Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: TX GOPers Pronounce Pot Decrim Bill Dead, Oakland Psychedelic Resolution Coming, More... (5/1/19)

Texas Republican leaders move to squash a cannabis decriminalization bill, the Oakland city council will consider a resolution to effectively decriminalize the use and possession of psychedelics, global NGOs use the International Harm Reduction Conference to launch a call for human rights, health, and drug decriminalization, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Key Senator Won't Commit to Considering Marijuana Banking Bill. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, said Tuesday he would not commit to the SAFE Banking Act, which would provide protections for banks and other financial institutions doing business with state-legal marijuana businesses. The bill is moving in the House, where a floor vote is expected by next month.

Texas Republicans Announce They Are Killing Decriminalization Bill. A day after the House passed HB 63, which would end the possibility of jail time for the possession of small amounts of marijuana but keep possession as a misdemeanor, key Republicans pronounced the bill dead. Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chair John Whitmire (R) told reporters there was not "an appetite" for reform in the Senate, and Senate President and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) flatly declared the bill was dead.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana Instead of Opioids Passes House. A bill that would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana in lieu of opioid pain medications passed the House Tuesday. SB 13 was approved by the Senate in February but needs to go back to the upper chamber for approval of changes made in the House before going to the office of Gov. Jared Polis (D).

Psychedelics

Oakland Could See City Council Take up Resolution of Psychedelics This Summer. Activists with the Decriminalize Nature campaign say they have found a city council sponsor for a resolution that would bar city police and other officials from participating "in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the personal use and personal possession of "psychedelic drugs. The group says it has already met with the offices of four of the eight council members, with more meetings scheduled for coming weeks. Councilmember Noel Gallo (D) has agreed to sponsor the resolution.

International

NGOs Call for Harm Reduction, Drug Decriminalization. More than 300 non-governmental organizations have used the 26th International Harm Reduction Conference in Portugal to call on the international community to address the ongoing global health and human rights crisis among drug users. In a sign-on letter released Wednesday, the groups called for reconsideration of the role of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), given its law enforcement approach and its lagging behind other UN agencies in embracing harm reduction. They also called for national governments to embrace increased harm reduction interventions, the inclusion of communities and civil society in drug policy decisions, "proportionate" sentencing for all drug offenses, and the decriminalization of drug use and possession of personal use amounts of drugs.

Chronicle AM: TX House Approves No Jail for Pot, HI Bill to End Civil Forfeiture Goes to Governor, More... (4/30/19)

There's too much pot in Oregon and the Senate is doing something about it, the Texas House passes a quasi-decrim bill, a study of an underground American safe injection site finds good things, and more.

The InSite safe injection site in Vancouver. An underground American SIJ is producing good results, a study finds. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Senate Approves Temporary Freeze on Marijuana Production. Faced with chronic oversupply of marijuana from licensed growers, the Senate on Monday approved SB 218, which would freeze marijuana production at current levels for the next two years. While the state will not issue new licenses to growers, current growers will be able to renew their licenses. The bill now heads to the House.

Texas House Approves Quasi-Decriminalization Bill. The House on Monday voted 98-43 to approve HB 63, which would remove the threat of jail time for people caught with an ounce of marijuana or less. Under the bill, such people would be charged with a Class C misdemeanor but face a fine of $500 instead of arrest and jail time. Bill sponsor Joe Moody (D) had originally had small-time possession as an infraction but restored it to misdemeanor status in a bid to win votes. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Baltimore Judges Deny State's Attorney's Request to Dismiss Thousands of Marijuana Convictions. Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced in January plans to throw out nearly 5,000 marijuana possession convictions, but has been thwarted by rulings last Friday by two city judges. The jurists held that Mosby's order failed to show how those convicted faced significant collateral consequences and that the request amounted to a "blatant conflict" because Mosby represents the state. The judges also criticized Mosby for having earlier asked police to crack down on drug dealers and users in West Baltimore. Mosby said she is planning her next moves.

Asset Forfeiture

Hawaii Legislature Approves Ban on Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bill that would end civil asset forfeiture in the state won final approval last Friday and has been sent to the desk of Gov. David Ige (D). HB 748 would allow asset forfeiture only in felony cases where the owner has already been convicted of a criminal charge.

Harm Reduction

Secret American Safe Injection Site Saved Lives, Study Says. There are no officially permitted legal safe injection sites operating in the US, but one underground site has seen some 9,000 injections and 26 overdose events reversed by naloxone, according to research presented at the 26th International Harm Reduction Conference in Portugal. There were no fatal overdoses at the site. "My hope as a scientist is that we can really try them in the US, that we could perhaps pilot a larger scale operation that we can pilot and evaluate," said Dr. Barrot Lambdin, who presented the results. "We're seeing data from the site that is very positive."

Chronicle AM: Houston Drug Cases Dismissed as Scandal Grows, WA Hemp Bill Becomes Law, More... (4/29/19)

A fatal botched drug raid continues to reverberate in Houston, hemp bills advance in Louisiana and Washington, North Dakota legislators vote to lower penalties for marijuana possession, and more.

Small amounts of marijuana would be effectively decriminalized under a bill that passed the North Dakota legislature. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Regulators Approve Home Deliveries. The state Cannabis Control Commission voted 4-1 last Friday to give preliminary approval for home delivery of marijuana. Under the plan, for the first two years, delivery businesses would be limited to social equity and economic empowerment applicants -- those who are from areas of the state that were disproportionately impacted by marijuana enforcement and criminalization.

North Dakota Legislature Lowers Penalties for Possession. On the last day of the legislative session last Friday, lawmakers approved HB 1050, which would make possession of up to a half ounce an infraction, which requires a court appearance but no jail time. Possession of up to 500 grams would be a Class B misdemeanor, while possession of more than 500 grams would be a Class A misdemeanor. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Doug Burgum (R).

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Legislature Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. As the legislative session ended Saturday, the Senate gave final approval to a medical marijuana expansion bill, HF 732. The bill removes the 3% cap on THC and replaces it with a 25-gram limit per patient every 90 days. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Kim Reynolds (R).

Utah Will Limit Number of Growers to Ten. Regulators announced last Friday that they will only allow 10 growers to be licensed to produce medical marijuana. Each grower will be limited to growing no more than four acres outside or 100,000 square feet indoors. Dispensaries are set to open in the state next year.

Hemp

Louisiana Hemp Bill Advances. A bill that would let farmers in the state grow industrial hemp was unanimously approved last Thursday by the House Agriculture Committee. HB 491 now heads for a House floor vote.

Washington Hemp Bill Signed into Law. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) last Friday signed into law SB 5276, which will establish a licensing and regulatory program to allow hemp production in the state.

Law Enforcement

Houston Drug Cases Linked to Officers in Botched Fatal Drug Raid Dismissed. The Harris County DA is dismissing dozens of drug cases involving former Houston Police narcotics officers Steven Bryant and Gerald Goines. The pair are under investigation for lying about the circumstances of a January drug raid that left a Houston couple dead and five officers injured. Last Friday, prosecutors sought dismissal of more than two dozen criminal cases in addition to another five dismissed earlier. Goines is accused of lying about an informant buying heroin at the house raided. After homeowner Dennis Tuttle and his wife, Rhogena Nicholas, were killed, police found only personal use amounts of marijuana and cocaine.

Marijuana With a Mission: Brother David's Quest to Turn the Cannabis Industry Truly Green and Good [FEATURE]

With the advent of legalization, the marijuana cultivation industry is being transformed -- and not always for the better. What was once an illicit lifestyle with mom and pop growers hiding in the hills and playing cat and mouse games with prohibition enforcers is now a legal, above-board economic sector that increasingly resembles industrial agriculture, complete with massive indoor grows the size of football fields that gobble up energy, suck up water, and require large inputs of nutrients and pesticides.

sun-grown cannabis mixed with other crops on a northern California farm (Brother David's)
These sorts of practices are not exactly environmentally-friendly and they turn a blind eye to the climate change crisis that is already having an impact in this country, whether it's ever-more-drenching downpours during hurricanes, more frequent and intense tornados, shorelines inundated by rising sea levels, or -- closer to home for the legal marijuana industry -- drought and forest fires in California and the Pacific Northwest.

Now, some stalwarts of environmental and drug reform activism are partnering with one of California's most environmentally and socially-conscious cannabis distributors to try to tip the industry and marijuana consumers toward embracing ecologically-aware best practices that protect family farms, produce highest-quality product at competitive prices, and are good for the planet.

David Bronner, grandson of the founder of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and the company's CEO (Cosmic Engagement Officer), is joining forces with small, sun-grown farmer champion and sustainable cannabis supply chain company Flow Kana to create Brother David's, a nonprofit marijuana company for consumers who value where their weed was grown and care about how it was produced. The venture will also promote a "beyond organic" Sun + Earth certification that all its products will carry.

Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, pot farmers who wish to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable, environmentally-sound organic agriculture practices cannot avail themselves of the label "organic," which is a federal program operated by the US Department of Agriculture. Sun + Earth certification seeks to fill that gap, and then some.

