Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A California police department pays for its crooked cops' misbehavior, a former Rio Grande Valley cop heads to prison for escorting drug shipments, and more.

In Rohnert Park, California, the Rohnert Park Police Department settled a lawsuit Monday against it by paying out $415,000 to a man who was stopped and had pounds of legal marijuana seized by city police operating well outside their jurisdiction. A second lawsuit alleging similar corrupt activities by Rohnert Park police was filed on Tuesday. A number of drivers have come forward to say that those officers stopped and threatened them and unlawfully seized their legal marijuana.

In Charleston, West Virginia, a former state prison guard pleaded guilty last Wednesday in a scheme to smuggle methamphetamine into jail. John Edward Roach II entered the plea in federal court to possession with intent to distribute meth. Roach was paid $2,000 and given four ounces of meth by an undercover agent posing as a drug trafficker and was arrested before the meth was taken to the jail.

In Rio Grande City, Texas, a former Rio Grande City police officer was sentenced last Monday to 14 years in federal prison for assisting drug traffickers. Ramon De La Cruz was convicted of escorting drug shipments while on duty in an investigation that lasted six years and resulted in the convictions of 23 people.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Court Okays Personal Cocaine Use, Elizabeth Warren Criminal Justice Policy, More... (8/21/19)

Elizabeth Warren rolls out her criminal justice and drug policy platform, a Mexico City court rules that two petitioners can legally possess and use cocaine, and more.

A court in Mexico City has ruled that two petitioners can legally use cocaine, but it's not a done deal yet. (Pixabay)
Criminal Justice

Elizabeth Warren Unveils Criminal Justice Platform. Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential contender Elizabeth Warren has rolled out her criminal justice platform aimed at rethinking public safety to reduce mass incarceration and strengthen communities. She is calling for the repeal of the 1994 crime bill, investments in diversion programs for people with substance abuse issues, as well as supporting safe injection sites and needle exchange programs. Warren would also legalize marijuana and expunge past convictions and eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. In planks aimed at the decriminalization of poverty, she would end cash bail, restrict pre-trial fines and fees, and eliminate expensive fees for prisoners, such as for phone calls and bank transfers.

Harm Reduction

Illinois Governor Signs Bill Legalizing Needle Exchanges Statewide. Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) has signed into law a bill that legalizes needle exchange programs throughout the state. The state currently only has six exchanges, three of which are in Chicago. Under the new law, individuals and groups that meet state criteria can establish needle exchange programs under the supervision of the Department of Public Health.

International

Mexico Court Allows Personal Cocaine Use in Landmark Decision. A judge in Mexico City has ruled in favor of two people seeking permission to use cocaine non-medically. The decision is now being reviewed by a higher court at the government's request. The ruling allows the petitioners to "possess, transport, and use cocaine" but not sell it. The case was backed by Mexico United Against Crime, which is dedicated to ending drug prohibition in the country. The ruling actually came in May, but only came to light after the country's national health regulator, which was ordered to authorize the use, instead moved to block it, saying such an authorization would be outside its legal remit. If upheld, the ruling would only apply to the two petitioners, but Mexico United said it would be a building block toward proving that "prohibition has failed and alternative approaches can work better."

(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: Feds Okay Hemp Banking, Philadelphia Safe Injection Site Court Case, More... (8/20/19)

A federal financial institution has given the thumbs up to banking services for the hemp industry, a potential Philadelphia safe injection site is the subject of a court battle, and more.

Could a safe injection site like Vancouver's InSite be coming to Philadelphia? (vch.ca)
Hemp

Feds Give Guidance on Hemp Banking. The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) released updated guidelines Monday for banking in the hemp industry. The NCUA said that providing financial services to hemp businesses is allowable because the crop and its derivatives were legalized under the 2018 federal farm bill. The NCUA also cheered the new guidelines: "Lawful hemp businesses provide exciting new opportunities for rural communities," NCUA Chairman Rodney Hood said. "I believe today's interim guidance keeps with the mission of the nation's cooperative credit system to serve people who have been overlooked and underserved."

South Dakota Governor Submits More Than 300 Questions to Panel Studying Hemp. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) vetoed a hemp bill earlier this year, and she apparently still has a lot of questions -- more than 300 of them. On Monday, her office submitted 315 questions to the state House and Senate leaders who are doing a study of hemp legalization this summer. "As leaders, we must have answers to how any new law will be implemented effectively and how it will impact our state," Noem said. She added that it "could be reckless to introduce a product that has serious implications on the health and safety of the next generation."

Harm Reduction

Court Hearing on Philadelphia Safe Injection Site Underway. The legal battle over a potential safe injection site in Philadelphia has begun with a federal judge presiding over the opening salvos Monday. The judge is hearing a request from US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Bill McSwain for a preliminary injunction to prevent the nonprofit group Safehouse from opening a site on the grounds that it would violate federal law. No ruling has been issued.

Chronicle AM: Bernie Sanders Criminal Justice Proposals, British Drug Deaths at All-Time High, More... (8/19/19)

Bernie Sanders rolls out a radical criminal justice reform package, marijuana legalization initiatives get moving in Arizona and South Dakota, Atlanta rejects expansion of drug-free commercial zones, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Initiative Details Released. The Arizona Dispensaries Association last Friday released details of their proposed marijuana legalization initiative, the Smart and Safe Act. Supporters will need 237,645 valid voter signatures by July 2, 2020, to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. The act would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by people 21 and over, allow adults to grow up to six plants each (with a maximum of 12 per home), and provide for expungement of past pot convictions. Employers and property owners would have the right to forbid use at their workplaces and on their property. Marijuana sales would carry a 16% excise tax.

South Dakota Legalization Initiative Advances One Step. State Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) last Friday filed an official explanation of a proposed initiative to legalize marijuana. The initiative would legalize adult use through a constitutional amendment and require the legislature to pass legislation creating rules for medical cannabis and hemp. Organizers will have until November 3 to come up with16,961 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering. Secretary of State Lawrence Denney (R) announced last Friday that an initiative to legalize medical marijuana has been approved for signature gathering. The measure would allow qualified patients to possess up to four ounces and grow up to six plants. It also would protect medical marijuana production facilities and medical marijuana dispensaries from civil forfeitures and penalties under state law and make it illegal to discriminate against registered medical marijuana users in education, housing or employment. Organizers have until April 30, 2020, to gather some 55,000 valid voter signatures, with at least 6% of voters from all 18 state legislative districts signing on.

Criminal Justice

Bernie Sanders Unveils Proposal for Massive Overhaul of Criminal Justice System. Democratic presidential contender Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) on Sunday unveiled a sweeping plan aimed at cutting the country's prison population in half and eliminating "institutional racism and corporate profiteering" in the criminal justice system. The proposal seeks to reform the nation's prisons, police departments, courts, drug laws and treatment of people who have mental illnesses. Sanders is calling for an end to cash bail, solitary confinement, the death penalty, and civil asset forfeiture while at the same time looking to legalize marijuana and safe injection sites for hard drug users, among other proposals.

Atlanta Kills Expansion of Drug-Free Commercial Zones. The city council's Public Safety/Legal Administration Committee voted last Tuesday to kill an ordinance that would expand the geographic boundaries of Atlanta's Drug-Free Commercial Zones. Those are areas where there are heightened penalties for drug crimes and where drug offenders can be banished from returning. Opponents of the expansion cited research showing the zones exacerbate racial disparities in drug policing.

International

England, Wales Drug Overdose Deaths Hit All-Time High. The British Office of National Statistics has released drug-related death numbers for 2018 and reports there were 4,359 drug-related deaths in England and Wales last year, the highest number and the highest percentage increase (16%) since the series started in 1993. Between 2017 and 2018, there were increases in the number of deaths involving a wide range of substances, though opiates, such as heroin and morphine, continued to be the most frequently mentioned type of drug. Deaths involving cocaine doubled between 2015 and 2018 to their highest ever level, while the numbers involving new psychoactive substances (NPS) returned to their previous levels after halving in 2017.

Mexico's Top Court Demands Action on Medical Marijuana Regulation. After months of delays, the country's supreme court last week ordered the health ministry to issue regulations within six months on medical marijuana use. The court said the government's failure to act had put rights at risk for patients, including children. The health ministry said it would comply with the court order. The ruling comes as the country is moving toward recreational marijuana legalization.

(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.)

New Jersey Marijuana Legalization This Year May Not Be Dead After All [FEATURE]

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said he wanted marijuana legalized. Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said he wanted it, too, and Assembly Leader Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) was also on board. But the state's most powerful politicians couldn't get their act together enough to actually get marijuana legalization passed earlier this year, and despite all the initial excitement, it seemed like New Jersey was doomed to endure another year of pot prohibition.

