Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Uruguay Legalizes Marijuana Tomorrow!

Tuesday is looking to be historic.

Tomorrow, the Uruguayan Senate will vote on a bill that would make their country the first in the world to legally regulate the production, distribution and sale of marijuana for adults. The bill was approved in the House of Representatives in July with 50 out of 96 votes. Once approved in Senate, Uruguay will have 120 days to write the regulations before implementing the law.

Two US states -- Colorado and Washington -- have already legalized marijuana, but this will mark the first time a signatory to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs has broken so directly with its prohibitionist consensus. (A handful of countries have not signed the convention.)

The Drug Policy Alliance, which has been working with the Uruguayans, has a few preliminary comments.

"It's about time that we see a country bravely break with the failed prohibitionist model and try an innovative, more compassionate, and smarter approach. By approving this measure, Uruguay will represent a concrete advance in line with growing opposition to the drug war in Latin America and throughout the world," said Hannah Hetzer, who is based out of Montevideo, Uruguay, as the Policy Manager of the Americas for the Drug Policy Alliance.

"Last year, Colorado and Washington; this year, Uruguay; and next year, Oregon and hopefully more states as well," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "We still have a long way to go but who would have believed, just five years ago, that legalizing marijuana would have become a mainstream political reality both in the United States and abroad?!"

Indeed.

Montevideo
Uruguay

DPA Files California Marijuana Legalization Initiative, But… [FEATURE]

A California marijuana legalization initiative backed by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) was filed Wednesday with the state attorney general's office. But the national drug reform group said it has not yet decided whether to campaign to get it on the November 2014 ballot.

The Control, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana Act would legalize up to an ounce and four plants for people 21 and over and create a statewide system of regulated marijuana commerce. It would also impose a 25% tax on retail sales.

A year ago, in the wake of the legalization victories in Colorado and Washington, major players in the California marijuana reform movement, including California NORML, the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, the ACLU of California, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, and late drug policy reform funder Peter Lewis's representative, Graham Boyd, met in San Francisco and came to a tentative agreement that they would work together toward putting an initiative on the ballot in 2016.

Reluctant to risk another defeat at the ballot box like Proposition 19 in 2010, the movement heavyweights jointly decided to let other states take the lead in 2014 rather than act precipitously and potentially see the reform movement suffer a major blow with another defeat in the nation's most populous state.

But momentum in favor of marijuana legalization was growing quickly, as evidenced by a September Gallup poll's 58% in favor of legalization nationally and polls out of red states like Indiana, Louisiana, and Texas showing majority support. That was also the case in California, with a September Public Policy Institute of California poll showing 60% of registered voters favoring legalization and an October Tulchin poll that had support for legalization at 65% among likely voters.

Those numbers prompted some key players to reconsider, especially given that two other marijuana legalization initiatives -- not vetted by the heavyweights -- are already floating around. The first, the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative of 2014, the perennial effort by acolytes of the late Jack Herer, is in the signature gathering phase, but shows little sign of having the financial wherewithal to actually gather enough signatures to make the ballot. The second, the Marijuana Control, Legalization, and Regulation Act of 2014, described by its proponents as "the world's first open source initiative," is pending approval at the attorney general's office after its proponents handed in its second amended version Friday.

Now DPA has stepped in with its own 2014 initiative. "The Drug Policy Alliance is the primary force behind this and primary drafter of this initiative," said Steve Gutwillig, DPA's deputy director of programs. "We wanted to make sure that a responsible and well-drafted initiative would be available in 2014 should a full-fledged campaign become possible. Filing this initiative is making sure that there is a viable initiative vehicle if we go forward in 2014. We think it reflects what the voters will support."

Gutwillig emphasized that no decision to move forward had been made, but that one would be forthcoming early next year.

The clock is ticking. The deadline for gathering signatures for November 2014 is April, and given that state officials have up to 60 days to return a ballot summary and let signature gathering commence, that means the window for signature gathering could be as short as three months. With more than 500,000 valid signatures needed to make the ballot, that would be a daunting and very expensive prospect.

It may still be better to wait for 2016, said Dale Gieringer, the longtime head of California NORML.

"I don't see that this does much for patients or consumers," he said. "The fact that we have three initiatives proposed for 2014 shows a relative lack of unity and a lack of adequate consultation among the various groups. And it's really late in the day."

Gieringer pointed to language leaving the state's medical marijuana system intact as one issue. "We would have two systems, one with a special tax, one without," he noted. "Guess which one most people would patronize. The legislature might respond by getting rid of collectives or dispensaries. Medical marijuana regulation is the elephant in the room, and these are complicated issues that will require consultation by a lot of interest groups."

He also counseled patience.

"People started panicking when those strong poll numbers came out in the fall and started thinking 'Gee, this is really feasible,'" Gieringer said. "But it was so late in the day that people couldn't really get together and plan and vet to come up with a well-conceived plan. This is a stab in the dark, especially until we see how Colorado and Washington play out, especially the tax and regulate part. How is this going to work in the marketplace? Will people patronize highly taxed marijuana shops or not?"

The DPA effort may not be the perfect marijuana legalization initiative -- that elusive creature has yet to be spotted -- but it is out there now, at least as a place holder. The other two initiatives appear unlikely to actually make the ballot, so the decisions made early next year by DPA and its allies are likely to determine if California votes on marijuana legalization next year or not.

CA
United States

Chronicle AM -- December 6, 2013

A new marijuana legalization has been filed in California, the Florida medical marijuana initiative faces a pair of challenges, the British Columbia decriminalization initiative is struggling, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

A New California Marijuana Legalization Initiative is Filed. The Control, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana Act was filed with the California attorney general's office Wednesday. It would legalize up to an ounce and four plants for people 21 and over and create a statewide system of regulated marijuana commerce. It's not clear, however, whether its backers will seek to gather signatures for 2014 or will use it as a place marker for 2016. Another legalization initiative, the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative of 2014 is in the signature-gathering phase, but lacks deep-pocketed financial backing.

Thinking About a Post-Pot Prohibition World. Martin Lee, the author of Acid Dreams and Smoke Signals, about the cultural histories of LSD and marijuana, respectively, writes about marijuana legalization as a beginning, not an end, and has some interesting and provocative thoughts about what should come next.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Hears Challenge to Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Florida Supreme Court Thursday heard arguments on whether the proposed constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana should go on the November 2014 ballot. Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) had challenged it as misleading and in violation of federal law. The justices did not decide the issue, but a decision will be coming shortly.

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Needs a Lot of Signatures in a Hurry. The state Division of Elections reported Thursday that People United for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the initiative, has just under 137,000 signatures that have been validated. They need 683,149 by February. There is some lag between signatures gathered and signatures validated, and organizers say they have collected 400,000 signatures so far. But that means they need probably another 400,000 in just a few weeks just to have a cushion that would allow for the inevitable invalid signatures.

International

British Columbia Marijuana Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Struggling. Sensible BC's signature-gathering campaign to put a decriminalization initiative on the ballot in British Columbia looks like it is going to fall short. The group needs 310,000 valid signatures by Monday, but only has 150,000 gathered. But if they don't make it this time, that won't be the end of it. "Sensible BC is here to stay," said the group's Dana Larsen. "You can be quite sure we're going to try this campaign again sometime in the next year to year-and-a-half, if we don't succeed this time. We're not going away."

Report Says SE Asia Amphetamine Use is Fueling Rise in HIV Risk. An increase in injection use of amphetamines in Southeast Asia is raising the risk of the spread of HIV and requires "urgent" action, according to a new report from the Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) and the Asia-Pacific Drugs and Development Issues Committee. Not only injection drug use, but risky sexual behavior as well among amphetamine users, is part of the problem, the report says.

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Filed

Activists with Show-Me Cannabis have been crisscrossing Missouri to lay the groundwork for marijuana legalization, and now, they've taken the next step. Columbia-based attorney Dan Viets, the group's chairman Wednesday filed a series of initiatives that would legalize marijuana via a constitutional amendment.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/show-me-cannabis-regulation.jpg
Show-Me Cannabis logo (show-mecannabis.com
The initiatives are all variations on a theme; all would legalize marijuana for persons 21 and over, but vary on the number of plants allowed to be grown, whether convictions of previous offenders should be expunged, and how to regulate advertising. Show-Me Cannabis Reform will do polling to see which has the most support among Missourians.

