Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: Mexico MJ Legalization Vote This Month, MA Governor Pushes High Driving Bill, More... (10/8/19)

Mexico is moving rapidly toward marijuana legalization, Scotland's largest political party is set to embrace drug decriminalization, and more.

Mexico's congress is set to vote on a marijuana legalization bill this month. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Governor, Cops Push High Driving Bill. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) on Monday pushed for passage of his administration's impaired driving bill. Introduced earlier this year, the bill aims to make it easier for law enforcement to crack down on people driving under the influence of marijuana. The bill would allow police to seek electronic search warrants and punish drivers who refuse drug tests. It would also bar open or loose pot packages in vehicles. Law enforcement officials who appeared with Baker also supported the bill.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania ACLU Sues County for Prohibiting Probationers from Using Medical Marijuana. The ACLU of Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit against Lebanon County's policy prohibiting people who are on probation and who are registered medical marijuana patients from using their medication. The action will take the form of a class action lawsuit involving more than 60 people in the county who are on some form of community supervision and are medical marijuana patients. Although medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 2016, a Lebanon County judge ruled that medical marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, and county officials used that rationale to institute the policy. "The plain language in the medical marijuana law shows that the legislature intended to protect all patients, including those on probation," said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Judges may not agree with the Medical Marijuana Act or may not support people using marijuana for any reason, but they must follow the law."

International

Mexico Senate Leader Says Lawmakers Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization by Month's End. Sen. Ricardo Monreal, Senate leader of the ruling MORENA Party, said Monday that the Senate is just about done crafting a marijuana legalization bill after weeks of public forums and open-session debates and that a vote would come soon. "We're thinking that we'll bring the law out, approve it, at the end of October," Monreal said. "That's the schedule we have."

Scottish National Party Set to Back Drug Decriminalization. Scotland's largest political party, the Scottish National Party (SNP) is set to adopt a platform plank calling for drug decriminalization. The move to support relaxing laws against possession and consumption of drugs is expected to be passed at the party's annual conference in Aberdeen this weekend. The move comes as the country grapples with an overdose death crisis.

Chronicle AM: NV Gets First Pot Lounge, British Police Force to Provide Free Heroin to Hardcore Addicts, More... (10/7/19)

Nevada sees its first "cannabis tasting room," a New York poll finds continuing support for marijuana legalization amidst the vaping scare, British drug policy upheavals, and more.

Diacetylmorphine (prescription heroin) will be provided to hardcore addicts in a British pilot program. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada's First Marijuana Lounge is Now Open. The state's first marijuana tasting room opened this weekend in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Pauite Tribe is operating the NuWu Cannabis Marketplace on tribal land, which gives it a leg up on potential competitors. Under a state law signed in June, local governments are barred from licensing marijuana consumption lounges until 2021, but tribal lands are not subject to the law.

New York Sienna Poll Has Continuing Support for Legalization, Even as Vaping Fears Grow. A new Sienna poll has support for marijuana legalization in the Empire State at 56%, even as nearly as many respondents (52%) support banning all e-cigarettes and vaping devices from sale. An even higher number, 61%, support Gov. Andrew Cuomo's emergency executive order banning the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. Half, 52 percent, have used marijuana and 21 percent currently do.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Patients Won't Lose Welfare Over Medical Marijuana Use. After patients complained that their medical marijuana use put them at odds with a state law that requires welfare recipients to be screened for drug use, the state has revamped its policy. Department of Social Services spokeswoman Rebecca Woelfel said that the agency now exempts recipients with medical marijuana cards.

International

British Drug Advisory Panel Member Quits, Cites Political Interference. Professor Alex Stevens, a senior member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), has resigned over the alleged "political vetting" of panel members by the government. The move comes after then crime minister Victoria Atkins blocked the appointment of Niamh Eastwood, the executive director of the drug policy nonprofit Release, after finding that she had previously criticized the Home Office and called for drug policy reform. Stevens said there was at least one other case of people being denied a place on the ACMD because of criticizing government drug policy. "I have resigned because of my concerns over the political vetting of potential members of the ACMD," Stevens said. "The political vetting fundamentally undermines the independence of the council," Stevens added. "It is supposed to be protected by the working protocol between the home secretary and the ACMD. This does not seem compatible if ministers exclude those who disagree with them."

British Government Replaces Minister Responsible for Drug Policy. Victoria Atkins, who had been responsible for drug policy for the Conservative Party, was quietly replaced in that position over the summer. She was replaced as minister of state for policing, crime, and fire services by Kit Malthouse, but it had been believed Atkins kept the drug portfolio. But on Monday, Malthouse's office confirmed he was now responsible for drug policy. He has recently been speaking for the government on drug policy issues and laying out a hard line against opening safe injection sites.

British Police Force to Begin Giving Free Heroin to Select Addicts. The police force in Cleveland, North Wales, will begin a program to provide free heroin to a small group of hardcore addicts. They will be provided with injectable pharmaceutical grade heroin at a National Health Service clinic three times a day. The idea is to reduce crimes committed by people seeking money to pay for their medications. Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger said the program would be available for heroin users "for whom all other treatment has failed and who are known to be the most active criminals in the town as they look to finance their addiction."

Chronicle AM: Feds Allow States to Drug Test for Unemployment, FL Marijuana Initiative, More... (10/4/19)

The Trump administration allows states to demand drug tests for laid off workers seeking unemployment benefits, a Florida marijuana legalization initiative's signature gathering campaign is off to a fast start, and more.

Coca production is spiking along the Peru-Bolivia border. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Initiative Already Has 100,000 Signatures. Make It Legal Florida, the group behind one of two state marijuana legalization initiatives, is fast out of the gate. The group reported that it has gathered 100,000 raw signatures in the first 20 days of signature gathering. According to state law, a petition must undergo a Florida Supreme Court review before it can even be considered, and that can be done only after 76,632 valid voter signatures have been collected. To actually qualify for the 2020 ballot, the group will need 766,000 valid voter signatures by February.

Drug Testing

Trump Administration Okays Rule Allowing States to Demand Drug Tests for Unemployment Benefits. The Department of Labor published a new rule Friday that will allow states to force more laid off workers to submit drug tests in order to receive benefits. The move reverses Obama administration policies, and allows states to demand drug tests from laid off workers who work for companies that normally require job applicants to pass drug tests.

California Governor Vetoes Bill to Expand Drug Testing in Fatal Traffic Accidents. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has vetoed Assembly Bill 551, which would have required drug tests to be performed after every fatal accident in the state. State law already requires mandatory testing for alcohol. The bill had passed unanimously in both houses, but Newsom said that county coroners already had the authority to conduct drug testing.

International

Coca Crops Surge Amid Security Vacuum on Peru-Bolivia Border. Coca planting is spiking near a national park on the Bolivia-Peru border, with nearly 25,000 acres of plantings reported this year, a fourfold increase from 2017. The local coca boom is causing a dramatic population increase in the area, which suffers from disintegrating security and a shift in cocaine smuggling from Bolivia from airplanes to moving drugs by land.

Chronicle AM: Philly Safe Injection Site Wins Legal Victory, Pot Companies Call for Descheduling, More... (10/3/19)

A federal judge hands a preliminary legal victory to proponents of a Philadelphia safe injection site, hundreds of marijuana industry figures call on Congress to deschedule marijuana as a means of grappling with the vaping crisis, and more.

At the InSite safe injection site in Vancouver. Could a similar facility be coming to Philadelphia? (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Hundreds of Marijuana Companies Sign Letter Calling for Descheduling to Prevent Vaping Injuries. Some 800 marijuana industry executives have signed onto a letter to Congress calling on that body to deschedule marijuana as a means of reducing the risks of vaping black market marijuana products. The letter was delivered to Congress Thursday.

Massachusetts Sued Over Marijuana Vaping, E-Cig Ban. The Vapor Technology Association, a national vaping industry trade organization, has filed suit in federal court seeking to block the state's recently instituted four-month ban on sales of marijuana vapes as well as e-cigarettes. Massachusetts last month became the first state to ban the sale of marijuana and tobacco vaping products.

Drug Policy

Majority of Americans Support Decriminalizing All Drugs, Poll Finds. A new poll from the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute finds a majority support decriminalizing all drugs. The poll of 1,700 adults found that 55% would rather treat drug offenses as infractions than as criminal offenses, with 44% opposed. Among Democrats, 69% favored decriminalization; among independents, 54%; among Republicans only 40%.

Harm Reduction

Federal Judge Rules Proposed Philadelphia Safe Injection Site Doesn't Violate Federal Law. US District Judge Gerald McHugh ruled Wednesday that a nonprofit group's plan to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia does not violate federal law. The judge ruled that the "crack house" provision of the Controlled Substances Act does not apply to the group's bid to assist opioid users. "No credible argument can be made that facilities such as safe injection sites were within the contemplation of Congress" when that body wrote the law in 1986 or amended it in 2003, McHugh wrote. "I cannot conclude that Safehouse [the safe injection site] has, as a significant purpose, the objective of facilitating drug use. Safehouse plans to make a place available for the purposes of reducing the harm of drug use, administering medical care, encouraging drug treatment and connecting participants with social services."

