically true. There is no law barring the VA from allowing its doctors to recommend medical marijuana.

WADA No Longer Considers CBD a Prohibited Drug. The World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) has removed CBD from its 2018 list of prohibited substances. "Cannabidiol is no longer prohibited," WADA said. But it emphasized that THC, the euphoric psychoactive chemical in marijuana, remains banned and that CBD products could contain actionable amounts of THC. "Cannabidiol extracted from cannabis plants may contain varying concentrations of THC," WADA noted.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Federal Bill to Increase Opioid Prescribing Requirements Filed. Rep. David Roe (R-TN) Thursday filed House Resolution 3964, "to amend the Controlled Substance Act to establish additional registration requirements for prescribers of opioids." The bill text is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Ramps Up Safe Neighborhoods Program. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday plans to ramp up efforts against drug trafficking and violent gangs through the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative. In a memo, the country's top cop ordered federal prosecutors to emphasize violent crime reduction and develop plans to work with local police and prosecutors in the effort.

Sentencing

Senate Heavyweights File Sentencing Reform Bill. A bipartisan group of senators today reintroduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 to recalibrate prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, target violent and career criminals and save taxpayer dollars. The legislation permits more judicial discretion at sentencing for offenders with minimal criminal histories and helps inmates successfully reenter society, while tightening penalties for violent criminals and preserving key prosecutorial tools for law enforcement. It is led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Scott (R-SC), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO). The bill is S. 1917. Check back for a Chronicle feature on the bill.

International

Four Killed in Colombia Clashes Between Coca Growers, Eradicators. Four people are dead and 14 wounded after somebody attacking protesting coca farmers in the municipality of Tumaco, along the Pacific Coast. The government blamed members of a dissident FARC faction that has refused to lay down its arms, but local activists blamed government security forces for opening fire. Clashes between coca growers and security forces have become more frequent as production of cocaine in Colombia surged to record levels in recent years.

Chronicle AM: MA Advocates Push for No Pot Tax $$$ for Towns That Ban Pot Ops, More... (10/5/17)

It's all marijuana today, with Washington state considering personal grows, Delaware pondering legalization, Massachusetts activists trying to put the screws to towns that ban stores, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Task Force Meets, Hears Concerns. The state's Adult Cannabis Use Task Force met for the second time Wednesday and heard from the Department of Safety and Homeland Security. The department unsurprisingly wants strict regulations on marijuana if legislators decide to legalize it. Homeland Security Director John Yeomans said the department was against allowing personal cultivation because it could lead to a "grey market" and edibles should not be allowed because they could appeal to kids. The Chamber of Commerce also weighed in, expressing concerns about workplace injuries, unemployment claims, and how impairment would be defined. The task force will continue to meet on a monthly basis for the rest of the year and then make policy recommendations.

Massachusetts Advocates Say Towns With Pot Bans Shouldn't Enjoy Pot Tax Revenues. Pro-legalization advocates are working on a bill that would prevent towns that ban commercial marijuana operations from collecting a share of marijuana tax revenues. The Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council is talking to legislators about the proposal, which comes as more than a hundred municipalities in the state have enacted bans, moratoria, or other tough restrictions on pot businesses. "Any sensible person would agree, why should you get tax money if you don't have it in your town, it just doesn't make any sense," council vice-president Kamani Jefferson said in remarks reported by the Daily Free Press. "I think it will catch on even to the people who may not be in love with marijuana. If you don't put any work in, you shouldn't get any benefits is what we're really proposing to the Commonwealth."

Washington Regulators Get Earful at Hearing on Allowing Personal Cultivation. A three-member panel of the state Liquor and Cannabis Board held a hearing Wednesday on allowing home grows in the only legalization state that doesn't allow them. Most of the three dozen people who testified support home cultivation, but not the options being studied because they have too many restrictions and allow localities to ban personal grows even if legalized in the state. The panel must issue a report with recommendations to the legislature by December 1.

International

Canada Legalization Bill Sheds Language Restricting Plant Height. The Commons Health Committee on Tuesday scrapped a clause in the bill that would have made growing a plant taller than one meter a criminal offense. The provision had been criticized as arbitrary and difficult to enforce, with even the Ontario police and corrections ministry noting that "people could be criminalized for small amounts of overproduction." Others pointed out that someone could have a legal plant, go on vacation for a couple of weeks, and come back to an illegal plant. The limit of four plants per household remains intact, though.

Federal Bill Would Reverse Perverse Incentives for Mass Incarceration [FEATURE]

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

Even as President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions descend into a law-and-order authoritarianism that views mass incarceration as a good thing, Democrats in Congress are moving to blunt such tendencies. A bill introduced last week in the House is a prime example.

House Reverse Mass Incarceration Act sponsor Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA)
Last Wednesday, Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) filed the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act of 2017 (HR 3845), which would use the power of the federal purse to reduce both crime and incarceration at the same time. Under the bill, states that decreased the number of prisoners by 7% over three years without a substantial increase in crime would be eligible for grants.

The grants would come from the Justice Department and would be awarded "to implement evidence-based programs designed to reduce crime rates and incarcerations," according to the bill text.

The measure essentially reverses the 1994 crime bill, which set up Justice Department block grant programs aimed at increasing arrests and incarceration. Instead of incentivizing states to increase prison populations, the legislation would pay states to decrease them, while keeping down crime.

Under the legislation, grants would be awarded every three years. States are eligible to apply if the total number of people behind bars in the state decreased by 7 percent or more in three years, and there is no substantial increase in the overall crime rate within the state. The bill could lead to a 20 percent reduction in the national prison population over 10 years.

Although state and federal prison populations have stabilized in the past decade and we are no longer seeing the massive increases in inmate numbers that began under Reagan and continued largely on autopilot through the Clinton and Bush years, the number of people incarcerated is still unconscionably high. With more than 1.5 million people in prison in 2015, the United States remains the world leader in incarceration, in both per capita and absolute numbers.

A healthy percentage of them are people locked up for drug offenses. The Bureau of Prisons reports that nearly half of all federal prisoners are drug offenders. Among the states, the percentage varies between about 15% and 25%; overall, about 17% of state prison inmates are drug offenders.

"The costs of our nation's epidemic of over-incarceration is not just metaphorical," said Rep. Cárdenas at a press conference rolling out the bill. "Yes, mass incarceration and mandatory minimums have taken their toll on our families and our communities, and represent one of the biggest civil rights issues of our time. At the same time, the cost to the taxpayer is real. Americans spend almost $80 billion per year on our prison system, in addition to much more significant long-term societal costs. It's time to right the wrongs of the last decades and help states have the freedom to implement programs that are more cost-effective and keep our streets and communities safer."

It's not just in the House. In June, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) filed the Senate version of the bill, SB 1458. Both Booker and Blumenthal came out for the rollout of the House version.

"In 1994, Congress passed the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, which created grant programs that incentivized states to incarcerate more people," said Sen. Booker. "The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act would do the opposite -- it would encourage states to reduce their prison populations and invest money in evidence-based practices proven to reduce crime and recidivism. Our bill recognizes the simple fact that locking more people up does little to make our streets safer. Instead, it costs us billions annually, tears families apart, and disproportionately drives poverty in minority communities."