The Sun + Earth label "certifies that cannabis brands are holistically, responsibly, and regeneratively grown for the well-being of all people, farmers, and the planet," the group's web site explains. "We set the standard above and beyond organic." As seen in draft standards released for public comment last August, compliance with standards set by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements is just the beginning. The standards go above and beyond organic by promoting biodiversity and preserving ecosystem health, water conservation, carbon sequestration, growing plants in natural light only, and promoting soil conservation, among other requirements.

Such standards are wholly in line with the cutting edge save-the-planet practices now known as regenerative agriculture, which its practitioners define as following: "Regenerative Agriculture aims to capture carbon in soil and aboveground biomass, reversing current global trends of atmospheric accumulation. At the same time, it offers increased yields, resilience to climate instability, and higher health and vitality for farming and ranching communities."

That's exactly what Bronner and Flow Kana want to create in the marijuana industry.

Brother David Bronner (courtesy Brother David's)
"The problem with cannabis production now is the same as with industrial agriculture in general," Bronner said in a phone interview last week. "Now that we're post-prohibition, we have all the same problems as every legal commodity crop. We're seeing huge, indoor corporate grows that rely on chemicals and are energy-intensive and are displacing small farmers. There's a way we should be growing our crops that is regenerative, that builds top soil and creates biodiverse habitat for wildlife -- not dumping huge amounts of pesticides and fertilizers on the land and forcing farmers off the land to work for slave wages."

Flow Kana has the pot farmers Brother David's is looking for. Dedicated to creating the first sun-grown cannabis brand while supporting the state's small, independent marijuana farming ecosystem, the company has partnered with more than 200 Northern California growers using organic farming practices. Not every Flow Kana partner farmer is Sun + Earth certified, but every partner farmer whose product is destined for Brother David's is.

"It took us awhile to find Flow Kana," Bronner noted. "We didn't know of any distribution entity of any size that wasn't trying to integrate with massive grows. But there is a real cool family at the heart of the company; they have really good ethics about partnering with farmers, they're very transparent, and their top farms are all totally regenerative organic. These are multigenerational back-to-the-land farmers who've been growing cannabis alongside vegetables for decades."

"The Emerald Triangle's ecosystem of small farms is a rare one that regenerative pioneers like Dr. Bronner's have spent decades creating in their supply chain. The cannabis industry already has this and we have to fight to preserve it from the ways of industrial agriculture," said Michael Steinmetz, Flow Kana CEO. "This movement is not only about saving these environmental and community values but making this decentralized model of agriculture the gold standard for others to follow across the cannabis industry and beyond. This fight requires everyone's involvement and careful collaboration across many operators, distributors, retailers, and brands working in tandem to preserve, protect, and evolve our industry and world."

Veteran Washington, DC activist Adam Eidinger, who organized the District's successful 2014 marijuana legalization initiative, is a longtime Bronner ally who describes himself as "a missionary" for Brother David's. He accompanied Bronner on Emerald Triangle scouting trips looking for the right farms.

"We visited all the farms," he recalled in a phone interview. "They're all advocate farms. They've been in the space since before it was legal, some of them 30 or 40 years. These are well-established, multigeneration cannabis farmers. But they're also farms that can grow their own nutrients on-site, they usually also have livestock, veggies, greens, perennials, maybe 40 crops on a small amount of land. And no-till agriculture. You end up losing a lot of topsoil every time you till," he added.

"Brother David's is an activist brand," Eidinger emphasized. "This is people who have consistently been fighting for reform for 20 years, and we're jumping in now, kind of late, because we want to identify cannabis that consumers can trust and we want to support regenerative organic farmers, small-scale producers who have transitioned to the legal market. With this brand, consumers can put their money where it will do the most good."

That's because Brother David's is not only operating under agricultural best practices, it's operating as a nonprofit, with all net proceeds going to support regenerative ag and drug and criminal justice reform efforts.

"Brother David's is dedicating 100% of net profits, and a big chunk of that will go to drug policy reform groups, and not just cannabis reform," Eidinger explained. "David committed $5 million to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) through Dr Bronner's, but there is still more need with more studies and initiatives. Some of the money will go to criminal justice reform in general, not necessarily about drugs, things like prisoner reentry and sentencing reform. If this takes off, we can do more for the community, and that's the mission. Other companies' mission is to make money."

"The cannabis legalization movement has achieved significant victories in the last 20 years. Now, we need to advance consumer and environmental interests by implementing regenerative organic agriculture in the cannabis industry," said Bronner. "As society moves closer and closer toward the federal legalization of cannabis, we need to chart a new course before it's too late. We need to promote Sun + Earth and other high bar standards -- because it's best for the Earth in this age of climate crisis, and produces the cleanest, greenest and most ethical cannabis possible."

Brother David's is rolling out beginning in May in select California dispensaries. It will offer nine strains from eight different Sun + Earth certified farms partnering with Flow Kana. The strains are priced to compete in the mid-price premium market. For pot people who want to do their share to save the planet, it's time to get woke and bake with Brother D.

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org, the publisher of this newsletter.

Chronicle AM: VT Legal Sales Compromise Broached, MI Forfeiture Reform Passes, More... (4/26/19)

Vermont could yet end up with a regulated marijuana market, Iowa gets ready to grow some hemp, asset forfeiture reform advances in Michigan and North Dakota, and more.

Iowa is about to become the next state to legalize industrial hemp. Only seven states have failed to do so. (votehemp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Democrats Could Compromise on Driver Saliva Testing to Get Legal Sales Bill Passed. Gov. Phil Scott (R) said last week that he would not sign a bill to create a regulated legal marijuana market unless it included saliva testing of drivers, and now Democratic legislative leaders are signaling that they may support the testing, but only if police officers are required to obtain a search warrant before doing the testing. "I don't see any way the Senate would support saliva testing without a search warrant," said Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and cosponsor of the bill, SB 54.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Senate Committee Advances Home Grow Option. A bill that would allow medical marijuana patients and caregivers to grow some of their own medicine has passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. HB 364 now heads for a Senate floor vote. The House passed a similar bill last month. The Senate bill allows up to three mature plants, three immature plants, and 12 seedlings.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Implementation Bill Advances. A key piece of legislation that sets the framework for municipal enforcement of the state's medical marijuana laws has passed the House on the final day for non-appropriations bills to pass. Senate Bill 1030, by Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R-Tuttle) instructs police on how to handle drivers in possession of marijuana without their medical marijuana licenses and sets limits on local zoning laws. The bill also cuts the state excise tax from 7% to 6% and lowers the state sales tax from 4.5% to 1% to give room for local governments to add their own taxes.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Pushed to Next Year After Flurry of Late Amendments. The Compassionate Care Act, SB 366, is being pushed to next year, the second year of the legislative session, after the Senate Medical Affairs Committee was swamped with a deluge of last-minute amendments, including one that would that would drop herbal marijuana from the bill, instead allowing only oils and creams. "We're in the first year of a two-year process," said bill sponsor Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort). "We have a comprehensive amendment that addresses a lot of concerns that people have expressed. Time is on our side here."

Hemp

Iowa Hemp Bill Passes, Heads for Governor's Desk. The House on Thursday gave final approval for a bill to legalize industrial hemp farming, HF 781. A companion measure has already passed the Senate. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) is expected to sign the legislation into law.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Poll Examines Public Attitudes Over Opioid Epidemic. A new NPR/Ipsos poll examining American attitudes toward the opioid crisis has a slight majority (56%) saying pharmaceutical companies should be held responsible for making the opioid crisis worse, and nearly three-quarters said drug companies should help fund opioid addiction treatment (73%) and distribute naloxone kits (72%). A strong majority (71%) said they were willing to have the government intervene to restrict opioid redistribution, while 66% said they supported more widespread distribution of naloxone. More than one in three (35%) said they had been personally affected, while nearly a quarter (23%) said they knew someone who had overdosed. The survey is not reported to have asked about pain patients' problems with accessing opioid medications.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Bills to End Most Civil Asset Forfeiture Pass Legislature. A trio of bills that would end most civil asset forfeiture in the state has passed both houses of the legislature and is now headed for the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who has signaled she will sign the bills into law. The bills require a criminal conviction before police can keep assets worth less than $50,000 seized in connection with a crime.

North Dakota Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Passes House Over Sponsor's Objections. The House on Friday approved HB 1286, which reforms the state's asset forfeiture laws, but only after diluting it to such a degree that the bill's sponsor, Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck), ended up voting against it. The bill would require a higher evidentiary standard of clear and convincing evidence for forfeiture, and it includes a provision to not forfeit property worth more than the associated criminal penalty. But it also allows seizure of property if there is evidence "beyond reasonable doubt" of the property's criminal involvement. "It's very, very confusing. It's a very odd loophole," Becker said of the latter exception. "It's putting a criminal proceeding standard into a civil proceeding with no trial."He also criticized the bill's reporting requirements as too weak. "I'm looking at the words in front of me," Becker said. "We had such good opportunity for real reform, and I'm happy to come back in two years and try again."

Chronicle AM: MS MedMJ Petitioning On Track, Kamala Harris on Pardons for Drug Prisoners, More... (4/25/19)

Texas decriminalization gets walked back a step, a Mississippi medical marijuana initiative already has lots and lots of signatures, Kamala Harris talks pardons for drug war prisoners, and more.