Chronicle AM: Nation's First Cannabis Cafe Opens Doors, Dutch Supreme Court Rules Against Ayahuasca, More... (10/2/19)

Los Angeles sees the nation's first legal cannabis cafe, the Arizona legalization initiative draws industry opposition, the Justice Department says DEA didn't adequately regulate opioid manufacturing, and more.

Ayahuasca-inspired art. The Dutch Supreme Court has ruled the substance illegal. (Pinterest)
Marijuana Policy

Senators Introduce Federal Student Financial Aid Bill. US Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) announced new bipartisan legislation Tuesday they say would allow students with a felony drug conviction access to the American Opportunity Tax Credit for higher education. The Eliminating Discrimination and Creating Corridors to Expand Student Success Act of 2019 (ED ACCESS Act) would fix this inequity by repealing the lifetime ban. The measure does not yet have a bill number.

Arizona Legalization Initiative Campaign Draws Industry Opponents. A new marijuana industry group has formed to fight the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, which itself is backed by other industry groups. The new group calls itself the Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce and has its own ideas about what legalization should look like. The group complains that the initiative is tailored to the needs of existing dispensary owners, that there wouldn't be enough licenses available, and that the proposed 16% sales tax rate is too high.

Pennsylvania Bill Filed to Legalize via State-Run Model. State Rep. David Delloso (D) on Monday filed a bill that would legalize marijuana and allow adults 21 and older to possess, consume, cultivate and purchase marijuana through a state stores system run by the Liquor Control Board. Retail pot shops would be taxed at 19%, and all of that revenue would go toward the state general fund. The bill would also create a distinct regulatory scheme for industrial hemp. The bill is not yet available on the state legislative web site.

Tennessee Steps Back from Marijuana Enforcement. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has announced that it will no longer test amounts of marijuana less than a half ounce, making it virtually impossible for prosecutors to build a case against small-time possessors.

Nation's First Cannabis Café Opens in Los Angeles. The first-ever licensed cannabis café in the US has opened in Los Angeles. The Lowell Café opened its doors to the public in West Hollywood on Tuesday. The café is a hybrid marijuana lounge and restaurant where you can order some weed along with your meal.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Justice Department Says DEA Failed to Properly Regulate Opioids. In a new report from the agency's inspector general, the Justice Department found that the DEA fell short in regulating the supply of prescription opioids in the past two decades. The agency continued to raise manufacturing quotas for opioids with little regard to oversupply or misuse, the report found. The DEA "ill-equipped to effectively monitor ordering patterns for all pharmaceutical opioids, which could enable the diversion of these prescription drugs and compromise public safety." Although alarm bells were already ringing by the turn of the century, the DEA allowed manufacturing levels of oxycodone -- sold as OxyContin by Purdue Pharma -- to nearly quadruple between 2000 and 2013.

International

Dutch Supreme Court Rules Ayahuasca Illegal. The Dutch Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that ayahuasca falls under the country's hard drug laws and that its import is illegal. The ruling came in the case of a woman who had imported about 70 pounds of ayahuasca tea from Brazil for use in Santo Daime church rituals. Because the substance contains DMT, which is covered by Dutch drug laws, ayahuasca is covered as well.

Mexican Marijuana Legalization Bill Would Create State-Run System. Diputado Mario Delgado Carrillo, coordinator of the ruling MORENA Party's bench in the Chamber of Deputies, filed a bill Tuesday that would legalize marijuana through a government-run system. Under the bill, a regulatory body called Cannsalud would be in charge of the legal market, which would be the "exclusive property of the federal government, with a technical, operational and management autonomy for the realization of its primary purpose" to create a legal, regulated system. "With this, the cannabis market is not left to autonomous regulation by individuals, but the state is involved as a constant supervisor and controller of the activity of this substance within a margin of legality that guarantees a benefit for all," Delgado said. "This is a first step towards the opening of a new lawful market, and a public company is proposed as an obligatory intermediary in order to identify and contain the risks inherent in the establishment of a new market, when there are already international commercial interests that seek to maximize its utilities above the protection of people's health," he said.

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Arrests Increased Last Year, CA Psilocybin Decrim Init Filed, More... (10/1/19)

Marijuana arrests nationwide increased last year despite spreading legalization, a California psilocbyn decriminalization initiative has been filed, and more.

Cocaine. Peru's potential cocaine production "remains elevated," the drug czar's office said.
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Arrests Increased Again Last Year Despite More States Legalizing, FBI Data Shows. According to the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Reports released Monday, the number of marijuana arrests in the US last year was 663,367, a slight increase over the 659,700 pot arrests tallied in 2017 and the 653,249 tallied in 2016. This despite the fact marijuana is now legal for adults in 11 eleven states and medical marijuana is legal in 33 states. Before 2016, marijuana arrests had been declining for roughly a decade.

Psychedelics

California Psilocybin Decriminalization Initiative Filed. A group of activists calling itself Decriminalize California has filed a psilocybin decriminalization initiative with state officials. The group has submitted ballot language to the attorney general's office and is now awaiting approval for an official title and summary. Once that is completed, activists will have 180 days to come up with 625,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. The initiative would decriminalize "personal possession, storage, use, cultivation, manufacturing, distribution in personal possession amounts without profit, transport, and consumption of psilocybin mushrooms" by individuals 18 and older.

International

ONDCP Releases Data on Coca Cultivation and Production in Peru. On Tuesday, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released the results of the annual US Government estimates measuring coca cultivation and potential cocaine production for the Republic of Peru. The estimates found that cultivation "remained elevated" at more than 125,000 acres, up slightly from 2016 and 2017, but still below the recent record of about 180,000 acres in 2013. "The ongoing coca cultivation in Peru and across the Andean Region of South America remains a significant threat to the United States. As part of the Trump Administration's whole-of-government approach to the addiction crisis, we will continue to support our partners in Peru to curb cultivation and production in critical growing regions. We are committed to bringing those who profit off the international drug trade to justice to help accomplish our goal of saving lives," ONDCP Director Jim Carroll said.

Will Oregon Be the First State to Decriminalize All Drugs? [FEATURE]

The groundwork is being laid now for a possible effort to decriminalize the possession of drugs in Oregon. Last month, a trio of drug reform advocates quietly filed a decriminalization initiative, the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, with state officials.

Mt. Hood, outside Portland (Creative Commons)
That is only the first step in the long and complicated process of getting the initiative on the November 2020 ballot and approved by voters, but it is a first step. Between now and then, the Oregon activists and national groups will be weighing whether success is actually possible and if a full-blown campaign to get it passed will happen.

As is evident from the initiative's title, it is not just about drug decriminalization, but also about coming up with better ways than drug-war style policies to address drug misuse and addiction; it is a public health approach rather than a criminal justice approach to the problem.

And it is one that would use taxes derived from the legalization of marijuana to pay for drug treatment and other services for people with drug problems.

According to the proponents, the aim of the initiative "is to make health assessment, treatment and recovery services for drug addiction available to all those who need and want access to those services and to adopt a health approach to drug addiction by removing criminal penalties for low-level drug possession."

Here's what the initiative would do:

  • Decriminalize the possession of small amounts of all drugs. People caught with personal use amounts of any drugs, including heroin and cocaine, would be cited for a violation -- not a felony or misdemeanor -- and would be subject to no more than a $100 fine. Drug sales and manufacture would still be criminalized.
  • Create Addiction Recovery Centers across the state to address "the acute needs of people who use drugs and assessing and addressing any on-going needs thorough intensive case management and linkage to care and services." Those centers will offer health assessments for each client, as well as an individual intervention plan, intensive case management, and connection to services.
  • Increase community access to care, including "low barrier substance abuse disorder treatment," peer support and recovery services, housing, and harm reduction interventions, such as naloxone and needle exchanges, as well as "stimulant-specific drug education and outreach."
  • Pay for it with a Drug Treatment and Recovery Services Fund and an Oregon Marijuana Account. The marijuana account, funded by marijuana tax and fee revenues, would be distinct from the state's General Fund and would provide funding for the Drug Treatment and Recovery Services Fund, which would provide grants to government and nonprofit groups to provide such services. The fund could also receive monies appropriated by the legislature, as well as any savings from reduced criminal justice costs after decriminalization.

Such a measure is desperately needed, said Anthony Johnson, chief proponent of the initiative, who also headed the state's successful 2014 marijuana legalization campaign. His fellow proponents are Haven Wheelock of the Portland needle exchange Outside In, and Janie Gullickson, executive director of the Mental Health and Addiction Association of Oregon.

"Oregon ranks nearly last in the country in access to drug addiction treatment," Johnson explained in an emailed statement. "The waitlist to get treatment can be months long, and in some rural counties, there is practically no treatment at all. This is one reason why one to two Oregonians die of drug overdoses every day, sometimes while they are waiting to get treatment. But instead of expanding access to treatment and recovery, Oregon has recently cut it, reducing general fund money for drug addiction treatment by 89%. If we don't do something soon, many more people will die."

While there is a popular belief that being able to arrest people for drug possession is a key to getting them into treatment, Johnson demurs.