"Our criminal justice system is in a state of crisis," said Sen. Blumenthal. "Under current sentencing guidelines, millions of people -- a disproportionate number of them people of color have been handed harsh prison sentences, their lives irreparably altered, and our communities are no safer for it. In fact, in many cases, these draconian sentencing policies have had the opposite of their intended effect. State sentencing policies are the major drivers of skyrocketing incarceration rates, which is why we've introduced legislation to encourage change at the state level. We need to change federal incentives so that we reward states that are addressing this crisis and improving community safety, instead of funneling more federal dollars into a broken system."

Senate Reverse Mass Incarceration Act cosponsor Sen. Cory Booker (D-CT)
While the bills don't have any Republican sponsors or cosponsors, they are backed by a panoply of civil rights, human rights, faith-based, and social justice organizations that are pushing hard for Congress to address mass incarceration and the class and racial disparities that underlie it.

"At a time when we have an Attorney General who seeks to continue the unwise practice of privatizing prisons and putting more and more people in them, Congress must reform our criminal justice system and do more to address mass incarceration," said Vanita Gupta, former deputy attorney general for civil rights and currently CEO of the Leadership Conference on Human Rights.

"Rep. Cárdenas, and Senators Cory Booker and Richard Blumenthal, have developed a creative policy proposal that would serve as a powerful tool to accelerate state efforts in reversing the damaging impact of mass incarceration," said Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League. "This proposal builds on smart prison-reduction policies while also reducing crime. The National Urban League applauds the lawmakers and is committed to working with them until this bill is signed into law."

That could be awhile. With Republicans in control of the Congress, the bills' prospects this session are clouded. But even among congressional Republicans, there are conservative criminal justice reformers willing to take a hard look at harsh policies of the past, and there is always the next Congress. While the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act of 2017 is unlikely to pass this year, it deserves to be fought for and is laying the groundwork for sentencing reform victories to come. Let's hope they do so soon.

Washington, DC
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

We've only got a couple this week, but they're both pretty juicy and involve federal law enforcement officials. Let's get to it:

In New Orleans, a DEA agent and a Hammond police officer were arrested Sunday on charges related to the DEA task force led by Agent Chad Scott. Task force members are accused of stealing property and thousands of dollars in drug investigations, as well as a raft of related offenses. Scott and Hammond Police Officer Rodney Gemar are accused of participating in a seven-year conspiracy to not report drug, cash, and property seizures and instead keep them for their own profit. Scott faces ten counts, including falsifying government records, obstruction of justice, perjury, conspiracy, and seeking and receiving illegal gratuities. Gemar faces six counts, including stealing evidence and conspiracy. Gemar is out on bail, but Scott was still being held after appearing in court Monday.

In Orlando, Florida, a Department of Homeland Security officer was arrested last Monday for allegedly taking bribes to help a Colombian cocaine trafficker avoid criminal charges. Special Agent Christopher Ciccione was the case agent for an organized crime and drug trafficking task force that obtained indictments for a number of Cali Cartel cocaine traffickers, but Ciccione is accused of taking a $20,000 bribe to get the indictment dismissed, then altering records and lying to federal prosecutors. He is charged with conspiracy, corruption, and obstruction of justice.

Medical Marijuana Update

Florida is slow getting out of the gate with cultivation licenses, a Georgia lawmaker is pushing to makes the state's CBD law workable, Michigan lawmakers are moving to keep dispensaries open during a year-end switchover, and more.

Florida

On Tuesday, the state missed its own deadline for issuing growing licenses. Florida officials were supposed to distribute ten medical marijuana cultivation licenses Tuesday, but that's not going to happen. Officials said last Friday said the delay would be brief and pointed fingers at Hurricane Irma and a recently-filed lawsuit from a black farmer challenging the state's effort to achieve racial diversity among growers. That farmer charged that the state's guidelines were too restrictive.

Georgia

Last Friday, a state lawmaker was mobilizing supporters to broaden the state's CBD law. State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) is calling on families and advocates to contact their legislators ahead of the upcoming legislative session to lay the groundwork for expanding the state's CBD medical marijuana law to allow limited cultivation and manufacturing in the state. The state legalized the use of CBD cannabis oil in 2013, but there is no legal way to obtain it. Peake wants to let one or two growers and manufacturers operate in the state. They would be limited to creating CBD cannabis oil.

Kentucky

Last Wednesday, a court dismissed a medical marijuana lawsuit aimed at the governor and attorney general. A lawsuit filed against Gov. Matt Bevin (R) and Attorney General Andy Beshear (D) seeking to force them to legalize medical marijuana in the state was thrown out. A Franklin circuit court judge ruled that legal precedent makes it clear that only the legislature can regulate the use of marijuana in the state -- not the executive branch and not the courts.

Michigan

Last Thursday, lawmakers moved to keep dispensaries open during the changeover to the new medical marijuana regime. As the state prepares to shift to a new regime allowing licensed dispensaries, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has tentatively asked all existing dispensaries to shut down by December 15 and seek licenses. But some legislators have filed House Bill 5014, which would allow dispensaries to stay open while their license applications are pending before the department. A Senate version of the bill is expected to be filed shortly.

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

Chronicle AM: Alaska Towns Reject Marijuana Bans, DEA Names Acting Head, More...(10/4/17)

The DEA names an in-house acting administrator, the Massachusetts high court takes up the question of whether judges can order addicts to remain drug-free, Canada advances on looming marijuana legalization, and more.

Voters in Fairbanks and other Alaska towns rejected bans on commercial marijuana operations Tuesday. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Towns Reject Marijuana Bans. Voters in Fairbanks and several towns on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage rejected bans on commercial marijuana growing operations in local votes on Tuesday. The state legalized marijuana in 2014.

California Governor Signs Bill Making Smoking Pot While Motoring a $70 Ticket. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Monday signed into law a bill barring the use of marijuana or marijuana products while driving or riding in a motor vehicle. The maximum penalty is a $70 fine. But drivers who operate while impaired could still be nailed for that.

Hemp

Farm Bureau Endorses Federal Hemp Bill. The American Farm Bureau Federation has formally endorsed the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, House Resolution 3530, which would exclude industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act definition of marijuana.

Law Enforcement

DEA Veteran Named Acting Administrator. The Justice Department has named veteran DEA official Robert Patterson as acting administrator of the agency. He has been DEA's principal deputy administrator since last November, where he oversaw all of the agency's enforcement, intelligence, administrative, and regulatory activities worldwide. He is the highest ranking career special agent at DEA.

Massachusetts Court Ponders Whether Courts Can Require Addicts to Remain Drug-Free. The state's Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments Monday on whether judges can require people under their supervision who suffer from substance use disorder to remain drug-free. The case involves a woman who was sent to jail for failing a drug test while on probation for a larceny charge, but has large implications for how judges in the state deal with drug-using defendants. A decision in the case is expected around year's end.

International

Canadian Prime Minister Proposes 10% Marijuana Excise Tax. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has proposes an excise tax on retail marijuana sales of $1 for sales of up to $10, and 10% on sales over that amount. Provinces and territories would receive half the revenues under the proposal he made Tuesday, but some provinces argue that isn't enough. Trudeau responded that the details are still open to negotiation.