The initiative petitions must be approved by the secretary of state's office, and after that, the office has 10 days to approve draft ballot summary language. Even if approved, initiative supporters face a daunting task. To qualify for the ballot, organizers must collect the signatures of roughly 320,000 registered voters by May 4 and they must gather signatures from at least 8% of registered voters in six of the state's eight US congressional districts.

Show-Me Cannabis Reform has commissioned polling that shows majority support for marijuana legalization. A September 2012 poll had legalization winning 50%-45%, with support climbing to 54% when respondents were given more information. Still, that is outside the comfort level for most initiative-watchers, who will argue that initiatives should be polling at least 60% at the beginning of the campaign.

But Show-Me Cannabis Reform is undaunted and moving forward. While some marijuana reform-friendly state legislators would prefer that lawmakers deal with the issue instead of voters, the group doesn't want to wait for the legislature to get around to it.

"We believe the legislature is totally out of touch with the voters of Missouri on this," Viets told the Columbia Missourian Wednesday.

Columbia, MO
United States

Chronicle AM -- December 5, 2013

Busy, busy on the marijuana policy front today, and there is also medical marijuana news, a new report on coerced federal plea bargains, a call for call-ins to the Senate on mandatory minimums next week, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Possession Legal in Portland, Maine, As of Tomorrow, But... The voter-approved ordinance legalizing the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana by people 21 and over goes into effect Friday. But tokers beware: The police chief says he is going to continue to enforce state law, which is stricter. Maine is a decriminalization state, so getting caught with a small amount of pot will still get you a fine.

Legalization Initiative Filed in Missouri. The Missouri marijuana reform group Show-Me Cannabis Regulation has filed an initiative that would amend the state constitution to legalize marijuana. Petitioners will have to collect signatures from about 320,000 registered voters by May 4 to qualify for the November 2014 ballot.

Washington State Marijuana Business Applications Surpass 1,300. Lots of people want to get into the legal marijuana business in Washington state. Regulators there are reviewing over 1,300 applications and there are still two weeks left for people to apply. More than 600 have applied for commercial growing licenses, more than 450 to produce edibles, and 230 have applied to open retail outlets. Regulators will license up to 334 pot shops, and there is no limit to the number of growers or producers, although the state wants to limit production to two million square feet.

Seattle City Attorney Wants More Marijuana Stores. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said Wednesday that he has asked the State Liquor Control Board to allow at least 50 marijuana retail sales licenses to be issued in the city. The Board has proposed allowing only 21, but Holmes said that will not be enough to meet demand in the city.

Legalization Referendum Proposed for Dane County (Madison), Wisconsin. Dane County voters could vote on whether the state should legalize marijuana after a member of the county Board of Supervisors said he planned to introduce a measure that would ask them just that. The proposal has to pass the board, and if it does, voters would vote on a non-binding advisory referendum on the spring 2014 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Action on Medical Marijuana Bills Delayed in Michigan. The Associated Press reported Thursday that votes on pending medical marijuana bills are unlikely until next year, although it didn't say why. Still, hundreds of people jammed legislative committee rooms to voice their opinions on improving the state's medical marijuana law.

Hearing Today on Medical Marijuana in Buffalo. Legislators in New York held a public hearing to gain support for medical marijuana legislation in Buffalo Thursday. More than two dozen speakers were invited to testify about the proposed legislation. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), chair of the Assembly Health Committee, chaired the meeting.

Sentencing Reform

Call Your Senators on Mandatory Minimum Reform Next Tuesday. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing next Thursday on mandatory minimum sentencing reform and the Smarter Sentencing Act, S. 1410. If passed, that bill would benefit thousands of nonviolent federal offenders facing mandatory minimum sentences (including some crack offenders who are already in federal prison). Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) is urging people whose senators are on the committee to call in to voice their support next Tuesday. Click on the link for more details.

Human Rights Watch Report Condemns Forced Pleas in Federal Drug Cases. Human Rights Watch Thursday released a report condemning coercive plea bargaining by federal prosecutors in drug cases and calling for sentencing reform. The report is An Offer You Can't Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty.

International

Israeli Health Ministry Bill Would Expand Medical Marijuana Program. The Israeli Health Ministry is proposing legislation that would increase the number of doctors authorized to prescribe medical marijuana and allow it to be distributed through pharmacies. The ministry is resisting allowing even broader access.

British Drug Think-Tank Offers Guide to Marijuana Regulation. The British drug think-tank Transform Drug Policy Foundation has issued How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide for policy makers, drug policy reform advocates and affected communities all over the world, who are witnessing the question change from, "Should we maintain cannabis prohibition?" to "How will legal regulation work in practice?"

In Reversal, Denver Council Rejects Front-Porch Pot Ban

(front porch image, from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
[This article was originally published on the Speakeasy blog -- check out the Speakeasy for quick updates and commentary on a daily basis.]

Good, and, frankly, somewhat surprising news for Denver tokers. The city council last night reversed itself and undid the ban on marijuana smoking in public view even if on one's own property. There will be one more vote on the ordinance next week.

According to KUSA TV, Councilwoman Susan Shepherd offered up an amendment to undo the ban, which had passed last week on a 7-5 vote. The vote last night to reverse was 7-6.

Shepherd suggested that rather than calling the police, neighbors try being neighborly. That would mean talking to your neighbor if his marijuana smoke bothers you, and dealing with your neighbor's concerns if your marijuana smoke bothers him.

Sounds reasonable.

United Nations Drug Policy Divisions Aired

demonstration at 2009 UN drug session, Vienna
[This article was originally published on the Speakeasy blog -- check out the Speakeasy for quick updates and commentary on a daily basis.]

British publications have gotten their hands on a leaked UN document that reveals fundamental splits among nations as the international organization prepares for the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs in 2016. Much, but not all, criticism of the status quo is coming from Latin America.

Read the Guardian's article here: Leaked Paper Reveals UN Split Over War on Drugs

  • Among the countries seeking specific reformist changes in the UN's drug stance:
  • Ecuador wants language recognizing that the world needs to look beyond prohibition.
  • Venezuela wants language addressing the economic implications of drug prohibition.
  • Norway wants language that includes a critical assessment of the "so-called war on drugs."
  • Switzerland wants language that recognizes the public health consequences of current policies.
  • The European Union wants language emphasizing drug treatment and care over incarceration.

It's been little over a half-century since the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs codified the global drug prohibition system. The consensus represented by the 1961 treaty is now, at long last, crumbling.

Update: Bill Clinton supports countries being able to make their own decisions about prohibition.

Chronicle Book Review: "Narcoland"

Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and Their Godfathers by Anibel Hernandez (2013, Verso Press, 362 pp., $26.95 HB)

Being a Mexican drug lord is typically a career path with a suddenly abbreviated trajectory. Just ask the erstwhile leaders of the Zetas or the Familia Michoacana or the Beltran Leyvas or the Tijuana cartel or the Juarez cartel or the Gulf cartel. Well, ask them if you can hold séances or know how to burrow inside maximum security prisons -- because they're either dead or behind bars.

But as just about anyone in Mexico will tell you, there is one Mexican drug trafficking organization whose top leadership appears untouchable. That would be the Sinaloa cartel, led by the world's most famous narco and one of its wealthiest men, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, and his top henchman, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada. More than a dozen years after he escaped from a Mexican prison, despite two presidencies waging an ever more aggressive war against the cartels, Guzman and company remain on top of the heap, his rivals decimated even as the Sinaloa cartel continues its bloody, multi-million dollar a year business. And El Chapo and El Mayo remain unscathed.

And as many, many Mexicans are eager to tell you, it looks like the fix is in. How is it that they can't catch or kill El Chapo? How is it that he escaped from prison in the first place? The cynical folk wisdom is that he is being protected by people in the government. That people should think that is not surprising. Suspicions of government complicity in the drug trade, whether in the state police forces; the ever-mutating (because frequently, necessarily, and unsuccessfully cleansed of corruption) federal police forces, the military, or the high ministries, are both long-held and well-founded.