Now, though, it's looking like Garden Staters may end up enjoying an unexpected Christmas present after all. Last week, both Sweeney and Murphy were making noises about reviving the stalled legalization effort before year's end.

"I'm not going to give up trying. I would love to do it. We'll make one more run at it," Sweeney told NJ.com last Wednesday. He added that he believed an agreement among himself, Coughlin, and Murphy on the language in the bill would be enough to get it through the legislature.

That prompted a quick expression of support from Murphy, who campaigned on marijuana legalization in 2017 and once vowed to get it done by the end of 2018.

Last Thursday, Murphy told the PhillyVoice that he was "happy to hear" Sweeney wanted to move again on legalization. "I was encouraged to see that, and count me all in to try and work toward that," he said. "Getting something to happen sooner if we have a real shot at it, I'd be all in for that."

Sources close to Sweeney said the renewed push to get legalization through would come after the November elections, most likely during the lame duck session between Election Day and January.

That's a real turnaround for Sweeney, who announced in May that he was ending efforts to pass the bill because he didn't have the votes for it. At the time, he said the most likely path to legalization was for the state's voters to decide the issue in a November 2020 ballot referendum. But that would mean another year of prohibition.

Sweeney and Murphy were also at odds over investigations by the administration into whether corporations misused tax breaks in the past. One of the companies being scrutinized is owned by state Democratic powerbroker George Norcross, a Sweeney ally. Once the investigations got underway, negotiations between Sweeney and Murphy over the pot bill stalled.

What has prompted Sweeney to change his mind now and whether he has the five votes he lacked in May remains unclear, but the Senate leader is definitely signaling he's ready to try to push the bill though.

It would be the popular thing to do. A February Monmouth University poll had support for legalization at 62 percent, with just 32 percent opposed. The people of New Jersey are ready; now, it's up to the politicians to get it done.

If New Jersey does legalize it this year, it will become the 11th state to do so and the second one to do so this year, after Illinois. And it will beat neighboring New York across the finish line.

Chronicle AM: Outside Lands Festival to Allow Pot, Colombia Cocaine Conflicts Creating Refugees, More... (8/9/19)

There will be legal pot smoking at Outside Lands in San Francisco this weekend, the Trump administration moves forward with plans to allow drug testing of unemployment recipients, fighting over coca farms and cocaine smuggling routes in Colombia is generating large refugee flows, and more.

Prohibition-related violence in Colombia's cocaine trade is generating tens of thousands of refugees. (Pixelbay)
Marijuana Policy

Outside Lands Becomes First Major US Music Festival to (Officially) Allow Marijuana. San Francisco's Outside Lands music festival, set for this weekend, will allow marijuana sales and consumption, making it the largest music festival of its size to do so. Some 200,000 people attended last year. Final approval from the state Bureau of Cannabis Control came on Wednesday.

Medical Marijuana

DC Will Now Accept Medical Marijuana Cards from Any State. In a press release Thursday, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced that the District will now accept medical marijuana cards from any US state. "Non-residents needing their medication while they are visiting the District will be able to patronize the District's regulated marijuana dispensaries and obtain their medication," the press release said. Previously, the District recognized 19 other states' medical cards. Now, at least 27 states' cards will be recognized by the District's dispensaries.

Drug Testing

Labor Department Rule to Allow States to Drug Test Unemployment Recipients Now Under Review at White House. The White House budget office is reviewing a final Department of Labor rule that would allow states to drug test unemployment insurance recipients. The rule would allow states to drug test applicants in occupations where the employer "regularly conducts drug testing."

International

Colombia Cocaine Trade Fighting Generates Tens of Thousands of Refugees. According to a new report from Human Rights Watch, illegal armed groups fighting for control over the lucrative cocaine trade have forced some 40,000 people to flee their homes in the country's Catatumbo region near the Venezuelan border. The groups are fighting over territory armed by the former leftist guerillas of the FARC, who laid down their arms in a peace accord in 2016. The three groups named by Human Rights Watch are the Popular Liberation Army, the National Liberation Army, and a small group of FARC dissidents. Human Rights Watch accused the Colombian government of "not meeting its obligations" to protect civilians in the area.

Chronicle AM: Bernie Sanders Would Legalize Marijuana by Executive Order, CDC Says More Naloxone, More... (8/8/19)

That New Jersey legalization bill may yet rise from the dead, the CDC wants more naloxone access in rural areas, Ohio's largest city just quit prosecuting small-time pot busts, Bernie Sanders vows to use an executive order to federally legalize marijuana, and more.

Bernie Sanders stays in the marijuana legalization vanguard. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Says He Will Legalize Marijuana Via Executive Order. If elected president, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) will legalize marijuana by executive order, he told podcast host Joe Rogan in a recent interview. "When I ran for president for the Democratic nomination in 2016, I talked about a broken criminal justice system, which ends up having in the United States more people in jail than any other country," Sanders said. "And what I call for then, and I call for now, is the legalization of marijuana in America." It sounds like he wants to modify the Controlled Substances Act, which puts marijuana in the same category as heroin. "That is insane. Heroin is a killer drug," he said on the episode. "You can argue the plusses and minuses of marijuana, but marijuana ain't heroin. So we have to end that and that's what I will do as President of the United States. I believe we can do that through executive order and I will do that."

New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Effort May Come Back at Year's End. Although lawmakers gave up on trying to get a legalization bill passed three months ago, with Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) saying it would likely be up to the state's voters at the 2020 election, Sweeney was singing a slightly different tune this week. "I'm not going to give up trying," he said. "I would love to do it. We'll make one more run at it."

Ohio's Largest City Quits Prosecuting Misdemeanor Marijuana Cases. Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein said Wednesday his office will no longer prosecute misdemeanor possession charges because current drug tests make it difficult to determine the exact amount of THC in the samples. This is a direct result of the legislature passing a law that legalizes hemp and CBD. Field drug tests cannot differentiate between hemp and recreational marijuana.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

CDC Says Naloxone Not Getting Where Most Needed. In a new report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said prescriptions for the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone doubled from 2017 to 2018, but rural counties, which are often hard-hit by the opioid epidemic, were far less likely to dispense the drug. The CDC is asking doctors and pharmacists to allow more access to the drug. "Efforts to improve naloxone access and distribution work most effectively with efforts to improve opioid prescribing, implement other harm-reduction strategies, promote linkage to medications for opioid use disorder treatment, and enhance public health and public safety partnerships," the CDC said.

Search and Seizure

Pennsylvania Court Rules Smell of Marijuana Doesn't Justify Car Search. Pennsylvania is a medical marijuana state and thus police cannot use the smell of marijuana as probable cause to search a vehicle once the suspect has showed proof he is a medical marijuana patients, a Lehigh County judge ruled last week. It was "illogical, impractical, and unreasonable" for police to suspect illegal activity once the medical marijuana card was produced, he said. "Pennsylvania legislators did not contemplate that people with legal medical marijuana cards would be arrested and prosecuted for possession of marijuana in a package that is not clearly marked with a dispensary name on it. Such actions are merely means of hampering the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes," the judge wrote as he threw out the marijuana charge.

International

British Columbia Nurses Endorse Drug Decriminalization. British Columbia nurses collectively called for the province to save lives by decriminalizing drug possession. "[We] call on the B.C. government to take immediate steps to move toward the decriminalization of people who use drugs," reads a statement issued Thursday by the Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of British Columbia (NNPBC), a professional organization with more than 3,800 members, and the Harm Reduction Nurses Association (HRNA), a national organization with members across Canada. "As nurses who work in B.C. and provide frontline care in the midst of this public health emergency, we see firsthand the impact of criminalization on our clients, on their families, on our practice and our communities," it continues. "As nurses, we see decriminalization as an essential step to remove barriers to care and support, reduce stigma and discrimination, improve health and socioeconomic outcomes, and work toward a more just and compassionate society."

(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.)

Why Are Meth- and Cocaine-Related Overdose Deaths on the Increase? [FEATURE]

August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day, overdoseday.com
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released provisional data indicating that the country's overdose crisis peaked in late 2017 and actually declined by 5.1 percent between then and late 2018. While that is long-awaited good news, it's not great news: The annual number of drug overdose deaths was still more than 68,000, and that number is still more than a third higher than in 2014, when the overdose epidemic was already well underway.

The fever may have broken, but the patient is still in critical condition. And there is one bit of data in the CDC report that is definitely not good news: While overall overdose deaths finally began to decline, overdose deaths involving stimulants were on the increase. For cocaine, the death toll started rising in about 2012; for psychostimulants (overwhelmingly methamphetamine), the climb began a couple of years earlier.

