Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: Biden Walks Back Pot "Gateway Theory" Remarks, Philippines VP Warns Duterte on Drug War, More... (11/26/19)

Facing criticism, Joe Biden walks back his marijuana "gateway theory" remarks; the FDA designated psilocybin therapy a "breakthrough therapy" for the second time, and more. 

Filipino President Duterte is being called out on his drug war by Vice President Robredo. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Joe Biden Walks Back Marijuana ‘Gateway Drug’ Comment After Week of Criticism. Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden now says there "no evidence" marijuana is a gateway drug. That's a retreat from his widely criticized comments last week suggesting that it was a gateway drug. "I don’t think it is a gateway drug. There’s no evidence I’ve seen to suggest that," Biden said Monday in response to a reporter's question.

Psychedelics

FDA Calls Psychedelic Psilocybin a 'Breakthrough Therapy' for Severe Depression. For the second time this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has designated therapy with psilocybin a "breakthrough therapy," which will help accelerate the typically slow-moving process of drug development and review. Such a designation is only granted when preliminary evidence suggests it may be a significant improvement over existing therapies.

International

Philippines VP, Fired as Drug Czar, Warns Duterte. Vice President Leni Robredo, a critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war who he hired and then fired as head of an inter-agency anti-drug panel, has vowed to carry on her fight against Duterte's draconian drug policies. "When I took this job, I asked you, are you ready for me? My question to you now is what are you afraid of? Are you afraid of what I might discover? Are you afraid of what the public might discover?," Robredo said at a news conference. "If they think I will stop here, then they don't know me, I am just starting", Robredo said. "They cannot remove my determination to stop the killings and hold those responsible to account and win the fight against illegal drugs."

Trinidad and Tobago Marijuana Reform Bills Filed. Two government-backed marijuana reform bills were filed in parliament last Friday. One bill would decriminalize possession of up to 30 grams of weed but would also include new penalties for possession and sale of other drugs, such as LSD, MDMA, and ketamine. It also allows for the growth of four plants for personal use but specifies they must be male plants, which do not produce buds. The second bill would legalize the use, sale, and distribution of marijuana for medical, research, and religious purposes.

(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: CA Pot Tax Increase Coming, MI Bans Pot Vaping Products Until Retested, More... (11/25/19)

California pot taxes will increase come January 1, Michigan halts sales of pot vaping products until they get retested, and more. 

California's struggling legal marijuana industry will get another dose of taxation in the new year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Pot Taxes Set to Go Up in New Year. California tax officials announced last Thursday that marijuana excise and cultivation taxes will go up on January 1. The state Department of Tax and Fee Administration announced that the markup rate for the excise tax will increase from 60% to 80%, while cultivation taxes will rise by 4.3% for flowers and leaves and 8% for fresh marijuana plant material. The move comes as the legal pot industry in the state complains that is it being outcompeted by black market actors, who don't pay taxes.

Vaping

Michigan Halts Sales of Marijuana Vaping Products Until Retested. State regulators have temporarily halted the sale of marijuana products intended for vaping so that they can be tested for a compound linked to lung illnesses. The Marijuana Regulatory Agency issued the emergency rules last Friday. "It is absolutely vital that patients and consumers know, with certainty, the ingredients in the products that they are using," Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said in a written statement. "These rules require stringent testing and will continue to prioritize the health and safety of Michiganders."

International                  

Philippines President Fires Rival He Named Drug Czar Less Than Three Weeks Ago. President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday fired Vice President Mario Leonor Robredo from her position as drug czar, a position he named her to less than three weeks ago. Duterte accused Robredo of embarrassing the country by drawing international attention to his bloody war on drugs. Robredo has infuriated Duterte by criticizing "senseless killings" during his crackdown on drugs that has left thousands dead.

Chronicle AM: CBS News Pot Poll, MA Senate Kills Car Seizure Provision in Anti-Vaping Bill, More... (11/21/19)

There's another national pot poll showing a strong majority for legalization, an Arizona poll shows majority support, too; the ONDCP announces some opioid crisis spending initiatives, and more.

"Got any untaxed vaping products in there, son?" (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

CBS News Poll Hits Record High in Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new CBS News poll has support for marijuana legalization at 65%, an all-time high for the CBS poll and in line with other recent polling. Now, even a majority (56%) of Republicans favor it and even among Americans over 65 legalization has more support than opposition.

Arizona Poll Has a Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from OH Predictive Insights has support for marijuana legalization among registered voters at 54%, with only 33% opposed. The poll comes as at least two different legalization initiative campaigns are vying to get on the 2020 ballot. A 2016 legalization initiative was narrowly defeated.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

ONDCP Announces More Than $4 Million in Grants for Local Programs Combating the Opioid Crisis. Today, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Jim Carroll announced $4.5 million in grants to help local programs counter the effects of the opioid crisis in their communities. ONDCP, the University of Baltimore, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collaboratively selected 14 programs in areas of the United States to receive “Combating Opioid Overdose through Community-Level Intervention (COOCLI)” grants. The projects, which will be overseen by the University of Baltimore, will employ a range of approaches such as identifying individuals most at risk of overdosing, supporting medication-assisted treatment in jails, collaborating with public safety agencies, and connecting high-risk pregnant and postpartum women and their children to opioid use disorder care coordination services.

Vaping

Massachusetts Senate Strips Vehicle Seizure Provision from Vaping Bill. The state Senate on Wednesday amended a bill banning flavored tobacco and taxing e-cigarettes to remove a provision that would have allowed the police to seize the vehicle of anyone driving with untaxed vaping products in the car. State law allows the seizure of vehicles in which untaxed cigarettes and tobacco products are found (!). This bill would have extended that provision to vaping products, but was removed on a 39-0 vote after lawmakers raised concerns about proportionality. 

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A West Virginia narc goes down for stealing heroin from the evidence room and giving it to his snitches, a New Jersey federal prison guard gets caught in a years-long smuggling scheme, and more. Let's get to it:

In Houston, a Harris County Sheriff's Office detention officer was arrested Sunday on a variety of drug charges. Officer Jason Flores, 19, came to work in possession of methamphetamine and Xanax and is now charged with five felonies, including manufacture and delivery of a controlled substance, possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, and possession of a prohibited substance in a correctional facility.

In Newark, New Jersey, a federal prison guard pleaded guilty last Thursday to taking cash bribes to smuggle drugs to prisoners at the Federal Correctional Institution at Fort Dix. Paul Anton Wright, 34, admitted smuggling tobacco, synthetic cannabinoids, and suboxone into the prison for four years and also admitted taking as much as $50,000 in bribes, which he agreed to forfeit as part of his plea agreement. He'll be sentenced in February.

In Clarksburg, West Virginia, a former Harrison County sheriff's deputy was convicted last Friday of distributing heroin to confidential informants. Timothy Rock, 41, who worked for the department's Street Crimes and Drugs Unit, had already been found guilty in state court on 18 counts related to falsifying documents to cover up his theft of heroin from the evidence room to provide to his informants, but then was indicted on the federal charges. At trial, he was convicted of four counts of distribution of heroin. He's looking at up to 20 years in prison on each of the heroin counts.

 

America's Afghanistan Anti-Drug Boondoggle Nears the $9 Billion Mark [FEATURE]

The amount of money the US government has spent trying to wipe out Afghan opium since it invaded the country in 2002 has now reached $8.94 billion, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) noted in his latest quarterly report to Congress on October 30.

Nine billion dollars later, Afghanistan's opium production rolls on undaunted. (UNODC)
Afghanistan is far and away the world's largest opium producer and has been for the entire period since the US invaded and occupied the country in late 2001. According to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) 2018 Afghan Opium Survey, Afghan farmers were cultivating about 150,000 acres of opium poppies in the late 1990s, but around 300,000 acres a year in the mid-2000s.

As the US occupation dragged on, opium cultivation generally climbed throughout the 2010s, peaking at more than 800,000 acres in 2017. That equates to about nine tons of raw opium produced that year, with the heroin produced from it going into the veins of addicts and others from Lahore to London.