Books reviewed in this publication over the past few years have amply detailed the layers of corruption and complicity surrounding the drug trade in Mexico, but in Narcoland, prize-winning Mexican journalist Anabel Hernandez takes it to a whole new level. Narcoland is the updated English language version of her explosive 2010 Mexican blockbuster Los Señores del Narco, a book whose publication generated death threats and led the National Commission on Human Rights to assign her two full-time bodyguards.

Despite Mexico's well-deserved reputation as a burial ground for journalists and despite the threats generated by her journalistic digging, Hernandez is undeterred. She is not the least bit squeamish about charging that the Mexican government has been hopelessly corrupted by the filthy lucre of the drug trade, right up to the presidential palace, and she is not afraid to name names, including people close to presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon, as well as some of their most important appointees, such as Calderon's Secretary for Public Safety Genaro Garcia Luna.

The charges Hernandez makes are blunt and mind-boggling: "From the beginning of his government, Calderon's strategy against the drug barons was designed to favor El Chapo Guzman and his main partners: El Mayo Zambada, El Nacho Coronel, and El Azul Esparragoza," she writes. "There is firm documentary evidence that Calderon's war was overwhelmingly aimed at those traffickers who are El Chapo's enemies or threats to his leadership… In fact, what Mexico has experienced in the last decade is not a 'war on drug traffickers,' but a war between drug traffickers, with the government taking sides for the Sinaloa Cartel."

Hernandez clearly finger Garcia Luna, Calderon's top cop, as deep in El Chapo's pocket, and presents pretty convincing evidence for her case, including not only the inability to ever find El Chapo, but also the deployment of Mexican state security forces on his behalf. Funny, isn't it, how the cartels the Mexican government most aggressively pursues are the ones that El Chapo happens to have in his sights at the time?

Hernandez is equally blunt in her assessment of Mexico as a whole. It's a "mafiocracy," she writes, and the criminality isn't limited to capos and cops. Politicians rely on drug money to win campaigns, and traffickers rely on bought politicians to go about their business. Similarly, businessmen and high society people turn a blind eye to the narco-wealth that insinuates itself into every corner of society and every sector of the economy.

Beyond being a mega-scale muckracker, Hernandez is also an excellent story teller. She provides a behind-the-scenes account of El Chapo's 2001 escape from Puente Grande prison that is both shocking and enthralling. I won't give it away, but suffice to say that the official version of events, in which El Chapo escaped in a laundry cart, is not, according to Hernandez, what really happened.

Likewise, while navigating one's way through that minefield of competing cartels and their nick-named major players is an excruciating task, Hernandez provides the clearest, most compelling, and most comprehensible narrative yet of the evolution and infighting among the cartels.

It feels like conspiracy theory, and at times, one has to wonder. Is Nacho Coronel really still alive, having, as Hernandez claims, having faked his death in a shoot-out with soldiers in Jalisco in 2010? It seems unlikely. But her broader thesis -- that the fix is in -- seems quite likely. Could Mexico's officially most wanted man have eluded capture or death, eliminated his rivals, consolidated his power, expanded his operations, and weaved his web of complicity without serious help from very well connected players at the highest levels of Mexican politics, business, and law enforcement? It seems unlikely.

Medical Marijuana Update

Arkansas Baptists reject medical marijuana, and so do some California communities. New Jersey's governor mouths off, and Illinois and Massachusetts communities move to regulate soon-to-arrive medical marijuana businesses. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Wednesday, a judge ruled that Maricopa County had no enforceable zoning ordinance with which to restrict medical marijuana dispensaries. Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon's ruling supplements one he issued last month overturning the county's zoning ordinance for dispensaries. In that ruling, he found that the ordinance violated the state's medical marijuana law and appeared to be an effort to thwart the law.

Arkansas

On Tuesday, word came that the state Baptist convention rejected medical marijuana. Delegates there approved a resolution opposing the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act and any other attempts to legalize medical marijuana in the 2014 elections. The resolution calls on good Baptists "to reject the notion that the largely unsupervised cultivation, marketing, distribution, and smoking of marijuana is compassionate and sound medical practice, to recognize the proposed medical marijuana laws as clandestine attempts to take the first step toward the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Arkansas, to refuse to sign petitions to qualify these measures for the ballot, and to soundly reject all of them at the ballot box in the November 2014 general election."

California

Last Tuesday, the Laguna Hills city council voted to ban dispensaries. The town becomes the latest Orange County community to formalize its ban. "I don't believe that marijuana has any place in our society," Councilman Randal Bressette said. "Every opportunity I have to protect our residents from the demons of that drug, I will do so."

Also last Tuesday, a Los Angeles judge blocked a Mar Vista dispensary from opening. Superior Court Judge James Chalant issued a temporary restraining order against the dispensary, saying it violates Proposition D, the measure passed earlier this year by city voters that dramatically limited the number of dispensaries.

On Monday, the Ventura city council gave final approval to a dispensary ban. The ban had won preliminary approval on a 4-3 vote last month, and the vote stayed the same Monday. The ban also applies to delivery services.

On Tuesday, a dispensary operator was named mayor of Sebastopol. Robert Jacob, founder and executive director of the Peace in Medicine dispensaries, was elected mayor of the Sonoma County town by the city council. He is a council member and had served as vice mayor for the past year. [Editor's Note: This is my town; this is my mayor.]

Also on Tuesday, the Napa city council voted to repeal an ordinance that would have allowed a dispensary to operate there. The council voted 3-2 for repeal, saying a dispensary would increase youth access to marijuana. Council members also scoffed at the notion that medical marijuana patients are actually sick.

Also on Tuesday, Solano County supervisors voted to ban dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county. Dispensaries are already banned in six of the county's cities; only Vallejo has not moved to ban them. Having dispensaries in rural areas would place "an undue burden" on cities that have a ban, one supervisor claimed.

Illinois

Last Wednesday, Chicago officials proposed tight regulations on dispensaries and medical marijuana grows. Alderman Ed Burke and the city Department of Planning and Development are recommending that dispensaries and grows only be allowed in manufacturing districts and that they be required to obtain special use permits. Some 22 dispensaries would be allowed.

On Tuesday, the Wheaton city council approved an ordinance limiting dispensaries to districts zoned for manufacturing. The vote in the Chicago suburb was 6-1.

Iowa

On Sunday, a state senator said he would again introduce a medical marijuana bill. Sen. Joe Bolckom (D-Iowa City) has introduced such bills four times in the past decade. This time, he said, he would model his bill on the law in place in New Mexico.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the Newton board of alderman approved zoning regulations for dispensaries that would limit them to mixed-use zones outside city centers. The move comes before a citywide moratorium is set to expire at the end of the month.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the state appeals court agreed to hear two cases on whether workers fired for medical marijuana use can receive unemployment benefits. Lower courts have overturned the decisions of a state agency and ruled in favor of people who sought benefits after being dismissed, but medical marijuana foe Attorney General Bill Schuette argues that the state's medical marijuana law only protects people from criminal prosecution, not civil sanctions.

New Jersey

On Monday, Gov. Chris Christie (R) said he was through expanding the state's medical marijuana law and called medical marijuana a stalking horse for legalization. His remarks came in response to efforts to allow New Jersey patients to buy their medicine in other states and bring it home.

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

Chronicle AM -- December 4, 2013

Some Denver city council members don't know when to give it a rest, some California US reps want stiffer penalties for pot grows on public lands, the Big Dog speaks on drug policy, Ecstasy may be on the rise, Morocco holds a historic hearing on cannabis, and more. Let's get to it:

Ecstasy seems to be making a comeback.
Marijuana Policy

Denver City Council Now Considering Cultivation Restrictions. Just when you thought it was safe again, after an effort to stop people from smoking marijuana on their own property in public view died Monday night, the Denver city council is now considering an effort to cap the number of plants that can be grown in a single household. The measure is sponsored by Councilwoman Jeanne Robb, the same person behind the failed private property smoking ban. The measure would be in conflict with Amendment 64, which is now part of the state constitution and clearly says anyone 21 or older can grow six plants "notwithstanding any other provision of law."