Alberta Proposes Minimum Age of 18 for Pot Use. The Alberta provincial government's draft plan for marijuana legalization sets the minimum age at 18. The province says it hasn't yet decided on whether to have government-run or private sales. The draft proposal also includes provisions for use in public areas where smoking is allowed and sets a public possession limit of 30 grams.

Chronicle AM: Atlanta A Step Closer to MJ Decrim, Drug Treatment Privacy Threat, More... (10/3/17)

Atlanta is one step away from decriminalizing marijuana possession, patient advocacy and health care groups unite behind a campaign to protect the privacy of drug treatment patients, and more.

It was a 15-0 vote for marijuana decriminalization in the Atlanta city council chambers Monday.
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Panel Meets Again This Week, Has Issues. The state task force charged with examining issues around the legalization of marijuana is set to meet again on Wednesday. Members said that before legalization could occur, several issues would have to be addressed, including public and workforce safety, taxation and banking rules, insurance and liability issues, and concerns about the long-term effects of marijuana use.

Massachusetts Regulators Urged to Avoid "Walmart of Weed" Situation. State pot grower advocates urged regulators Monday to institute a tiered licensing system for marijuana cultivation to avoid out-of-state corporate control of the state's legal pot crops. Peter Bernard, president of the Massachusetts Grower Advocacy Council, said a 1 million square foot grow facility being funded by "Colorado money" makes his "New England blood boil" because it could signal that locals will be shut out in the nascent industry. Instead of a "Walmart of Weed" approach, Bernard said, the state should encourage craft cooperatives. "Craft cooperative grows will provide that top shelf product that commands a top shelf price, much like a fine bottle of wine commands a higher price than box wine. Only the tourists and occasional tokers will waste their money on Walmart Weed," he said in testimony reported by MassLive.

Atlanta City Council Unanimously Approves Decriminalization Ordinance. The city council voted 15-0 Monday to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. The mayor now has eight days to sign or veto this bill. If the mayor does not act, the ordinance becomes law. State law allows for up to six months in jail for pot possession, but the Atlanta ordinance would limit punishment to a $75 fine.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

As Opioid Crisis Rages, Campaign to Protect Patients' Privacy Rights Launched. More than a hundred of the nation's leading patient advocacy and health care organizations have launched the Campaign to Protect Patient Rights to advocate for maintaining the confidentiality of substance abuse disorder patients. The campaign comes as moves are afoot to eradicate existing protections in a misguided bid to address the crisis. Under federal substance abuse disorder confidentiality rules, treatment providers are barred from disclosing information about a patient's drug treatment without his or her consent. Proposals to replace those rules with the more relaxed HIPAA standards "would not sufficiently protect people seeking and receiving SUD treatment and could expose patients to great harm," the groups said.

Chronicle AM: Trump DEA Pick Has Issues, FL MedMJ Licenses Delayed, More... (10/2/17)

The man Trump will reportedly name to head the DEA has some racial profiling issues in his past, the Global Commission on Drugs issued recommendations on dealing with the opioid crisis, the 6th Circuit slaps down the DEA in an asset forfeiture case, and more.

The next DEA head? New Jersey State Police Superintendent Joseph Fuentes (Wikimedia)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Will Miss Deadline for Issuing Grower Licenses. Florida officials were supposed to distribute ten medical marijuana cultivation licenses Tuesday, but that's not going to happen. Officials said last Friday said the delay would be brief and pointed fingers at Hurricane Irma and a recently-filed lawsuit from a black farmer challenging the state's effort to achieve racial diversity among growers. That farmer charged that the state's guidelines were too restrictive.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Global Commission on Drug Policy Releases Position Paper on North America Opioid Crisis. The Global Commission on Drug Policy Monday released a position paper on The Opioid Crisis in North America. The members of the Global Commission, several of whom faced similar crises while occupying the highest levels of government, share their views and recommendations on how to mitigate this epidemic. The Commission warns against cutting the supply of prescription opioids without first having supporting measures in place, and emphasizes the need to improve and expand proven harm reduction services and treatment options, including opioid substitution therapy and heroin-assisted treatment. Regulation of prescription opioids needs to become well-balanced to provide effective pain care while minimizing misuse. The Global Commission also calls for the de facto decriminalization of drug use and possession for personal use at the municipal, city or State/Province levels, so that people in need of health and social services can access them freely, easily, and without fear of punishment. Finally, the Global Commission suggests allowing pilot projects for the responsible legal regulation of currently illicit drugs including opioids, to bypass criminal organizations that drive and benefit from the black market.

Asset Forfeiture

6th Circuit Slaps Down DEA Cleveland Airport Cash Seizure. Even when it looks like they have the perfect case, the DEA and the courts can't cut corners in their efforts to seize suspected drug money, the court held in a case decided late last month. Agents had seized $41,000 in cash from two men with previous drug convictions who had purchased tickets to -- gasp! -- California, and their drug dog told them the money was tainted. The men appealed the seizure, saying the cash was legally obtained, but the DEA moved to strike their claim, saying they had provided no proof, and a lower court agreed. But the DEA and the lower court erred, the appeals court ruled, by shifting the burden of proof to the claimants at that early stage of the proceedings: "Finally, we note our concern that the government's approach would turn the burden of proof in forfeiture actions on its head. Under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA), the government bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that the subject of a civil forfeiture action is, in fact, forfeitable," the opinion concluded. "Requiring a forfeiture claimant to explain the nature of his ownership at the pleading stage would be asking the claimant to satisfy the government's burden of proof, or at least go a long way toward doing so."

Drug Policy

Trump Could Name Racial Profiling Apologist to Head DEA. The Washington Post has reported that President Trump will name New Jersey State Police Superintendent Joseph Fuentes to head the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). In 2000, Fuentes, then a state police trooper, wrote a paper defending "suspect profiling" as the state was embroiled in controversy over "driving while black" and police tactics like asking hotel clerk to report guests who were "suspicious" because they had dreadlocks or spoke Spanish. "Because of the disproportionate involvement of minorities in these... arrests, civil rights groups have branded the whole process of highway drug enforcement as racist," he wrote. But when pressed during his nomination to head the state police, Fuentes disavowed that position and denied being an apologist for racial profiling.

The 2017 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, October 11-14, Atlanta

The 2017 International Drug Policy Reform Conference will convene in Atlanta, Georgia on October 11-14. More than 1,500 people who believe the war on drugs has failed will be in attendance to network, to strategize and to lift up policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.

Attendees will join a broad range of drug policy stakeholders -- activists, academics, healthcare and public health advocates, veterans, formerly incarcerated people, elected officials, students, and many others from around the country and across the globe!

This year, attendees will have the opportunity to spend three days deepening connections with people committed to finding alternatives to the war on drugs while participating in sessions facilitated by leading experts.

Visit http://www.reformconference.org to register. Get updates on the Reform Conference on Facebook and Twitter, and follow hashtag #NoMoreDrugWar.