The SIGAR report also noted that although drought had caused poppy cultivation to drop by 20% last year, "it remained at the second-highest level since the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) began monitoring it in 1994."

So, despite spending nearly $9 billion, the US war on Afghan opium has not only not succeeded but has seen the poppy foe steadily gain ground. And even though drought struck the crop in 2018, opium still exceeded the value of all of Afghanistan's licit exports combined and accounted for between 6 and 11 percent of its Gross Domestic Product.

For Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and a long-time observer of US policies aimed at drug producing countries -- not just Afghanistan -- the SIGAR report spoke volumes.

"Over a similar period in Colombia, the US wasted $10 billion," he said. "I guess we can conclude the drug war failed more efficiently in Afghanistan."

To be fair, the US effort against opium has faced huge hurdles. Because of its crucial role in the national economy, providing hundreds of thousands of jobs to farm workers and incomes to farmers, moves to suppress the crop meet entrenched resistance -- and that's where the national government is in control.

But the Taliban controls roughly half the country, and in those areas, it doesn't try to repress the opium trade, but instead taxes it. According to a BBC report, the Taliban generates somewhere between $100 million and $400 million from taxes on opium farmers, producers, and traders. That's not the bulk of Taliban revenues, but it is a significant boost for the insurgency.

When it comes to suppressing illicit drug crops, there are three main approaches: eradication, interdiction, and alternative development. According to the new SIGAR report, all three have proven ineffectual in Afghanistan.

Interdiction -- the effort to suppress the trade by arresting traffickers and seizing drugs -- has been the bailiwick of Afghan security forces funded by the US. But the SIGAR report notes that despite their "strong performance" and their "improved capabilities over the years," activities have had "minimal impact on the country's opium cultivation and production." It notes that all opium seizures since 2002 only add up to about 8 percent of the production of the single year of 2018.

Eradication isn't going very well, either. With the Afghan government announcing early this year that is was abolishing the Ministry of Counter Narcotics and moving its functions to other government entities, essentially no eradication took place this year, the SIGAR report round. Only about one thousand acres were eradicated last year and two thousand the year before. And Helmand province, the biggest poppy producer, saw no eradication at all between 2016 and 2018.

"Eradication efforts have had minimal impact on curbing opium-poppy cultivation," the SIGAR report concluded. "The Afghan government has struggled to perform eradication due to the security challenges in poppy-growing areas. Since 2008, on average, annual eradication efforts resulted in eradicating only 2% of the total yearly opium-poppy cultivation."

That may not be a bad thing, said Tree.

"Forced eradication usually forces peasant farmers into food insecurity," he explained. "Panic sets in. How will they feed their families next week, next month, or next year? What's the one crop they know how to grow, for which there ready and willing buyers, and doesn't require transportation infrastructure like bulky fruits and vegetables? Of course, farmers replant! But this time, they've had to borrow money from traffickers to survive and they become even more ensnared in the drug economy."

The third leg of the anti-drug effort is alternative development. But of the nearly $9 billion the US has invested in the Afghan drug war, less than 5 percent has gone to such programs. The USAID Regional Agricultural Development Plan has received $221 million since 2002, while another $173 million has been spent on alternative development programs. The Defense Department, meanwhile, spent $4.57 billion on counternarcotics during the same period.

But alternative development efforts seem to be waning. An important program, the Good Performers Initiative, which sought to encourage provincial level anti-drug efforts ended this year with the transfer of its last two programs to the Afghan government. But even here, the SIGAR report found, "the program was deemed ineffectual at curbing opium cultivation."

It appears that no matter how many billions the US spends to wipe out Afghan opium, its money flushed down the drain. Maybe it's time to try something different.

Chronicle AM: Historic House Committee Pot Legalization Vote, AMA Calls for Total Vaping Ban, More... (11/20/19)

A congressional committee has for the first time passed a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition, the American Medical Association calls for a ban on vaping products, and more.

The AMA wants to create a new prohibition with its call for a ban on vaping. (Lindsay Fox @ EcigaretteReviewed.com, via Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization Bill Approved by Congressional Committee in Historic Vote.The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to approve the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, marking the first time a bill that would end federal marijuana prohibition has been approved by a congressional committee. The act passed on a vote of 24-10. The act would federally deschedule marijuana, expunge records of prior marijuana arrests, and impose a five percent tax on sales, with proceeds to be reinvested in communities most impacted by drug prohibition. Next stop is a House floor vote.

Michigan Issues First Recreational Marijuana Business Licenses. Michiganders are just days away from being able to legally purchase marijuana at retail outlets after state regulators issued the first recreational pot business licenses Tuesday. The state Marijuana Regulatory Agency issued the first retail license to Exclusive Brands in Ann Arbor, with sales set to begin December 1. It also issued a growing license to Exclusive Brands and another license to a company that wants to hold marijuana-themed events.

Vaping

AMA Calls for Total Ban on All E-Cigarettes, Vaping Products. The American Medical Association (AMA) called Tuesday for an immediate ban on all electronic cigarettes and vaping devices. The AMA cited increased teen use of e-cigs. "It's simple, we must keep nicotine products out of the hands of young people." Dr. Patrice Harris, AMA's president, said in a statement. The AMA also cited the recent outbreak of vaping-related illnesses linked primarily to black market THC vaping. That outbreak has "shined a light on the fact that we have very little evidence about the short- and long-term health consequences of e-cigarettes and vaping products," Harris said. About 2,100 people have gotten sick; 42 have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Chronicle AM: AOC Calls for Drug Decriminalization, SD Meth Awareness Campaign Fiasco, More... (11/19/19)

Garden State voters may get the chance to legalize marijuana themselves, a South Dakota meth awareness campaign gets mocked, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls for drug decriminalization, and more. 

This South Dakota meth awareness campaign is generating mockery and ridicule.
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Senate Democrats File Bill to Put Marijuana Legalization to Public Vote. State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) and state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill Monday to allow the public to vote directly on whether to legalize marijuana. Democratic Assembly leaders said they will sponsor similar legislation. The Democratic Senate leaders said they had given up on trying to pass legalization through the legislature after a year of trying.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Supreme Court Rules People on Probation Can Use Medical Marijuana. The state Supreme Court has overruled a trial judge who required that defendants have a doctor testify in court testify in support of their medical marijuana use. The Supreme Court held that the practice violates the state constitution. The judge in the case had deferred to a "standing procedure" of the El Paso County District Attorney's office, but the high court "disapproved" of the decision, saying the state's medical marijuana law "creates a presumption that a defendant who is sentenced to a term of probation may use medical marijuana."

 Florida Bill Would Protect Patients' Employment Rights. Rep. Tina Polsky (D- Boca Raton) has filed a bill that wouldprovide some employment protections to people who use medical marijuana. House Bill 595 would bar employers from discriminating against, firing, demoting, or taking any other "adverse personnel action" against employees who are card-carrying medical marijuana users. Exceptions include workers performing safety-sensitive job duties such as operating machinery, fighting fires, driving, carrying a firearm, handling hazardous materials, or caring for children or patients. If confronted with positive drug test results, job applicants would be able to use doctors' recommendations or state-issued cards as proof of legal use.

Methamphetamines

South Dakota Anti-Meth Campaign Sparks Ridicule. The state has spent $499,000 on an anti-meth public campaign called "Meth. We're on it" that features state residents ranging from ranchers to high school football players pictured beneath that phrase. The rollout of the campaign has sparked considerable online ridicule and mockery with posters suggesting alternatives such as "Meth: Just Do It" "Meth: for Real Men" "Meth: Fun, Cheap, Wacky" "Meth: Bringing Families Together" "Meth: You Should Buy Some and Use It" and "Got Meth?" But Gov. Kristi Noem (R) said Monday that all the attention only showed that the campaign was working.