California US Senator, Representatives Seek Tougher Penalties for Federal Lands Marijuana Grows. Several California congressmen, including some who have been strong supporters of medical marijuana, have written a letter to the US Sentencing Commission seeking longer prison sentences for people growing on federal and some private lands. "We are concerned that existing guidelines do not address the long term detrimental threats these operations pose to the environment and nearby communities," the letter said. "The production and cultivation of controlled substances in particular marijuana, on public lands or while trespassing on private property is a direct threat to our environment and public safety." The signatories include Sen. Dianne Feinstein and US Reps. Doug Amalfa, Sam Farr, Jared Huffman, and Mike Thompson.

Drug Policy

Bill Clinton Says Attitudes Toward Drug Legalization Are Changing. Attitudes toward drug legalization are changing, former President Bill Clinton said in an interview with Fusion TV Tuesday. "The drug issue should be decided by people in each country, based on what they think is right," the ex-president opined. "We have a process in America for doing it that's being revisited state-by-state. And Latin America is free to do the same thing. It's obvious that attitudes are changing and opening up," he said. But he added that he didn't think hard drugs should be treated like marijuana. "It's also too complicated to say that if you legalize it, you wouldn't have any of these armed gangs trying to exercise a stranglehold over whole communities and lives, or that we could actually get away with legalizing cocaine and then the criminals would go away," he said.

Vermont Chief Justice Criticizes Drug War, "Tough on Crime" Approach. Vermont Chief Justice Paul Reiber has lashed out at the war on drugs and "tough on crime" approaches in general in a pair of recent speeches and a television interview. "Even with our best efforts, we are losing ground," Reiber told a crowd at Vermont Law School last month. "The classic approach of 'tough on crime' is not working in this area of drug policy. The public responds very well to this 'tough on crime' message, but that does not mean it's effective in changing individual behavior. If the idea is law enforcement alone will slow and eventually eliminate drug use altogether, that isn't going to happen… The criminal justice system can't solve the drug problem."

Club Drugs

Teen Ecstasy-Related Hospital ER Visits Doubled in Recent Years, Feds Say. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported Tuesday that hospital emergency room visits linked to teen Ecstasy use had more than doubled between 2005 and 2011. The number jumped from about 4,500 to more than 10,000 during that period. One third of those cases also involved alcohol. Authorities worry the club drug is making a comeback, although the number of ER visits reported for ecstasy is a tiny fraction of the 1.5 million drug-related ER visits reported each year.

International

Morocco Parliament Holds Hearing on Legalizing Cannabis for Hemp, Medical Marijuana. Morocco's Party for Authenticity and Modernity held a historic hearing Wednesday about legalizing marijuana cultivation for hemp and medical marijuana. The party hopes to introduce legislation next year. Somewhere between 750,000 and a million Moroccans depend on the cannabis crop for a living, although lawmakers said small farmers currently reap very little profit, with most profits going to drug traffickers sending Moroccan hash to Europe.

Former Mexican Border State Governor Charged in US with Money Laundering for Cartels. Tomas Yarrington, the former PRI governor of Tamaulipas state, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville and McAllen, Texas, has been indicted by US authorities on charges he took millions in bribes from the Gulf Cartel. Prosecutors allege Yarrington started receiving bribes while running for governor of the state in 1999 and continued to do so throughout his term. He is being sought by US authorities, but has not been taken into custody in Mexico.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

There's something fishy going on in Florida, a former Arkansas police chief had a pain pill issue, and a veteran Philly cop lets family ties get the best of him. Let's get to it:

In Brooksville, Florida, two members of the Hernando County sheriff's drug and vice unit were put on leave last Wednesday after the sheriff's office opened a criminal investigation into unspecified activities in the unit. The department is being tight-lipped; it will not release the names of the two under suspicion, nor will it release any further information until the investigation is completed.

In Harrisburg, Arkansas, the former Trumann police chief pleaded guilty last Wednesday to seeking pain pills from an officer in the department who is charged with stealing them from the evidence room. Former Chief Tony Rusher copped to one count of obtained a controlled substance by fraud in a plea deal that spares him prison time if he testifies against former Detective Erik Willbanks in the case. Willbanks has pleaded innocent and said that Rusher asked him for pain pills that were set to be destroyed.

In Philadelphia, a Philadelphia police officer was found guilty Monday of passing information about an ongoing drug investigation to his half-brother, an alleged member of a drug trafficking organization. Rafael Cordero, 52, a 23-year veteran of the department, tipped off his half-brother to a DEA surveillance camera monitoring drug activities at a Philadelphia garage, showed up at FBI and DEA drug raids and reported back to his half-brother, and stored drug money for him. He was convicted of obstructing justice and faces up to 20 years in prison.

Chronicle AM -- December 3, 2013

Denver's city council calls off ban on "front porch" marijuana smoking, New Jersey's governor claims medical marijuana is a ploy, Vermont rolls out a naloxone pilot project, Colombia's FARC want decriminalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Naloxone can reverse opioid drug overdoses. Now, a pilot program is getting underway in Vermont.
Marijuana Policy

Denver City Council Reverses Course, Votes Down Front-Porch Pot Smoking Ban. In something of a surprise move, the Denver city council Monday night voted 7-6 for an amendment to its marijuana ordinance that removes the ban on smoking on one's own property if it is visible to the public. The ban had passed last week on a 7-5 vote. Now, one more vote is needed next week to approve the ordinance.

Jackson, Michigan, Cops Will Heed Voters' Will on Decriminalization Initiative. Police in Jackson, Michigan, will enforce a new marijuana ordinance that tells them to leave alone people over 21 who possess up to an ounce of pot on private property. Police Chief Matthew Hein said police will not enforce state law, which is harsher, except in limited circumstances, such as when a known drug dealer with multiple convictions is caught with less than an ounce.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Governor Just Says No to Expanding Medical Marijuana Program. Gov. Chris Christie (R) told reporters Monday he opposes expansion of the state's medical marijuana law because it is just a backdoor route to marijuana legalization. "See this is what happens. Every time you sign one expansion, then the advocates will come back and ask for another one," the governor said during a press conference. "Here's what the advocates want: they want legalization of marijuana in New Jersey. It will not happen on my watch, ever. I am done expanding the medical marijuana program under any circumstances. So we're done."

Michigan House Judiciary Committee Hears Medical Marijuana Bills Thursday. The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on three medical marijuana bills.HB 4271 would protect locally licensed dispensaries to help ensure patients have regular and safe access to their medicine. HB 5104 would create clear legal protection for marijuana extracts, which are often used in edibles. The third bill, SB 660, would create a "pharmaceutical grade" standard for medical marijuana.

Harm Reduction

Vermont Pilot Program for Naloxone to Fight Drug Overdoses Gearing Up. The Vermont Health Department is launching a pilot program to distribute naloxone as an antidote for opioid drug overdoses. The drug will be distributed directly to drug users, their friends, and family members. The Health Department said it is working with law enforcement to provide protections for people who report overdoses.

Sentencing

Kentucky Lawmaker Seeks Harsher Heroin Sales Sentences. State Sen. John Schickel (R-Union) Monday announced plans to pre-file a bill that would impose harsher sentences for heroin distribution. He blamed a 2011 sentencing reform law for making the state attractive to heroin dealers. Under that law, heroin sales went from a Class C to a Class D felony. The sponsor of that law, Rep. John Tilley (D-Hopkinsville) said heroin use has indeed increased, but not because of the reform. The causes "are much more complex, with the chief ones being the state's recent crackdown on prescription drug abuse and the new tamper-resistant versions of the pain drugs Oxycontin and Opana," which were formerly crushed and abused by pain-pill addicts.

International

Colombia's FARC Calls for Decriminalizing Coca Growing. Colombia's FARC guerrillas called for the decriminalization of coca growing and drug use as it entered a third round of peace talks with the government of President Juan Manuel Santos. The FARC is proposing "demilitarization of anti-drug policies, non-intervention by imperialism, and decriminalization of the rural poor" who grow coca, said FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo. Drug policy is the third item on the talks' agenda; already covered are agrarian reform and the FARC's return to political life after a peace agreement. Still to be decided are drug issues, reparations for victims of the five-decade-old conflict, and disarmament.