"It shouldn't be," he said. "Most people who need treatment do not get arrested, and many are reluctant to get treatment because drug possession is a crime. Although there are some who may seek treatment as the result of an arrest, the damage done by saddling someone struggling with addiction with a criminal record is vastly worse, stigmatizing them and often costing them jobs, housing, student loans, time, and separation from their family and support network, among other things. Treatment is more effective when people want it and when it is available on demand."

And there's enough money in legal marijuana to pay for it, he said.

"If revenue from marijuana continues to grow at the same rate it has been growing as estimated by the state, this act will bring in about $100 million a year for treatment and services by 2021," Johnson argued. "That number is projected to grow by about $20 million a year. For comparison, there was a recent bill that failed in the legislature that would have provided $2.9 million in new money for treatment. This act would provide more than 30 times that amount -- all from existing resources."

The state took in $103 million in marijuana tax revenue in fiscal year 2019, and it estimates that number will grow by about $23 million a year in the foreseeable future. Under the initiative's provisions, all marijuana tax revenue above $45 million will go to services such as drug addiction treatment, recovery, peer support and housing. The other $45 million will continue to go where it does now -- for schools, public safety and drug addiction treatment and services.

Social and racial justice also demands Oregon find a new path, Johnson argued. A recent study found that blacks in the state are convicted of felony drug possession offenses at twice the rate of whites.

"Our drug laws are deeply inequitable, disproportionately targeting and impacting people of color and in poverty," he said. "Oregonians use drugs at about the same rate, regardless of the color of their skin. However, people of color are much more likely to be arrested, charged and convicted of drug crimes. People of color are also sentenced more harshly and forced to pay higher fines. That's morally reprehensible. At the same time, our current drug laws distort the priorities of police, who end up spending too much time arresting people for being addicted to drugs instead of focusing on community safety."

The initiative was drafted with the help of the Drug Policy Alliance, as well as dozens of Oregonians working in treatment, addiction, and recovery, along with experts on equity, economics, criminal justice, civil liberties, ballot measure campaigns, law, Oregon state politics, and more.

The initiative has been filed, but a final decision on whether it's a "go" has yet to be made. While the Drug Policy Alliance has been involved, it has not yet committed to getting behind this initiative just yet.

"We've been looking at a number of states, including Oregon, that could benefit from moving towards a health-centered approach to drugs and away from criminalization," Matt Sutton, the group's director of media relations said in an email. "At this point in time, we have connected with various groups on the ground and are exploring all of our options. It is much too soon to determine whether or not we will move forward with this measure, however, the process to get something on the ballot in Oregon can be lengthy, and we wanted to make sure the door was still open for the potential measure to proceed."

"We would not be where we were unless there was a strong path to victory, but the campaign is still in an exploratory phase, and we have a lot more work to do before we make a final decision about whether to go forward with the campaign," Johnson said.

Still, the groundwork is being laid for Oregon to once again take a pioneering role in drug policy. It was the first state to decriminalize marijuana possession way back in 1973 and the third to legalize marijuana in 2014. Now, it could be the first to decriminalize the possession of all drugs in 2020.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.

Chronicle AM: CDC Warns on THC Vaping, Indianapolis to End Small Marijuana Prosecutions, More... (9/30/19)

The feds are homing in on THC products as the vaping crisis intensifies, a Virginia poll shows a rapid increase in support for marijuana legalization there, Indianapolis says bye-bye to small-time pot prosecutions, and more.

What's in your vape? The CDC warns on THC vaping. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Feds Focus on THC Vapes as Source of Most Illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that more than three out of four people who have been sickened by vaping in recent weeks reported using products containing THC, while only 16% reported using only nicotine products. A second CDC study focused on Illinois and Wisconsin found that 87% of patients reported using products containing THC. CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat has now advised people to consider "refraining from the use of vaping products, particularly those containing THC" -- the first time federal officials have specifically warned against the use of such products.

Arizona Legalization Initiative Gets Updated, Begins Signature Gathering. The Smart and Safe Arizona Act legalization initiative has been amended to allow more people to expunge past marijuana convictions and to allow for 26 retail licenses to be issued to "individuals from communities disproportionately impacted" by prohibition. Now, signature gathering gets underway. Organizers have one year to come up with some 237,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

Virginia Poll Shows Strong Majority for Legalization. A new poll from the University of Mary Washington has support for marijuana legalization in Virginia at 61%, up sharply from the 39% support reported in the same poll in 2017. "The latest Mary Washington survey demonstrates -- to quote Bob Dylan, 'the times they are a-changin'' -- here in the Old Dominion," said Stephen J. Farnsworth, professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington and director of its Center for Leadership and Media Studies. The poll found majority support for legalization among all demographic groups except Republicans and people over 65.

Indianapolis Will No Longer Prosecute Marijuana Possession Cases. The Marion County (Indianapolis) Prosecutor's Office announced Monday it will no longer prosecute small-time pot possession cases. "Too often, an arrest for marijuana possession puts individuals into the system who otherwise would not be. That is not a win for our community," Prosecutor Ryan Mears said. "The enforcement of marijuana policy has disproportionately impacted people of color, and this is a first step to addressing that." Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill (R) responded that he was "concerned" that the move would "attract to Indianapolis people with a particular interest in communities where drug enforcement is lax."

House Passes SAFE Banking Act

The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to approve the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1595), which would allow state-legal marijuana businesses to get access to banking and other financial services.

The vote was 321-103, with near unanimous support from Democrats, as well as nearly half of Republicans. The industry pronounced itself pleased.

"We applaud the House for approving this bipartisan solution to the cannabis banking problem, and we hope the Senate will move quickly to do the same, " said Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, which lobbied in support of the bill. "This vital legislation will have an immediate and positive impact, not only on the state-legal cannabis industry, but also on the many communities across the nation that have opted to embrace the regulation of cannabis. Allowing lawful cannabis companies to access commercial banking services and end their reliance on cash will greatly improve public safety, increase transparency, and promote regulatory compliance. "

The vote came although some civil rights and drug reform groups had called for it to be put off until more comprehensive marijuana or criminal justice reform could be enacted. They argued that passage of a narrowly targeted financial services bill could erode momentum toward broader reforms.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) was one of those groups. In a statement released after the vote, the group said it had no problem with the banking bill but wanted more.

"We had no objections to the substance of the SAFE Banking bill. However, DPA and allies from the civil rights community sent a letter of concern because we believe it is a mistake for the House to pass an incremental industry bill before passing a comprehensive bill that prioritizes equity and justice for the communities who have suffered the most under prohibition, " said Queen Adesuyi, Policy Coordinator at DPA's Office of National Affairs.

DPA is pushing for passage of the MORE Act, which would federally deschedule marijuana.

"We have long feared that passing SAFE Banking would undermine passage of the MORE Act by taking the momentum out of marijuana reform, " said Adesuyi. "The onus is now upon House Democrats to prove us wrong and pass the MORE Act. We are encouraged by the announcement from House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler that he intends to hold a vote on MORE and will push him in the coming weeks to commit to a date. We also thank Majority Leader Hoyer for his commitment to work with Mr. Nadler and others to advance broader marijuana reform in this Congress. The marijuana banking bill cannot be the end of the road for marijuana reform this Congress. "

But even the banking bill must get through the Senate, where it is not clear it can pass. A companion version of the SAFE Banking Act (S.1200) was introduced in April by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Gardner (R-CO) and a bipartisan group of 21 original cosponsors. It currently has 33 total cosponsors. Earlier this month, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) said his committee will take up the cannabis banking issue this year and is working on preparing a new bill.

"This is a serious public safety matter that needs to be addressed by Congress this session, " Levine said. "It is only going to grow in urgency and magnitude as states continue to roll back cannabis prohibition policies. Enacting the SAFE Banking Act would greatly bolster state's efforts to promote safety, regulatory compliance, and equity within the cannabis industry. Cannabis-related companies are lawfully operating in states around the country, and they deserve the same access to banking that is afforded to every other type of lawful business. "

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A rapey reserve officer is in hot water in Louisiana, an NYPD officer who moonlighted as a bodyguard for El Chapo's wife gets nailed in a sting, an Indiana hospital cop gets caught with his fingers in the pain pill jar, and more. Let's get to it:

n New York City, an NYPD officer was arrested last Wednesday in a drug sting. Officer Ishmael Bailey, who recently moonlighted as a bodyguard for the wife of Sinaloa Cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's wife during his trial, went down after being caught transporting cocaine for an undercover officer posing as a drug dealer. He is charged with selling and possessing cocaine, as well as receiving bribes, conspiracy and official misconduct.

In Muncie, Indiana, a former Indiana University Ball Memorial Hospital police officer was arrested last Thursday for allegedly stealing pain medications from a hospital safe. Michael Goldsmith, 30, went down after surveillance video implicated him in the theft of 141 opioid pain pills. He is charged with official misconduct, obtaining a controlled substance by fraud or deceit, theft and possession of a controlled substance.

In Merryville, Louisiana, a Merryville police reserve officer was arrested Monday on charges he gave drugs to a 16-year-old boy and then sexually assaulted him. Reserve Officer Roland Harrison, 38, faces charges of rape and drug possession. He also faces four counts of unauthorized use of movables, for taking police gear including uniforms without authorization.