Atlanta, GA
United States

Chronicle AM: Quebec To Have Gov't Pot Shops; Seattle, WA State Sue Pharma Cos, More... (9/29/17)

Nevada sets legal marijuana sales records, Quebec will go with government marijuana shops, Seattle and the state of Washington file lawsuits over the opioid crisis, and more.

If you want to buy legal marijuana in Quebec, a government employee will sell you it. (Sandra Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Legal Sales Begin at Blistering Pace. Pot shops sold $27.1 million worth of products during July, the first month of legal sales in the state. That's nearly double what Colorado and Washington did in their first month of sales and nearly seven times what Washington did. And the state collected a cool $10.2 million in industry fees and taxes.

Rhode Island Appoints Members of Legalization Commission. The state has announced the naming of 19 members to the special legislative commission charged with studying the effects of potential marijuana legalization. The commission is the result of a bill passed by the legislature after legalization efforts fell short earlier this year. It will conduct a comprehensive review, study social and fiscal impacts, and make recommendations regarding pot policy.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Lawmaker Mobilizes Supporters to Broaden State's Law. State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) is calling on families and advocates to contact their legislators ahead of the upcoming legislative session to lay the groundwork for expanding the state's CBD medical marijuana law to allow limited cultivation and manufacturing in the state. The state legalized the use of CBD cannabis oil in 2013, but there is no legal way to obtain it. Peake wants to let one or two growers and manufacturers operate in the state. They would be limited to creating CBD cannabis oil.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Seattle, State of Washington Sue Opioid Manufacturers. The city and the state announced Thursday that they have filed two lawsuits against major drug companies they say fueled the opioid crisis by downplaying the risk of addiction with popular opioid pain pills. The city is suing Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, among several others. The state named only Purdue, the maker of OxyContin, as a defendant. The state has seen a 60% increase in opioid-related hospitalizations between 2009 and 2014 and about 10,000 opioid overdose deaths since 2000.

International

Quebec Premier Sets Legal Pot Age at 18, Orders State Monopoly on Sales. Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard decided Thursday that the legal age for marijuana consumption in the province would be 18 and that the distribution and sale of marijuana will be under the control of the state. The province will create a crown corporation relying on the expertise of its alcohol regulators, the Société des alcools, to set up and run the system. Ontario, Canada's most populous province, has also opted for government monopoly pot shops, much to the dismay of entrepreneurs and some consumers.

Chronicle AM: Houston Quits Trying "Trace Amount" Drug Cases, US Chides Colombia, More... (9/28/17)

San Antonio quits arresting small-time pot violators, Houston quits prosecuting folks caught with trace amounts of drugs, Vermont begins pondering how to do pot legalization, the US chides Colombia on coca and the FARC, and more.

With moves in Houston and San Antonio, change is coming to the Lone Star State.
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Marijuana Commission Begins Legalization Study. The state Marijuana Advisory Commission is holding its first meeting today. The commission is charged with studying the best way to legalize marijuana in the state. Gov. Phil Scott (R) empaneled the commission after vetoing a legalization bill in May. In his veto message, Scott said he wasn't opposed to legalization, but had concerns about underage use and impaired driving. The commission is set to report back to the legislature in January.

San Antonio to Quit Arresting People for Pot Possession. Authorities in Bexar County (San Antonio) announced Wednesday that they will no longer arrest small-time marijuana and other misdemeanor offenders, instead issuing them citations. People cited must complete a program before charges are dismissed. San Antonio now joins Harris County (Houston) and Dallas in enacting policies to no longer arrest small-time pot offenders.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Lawmakers Seek to Keep Dispensaries Open. As the state prepares to shift to a new regime allowing licensed dispensaries, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has tentatively asked all existing dispensaries to shut down by December 15 and seek licenses. But some legislators have filed House Bill 5014, which would allow dispensaries to stay open while their license applications are pending before the department. A Senate version of the bill is expected to be filed shortly.

Law Enforcement

Houston Stops Prosecuting Cases of Trace Amounts of Drugs. Harris County (Houston) District Attorney Kim Ogg has quit pursuing thousands of "trace drug" cases, where people are charged with drug possession based on drug residues left in baggies or syringes. Ogg actually quietly implemented the policy in July, but has gone public with it now. The move will save the county the cost of prosecuting somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 felony cases each year.

Sentencing

New House Bill Creates Incentives to Reduce Crime, Incarceration at Same Time. Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA) filed the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act of 2017 on Wednesday. Companion legislation, Senate Bill 1458, was filed in June by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). The bill would essentially reverse the 1994 crime bill, which provided incentives to states to increase prison populations. It would instead pay states to decrease incarceration rates through incentivizing grants.

International

US Ambassador to Colombia Says FARC Has Not Complied With Peace Deal. "The FARC have not complied, in my opinion, with their obligations under the agreement," US Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker said during a recent interview with El Tiempo. Whitaker claimed the leftist rebels continued to encourage coca cultivation in some parts of the country and said they should not be involved in government-sponsored crop substitution programs. Whitaker's comments are in line with other US officials, who have become increasingly critical of the peace deal between the FARC and the government as coca and cocaine production have increased in the past two years.

Philippines Claims It Doesn't Allow Extrajudicial Killings in Drug War. In a statement released as Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano met in Washington with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Philippines government denied it had a policy of killing suspected drug users and dealers. "Contrary to media reports, Cayetano also clarified to Tillerson that the Philippines does not have a state policy allowing extrajudicial killings, especially of illegal drug suspects," the statement read. The statement also welcomed further cooperation with Washington and reiterated the "seriousness" of the country's "drug problem." Thousands of people have been killed since President Duterte unleashed his drug war, but the Philippines claims it only kills suspects who were violently resisting arrest.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Busy, busy: A long-time fugitive rogue Chicago cop gets cop, a DHS agent gets nailed for taking big bucks to help a Cali Cartel operative make an indictment go away, a Vermont cop plied a woman addict with drugs in order to get laid, and more. Let's get to it:

In Detroit, a former Chicago police officer on the lam for 14 years was arrested last Tuesday. Former Chicago PD Sgt. Eddie Hicks, 68, had fled on the eve of his drug conspiracy trial in 2003. He had been charged in 2001 with running a crew of rogue officers who robbed drug dealers, stole their cash and sold their drugs to other dealers. While a fugitive, Hicks conducted financial transactions designed to benefit family members, including signing over a property used to secure his $150,000 bail to his son, also a Chicago police officer. Additionally, some $300,000 in police pension payments went to his bank account or were cashed by his wife.

In Louisville, Kentucky, a former Bullitt County Sheriff's Office chief deputy was indicted last Wednesday for stealing drugs from the department evidence room. John Cottrell allegedly took marijuana, hydrocodone, and other pills, and investigators found some of the drugs in his office. Cottrell claims he is the victim of a vendetta by department supporters of former Sheriff David Greenwell, who himself has been indicted on drug charges. Cottrell faces charges of theft of a legend drug, abuse of public trust, and evidence tampering.

In Burlington, Vermont, a form Royalton police officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he stole heroin from the evidence room and gave it to an addict with whom he was having a sexual relationship. John Breault provided heroin and other drugs to the woman, who was described as a confidential informant, before she eventually reported him to the DEA. She told agents Breault let her search through the department's drug takeback box on at least seven occasions, and he is also suspected of pilfering drugs from a major drug bust in the area to give to her. It's not clear what the precise charges he faces are.