Spanish Cannabis Club Persecuted, Needs Your Help. The Spanish cannabis social club Pannagh is being prosecuted as drug traffickers by Spanish authorities and needs your support before a court date Thursday. Click the story link above to read more and see how you can help. Their web page (see above) has been closed down by Spanish authorities, and Pannagh members, who transparently grew small amounts of marijuana for themselves, are facing years in prison and asset forfeiture on trumped up charges.

Morocco Lawmakers Meet Tomorrow to Discuss Legalizing Hemp, Medical Marijuana. Lawmakers in Rabat will meet Wednesday to debate whether to allow marijuana cultivation for medical and industrial purposes. The debate is being pushed by the Party of Authenticity and Modernity. More than three-quarters of a million Moroccans depend on marijuana cultivation for the livelihoods, with most of it processed into hashish for European markets.

Final Uruguay Marijuana Legalization Vote Set for Next Week

According to the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which has an operative in Montevideo, the Uruguayan Senate will vote next week, most likely next Tuesday, on the pending bill to legalize marijuana commerce. The bill is expected to pass.

The bill is sponsored by the government and has already passed the House on a 50-46 vote in July. Once approved in the Senate, the government will have 120 days to write regulations before the law goes into effect.

Once the law goes into effect, Uruguay will have become the first country on the planet to break the global prohibitionist consensus embodied in the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and subsequent treaties when it comes to marijuana legalization.

The Dutch have long allowed limited retail sales, but they remain formally illegal, and the supply remains criminalized. Some other countries have decriminalized possession, or legalized medical use of marijuana, but none have taken the next step. Two US states have taken the next step, but marijuana commerce remains illegal under federal law.

Under the bill, Uruguayan marijuana consumers will have choices. They will be able to grow their own individually (up to six plants) or collectively, they can buy it in pharmacies, or they can seek access as medical patients through the Ministry of Public Health.

Next week's vote will be the culmination of a process that began in June 2012, when President Jose Mujica included marijuana legalization as part of a comprehensive crime and public security package. In this case, the politicians were ahead of the public, and bill supporters took a year to educate the public and build support.

Supporters created a national TV ad campaign explaining the health and public safety benefits of legalization and formed a broad coalition, Regulación Responsable ("Responsible Regulation"), bringing together human rights, women's rights, health, student, environmental and other organizations, as well as prominent Uruguayans from across the social spectrum. The campaign appears to have paid off.

"It's about time that we see a country bravely break with the failed prohibitionist model and try an innovative, more compassionate, and smarter approach. By approving this measure, Uruguay will represent a concrete advance in line with growing opposition to the drug war in Latin America and throughout the world," said Hannah Hetzer, DPA's Montevideo-based policy manager for the Americas.

Uruguay is an augur of change for the better, said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann.

"Last year, Colorado and Washington; this year, Uruguay; and next year, Oregon and hopefully more states as well," Nadelmann said. "We still have a long way to go but who would have believed, just five years ago, that legalizing marijuana would have become a mainstream political reality both in the United States and abroad?!"

Montevideo
Uruguay

Chronicle AM -- December 2, 2013

The Denver city council votes today on where you can smoke pot, a Tennessee bill equates meth-making with child abuse, there's dissent on drug policy at the UN, India fights a drug menace, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Denver City Council to Vote Today to Ban Marijuana Smoking on Private Property if Visible to the Public. The Denver city council is expected to give final approval today to an ordinance that would ban marijuana smoking on one's own property if it is visible to the public. The measure won an initial 5-7 vote last week. The measure is opposed by the ACLU of Colorado, Sensible Colorado, and even the Denver Post, which editorialized against it today.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Returning to Iowa Legislature; Event in Des Moines Tonight. State Sen. Joe Bolckom (D-Iowa City), who has introduced medical marijuana bills in four previous sessions, will try again next year. He said he will introduce legislation modeled on the New Mexico program. Bolckom and Dr. Steven Jenison, who helped create the New Mexico bill, will be speaking about the New Mexico program at the Des Moines Public Library at 6:00pm tonight.

Methamphetamine

Under Proposed Tennessee Bill, Meth Making = Child Abuse. A bill filed last week, Senate Bill 1438, would allow meth-making parents to be charged with child abuse or neglect, even if the child has not suffered any child abuse or neglect. Current state law allows such charges to filed against meth-making parents if there is physical injury as a result of exposure to meth, but that's not good enough for state Sen. Doug Overbey and state Rep. Dale Carr, the bill's sponsors.

Prescription Drugs

Rhode Island Task Force to Study Electronic Prescription Monitoring. A legislatively-mandated commission meets for the first time today to consider whether the state should track certain medications in a bid to prevent prescription drug abuse. The commission is led by Rep. William O'Brien (D-North Providence), and includes state health officials, physicians, and a community health expert -- but apparently no pain patients. About half the states have moved to enact some form of electronic prescription monitoring in recent years.

International

Leaked Document Reveals Splits Ahead of UN Drug Session. A draft of a UN document setting out the organization's long-term strategy for fighting drugs has been leaked to British media and reveals an accelerating erosion of the decades-long, but increasingly shaky, drug prohibition consensus. In the leaked draft, both Latin American and European nations demanded that the UN's drug policy open itself up to new directions. This is all run-up to the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs.

Another Dark Web Drug Marketplace Shuts Down. The Black Market Reloaded web site, which offered illicit drugs and other items for sale, has closed, a victim of its own success. The site operator said it had grown too big to be able to guarantee anonymity for its customers. The move comes after a competitor, Silk Road, was shut down by US officials, and another competitor, Sheep Marketplace, closed claiming someone had stolen more than $2 million worth of bit coins, a virtual currency. Silk Road 2.0 is reportedly up and running, however.

In Wake of Mass Bootleg Alcohol Deaths, Indian State Wants More Alcohol Prohibition. Responding to a 2009 mass bootleg alcohol ("hooch") poisoning that left at least 156 people dead, the Gujarat high court Sunday called for tougher enforcement of alcohol prohibition. While the high court appreciated the state government's move to impose the death penalty for "hooch tragedies," it also called for stricter enforcement of prohibition to fight "the menace of illegal transportation, manufacturing and possession of liquor."

Jamaica's First Medical Marijuana Company Set to Open. Jamaican scientist Dr. Henry Lowe is expected to open the island nation's first medical marijuana company this week. Lowe said he plans to develop marijuana extracts to treat psychosis and severe pain, and, possibly, "mid-life crisis in men."

Iranians in 550 Armed Clashes with Drug Smugglers in Past Three Months. Iranian officials said Monday that there had been more than 550 armed clashes with drug traffickers in the past three months. Iran borders Afghanistan, the world's largest opium producer by far, and is both a transit country and a final destination for tons of Afghan opium each year. It has destroyed more than 60 tons of illicit drugs a year in recent years. It also hangs hundreds of drug traffickers each year.

Chronicle AM -- November 29, 2013

Uruguay's marijuana legalization bill passes another hurdle, a Berlin borough wants cannabis cafes, Chicago proposes tough medical marijuana regulations, Kentucky officials hound the DEA about hemp, and more. Let's get to it:

Is this the face of marijuana legalization? Uruguayan President Jose Mujica (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

Chicago Proposes Strict Medical Marijuana Regulations. Chicago officials have proposed regulations that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries and grows only in manufacturing districts, would limit the number of grows to 22, and would require that dispensaries and grows be at least 2,500 feet from a school, day care center, or residential area. Medical marijuana becomes legal in Illinois on January 1.

Michigan Appeals Court to Hear Cases on Unemployment Benefits. The Michigan Appeals Court has agreed to hear two cases to determine whether someone fired for using medical marijuana can collect unemployment benefits. Lower court judges have overturned state agency rulings denying the benefits, but medical marijuana foe Attorney General Bill Schuette argues that the law only protects people from criminal prosecutions, not civil penalties.

Hemp

Kentucky Officials Send Letter to DEA Requesting Clarification on Hemp. Kentucky officials have sent a letter to the DEA asking for clarification of its position on industrial hemp. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, US Sen. Rand Paul (R), and US Reps. John Yarmouth and Thomas Massie want the agency to tell them whether growing hemp in states that have enacted a regulatory framework remains illegal. They point to the federal government's response to marijuana legalization and argue that hemp should be treated the same way.