The Texas decriminalization bill just became a misdemeanor and expungment bill.
Marijuana Policy

Texas Decriminalization Bill Modified to Not Quite Decriminalization. Ahead of House floor debate set for today, Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso), the author of the decriminalization bill, HB 63, has rewritten the measure so that possession of an ounce or less remains a misdemeanor, but with a near automatic expungement of any criminal record if the person completes probation. "Without leaving some criminal component in it, I probably couldn't get the bill through the process and across the governor's desk," Moody said. "I didn't want to come this far and make perfect the enemy of good."

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Initiative Signature-Gathering in Good Shape. Medical Marijuana 2020, the group behind a state medical marijuana initiative campaign, has already collected 96,000 raw signatures with months to go. The campaign needs 86,000 verified voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. The campaign will likely need to collect several tens of thousands more signatures, in order to have that many left after the inevitable disqualifications. But things appear to be on track.

North Dakota Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill Package. Gov. Doug Burgum (R) has signed into law four bills related to the state's medical marijuana program: HB 1417 will allow greater amounts of marijuana for cancer patients; HB 1519 expands qualifying conditions to include (among others) anorexia, bulimia, and brain injury; HB 1119 provides for the removal of social security numbers from program documents and declares an emergency to do so; and HB 1283 amends parts of the written certification requirements.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Trump Defends Administration Opioid Policy. Addressing the Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta Wednesday, President Trump said his administration had made "tremendous progress" on the issue in the face of critics who argue that the drug czar's office (ONDCP) has done little to combat the crisis and that a law passed last year did not adequately fund drug treatment.

Pardons and Commutations

Kamala Harris Says She Will Pardon Low-Level Drug Prisoners If Elected. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said Wednesday she would pardon low-level drug prisoners if she becomes president. "Absolutely," she said when asked about using the power of commutation. "We have to have the courage to recognize that there are a lot of folks who have been incarcerated who should not have been incarcerated and are still in prison because they were convicted under draconian laws that have incarcerated them… for what is essentially a public health issue." Her remarks came at a She the People town hall in Houston.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

With Marijuana Policy and Democratic Presidential Candidates, Joe Biden is the Odd Man Out

The ever-swelling field of Democratic presidential contenders has plenty of things to disagree about and plenty of issues where candidates can try to set themselves apart from the pack. But on the issue of marijuana policy, support for some form of marijuana legalization is almost universal.

Joe Biden's drug warrior past may come back to haunt him. (Creative Commons)
With one glaring exception: Joe Biden. The former vice-president already leads the polls even though he has not formally announced -- that is expected to happen this week -- but his history as a drug warrior and his last-century attitudes toward marijuana may well be a drag on his effort to reinvent himself as a 21st Century Democrat.

Since the last time Biden ran for elective office in 2012, the marijuana policy terrain has undergone a seismic shift. The first two states to legalize marijuana did on the night of Biden's reelection as Obama's vice-president. Now, there are 10 legal states, as well as Washington, DC, and two US territories. Two or three more states could still join those ranks this year.

And public opinion has shifted dramatically as well. A CBS poll released last week had support for legalization at 65%, an all-time high for that poll and in line with other recent poll results on the topic. The Democratic field can read poll numbers, and that's evident from the positions they are staking out.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was first out of the gate on legalization, filing the Senate's first-ever legalization bill in 2015 and making it a cornerstone of his 2016 campaign rhetoric. Sanders has also signed onto New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act, reintroduced in February, and he's not the only contender to do so. Also supporting the bill are Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Warren also sponsored the STATES Act, which would block the federal government from interfering with state-legal marijuana programs. One of her cosponsors is yet another Democratic contender, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Klobuchar also told the Washington Post recently that she is down with legalization.

Two House members seeking the nomination, Reps. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Tim Ryan of Ohio, have signed onto the Marijuana Justice Act's House companion bill, while Gabbard and another contender, California Rep. Eric Swalwell are cosponsors of the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act. That bill would reclassify marijuana at the federal level and protect cannabis commerce in states that have legalized it.

Beto O'Rourke isn't in Congress anymore, but he has a strong drug and marijuana policy history going back to his days on the El Paso city council a decade ago. While he was in Congress, he supported bills that aimed at protecting legal states from federal intervention and just plain ending federal marijuana prohibition. Since announcing his presidential bid, O'Rourke has again called for the end of federal marijuana prohibition.

John Delaney isn't in Congress anymore, either, but when the Maryland Democrat was there, he cosponsored a number of marijuana reform bills, including the 2013 Respect State Marijuana Laws Act. In March, Delaney told a CNN Town Hall that marijuana should be reclassified at the federal level.

Among contenders who aren't current or former senators or congresspeople, support for marijuana legalization is just as strong. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has said that marijuana legalization is "an idea whose time has come," while former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro is calling for legalization and expungement of arrest records, and political newcomer Andrew Yang had made legalization part of his platform.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, whose state was among the first to legalize it, told CBS News Radio it was time for the rest of the nation to follow. He has also announced plans to pardon thousands of people for their misdemeanor marijuana possession charges. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, whose state beat Washington to the punch by a matter of hours, didn't support legalization at home in 2012 and isn't quite ready to end federal prohibition now, telling a CNN Town Hall in March that he would instead support leaving it up to the states.

And then there's Biden. He has a terrible record on marijuana and drug policy going back to his days as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. His signature piece of crime legislation, the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, established the notorious 100:1 weight disparity in sentencing crack and powder cocaine offenders, along with numerous other policy ills, sending a generation of black men to prison for years for amounts of the drug that could be contained in a cigarette pack. It took five grams of crack to generate a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, but 500 grams of powder cocaine to earn the same amount of time.

The provision itself wasn't Biden's brainchild, and former Biden aides told the New York Times he wasn't for the mandatory minimums. But neither did he didn't stop the provision from getting included in the bill. Biden did push for reform of the provision, and other criminal justice reforms like reentry, since at least 2007, according to the Times.

Biden has admitted he "hasn't always been right" about drug policy -- and he's certainly right about that. Besides pushing through draconian crime bills, he also takes credit for dreaming up the notion of a "drug czar," and he worked for years with the Reagan administration to turn that dream into fact. In 1989, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) came into being. Sometimes the ONDCP has been a vehicle for positive if incremental reforms, At other times, though it's been used for propagandizing, and for government-sponsored campaigning against legalization efforts.

While former drug czars Barry McCaffery, Lee Brown and others talked about relying less on incarceration, under William Bennett the ONDCP pushed for more arrests, more prisons, and more federal funding for the war on drugs. It did more than that, and Biden helped there, too. During the 1996 reauthorization of ONDCP, Biden voted for a bill that basically required the drug czar to block any studies of marijuana legalization and "take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of such substance (in any form)." That is, Biden supported requiring the drug czar to lie by law if there are any benefits of marijuana legalization.

If the office has sometimes been a counterweight to straight law enforcement voices in DOJ, it hasn't always helped the agenda of shifting drug policy toward public health. When the Clinton administration was considering lifting a ban on the use of federal AIDS grant funds given to states to support syringe exchange programs, McCaffrey opposed it, despite overwhelming scientific evidence -- advocates believe that if Donna Shalala had gotten on a certain Air Force One flight, instead of McCaffrey, the ban would have been lifted then.

Other than criminal justice reform, Biden has not had much to say about drugs or marijuana lately -- perhaps realize how out of step he's become. But what little he has said doesn't indicate that he's come around on marijuana policy.

In remarks on marijuana legalization, in a 2010 ABC News interview, he promoted the debunked "gateway theory" that smoking pot lead inexorably to the needle, saying: "There's a difference between sending to jail for a few ounces and legalizing it. The punishment should fit the crime. But I think legalization is a mistake. I still believe it is a gateway drug."

Four years later, and just weeks after President Obama said that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, Biden still wasn't ready to go any further: "I think the idea of focusing significant resources on interdicting or convicting people is a waste of resources," he told Time magazine. "That's different than legalization. Our policy for our administration is still not legalization, and that is and continues to be our policy."

It's now been five years since Biden took that stance, and a lot has changed. The question is whether Biden has changed -- or whether he can. And whether he can overcome his drug warrior past in the Democratic Party of 2020.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Medical Marijuana Update

The action is all down South this week as Arkansas vows to reissue medical marijuana cards, a Texas medical marijuana bill heads to the House floor, and more.

Alabama

Alabama Senate Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-2 Tuesday to approve HB 243, the CARE Act, which would create the Alabama Cannabis Commission, establish a patient registry system, and extend an earlier law that allowed the University of Alabama-Birmingham to study the effects of CBD on epileptic patients. This bill would allow for the use of medical marijuana, not just CBD.

Arkansas

Arkansas to Reissue Medical Marijuana Cards. The state Department of Health said it will automatically reissue its year-long medical marijuana cards to qualifying patients who have received them in the months before the drug could be sold. The cards will be sent to patients and caregivers when the first dispensary opens so they can be used for the full year term.

Texas

Texas Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Heads to House Floor. A bill that would add over a dozen conditions that would qualify for medical marijuana, HR 1365, is heading for a House floor vote after passing its last committee hurdle on Wednesday. The bill would add cancer, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Tourette syndrome, Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis to the list of qualifying conditions.