Drug Policy

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Calls for Drug Decriminalization. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called Sunday for the decriminalization of all drugs, going a step beyond her previous support for the decriminalization of psychedelics. "Marijuana should be legalized, and drug consumption should be decriminalized," she tweeted.
"These are matters of public health."

Chronicle AM: House Committee to Vote on Legal Pot Bill This Week, Bolivia Violence, More... (11/18/19)

We could see a historic congressional vote on marijuana legalization this week, Joe Biden embraces the gateway theory, security forces of Bolivia's new rightist government gun down protesting coca growers, and more. 

Filipino banner displayed at International Drug Policy Reform Conference in St. Louis last week. (Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

House Judiciary Committee to Vote on Federal Legalization Bill. The House Judiciary Committee will vote Wednesday on whether to approve the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3884). The bill would end federal marijuana prohibition by removing marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. It would also set aside funding to begin repairing the damage done by the war on drugs.

Joe Biden Demurs on Marijuana Legalization, Cites Gateway Fears. Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden said he opposed legalizing marijuana at the federal level because there was insufficient evidence to convince him it was not a gateway drug. "The truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug," Biden said. "It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it." He also said that marijuana legalization should be left to the states.

New Jersey Marijuana Arrests Jumped in Recent Years. The ACLU of New Jersey has issued a report showing nearly 38,000 marijuana arrests in the state in 2017, up a full 35% over the 28,000 pot busts recorded in 2013. Meanwhile, politicians in the state have failed to get marijuana legalization passed.

Oregon Appeals Court Blocks Ban on Flavored Marijuana Vaping Products. The state Court of Appeals last Thursday blocked the statewide ban on flavored marijuana vaping products. The order comes a month after the court blocked a similar ban on nicotine vaping products. The ruling came in a legal challenge to an executive order by Gov. Kathleen Brown (D) banning flavored vaping products as a response to the outbreak of vaping-related illness this fall.

International

Bolivian Security Forces Gun Down Protesting Coca Growers. Security forces loyal to the ultra-right interim government that took power in La Paz after the forced departure of long-time President Evo Morales opened fire on protesting coca growers near Cochabamba on Friday night, killing nine of them. The coca growers back Morales, and their unions demanded Sunday that provisional leader Jeanine Anez step down "within 48 hours" and that new elections be held within 90 days. Morales was forced out by the military after weeks of demonstrations calling for his ouster over disputed elections last month.

DPA & Representatives from 51 Countries Stand Behind Efforts to ‘STOP THE KILLINGS’ in the Philippines at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference. Last week, at Drug Policy Alliance’s International Drug Policy Reform Conference, attendees from 51 countries protested the thousands of brutal killings that have taken place in the Philippines in the name of President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, gathering under cultural collective RESBAK’s iconic ‘Stop the Killings’ banner in a united show of opposition. "With the world watching, we felt compelled to use our platform to draw attention to the horrendous crimes taking place every day in the Philippines, with the full-throated support of that country’s president," said Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The Philippines is a stark example of how the drug war can so easily serve as an excuse for targeting vulnerable people, and harassing critics, and punishing opponents."

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

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

Chronicle AM: No Legal Weed in Maryland Next Year, Santa Cruz Psychedelic Decrim Move, More... (11/15/19)

Maryland legislators say they have yet to reach agreement on key aspects of marijuana legalization, leaving prospects for next year in doubt; Santa Cruz, California, moves toward decriminaliizing natural psychedelics, a Georgia medical marijuana commission finally gets members, and more.

Santa Cruz could be the next locale to free the 'shrooms. (Greenoid/Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

New Congressional Resolution Calls for Marijuana Legalization and Drug Expungements. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) on Thursday filed a congressional resolution calling for marijuana legalization and expunging all drug convictions. Her "People's Justice Guarantee" resolution is more broadly designed to "transform the U.S. criminal legal system to one that meets America’s foundational yet unfilled promise of justice for all"through ending for-profit prisons, decriminalizing some non-violent offenses, capping criminal sentences, and reinvesting in communities adversely impacted by the war on drugs.

Maryland Legislative Panel to Defer Action on Legalizing Marijuana.Leaders of the General Assembly’s Marijuana Legalization Workgroup said Wednesday that they need more time to sort through an issue that is complex and still relatively new. That means the legislature is unlikely to seriously consider marijuana legalization next year. Among the issues unresolved are the amount of fines for smoking in public, whether to allow personal cultivation, whether people could give marijuana to others, and whether companies that have medical marijuana licenses should get favorable treatment.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Names Members of State Medical Marijuana Commission. Gov. Brian Kemp (R), Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston announced seven appointments Tuesday. They include several doctors, a professor, a police chief and a small business owner. The commission was authorized by a bill passed in April that allows for the in-state production and sale of CBD oil. Now, after a six-month delay, the commission can move forward.

Psychedelics

Santa Cruz, California, Advances Effort to Decriminalize Natural Psychedelics. A city council panel will take up the proposed decriminalization of psychoactive plants and fungi next month after passing through a public hearing Tuesday night. The Public Safety Committee is expected to recommend that the council approve a plan to make natural psychedelics the lowest law enforcement priority.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Ohio narcs go down for a shady scheme, South Carolina cops get snared in a sting, jailers go bad all over the place, and more. Let's get to it:

In Port Clinton, Ohio, two former Ottawa County Drug Task Force agents and a sheriff's deputy were arrested October 27 for alleged misconduct around the unlawful sales of weapons and covering it up. Carl Rider, 55, a former task force commander, is charged with unlawful transaction in weapons, theft in office and a misdemeanor count of falsification. Donald St. Clair, 50, was charged with three counts of perjury. Ottawa County Sheriff’s Deputy James Hanney Jr., 46, was also charged with two counts of perjury after he was accused of the same offense.

In San Antonio, a former Bexar County sheriff's deputy was arrested October 28 for using his position on the dope squad to try to coax sexual favors from suspects. Ramon Rivera, 47, is charged with official oppression.

In Los Angeles, a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy was arrested October 29 for allegedly lying about a marijuana warehouse robbery involving another deputy. Deputy Bradley Scott Dietze, 45, is accused of lying to LAPD officers investigating the theft of 1,200 pounds of weed and $645,000 in cash. He is charged with a misdemeanor count of resisting, delaying or obstructing a peace officer and could face up to a year in county jail, prosecutors said. The sheriff's deputy involved in the theft, Deputy Marc Antrim, now faces a federal charge of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances that carries a maximum possible sentence of 40 years in prison.

\In Angola, Louisiana, an Angola state prison guard trainee was arrested October 31 for trying to smuggle marijuana and cell phones into the prison. Cadet guard Diodelda Anderson, 49, went down after a search of her vehicle uncovered 17 grams of pot, 6 ounces of synthetic cannabinoids, three cell phones, and other contraband. She is charged with malfeasance in office and introduction of contraband into a penal institution.

In Graham, North Carolina, an Alamance County prison guard was arrested November 1 along with eight others in a scheme to get drugs to inmates in state prisons. The drug in question was suboxone. The prison guard arrested is Lauren Del Zimmerman, 31. He is charged with conspiracy to sell and deliver a schedule III controlled substance.

In Hamilton, Ohio, a former Warren County jail guard was sentenced last Monday to three years in prison for dealing drugs on the job. Daniel Garvey had been arrested en route to work in February and pleaded guilty to a trafficking charge in September.

In Kenosha, Wisconsin, a Kenosha County sheriff's deputy was arrested Wednesday for possessing marijuana after he stopped a driver, followed him to a marijuana grow operation, questioned him about it, then told him to say the deputy had never been there. Deputy Brian J. Houtsinger, 32, went down after authorities searched his patrol vehicle and found 13 grams of weed, a digital scale, and packaging materials in the trunk. He is also accused of seizing marijuana in another traffic stop, but not reporting it. He is charged with marijuana possession and dereliction of duty.