Drug Testing

Idaho Supreme Court Upholds Drug Possession Conviction Based Solely on Drug Test. Idaho's high court Tuesday upheld the conviction of a woman charged with drug possession after blood from her newborn child's umbilical cord tested positive for methadone. The court held unanimously that the drug test result was probable cause to support a possession conviction.

International

Uruguay Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. Uruguay is one step closer to becoming the first country to legalize the marijuana trade after the Senate Health Commission voted Thursday to approve the bill. The government-supported legislation has already passed the lower house and is expected to win final approval in the Senate next month.

Cannabis Cafes Coming to Berlin? Legislators in the hip Berlin borough of Friedrichschain-Kruezberg voted Thursday to approve cannabis coffee shops there. The move is the brainchild of Green Party Mayor Monika Hermann, who proposed it in September. Now, the borough must get the German federal government to agree. Under Article 3 of the German Narcotics Act, sufficient public interest could lead to law changes, provided there is public support and backing scientific evidence.

European Cancer Docs Say Restrictive Laws Aimed at Drug Abuse Block Millions from Pain Relief. The European Society for Medical Oncology warned that half the world's population lacks effective access to pain relievers because of restrictive laws aimed at reducing drug abuse. The group's Global Opioid Policy Initiative survey estimated that millions of cancer patients don't have access to seven cheap medicines essential for pain relief, including morphine and codeine. Access to such drugs "is catastrophically difficult" in many countries, the report's lead author said.

British Tories, Lib Dems At Odds Over Drug Policy. Britain's governing coalition is at odds with itself over drug policy after the new Liberal Democrat drugs minister, Norman Baker, said earlier this week that marijuana legalization "should be considered." That caused Conservative front-bencher and Justice Minister Chris Grayling to clarify that he and the Home Office "won't be considering it."

Northern Nigeria Alcohol Crackdown Sees 240,000 Bottles of Beer Destroyed. In attempt to deepen a sharia law ban on alcohol imposed in 2001, but largely ignored in hotels and the city's Christian quarter, Islamic police in the northern city of Kano destroyed 240,000 bottles of beer. They chanted "God is great" as they did so, and the head of the religious police warned that they will put an end to alcohol consumption. Multiple bombings of bars in the Christian quarter in late July carried out by suspected Islamic militants who complained the government wasn't enforcing sharia law adequately left 29 dead.

Peru Eradicates Record Amount of Coca. Peru, once again the world's largest coca and cocaine producer, announced Thursday that it had eradicated a record 55,000 acres of coca, about one-fifth of the total estimated 250,000-acre crop. That's a 60% increase in eradication over last year. The government said the increase was due to tougher anti-drug efforts and a weakening of the Shining Path in coca growing areas.

Israel Medical Marijuana Use up 30% This Year. Medical marijuana use is up sharply this year in Israel, according to the Health Ministry, which released figures showing 13,000 patients were approved to us it this year, up from 10,000 last year. The increase comes as the government is working on a new proposal to regulate medical marijuana. The Health, Agriculture, and Public Security ministries are expected to present it within the next couple of weeks.

Chronicle AM -- November 27, 2013

Denver wants to put the kibosh on outdoor pot-smoking, a California appeals court okays a local ban on medical marijuana grows, Costa Rica enacts a sentencing reform, and more. Let's get to it:

No medical marijuana grows for you in Live Oak, CA!
Marijuana Policy

Denver City Council Takes First Vote Approving Ban on Front Porch Toking. Despite heated public opposition, the Denver city council Monday night voted 7-5 to approve an amendment to the city's marijuana ordinance that would ban smoking on one's front porch or balcony. A second and final vote is set for next week, but is considered a formality.

Faced With 2016 Initiative, Arizona Legislator Urges Colleagues to Take Up Legalization. Rep. Ruben Gallegos (D-Phoenix) is calling on his fellow legislators to take up marijuana legalization because if they don't, voters will likely legalize it themselves at the polls in 2016. But a key Republican legislator, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth (R-Gilbert), head of the House Judiciary Committee, said he's opposed to the idea.

Medical Marijuana

Guam Public Hearing on Medical Marijuana Gets Emotional. Guamanian legislators heard heart-wrenching testimony Tuesday at the first of two public hearings for the Joaquin Concepcion Compassionate Cannabis Use Act of 2013 (Bill 215) as several patients and caregivers described how medical marijuana had (and could) alleviate suffering. The Guam Medical Association is opposed. A second hearing is set for December 12.

California Appeals Court Upholds City's Ban on Medical Marijuana Cultivation. California's 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the city of Live Oak can ban medical marijuana grows, even personal ones. The court relied on the state Supreme Court's ruling in the Riverside case, in which the high court held that localities can regulate and even ban dispensaries. "This decision makes it imperative that California adopt legislation specifically recognizing the right of all patients in need to access medical marijuana," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML.

International

Costa Rica Takes Softer Line on Women Caught Smuggling Drugs into Prisons. A bill signed into law earlier this year by President Laura Chinchilla reduces the possible sentences for women caught smuggling drugs into the country's prisons. The term has been reduced from between eight and 20 years to between three and eight years. The law also allows judges to consider alternative sentences, such as house arrest or confinement in a halfway house. The law is retroactive and will initially benefit about 100 women currently doing time for this offense.

Britain's New Drugs Minister Doesn't Rule Out Marijuana Legalization. Liberal Democrat Norman Baker, the new drugs minister in the coalition government dominated by the Conservatives, refused to rule out the possibility of marijuana legalization in his first appearance before parliament Tuesday. "I think it needs to be considered along with everything else. It is not my prime objective and I am not advocating it at the moment. We should be prepared to follow the evidence and see where it takes us," he said.

Medical Marijuana Update

Massachusetts and Illinois prepare for medical marijuana dispensaries, action is picking up in state legislatures, and Americans for Safe Access issues a report on state compliance with federal enforcement priorities. And more. Let's get to it:

National

On Monday, Americans for Safe Access released a report finding that medical marijuana states have enacted regulations that address federal enforcement concerns and calling on legislators and state rule-makers to keep the August 2013 Justice Department memo on enforcement guidelines in mind as they craft new laws and regulations. But DOJ memos aren't a solution, just a stopgap until appropriate federal legislation is passed, the report said.

Alabama

On Monday, State Rep. Patricia Todd said she will reintroduce medical marijuana legislation. She is talking up a bill that would allow for the use of CBD. Todd's previous medical marijuana bills have gotten nowhere in Montgomery.

California

Last Thursday, four California US representatives called for an end to the harassment of dispensaries.Reps. Barbara Lee (D), George Miller (D), Sam Farr (D), and Eric Swalwell (D) Thursday released excerpts of a letter they sent to US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag challenging her "hostility toward dispensaries." They criticized Haag's approach as "counterproductive and economically prohibitive," as well as being out of step with Obama administration policies as set down in August's Justice Department memo. "It is far past time for commonsense and economic sense to prevail in policies and actions related to medical cannabis dispensaries that serve the patients in our communities," said Rep. Lee. "This harassment and constant threat of prosecution should end."

Also last Thursday, the Santa Cruz planning commission approved plans for a new dispensary to open where one closed last year. The panel unanimously approved a special use permit for CannaCruz Collective. The city only allows for two dispensaries, and one other one is already open nearby.

Illinois

Last Tuesday, the Niles city board approved regulations limiting where medical marijuana facilities can locate. Such businesses will be limited to manufacturing districts with a special use permit. Medical marijuana becomes legal in Illinois on January 1.

Massachusetts

Last Friday, the state Department of Health released the names of finalists for medical marijuana sales licenses. There are one hundred of them, but some may face difficulties finding locations, in part because at least 130 cities and towns have adopted temporary moratoria on them. Applicants each paid a $30,000 application fee to enter the final round.

Michigan

On Monday, a key legislative leader said medical marijuana is a top priority next month. House Judiciary Committee Chair Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) said his top priority next month is to take up three medical marijuana-related bills. The first, House Bill 4271, would revive medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan after recent court rulings effectively stopped the facilities from operating in the state. Cotter also plans to take up two other medical marijuana-related bills. House Bill 5104 would allow patients to use edible forms of marijuana. And Senate Bill 660 would clear the way for pharmacies to sell medical marijuana in Michigan, but only if the federal government decides to regulate cannabis as a prescription drug.