In Miami, a Department of Homeland Security agent was indicted Monday for allegedly helping a Colombian drug trafficker avoid charges. DHS Investigations Special Agent Christopher Ciccione was the case agent for a drug and organized crime task force targeting Cali Cartel traffickers, a number of whom were indicted. Ciccione is accused of taking $20,000 in cash, as well as dinner, drinks, and prostitutes in exchange for getting an indictment against one of them dismissed. He is charged with conspiracy, corruption, and obstruction of justice.

In Orlando, Florida, an Orange County sheriff's deputy was arrested Tuesday for allegedly stealing cash, credit cards, and a wallet from a burglary scene that turned into a drug investigation. Deputy Joseph Haddad responded to the burglary, but ended up arresting the resident on marijuana charges. At the time, the man complained that his wallet was missing. An investigation found that his credit card had been used, and surveillance video showed Haddad and his wife using the card at local stores. He is charged with grand theft.

Study Finds Marijuana Legalization Doesn't Drive Increased Use, But Vice Versa

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

Marijuana legalization is not the cause of increased marijuana use nationwide, a new study finds. Instead it's the other way around: Marijuana legalization reflects increased acceptance of marijuana.

In the study, published this month in the journal Addiction, researchers from the Public Health Institute's Alcohol Research Group examined 30 years' worth of data from National Alcohol Surveys, which also include questions on marijuana use, and compared that data to changes in state laws.

What they found is not that pot policy drives behavior, but vice versa.

"Medical and recreational marijuana policies did not have any significant association with increased marijuana use," the authors concluded. "Marijuana policy liberalization over the past 20 years has certainly been associated with increased marijuana use; however, policy changes appear to have occurred in response to changing attitudes within states and to have effects on attitudes and behaviors more generally in the US."

Increasing marijuana use is "primarily explained by period effects," or social factors that impact populations across age and generational groups, and not by policy changes, the authors insist.

"The steep rise in marijuana use in the United States since 2005 occurred across the population and is attributable to general period effects not specifically linked to the liberalization of marijuana policies in some states," the paper concluded.

Those effects could include declining disapproval of marijuana among the overall population caused by increasing familiarity with the plant, as well as a tendency in surveys from earlier years for respondents to understate their actual marijuana usage.

The notion that policy does not drive drug use levels is not new. Academic researchers Peter Cohen and Craig Reinarman reported similar findings back in 2004. But the implications of such research are important: If drug policy has little impact on drug use levels, why have punitive drug policies?

Medical Marijuana Update

It was a pretty quiet week on the medical marijuana front, with all the action taking place in the courts. A Florida farmer sues over grower licenses, a Montana dispensary operator sues over a local ban, and more.

Florida

Last Friday, the state's medical marijuana law was challenged by a black farmer. A state law designed to ensure that at least one medical marijuana cultivation license is reserved for a black farmer has been challenged by a black farmer. Panama City farmer Columbus Smith filed suit to challenge the law, arguing that it is so narrowly drawn that only a handful of black farmers in the state could qualify. The lawsuit names as a defendant the state Department of Health, which issues licenses, and seeks a temporary injunction blocking the issuance of licenses under that provision of the law.

Kentucky

Last Wednesday, a court dismissed a lawsuit aimed at the governor and attorney general. A lawsuit filed against Gov. Matt Bevin (R) and Attorney General Andy Beshear (D) seeking to force them to legalize medical marijuana in the state was thrown out. A Franklin circuit court judge ruled that legal precedent makes it clear that only the legislature can regulate the use of marijuana in the state -- not the executive branch and not the courts.

Montana

Last Friday, a Billings dispensary owner won a temporary restraining order to block a local ban. Richard Abromeit, the co-owner of Montana Advanced Caregivers in Billings, and a patient filed a temporary restraining order against the city in a bid to block city officials from enforcing its new ordinance banning medical marijuana businesses. Now, the city cannot enforce the ban until a future court hearing decides the issue. The dispensary has operated in Billings for a decade, but city fathers voted last month to approve an ordinance that bans all medical marijuana businesses.

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

Chronicle AM: Citing Trump, DEA Head Quits; Atlanta Moves Toward MJ Decrim, More... (9/27/17)

DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg is outta here, Atlanta moves closer to pot decriminalization, San Francisco goes slow on legal pot sales, Florida's governor wants to restrict opioid prescriptions, and more.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) wants to restrict opioid prescriptions. That could leave some patients in the lurch. (fl.gov)
Atlanta Decriminalization Ordinance Advances. The city council's Public Safety Committee approved a decriminalization bill Tuesday night. The measure now goes to the full city council. If passed, the measure would give Atlanta police the discretion of citing pot law violators under the ciy ordinance or charging them with the crime of marijuana possession under state law.

Los Angeles Marijuana Regulations Advance. A city council committee approved new rules to regulate the impending legal marijuana industry Monday. The measure now goes to the full city council. The rules spell out requirements for marijuana growers, manufacturers, and sellers, but don't yet address some of the thorniest issues, including licensing and public smoking laws.

San Francisco Looks to Delay Legal Marijuana Sales. City supervisors introduced an ordinance to regulate the impending legal marijuana industry Tuesday, but admitted they have no idea what regulation will look like or how it will operate. And the city won't issue permits for marijuana businesses until it gets it figured out. Among issues the supes will have to handle are ensuring they create a method for helping low-income residents, people of color, and former drug offenders get in on the action. A report on the equity program is due November 1. Earlier this month, supervisors enacted a 45-day moratorium on new dispensary permits, but that is likely to be extended into next year, beyond the hoped for January 1 starting date.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Florida Governor Calls for Restrictions on Opioid Prescribing. Gov. Rick Scott (R) on Tuesday rolled out a serious of proposals to deal with the opioid crisis, including a three-day limit on opioid prescriptions, requiring all doctors prescribing opioids to enroll in the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, and taking on unlicensed prescribers with new regulations. The governor's press release suggests the limitation on prescription opioids is a general one, not limited to new prescriptions or prescription for acute pain. If enacted, such a measure would cause huge disruptions for Floridians accustomed to receiving larger supplies for the treatment of chronic pain and other ailments.

Drug Policy

DEA Head Quits, Says Trump Has Little Respect for the Law. Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg will resign at the end of this week, law enforcement officials said. The unnamed sources said Rosenberg had become convinced that his boss, President Trump, had little respect for the rule of law. Trump's July Long Island speech where he urged police to "please don't be too nice" to suspects drew a rebuke from Rosenberg, and Rosenberg, who had been a chief of staff to Trump-fired former FBI Director James Comey, had reportedly grown "disillusioned" with the president.

International

Gunmen Kill 14 at Mexico Drug Rehab Center. Masked gunmen broke into the Familias Unidas drug rehab center in Chihuahua City Tuesday and shot 22 people, leaving 14 dead. The state is embroiled in violent conflict between the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels, and cartel hit-men are the leading suspects. Cartels have on some occasions used such centers as barracks for their soldiers, and they have been attacked by rival cartels before, most notably in Ciudad Juarez in 2009 and Torreon in 2011.