In Columbia, South Carolina, three former Orangeburg police officers pleaded guilty October 27 after being ensnared in an FBI sting where they thought they were aiding Mexican drug cartels. All three agreed to use their official vehicles to escort what they thought were loads of cartel cash and cartel drugs. Allan Hunter, 51, a former police officer in the town of Springfield, pleaded guilty to numerous charges connected with taking bribes to protect the fake cartel’s drug-trafficking operations. Nathaniel Shazier III, 29, a former Orangeburg County sheriff’s deputy, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to guard the fake cartel’s trucks. Stanley Timmons, 44, a former Orangeburg County sheriff’s deputy, pleaded guilty to being part of a conspiracy to guard the fake cartel’s trucks. They're all looking at between five and 20 years in federal prison.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Senate approves a bill protecting medical marijuana states from federal intervention, Alabama and Kansas move toward filing medical marijuana legislation, a South Dakota medical marijuana initiative hands in signatures, and more.

National

Senate Approves Bill Protecting Medical Marijuana States from Federal Intervention. The Senate on October 30 approved a "minibus" appropriations bill covering several agencies that extends a provision protecting state medical marijuana programs from federal interference. The House has passed a version of the bill with even broader protections for all state marijuana programs, so the question now is whether the House language will be adopted in the final bill.

Alabama

Alabama Will See Medical Marijuana Bill Next Year. The state's Medical Marijuana Commission, which was charged with developing medical marijuana legislation, says it will be ready to introduce a medical marijuana bill in the next legislative session. The deadline for the commission's bill to be filed is December 1.

Iowa

Iowa Medical Marijuana Board Recommends Removing THC Cap, PTSD as Qualifying Condition. The Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board has approved a set of recommendations to the legislature including removing the 3% cap on THC in medical marijuana products and replacing it with a purchase limit of 4.5 grams of THC over 90 days. The board also recommended making PTSD a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.

Kansas

Kansas Lawmakers Recommend Studying How to Legalize Medical Marijuana. An interim legislative committee recommended October 30 that the legislature advance medical marijuana legislation. The committee recommended that the legislature look to Ohio as a guide.

Kentucky

Kentucky Lawmaker Prefiles Bill to Legalize Medical Marijuana. State Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville) has prefiled a bill that would legalize medical marijuana. The measure would prohibit smoking of marijuana, but would allow all other forms of consumption. It would also have the industry regulated by the Department for Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Control. The state-run system would issue licenses for cultivators, dispensaries, safety facilities, processors, practitioners and patients. A similar bill last year never made it to the House floor despite winning a 16-1 vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

Michigan

Michigan Reduces or Eliminates Fees for Medical Marijuana Users. The state Marijuana Regulatory Agency announced in late October that it has reduced the fee for a two-year patient registry card from $60 to $40 and eliminated a $10 fee to update, replace, or add or remove a caregiver has been removed. The $25 background check processing fee for caregivers has also been eliminated.

South Dakota

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. New Approach South Dakota, the group behind a medical marijuana initiative, handed in more than 30,000 raw signatures on Novermber 5, nearly double the 16,691 valid voter signatures required to qualify the measure for the November 2020 ballot. State officials will announce in a matter of weeks whether the initiative has qualified.

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

Chronicle AM: New Pew Pot Poll, New AZ Pot Initiative, MI Retail Pot Sales Could Start Soon, More... (11/14/19)

A new Pew pot poll holds few surprises, a second Arizona marijuana legalization initiative is rolled out, a second Florida marijuana legalization initiative passes a key threshold, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Pew Poll: Two-Thirds Support Marijuana Legalization. A new Pew poll finds that two-thirds of Americans say the use of marijuana should be legal, continuing a steady increase in support over the past decade. At the same time, the number of American adults who oppose legalization has declined from 52% in 2010 to 32% now.

Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative Rolled Out. The Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce rolled out its marijuana legalization initiative, the Small Business Liberty Act, Wednesday. The measure would allow for 230 retail outlets for marijuana sales, a hundred more than current exist as medical marijuana dispensaries. The measure also legalizes possession of up to an ounce for personal use and would impose an excise tax of no more than 16%. Players in the state's medical marijuana industry have already filed their own initiative, the Smart and Safe Act. That initiative would limit marijuana retail outlets to about 170 and reserve most licenses for those who already have medical marijuana retail licenses.

Florida Marijuana Legalization Initiative Passes Signature Milestone. The marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by Make It Legal Florida, which is backed by the state's biggest medical marijuana companies, has officially collected more than 77,000 verified voter signatures, triggering a review of its language by the state Supreme Court. The group said Wednesday it has already gathered nearly 390,000 raw signatures; it needs 766,200 valid voter signatures by February 1 to qualify for the 2020 ballot. A second legalization initiative sponsored by Regulate Florida reached the threshold in August.

Michigan Legal Recreational Pot Sales Could Begin as Early as December 1. In a surprise move, the state's Marijuana Regulatory Agency announced Wednesday that medical marijuana businesses, including growers and processors, can transfer half their inventory to the recreational market as of December 1, provided they have received a recreational license from the state. But buds for the recreational market may not be available then as the state works to ensure that the medicinal market supply is not disrupted. Edibles and other products should be available, though.

Chronicle AM: Chicago Mayor to End Pot Car Seizure Strategy, Fed Court Upholds Life Sentence in Drug Death, More... (11/13/19)

While Chicago's mayor is trying to ease post-legalization pot penalties, the city's housing authority is warning public housing residents can be evicted for smoking at home; a federal court upholds a life sentence for a drug-related death; and more.

Chicago is getting ready to grapple with legal marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Campaign Raised More Than $1 Million Last Month. The Make It Legal Florida campaign to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the November 2020 ballot is benefiting from a large cash injection last month. The campaign raised nearly $1.1 million, almost entirely from two medical marijuana companies who stand to benefit from legalization. Surterra Holdings kicked in $544,000, while MedMen gave $540,000. The campaign spent $1.6 million in October, mostly on paid signature gathering. It needs 766,200 valid voter signatures by February to qualify for the ballot, and because it's a constitutional amendment, would require 60% of the vote to be approved.

Massachusetts Regulators "Quarantine" All Marijuana Vaping Products Except Medicinal Use Buds. The state's Cannabis Control Commission moved on Tuesday to "quarantine" all marijuana vaping products except those that contain only buds and are intended for medical marijuana patients. The commission cited a CDC report that pointed a finger at Vitamin E acetate as the culprit in the recent wave of vaping-related illness and injury and said it was acting "in order to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Massachusetts." The quarantine will stay in place until the commission develops regulations for the use of vaping products. according to a press release from the CCC.

Chicago Mayor Moves to Stop Impounding Cars Found with Marijuana. With marijuana legalization looming, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is drafting an ordinance to end the city’s practice of impounding vehicles found with marijuana inside and dramatically reduce fines for those caught using pot in public. "For far too long, unjust and outdated cannabis enforcement laws have adversely and disproportionately affected Chicago’s black and brown neighborhoods," she said. The ordinance would drop fines for public consumption from $250 to $500 down to $50 and end a "zero tolerance" rule requiring the seizure of vehicles with marijuana.  Lightfoot said in a news release.

Chicago Housing Authority Warns No Pot in Public Housing. The Chicago Housing Authority has warned residents of public housing they would be evicted if they use marijuana at home. "While federal law prohibits marijuana use and possession in federally subsidized housing, the Chicago Housing Authority is working to educate and inform residents so they understand all applicable laws related to cannabis and federally funded housing," CHA spokeswoman Molly Sullivan said.

Sentencing Policy

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Life Sentence for Drug-Related Death. A federal appeals court in Michigan has upheld the life sentence of a man blamed for the drug-related death of another man. Steven Whyte was convicted of providing heroin to a man who overdosed and died. The court said the sentence was "severe and perhaps even misguided as a matter of criminal justice policy" but still constitutional.

Chronicle AM: Bolivia's Coca Grower President Forced Out, AOC Calls for Psychedelic Decrim, More... (11/12/19)

Evo Morales, the former coca grower union leader who became president of Bolivia, has been forced from power; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls for the decriminalization of psychedelics, and more.