New Jersey

On Monday, a lawmaker filed a bill allowing patients to get their medicine out of state. Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union) introduced a bill that would allow Garden State medical marijuana patients to buy their medicine in other states where it is legal and consume it in New Jersey. The bill attempts to address restrictions in the state's medical marijuana law that prevent easy access to some medical marijuana formulations, especially strains with high levels of CBD.

New York

On Saturday, Democratic lawmakers announced public hearings next month to try to push a medical marijuana bill through the legislature. They plan to hold public hearings next month in Buffalo and Mineola. For the past several years, bills have passed the Assembly, only to die in the more conservative Senate. Another bill is moving this year. Click on the link for hearing details.

On Monday, a New York City council committee approved a resolution urging the federal government to approve the Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, which would take medical marijuana off the federal list of controlled substances and enable certified medical providers and researchers to prescribe or access the drug without the threat of prosecution. The vote was unanimous.

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Cops in the drug war this week are accused of stealing snitch money, lying to get search warrants, growing and peddling pot, and engaging in a little coke-smuggling. Let's get to it:

In Miami, a former TSA supervisor was indicted last Wednesday for helping to smuggle at least 11 pounds of cocaine through the Virgin Islands. Dwight Durant, 44, is accused of conspiring with another Virgin Islands resident to traffic cocaine during the first eight months of 2012. He is charged with participating in a trafficking conspiracy and is looking at 10 years to life in prison if convicted.

In Buffalo, New York, a Buffalo police officer was arrested last Wednesday on charges he was growing and selling marijuana. James Hamilton, Jr., went down after he sold $1,100 worth of weed to a snitch. He was then arrested, and a subsequent search of his home revealed a grow op with 82 plants and four pounds of processed weed. He is charged with possession with intent to distribute and distribution of marijuana; manufacturing and possession with intent to distribute 50 or more marijuana plants; maintaining a premises for the purpose of manufacturing and distributing marijuana; and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. He's looking at between five years and life in prison.

In New Orleans, two New Orleans police detectives were indicted last Friday on charges they conspired to steal thousands of dollars in funds that were earmarked for paying confidential informants. Rafael Dobard, 39, and Quincy Jones, 33, had been assigned to the Fourth District Narcotics Unit. They also got nailed for falsifying time sheets, and Dobard is also charged with paying bribes to other detectives in the unit. They are both on emergency suspension.

In Baltimore, a Baltimore police officer was arrested last Friday for lying to obtain a search warrant in a drugs and guns case. Thomas Wilson III, a 19-year veteran, is accused of lying when he said he saw a suspect leaving a home carrying a black bag. Wilson also had earlier problems with truthfulness; in 2003, a federal judge said an affidavit he filed in a case was packed with "knowing lies" and threw the case out. Then, he got a short suspension; now, he is charged with perjury and official misconduct.

Chronicle AM -- November 26, 2013

Medical marijuana gets attention in the statehouse, another drug war atrocity in New Mexico, Greece's first safe injection site is open, and a gram of opium or a few pounds of pot can get you the death penalty if you're in the wrong place. And more. Let's get to it:

This is three times the amount of opium that could get an immigrant worker executed in Dubai. (erowid.org)
Medical Marijuana

Key Michigan Politico Says Medical Marijuana Top Priority in December. House Judiciary Committee Chair Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) said Monday his top priority next month is to take up three medical marijuana-related bills. The first,House Bill 4271, would revive medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan after recent court rulings effectively stopped the facilities from operating in the state. Cotter also plans to take up two other medical marijuana-related bills. House Bill 5104 would allow patients to use edible forms of marijuana. And Senate Bill 660 would clear the way for pharmacies to sell medical marijuana in Michigan, but only if the federal government decides to regulate cannabis as a prescription drug.

New Jersey Lawmaker Files Bill Allowing Patients to Buy Out of State. Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union) Monday introduced a bill that would allow Garden State medical marijuana patients to buy their medicine in other states where it is legal and consume it in New Jersey. The bill attempts to address restrictions in the state's medical marijuana law that prevent easy access to some medical marijuana formulations, especially strains with high levels of CBD.

Alabama Lawmaker Ready to Try Again on Medical Marijuana. State Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) will reintroduce medical marijuana legislation again next year, she said Monday. The bill would allow for the use of CBD. Todd's previous medical marijuana bills have gotten nowhere in Montgomery.

Hemp

New Jersey Hemp Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would create an industrial hemp license to regulate the "planting, growing, harvesting, possessing, processing, selling, and buying" of the crop passed the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Monday. The bill, Assembly Bill 2415, sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), would require the end of federal hemp prohibition before licenses could be issued.

Law Enforcement

New Mexico Woman Sues over Vaginal Macing During Drug Arrest. What on earth is going on in New Mexico? Just weeks ago, it was forced enemas and colonoscopies for drug suspects; now, another New Mexican, Marlene Tapia, is suing Bernalillo County after she says jail guards strip searched her and sprayed mace in her vagina, where she was hiding drugs. The ACLU of New Mexico is taking the case.

New Jersey Bill Would Increase Drug Penalties. A bill that would reduce the amount of heroin necessary to be charged with a first-degree crime and allow prosecutors to charge drug offenses by the number of units of the drug involved instead of their weight passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee Monday. The bill, Assembly Bill 4151, is sponsored by Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-Passaic).

International

Greece Sets Up First Supervised Injection Site. Greece has opened its first "drug consumption" room in a bid to slow the spread of blood-borne diseases among injection drug users there. The site has been open since last month and has been used by more than 200 people so far.

European Drug Experts Urge Austerity-Battered Governments Not to Cut Drug Treatment. Drug experts and policy makers from around Europe gathered in Athens Monday to urge governments to exclude drug-abuse treatment from austerity budget cuts, citing an alarming rise in HIV infections among drug users in Greece. Included in the call are harm reduction programs like the Greek supervised injection site, which is funded with Council of Europe funds.

Colombia's FARC Wants to Lead Alternative Crop Pilot Project. The leftist guerrillas of the FARC, now in peace negotiations with the Colombian government, want an active role in a pilot project to get coca farmers to grow alternative crops. The group is proposing that one of its local military units team with the government in a village in southern Colombia in a five-year project intended to get farmers to quit growing coca.

Malaysia Court Gives Thai Woman Death Sentence for Weed. A judge in Malaysia Monday sentenced a 36-year-old Thai woman to death after she was caught with about 30 pounds of marijuana at a bus depot. Barring a successful appeal, Thitapah Charenchuea will be hanged. DPP Nor Shuhada Mohd Yatim prosecuted the case.

Dubai Prosecutors Seeks Death Penalty for Less Than One Gram of Opium. Prosecutors in Dubai are seeking the death penalty for an Iranian worker accused of possessing 0.8 grams of opium. They charged he possessed it for "promotional purposes," the equivalent of "with the intent to distribute."

Fort Worth Man Killed in Drug Raid

A Fort Worth, Texas, resident was shot and killed by members of the Tarrant County Narcotics Unit as they executed a search warrant Friday night. The as yet unidentified victim becomes the 36th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to WFAA TV News, citing a Fort Worth police captain, six members of the unit's Northeast Division arrived at the Tulip Tree Drive residence at about 8:45pm. When they broke down the door, the man inside was holding a shotgun and pointing it at officers.

One officer from nearby Euless fired once at the man, striking him at the chest. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

While police did not identify the man, they did say he was 30 years old.

Four other people inside the home were taken into custody, but it is not clear if they were actually arrested.

The Fort Worth Police Department is investigating the shooting.

Fort Worth, TX
United States

Oregon Solons to Take Up Marijuana Legalization

State Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene), the powerful head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, last Friday unveiled a draft bill that would ask voters in the November 2014 election whether they wanted to legalize marijuana. The announcement came as lawmakers began debating whether to advance the issue.

Under Prozanski's plan, the legislature would pass the bill, and the marijuana legalization question would then appear on the November 2014 ballot. If approved by the voters, the legislature would then be charged with crafting regulations in 2015.

Next year, Oregon has only a six-week special legislative session beginning in February. That's why Prozanski wants solons to handle the regulatory issues in 2015, when there is more time.