But the new data show a dramatic uptick in overdose deaths with stimulant involvement last year. Fatal overdoses where cocaine was mentioned were up 34 percent and those where methamphetamine was involved were up 37 percent. That's more than 14,000 people dying with cocaine in their systems and more than 10,000 dying with meth in their systems.

What is driving this spike in stimulant-involved overdose deaths? Some of it can be attributed to rising use levels for cocaine and meth, which can in turn be linked to increased supplies. Meth seizures were up dramatically last year and recent DEA reports suggest that cocaine availability has increased steadily since 2012, particularly in the south and east coast of the US. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime suggests that cocaine production and manufacture are at the highest rates ever recorded.

"There is some research to suggest that we are seeing slightly higher rates of recent cocaine and methamphetamine use compared to rates of use just a few years ago," said Sheila Vakharia, PhD, a researcher with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "But increased rates of use do not always mean increased rates of addiction or overdose. Death rates are influenced by a variety of factors, including age of the user, the amount used, and other substances used, among other things."

They are also influenced by race, gender, and geographic location. A recent study looking at data from 2012 to 2015 and examining race and gender trends by drug found that white men had the highest rates of methamphetamine-involved overdose deaths more generally, while black men had highest rates of cocaine-involved overdose deaths. These racial differences persisted for women of each race as well, although their overdose rates were lower than the men in their racial groups.

"Methamphetamine-involved deaths are high on the West Coast and Midwest, while cocaine-involved deaths are high on the East Coast. We are actually seeing that in some Western states that methamphetamine is either the top drug involved in overdose deaths or among the top drugs included in overdose deaths," Vakharia noted.

"Based on the latest CDC data, Nevada’s overdose crisis has been driven by prescription opioids and methamphetamine for the past several years- in fact, methamphetamine has been the #1 drug involved in overdoses there since November 2016. Similarly, in November 2016, Oregon saw methamphetamine become the top drug involved in overdose deaths," she specified.

"Meanwhile, the East Coast is seeing the involvement of cocaine in overdoses increase as well. While no eastern state has cocaine driving their overdose crisis, places like DC are seeing fentanyl as the top driver of deaths followed by cocaine. Last year, while fentanyl contributed to the majority of overdose deaths, there were more cocaine-involved deaths than heroin or prescription opioids," Vakharia added.

It appears that it is not rising simulant use rates but the use of multiple substances that is largely driving the overall stimulant death toll upwards. A CDC report from May suggests that, from 2003 to 2017, almost three-quarters of cocaine-involved deaths involved an opioid while half of all methamphetamine involved deaths involved an opioid.

"Those CDC numbers are based on autopsy reports," said Daniel Raymond, deputy director of planning and policy for the Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC). "In a lot of cases, there are multiple drugs involved, and just because an overdose involves a stimulant, it doesn't mean it was caused by stimulants."

Overdose deaths caused by stimulants look different from those caused by opioids, Raymond noted: "Fatal stimulant overdoses come from strokes, seizures, heart attacks, and potentially overheating," he said. "It's not like an opioid overdose with respiratory depression," he said.

"Some of this may be more a reflection that we still have lots of people dying from opioid-related overdoses, and it's just that more of them are also taking meth or cocaine, but the primary cause of death is the respiratory depression associated with opioid overdoses. In a lot of the cocaine deaths, medical examiners are finding both cocaine and opioids."

"We are seeing that toxicology reports of people who died with stimulants in their systems also had fentanyl or other opioids in their system," DPA's Vakharia concurred. She then listed a number of possible explanations:

  1. "This is accidental. Cross-contamination of a stimulant with an opioid like fentanyl could have been accidental and occurred during transport or packaging, and opioid-naïve stimulant users were accidentally exposed to opioid-contaminated stimulants."
  2. "This is due to co-use of opioids and stimulants in the form of speedballs (with cocaine) or goofballs (with methamphetamine), where both are used together for the desired effect of immediately stimulating high, followed by the euphoria of the opioid."
  3. "Stimulants are being willfully adulterated with opioids by suppliers/sellers, and stimulant users naïve to opioids are overdosing because they have no tolerance. (We at DPA dispute this theory, because it makes little sense why a seller would want to kill off a customer.)
  4. "Someone might have used a stimulant and opioids at different times within the past few days, but their toxicology could be showing the recency of use."

What Is to Be Done?

The Drug Policy Alliance and the Harm Reduction Coalition have both released reports on the rise in stimulant-involved overdose deaths, Stimulant Use: Harm Reduction, Treatment, and Future Directions from the former and Cocaine, Speed, and "Overdose": What Should We Be Doing? from the latter. Raymond and Vakharia took a few minutes to address those topics, too.

"There is no naloxone for stimulant overdose," Raymond pointed out. To reduce those overdoses "is about developing harm reduction strategies and outreach specifically targeting stimulant users," he said. "We spend so much time focusing on the opioid overdose crisis that our messages are oriented toward that. If we want to start a conversation, we need to not just tack it onto the opioid messaging. Even if you're not an opioid user, we want to talk about symptoms and warning signs."

HRC has moved in that direction, said Raymond. "We did some work on stimulant overdoses, we talked to a lot of people who used stimulants, we put out a guide -- Stimulant "Overamping”"Basics -- and went with the terms people used. Using 'overamping' opened a space for conversation for people who didn't identify as heroin users. If you talk overamping instead of overdosing, stimulant users have had that experience of using too much. Part of it is really just listening to the people who use the drugs. In harm reduction, we learn from the people we work with."

"People who use stimulants need access to sterile equipment beyond syringes, since many stimulant users smoke, so we are talking about sterile smoking equipment like pipes and filters," Vakharia said. "We need to teach users how to stay safe while using -- make sure to take breaks for hydration and to eat, get enough rest. It is easy to lose track of time when you've been up for days and when you have no appetite. This also puts undue stress on your heart and can exacerbate health issues," she noted.

"For many people, we should also talk about distributing safer sex supplies, because many people engage in risky sexual practices while they are using," Vakharia continued. "We also need to educate users on the risks associated with mixing different classes of drugs and the impact it can have on your body, knowing your limits, keeping naloxone on hand in case you are using opioids too, and not using alone."

It's not just harm reduction that's needed, though. Other policy prescriptions could help reduce the toll.

"Medicaid expansion and policies to increase access to basic health care and mental health care, as well as substance use treatment can greatly improve the health and well-being of people who use all drugs," Vakharia said. "And whether opioids are a person's primary drug or not, expanding access to naloxone helps anyone who is using them. Similarly, expanding Good Samaritan laws that reduce barriers to calling 911 can only help."

And then there's not treating drug uses like criminals.

"Decriminalizing drugs and paraphernalia would be a huge step forward," said Vakharia. "We know that contact with the criminal justice system increases harms and also presents barriers to going into recovery, which impacts job prospects, the ability to find work, and things like that."

"Drug decriminalization is crucial," said Raymond. "Criminalization just makes everything worse. It makes people more fearful of seeking help, and ends up locking so many people up in ways such that when they leave jail or prison, they're even more vulnerable. All of our work in harm reduction takes place in this context of mass criminalization. That keeps us swimming against the tide."

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

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of both Drug Reporter and Drug War Chronicle.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A meth-stealing Oklahoma narc heads to prison, a batch of Louisiana prison guards get indicted in a "large-scale" drug operation at the Angola prison, and more. Let's get to it:

In Cleveland, Ohio, a Cuyahoga county jail guard was arrested Tuesday for allegedly smuggling drugs into a state prison earlier this year. Angelique Lykes, 28, a new hire, was arrested while touring the jail as part of the hiring process on charges that she smuggled marijuana to an inmate at the Richland Correctional Center in Mansfield.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, five former state prison guards were among 22 people indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury in a "large-scale" operation that smuggled drugs into the state penitentiary at Angola. Jeffery Day, age 34, a former correctional officer at Angola, is charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances; Tommy Carter, Jr., age 31, is charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine; April Mathews, age 25, is charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances; Precious Shelvin, age 33, is charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances; and Tichina Williams, age 24, is charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a former Mayes County sheriff's narcotics investigator was sentenced last Friday to six months in federal prison and six months of home detention for stealing methamphetamine that had been seized as evidence. Brett Alan Mull, 48, had pleaded guilty in April to tampering with or destruction of evidence and acquiring methamphetamine through deception. Mull had been stealing meth throughout 2017 but went down after suspicious investigators discovered altered evidence submittal envelopes, drug paraphernalia, and methamphetamine during searches of Mull's home.