Evo Morales. He broke with the US drug war in South American and lifted millions of Bolivians out of poverty. Now, he's gone.
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Legislature Seeks Dismissal of Governor's Marijuana Regulation Lawsuit. Attorneys for the state legislature last Friday filed motions to dismiss Gov. Gina Raimondo's (D) lawsuit challenging a state law that grants the General Assembly veto power over new hemp and medical marijuana regulations. The attorneys argued that "it makes little sense" for the lawsuit to continue because the law is slated to be repealed. Raimondo argues that the legislature's move violates the separation of powers provisions in the state constitution that give the executive branch sole power over adoption of regulations and issuance of licenses for the marijuana industry.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Will See Medical Marijuana Bill Next Year. The state's Medical Marijuana Commission, which was charged with developing medical marijuana legislation, says it will be ready to introduce a medical marijuana bill in the next legislative session. The deadline for the commission's bill to be filed is December 1.

Psychedelics

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Calls for Decriminalizing Psychedelics. In a video message to the Drug Policy Alliance's biennial drug reform conference last Thursday, Rep. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) called for decriminalizing the use of and research on psychedelics. She also called for federal marijuana legalization. "I’m very thankful to have been working with the Drug Policy Alliance throughout this year to introduce and work on several different amendments and pieces of legislation to make our lives better," Ocasio-Cortez said. "That includes things like moving money out of the DEA and into overdose treatment programs, as well as really examining some of the ways that we can also decriminalize the use and study of psychedelic compounds for medicinal applications and future policies.".”

Foreign Policy

ONDCP Releases Data on Coca Cultivation and Production Potential in Bolivia. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has released US government annual estimates of coca cultivation and potential cocaine production for Bolivia. It finds that Bolivia remains the third largest producer of cocaine after Peru and Colombia, and that coca cultivation increased 6% last year, boosting potential cocaine production by 2%. The area under cultivation was 50% over the limit set for legal cultivation by the Bolivian government.

International

Bolivia's Coca Grower President Ousted, Flees to Mexico. Long-time Bolivian leader Evo Morales, a former coca growers union leader who won the presidency in 2005 and was re-elected twice has been forced from office and fled the country after extended protests in the wake of disputed elections last week. Morales resigned after he lost the support of the military, which called on him to resign on Saturday. As president, Morales broke with US drug policy in the region and legalized the production of coca in the country. He also lifted millions of Bolivians out of poverty, but began to lose support after ignoring a referendum calling on him not to run again, and chaos escalated after an unexplained 24-hour delay in vote-counting before he was declared the victor.

Chronicle AM: Trump Offers to "Wage War" on Mexican Cartels, SD MedMJ and Legalization Initiatives, More... (11/5/19)

South Dakota medical marijuana and marijuana legalization campaigns turn in raw signatures, a California psychedelic decriminalization initiative gets updated, President Trump offers to "wage war" on Mexican drug cartels after an ambush left nine dual US-Mexican citzens dead, and more.

South Dakota's Badlands. Next year, the state could become less bad for marijuana users. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Turns in Signatures. The activist group South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws on Monday submitted more than 50,000 raw signatures to put a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana to a vote. The proposal would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for adults 21 and older and would require the legislature to pass laws regulating cultivation, processing and sale of hemp. The group needs 33,921 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 elections. State officials will announce in a matter of weeks whether the initiative has qualified.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. New Approach South Dakota, the group behind a medical marijuana initiative, handed in more than 30,000 raw signatures on Monday, nearly double the 16,691 valid voter signatures required to qualify the measure for the November 2020 ballot. State officials will announce in a matter of weeks whether the initiative has qualified.

Psychedelics

California Natural Psychedelics Initiative Refiled. Decriminalize California, the group behind a move to decriminalize psilocybin, has filed a new version of its initiative with state officials. The new version seeks a new ballot title and summary and adds language regarding amnesty for past offenses and allowing for sales of psilocybin.

Foreign Policy

In Wake of Killings of Nine Americans, Trump Says He Could Send US Military to "Wage War" on Mexican Drug Cartels. After nine dual US-Mexican citizens were killed in an ambush in Sonora on Monday, President Trump tweeted that he could send the US military into Mexico to "wage war" on drug cartels. The US was "ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively" if Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador asked for help, Trump said. Lopez Obrador declined the offer, but said he would speak to Trump about security cooperation between the two countries.

International

Mexican Supreme Court Gives Congress Six More Months to Legalize Marijuana. The Supreme Court has given Congress another six month to pass legislation that will legalize marijuana after Congress failed to get it done by an October 31 deadline. That means that the bill now seen as closest to the finishing line is likely to be modified. Its current version limits foreign ownership, vertical integration, and license resale, all of which are opposed by business interests. The Senate asked the court for an extension after failing to reach a consensus by the October deadline.

Philippine Drug War Critic Appointed to Key Drug Policy Role. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed his main political rival and a harsh critic of his bloody drug war as co-chair of an inter-agency anti-drugs body. Vice-President Leni Robredo has criticized Duterte's tactics and expressed alarm about the death toll while saying that the deadly campaign has failed to stop the drug trade. The move could be a cynical ploy by Duterte to make her a scapegoat for the failures of his anti-drug campaign, a Robredo spokesman suggested.

Chronicle AM: Hundreds of OK Drug Prisoners Walk Free Today, USDA Publishes Interim Hemp Rules, More... (11/4/19)

Hundreds of low-level Oklahoma drug prisoners walked free today after their sentences were commuted, Michigan advances on a couple of marijuana fronts, the USDA issues interim hemp rules, and more.

Michigan is moving forward on a couple of marijuana fronts. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Now Accepting Applications for Recreational Marijuana Businesses. Nearly a year after voters approved a marijuana legalization initiative, the state is now accepting applications for recreational marijuana businesses. Applications require a non-refundable $6,000 application fee, and businesses that are approved for licenses will have to pay fees of between $1,000 and $40,000 a year. Applicants must specify if they are growers, processors, or a microbusinesses.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Medical Marijuana Board Recommends Removing THC Cap, PTSD as Qualifying Condition. The Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board has approved a set of recommendations to the legislature including removing the 3% cap on THC in medical marijuana products and replacing it with a purchase limit of 4.5 grams of THC over 90 days. The board also recommended making PTSD a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.

Kentucky Lawmaker Prefiles Bill to Legalize Medical Marijuana. State Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville) has prefiled a bill that would legalize medical marijuana. The measure would prohibit smoking of marijuana, but would allow all other forms of consumption. It would also have the industry regulated by the Department for Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Control. The state-run system would issue licenses for cultivators, dispensaries, safety facilities, processors, practitioners and patients. A similar bill last year never made it to the House floor despite winning a 16-1 vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

Michigan Reduces or Eliminates Fees for Medical Marijuana Users. The state Marijuana Regulatory Agency announced last week that it has reduced the fee for a two-year patient registry card from $60 to $40 and eliminated a $10 fee to update, replace, or add or remove a caregiver has been removed. The $25 background check processing fee for caregivers has also been eliminated.

Hemp

USDA Publishes Interim Regulations Governing the Production of Hemp. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Saturday published its final interim rule on rules and regulations for hemp production under the 2018 farm bill. The rules set forth a series of requirements for hemp producers and help clear the way for hemp production in all 46 states that have legalized it.

Sentencing

Oklahoma Commutes Sentences for Hundreds of Inmates. More than 500 state prisoners, most of them serving time for non-violent, low-level drug offenses, were granted commutations last Friday, with more than 400 of them walking out of prison today. Voters there approved a 2016 initiative that changed simple drug possession and low-level property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, and the legislature this year approved a bill to make the changes retroactive, opening the door for a fast-track commutation for those prisoners.

International

Scottish MPs Call for Drug Decriminalization. Parliament's Scottish Affairs Committee has issued a report calling for the decriminalization of personal drug use and possession. The report also called for safe injection sites to help address Scotland's record-high drug overdose levels. But the British Home Office still says it has no plans to decriminalize drug possession.