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Prison guards go wild, a Customs and Border Protection agent heads for federal prison, and more. Let's get to it:

In Ridgeland, South Carolina, a state prison case worker was arrested last Wednesday after being caught trying to smuggle drugs into the prison in a paper bag. Steven Allen Washington got nailed carrying nearly four pounds of marijuana, 262 doses of ecstasy, 30 grams of meth, and nine grams of cocaine. He is charged with manufacturing and possession of drugs with intent to distribute, trafficking in more than 100 doses of ecstasy, trafficking in more than 28 grams of meth, possession of cocaine and attempting to furnish contraband to a prisoner.

In Charleston, West Virginia, a state prison guard was arrested last Friday for plotting to smuggle meth into the South Central Regional Jail. Guard John Roach II went down in a sting where an undercover agent provided him with four ounces of meth and money to smuggle the drugs into the jail. He is charged with delivery of a controlled substance.

In Millbrook, Alabama, two state prison guards were arrested Monday in unrelated cases. Guard Darryl Jerome Bradley, 25, was charged with promoting prison contraband and unlawful possession of marijuana. Following his arrest, Bradley resigned from his position. Meanwhile, Guard Wiggins Washington, 50, was arrested at a local business and charged with methamphetamine trafficking. Washington also faces additional federal charges for being in possession of a firearm at the time of his arrest.

In Los Angeles, a Customs and Border Protection officer was sentenced Monday to 151 months in federal prison for helping to move hundreds of kilograms of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana from Southern California to Chicago as part of a drug trafficking ring. Manuel Porras Salas, 52, had been found guilty in December of one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and one count of making false statements to law enforcement.

Chronicle AM: Bill to Cut CA Marijuana Tax Advances, Prison Population Continues to Decline, More... (4/24/19)

A bill to cut California marijuana taxes is moving, a New Hampshire legalization bill gets a hearing, the US prison population continues a decade-long decline, and more.

The Golden State is looking to cut marijuana taxes in a bid to boost the legal market. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Federal Bill Would Seal Records of Old Marijuana Convictions. Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) have filed the Clean Slate Act, which would automatically seal federal criminal records for marijuana convictions. It also contains a provision that would allow people to ask federal courts to seal records for other nonviolent offenses that aren't automatically sealed, such as those involving other drugs. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

California Bill to Cut Marijuana Tax Advances. A bill that would temporarily suspend the marijuana cultivation tax in a bid to boost the legal market has been approved by the Assembly Business and Professions Committee, but only after a provision that would have reduced excise taxes was removed to satisfy the committee chair. AB 286 now heads for the Assembly Appropriations Committee, the last stop before an Assembly floor vote.

Maine Releases New Draft Rules For Recreational Marijuana Market. State regulators have released new draft rules for the legal marijuana program approved by voters two years ago. The draft contains proposals for how the market will be monitored, regulated, and launched by the Office of Marijuana Policy.

New Hampshire Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. A legalization bill, HB 481, got a Senate committee hearing Tuesday. The bill would legalize possession and cultivation by adults as well as set up a commission to develop regulations for a legal marijuana market. The bill has already passed the House, but faces a veto threat by Gov. Chris Sununu (R).

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Senate Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-2 Tuesday to approve HB 243, the CARE Act, which would create the Alabama Cannabis Commission, establish a patient registry system, and extend an earlier law that allowed the University of Alabama-Birmingham to study the effects of CBD on epileptic patients. This bill would allow for the use of medical marijuana, not just CBD.

Arkansas to Reissue Medical Marijuana Cards. The state Department of Health said it will automatically reissue its year-long medical marijuana cards to qualifying patients who have received them in the months before the drug could be sold. The cards will be sent to patients and caregivers when the first dispensary opens so they can be used for the full year term.

Hemp

Texas House Approves Hemp Bill. The House on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to HB 1325, which would allow farmers in the state to legally grow industrial hemp. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Sentencing

Number of Federal, State Prisoners Continue to Decrease. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has released prisoner numbers for the end of 2017 and finds that the number of inmates under state and federal jurisdiction dropped 2.1% from 2016 to 2017. That continues a decade-long trend that has seen prison populations decrease 13% since 2007. Drug offenders constitute 48% of federal inmates, but only about 20% of state inmates.

Missouri Omnibus Sentencing and Criminal Justice Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would reform mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders, reform civil asset forfeiture, reform racial profiling statutes, and more has passed the House Fiscal Review Committee. HCB 2 now heads for a House floor vote.

New York And Pennsylvania Will No Longer Suspend Driver's Licenses Over Drug Crimes. With new laws going into effect this month, Pennsylvania and New York will no longer suspend drivers licenses of people convicted of drug crimes. Before this, any drug conviction, even if it had nothing to do with driving, triggered a mandatory license suspension of at least six months.

International

British Columbia's Top Doctor Calls for Drug Decriminalization. In a report released Wednesday, BC Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has proposed decriminalizing the possession of drugs for personal use in a bid to reduce the harms caused by the province's ongoing overdose crisis. "As the Provincial Health Officer of BC, I recommend that the Province of BC urgently move to decriminalize people who possess controlled substances for personal use," Henry said. "This is a fundamental underpinning and necessary next step for the continued provincial response to the overdose crisis in BC." The report is Stopping the Harm: Decriminalization of People Who Use Drugs in BC.

DHS Considers Classifying Fentanyl as a Weapon of Mass Destruction [FEATURE]

The military affairs and news web site Task & Purpose has obtained an internal memo from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that shows the agency is considering designating the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) "when certain criteria are met."

fentanyl (Creative Commons)
Typically produced in China and then smuggled through Mexico or sent directly to the US via package delivery services, fentanyl has been implicated in tens of thousands of drug overdose deaths in recent years. The drug is doubly dangerous because not only is it dozens of times stronger than heroin, it is all too often mixed in with other drugs so that consumers ingest it unwittingly.

The memo obtained by Task & Purpose was dated February 22, 2019 and titled "Use of counter-WMD authorities to combat fentanyl." It was prepared for then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen by DHS Assistant Secretary for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction James F. McConnell, who sketched the background of the drug and noted how some members of the federal government see it as a potential "mass casualty weapon."

McConnell is a long-time homeland security official who has led the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction office since he was appointed by President Trump in May 2018.

"Fentanyl's high toxicity and increasing availability are attractive to threat actors seeking nonconventional materials for a chemical weapons attack," he wrote. "In July 2018, the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate assessed that '...fentanyl is very likely a viable option for a chemical weapon attack by extremists or criminals'," he wrote.

But other parts of the memo suggest DHS is considering the move not only as part of a war on fentanyl but as a means of obtaining more funding for the agency's WMD activities. Indeed, funding for the counter-WMD program has declined under Trump, whose homeland security priorities are focused on the US-Mexico border, despite crime rates at the border being lower than in other parts of the country.

"[Counter-WMD] Office efforts will focus on quantities and configurations that could be used as mass casualty weapons," McDonnell wrote as he tried to sell the idea. "However, many activities, such as support to fentanyl interdiction and detection efforts, would tangentially benefit broader DHS and interagency counter-opioid efforts. Within the past couple years, there has been a reinvigorated interest in addressing fentanyl and its analogues as WMD materials due to the ongoing opioid crisis," he added.

The Counter-WMD office could help in the fight against fentanyl by developing and managing new technologies, deploying sensors, and helping other agencies in the field, McDonnell told Nielsen. He also claimed that senior Defense Department leaders "had proposed formally designating fentanyl as a WMD material."

Neither the Defense Department nor DHS would comment to Task & Purpose on the report, but members of the counter-WMD community contacted by the web site reacted with bemusement and skepticism.

Fentanyl as a WMD is a "fringe scenario," chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense expert Dan Kaszeta reacted. There are "literally dozens" of toxic chemicals that could be easily weaponized, he said.

"This is like declaring ecstasy as a WMD," said another member of the Defense Department's counter-WMD team speaking on condition of anonymity.

"It reads like somebody is laying the administrative background for trying to tap into pots of money for detecting WMD and decontaminating WMD," Kaszeta told Task & Purpose. "It's an interdepartmental play for money, that's all it is."

But McConnell is planning to move ahead. In the memo, he said his office would continue to brief DHS on fentanyl-related counter-WMD efforts and would schedule an interagency planning event on fentanyl.

An unnamed senior Defense official told Task & Purpose that while such a meeting was probably "a good idea," it was far more likely that someone seeking a chemical WMD would instead turn to sarin or mustard gas. "Anybody with a college level degree in chemistry can manufacture chemical weapons agents," he said.

"I cannot see any scenario where a nation-state would use fentanyl on the battlefield, or for that matter, a terrorist using a really toxic chemical like fentanyl in an attack when they could just sell it for funding the purchase of firearms and explosives or steal an industrial chemical instead," the official added.

In that light, McConnell's memo appears more as a cynical bureaucratic exercise aimed at increasing program budgets rather than a serious effort to address homeland security.