Medical Marijuana Update

Dispenaries are now doing business in Louisiana, a New Mexico judge orders the state to allow out-of-staters to participate in the medical marijuana program, and more.

Iowa

Iowa Panel Backs Including Chronic Pain, But Not PTSD, Opioid Dependency. The Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board last Friday approved a recommendation to add chronic pain as a qualifying condition under the state's medical marijuana law. But the board drew criticism from patients advocates for not making the same recommendation regarding PTSD, opioid dependency, and other medical conditions. The board could revisit the issue in November if more data or research is available.

Louisiana

Louisiana Sees First Medical Marijuana Shipment to a Dispensary. At least nine medical marijuana dispensaries are set to open this week and begin selling product after GB Sciences, one of two state-licensed growers, began shipping to them on Tuesday. The move comes after state regulators completed final tests and cleared the shipments for release.

Nebraska

Nebraska Attorney General Argues Legalizing Medical Marijuana Is Unconstitutional. State Attorney General Doug Peterson (R) issued an opinion last Thursday saying federal law preempts state medical marijuana laws and that an effort to legalize medical marijuana in the state "would be, therefore, unconstitutional." On the other hand, more than 30 states have legalized medical cannabis since 1996, but the Supreme Court has never ruled that state legalization regimes are preempted by federal law. [Ed: This Cato brief by Vanderbilt law profession Robert Mikos explains why federal law probably does not preempt state law in ways that would interfere with state legalization laws. -DB]

New Mexico

New Mexico Judge Broadens Medical Marijuana Program. A New Mexico judge has ordered state officials to issue medical marijuana cards to all qualifying patients, including those who live outside the state. The ruling came in response to an emergency petition filed by patients, after authorities failed to act on a state law which took effect in June that removed the state residency requirement.

Utah

Utah Supreme Court Rejects Bid to Overturn State Law That Replaced Prop 2. The state Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a petition that sought to overturn the state law that replaced Proposition 2, the ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana. The legal challenge, filed by a group called The People's Right, aimed to restore Proposition 2 as it was approved by voters in November. But while the petition was unsuccessful, other supporters of the ballot initiative say they are optimistic that the law will see changes in the next legislative session.

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

Chronicle AM: Luxembourg Set to Be First in Europe to Legalize Marijuana, Honduras "Narco" President Protests, More... (8/7/19)

Luxembourg is moving to be the first European country to legalize marijuana, Hondurans take to the streets to protest their "narco" president, a New Mexico judge opens the state's medical marijuana program to out-of-staters, and more.

Tegucigalpa
Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Judge Broadens Medical Marijuana Program. A New Mexico judge has ordered state officials to issue medical marijuana cards to all qualifying patients, including those who live outside the state. The ruling came in response to an emergency petition filed by patients, after authorities failed to act on a state law which took effect in June that removed the state residency requirement.

Utah Supreme Court Rejects Bid to Overturn State Law That Replaced Prop 2. The state Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a petition that sought to overturn the state law that replaced Proposition 2, the ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana. The legal challenge, filed by a group called The People's Right, aimed to restore Proposition 2 as it was approved by voters in November. But while the petition was unsuccessful, other supporters of the ballot initiative say they are optimistic that the law will see changes in the next legislative session.

International

Hondurans Protest Against "Narco" President. Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Tegucigalpa Tuesday to demand the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez after US federal prosecutors filed court documents alleging his 2013 presidential bid was partly funded by drug trafficking money. Riot police clashed with demonstrators while attempting to disperse angry crowds with tear gas and water cannons. "The narco must go, JOH must go!" protesters chanted. Hernandez is a conservative ally of the US.

Luxembourg Set to Become First European Nation to Legalize Marijuana. Health Minister Etienne Schneider has confirmed plans to legalize marijuana, saying that residents 18 and over should be able to use and purchase it within two years. Draft legislation is expected to be unveiled later this year. Schneider said the legislation would likely include a ban on non-residents buying it, in a bid to discourage drug tourism, and that personal cultivation would also likely be prohibited.

Chronicle AM: Florida Decrim Bill Filed, Louisiana MedMJ Sales to Begin, More... (8/6/19)

A key Republican senator signals an openness to marijuana banking reforms, a Florida state rep files a decriminalization bill, the first shipments of medical marijuana have gone out to Louisiana dispensaries, and more.

Medical marijuana dispensary sales should begin this week in Louisiana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

GOP Senate Committee Head Signals He's Open to Marijuana Banking Reforms. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), head of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, has indicated that he agrees that barring the legal marijuana industry from access to financial services is not viable and that he's open to reforms around that problem. But he also said he doesn't necessarily support the SAFE Banking Act (S 1200), currently the leading vehicle for banking reforms. "We now need to, I think, move forward and see if there's some way we can draft legislation that will deal with the issue," Crapo said late last week.

Florida Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Shevrin Jones (D-Broward County) filed a bill Monday that would decriminalize small-time marijuana possession in the state. Under the bill, possession or delivery of less than 20 grams would be a noncriminal violation with no jail time. "We must restore justice to our broken criminal justice system," Jones said in a press release. "For far too long, communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana, and we must end this injustice once and for all."

New Mexico Legalization Working Group Has Hearing Next Week. A working group on marijuana legalization appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) will hold its first hearing next Wednesday. The public has an opportunity to comment online or in person before the hearing. The panel will hear presentations from the Department of Regulation & Licensing and the Department of Health on regulatory frameworks and medical marijuana, respectively. Then the panel will consider multiple topics surrounding possible legalization. Grisham has said that the goal of this working group is to create a bill that would go before the legislature by January 2020, which is the start of the 30-day session.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Sees First Medical Marijuana Shipment to a Dispensary. At least nine medical marijuana dispensaries are set to open this week and begin selling product after GB Sciences, one of two state-licensed growers, began shipping to them on Tuesday. The move comes after state regulators completed final tests and cleared the shipments for release.

Chronicle AM: US & China Spar Over Fentanyl, Honduran President Named Trafficking Conspirator, More... (8/5/19)

Federal prosecutors accuse the president of Honduras of participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy, the US and China squabble over fentanyl, Colombia coca production declined slightly last year, and more.

The Trump administration and China are sparring over fentanyl exports and who is responsible for the opioid crisis. (CC)
Medical Marijuana

Iowa Panel Backs Including Chronic Pain, But Not PTSD, Opioid Dependency. The Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board last Friday approved a recommendation to add chronic pain as a qualifying condition under the state's medical marijuana law. But the board drew criticism from patients advocates for not making the same recommendation regarding PTSD, opioid dependency, and other medical conditions. The board could revisit the issue in November if more data or research is available.

Nebraska Attorney General Argues Legalizing Medical Marijuana Is Unconstitutional. State Attorney General Doug Peterson (R) issued an opinion last Thursday saying federal law preempts state medical marijuana laws and that an effort to legalize medical marijuana in the state "would be, therefore, unconstitutional." On the other hand, more than 30 states have legalized medical cannabis since 1996, but the Supreme Court has never ruled that state legalization regimes are preempted by federal law. [Ed: This Cato brief by Vanderbilt law profession Robert Mikos explains why federal law probably does not preempt state law in ways that would interfere with state legalization laws. -DB]

Foreign Policy

Trump Accuses China of Failing to Halt Fentanyl Exports to US. President Trump last Thursday accused Chinese President Xi Jinping of failing to honor a pledge to stem the flow of fentanyl from Chinese chemical factories to the United States. "My friend President Xi said that he would stop the sale of fentanyl to the United States -- this never happened, and many Americans continue to die," Trump said in a tweet. "We're losing thousands of people to fentanyl," he later told reporters. Xi had promised Trump in December that he would act, and China announced on May 1 that it had expanded its list of narcotics subject to state control to include more than 1,400 known fentanyl analogues.

China Rejects Trump Criticism on Fentanyl. Chinese state media fired back at President Trump on Sunday, with Xinhua editorializing that "the United States has only itself to blame" for the country's opioid crisis. A day earlier, Liu Yaojin, deputy director of the China National Narcotics Control Commission also hit back, saying "China is not the main resources of fentanyl in the United States… I think that the United States should solve the problem of the widespread abuse of fentanyl domestically."

[Ed: I've never been inclined to accept the word of China's government, much less of their counternarcotics officials. Nor, however, can one rely on President Trump's word about anything either. On this one, the Chinese are probably more right than wrong. As this commentary by RAND scholars Beau Kilmer and Bryce Pardo suggests (following a report on Asian drug policy, link a few paragraphs in), China's regulatory capacity (unlike its surveillance capacity) falls very far short of what's needed to monitor all the chemical companies that could be involved in fentanyl, some of which produce it legally for the medicinal market. If they were to succeed in stamping out illicit production by such businesses, it could have unintended consequences, such as sparking increased activity by groups operating entirely outside the law. -DB]

International

UNODC Reports Slight Drop in Colombia Coca Production Last Year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported last Friday that coca production had declined by a modest 1.2% in 2018 from record levels the year before. In areas where voluntary and forced eradication took place, production dropped 18%, but that was largely offset by increases in areas dominated by violent drug trafficking organizations.