Drug Arrests, Marijuana Arrests Both Up Last Year, FBI Reports [FEATURE]

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

Despite spreading marijuana legalization and despite a growing desire for new directions in drug policy, the war on drugs continues unabated. According to the FBI's latest Uniform Crime Report, released Monday, overall drug arrests actually increased last year to 1.57 million, a jump of 5.63% over 2015. The increase includes marijuana arrests, which jumped by more than 75,000 last year compared to 2015, an increase of 12%.

The war on drugs rolls on. (Wikimedia)
That comes out to three drugs arrests every minute, day in and day out, throughout 2016. It's also more than three times the number of people arrested for violent crimes. Drug offenses are the single largest category of crimes for which people were arrested last year, more than burglaries, DUIs, or any other criminal offense.

Unlike previous years, this year's Uniform Crime Report did not immediately make available data on specific offenses, such as drug possession or drug sales, nor did it break arrests down by type of drug, but the Marijuana Policy Project obtained marijuana arrest data by contacting the FBI. It reported some 653,000 people arrested on marijuana charges last year, although the FBI did not provide data on how many were simple possession charges.

While that figure marks a decline from historic highs a decade ago -- pot arrests peaked at nearly 800,000 in 2007 -- the sharp jump in pot arrests last year demands explanation, especially as it comes after a decade of near continuous declining numbers.

"Arresting and citing nearly half a million people a year for a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol is a travesty," said MPP communications director Morgan Fox. "Despite a steady shift in public opinion away from marijuana prohibition, and the growing number of states that are regulating marijuana like alcohol, marijuana consumers continue to be treated like criminals throughout the country. This is a shameful waste of resources and can create lifelong consequences for the people arrested."

While the majority of drug (and other) arrests are conducted by local law enforcement, DEA helps, too. (justice.gov)
Despite the lack of specific offense data, 2016 is unlikely to turn out markedly different from previous years when it comes to the mix of drug arrests. Past years typically had simple drug possession offenses accounting for 85% to 90% of all drug arrests and small-time marijuana possession arrests accounting for around 40%.

That means that of the more than 1.5 million drug arrests last year, probably 1.3 million or so of them were not drug kingpins, major dealers, gangbangers, or cartel operatives. Instead they were people who got caught with small amounts of drugs for personal use.

"Criminalizing drug use has devastated families across the US, particularly in communities of color, and for no good reason," said Maria McFarland Sánchez Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Far from helping people who are struggling with addiction, the threat of arrest often keeps them from accessing health services and increases the risk of overdose or other harms."

Perpetuating the war on drugs leads not only to the criminalization of millions, but also perpetuates racially biased outcomes and heightens racial tensions in the US. Black people make up just 13% of the U.S. population and use drugs at similar rates to other ethnic groups, but they constitute 29% of all drug arrests and 35% of state drug war prisoners.

And it has a huge negative impact on immigrants, fueling mass detentions and deportations. Non-citizens, including legal permanent residents -- some of whom have been here for decades and have US citizen family members -- face deportation for even possessing any drug (except first-time possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana). Between 2007 and 2012, more than a quarter million people were deported for drug offenses, including more than 100,000 deported for simple drug possession.

Last year, the Obama administration was in power and setting the tone on drug policy and criminal justice matters -- and the number of arrests still went up. These disappointing numbers show that reformers have their work cut out for them all the more with the "tough on crime" Trump administration in power for at least the next few years.

A Marijuana Drive-Through Could Be Coming to a Corner Near You

Voters in Maine narrowly approved marijuana legalization last November, and since then, the state legislature has been busily trying to come up with rules and regulations for the legal weed market. Now, they are envisioning something of a rarity: allowing customers to buy their weed at drive-up windows.

Of the five states that currently allow legal adult marijuana sales -- Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington -- only Oregon and Colorado allow for drive-through sales. California, where sales are set to begin January 1, had drive-through sales written into draft regulations, but those proposed regs have had to be pulled and rewritten to comply with a state law merging the recreational and medical markets. Still, drive-through sales may survive the regulatory process there. Massachusetts hasn't directly addressed the issue, leaving it up to its Cannabis Control Commission to figure out before the state begins sales next summer.

For a measure whose mantra was "treat marijuana like alcohol," allowing drive-through pot sales seems like a no-brainer.

"If Maine allows it for alcohol, we see no reason why it shouldn't be allowed for marijuana, the safer substance, so long as Maine puts in place reasonable regulations to protect public safety and the consumer," David Boyer, director of the Maine chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project told the Portland Press Herald. "The voters want it regulated and taxed like alcohol. The rules should be the same."

But it's not a done deal yet. The legislature's Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation is still considering the draft bill, and the coming week will be crucial. The bill gets a public hearing Tuesday and legislative debate is set for Wednesday and Thursday. If the committee approves it, it goes before the full legislature next month.

Drive-through sales is one of a subset of non-storefront sales possibilities facing legal pot regulators. Sales by delivery services and online sales are additional bones of contention. The proposed Maine legislation would allow both of those, too, but not all the other legal states do.

It is a sign of significant progress, or course, that the debate has shifted from how hard to punish pot smokers and dealers to how best to accommodate and regulate legal marijuana. But legal marijuana still has a ways to go before we can say it is treated like alcohol.

Chronicle AM: Maine Considers Marijuana Social Clubs With No Smoking, More... (9/26/17)

Maine considers marijuana social clubs where you can't smoke pot, some Maryland criminal justice reforms passed last year will go into effect on Sunday, and more.

You wouldn't be able to do this under Maine's proposed marijuana social club law. (Flickr/CAGrimmett)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Might Okay Marijuana Social Clubs, But Not Allow Smoking. The legislative rewrite of last year's voter-approved legalization initiative contains a provision that allows for the licensing of marijuana social clubs, but there's a big catch: People probably won't be able to smoke pot in them. The bill does not expressly ban smoking, but neither does it have any exemption from the state's no-smoking laws, which prohibit smoking of any kind -- including vaping -- in public places.

Drug Policy

Maryland Drug, Criminal Justice Reforms Go into Effect Next Week. Some provisions of the Justice Reinvestment Act (2016 Senate Bill 1005) will go into effect on Sunday. The measures allow people serving mandatory minimum sentences for drug offense to ask a court for sentence reductions, expands drug treatment, eases parole policy, and makes provisions for criminal record expungment. Another bill going into effect Sunday allows people with marijuana offenses to seek expungement after four years instead of ten.

International

Philippines Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Health Committee approved a medical marijuana measure, House Bill 180, on Monday. The bill would allow patients with debilitating conditions to use marijuana. It would also establish Medical Cannabis Compassionate Centers in hospitals to supply and sell medical marijuana, which could be sold only by a licensed pharmacist.

The 2017 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, October 11-14, Atlanta

The 2017 International Drug Policy Reform Conference will convene in Atlanta, Georgia on October 11-14. More than 1,500 people who believe the war on drugs has failed will be in attendance to network, to strategize and to lift up policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.