Chronicle AM: CO Drug Defelonization Bill Advances, Mexico Murders, Colombia Massacres, More... (4/23/19)

Drug prohibition is engendering new levels of violence in Mexico and Colombia, the Denver city council deals a blow to would-be social consumption business operators, the FDA approves generic naloxone, and more.

The black market in cocaine is fueling violence in Mexico and Colombia. (USCBP)
Marijuana

Denver City Council Rejects Easing Restrictions on Social Consumption. A resolution to make it easier for businesses offering on-premises consumption by halving the 1,000-foot buffer between them and daycare centers, drug treatment centers, and city-owned parks has failed in the city council. The council voted 7-5 to approve the measure, but because it would have amended the city's voter-approved 2016 social consumption, it needed nine votes to pass.

Harm Reduction

FDA Approves First Generic Naloxone. The Food and Drug Administration announced last Friday that it has approved the first generic formulation of naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug. The agency also said it will prioritize its review of other applications for generic variants of products intended to treat opioid overdoses. "In the wake of the opioid crisis, a number of efforts are underway to make this emergency overdose reversal treatment more readily available and more accessible. In addition to this approval of the first generic naloxone nasal spray, moving forward we will prioritize our review of generic drug applications for naloxone," the FDA said.

Sentencing Reform

Bipartisan Drug Defelonization Bill Advances in Colorado Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill 3-2 Monday that would reduce the penalties for drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. The bipartisan legislation, HB19-1263, which was approved by the full House on April 18, will now advance to the Senate Finance Committee.

International

UN Report Finds Massacres on the Increase in Colombia. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has issued a report revealing a large increase in massacres carried out in Colombia, reflecting new criminal dynamics in key areas of the country. OHCHR noted just 11 massacres in 2017, but that number nearly tripled to 29 cases last year. Most of the massacres occurred in the departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Norte de Santander and Caquetá, areas particularly affected by Colombia's ongoing armed conflict. In the wake of the peace agreement between the FARC and the government, old and newly emerging criminal groups are fighting over who will control coca and poppy-growing areas and distribution.

Mexico Murder Rate Keeps Increasing. Data released this week from the National System for Public Security show that the homicide rate in the country has soared in the first two months of this year. Some 8,493 people were killed between January 1 and March 3, a 9.6% jump over the same period in 2018. Most -- but not all -- of the violence is related to fighting between rival cartels and clashes between cartels and members of the state security apparatus. The previous two years had both seen record numbers of killings, with some 33,341 reported last year, but if the rate seen in early numbers this year continues, the toll could reach 50,000 by year's end.

Chronicle AM: NC Overdose=Murder Bill Hearing Set, Malay MedMJ Provider Escapes Death Penalty, More... (4/22/19)

It's a step back for harm reduction in one Michigan county, a potential step back in North Carolina, a Malay medical marijuana provider escapes the death penalty but stil faces hard time, and more.

People who share drugs that result in a fatal overdose could be charged with murder under a North Carolina proposal. (CC)
Harm Reduction

Michigan County Blocks Needle Exchanges. Commissioners in Grand Traverse County voted last week to block needle exchanges in the county. In a 3-2-1 vote, the commission voted against allowing the county health department to contract with a private provider to implement a needle exchange program and to stop Harm Reduction Michigan from expanding its existing program. Grand Traverse County Sheriff Tom Bensley opposed the initiative, saying: "The majority of these users are probably illegal drug users. This only serves to promote safe illegal drug use. The sheriff's office is in the business of stopping illegal drug use whether it's safe or not… By approving this, you are endorsing safe, illegal drug use."

North Carolina Overdose Equals Murder Bill Gets Hearing Friday. A bill that would allow people who distribute a drug that results in an overdose death to be charged with murder gets a hearing this Friday, and harm reductionists are gearing up to fight it. HB 474 would make even drug users buy jointly or share with friends liable for murder. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition is calling on people to attend the hearing to tell legislators to vote no.

International

US Arrests Guatemalan Presidential Candidate for Seeking Help from Sinaloa Cartel. Guatemalan presidential candidate Mario Amilcar Estrada Orellana was arrested with one other man at the Miami airport last Friday and charged with soliciting campaign funds from the Sinaloa cartel. Estrada Orellana was allegedly seeking between $10 and $12 million in exchange for providing "state-sponsored support" for the group's trafficking activities. Estrada also pledged "unfettered access" to the country's ports and airports. Estrada is running as a candidate for the center-right National Change Union.

Malaysian Medical Marijuana Provider Escapes Death Sentence, But… A man who once headed a medical marijuana group has gotten something of a reprieve. Mohd Zireen Zainal was caught with two pounds of medical marijuana and originally faced the death penalty after being charged with drug trafficking. But he has now been allowed to plead guilty to possession only and will have to serve 15 years in prison and absorb 10 strokes of the cane. He's already been in prison for more than five years.

Chronicle AM: New CBS Pot Poll, CO Drug Defelonization Passes House, More... (4/19/19)

A new CBS poll has record support for marijuana legalization, Vermont's governor throws up an obstacle to the tax and regulate bill, the US immigration agency says using marijuana or even working in the state-legal industry makes immigrants "morally unfit" to become citizens, and more.

Marijuana is all over the news today. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New CBS Poll Has Support for Legalization at All-Time High. The latest annual CBS news poll on attitudes toward marijuana legalization has support at 65% -- an all-time high for the poll. Most respondents also viewed marijuana as less dangerous than alcohol. Legalization is now favored even by Republicans (56%), and the only age group to not have majority support for legalization -- people 65 and older -- is now evenly split with support at 49%.

Federal Bill Would Let People Use Marijuana in Public Housing in Legal States. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has filed the Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act, which would allow people who use marijuana in compliance with state laws to live in public housing. Current federal law prohibits people using federally illegal drugs from being admitted to public housing and allows their eviction if caught. The Norton bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Montana 2020 Legalization Initiative Planned. A new group calling itself Coalition406 has announced plans to create a 2020 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Big Sky Country. The latest polling has support for legalization at 51%. "Coalition406 will sponsor a statewide listening tour over the coming weeks to discuss preliminary thoughts for a November 2020 initiative to hear from real Montanans on this issue," said Coalition406 campaign manager Ted Dick, a former executive director of the Montana Democratic Party.

Vermont Governor Won't Support Regulated Marijuana Without Saliva Testing for Drivers. Gov. Phil Scott (R) said for the first time Thursday that he would not sign legislation to tax and regulate marijuana unless it had a provision that would allow saliva testing of motorists. The tests are opposed by many civil rights and liberties groups, but the House Judiciary Committee that same day reviewed a draft proposal for language around saliva testing that could be inserted in SB 54, the tax and regulate bill that has already passed the Senate.

Wisconsin Legalization Bill Filed. For the fourth time, Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) has filed a marijuana legalization bill. The bill would set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce as well as a process for expungement of old marijuana convictions. "Far too many lives and communities have been damaged by out of date and backwards cannabis policies, and we must take this important and necessary step towards rectifying these damages," Sargent said in a press release. "The simple truth is, the most dangerous thing about marijuana in Wisconsin is that it is illegal." A January Marquette University poll has support for legalization at 59%, but the Republican-controlled legislature does not favor the proposal.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Heads to House Floor. A bill that would add over a dozen conditions that would qualify for medical marijuana, HR 1365, is heading for a House floor vote after passing its last committee hurdle on Wednesday. The bill would add cancer, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Tourette syndrome, Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis to the list of qualifying conditions.

Drug Treatment

Pennsylvania Bill Would Bar Addiction Centers from Requiring Positive Drug Tests Before Treatment. State Rep. Jack Rader (R-Monroe County) has cosponsored a bill that would ban addiction treatment centers from requiring people to test positive for opioids or other drugs in order to get admitted for care. Rader said he cosponsored the bill after a constituent told him her son had applied for drug treatment but had been required to test positive for opioids in order to begin treatment. He had gotten off opioids while waiting for treatment, but then used some to qualify for treatment and instead overdosed and died. The measure is HB 1024.

Immigration Policy

Using State-Legal Marijuana or Working in the Industry Makes Immigrants Morally Unfit to Be US Citizens, Federal Agency Rules. In a rules clarification Friday, US Citizenship and Immigration Services held that using marijuana or working in the industry even in states where it is legal violates the requirement that immigrants demonstrate five years of "good moral character" before applying for citizenship. In a memo detailing the ruling, USCIS said that "violation of federal controlled substance law, including for marijuana, established by a conviction or admission, is generally a bar to establishing [good moral character] for naturalization even where the conduct would not be a violation of state law." That includes working in the state-legal marijuana and medical marijuana industries. There is an exception for one-time possession of less than an ounce.

Sentencing Policy

Colorado House Approves Bipartisan Bill to Lower Penalties for Drug Possession Offenses. The House on Thursday approved HB 19-1263, which would defelonize drug possession in the state. The measure passed the House on a 40-25 vote and now heads to the Senate.

Chronicle AM: Louisiana Cannabis Poll, Feds Raid Appalachian Opioid Prescribers, More... (4/18/19)

A new poll finds Louisianans are ready to free the weed, Georgia medical marijuana patients will soon be able to access CBD cannabis oils, a Peruvian clash that left two coca-growers dead raises international concern, and more.