Honduran President Accused of Drug Conspiracy by US Prosecutors. In documents filed in federal court in New York City last Friday, prosecutors refer to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez as a co-conspirator in a drug trafficking scheme with his brother, Juan Antonio Hernandez, and former President Porfirio Lobo "to use drug trafficking to help assert power and control in Honduras." It says that the president and his predecessor "relied on drug proceeds" to fund political campaigns and cites "evidence of high-level political corruption." The US government has been a staunch supporter of Hernandez's government, pouring millions of dollars into security cooperation to stop cocaine headed to the US from South America.

Chronicle AM: Durbin Files Marijuana Rescheduling & Research Bill, Dems Spar on Drug & Crime Policy, More... (8/1/19)

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) has filed a marijuana rescheduling and research bill, Democratic presidential contenders spar over drug and criminal justice policy, and more.

Cory Booker was among Democratic presidential contenders sparring over drug and criminal justice policy Wednesday night. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Dick Durbin Files Marijuana Rescheduling, Research Bill. The second highest ranking Democratic senator, Dick Durbin of Illinois, filed a bill Wednesday that would move marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act to the less restrictive Schedule III. It would also require the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to come up with a marijuana agenda that lays out top research priorities. That would include studies looking into health conditions that marijuana is most likely to treat and the "long-term effects of cannabis use, including dose-response relationship and the connection between cannabis use and behavioral health."

Democratic Candidates Clash Over Marijuana, Drug Policy at Debate. The second night of the Democratic presidential debates Wednesday saw contenders clash on marijuana and criminal justice policies, with several candidates, including Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) attacking former Vice President Joe Biden for his criminal justice past, and for his present unwillingness to go past federal marijuana decriminalization to ending federal pot prohibition. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) went after Harris over her years as a state prosecutor and California attorney general.

International

Boris Johnson's Top Aides Are Marijuana Legalization Proponents. Newly-annointed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has hired longtime marijuana legalization proponent Brian Gibbs as one of his top policy advisors. Gibbs, who was Johnson's policing advisor when he was mayor of London, is currently head of policy at the Center for Medicinal Cannabis. A second Johnson aide, his new political secretary, Danny Kruger, has also called for an end to marijuana prohibition. Johnson himself has admitted smoking marijuana but now opposes its legalization: "It was jolly nice. But apparently it is very different these days, much stronger. I've become very illiberal about it. I don't want my kids to take drugs," he has 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.)

Seven Notorious Peyote and Mescaline Aficionados Who Opened New Doors in Human Perception [FEATURE]

Mescaline -- the psychedelic alkaloid found in only two species of Western hemisphere cacti, the peyote of north-central Mexico and the San Pedro found thousands of feet up the dry side of the Peruvian Andes -- hasn't had a recreational following in decades. As Mike Jay, the author of the just-released Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic, notes, the only place one can find it anymore is occasionally on sites on the dark web along with other exotic psychedelics. As a psychedelic alkaloid, it has been replaced by LSD, which is hundreds of times more potent and thus more user-, research- and smuggler-friendly.

psychedelic peyote cactus, the source for mescaline (Creative Commons)
But, as Jay relates in his highly readable recounting, even before LSD famously popped into existence in 1943, mescaline had been synthesized by German scientists in 1919. Mescaline has been circulating in the medical and scientific communities, as well as among more outrè elements, including mystic cultists and artistic fringe movements, for a century. Before being displaced, mescaline paved the way for the psychedelic wave that LSD rode into the history books.

With ritual use now believed to go back more than 3,000 years in Peru's Chavín de Huántar -- where the San Pedro still grows among the ruins -- and back 5,000 years in Mexico, the plant is indeed deeply rooted in indigenous cultures. It has withstood the arrival of the West and may even be profiting from a renewed Western interest in the South American psychedelic circuit thanks to the ayahuasca drug tourism boom.

Although the "devil's root" was banned by the Inquisition in Mexico -- dozens were prosecuted during the colonial era -- neither the cross nor the sword could vanquish it. Tribes of Mexico's remote northwest, such as the Huichol and the Tarahumara, kept peyote traditions alive. (The Huichol have even managed to turn their peyotism and the world-famous art it inspires into a community-sustaining industry.)

By the mid-1800s, Apaches whose lands straddled the US-Mexico border and who made raiding forays far south into Mexico brought the peyote ritual back with them and introduced it to the tribes of the plains and the American Southwest. Caught up in the churn of forced resettlement, tribal members mingled like never before on the Oklahoma reservations where they were interned, and the peyote ritual metamorphosed into a pan-tribal sacrament.

Early in the 20th century, Apaches, Comanches, Kiowas and others who swore by peyote moved to formalize its status, founding the Native American Church (the first use of the phrase "Native American" in its modern sense) in 1918 to act as the ritual's face to white America and the government in Washington. A century later, the Native American Church is thriving, now counting more than 250,000 members and most recently making strong inroads among the Navajo.

And peyote's Peruvian cousin, the San Pedro, is also thriving. It, too, has benefitted from the South American psychedelic tourism boom inspired by ayahuasca, and it has been cultivated in California for decades now, where neo-shamans are all-too-happy to guide you on an interior adventure. Unlike peyote, San Pedro is still legal in the US -- as long as you don't try to extract the mescaline.Whether for religious and spiritual purposes or to enhance the derangement of the senses, the mescaline alkaloid has a long and storied history. And it has attracted the attention of some remarkable individuals along the way. Here are seven men who rode Mescalito's white horse to some strange places indeed.

1. Chief Quanah Parker. Born of a captive white woman and a Comanche father, Quanah Parker overcame his half-breed status to become a famed Comanche warrior who rebelled against being forced onto the reservation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in the 1880s. An adroit politician, Parker very ably maneuvered to protect the traditions of his people while presenting an acceptable face to Washington. As the millenarian Ghost Dance movement roiled Native America in the late 1880s (and led to the Wounded Knee massacre of 250 Lakota men, women, and children in 1890), Parker rejected its radicalism and instead championed the peyote ceremony, becoming the church's most famed "roadman," or ceremony leader. While Parker fended off Christianity throughout his life, he portrayed the peyote ceremony not as a challenge to Christianity but as a complement, a stance he deemed necessary to protect the culture and the church. "The white man goes into his church and talks about Jesus," Parker famously said, "but the Indian goes into his tipi and talks to Jesus."

2. James Mooney. Enthralled from his youth with the romance of the American Indian, James Mooney parlayed his obsession into a career as America's "Indian Man" as he used positions in the federal government to attempt to protect native cultures from the government's assimilationist (read: cultural genocide) policies toward the tribes. Assigned to Fort Sill, Mooney attended Ghost Dance ceremonies and shared Parker's worries that the movement could have disastrous repercussions. In 1891, Mooney became the first white man to participate in the peyote ritual and became an ardent proponent of it before white America. For Parker, Mooney was "the only white man who knows our religion." He also played a pivotal role in the formal founding of the Native American Church in 1918. But Mooney was also a vital link between peyote and mescaline; an advocate of the cactus' potential therapeutic uses, he made peyote buttons available to drug companies and academic researchers, leading directly to mescaline's synthesis in a German lab and its emergence into the world at large.

3. Aleister Crowley. James Mooney was the first white man at a peyote ceremony, but British occultist and drug-dabbler Aleister Crowley was the first Westerner to take peyote methodically over a period of years, and the first to use it as a non-native ritual sacrament. Introduced to psychoactive drugs in 1898, this high priest of the Order of the Golden Dawn and author of Diary of a Drug Fiend included mescaline along with alcohol, hashish, "extract of opium," and fruit juice in the "Cup of Libation" that he passed around at avant-garde parties in London just after the turn of the 20th century. Thanks in large part to Crowley, mescaline began to make its way more broadly into fringe cultural and artistic scenes.

4. William Burroughs. The always drug-obsessed Beat icon, long-time heroin addict and author of Junkie and Naked Lunch realized early on that peyote wasn't covered under the Harrison Narcotics Act and promptly sourced some from Mexico in 1952. As Jay relates, Burroughs says it "felt 'something like a benzedrine high. You can't sleep and your pupils are dilated. Everything looks like a peyote plant.'" When Burroughs finally did get to sleep, the peyote gave him nightmares: "Me and about five other chlorophyll addicts are waiting to score on the landing of a cheap Mexican hotel. We turn green, and no one can kick a chlorophyll habit. One shot and you're hung for life. We are turning into plants."