In Harvest, Alabama, a state prison guard was arrested Tuesday after he got caught trying to smuggle drugs into the Limestone Correctional Facility. Officer Travis Wales, 39, got caught with a Subutex pill, a bag of methamphetamine, and a bottle of synthetic urine substitute (for passing drug tests). He is charged with two counts of possession of a controlled substance and promoting prison contraband after a drug dog found the contraband in Wales' possession.

Medical Marijuana Update

New Hampshire patients will be able to grow their own, DC patients will be able to use medical marijuana at school, and more.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire is One Step Closer to Legalizing Medical Home Growing. The state House voted last Wednesday to override Gov. Chris Sununu's (R) veto of HB 364, which would allow qualified patients to grow up to three mature plants and 12 seedlings. The Senate was expected to take up the issue Thursday.

New Hampshire Legislature Overrides Veto on Patient Home Grows. The state Senate joined the House Thursday in overriding Gov. Chris Sununu's (R) veto of HB 364, which would allow qualified patients to grow up to three mature plants and 12 seedlings.

Washington, DC

Medical Marijuana Patients Will Be Able to Get Treatment in DC Schools Under Emergency Legislation. The DC city council on last Tuesday passed emergency legislation to allow students enrolled in District schools to use medical marijuana at school. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) plans to sign the bill shortly. The emergency legislation would take effect for 90 days after the Mayor's signature.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin Lawmakers Announce Bipartisan Medical Marijuana Bill. Sens. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point), Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison) have announced a bipartisan bill to introduce legalized medical cannabis in Wisconsin. The bill "recognizes that people should not have to engage in a criminal act to access medicine for debilitating conditions," they said.

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

Chronicle AM: MA Will Get Cannabis Cafes, Australia's Capital City Legalizes Weed, More... (9/25/19)

Massachusetts regulators approve cannabis cafes and home delivery, a key congressman pledges continuing support for broad marijuana reforms, Australia's capital city legalizes pot possession, and more.

Cannabis cafes are coming to Boston. (RegulateMass)
Marijuana Policy

Judiciary Committee Chairman Pledges Broader Marijuana Reform After Banking Vote. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday that a vote set for Wednesday on the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1595) would only be the first step in a broader push toward marijuana policy reform. "The House is expected to consider the SAFE Banking Act on the floor tomorrow and I will vote for it," Nadler said. "This bill will address one of the many serious problems that results from the criminalization of marijuana at the federal level. "As the sponsor of the MORE Act (HR 3884), I also strongly support additional marijuana reform -- to deschedule marijuana federally and to provide critical assistance and relief to individuals and communities that have been disproportionally impacted by the racially biased war on drugs," Nadler said. "I am therefore committed to marking up this bill and look forward to working with reform advocates and my colleagues in this important effort going forward." The statement comes amid division among reform advocates over whether to seek broader reforms before passing the SAFE Act.

Arizona Legalization Initiative Gets Updated, Begins Signature Gathering. The Smart and Safe Arizona Act marijuana legalization initiative has been amended to allow more people to expunge past pot convictions and to allow for 26 retail licenses to be issued to "individuals from communities disproportionately impacted" by marijuana prohibition. Now, signature gathering gets underway. Organizers have one year to come up with some 237,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

Massachusetts Regulators Approve Cannabis Cafes, Home Delivery. The state Cannabis Control Commission on Tuesday voted to approve regulations that will allow for cannabis cafes where people can eat, vape, or smoke marijuana legally and for marijuana home delivery services. "We feel like we have got a good balance between trying to meet the will of the voters but recognizing that there are concerns from a public health and a public safety standpoint," said Cannabis Control Commission Chairman Steven Hoffman. Both new types of licenses will be reserved for the first two years for social equity and economic empowerment applicants, which are categories of businesses owned by minorities, people with drug convictions and people who have lived and worked in communities disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition.

New York Governor Seeks Cooperation with Neighboring States on Vaping and Marijuana Legalization.Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Tuesday he will travel to Connecticut and New Jersey to try to create regional coordination on marijuana legalization. "For one state to do it, it makes no sense if the neighboring state has a different policy because then you just incentivize people to drive over the border and buy it there," he said. "When you start to discuss how to legalize marijuana it moves into the vaping space because a lot of the marijuana products can be vaped" Cuomo said. "When you start saying I want to outlaw flavored cigarettes well how about gummy bear marijuana products?"

International

Australian Capital City Legalizes Marijuana. Canberra, the national capital, has become the first ciaty in Australia to legalize marijuana. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory voted Tuesday to approve a bill allowing people 18 and over to possess and grow marijuana for personal use. The new law will go into effect on January 31, 2020. People will be able to legally possess up to 50 grams (just under two ounces) and grow up to two plants per person, or four per household. The new law, however, conflicts with national marijuana prohibition laws and could be overridden.

Canada's Trudeau Says Liberals Not Looking to Decriminalize Drugs. As he campaigns to keep his job, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that the Liberal Party is not going to decriminalize drugs. "We're not looking at full decriminalization at all right now," Trudeau said. "There are other things that we are doing that (are) having a big impact and we're going to make decisions based on science," Trudeau said, pointing to the Liberal government's actions on safe injection sites and other harm reduction methods. Trudeau's stance contrasts with that of the national Liberal caucus, which approved a resolution last year to "re-classify low-level drug possession and consumption as administrative violations" rather than criminal ones.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Legalization Deadline Looms, State AGs Urge Support for Fed Marijuana Bill, More... (9/24/19)

More than 20 state attorneys general have urged congressional leaders to pass legislation to protect state-legal marijuana, Mexico faces a deadline to legalize marijuana, Canadian researchers recommend providing prescription heroin to hard-core addicts, and more.

Under a Supreme Court ruling, the Mexican congress has one month to pass a marijuana legalization bill. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

21 State Attorneys General Urge Congress to Protect State Marijuana Programs from Federal Interference. Attorneys general from 21 states sent a letter Monday to congressional leaders urging support for the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act (HR 2093), which would shield state-legal marijuana programs from federal interference. Attorneys general from Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Washington, DC, signed the letter.

Pennsylvania Court Rules Odor of Marijuana No Longer Probable Cause for Traffic Searches. A Lehigh County judge has ruled that since medical marijuana is now legal in the state, the mere presence of a "strong odor" of marijuana does not provide probable cause for a vehicle search. Judge Maria Dantos ruled that because police lacked probable cause for a search, a small amount of marijuana and a weapon found during the search was inadmissible as evidence of a crime. The state is appealing to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

International

Canadian Research Group Recommends Giving Addicts Medical-Grade Heroin. Guidelines published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal recommend that health-care providers offer injectable medical-grade heroin or another prescription opioid to severely addicted users who have proven resistant to other treatment modalities. The recommendations call for the use of injectable diacetylmorphine (prescription heroin) or hydrocodone for patients who have not responded to the most effective oral treatments, methadone and buprenorphine.

Mexico Has One Month to Legalize Marijuana. A Supreme Court-ordered deadline to legalize marijuana is now only one month away, and the country's congress is now pondering 10 different bills that would do just that. One of those bills is drawing concern from activists. It would not change the legal status quo, but would instruct the health ministry to give permits for self-consumption, thereby complying with the Supreme Court ruling, but not completely legalizing marijuana. Mexico must act on one of these bills by Oct. 24.

Chronicle AM: SAFE Banking Act Battle, SD Pot Legalization Initiative Advances, More... (9/23/19)

Battle over voting on the SAFE Banking Act, South Dakota marijuana legalization initiative okayed for signature gathering, Dr. Bronner's kicks in for Oregon psilocybin initiative, and more.

Dr. Bronner's CEO David Bronner. The company has just donated $150,000 to the Oregon psilocybin initiative. (maps.org)
Marijuana Policy

No Marijuana Banking Without Justice Reform, Three Democratic Presidential Candidates Say. In a sign of divisions within the marijuana legalization movement, three Democratic presidential contenders have joined Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and a coalition of civil rights and drug reform groups in calling for a delay in the passage of the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1595) until more progress is made in ending federal marijuana prohibition. The three candidates are Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Those calling for a delay in the banking bill fear that its passage will undermine efforts to advance justice aspects in legalization, while those supporting an early vote say it is a first step that will bolster broaden marijuana reform. A House floor vote is set for Wednesday.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Cleared for Signature Gathering. A constitutional amendment initiative that would legalize marijuana has been cleared for signature gathering. The measure was introduced by a former federal prosecutor and is backed by the Marijuana Policy Project. Petitioners now have one year to come up with 33,921 valid voter signatures to get the measure on the November 2020 ballot. The measure would allow adults 21 and older to possess and distribute up to one ounce of marijuana. Individuals would also be allowed to cultivate up to three cannabis plants. The South Dakota Department of Revenue would be tasked with issuing licenses for manufacturers, testing facilities and retailers. Sales would be taxed at 15%. The measure would also instruct the legislature to pass legislation legalizing hemp and medical marijuana.