A new Louisiana poll suggests the Bayou State is ready to legalize marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana Poll Has Majority Support for Legalization. A new Louisiana State University poll has support for marijuana legalization at 55%. Four out of five (80%) of 18-29-year-olds were down with it, as well as two-thirds (67%) of people aged 30 through 49. Only people over 65 were opposed, with 69% rejecting legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Governor Signs Bill Improving Access to CBD Cannabis Oil. Gov. Brian Kemp has signed into law HB 324, which makes it legal to possess CBD cannabis oil and bring it across state lines. The bill also sets up a framework for the growth and sale of CBD cannabis oil in the state. Currently, state law allows the use of CBD oil, but there is no way for patients to obtain it.

Pennsylvania Patient Loses Bid to Gain Section 8 Housing. An Indiana County medical marijuana patient whose Section 8 housing voucher was previously denied because of her medical marijuana use lost again in Common Pleas Court Wednesday, even though the judge in the case expressed sympathy for her plight. He acknowledged that medical marijuana is legal under state law, but said federal law doesn't allow the use of federally illegal drugs in federal housing programs. The patient will now appeal to the Commonwealth Court.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Conducts Massive Raids Against Appalachian Opioid Prescribers. Federal agents led by the DEA raided doctors' offices and pharmacies across five Appalachian states Wednesday, arresting 60 people, including 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners, and seven other licensed medical professionals. They are accused of writing or fulfilling more than 350,000 illegal prescriptions to 24,000 people in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and West Virginia.

The DEA press release says that resources are available to help patients caught up in the situation, but for most of the states included in the listings, only addiction services are listed, not physicians or clinics with expertise in pain control, much less who are willing to provide it to patients so close to an alleged criminal situation.

Reporting notes that the indictments allege physician misconduct including performing unnecessary dental work to justify prescribing opioids, and exchanging prescriptions for sex. But there is no detail yet available for assessing whether the charges are justified, whether conduct of that type has been alleged for all the professionals targeted in the indictments, or how many people receiving prescriptions may be actual pain patients.

International

Human Rights, Policy Groups Call for Transparent Investigation of Peru Coca Farmer Killings. In a letter to Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra and anti-drug agency leader Ismael Ruben Vargas, dozens of human rights groups, drug policy groups, and individual academics and researchers have demanded a "transparent investigation" into the killings last week of two protesting coca-growing peasants in a confrontation with police and coca eradication forces. The letter cites a local witness who says police fired "indiscriminately" during the confrontation between growers and newly-arrived eradicators. The letter also called on the government to create a new coca registry in the region to allow farmers to participate in the country's legal coca industry.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A pervy, predatory probation officer goes to prison, a half-dozen Maryland prison guards go down in a racketeering case, and more. Let's get to it:

In Kenosha, Wisconsin, a Kenosha County Sheriff's Department jail guard was arrested last Friday for allegedly delivering drugs to an inmate on repeated occasions. Guard Devine Jackson, 24, went down after a tip that he was smuggling cocaine into the jail inside tubes of tooth paste. When confronted, Jackson confessed. He now faces four felony charges: possession with intent to deliver cocaine (less than 1 gram) on or near a jail, manufacture/deliver cocaine (less than 1 gram) on or near a jail, deliver illegal articles to an inmate and misconduct in public office.

In Jessup, Maryland, six prison guards and staff members were arrested Tuesday along with seven inmates and seven outside "facilitators" in a racketeering case at the Maryland Correctional Facility. The guards and prison staff allegedly took bribes to smuggle in contraband including drugs, tobacco, cell phones, and unauthorized flash drives. Among the drugs involved were heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana and K2.

In Rome, Georgia, a former Rome probation officer was sentenced Monday to six years in prison for taking advantage of his position to coerce sexual favors from drug users under court supervision. Anyoel Cordovi had pleaded guilty to felony charges that he had sex with one probationer and exchanged nude photos with another. He will be required to register as a sex offender upon his release.

Holland's Half-Baked Attempt to Return to the Marijuana Vanguard [FEATURE]

Beginning in the mid-1980s, Holland was the world's marijuana mecca. Under the quite sensible policy of gedogen (pragmatic tolerance), Dutch authorities didn't quite legalize marijuana but instead effectively turned a blind eye, allowing licensed retail establishments -- the famous coffeeshops -- to sell five grams or less of marijuana, and to let their customers consume the products onsite despite prohibition remaining on the books.

an Amsterdam coffee shop (Creative Commons)
A generation of stoners made the pilgrimage to Amsterdam, getting wrecked on hash and primo nederwiet (Dutch weed) and musing fuzzily about why their home countries couldn't be as cool about cannabis as the Netherlands. That was then.

Oh, the stoners still come for coffeeshops like the Bulldog and Die Melkweg, especially weekend punters from more puritanical locales, such as Britain and France, where weed can still get you in trouble. This is the "drug tourism" the Dutch decry even as they pocket the Euros.

But over the years, some of the luster has rubbed away, in part because conservative Dutch governments who were never happy with the coffeeshop scene whittled it down as much as they could, but also in part because the Dutch were standing still while the relaxation of marijuana prohibition gained momentum around the world.

Uruguay legalized it. Canada legalized it. Ten American states, the nation's capital, and two US territories legalized it, with another state or two or three likely to do it this year. And this was actual legalization, not the wink-wink-nudge-nudge "it's still illegal but we'll allow it" Dutch compromise. And while no European country has completely legalized it, decriminalization is afoot in broad swathes of the continent, and Spain allows private use and cultivation, as well as "cannabis clubs," especially in Catalonia.

Now, though, the Dutch are finally considering taking the next step, and that involves fixing a chronic issue for their system: the "back door problem." That is, while it has been allowed for the coffeeshops to sell marijuana, they have had no legal source of supply. The Dutch system had no provision for the regulated provision of product to the coffeeshops. Instead, while coffeeshops could openly sell to their customers through the front door, their black market weed supplies had to sneak in the back door.

A halting and limited effort to rectify the situation is now about to get underway. The coalition government announced last week that it will move forward with a pilot program in regulated marijuana production for the coffeeshops. Under the plan, the government will issue licenses to 10 growers who will each have to produce at least 10 types of marijuana product, with THC content clearly marked on the packaging. A minimum of six and a maximum of 10 local authorities will take part in the trials, which will last four years, meaning that it will be up to the next government to decide whether the Netherlands will press ahead with state-regulated production.

But both the local authorities' association, VNG, and the government's highest advisory body, the Council of State, have already criticized the plan as too limited and stringent. The plan seeks to completely eliminate the black market as a source for coffeeshop product: "Coffeeshops in the municipalities which are taking part in the experiment can only sell legally-produced hemp products and growers can only sell to those shops," the plan says. "This means the entire chain will be closed."

The local authorities in the country's two largest cities, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, have complained that the goal is unworkable, especially in Amsterdam, where more than a hundred coffeeshops are doing brisk business. The Council of State, meanwhile, has complained that the pilot program is too small and will not allow useful conclusions to be drawn.

Still, the coalition government is moving forward with the plan and says it expects final decisions on which local authorities will be involved by the end of the year. The Netherlands is now poised to once again move into the marijuana vanguard with state-regulated commercial marijuana production, even if the government's plan is still half-baked. We will see in four years whether the country is ready to finally solve the "back door problem" and fully embrace the marijuana business.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Medical Marijuana Update

A federal bill to protect the 2nd Amendment rights of medical marijuana patients is filed, North Dakota backs away from messing with those rights, no medical marijuana for Tennessee this year, Texas bills get a public hearing, and more.

National

Federal Bill Aims to Let Medical Marijuana Patients Keep Their Guns. Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WY) has filed a bill aimed at protecting the gun rights of medical marijuana patients. The Second Amendment Protection Act would grant an exemption from the federal law that says people cannot purchase firearms if they're "unlawful user[s] or addicted to any controlled substance" for state-legal medical marijuana patients.

North Dakota

North Dakota Lawmakers Back Away from Proposal for Database to Check Patients' Eligibility for Concealed Weapons Licenses. House lawmakers on last Tuesday approved a measure, Senate Bill 2140, that would require the Department of Health to disclose medical marijuana patients' identities to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation "for the sole purpose" of determining whether they are eligible and in compliance with the state's concealed weapons law. But on Wednesday, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem reminded lawmakers that changes to the voter-approved medical marijuana law required a two-thirds vote, not a mere majority, so lawmakers voted to send the bill back to the Natural Resources Committee, where its chairman said he will strip the gun language from the bill so it can pass.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Governor Signs Patient Protection Bill. Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) has signed into law HB 2612, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act. The measure protects patients' rights to possess firearms under state law and allows the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to hire its own investigators to probe alleged violations. The law will go into effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns, which will be at the end of May.

Tennessee

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bills Are Dead for This Year. State Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville), a doctor and leading proponent of medical marijuana in the legislature, announced last Wednesday he was delaying all medical marijuana bills until next year. He said he was convinced the bill would fail, and decided it was better to delay the proposal than watch it fail in committee. "You can run a bill and have it defeated, or you can keep it alive," Dickerson said. "And practically speaking, we decided to keep it alive and not have a defeat for perception more than anything."