Attention, Amphibian Substance Fans, There's A New Toad in Town [FEATURE]

We've long heard about "toad venom," a secretion from the Sonoran Desert toad containing bufotenin, a psychoactive substance that's a close chemical cousin to DMT. In fact, it is currently au courant among the Brooklyn hipster set, with the New York Post recently calling it "the hottest new psychedelic drug among trendy New Yorkers."

Sapo sage Peter Gorman cruising the Amazon (sapoinmysoul.com)
"Toad venom" derived from the Sonoran Desert toad is indeed psychedelic, but there is another "toad venom" on the scene, and the two should not be confused. This second "toad venom" comes from the Amazonian tree frog and is also known as "sapo" (Spanish for "toad"). It doesn't get you high in the traditional sense, but it reportedly has some profound mental and physical effects.

"Generally, it is an extremely physical experience, and can be intense," explained journalist Valerie Vande Panne, who has experienced a guided sapo session. "It can induce vomiting and diarrhea. Physically you may become incapacitated, or unable to speak, keep your balance, or move quickly or accurately, which is why you should never be alone and without proper support.

"It is not something to take and relax or chill out. It can be intensely unpleasant, in fact. It is in no way psychedelic or otherwise 'trippy,'" she continued. "You may cry intensely. Afterwards, you might feel a profound relief, and you may find some emotional, spiritual, physical, or other kinds of issues or blockages in your life have been alleviated."

We know about sapo largely thanks to the efforts of one man: author and journalist and de facto ethnobotanist, and social anthropologist Peter Gorman. A former editor of High Times, Gorman has been traveling to the Peruvian Amazon for decades, where he has lived and raised a family, meanwhile delving deep into indigenous cultures of the region and their healing medicines. His writings, especially his work at High Times, have played a crucial role with exposing Western consciousness to the healing plants and Amazonian way of life. If you've heard of ayahuasca, you can thank Gorman for that, too.

Gorman's life's work is the subject of a new documentary, More Joy Less Pain, which will premiere in New York City on November 11 at the Tribeca Screening Room.The film is a candid look at Gorman and his life with the indigenous Matsés of the Peruvian Amazon and their traditional medicines, including ayahuasca and sapo.(Tickets may be purchased here. Chronicle readers get a 50% discount using promo code 420. Seating is limited.There will be a Q & A with both Director Michael McCoy and likely Peter Gorman himself.)

"This is Peter Gorman's field work," says legendary psychedelic guru Terence McKenna in the doc. "He seems to know more about this than anyone else."

The documentary should serve as a useful corrective for misguided and sensational media coverage of substances such as sapo and ayahuasca, as well as a closely-informed look at the cultures, traditions, and practices of the Amazon.

As for sapo itself, Vande Panne declined to go into particulars about just how it is used, saying:"I'm not going to get into the details of how to take it -- this isn't a medicine to play with, or to learn to use by reading about it on the Internet or with a YouTube tutorial or via some other pop-culture special. Indigenous medicine is powerful and sacred and is wisely treated with respect."

If you're now really curious about sapo, watch the documentary and then get in touch with Gorman (through the link posted above). He continues to bring people into the jungle to experience healing and serves as a mentor to many studying natural healing. And he continues to blow Western minds with Amazonian wisdom.

Chronicle AM: Senate Extends Protections for State MMJ Programs, PA Pot Poll, More... (11/1/19)

New South Wales ponders drug decriminalization, the Senate extends protections for state medical marijuana programs, and more.

Ice (methamphetamine). Australia's New South Wales is pondering drug decriminalization as it looks at meth use. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization, Less for State-Run Stores. A new Franklin & Marshall College poll has support for marijuana legalization at 58%, but 40% are much less likely to support it if pot would be sold in state liquor stores.

Medical Marijuana

Senate Approves Bill Protecting Medical Marijuana States from Federal Intervention. The Senate on Thursday approved a "minibus" appropriations bill covering several agencies that extends a provision protecting state medical marijuana programs from federal interference. The House has passed a version of the bill with even broader protections for all state marijuana programs, so the question now is whether the House language will be adopted in the final bill.

International

Australia's New South Wales Ponders Drug Decriminalization. The New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice (methamphetamine) will release its recommendations next week, but there are already indications that the commission will lean in the direction of harm reduction approaches, as well as drug decriminalization. The commission will reportedly also recommend pill testing at a fixed site and possibly music festivals and expanding the use of safe injection sites.

Chronicle AM: Push on Psychedelics Expands, Mexico Misses Marijuana Legalization Deadline, More... (10/31/19)

We're starting to see pot bills getting filed for next year, a push to ease laws on natural psychedelics is expanding into more cities, Mexico's marijuana legalization push hits a bump, and more.

magic mushrooms (Greenoid/Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Marijuana Legalization Bill Prefiled. State Rep. Rolando Gutierrez has prefiled the "REAL Cannabis Legalization Act" ahead of the legislature's 2021 session. The bill aims to establish a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce as well as personal growing.

Wisconsin Decriminalization Bill Filed. A group of Democratic lawmakers has filed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Lawmakers said the move would attack racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement, as well as eliminating the smell of marijuana as probable cause for law enforcement to undertake searches and allowing for expungement of past pot busts.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Lawmakers Recommend Studying How to Legalize Medical Marijuana. An interim legislative committee recommended Wednesday that the legislature advance medical marijuana legislation. The committee recommended that the legislature look to Ohio as a guide.

Psychedelics

Four More Major Cities Take Steps to Decriminalize Psychedelics. Activists in Berkeley, Chicago, Dallas, and Portland are all pushing psychedelic decriminalization measures , either through ballot initiatives or city council actions. They hope to capitalize on the momentum created by the successful campaigns to deprioritize enforcement of laws against natural psychedelics in Denver and Oakland earlier this year.

Sentencing Policy

Florida Bill to End Mandatory Minimums for Nonviolent Drug Offenses Filed. State Rep. Alex Andrade (D-Pensacola) has introduced a bill to remove mandatory minimums for drug offenses and allow a judge to decide the appropriate sentence for the individual defendant. State Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Orange Park) has filed a companion bill in the Senate. The bill would remove mandatory minimums if there was no violence involved and if the defendant had no prior felony convictions. It also increases the amount of drugs a person must be found with for that person to be charged with drug trafficking rather than just possession and allows people currently serving mandatory minimums to ask a court to reconsider their original sentences.

International

Mexico Misses Deadline for Marijuana Legalization. Mexico will not legalize marijuana by today's Supreme Court-imposed deadline, legislative leaders said earlier this week. Sen. Ricardo Monreal, head of the ruling MORENA Party's congressional delegation cited "unprecedented" lobbying pressure by companies seeking to get rich off legalization. "It was the intention to approve it on Tuesday," he continued, "but that's not going to happen." Instead, he said the bill will be discussed in "the first weeks of November."

Chronicle AM: Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances, Ukraine Marijuana Protest, More... (10/28/19)

Some Nebraskans want to see a return to increased drug testing in child welfare cases, Mexico's marijuana legalization advances but faces a delay, the INCB criticizes the Australia National Capital Territory over marijuana legalization, and more.

Drug Testing

Nebraska Committee Hears Complaints About Reduction in Child Welfare Drug Testing. State senators last Friday held a hearing about changes in state policies that have led to reduced drug testing of parents and children in child welfare and neglect cases. Under a policy adopted last year, only court-ordered testing is allowed. "Child advocates" have criticized the policy as effectively giving parents time to prepare for drug tests and are seeking a legislative fix to go back to more rigorous drug testing protocols.

International

Australia Capital Territory Marijuana Legalization Violates UN Treaties, INCB Says. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has responded sharply to the Australian Capital Territory's move to legalize marijuana, saying the move would violate international drug control treaties. The message came in a letter from the INCB to the Australian federal government, which opposes the move. "The board has noted with concern recent reports regarding the legalization of cannabis possession, use and cultivation in small amounts in the Australian Capital Territory, effective 31 January 2020," the letter read. "The board wishes to recall that cultivation, production and distribution of cannabis for non-medical purposes is inconsistent with the provisions of the 1961 convention as amended, in particular article 4(c), which requires state parties to limit the use of narcotic drugs exclusively to medical and scientific purposes."