Psychedelics

Dr. Bronner's Kicks in $150,000 for Oregon Psilocybin Initiative Campaign. Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, the natural soap company, has donated $150,000 for the Psilocybin Service Initiative, or Initiative Petition #34. The move came Friday night, as Dr. Bronner's CEO David Bronner joined chief petitioners Tom and Sheri Eckert at a kickoff event for the initiative in Portland Friday night. The initiative would allow Oregonians to access psilocybin in a therapeutic setting to treat a range of issues from depression to anxiety to addiction.Backers of the initiative have until July 2, 2020, to get 112,020 signatures to get the measure on the November 2020 ballot. "The Bronner family is no stranger to severe depression and anxiety," Bronner said. "We firmly believe that the integration of psilocybin therapy, to which the FDA recently granted a special 'breakthrough designation' is crucial to heal epidemic rates of depression, anxiety, and addiction that pharmaceutical drugs are completely inadequate for."

International

Mexican President Hints at Referendum on Drug Legalization. President Andres Lopez Manuel Obrador said Friday he was considering a public consultation or referendum on drug legalization: "I am not ruling out the possibility of calling a referendum or a collective reflection about legalizing certain drugs, especially those used for medicinal purposes," Lopez Obrador said. "I have also been considering how this is part of the chain for ensuring peace and tranquility," the president said. There are some people who do not want to legalize the use of drugs, not even for medicinal purposes, and there are people that support it (and insist) that the violence originates from the ban (on drugs),"he said.

(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: House MJ Banking Bill Vote Next Week, Guatemala Now a Cocaine Producer, More... (9/20/19)

The House prepares to vote on a marijuana banking bill, New Hampshire lawmakers override a veto to ensure patients can grow their own, Guatemala concedes it is now a cocaine-producing nation, and more.

Cocaine -- it's not just from South America anymore. (US CBP)
Marijuana Policy

House Will Vote on Marijuana Banking Bill Next Week. The House leadership confirmed Friday that the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (HR 1595) will get a House floor vote next week. The move comes with support from financial institutions, but over the objections of advocacy groups who want to see broader marijuana reforms advance before those catering to the industry alone.

Senate Funding Bill Would Again Block DC Marijuana Legalization. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Financial Services and General Government funding bill for FY 2020 and again included a provision that blocks Washington, DC, from using its own money to implement a legal marijuana sales regime.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Legislature Overrides Veto on Patient Home Grows. The state Senate joined the House Thursday in overriding Gov. Chris Sununu's (R) veto of HB 364, which would allow qualified patients to grow up to three mature plants and 12 seedlings.

Wisconsin Lawmakers Announce Bipartisan Medical Marijuana Bill. Sens. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point), Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison) have announced a bipartisan bill to introduce legalized medical cannabis in Wisconsin. The bill "recognizes that people should not have to engage in a criminal act to access medicine for debilitating conditions," they said.

International

Guatemala Joins Ranks of Cocaine Producers. Guatemalan Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart conceded Thursday that the country is now a full-fledged cocaine producer after security forces there uncovered several coca plantations and processing laboratories. Guatemala has long been a major transit country for cocaine, and traffickers have exercised influence over political parties and in some cases territorial control. The country has made little progress fighting the drug war. "Following the discovery of these narco-laboratories and the different fields with the coca plants, Guatemala now becomes a cocaine producer and that puts Guatemala in a totally different situation with respect to regional security," Degenhart said.

APPEAL: Help Us Respond to the Opportunities and the Crises

Posted in:

Dear reader,

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/borden12.jpg
David Borden
As I wrote last week, this is a good time and a bad time in drug policy. Marijuana reform continues to have 2019 momentum. Presidential candidates are debating criminal justice and drug policy more than ever. But politicians are still ready to file new and bad sentencing bills -- so quickly forgetting lessons they claimed to have learned -- and international human rights in the drug war are in full blown crisis.

We need your help to stay on the move at this important time. Can you make a generous donation for our work at this time? Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/donate, and click on the tax-deductible donation link or the non-deductible donation link, whichever kind you wish to make. Our donation form accepts credit card, PayPal, and bank ACH.

We especially need help with non-deductible donations to our 501(c)(4) nonprofit. Because our newsletter reports on political candidates, we cover the substantial cost of our web site server and email list service fully with non-deductible funds. This is to protect our tax-deductible 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which can't afford to be implicated, rightly or wrongly, in candidate advocacy. Most of our current funding is of the tax-deductible kind, especially the larger grants and gifts.

Can you make a non-deductible donation to sustain our newsletter through the campaign season? Or a tax-deductible donation for our campaign to stop Duterte's drug war killings in the Philippines? Our web site supports both one-time donations and recurring ones, on cycles including monthly, quarterly, annually, and other options. Visit our Candidates archive page and our Philippines campaign page to see why this is important.

Donations can also be sent by mail. For a non-deductible donation, make your check payable to Drug Reform Coordination Network, and send to P.O. Box 9853, Washington, DC 20016. Tax-deductible donation checks should be payable to DRCNet Foundation, same address.

Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/about#donations for information on other donation options like stock shares, or to read more about our work. Also visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/global and https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines for more about what we're doing.

Thank you for your support, and enjoy the rest of your summer.

Sincerely,

David Borden
StoptheDrugWar.org
Washington, DC
"US and UN Drug Policy Reform"
https://stopthedrugwar.org

Court Finds Prosecutorial Misconduct Led to a Drug Conspiracy Conviction, But Lets 30-Year Sentence Stand Anyway [FEATURE]

This article is part 11 of Drug War Chronicle's occasional series on prosecutorial misconduct in drug cases written by investigative journalist Clarence Walker.

The federal prison in Gilmer, WV. Oscar Sosa's home for the next quarter-century, unless he wins on appeal. (BOP)
On October 7, 2016, a jury in Brownsville, Texas, convicted Oscar Sosa, then 32, of conspiracy to possess and possession with intent to distribute three kilos of methamphetamine. On April 24, 2017, Southern Texas Federal District Judge Andrew Hanen hammered Sosa with 30 years in federal prison followed by five years of supervised release.

Sosa appealed, claiming prosecutors committed three errors in the case, rendering the trial unfair. Sosa's appeal alleged the government erred when prosecutors improperly introduced drug profiling evidence by a DEA agent to connect their client into the conspiracy. Sosa also alleged that the prosecutor unfairly bolstered witnesses' purported credibility by indicating Sosa was part of the conspiracy, even though there were no tape-recorded conversations or written documents to prove with certainty that Sosa participated in the trafficking of illegal drugs, nor was he ever caught with any drugs.

With no drugs and no surveillance or documentary evidence, Sosa was in essence convicted by the testimony of cooperating witnesses who faced the possibility of life in prison on drug charges if they didn't help the prosecution. All three cooperating witnesses received prison sentences ranging from six to seven years each for their role in the dope deal.

When the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals took up his case, it found that prosecutorial misconduct had indeed occurred, but rejected his bid for a new trial because his federal defender had failed to object during his original trial.

"Today's outcome is the same as many of our prior decisions addressing drug profiling testimony and bolstering of witnesses' testimony," the court held in its July 25, 2018, ruling. "We find the government engaged in misconduct but nonetheless the court concludes the defendant cannot meet the heavy burden of obtaining reversal for error that he did not object to during trial."

And the court implicitly chided prosecutors more interested in winning than in justice. "If the ultimate end of prosecution is securing convictions it may not be surprising this trend has not deterred improper trial tactics," the court noted.

"It leaves a bad taste to know Oscar Sosa will spend the next 30 years in prison because his defense attorney failed to object to the prosecutorial misconduct," said attorney John T. Floyd, a Harris County Texas federal and state law criminal defense attorney.

"So when a lawyer fails to object it's likely harmless error because over the years the US Supreme Court has watered down all of the amendments in favor of the government," said criminal law veteran Cheryl Irvin, who has tried numerous drug cases including drug related murders.

Although concessions that prosecutorial misconduct unfairly influenced the jury should have resulted in the appeals court granting Sosa a new trial, the appellate jurists -- Justices James Yue-Ho, Gregg Costa and Jennifer Walker Elrod -- made it clear why Sosa's conviction wasn't overturned: "Troubled as we are by the continued use of these improper tactics we do not find that Sosa has met his burden of showing that the errors substantially affected the outcome of the trial," they wrote.

In other words, while prosecutors' conduct in the case was wrong, it wasn't wrong enough to win him a new trial.

Conspiracy dope cases in the federal courts under the statute (21 U.S.C. 846) are inherently dangerous for an individual accused of complicity with other defendants, especially when the evidence is considerably circumstantial and undeniably weak.

To prove a federal drug conspiracy charge the prosecutor must prove:

  • Two or more people conspired to commit an illegal act.
  • A person(s) intentionally or knowingly participated in the conspiracy.
  • A person(s) acted beyond the initial agreement in furtherance of carrying out the crime.

Thus, someone can be prosecuted and convicted in a drug conspiracy case even if he is never caught with drugs in his possession. This is known as a "dry conspiracy."

Dry conspiracies usually start off with one or more individuals who got caught with drugs by police. They then decide to cooperate with the feds, giving up the names of others allegedly involved in the conspiracy in return for much lighter sentences. They will also provide inside information on drug offenses committed, such as how money was laundered, how much drug weight was trafficked, and how much money was paid to couriers, among other things.