Texas

Texas Medical Marijuana Bills Get Hearing. The House Public Health Committee held a hearing on a trio of medical bills last Thursday. Testimony was sometimes highly emotional, and no one spoke up against medical marijuana. HB 122 would create a legal defense for patients possessing medical marijuana and doctors who recommend it; HB 1405 would allow hospital patients to use CBD cannabis oil; and HB 3703 would expand current use of CBD cannabis oil to all epilepsy patients, not just those with intractable epilepsy. No votes were taken.

Washington

Washington Senate Approves Allowing Medical Marijuana in School. The state Senate on Saturday overwhelmingly approved SB 5442, which would allow parents to administer medical marijuana to their children at school, on the school bus, and at after-school activities. The bill limits the kind of marijuana used to infused products and extracts.

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

Chronicle AM: FDA Eases Opioid Rules to Allow Tapering, Ciudad Juarez Violence Spikes, More... (4/17/19)

Decriminalization bills are alive in Alabama and North Carolina, the Iowa Senate approves hemp, the FDA eases opioid prescribing rules, Ciudad Juarez sees a bloody weekend, and more.

Hydrocodone. New FDA rules will allow docs to taper patients off opioids, instead of going cold turkey. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alabama Decriminalization Bill Advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved SB 98, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. People caught with less than an ounce would face a maximum $250 fine for the first two offenses, but possession of between one and two ounces would be a Class A misdemeanor and possession of more than two ounces would be a Class C felony worth up to 10 years in prison.

Michigan Bills Would Cut Sentences for Pot Prisoners, Probationers. A package of bills from Sen. Sylvia Santana (D) would allow people on probation or in prison for marijuana offenses to have their sentences reduced or eliminated. While there are only three people in state prison who would be affected, more than 1,300 people are on probation for marijuana offenses. "We have already legalized marijuana in the state so therefore this is just the right thing to do," Santana said.

North Carolina Decriminalization Bill Filed. Four state representatives have cosponsored HB766, which would "decriminalize possession of four ounces or less of marijuana and allow for the expunction of possession of marijuana offenses involving possession of four ounces or less of marijuana." It's been referred to the House Rules Committee.

Hemp

Iowa Senate Passes Hemp Legalization. The Senate voted 49-1 to approve SF 599, the Industrial Hemp Act. The hemp industry would be regulated by the state Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. The bill now goes to the House.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

FDA Eases Opioid Policy to Allow for Tapering. The Food and Drug Administration has issued labeling changes for prescription opioids that instruct physicians to taper opioid prescriptions rather than cut them down or off. The agency also acknowledged that a 2016 CDC guideline restricting opioid prescriptions had resulted in harms to patients. "Recently, the FDA has received reports of serious harm, including serious withdrawal symptoms, uncontrolled pain and suicide, in patients who are physically dependent on opioid pain medicines when these medicines are suddenly discontinued or when the dose is reduced too quickly, often without adequate patient communication, follow-up or support," the FDA said in an April 9 announcement. "These practices have also been associated with patients attempting to find other sources of opioids in order to minimize their withdrawal symptoms or self-medicate for pain," the statement said.

Harm Reduction

California Bill Would Let Localities Veto Needle Exchange Programs. State Sen. John Moorlach (R-Orange County) has filed a bill that would require city or county officials to sign off before needle exchanges could operate in their jurisdictions. SB 689 is opposed by public health advocates, who fear it could lead to increased HIV and Hep C transmission and even overdose deaths. The bill is set for a hearing before the Senate Health Committee next week.

International

Mexico Sees Bloody Weekend in Ciudad Juarez. Ciudad Juarez saw its bloodiest weekend of the year so far, with 19 people killed last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That brings the death toll for the month so far to 79 as warring cartel factions fight over the lucrative plaza, or control of drug smuggling and retail sales operations.

Chronicle AM: Andrew Yang Calls for Opioid Decrim, Denver Moves to Expand Pot Social Clubs, More... (4/16/19)

The Denver city council is trying to make it easier for marijuana social consumption businesses to open, a Colorado drug defelonization bill advances, a Democratic presidential contender calls for opioid decriminalization, and more.

The Denver city council is trying to find room for more social consumption spaces. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Denver City Council Moves to Boost Social Consumption Businesses. More than two years after voters approved social use of marijuana in licensed businesses, only two such businesses exist, and now, the City Council is moving to boost their prospects. The Council voted 9-2 on Monday to advance a proposal that would allow such businesses to operate closer to rec centers, day cares, and other such facilities. The law approved by voters required that such establishments be at least 1,000 feet from schools, but city officials added similar requirements for day care, rec centers, and addiction treatment centers. Under this bill, that distance requirement is dropped to 500 feet for all categories except schools.

Hemp

Nebraska Hemp Bill Advances. State lawmakers have given a first approval to a measure to legalize hemp production, LB 657. The bill advanced on a 37-4 vote despite a filibuster from a senator who warned it was a stalking horse for marijuana legalization. The bill enjoys bipartisan support and Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) says his administration is working with bill sponsor Sen. Justin Wayne (D-Omaha) to get the bill through. It still needs two more votes before going to the governor.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Democratic Presidential Contender Andrew Yang Calls for Opioid Decriminalization. Startup veteran, Venture for America founder, and Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang used a CNN town hall Sunday night to flesh out an earlier proposal to decriminalize opioids. Calling opioid addiction "a plague," Yang said the goal of decriminalization was to get more Americans in treatment and out of jail. "We need to decriminalize opiates for personal use," Yang said. "I'm also for the legalization of cannabis."

Sentencing Policy

Colorado Drug Defelonization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. A bill that would shift drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors was approved by the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday. That's the final committee vote before HB19-1263 heads for a House floor vote. The bill has already been approved by the House Finance and House Judiciary committees.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: No Cannabis Lounges for Oregon This Year; Drug Eradication Clashes in Peru, Mexico, More... (4/15/19)

A set of Michigan bills would do some post-legalization cleanup, a decriminalization bill advances in Missouri, an Oklahoma bill protecting patient rights is signed by the governor, drug crop growers clash with authorities in Mexico and Peru, and more.

Peruvian coca farmers clashed with police and eradicators last Friday, leaving two dead. (deamuseum.org)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Bills Would Cut Sentences for People Jailed for Possession. State Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) has filed a package of bills that would reduce prison, parole, and probation sentences for people jailed for marijuana possession. SB 262 through SB 265 are now before the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. "After the passage of Proposal 1, it's time we rethink drug sentencing laws in Michigan, so let's start with marijuana offenses, since those are no longer considered crimes under current law," Santana said.

Missouri Decriminalization Bill Advances. The House Special Committee on Criminal Justice last Thursday unanimously approved HB 1095, which would decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana. The measure would also make possession of less than 35 grams from a felony to a Class D misdemeanor. The measure now heads for a House floor vote.

Oregon Social Consumption Bill Dies. A bill that would have allowed marijuana consumption lounges, SB 639, was among hundreds of bills that died in the legislature after failing to move out of committee by April 9. The bill's failure is a blow to the state's legal marijuana industry, which is faced with chronic oversupply.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Governor Signs Patient Protection Bill. Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) has signed into law HB 2612, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act. The measure protects patients' rights to possess firearms under state law and allows the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to hire its own investigators to probe alleged violations. The law will go into effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns, which will be at the end of May.

Washington Senate Approves Allowing Medical Marijuana in School. The state Senate on Saturday overwhelmingly approved SB 5442, which would allow parents to administer medical marijuana to their children at school, on the school bus, and at after-school activities. The bill limits the kind of marijuana used to infused products and extracts.

International

Mexico Poppy Farmers Detain Soldiers in Eradication Protest. Residents of a rural town in Guerrero state said they detained 40 soldiers last week to demand they halt opium poppy eradication efforts. The farmers said they set up roadblocks to prevent soldiers from leaving the region and called on the state and federal governments to provide assistance to local farmers so they aren't forced to grow opium. The farmers said the state government had promised in November that their poppy crops would not be destroyed and alternative means of support would be provided, but neither happened.

Peru Clashes Over Coca Eradication Leave Two Farmers Dead. Two coca growers were killed in clashes with a large eradication team last Friday. The team, which consisted of 72 police officers and158 civilian eradicators, had arrived in the area near the Bolivian border to destroy illegal coca fields, but reported that they were attacked by people wielding machetes and sticks as they set up camp. But the mayor of the town of San Gaban said witnesses told him police fired indiscriminately. "They were shooting right and left. That's why we have this bloodshed," the mayor said.