Finland's Government Will Consider Decriminalizing Marijuana in Response to Citizen Petition. Some 50,000 Finnish citizens have signed a petition asking for marijuana decriminalization, triggering an automatic review by Parliament. The proposal would decriminalize up to 25 grams of weed and the cultivation of up to four plants.

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances but Will Be Slightly Delayed. A marijuana legalization bill has advanced through the congress's Justice, Health, Legislative Studies, and Public Security committees. A floor vote was originally scheduled for this week, but the bill is now being referred to a multi-party panel as legislative leaders seek to build consensus around its provisions. The bill would allow people 18 and over to use, possess, and buy marijuana from licensed dealers. People could also grow their own -- up to four plants. A Cannabis Institute would be responsible for regulating the industry. Sen. Ricardo Monreal, the ruling MORENA party's leader in the Senate, said on Saturday the delay was worth it. "I will slow it down a little," he said. "Many economic and social interests have been unleashed and I would like to do things well," he added.

Ukraine Marijuana Activists March in Kiev. Hundreds of activists representing several NGOs rallied in Kiev on Saturday calling for the legalization of medical marijuana and for the government to lift the threshold on how much marijuana one can possess without criminal penalty. Participants said they rallied to try to get the government's attention.

Chronicle AM: Bernie's Pot Policy, Beto's Drug Policy, Castro's Drug Policy, More... (10/25/19)

Democratic presidential contenders talk drug policy, a new California marijuana legalization initiative is approved for signature gathering, a Massachusetts judge partially lifts a pot vaping ban, and more.

Democratic candidates are rolling out far reaching plans for drug policy reform. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Calls for Marijuana Legalization, Investment in Communities Harmed by Drug War. Vermont senator and Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders on Thursday released a sweeping plan for marijuana legalization that includes a $20 billion grant program for entrepreneurs of color, legalization by executive order within 100 days of taking office, and the expungement of past convictions. The proposal also envisions restricting marijuana businesses to be more like nonprofits and less like corporations, and bans tobacco companies from participating in the industry.

California Marijuana Legalization Expansion Initiative Cleared for Signature Gathering. An initiative that would broaden and deepen the legalization of marijuana in the state has been approved for signature gathering. The California Cannabis Hemp Initiative would free some state marijuana prisoners, protect personal users from regulatory and licensing requirements, limit commercial regulation to that imposed on liquor and wine, and limit retail sales tax to 10%. State analysts estimate that passage would result in reduced state and local tax revenues to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Massachusetts Judge Partially Lifts Vaping Ban to Allow for Vaping Buds. A state district court judge has altered Gov. Charlie Baker's (R) van on vaping to allow for the sale of crushed marijuana buds to resume. The move came after hearing testimony from medical marijuana patients and advocates.

Drug Policy

Beto O'Rourke Calls for Drug Decriminalization and Safe Injection Sites In New Plan. Democratic presidential contender Beto O'Rourke on Thursday rolled out a drug policy plan calling for the embrace of harm reduction strategies, including safe injection sites, and decriminalizing drug possession. He said the country needs to move away from a criminal justice model and toward a public health model to deal with substance use and addiction.

Julián Castro Calls for Marijuana Legalization and Expungements in New Criminal Justice Plan. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and Democratic presidential contender has called for marijuana legalization and expungement of prior pot arrests as part of his criminal justice plan. He is also calling to "end the War on Drugs" and "address the opioid crisis and other challenges of drug addiction as primarily public health issues, not seek to further harm the and communities suffering addiction."

Drug Testing

Oklahoma Court Holds That Positive Marijuana Drug Test Did Not Prove That Marijuana Caused Accident. A machine operator whose hand was crushed at work is entitled to workmen's compensation even though he tested positive for marijuana because that test does not prove that marijuana use caused the accident, a state court judge has ruled.

(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 Louisiana narc with a pain pill habit goes down, a Texas school resource officer gets caught pilfering pain pills, and more. Let's get to it:

In Lockhart, Texas, a former Lockhart police officer was arrested Friday for stealing pain pills from a junior high school nurse's office. Chad Corbitt, who had previously served as the School Resource Officer at Lockhart Junior High School, was charged with theft of a controlled substance from a clinic. He went down after the nurse reported missing pills, and video surveillance showed him entering the office after hours in civilian clothes.

In Las Vegas, Nevada, a Las Vegas Metro Police detective was arrested Saturday after being caught with drugs in his personal vehicle. Detective Joseph Rinetti, 46, who also serves on a US Marshals Task Force, is charged with selling or transporting a controlled substance, destroying and concealing evidence and misconduct of a public officer. He's out on bail.

In Covington, Louisiana, a former St. Tammany's Parish narcotics officer was sentenced Wednesday to two years in state prison for alerting drug dealers, including one who was supplying him with oxycodone, that they were the subjects of an undercover operation by the sheriff's office. Jordan Hollenbeck was convicted of three counts of malfeasance in office.

In Rome, Georgia, a former Hays State Prison guard pleaded guilty Monday to smuggling methamphetamine and other drugs to inmates. Voltaire Peter Pierre admitted smuggling meth, cocaine, marijuana, and other drugs in soup containers and other innocuous containers, with prisoners paying him via a payment app. He copped to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, crack cocaine, and marijuana and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine on premises where a minor resides. No sentencing date was provided.

The Vaping Crisis is Real, But the Response by States Misses the Point [FEATURE]

According to the October 18 update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1,299 cases of severe lung injury associated with the use of vaping products have now been reported since cases first started appearing this summer. They've been reported in 49 states and the District of Columbia. And 26 people have died.

The update also provides this new syndrome with a name: E-cigarette or Vaping, product use Associated Lung Injury (EVALI).

In the update, the CDC notes that "all patients have reported a history of using e-cigarette, or vaping, products" and that "most patients report a history of using THC-containing products."

As EVALI cases began piling up this fall, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned consumers early this month to "stop using THC-containing vaping products and any vaping products obtained off the street." The CDC was on the same page, recommending that people "should not use e-cigarette or vaping products that contain THC," buy black market vaping or e-cig products, especially those containing THC, or modify or add any substances to e-cig and vaping products.

Something new is going on. Marijuana and nicotine vaping products have been around for more than a decade by now -- who remembers the massive Volcano vape from early in this century? -- and the most popular nicotine vaping brand, Juul, has been on the market for more than four years. Yet this wave of vaping-related illness only broke out this summer.

The culprit increasingly appears to be black market THC vaping cartridges contaminated with new additives, particularly thinners including propylene glycol (PEG), Vitamin E acetate, and medium chain triglycerides (MCT oil). The FDA has begun investigating Vitamin E acetate, while public health officials in New York have found the substance in a majority of seized vape cartridges there. The FDA also announced in August that it is proposing adding PEG as a "respiratory toxicant" in its list of harmful tobacco product ingredients.

While federal health officials have been busy trying to find the actual cause of the EVALI outbreak, elected and public health officials at the state level have typically responded with much broader restrictions on vaping products overall, especially flavored vaping products for both nicotine and marijuana.