Attendees will join a broad range of drug policy stakeholders -- activists, academics, healthcare and public health advocates, veterans, formerly incarcerated people, elected officials, students, and many others from around the country and across the globe!

vigil at 2009 DPA conference, Albuquerque
This year, attendees will have the opportunity to spend three days deepening connections with people committed to finding alternatives to the war on drugs while participating in sessions facilitated by leading experts.

Visit http://www.reformconference.org to register. Get updates on the Reform Conference on Facebook and Twitter, and follow hashtag #NoMoreDrugWar.

The reduced rate we announced for Atlanta-area residents is good through this Tuesday, October 3rd. Email asha bandele for information, and if you already have the discount code but haven't registered yet, please do so by Tuesday.

Chronicle AM: FBI: Drug Arrests Up Last Year, Colombia Coca Conflict, More... (9/25/17)

The FBI's latest Uniform Crime Report shows an increase in drug arrests last year, there's conflict in the coca fields in Colombia, British Columbia gets set to figure out how it's going to handle legal weed, and more.

There were more than 1.5 million drug arrests last year, an increase of more than 5% over 2015. (Wikimedia)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Law Challenged By Black Farmer. A state law designed to ensure that at least one medical marijuana cultivation license is reserved for a black farmer has been challenged by a black farmer. Panama City farmer Columbus Smith filed suit last Friday to challenge the law, arguing that it is so narrowly drawn that only a handful of black farmers in the state could qualify. The lawsuit names as a defendant the state Department of Health, which issues licenses, and seeks a temporary injunction blocking the issuance of licenses under that provision of the law.

Montana Dispensary Owner Wins Temporary Restraining Order to Block Billings Ban. Richard Abromeit, the co-owner of Montana Advanced Caregivers in Billings, and a patient filed a temporary restraining order against the city last Friday in a bid to block city officials from enforcing its new ordinance banning medical marijuana businesses. Now, the city cannot enforce the ban until a future court hearing decides the issue. The dispensary has operated in Billings for a decade, but city fathers voted last month to approve an ordinance that bans all medical marijuana businesses.

Law Enforcement

FBI Annual Crime Report Shows Jump in Drug Arrests Last Year. Despite the spread of marijuana legalization and strong public support for new direction in drug policy, the war on drugs just keeps rolling along. Statistics from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report, released Monday, show 1.57 million arrests for drug law violations nationwide, up 5.63% over 2015. Unlike previous reports, this year's report did not make immediately available data on arrests for specific drugs, such as marijuana. But in recent years, simple pot possession along accounted for about 40% of all drug arrests. Drug possession (either or pot or other drugs) accounted for between 85% and 90% of all drug arrests in previous years.

International

British Columbia Begins Public Engagement Process on How to Legalize Marijuana. BC Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth has announced that the government is beginning an extensive process of public consultation about how best to legalize weed in the province. Questions to be determined include the legal age for use, what possession limits will be, how to deal with drug impaired driving, and issues around personal cultivation. The consultation will also address questions around how weed is to be sold. Canada is set to implement marijuana legalization on July 1, 2018.

Colombia Coca Farmer Protests Force Temporary Halt to Forced Eradication in Norte de Santander. Government officials and coca growers agreed last Wednesday on a temporary halt to forced eradication of coca crops in the Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander state in the country's northwest. The agreement came after protests the previous weekend led to clashes and road blockades. Under the peace agreement negotiated between the government and leftist FARC rebels, coca farmers are supposed to have a chance to voluntarily eradicate their plants and join a crop substitution program, but the protestors said the anti-narcotics police, who are under pressure from the US, were engaging in forced eradication anyway.

Is North Korea Peddling Dope to Get Around Sanctions?

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

Faced with an ever tougher economic sanction regime aimed at forcing the Hermit Kingdom to end its nuclear and ICBM programs, there are increasing signs that North Korea is using drug dealing -- among other illicit activities -- to earn hard currency. Such moves call into question whether economic sanctions can cause enough pain to the regime to force it to modify its behavior since the country's illicit economy is estimated to be larger than its licit one.

North Korean leader Kim Jung Un (Flickr)
At a deeper level, they also shed light on one of the unintended consequences of drug prohibition. Criminalizing the drug trade means there are huge profits waiting for those willing to scoff at the drug laws, as North Korea has done for decades.

According to Deutsche Welle, which cites South Korean sources with covert contributors in the north, state-run trading companies have begun to manufacture and sell illicit drugs in a move to bust the sanctions regime. The companies have been "ordered to earn foreign currency" and, with legal means of doing so being constrained by United Nations export bans, they "are turning to drugs manufacturing on an industrial scale."

It wouldn't be the first time. The Kim dynasty ordered the production of opium poppies in the 1970s, with the harvest "sent to pharmaceutical plants" where it was "processed and refined into heroin… under the direct control and strict supervision of the central government," regime defectors reported. Drugs would be smuggled across the Yalu River into China, on commercial shipping bound for loosely guarded Southeast Asian ports, and inside the baggage of North Korean diplomats.

After 1998, as famine lingered and torrential rains ruined poppy fields, King Il Sung engineered a switchover of heroin labs to methamphetamine labs. Meth suited the regime both for domestic purposes -- it stimulated workers' energy while reducing their hunger -- and for its ability to generate hard currency.

Within a few short years, the value of North Korean drug production exploded, with the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission estimating that the country earned between $500 million and $1 billion from the drug trade in 2001 alone. A Congressional Research Service report seven years later concurred, also estimating the value of the trade at up to a billion dollars. By 2005, the Chinese were complaining about intercepted shipments of methamphetamine and MDMA being trafficked from North Korea.

Little has changed in the intervening years. North Korean meth is still making its way to China, according to journalist Brendan Hong.

"China has a major meth problem," he wrote last year. "It mostly comes from North Korea and it's been flooding northeastern China for years. I have seen workers abuse meth in Chinese electronics factories so they can stay awake when trudging through unending shifts. Cam girls (models who perform or strip online for a fee) and karaoke hostesses smoke it with their clients, who call the practice, "ice-skating.'"

"The North has a long track record of manufacturing and selling drugs overseas and it is a convenient fallback for the regime to ratchet up production when sanctions are stepped up and it is harder for them to export legitimate goods," said Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor of international relations at Tokyo's International Christian University. "It is clear that they need hard cash for their new military gadgets and they know there is a big cash market for illegal drugs," he told Deutsche Welle.

North Korea appears bound and determined to become a nuclear state complete with the means to deliver atomic death and destruction across thousands of miles. And if it's got an illicit drug industry as big as its legal economy, sanctions aimed at legal sectors of the economy aren't going to rein in the regime. The primary result of increased sanctions may turn out to be making Kim Jung Un the Walter White of Northeast Asia.

Chronicle AM: MA Drug Lab Scandal Redux, PA MJ Support Strong and Rising, More... (9/22/17)

Pennsylvania support for marijuana legalization is strong and rising, Attorney General Sessions mixes drug and immigration policy, another federal court rules against Stingray, a second Massachusetts drug lab scandal could see thousands more cases dismissed, and more.