Chronicle AM: Bipartisan Cannabis Banking Bill Filed, Texas MedMJ Hearings, More... (4/12/19)

Some 20 senators sign on to a bill to solve legal marijuana's banking problem, a Maine jail appeals a federal court ruling that it must provide Suboxone to a prisoner, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Federal Bill Would Open Banks to Marijuana Businesses. Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), along with 18 other cosponsors, filed legislation Thursday that would shield banks that maintain accounts for marijuana businesses from being punished by federal regulators. The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Act would stop federal agencies from being able to "prohibit, penalize, or otherwise discourage a depository institution from providing financial services to a cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider or to a State, political subdivision of a State, or Indian Tribe that exercises jurisdiction over cannabis-related legitimate businesses." Companion legislation in the House has already passed out of committee and awaits a House floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Medical Marijuana Bills Get Hearing. The House Public Health Committee held a hearing on a trio of medical bills Thursday. Testimony was sometimes highly emotional, and no one spoke up against medical marijuana. HB 122 would create a legal defense for patients possessing medical marijuana and doctors who recommend it; HB 1405 would allow hospital patients to use CBD cannabis oil; and HB 3703 would expand current use of CBD cannabis oil to all epilepsy patients, not just those with intractable epilepsy. No votes were taken.

Drug Treatment

Maine Jail Appeals Federal Court Ruling It Must Provide Drug Used in Opioid Treatment. The Aroostook County Jail is appealing a federal judge's ruling that it must provide an opioid addiction medication it says it is necessary to keep addiction in remission. A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction on March 27 that required the jail to provide buprenorphine (Suboxone) to the prisoner. The jail argues that the judge didn't defer enough to jail administrators for policymaking decisions.

Chronicle AM: Dutch to Try Licensed Grows for Coffee Shops, No MedMJ for TN This Year, More... (4/11/19)

Medical marijuana and guns rights are in the news today, the Dutch embark on a pilot program of licensed legal marijuana grows, there is no medical marijuana for Tennessee this year, and more.

The Dutch are finally moving to resolve the "back door problem" of a legal weed supply for coffee houses. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill to Block Home Marijuana Deliveries Killed. A bill that would have allowed localities to ban home deliveries of marijuana has died on a tie vote in the Assembly Business and Professions Committee. AB 1530 stalled amid concerns it would further hamper the state's struggling legal marijuana industry. Bill sponsor Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Cordova) said he will decide later whether to try again next year.

Wisconsin Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new Marquette University Law School poll has support for marijuana legalization at 59%. Support for medical marijuana was even higher at 83%. Gov. Tony Evers (D) has called for the legalization of medical marijuana and the decriminalization of up to 50 grams.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Bill Aims to Let Medical Marijuana Patients Keep Their Guns. Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WY) has filed a bill aimed at protecting the gun rights of medical marijuana patients. The Second Amendment Protection Act would grant an exemption from the federal law that says people cannot purchase firearms if they're "unlawful user[s] or addicted to any controlled substance" for state-legal medical marijuana patients.

North Dakota Lawmakers Back Away from Proposal for Database to Check Patents' Eligibility for Concealed Weapons Licenses. House lawmakers on Tuesday approved a measure, Senate Bill 2140, that would require the Department of Health to disclose medical marijuana patients' identities to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation "for the sole purpose" of determining whether they are eligible and in compliance with the state's concealed weapons law. But on Wednesday, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem reminded lawmakers that changes to the voter-approved medical marijuana law required a two-thirds vote, not a mere majority, so lawmakers voted to send the bill back to the Natural Resources Committee, where its chairman said he will strip the gun language from the bill so it can pass.

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bills Are Dead for This Year. State Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville), a doctor and leading proponent of medical marijuana in the legislature, announced Wednesday he was delaying all medical marijuana bills until next year. He said he was convinced the bill would fail, and decided it was better to delay the proposal than watch it fail in committee. "You can run a bill and have it defeated, or you can keep it alive," Dickerson said. "And practically speaking, we decided to keep it alive and not have a defeat for perception more than anything."

International

Dutch to Move Forward with Legal, Regulated Marijuana Production for Coffee Shops. The Dutch government released detailed plans Thursday for moving forward with regulated marijuana production to supply the country's famous coffee shops. The plan is to license 10 growers, each of which will grow at least 10 different strains. THC content will be clearly labeled. At least six and no more than 10 local authorities will take part in the trials, which will last four years. It will then be up to the next cabinet to decide whether to move forward with state-regulated marijuana production. The plan is being criticized by some local authorities and coffee shops as being too restrictive by requiring that all cannabis sold in participating coffee shops come from the licensed growers.

The War on Cocaine Only Strengthens Drug Cartels, Study Finds [FEATURE]

If you've spent nearly a half-century and $250 billion trying to stop the flow of cocaine into the US and the white powder is now cheaper and more plentiful than ever, maybe it's time to rethink. That's the implicit lesson lurking behind a new study on the impact of drug interdiction efforts on drug trafficking organizations.

cocaine interdicted by US Customs (dhs.gov)
Interdiction is the supply side approach to reducing drug use. Rather than reducing demand through education, prevention, and treatment, interdiction seeks to reduce the supply of drugs available domestically by blocking them en route to the US or at the border.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and conducted by scientists from a half-dozen American universities, the study relied on a computer model called NarcoLogic that shows how drug traffickers respond to interdiction strategies and tactics. More sophisticated than previous attempts to simulate the drug trade, NarcoLogic models local- and network-level trafficking dynamics at the same time.

"Our team consists of researchers who worked in different parts of Central America during the 2000s and witnessed a massive surge of drugs into the region that coincided with a reinvigoration of the war on drugs," David Wrathall of Oregon State University's College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences said in a press release announcing the research results. "We asked ourselves: did drug interdiction push drug traffickers into these places?"

The short answer is yes, and that has implications that go far beyond drug policy. The Central American migrants who are at the center of the current "border crisis" are fleeing not only poverty but also high levels of violence generated by the movement of Mexican drug trafficking groups into the region a decade ago as they faced increasing interdiction efforts at home and from US authorities.

In fact, although it is not addressed in this new research, it was earlier interdiction efforts aimed at Colombian cocaine trafficking groups in the 1980s that led directly to the transformation of formerly small-scale Mexican cross-border smuggling organizations into the Frankenstein's monster of drug prohibition that the cartels are today. With the Colombians under intense pressure, Mexican traffickers rose to the occasion and have been making billions of dollars a year ever since.

This despite five decades of US interdiction efforts with an average annual expenditure of $5 billion. Instead of curbing the flow of cocaine into the United States, all that has been accomplished is making the drug trafficking operations more widespread and harder to eradicate. Putting pressure on one route or location simply leads traffickers to scatter and regroup. This is the "balloon effect," where suppressing traffic or production in one area prompts it to pop up elsewhere, and the "cockroach effect," where traffickers simply decentralize their operations.

"Between 1996 and 2017, the Western Hemisphere transit zone grew from 2 million to 7 million square miles, making it more difficult and costly for law enforcement to track and disrupt trafficking networks," Wrathall said. "But as trafficking spread, it triggered a host of smuggling-related collateral damages: violence, corruption, proliferation of weapons, and extensive and rapid environmental destruction."

And for all that effort, the impact on cocaine price and availability has been negligible -- or even perverse.

"Wholesale cocaine prices in the United States have actually dropped significantly since 1980, deaths from cocaine overdose are rising, and counterdrug forces intercept cocaine shipments at a low rate. More cocaine entered the United States in 2015 than in any other year," Wrathall said. "And one thing people who support interdiction and those who don't can agree on is that change is needed. This model can help determine what that change should look like."

The main takeaway from the study is not that drug trafficking became more widespread and resilient because of ineffective interdiction efforts, but because of interdiction itself. The policy aimed at suppressing the drug trade has only made it stronger and wealthier.

"The study is a victory for observation and theory. This model successfully recreates the dynamic our team had observed," Wrathall said. "It tells us that increased interdiction will continue to push traffickers into new areas, spreading networks, and allowing them to continue to move drugs north."

Maybe it is time to try something different.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A North Carolina deputy tries to set up his ex-grlfriend's new boyfriend, a former Texas cop heads to federal prison for helping a "rip crew" steal loads of dope, and more. Let's get to it:

In Wadesboro, North Carolina, an Anson County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Wednesday for planting drugs in the car of his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend. Deputy David Scott Burroughs went down after coworkers grew suspicious when he told them he was getting anonymous tips about the man dealing drugs out of his car. That was last Sunday. Last Wednesday, when police stopped the vehicle, the drugs were still there, adding to suspicions it was a set up. The department then contacted the State Bureau of Investigation, which found that Burroughs had purchased heroin and meth and planted them in the vehicle.

In Virginia Beach, Virginia, a former Chesapeake County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty last Tuesday to smuggling drugs and other contraband into the city jail. Jenis Leroy Plummer, 34, admitted smuggling heroin, cocaine, e-cigarettes, cellphone batteries, and even superglue into the lockup. The superglue was used to help an inmate hide contraband inside his mattress. He's looking at up to 20 years in federal prison.

In Columbus, Ohio, a former state prison guard pleaded guilty last Wednesday to smuggling drugs and tobacco into the Belmont Correctional Institution in St. Clairsville. Alfred Horvath, 38, was paid hundreds of dollars by people outside the prison to sneak drugs and tobacco inside for use by prisoners. He copped to one count of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute.

In Brownsville, Texas, a former Donna ISD police officer was sentenced Tuesday to 130 months in federal prison for assisting a "rip crew" that conducted fake traffic stops on vehicles loaded with drugs so the crew could steal the goodies. Juan Fernando Mata, 40, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 100 pounds of marijuana in January.

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