5. Allen Ginsberg. Burroughs' fellow Beat auteur also gobbled down the cactus buds after scoring some in Greenwich Village, the epicenter of the New York City Beat scene, in 1952. After pondering the beauty of a cherry tree and "grinning idiotically" as he listened to the music of Tito Puente, Ginsberg decided that "Peyote is one of the world's greatest drugs. I have to find, among other things, a new word for the universe. I'm tired of the old ones." Ginsberg continued to use peyote over the next few years as he oscillated between New York and San Francisco. "It was like telepathy, like electricity," he recalled. "It could turn your eyes into X-rays so that you could see the insides of things." One 1954 trip in a Nob Hill apartment had Ginsberg staring out at the city in the mist and fog, where the massive buildings of downtown were transformed into the "robot-like skullface of Moloch," the bloodthirsty Canaanite god "whose eyes are a thousand blind windows." From this vision derived the central image of part II of the Beat classic Howl, in which his generation was being sacrificed to the idols of money and technology.

6. Aldous Huxley. The renowned British author of Brave New World (where the fictional drug soma played a key role) almost singlehandedly made mescaline a household word with the publication in 1954 of The Doors of Perception, which he composed after ingesting 400 milligrams of the drug on "a bright May morning" in 1953. He described the experience as "without any question the most extraordinary and significant experience available to human beings this side of the Beatific Vision." It was "what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation -- the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence." For Huxley, mescaline represented both a potential medical and scientific breakthrough -- the working hypothesis was that it might be an unlikely cure for schizophrenia -- and an opportunity for profound spiritual experience. Along with Albert Hoffman's 1943 LSD trip, Huxley's ingestion of mescaline has become a seminal moment in the psychedelic revolution.

7. Carlos Castaneda. The UCLA anthropology graduate student influenced a generation with his publication of The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge and 11 sequels. In the series, Castaneda claimed to have learned the shamanic path of the nagual (a shaman who claims to be able to change into animal form through rituals and experiences with psychoactive drugs) from Don Juan Matus thanks to peyote. Although Castaneda's work has since been denounced as a hoax, a fraud, and a pack of plagiarism, its influence in the 1970s and beyond was undeniable, and even some of the anthropologists whose work he lifted whole-cloth say that his message of spiritualism and respect for native cultures needed to be heard. Still, the title alone should have been a giveaway: The Yaquis, who lived in the extreme northwest of Mexico, had no history of participating in any peyote rituals.

These are just a handful of the fascinating people who have interacted with the fascinating alkaloid. For those of us interested in the culture and history of psychedelics, Mike Jay has plenty more people to meet and stories to tell. Pick up the book and get the whole story.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Florida deputy goes rogue, an Arkansas volunteer narcotics deputy uses snitches to steal stuff, a Georgia narcotics officer manages to destroy the local dope squad, and more. Let's get to it:

In Sunnyvale, California, a San Jose police officer was arrested last Friday on drug and firearms charges. Officer John Tompkins, 48, went down after information gathered in another drug bust led to him. Police obtained a search warrant for his home and discovered drugs and guns in his possession.

In Stuart, Florida, a former Martin County sheriff's deputy was arrested Monday for falsifying drug arrests during traffic stops. Steven O'Leary wrongfully arrested at least 14 people on bogus drug charges, with some of those arrested spending as long as 80 days in jail. He's facing 17 counts of official misconduct, 13 counts of false imprisonment, nine counts of making false statements, eight counts of tampering with evidence, one count of petty theft, and one count of battery (for kicking a man during an unlawful arrest).

In Little Rock, Arkansas, a former volunteer Arkansas County sheriff's deputy was sentenced last Thursday to 30 months in federal prison for extorting confidential informants to steal an ATV and firearms. Charles David Chastain, 48, had been assigned to the Tri-County Drug Task Force, where he used confidential informants to develop drug cases. He then threatened the snitches with refusing to give them credit for cooperating unless they stole items for him, including an ATV worth $25,000. But one of his snitches snitched him out to the feds. He was convicted of Hobbs Act extortion, attempted Hobbs Act extortion, and receipt of a firearm with intent to commit a felony.

In Brunswick, Georgia, a former Glynn County narcotics officer was sentenced July 20 in a case that caused the implosion of the countywide narcotics squad. James Cassada, copped to two counts of violation of oath of a public officer and agreed to cooperate and testify in future proceedings into the DA's ongoing investigation of the Glynn-Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team. Cassada went down after coworkers complained that he had sexual relationships with two confidential informants and his superiors asked the state Bureau of Investigation to conduct an inquiry. That led to disciplinary action against two other narcotics officers and the dissolution of the dope squad. The scandal has so far resulted in 75 drug cases being dismissed. Cassada got 10 years' probation but has to do four to six months in a Probation Detention Center first.

Chronicle AM: Fed Court Orders DEA to Respond to Pot Research Lawsuit, Colombia Violence Rising, More... (7/31/19)

A federal appeals court has ordered the DEA to promptly respond to a lawsuit over stalled medical marijuana research applications, a Florida legalization initiative passes an early milepost, a psychedelic activist group goes national, and more.

SPORE is taking its psychedelic activism nationwide through a new nonprofit. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Court Orders DEA to Explain Marijuana Research Block. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit on Monday ordered the DEA to respond to a lawsuit about stalled applications for research-grade marijuana growers. The lawsuit was filed by the Scottsdale Research Institute, which has submitted an application that has never been acted on. The court on Monday ordered that the DEA "file a response to the amended mandamus petition, not to exceed 7,800 words, within 30 days of the date of this order."

Florida Activists Clear First Hurdle to Putting Marijuana Legalization on 2020 Ballot. Sensible Florida, the group behind the legalization initiative, announced Monday that it had met an early requirement in the process of getting the measure on the November 2020 ballot. The group has gathered some 76,000 valid voter signatures, or one-tenth of the number required to put the measure on the ballot. This triggers a state Supreme Court review of the initiative's language.

Psychedelics

Psychedelic Activists Group Goes Nationwide. The group that organized the successful Denver psychedelic mushroom decriminalization initiative is going national. SPORE, the Society for Psychedelic Outreach and Reform and Education, announced Tuesday that it will apply for 501(c)(3) status, allowing the organization to reach more people. "Our mission is to transform public opinion to normalize and decriminalize the responsible use, possession and cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelic plants and fungi," said Kevin Matthews, the group's executive director. "We offer resources like education, community and organizational support, policy guidance, and we're also advocates for individuals, communities and organizations that are interested in pursuing or exploring psychedelic drug policy reform both here in Colorado and nationwide."

International

Colombia Homicides Jump as Traffickers, Rebels Fight Over Former FARC Areas. The national homicide rate rose for the first time in a decade last year, driven largely by battles for control over coca-growing areas that had previously been controlled by the leftist guerrillas of the FARC. The FARC demobilized as part of the 2016 peace accords, but that left a vacuum in coca-growing areas it once dominated. Now, FARC dissidents, other guerrilla groups, and criminal drug trafficking groups are fighting over who will control the fields.

Chronicle AM: Ohio Becomes 46th Hemp State, Federal Employees to See Pain Prescribing Tightened, More... (7/30/19)

Hemp and CBD are now legal in Ohio, a federal agency has proposed letting people with low-level drug convictions work in credit unions, the Trump administration moves to tighten up opioid prescribing for federal employees, and more.

Federal employees will see prescribing of opioids tightened up in a bid to reduce abuse. (Creative Commons)
Hemp

Ohio Governor Signs Hemp, CBD Bill. Gov. Mike DeWine (R) on Tuesday signed into law SB 57, which legalizes hemp production in the state, moves CBD off the state's controlled substances list, and immediately ends all embargoes on CBD inventory. That means CBD products can be imported into the state beginning now.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Trump Administration to Reduce Length of Opioid Prescriptions for Federal Employees. The Trump administration said Monday that the government's employee health program, which covers nine million workers, retirees, and family members, will tighten its rules for prescribing opioid pain relievers beginning this fall. The move is not aimed at patients with intractable pain from diseases such as cancer but is geared toward preventing over-prescribing to people who might just need the drugs for a short period of time, such as after surgery. Under the new policy, the initial prescription will be for a 7-day supply, instead of up to 30 days. Patients will be able get up to three refills of seven days apiece. Formal reauthorization that involves consulting a clinical professional will be required every 28 days.