Massachusetts state drug testing labs continue to generate serious problems -- and thousands of case dismissals. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

California Will Issue Temporary Business Licenses. Regulators will introduce a temporary marijuana business licensing system to ensure a smooth start to regulated marijuana sales beginning on January 1, the state's top marijuana official announced Thursday. Businesses would only need to provide some "pretty basic information" for the temporary licenses, said Lori Ajax. The application will be available in early December, after temporary rulemaking is completed. "We don't have time to do regular rulemaking," she explained, adding that would come next year.

Pennsylvania Poll Shows Strong, Rising Support for Legalization. A Franklin & Marshall College poll released Thursday has support for marijuana legalization at 59%, with only 31% opposed and 9% undecided. The pro-legalization numbers are the highest ever in the poll, up three points since May and a whopping 19 points since June2015.

Immigration

Sessions Blames Lax Immigration Policies for Drug Gangs, Cartels. Attorney General Jeff Sessions used concerns over drug gangs and cartels to attack "loose" immigration policy in remarks in Boston Thursday. He specifically singled out MS-13 as an example, while failing to note the gang's origins among Salvadoran refugees fleeing a US-sponsored civil war there in the 1980s. He also attacked the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which offers protections to undocumented residents who were brought to the country as children. "The gangs use this program as a means to recruit members," Sessions said. "We cannot allow young people to be brought into this life of crime." Sessions did not mention that DACA participants are carefully vetted and must have no serious criminal records or that 90% of them are working or in college.

Law Enforcement

DC Court Latest to Rule Against Warrantless Stingray Searches. The DC Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the warrantless use of a Stingray cell-site stimulator to monitor phone calls was unconstitutional. The ruling was only the latest in a string of recent federal appeals court judgments that ruled using the Stingray amounts to a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. In the DC case, the court found the violation so egregious that it excluded all evidence derived from it, overturning the conviction of Prince Jones on drug charges.

ACLU Calls for Thousands More Massachusetts Drug Cases to Be Thrown Out in Drug Lab Scandals. Bay State judges have already dismissed more than 20,000 drug cases tainted by the misbehavior of state lab chemist Annie Dookhan, but now the ACLU is calling for judges and prosecutors to dismiss thousands more in a second case of lab tech misbehavior. Amherst state lab chemist Sonja Farak pleaded guilty in 2014 to stealing cocaine from the lab and admitted she was high nearly every day from 2004 to 2013 on cocaine, meth, and other stimulant drugs she pilfered from her job. The ACLU charges that prosecutors have sought to minimize Farak's misbehavior in a bid to preserve drug cases and convictions and failed to notify defendants that the evidence in their cases had been tainted. "Far worse than the Hinton scandal, the Amherst scandal combines a lab crisis with prosecutorial misconduct of unparalleled scope and irremediable consequence," the ACLU argued. "This latest systemic lapse in the justice system demands a most emphatic response." And that response would be mass dismissals.

International

Iceland Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Members of the Reform Party and the Pirate Party have banded together to file a bill that would legalize marijuana in the North Atlantic island nation. The bill would allow anyone 20 and over to possess and cultivate pot for personal use -- with a government permit. The bill would also allow retail sales and consumption lounges, but not at the same business.

Australia to See First Music Festival With On-Site Pill Testing. The Spilt Milk Festival in Canberra will provide on-site pill testing for attendees in a harm reduction move aimed at reducing overdoses and other bad drug interactions. The Australian Capital Territory government has given the okay for the project, which will be operated by the Safety Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events. That consortium consists of Harm Reduction Australia, the Australian Drug Observatory, the Noffs Foundation, DanceWize, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Chronicle AM: CVS to Limit Opioid 'Scrips, Sessions Slams Legal Pot (Again), More... (9/21/17)

The attorney general makes clear yet again that he doesn't like legal weed, a Kentucky court throws out a medical marijuana lawsuit, one of the nation's largest pharmacy chains is moving to tighten up on opioid prescriptions, Rodrigo Duterte is ready to kill his own kid for the sake of the drug war, and more.

Attorney General Sessions reprises a favorite theme even as his underlings ponder what to do about legal cannabis. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Sessions Attacks Marijuana Legalization Again. "I've never felt that we should legalize marijuana," Sessions said Wednesday in San Diego in remarks reported by Reuters. "It doesn't strike me that the country would be better if it's being sold at every street corner," he added, noting that it remains prohibited under federal law. But despite the attorney general's repeated anti-legalization comments, the Justice Department has yet to move seriously against states where it is legal. Last week, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the Cole memo, which set the Obama administration's largely laissez-faire policy toward legal pot states, is now under review.

Maine Legislators Propose Online and Drive-Through Pot Sales. Proposed regulations from the legislature's marijuana committee would let adults buy pot over the Internet and at drive-through windows at licensed pot shops. The rules are not yet set, however, and opponents are seeking to tighten access. Stay tuned.

Las Vegas Gets First 24-Hour Pot Shop. The city council voted unanimously Wednesday to allow a pot shop, Oasis Cannabis, to stay open 24 hours a day. It will be the first 24/7 pot shop to be located near the Strip, but other pot shops in nearby North Las Vegas are already open around the clock. In approving the move, the council overrode its own city code, which requires pot businesses to shut down between 3:00am and 6:00am.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Court Dismisses Lawsuit Aimed at Governor, Attorney General. A lawsuit filed against Gov. Matt Bevin (R) and Attorney General Andy Beshear (D) seeking to force them to legalize medical marijuana in the state was thrown out Wednesday. A Franklin circuit court judge ruled that legal precedent makes it clear that only the legislature can regulate the use of marijuana in the state -- not the executive branch and not the courts.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

CVS to Limit Opioid Prescriptions in Bid to Address Crisis. The national drug store chain announced Thursday it will take steps to limit initial prescriptions to seven-day supplies for new patients facing acute pain. It will instruct pharmacists to contact prescribing doctors if they see prescriptions with what they believe are more opioids than necessary. The chain will also cap daily dosages and require new patients to get medications that offer short-period pain relief instead of longer duration ones. CVS did not address how the moves would impact patients suffering from chronic pain.

Nevada Governor Sets Opioid Task Force Meeting. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) has announced that the state's task force on opioid abuse is set to meet Monday. He said the task force will hear updates from state and federal agencies on their progress in fighting opioid abuse. The task force has already made the overdose reversal drug naloxone available to first responders, Sandoval noted.

Asset Forfeiture

lIllinois Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) signed House Bill 303 into law on Tuesday. The new law does not end civil asset forfeiture, but raises the bar for seizures, mandates the collection and reporting of seizure data, and imposes new sanctions for abuse or violations of asset forfeiture rules. Under the new law, the government's burden of proof standard rises from probable cause to a preponderance of the evidence. The law also provides that possession of small amounts of drugs will no longer be a legal basis for forfeiture.

International

Duterte Tells Cops to Kill His Own Son if Drug Smuggling Rumors Are True. In a not very reassuring effort to demonstrate that his own family is not above the law, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said in a speech Wednesday that police could kill his children if they prove to be involved in drugs. The remarks came amid reports that his 42-year-old son Paolo was involved in drug smuggling. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Duterte said he warned his son: "My orders are to kill you if you are caught, and I will protect the police who kill you." That way, people wouldn't think the first family was getting special treatment. "That's better ... so I can say to the people: "There, you keep talking. That's my son's corpse,' he said.

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