Oscar Sosa went down in a dry conspiracy. No drugs, no hard evidence, just the word of cooperating witnesses was enough to put him away -- that and prosecutorial misconduct and a pinch of public defender neglect. After Sosa got slammed with 30 years, his new court-appointed attorney filed an appeal alleging that Assistant US Attorneys Karen Betancourt and Jody Young, committed serious misconduct that should be grounds for the conviction to be reversed.

Going After Sosa

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/oscar-sosa.jpg
Oscar Sosa (Facebook)
The case against Sosa unfolded after DEA agents and sheriff's deputies arrested two drug couriers, Juan Sarmiento and Jose Galvan, while carrying three kilos of meth at a bus station in Harlingen, Texas. When confronted by agents acting on a tip, the pair consented to be searched, and the lawmen found six bundles of meth sewn into Sarmiento's jacket lining and four more in Galvan's pockets.

DEA agents received a tip about the men headed to a gas station which also served as a bus stop. When law enforcement officers confronted Sarmiento and Galvan they panicked and gave officers consent to search them and their luggage, whereupon the lawmen discovered six bundles of crystal meth sewn into Sarmiento's jacket lining. Four more bundles were found in Galvan's pockets.

During questioning the men gave agents conflicting statements about the origin of the drugs. Eventually, though, the men admitted they'd planned to take the meth to a man named 'Oscar' in Plant City, Florida. The men also identified two women "Betty and Patti" as the owner or managers of the narcotics they were carrying.

DEA later identified the women as Mexican nationals Patricia Sosa and Bertha Sosa. Patricia allegedly was either Oscar's aunt or mother and Bertha was an aunt or cousin. Also implicated and charged in the scheme was Genaro Luera, who was also identified as a possible in-law relative connected to Patricia and Bertha.

On appeal, Sosa's attorney identified three examples of prosecutorial misconduct, arguing that the cumulative effect of the errors should cause the conviction to be overturned. While the 5th Circuit jurists agreed that the prosecution erred, it refused to annul the verdict.

"The first error is when the government introduced impermissible profiling testimony by having a DEA expert witness not only describe typical aspects and behavior of a drug trafficking organization, but, also tell the jury where Sosa fit into that structure," the court noted, citing U.S. vs Gonzalez-Rodriguez (621 F. 3d 354), to explain the problem with the profiling testimony.

Here's the exchange between the prosecutor and the DEA agent that unfairly used profiling to bolster the case that Sosa was a drug dealer:

Prosecutor: "When you're looking at (Sosa's records) and you're not finding any assets in Mr. Sosa's name, is that somehow strange he doesn't have any assets in his name, that tells me what?

DEA Agent Jason Bradford: "Yes, we consider that conduct common of drug traffickers.

Prosecutor: "And why is that?"

DEA Agent Bradford: "Because they don't want to leave a trail for their assets."

The appeals court found that the prosecutor erred by eliciting that testimony from the DEA agent. While Sosa had no property or assets in his name, that didn't make him a drug dealer, and it was up to the jury -- not the prosecutor and the DEA agent -- to make that determination.

"When stated in general terms, such testimony may help the jury understand the significance and implications of certain conduct," the court held. "But the ultimate responsibility of linking a defendant's conduct with the characteristics of drug trafficking must be left to the jury."

Sosa's second ground for appeal was that prosecutors committed error by stating in open court that the witnesses' testimony had already been determined to be true, or, worse yet, that they falsely alleged that the judge in the case has concluded the witnesses' testimony was truthful.

The appeals court agreed with that claim, too: "Sosa's claim the government improperly bolstered the credibility of the cooperating witnesses (Sarmiento and Galvan) has merits," it held, citing US vs Gracia (522 F. 3d 597).

In that case, the appellate judges reversed Gracia's conviction for possession of 50 kilos of cocaine based on the prosecutor's bolstering of the witness's testimony. The appeals court pointed out how the prosecutor told the jury that the agents in the case were "very, very credible witnesses" and went far as to ask the jury if they thought an agent, a man with a family, would lie under oath to convict Gracia.

"A personal assertion by a prosecutor of government witnesses' credibility is impermissible," the 5th Circuit explained. "Improper bolstering occurred" in Sosa's case, the judges agreed, when the prosecutor claimed the judge's stamp of approval of the witnesses' credibility.

Credibility of a witness's testimony must always be determined by the jury, and it is not the prosecutor's position that the judge declared such testimony by the cooperating witnesses to be true.

Despite these grave errors, Sosa's attorney, Raquel Munoz, failed to object and have the errors corrected and preserved for appeal.

5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod dissented, arguing prosecutorial misconduct must be punished.
Sosa's third appellate issue argued that a confrontation clause violation occurred when DEA agent Jason Bradford mentioned a tip implicating Patricia Sosa, Sosa's mother or aunt. Prosecutor asked Bradford how DEA determined Patricia Sosa was involved in dealing drugs from Mexico.

Bradford explained how he received an Automated Alert about other agents that were investigating the woman. Bradford further said a Houston undercover agent confirmed Patricia Sosa had sought to find couriers to transport drugs from Mexico into the Houston area. The 5th Circuit ruled against Sosa on this point by stating the tip about Patricia Sosa was something the jury already knew about. "As a result, there was no clear confrontation violation," the justices concluded.

The appeals court found two clear instances of prosecutorial misconduct in Sosa's case, but found that because his defense attorney failed to object in a timely fashion, his conviction should stand, in effect condoning the behavior.

5th Circuit Justice Jennifer Walker disagreed. "I do not condone prosecutorial misconduct here," she wrote in her dissent. "And as the Supreme Court suggested, we should continue to discourage it."

The next step for Oscar Sosa to possibly get a crack at a new trial is to petition for one at the US Supreme Court. Meanwhile, he remains behind bars at FCI Gilmer Unit in West Virginia with more than 25 years to go.

Reach Investigative Criminal Justice Journalist Clarence Walker at [email protected]

Chronicle AM: Beto Says Use MJ Taxes for Drug War Reparations, Yang Says Decriminalize Opiates, More... (9/19/19)

Democratic presidential contenders make dramatic policy proposals, DC loosens up on marijuana, Michigan lawmakers move toward sentencing reform, and more.

Beto O'Rourke wants to legalize marijuana and use the taxes to pay drug war victims. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Beto O'Rourke Proposes Drug War Reparations Funded by Marijuana Taxes. Democratic presidential contender Beto O'Rourke on Thursday proposed legalizing marijuana and using the tax revenues to make direct payments for former drug war prisoners through a "Drug War Justice Grant" program. "We need to not only end the prohibition on marijuana, but also repair the damage done to the communities of color disproportionately locked up in our criminal justice system or locked out of opportunity because of the War on Drugs," ​O'Rourke said in a press release.​ "These inequalities have compounded for decades, as predominantly white communities have been given the vast majority of lucrative business opportunities, while communities of color still face over-policing and criminalization. It's our responsibility to begin to remedy the injustices of the past and help the people and communities most impacted by this misguided war."

DC City Employees Free to Use Marijuana on Own Time. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) issued a mayoral order Wednesday notifying District municipal workers that marijuana use can no longer prevent either getting a government job or keeping one. Some safety-sensitive workers, such as police, are still barred from using marijuana, but now, city agencies can no longer create their own policies and instead must restrict marijuana use only by employees who fit into such categories.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire is One Step Closer to Legalizing Medical Home Growing. The state House voted Wednesday to override Gov. Chris Sununu's (R) veto of HB 364, which would allow qualified patients to grow up to three mature plants and 12 seedlings. The Senate was expected to take up the issue Thursday.

Medical Marijuana Patients Will Be Able to Get Treatment in DC Schools Under Emergency Legislation. The DC city council on Tuesday passed emergency legislation to allow students enrolled in District schools to use medical marijuana at school. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) plans to sign the bill shortly. The emergency legislation would take effect for 90 days after the Mayor's signature.

Drug Policy

Andrew Yang Calls for Decriminalization of Opiates. Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang said Wednesday he would decriminalize the possession of opiates for personal use if elected president. "In addition to decriminalizing marijuana, I would decriminalize opiates for personal use," Yang said, noting that this would include heroin. [Ed: One way that criminalization of opiates increases harm is that when addicted users are incarcerated and then get out, some of them return to using, but with lower tolerance levels than they had before. If they don't realize that, they may take doses that their bodies could handle before, but can kill them now.]

Sentencing Policy

Michigan Sentencing Reform Package Rolled Out. Lawmakers and ACLU officials stood together Wednesday to roll out a new bipartisan plan for sentencing reform. The proposed bill package, introduced by state Sen. Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington), state Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and state Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit), is aimed at overhauling the state's mandatory minimum sentencing laws "It's quite simple: We don't have a problem with crime. We have a problem with incarceration," Santana said. The number of inmates in the state increased by 13,000 during the administration of former Gov. John Engler (R).

(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.)