[Ed: They should be very, very careful about this. It's true that short-term pain situations have different stakes attached than chronic pain situations, and some observers believe the handling of short-term pain is where some of the problems of recent years have arisen. But they should be very careful about it. One question is how long the 28 day requirement remains in place -- if it's permanent, that may be an undue burden on chronic pain patients. Another reason care is needed is that this imposes a blanket rule that may or may not be ideal for every situation -- as opposed to providing guidance or education. It also may fuel more restricting of opioids than is intended.]

Drug Policy

Federal Agency Proposes Letting People with Drug Convictions Work at Credit Unions. The National Credit Union Administration has published a draft rule that would exempt people with low-level drug convictions from a ban on working with credit unions. The agency said existing policies barring people with various criminal convictions require excessive regulatory enforcement and that lifting the ban for some low-level crimes, including simple drug possession, would "expand career opportunities for those who have demonstrated remorse and responsibility for past indiscretions." The agency is accepting public comments on the proposed change until September 27.

International

St. Kitts and Nevis Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. The government of St. Kitts and Nevis on Tuesday filed a bill to legalize marijuana in the Caribbean island nation. The bill would legalize marijuana for "medicinal and scientific, religious, and recreational purposes," the government said. The move comes several months after the Team Unity government of Prime Minister Timothy Harris declared it was moving toward a legalization bill.

Chronicle AM: Cuomo Signs Decriminalization Bill, UK MPs See Legalization Within Five Years, More... (7/29/19)

New York's governor signs a bill deepening marijuana decriminalization, a new congressional bill would let students with marijuana possession convictions get access to federal aid -- if they complete drug treatment -- and more.

Andrew Cuomo (D) couldn't get legalization through the legislature, but he has now signed a decrim bill. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Bill Would Let Some Students with Marijuana Convictions Access Federal Aid -- If They Complete Drug Treatment. Led by Reps. Bill Foster (D-IL) and Gwen Moore (D-WI), a group of Democratic lawmakers filed a bill Friday that would protect college students from losing federal financial aid if they receive a marijuana possession conviction. But it also stipulates that the student must complete a drug rehabilitation program to maintain eligibility. The bill is titled the Second Chance for Students Act. "One mistake shouldn't mean the end of a student's education," Foster said. "For many students, financial aid can mean the difference between staying in school and dropping out. This legislation would ensure that students stay in school while they complete the required rehabilitation program. No student should have their future determined by one bad choice."

New York Governor Signs Bill Deepening Decriminalization. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Monday signed into law a bill that removes criminal penalties for possession of up to two ounces of marijuana. It also seals past misdemeanor marijuana convictions. There will be a $50 fine for possession of less than an ounce and a $200 fine for possession of between one and two ounces. State Democrats had hoped to get legalization through this year, but when prospects for that faded, they got behind this decriminalization bill.

International

British MPs Urge Marijuana Legalization After Canada Trip. A cross-party group of members of parliament have called for marijuana legalization within five years after returning from an eye-opening trip to Canada. Conservative MP Jonathan Djanogly, Labor's David Lammy and Sir Norman Lamb of the Liberal Democrats crossed the Atlantic to study the adult-use marijuana market. "I want the market legalised, regulated and taken away from crime gangs," said Lammy, the MP for Tottenham in north London. "I want to see the strength of the stuff reduced, labelled and properly organized in this country."

Trinidad & Tobago Parliament to Get Decriminalization Bill by September. Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession is set to go before parliament by September. He said the draft legislation was nearly done and once approved by the cabinet will go to parliament. "We worked on it up to yesterday in its near completed form," he said on Friday.

Chronicle AM: FL Hemp Law Screwing Up Marijuana Prosecutions, Traffic Stops Drop With Legalization, More... (7/26/19)

Traffic stops in Vermont's largest city declined precipitously after marijuana legalization, a broad coalition urges the FDA to limit a ban on felons participating in the hemp industry, Florida's hemp legalization law is making it almost impossible to prosecute marijuana possession offenses, and more.

Burlington, VT, is the latest jurisdiction to report massive declines in traffic stops after marijuana legalization. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

FDA Again Rejects Petition to Further Restrict Marijuana. For the second time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has rejected an effort by a prohibitionist group to classify marijuana and THC as "negative monographs," which is a classification for substances the agency considers not "generally recognized as safe and effective." Such substances are illegal to market. Drug Watch International's petition was rejected by the FDA in July 2018, but the group appealed that decision. Now, the FDA has shot down that appeal.

Burlington, Vermont, Traffic Stops Dropped 70% After Legalization. The Burlington Police Department, the state's largest local police force, is reporting that traffic stops in the city declined by 70% since the state legalized marijuana. Police officials are saying that legalization is the cause of the decline. The decline in traffic stops held true for all races.

Hemp

Coalition Urges USDA to Limit Hemp Industry Felon Ban. A coalition of farmers, drug policy organizations, and state agricultural officials are urging the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to limit the scope of a ban on people with felony drug convictions from participating in the legal hemp industry. Under the language of the 2018 Farm Bill, the ban only stands for 10 years from the date of conviction, but the coalition says it is concerned that the language could be read to bar such people from any hemp-related occupation while the congressional intent was to only have it applied to people seeking a license to actually grow hemp.

Florida's Hemp Law Is Screwing Up Marijuana Prosecutions. The state law legalizing hemp, which took effect July 1, has effectively stopped enforcement of marijuana possession laws in their tracks, police and prosecutors are complaining. The law legalized cannabis plants containing 0.3% THC or less; the problem for law enforcement is that police field drug tests can identify plant matter as cannabis, but can't measure THC levels to determine whether it is hemp or marijuana. As the Leon County Sheriff's Office noted in a legal bulletin, "the current tests kits in use by law enforcement do not have the capability to distinguish between legal hemp and illegal cannabis, and thus cannot be used to determine probable cause." As a result, some jurisdictions have already decided to stop prosecuting minor marijuana cases.

Chronicle AM: FL Pot Initiative Nears Early Mile Post, Colombia Drug Reform Push, More... (7/25/19)

Arkansas sees yet another marijuana legalization initiative filed, the Florida legalization initiative campaign nears a milepost, Colombian legislators seek to block their rightist president's repressive drug policies, and more.

Colombian legislators want to block President Duque's plan to dump herbicides on coca fields (and farmers). (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Sees Second Legalization Initiative Filed. A group calling itself Arkansas True Grass has filed a marijuana legalization initiative with the secretary of state's office. The Arkansas Recreational Marijuana Amendment would legalize the use of the drug and expunge any previous criminal convictions for marijuana possession. Earlier this month, another pro-legalization group, the Arkansas Drug Policy Education Group, separately filed two legalization initiatives.

Florida Legalization Initiative Nears Early Signature Benchmark. Regulate Florida, the group trying to put a legalization initiative on the 2020 ballot, says it has nearly enough signatures to trigger a review of the ballot summary by the state Supreme Court. The court will look at whether the summary follows state ballot guidelines. The trigger point is just over 10% of the 766,200 valid voter signatures required to make the ballot. Reaching the trigger point also requires state economists to conduct an economic impact study of the initiative.

New York City Council Passes Two Marijuana Reform Resolutions. The city council on Tuesday approved a pair of marijuana reform resolutions as part of a package of marijuana legislation the council's Progressive Caucus is seeking to advance. The first resolution calls on the city's child services department to clarify that "finding that a person's mere possession or use of marijuana does not by itself create an imminent risk of harm to a child, warranting the child's removal," while the second calls on the legislature to pass a bill requiring the New York Department of Health to create hospital drug testing regulations for pregnant women or those giving birth, "including informing patients of their rights before any discussion of drug use or drug testing."

International

Colombian Congress Presents Bills to Decriminalize Drug Use, Ban Glyphosate. In a slap in the face to President Ivan Duque, the legislative opposition and the center-right bloc presented four bills that seek to decriminalize drug use and ban glyphosate, the chemical the government wants to use to fumigate coca. The package of bills seeks to reverse Duque's repressive drug policies, which have the support of only a minority of conservative and far-right parties. What opposition lawmakers want is to curb drug abuse by strengthening health care and to fight drug trafficking via voluntary crop substitution and rural development.

Marijuana Still Has Momentum in 2019 [FEATURE]

At the beginning of 2019, hopes were high that as many as four or five states would legalize marijuana through the legislative process this year. That didn't happen, and the failure of both New Jersey and New York to get it done was especially dispiriting, given that governors and legislative leaders alike said they supported it.

As we pass the mid-point of the year, and most state legislatures have adjourned, it's looking increasingly like we will have to settle for Illinois having gotten it done in 2019. But that's a glass half-empty attitude. In a report released Monday, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) sees a lot of progress this year.