In doing so, they are conflating two separate concerns -- youth vaping and this new vaping illness -- and coming up with responses that use the latter to take broad aim at the former. The problem with vaping illness increasingly appears to be not flavored vapes nor legal THC vapes; it's black market THC vapes using specific additives. Nonetheless, here's how governments have responded:

  • In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) last month declared a public health emergency and banned all vaping products and devices. "The use of e-cigarettes and marijuana vaping products is exploding, and we are seeing reports of serious lung illnesses, particularly in our young people," Baker said as he announced the ban. Medical marijuana patients can still vape, though.
  • In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) used emergency administrative regulatory powers to make Michigan the first state to announce a ban on flavored nicotine products. "As governor, my No. 1 priority is keeping our kids safe," Whitmer said in a statement. "And right now, companies selling vaping products are using candy flavors to hook children on nicotine and misleading claims to promote the belief that these products are safe. That ends today."
  • In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced a ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in September, citing both the outbreak of lung injury and concerns over teenage e-cig vaping. But that ban has been temporarily blocked in the courts in response to a challenge from the vaping industry.
  • In Oregon, Gov. Kathleen Brown (D) ordered a six-month ban on all flavored vaping products early this month. In a joint statement, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (which regulates marijuana) and the Oregon Health Authority said the emergency rules "are significant steps toward stemming the well-documented tide of e-cigarette use and vaping by youth, as well as keeping products that may expose people to unsafe chemicals and other contaminants off store shelves." But a state appeals court last week temporarily blocked the ban on nicotine vaping product, but not marijuana ones.
  • In Rhode Island, state health officials issued emergency health regulations at the end of September banning all flavored vaping products. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) said she was concerned about the spread of e-cigarette use among teens and wanted to end the sale of flavored vaping products.
  • In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) issued an executive order in late September banning flavored nicotine and marijuana vaping products for four months. "We need to act for the public health of our people," said Inslee. "I'm confident this executive order will save lives."

One state, though, has had a more reasoned and measured response. In Colorado, regulators this month proposed a ban not on flavored vape products or THC vape products, but one specifically targeting the additives that are in question: PEG, MCT Oil, and Vitamin E acetate. The move came after public hearings and consultations with industry stakeholders.

The plan also includes requiring labels that identify any additives to vaping products and vaping cartridge packaging for products that include additives will have to say "Not FDA Approved."

Drug reform advocates, while acknowledging the seriousness of the vaping illness, are critical of what they see as exaggerated and heavy-handed responses and suggest that the outbreak is all the more reason to legalize marijuana.

"All the vape bans really accomplish is to stoke more fear and stigma around yet another substance," Matt Sutton, director of media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in an emailed statement. "What we are seeing play out right now is a real-life drama of how various substances are criminalized without justified reasoning and reliable research to do so. Taking this approach, we fail to consider the harm that may result from its removal from the marketplace, such as people turning to the black market or more harmful substances."

"Banning vapes will only stop legal vapes, with no known problems," said Dale Gieringer, long-time head of California NORML. "Illegal vapes won't be affected. There is a concerted campaign by public health officials, led by the FDA, the CDC, and the California Department of Public Health trying to demonize vaping in general, even though there's strong evidence that vaping in general is much safer than smoking, for all sorts of obvious reasons," said Gieringer. "In other countries, such as Britain, public health authorities are encouraging vaping to reduce smoking."

For concerns about vaping marijuana products, the policy prescription is obvious, said Sutton: "For THC, the issue is undoubtedly the lack of regulation, which cannot be put in place so long as it remains illegal at the federal level," he argued. "At this point, with these illnesses becoming a growing concern, it is incumbent on policymakers to legalize marijuana in the interest of public health."

For CANORML's Gieringer, the current vaping panic is just that -- a sort of moral panic that creates a demand for action, whether or not that action addresses the actual problem and whether or not that action leads to negative consequences.

"During this entire scare, teen vaping goes up and up and up, but teen smoking has gone down, down, down. There's no public health crisis evident, but the anti-smoking crowd is trying to misinform the public, and they've succeeded. Polls now show over 50 percent believe vaping is as dangerous as smoking. They've succeeded in panicking the public and misinforming it about the advantage of vaping over smoking," he argued.

"Another irony of this current hysteria is the resort to policies that ban flavored nicotine vapes when one of the attractions of vaping is flavor," said Gieringer. "Losing flavored vapes could drive people back to menthol cigarettes. If they're smart, they would at least keep menthol or some flavors on the market. The FDA could ban menthol cigarettes and smokers would go to vapes, which is a public health benefit."

Amidst all the concern about THC vaping, Gieringer had some simple advice for pot vapers: "Don't use underground products," he suggested. "There are also herbal vaporizers with no additives, just pot. And vape pens that operate on pure cannabis oil are also safe. That's the safest bet. There are a lot of reputable manufacturers who do nothing else."

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.

Medical Marijuana Update

Connecticut gets more qualifying conditions, Georgia's program is stalled, Rhode Island's governor and legislature are in a court battle over who will regulate medical marijuana and hemp, and more.

Connecticut

Connecticut Lawmakers Approve New Qualifying Conditions. The General Assembly's Regulations Review Committee voted Tuesday to add five qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use by adults, including Tourette Syndrome and intractable neuropathic pain. The legislators also approved medical marijuana as a treatment for patients under age 18 with those same two conditions. The regulations now go to the Secretary of State's office, which will post them online, making them final.

Georgia

Georgia Medical Marijuana Program Stalled. Six months after Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed a bill allowing for the cultivation and sales of medical marijuana in the state, the program is stalled because he and other top political figures have yet to appoint the members of a commission that will oversee the expansion. Neither the governor nor other key figures have explained the delay.

Kansas

Kansas Lawmakers Discuss Legalizing Medical Marijuana. Legislators met in Topeka Wednesday to discuss how to advance medical marijuana in the state. The hearing is in front of the Special Committee on Federal and State Affairs and was scheduled to go all day long. Past efforts in the legislature have gone nowhere.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island Governor Files Lawsuit to Block Lawmakers from Regulating Medical Cannabis, Hemp. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has filed a lawsuit against the General Assembly arguing that lawmakers unconstitutionally awarded themselves new powers to regulate the industry earlier this year. In the state budget, the Assembly mandated that it approve all new marijuana regulations. That's what Raimondo is objecting to.

Utah

Utah Medical Marijuana Advocates Win Round in Lawsuit Over Replacing Initiative. Medical marijuana advocates who are suing the state after the legislature replaced a voter-approved initiative with its own medical marijuana bill won an initial victory in court last Thursday. US Magistrate Judge Dustin Pead denied a motion from the attorney general's office to dismiss their lawsuit. He also accepted plaintiff's request to send the case back to state court.

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

Chronicle AM: The Lancet Comes Out Hard for Drug Decriminalization, Kansas City Weed Brouhaha, More... (10/24/19)

A Kansas City city council meeting over marijuana decriminalization gets heated, a Florida poll shows good numbers for marijuana legalization, The Lancet comes out swinging on drug decriminalization, and more.

Hydrocodone. The DEA is tightening rules for opioid manufacturers. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Poll Has Strong Majority for Legalization. A new poll from the Public Opinion Research Lab has support for marijuana legalization at 64%, including 54% of Republicans. The poll comes as two different legalization initiatives are vying to get on the 2020 ballot. One of them is a constitutional amendment, which requires 60% of the vote to be approved.

Kansas City Brouhaha Over Municipal Marijuana Reform. Things got heated at the Kansas City, Missouri, city council meeting Wednesday night as a council committee unanimously passed a measure that would wipe out a municipal violation for anyone caught with 35 grams or less of marijuana after 180 days. But the proposal was originally to decriminalize up to 100 grams and was altered considerably and passed without a second public hearing, angering dozens of residents who had shown up to support the original effort. The measure goes to the full council next week.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Unveils New Rule on Opioid Manufacturers After Criticism. A proposed rule published Wednesday would even further restrict opioid manufacturing. The agency sets quotas each year for how many opioid medications manufacturers can produce in the US. The proposed new rule would require that appropriate quota reductions be made after estimating the potential for pills to be sold illegally.

International

Britain's Leading Medical Journal Comes Out for Drug Decriminalization. Medical journal The Lancet has come out hard for drug decriminalization in a special drugs issue released Wednesday. The medical profession must fight for the rights of drug users and offer them "solidarity and protection from the worst excesses of populist politics," according to an editorial introducing the issue. The editorial noted that "policies that might improve the lives of people with health problems relating to drug use are not seen as substantial vote winners."

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