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A rogue DEA agent cops a plea, a former Detroit cop gets nailed as a dope dealer, and more. Let's get to it:

In New York City, an NYPD school safety agent was arrested Friday after she was caught with three pounds of marijuana and a stash of cash in her apartment. Agent Iashia Glover, 29, got caught not only with $17,000 in cash, but also $2,390 in counterfeit cash. She is charged with marijuana possession and forgery.

In New York City, a former DEA agent pleaded guilty Monday to participating in a decade long drug conspiracy that smuggled thousands of kilograms of cocaine from Puerto Rico to New York. Fernando Gomez "infiltrated" the DEA in 2011 by lying about his ties to the murderous trafficking ring, then assisted them by, among other things, selling weapons to them and divulging law enforcement information to them. He's looking at up to 20 years in federal prison when sentenced in November.

In Detroit, a former Detroit police officer was convicted Tuesday of being part of a drug trafficking organization -- and was even paid $20,000 for staging a fake arrest. Former officer Christopher Staton, 52, was found to have conspired with traffickers to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances, including cocaine and fentanyl. Staton ran license plates and provided other sensitive law enforcement information to the group.

In Mt. Holly, New Jersey, a former state prison guard was sentenced last Friday to seven years in prison after being convicted of smuggling oxycodone, marijuana and tobacco to inmates in exchange for money. Steven Saunders, 51, will be ineligible for parole for five years. He was convicted of conspiracy, official misconduct, bribery in official matters, and acceptance or receipt of unlawful benefit by a public servant for official behavior, as well as possession of oxycodone with intent to distribute and distribution of marijuana, Grewal said.

Chronicle AM: Coalition Urges Delay in House Pot Banking Vote, Chicago Mayor: No Pot Shops Downtown, More... (9/18/19)

Civil rights and drug policy groups fearing a loss of momentum in ending federal pot prohibition are urging a delay in a marijuana banking bill vote, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot doesn't want pot shops downtown, and more.

Should Congress move on marijuana banking or end federal prohibition first? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Civil Rights Groups Urge Congress to Delay Marijuana Banking Vote. A broad coalition of organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch and Drug Policy Alliance is calling on Democratic congressional Democratic leaders to postpone a planned vote on a marijuana banking bill next week until farther-reaching legislation to end federal marijuana prohibition advances first. "We are concerned that if the House approves this bill, it will undermine broader and more inclusive efforts to reform our country's marijuana laws," the groups wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) in a letter on Tuesday.

Chicago Mayor Wants No Pot Shops Downtown. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) rolled out a proposal Tuesday for how legal marijuana would work in the city. Under her plan, use of marijuana would be banned in public places and no pot shops would be allowed to operate in the Central Business District. That's generating some pushback from some city council members. The proposal would also prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana within 500 feet of schools and within 1,500 feet of other dispensaries. A vote on the proposal is expected next month.

International

Colombia Bill to Legalize, Regulate Marijuana Filed. Leftist opposition Sen. Gustavo Bolivar has filed a bill to legalize and regulate the production and consumption of marijuana. The bill is part of a package of drug policy bills aimed at ending the repressive policies of President Ivan Duque. The bill is reportedly backed by former President Juan Manuel Santos, but it is the votes of the Liberal Party that will determine whether the bill advances.

Chronicle AM: DEA Takes Aim at Fentanyl Precursors, CA Governor Takes Aim at Vaping Crisis, More... (9/17/19)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issues an executive order on vaping, the DEA designates some fentanyl precursors as controlled substances, and more.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) takes aim at the vaping crisis. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Issues Executive Order on Vaping. Responding to rising concerns over vaping-related deaths and illnesses, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Monday issued an executive order launching a new crackdown on the industry, for both tobacco-related companies and marijuana businesses. The order jump-starts a new public awareness campaign focused on the potential dangers of vaping both tobacco and marijuana, seeks recommendations on mandating additional warning signs on vaping products and at stores, and heightens enforcement against counterfeit e-cigs and marijuana products. It requests the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) begin developing recommendations for warnings on vaping products and at retail locations -- possibly including cannabis retailers -- and increasing enforcement against retailers that sell vaping products to minors. While Newsom focused on e-cigs, he also made clear that he was looking at the marijuana industry, too. "This is about these vaping products that are used for both cannabis and tobacco products," Newsom said. "We're getting serious about this issue and we're going to drive these issues as far as we can through executive authority."

Medical Marijuana

Utah Legislature Passes Changes to Medical Marijuana Law, Allows More Dispensaries. The legislature on Tuesday approved changes in the state's medical marijuana law that will allow for 14 medical marijuana dispensaries, and possibly more in the future. But lawmakers said they still need to make further "tweaks" in the law, including removing a state-operated "central fill pharmacy" after local officials expressed concerns about possibly violating federal laws. The state's program is supposed to be up and running by March 1, 2020.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Proposes to Control Three Precursor Chemicals Used in Illicit Fentanyl Manufacture. The DEA has proposed to control three substances used by operators of clandestine laboratories to illicitly manufacture the deadly Schedule II controlled substance fentanyl. The DEA proposed on September 13 that benzylfentanyl and 4-anilinopiperidine be controlled as list I chemicals under the Controlled Substances Act. On Tuesday, DEA proposed to designate norfentanyl as an immediate precursor (i.e., a substance from which another is formed) for fentanyl and to make it a Schedule II controlled substance under the CSA. Both Notices are based on findings that these substances are important precursors used in the illegal production of fentanyl. Most illicit fentanyl manufacturing is done outside the United States.

Fentanyl Isn't About to Go Away. What Can We Do About It? [FEATURE]

In the most thorough review yet of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, a new study from the RAND Corporation warns that its arrival heralds a new dynamic in illicit drug markets -- and that is going to require new approaches for dealing with the dangerous drug.

a fatal dose of illicit fentanyl (dea.gov)
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) linked the synthetic opioid, which is roughly 50 times as powerful as heroin, to more than 31,000 overdose deaths last year, a little less than half of all drug overdose deaths registered in 2018, and the most people killed by a single drug in a single year in United States history.

Those fentanyl-linked deaths were 10 times the number of synthetic opioid deaths just five years ago. That's because a reliable supply chain has been established. Whether it's coming via DHL or Fedex packages ordered on the dark web direct from under-regulated Chinese pharmaceutical labs or being cooked up from precursor chemicals in informal Mexican labs and then smuggled across the border, fentanyl is pouring into the country.

In addition to its extreme lethality, what makes the rise of fentanyl different from previous drug epidemics is that very few users seek it out. Only the heaviest opioid users with the highest tolerance levels might seek fentanyl. The drug is here, rather, because it works better for drug dealing syndicates. It is cheap and relatively easy to produce, it does not require the control of extensive territories to produce drug crops, and because it is so potent, massive quantities of the drug can be smuggled in small packages, making it more attractive to traffickers.

"This crisis is different because the spread of synthetic opioids is largely driven by suppliers' decisions, not by user demand," RAND researcher Bryce Pardo, lead author of the study, said in a press release. "Most people who use opioids are not asking for fentanyl and would prefer to avoid exposure."

The fentanyl crisis is largely regional, the RAND researchers found. Deaths related to the drug are clustered in Appalachia, the mid-Atlantic and New England.

"While synthetic opioids have not yet become entrenched in illicit drug markets west of the Mississippi River, authorities must remain vigilant," said Jirka Taylor, study coauthor and senior policy analyst at RAND. "Even delaying the onset in these markets by a few years could save thousands of lives."

While the RAND report said "nontraditional strategies may be required" to address fentanyl, it did not make any specific policy recommendations. Instead, the authors urged consideration of a number of innovative approaches, many of which are tenets of harm reduction. They include:

  • supervised consumption sites (or safe injection sites)
  • drug content testing
  • providing prescription heroin to addicts (heroin-assisted treatment)
  • creative supply disruption

"Indeed, it might be that the synthetic opioid problem will eventually be resolved with approaches or technologies that do not currently exist or have yet to be tested," said Beau Kilmer, study coauthor and director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. "Limiting policy responses to existing approaches will likely be insufficient and may condemn many people to early deaths."

In other words, traditional drug war strategies when it comes to fentanyl are not only unlikely to succeed, but people will die. While tough-on-drugs politicians and prosecutors are quick to embrace harsher penalties, the researchers note there is little reason to believe tougher sentences, such as drug-induced murder laws applied to low-level retailers and couriers, will make any difference.

On the other hand, RAND does advocate for short but swift punishments as a deterrent. The one supply-side intervention RAND discussed in this report is efforts to disrupt dark web drug marketing of fentanyl, because the market is driven by suppliers, not users. "It makes sense," they wrote, "to consider supply disruption as one piece of a comprehensive response, particularly where that supply is not yet firmly entrenched."

That's particularly urgent, the researchers explained, because their study, which also examined fentanyl outbreaks in other countries, found that once the drug gains a prominent place in a local drug market, it doesn't go away.

But fentanyl is clearly already entrenched in parts of the US. The RAND report points the way to smarter approaches to dealing with the crisis -- approaches that focus on saving lives.

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

Chronicle AM: House MJ Banking Bill to Get Floor Vote, Purdue Pharma Files for Bankruptcy, More... (9/16/19)

A bill to open up financial services for the marijuana industry will get a House floor vote this month, the maker of OxyContin files for bankruptcy, the marijuana industry places the blame for vaping deaths on marijuana prohibition, and more.