"Virtually every legislature in the country is taking a close look at its marijuana policies, and many have adopted significant reforms in 2019," MPP director of state policies and lead report author Karen O'Keefe said in a press release accompanying the report. "Not a single legislature moved to repeal or roll back a medical cannabis or legalization law. Particularly with the first-of-its-kind legalization victory in Illinois, 2019 has been a milestone year for MPP and our movement."

One state, though, was called out for bucking the forward trend. MPP identified South Dakota as "the most stagnant," noting that it "has the dubious distinction of being the only state where there has been no forward progress on marijuana policies in 2019. The state lacks a medical cannabis, decriminalization, and legalization law, and no legislator even put forth a proposal to improve marijuana policies this year. While the legislature did pass a hemp bill in 2019, Gov. Kristi Noem (R) vetoed the modest measure, and the legislature could not muster the votes for an override. The Mount Rushmore State is also the only state that criminalizes 'internal possession' -- meaning a person can legally use marijuana in Canada but face jail time if they test positive in South Dakota."

Still, calling it "a historic year for marijuana policy and the movement," MPP pointed to 27 states where legalization bills were filed, decriminalization in three states, and progress in Congress, as well as incremental positive changes, such as expanding existing medical marijuana programs or adding on-site consumption to an existing legalization law.

And MPP even created a Top 10 2019 pot policy achievements. Here they are:

  1. Marijuana Legalization in Illinois. On June 25, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker made history by signing into law the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (CRTA) The Illinois House and Senate had approved the CRTA in late May. Adults 21 and older will be allowed to possess and purchase cannabis starting on January 1, 2020.
  2. US House Prevents Federal Intervention.For the first time ever, the US House of Representatives approved a budget rider to prevent federal interference with adult-use marijuana laws.
  3. Decriminalization in New Mexico. New Mexico decriminalizes marijuana, reducing the penalty for up to half an ounce of marijuana to a $50 civil fine.
  4. Medical Marijuana in Georgia. Georgia approved in-state production of medical marijuana with up to 5% THC.
  5. Decriminalization in North Dakota. North Dakota reduced the penalty for up to half an ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction carrying a maximum fine of $1,000.
  6. Decriminalization of Very Small Amounts in Hawaii. Hawaii reduced the penalty for up to three grams of cannabis from up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 to a $130 civil fine.
  7. On-Site Consumption in Colorado. Colorado legalized and regulated cannabis hospitality -- such as cannabis cafes -- in localities that opt in.
  8. Home Delivery in Colorado. Colorado legalized home delivery.
  9. Employment Protection in Nevada. Nevada prohibited most employers from conducting pre-job offer drug testing.
  10. Guam Legalizes Marijuana. The US territory of Guam legalized and regulated marijuana for adults' use.

Medical Marijuana Update

A federal bill to clear the way for more medical marijuana research has been filed, a fight is brewing over Utah's grower licensing decisions, and more.

National

Bipartisan Lawmakers File Federal Bill to Break Medical Marijuana Research Logjam. A bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has filed the Medical Marijuana Research Act, which aims to accelerate medical marijuana research by creating a less cumbersome registration process, reforming production and distribution regulations, and allowing for private manufacturing and distribution of marijuana for research purposes. "Forty-seven states have legalized some form of cannabis, yet the federal government is still getting in the way of further progress on the potential for research," said Blumenauer.

Mississippi

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Initiative Still Looking for Signatures. The Medical Marijuana 2020 campaign is still hunting signatures to qualify its medical marijuana initiative for the November 2020 ballot. The campaign needs to turn in some 86,000 valid voter signatures by October and says it has already gathered more than 100,00 raw signatures.

Utah

Utah Regulators Announce Choice of Applicants to Grow Medical Marijuana. The state Department of Agriculture and Food announced Friday it has chosen eight applicants that will be licensed to grow medical marijuana in the state. "Half of the awardees already have existing businesses in Utah and the other half are out of state but have Utah ties. All grows will be located in Utah. Seven of the proposed sites are in rural areas and one is in an urban area," Kerry W. Gibson, commissioner of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, said in a statement. The agency could have awarded up to 10 licenses, but said it wanted to avoid an oversupply of product.

Utah Grower Licensing Decision Challenged. After the state Department of Agriculture awarded only eight out of a possible 10 grower licenses, a rejected applicant has challenged the decision through an administrative appeal, claiming that the state granted licenses to unqualified growers and could create a medical marijuana shortage that forces patients to resort to the black market. The appeal will likely delay the rollout of medical marijuana because licenses cannot be finalized until appeals are resolved.

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

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Banking Bill Gets Senate Hearing, Juneau OKs On-Site Consumption, More... (7/24/19)

A marijuana banking bill gets a Senate committee hearing, a new poll finds pot is a popular progressive policy plank, Juneau approves on-site marijuana consumption, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Banking Bill Gets Senate Committee Hearing. In a Senate first, the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee held a hearing Tuesday on the Safe and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (S. 1200) entitled "Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives." The act has broad support in the House, where 206 representatives have signed on as cosponsors. The bipartisan bill also has 31 cosponsors in the Senate. No vote was taken at Tuesday's hearing.

Poll Finds Marijuana Legalization Among Most Popular Progressive Policy Proposals. A national survey conducted by Marist Poll for NPR and the PBS Newshour found that 63% of respondents said legalizing marijuana is "a good idea," making it a more popular plank that banning the sale of assault weapons or raising the minimum wage to $15. The most popular plank espoused by Democrats was closing the gun show loophole, which won 89% support.

Juneau, Alaska, Assembly Approves On-Site Marijuana Consumption. The Assembly on Monday approved an ordinance that allows for the consumption of marijuana edibles at licensed shops and for smoking marijuana in designated outdoor areas. Marijuana smoking indoors is banned by city ordinance. While the ordinance will go into effect in 30 days, businesses will have to receive an endorsement from the state Marijuana Control Board before they can actually offer on-site consumption.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Grower Licensing Decision Challenged. After the state Department of Agriculture awarded only eight out of a possible 10 grower licenses, a rejected applicant has challenged the decision through an administrative appeal, claiming that the state granted licenses to unqualified growers and could create a medical marijuana shortage that forces patients to resort to the black market. The appeal will likely delay the rollout of medical marijuana because licenses cannot be finalized until appeals are resolved.

Chronicle AM: Biden Criminal Justice Plan, Kamala Harris Pot Bill, Vancouver Call for Safe Drug Supply, More... (7/23/19)

Democratic presidential contenders stake out marijuana and criminal justice positions, a North Dakota legalization initiative is approved for signature-gathering, Vancouver wants a safe drug supply of illicit opioids, and more.

Joe Biden seeks to make political amends for his past criminal justice history. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Kamala Harris, Jerry Nadler File Federal Decriminalization Bill. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, and House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) have filed legislation that would decriminalize marijuana possession at the federal law, impose a 5% federal marijuana sales tax, and use some of the proceeds to fund programs that help individuals and communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Arizona Attorney General Calls on Legislature to Legalize Marijuana in Bid to Avoid Initiative That Can't Be Altered by Politicians. Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) wants the state legislature to enact marijuana legalization so that it can have a say in making any future changes to the law. Browder said he fears an industry-crafted measure winning at the ballot box. He is also concerned that if marijuana for adults is legalized by voters, it will be constitutionally protected against legislative fixes.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature-Gathering. Secretary of State Al Jaeger said Monday he had approved a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for signature-gathering. Supporters of the effort will need to come up with 26,904 valid voter signatures by February 10 to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. A separate group is planning a statutory initiative to legalize marijuana. That group is expected to submit its petition to Jaeger late this month or next.

Criminal Justice

Joe Biden Unveils Criminal Justice Plan. Former vice president and current Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden rolled out a 21st Century criminal justice policy in a speech in New Orleans Tuesday. In it, he called for an end to the powder/crack cocaine sentencing disparity, and end to the federal death penalty, the creation of a $20 grant program to states to reduce incarceration as long as they eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing, the expansion of the Justice Department's role in rooting out institutional misconduct by police departments, and more. His rivals say it doesn't make up for what they say is Biden's role in creating and perpetuating mass incarceration.

International

Vancouver Overdose Task Force Calls for Safe Supply of Drugs. The Canadian city's overdose emergency task force is calling for expanded access to a safe supply of illicit drugs for drug users. The task force is calling on the city council to approve a motion advocating for a regulated supply of "opioids or other substances." It also calls on the federal government to "expand access to safe supply by proactively supporting all doctors, health authorities, provinces and all relevant professional colleges, including physicians and surgeons across Canada, to safely provide regulated opioids or other substances through a free and federally available pharmacare program."

(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.)

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