Is marijuana prohibition to blame for vaping deaths? The industry is pointing a finger. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Will Vote This Month on Marijuana Banking Bill. The office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has confirmed that he intends to bring the SAFE Banking Act to the House floor for a vote this month. Hoyer announced the move at a whip meeting last Thursday. The bill passed out of the House Financial Committee in March on a 45-15 vote. It would provide protections for banks that work with marijuana companies since the substance is still illegal under federal law, despite several states having legalized medical or recreational marijuana.

Marijuana Industry Blames Vaping Deaths on Failed Prohibition Policies.The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) has blamed the recent wave of vaping deaths -- a total of six so far -- on "failed prohibition policies" and called on Congress to legalize and regulate marijuana. "These unfortunate illnesses and deaths are yet another terrible, and largely avoidable, consequence of failed prohibition policies," said NCIA Executive Director Aaron Smith. "Current federal laws interfere with research, prevent federal regulatory agencies from establishing safety guidelines, discourage states from regulating cannabis, and make it more difficult for state-legal cannabis businesses to displace the illicit market. It is now the responsibility of Congress to end prohibition and regulate cannabis without delay," Smith added. "By removing cannabis from the schedule of controlled substances and instituting a clear regulatory framework through existing agencies, the federal government can provide helpful guidance to states that have or wish to establish regulated cannabis control systems while helping put irresponsible illicit market producers out of business for good."

Medical Marijuana

Utah Lawmakers Meet to Revise Medical Marijuana Law. Legislators returned to the state capitol Monday to once more amend the state's medical marijuana law. One issue is how and where patients will obtain medical marijuana products. The state had contemplated a central government-run pharmacy that would distribute the drug to a system of private pharmacies, but local leaders have balked at having government employees distributing a federally illegal drug.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Purdue Pharma Files for Bankruptcy. Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, filed for bankruptcy on Sunday, the first step of a tentative agreement the company and its owners, the Sackler family, reached last week to settle thousands of lawsuits blaming it for its involvement in the opioid epidemic. The deal is estimated at between $10 and $12 billion, with $3 billion coming from the Sacklers' personal fortunes.

Psychedelics

Ann Arbor Group Wants to Decriminalize Natural Psychedelics. A local group calling itself Decriminalize Nature Ann Arbor is planning to ask the city council to decriminalize natural psychedelics, such as peyote and magic mushrooms. They are calling on the council to approve a resolution to prohibit the use of city funds to investigate, arrest, or prosecute anyone for use or possession of such plants.

International

British Labor Party Wants Royal Commission on Drug Policy, Would Follow Its Recommendation to Decriminalize Drugs. A Labor government would consider decriminalizing all drugs if that was recommended by a royal commission, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said. "There is nothing more important than preserving the life of our citizens," she said. "Our current approach to drugs is simply not doing that." Safe injection sites would also be considered, she added.

Thailand Bill Would Allow for Six Marijuana Plants for Personal Use. A member party in the country's ruling coalition government has proposed a bill that would let Thais grow up to six marijuana plants per household for medicinal use. "The principle is for medical use, you can have it at home for ailments, but not smoke it on the street," said Bhumjaithai Party lawmaker Supachai Jaisamut. The bill would also allow the sale of plants to institutions licensed by a Plant-based Drug Institute that would have the authority to purchase, extract, and export CBD.

Chronicle AM: Joe Biden's Muddy Marijuana Policy Message, Peru Coca Eradication Gearing Up, More... (9/13/19)

Joe Biden muddies the waters on his marijuana policy, Copenhagen is moving toward a pilot progeram of legal marijuana sales, Peru prepares to go after coca crops in a lawless region, and more.

Joe Biden. Where, exactly, is he on marijuana policy? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan House Bill to Reschedule Marijuana Filed. Florida US Reps. Donna Shalala (D) and Matt Gaetz (R) filed a bill Thursday aimed at reducing barriers to marijuana research by moving it from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act. The Expanding Cannabis Research and Information Act is identical companion legislation to a bill filed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) in July, S. 2400.

Joe Biden Says Marijuana Offenses Should Be Misdemeanors, But Without Jail Time. During Thursday night's Democratic presidential debate, former Vice President Joe Biden muddied the waters by saying marijuana offenses should be treated as misdemeanors, even though he has earlier called for decriminalization. Many other candidates are calling for legalization. Here's what Biden said: "Nobody who got in prison for marijuana, for example -- immediately upon being released, they shouldn't be in there." he said. "That should be a misdemeanor. They should be out and their record should be expunged. Every single right should be returned," he said. "When you finish your term in prison, you should be able to not only vote but have access to Pell grants, have access to be able to get housing, have access to be able to move along the way."

International

Denmark's Capital City Moves toward Legal Marijuana. The Copenhagen city council overwhelmingly supports a pilot program that would see marijuana sold legally across the city. The city has long been prepared to move down this path, but had been stymied by a conservative national government. But now, left-wing parties won an overall majority in elections this summer. The new health minister, Magnus Heunicke, doesn't endorse the scheme, but the city council is moving forward anyway. Under the proposed plan, a half dozen or so marijuana dispensaries would operate in the city.

Peru to Start Eradicating Coca Crops in the VRAEM. For the first time, Peruvian security forces will attempt to eradicate illicit coca plants in the country's largest coca growing area, the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM), the government announced Thursday. Starting November 1, authorities will undertake a 45-day operation aiming to eradicate some 1,800 acres of coca crops, and they are vowing to intensify such operations next year. The region produced some 60,000 acres of coca in 2017, according to the UN. Although the region has been in a state of emergency for decades, recent governments have declined to send in coca eradication teams for fear of a violent backlash from coca farmers and remnants of the Shining Path guerrillas who have morphed into drug traffickers.

(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: Tentative Oxycontin Settlement, Philippines Says No to UN Investigators, More... (9/12/19)

It looks like the thousands of lawsuits against Purdue Pharma over Oxycontin are about to be settled, a new audit finds California's unlicensed pot shops greatly outnumber licensed ones, Florida's attorney general seeks to block a marijuana legalization initiative, and more.

Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family will reportedly pay out billions to settle Oxycontin lawsuits. (Creative Commons)
California's Legal Pot Shops Are Outnumbered Three-to-One by Black Market Ones. According to an audit conducted by the United Cannabis Business Association, there are more than three times as many unlicensed marijuana shops as there are regulated ones. The audit found about 2,850 unlicensed dispensaries and delivery services, compared to only 873 licensed sellers in the state. The audit was based on Weedmaps listings. Fewer than 20% of California cities allow regulated pot shops, and though many large cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, do allow them, unlicensed dispensaries proliferate there as well. Earlier this year, Weedmaps showed 220 unlicensed pot shops in Los Angeles, compared to only 187 licensed ones.

Florida Attorney General Challenges Legalization Initiative. State Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) is challenging a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana in the state… on the grounds that it is too detailed. The amendment is 10 pages long. "There is no way 10 pages of the law can be summarized clearly in 75 words or less and would adequately convey to the voters what exactly they will be voting on," the attorney general said. There are two significant legalization initiative campaigns underway in the state; the one Moody is challenging is the "Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol to Establish Age, Licensing, and Other Restrictions" initiative. Now it will be up to the state Supreme Court to determine whether the initiative comports with the legal requirements.

New Mexico Task Force Opposes State-Run Pot Shops. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's (D) Cannabis Legalization Working Group, which is looking at regulatory options for marijuana legalization, has come out against state-run marijuana stores. Instead, it is endorsing a system of licensing commercial entities. The working group also recommends barring local governments from banning pot shops, although they would be allowed to impose zoning and similar restrictions.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Medical Board Rejects Anxiety, Autism as Qualifying Conditions. The State Medical Board voted Wednesday to reject adding anxiety and autism spectrum disorder to the state's list of qualifying conditions for the use of medical marijuana. Earlier this year, the state's Medical Marijuana Expert Review Committee recommended adding the conditions, but the board overruled them. It did say it might revisit the issue later "if additional studies or evidence are brought forth in the petition process."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Purdue Pharma, Sackler Family Agree to Oxycontin Settlement. Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family have reportedly agreed to a tentative settlement of thousands of lawsuits filed by states and other localities over the role of Oxycontin in the current opioid epidemic. According to news reports, Purdue will file for bankruptcy and effectively dissolve, while a new company will form and continue selling Oxycontin, with the revenues going to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit settlement. The deal is expected to be worth between $10 and $12 billion, including $3 billion from the Sackler family, the owners of Purdue.

International

Philippines Refuses to Grant UN Access to Investigate Bloody Drug War. The Philippines will not allow visits by the United Nations to investigate its brutal war on drugs, Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin said Wednesday. He called the UN experts "bastards" who had already prejudged his country. Asked if UN investigators should be allowed to work in the country, he said: "No. Because they have already prejudged. I already said those bastards -- especially that woman acting like the queen in Alice in Wonderland -- first, the judgment, then the trial. No." That was a reference to Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, who has been a staunch critic of Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte.

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