Prozanski said a vote on legalization is inevitable, and if the legislature doesn't act, activists will put their own measures before the voters. At least two initiatives are already in the works, one by Paul Stanford, the controversial force behind last year's failed Measure 80 campaign, and one by local activists organized as New Approach Oregon, which is already picking up some seed money.

"It is here, we need deal with it," Prozanski said in remarks reported by the Associated Press. "Because if we don't deal with it, it's going to be given to us, and I think we'll have a lot of unintended consequences."

New Approach Oregon spokesman Anthony Johnson told the AP it was too early to tell if Prozanski's draft bill would satisfy his group. If not, Oregon voters could have two or more separate proposals to choose from next November.

Salem, OR
United States

In Memoriam: Peter Lewis, Major Supporter of Drug Policy Reform

Peter B. Lewis, the billionaire head of Progressive Insurance and a leading funder of drug reform efforts in recent decades, died Saturday at his home in Coconut Grove, Florida. He was 80 years old.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/peter-lewis-200px.jpg
Peter Lewis (wikipedia.org)
The Cleveland native built Progressive, a small company started by his father, into an auto insurance powerhouse with more than 26,000 employees and $17 billion in premiums. His personal fortune was estimated at around $1 billion at the time of his death, and over his lifetime, he donated about $500 million to various causes.

As progressive as the name of his insurance company, Lewis financially supported the American Civil Liberties Union and the 2004 presidential campaign of then Sen. John Kerry. He also helped launched progressive organizations including Media Matters, Third Way, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, among others.

One of his causes was drug law reform, particularly marijuana. Open about his enjoyment of the herb, Lewis was arrested by New Zealand authorities in 2000 after flying into the country to attend yacht races. But his financial support for the cause predated that event. Through the years Lewis contributed millions of dollars to a series of a initiative campaigns, including last year's successful campaigns in Colorado and Washington, where he was the single largest donor. Before he died, he also contributed to a nascent effort to put a legalization initiative on the 2014 Oregon ballot.

Along with financier George Soros and Phoenix University founder John Sperling, Lewis was for years one of the troika of big money funders for drug reform. That has begun to change as a new generation of entrepreneurs begin to pony up for reform, but Lewis and his money played a critical role in the reform movement getting to where it is now.

"The role that Peter has played in marijuana reform is that of leading this movement to the very brink of success," attorney and Lewis political strategist Graham Boyd told the Cleveland Plain Dealer Saturday night. "We've won two important states and I think just in the very near future there's going to be a cascade of victories that will be attributable to him and I do wish he had lived to see that success."

Coconut Grove, FL
United States

Chronicle AM -- November 25, 2013

Drug reform funder Peter Lewis dies, the Oregon legislature will consider a legalization initiative bill, medical marijuana patients are suing Health Canada, and more. Let's get to it:

"Warning! Your Family is in Danger!" anti-legalization poster courtesy of the Mexican government (cij.gob.mx)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Legislature to Consider Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene), head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, unveiled a draft bill Friday that would ask voters in the November 2014 election to approve marijuana legalization. If they did, the legislature would be charging with coming up with regulations in 2015. If the draft bill fails to move in the legislature, activists are already working on a separate 2014 legalization initiative.

Outdoor Anniversary Pot Party Approved for Seattle Center.The city of Seattle has approved a permit for a multi-hundred person pot party to mark the first anniversary of legal weed in the state. The event will take place at Seattle Center on December 6 and will include a permitted outdoor marijuana-smoking area.

Denver City Council Debating Marijuana Smoking Restrictions. The Denver city council is today holding a public hearing on an ordinance regulating marijuana smoking on private property. The council is about evenly divided between members who want to ban pot-smoking visible from the street or sidewalks and those who don't. Marijuana Policy Project spokesman and Amendment 64 proponent Mason Tvert held a protest on his balcony this morning where he publicly -- and legally -- consumed "a more dangerous substance."

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana States are Complying with Federal Enforcement Guidelines, Report Says. The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access Monday released a report finding that medical marijuana states have enacted regulations that address federal enforcement concerns and calling on legislators and state rulemakers to keep the August 2013 Justice Department memo on enforcement guidelines in mind as they craft new laws and regulations. But DOJ memos aren't a solution, just a stop-gap until appropriate federal legislation is passed, the report said.

Public Hearings on Medical Marijuana Coming in New York State. Democratic lawmakers trying to push a medical marijuana bill through the legislature plan to hold public hearings next month in Buffalo and Mineola. For the past several years, bills have passed the Assembly, only to die in the more conservative Senate. Another bill is moving this year. Click on the link for hearing details.

Gone But Not Forgotten

Philanthropist, Drug Reform Funder Peter Lewis Dies. Peter Lewis, the man who took Progressive Insurance into the auto insurance big leagues, died Saturday in Florida. Over the past 30 years, Lewis gave millions of dollars to efforts to legalize marijuana, as well as other drug reform efforts, including a recent contribution to a proposed 2014 initiative in Oregon. He was 80 years old.

Pregnancy

Feticide Charge Dismissed Against Drug-Using Louisiana Woman. A Louisiana judge has ruled that a woman who allegedly snorted cocaine days before giving birth to a stillborn fetus cannot be charged under the state's feticide law. That law only applies to people other than the expectant mother, District Judge Trudy White ruled. The woman was charged after a parish coroner ruled the stillbirth a homicide, saying the mother's drug use "led to a normally healthy baby ending up dying." Prosecutors could still bring other charges against the woman, they said.

International

Medical Marijuana Patients to Sue Health Canada over Being Outed. Medical marijuana patients furious and frightened after Health Canada outed them by sending each one of them documents in a white envelope with "Medical Marijuana Access Program" written across the top, followed by the patients' names and addresses are planning a class-action lawsuit. Health Canada said last week the mailing was the result of administrative error, but that is not assuaging unhappy patients.

Government Sponsored Anti-Marijuana Legalization Marchers take to the Streets in Mexico. Organized by the National Social Leaders of Mexico (CONAL), and with the support of a federal government children's development program, anti-marijuana legalization marchers in small numbers took to the streets of at least 15 Mexican cities over the weekend. They oppose growing talk of legalization, which has occurred in the Mexico City city council and the national congress, among other places.

Chronicle AM -- November 22, 2013

The momentum for marijuana legalization continues in the US, but Australia's New South Wales rejects medical marijuana even for the terminally ill. There's plenty more news, too. Let's get to it:

Coming soon to a legal retail outlet near you (if you live in Colorado). (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

World's First-Ever Marijuana Retail License Issued in Colorado. Officials in Central City, Colorado, issued the world's first legal marijuana retail license Thursday. The license went to Annie's, currently operating as a medical marijuana dispensary. Annie's must still obtain a state license. Legal retail marijuana sales begin on January 1.

Oregon Legislators Meeting Today on Marijuana Legalization. Oregon lawmakers are meeting today to lay the groundwork for a possible marijuana legalization initiative to put before voters in November 2014. Senate Judiciary Chairman Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) said he would push for such an initiative. New Approach Oregon has already filed its own legalization initiative, which Prozanski called "a great first draft," but then added that legislators should vet it.

Poll: Marijuana Legalization Has Majority Support in Indiana. The 2013 Hoosier Poll finds that 52.2% of adults in the state favor making "marijuana a regulated substance much like the way we regulate the use of alcohol and tobacco products." Only 45.3% were opposed. Support reached a whopping 78.1% when respondents were asked if "marijuana should be taxed like alcohol and tobacco products, or not."

Maine Legislative Council Rejects Legalization Bill. The Maine Legislative Council, made up of 10 leading legislators, Thursday night rejected a marijuana legalization bill sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland). That means the bill will have to go through the regular legislative process next year, or the voters will decide through a referendum.

Medical Marijuana

Four California US Representatives Call on Northern California US Attorney to Stop Harassing Dispensaries. Reps. Barbara Lee (D), George Miller (D), Sam Farr (D), and Eric Swalwell (D) Thursday released excerpts of a letter they sent to US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag challenging her "hostility toward dispensaries." They criticized Haag's approach as "counterproductive and economically prohibitive," as well as being out of step with Obama administration policies as set down in August's Justice Department memo. "It is far past time for commonsense and economic sense to prevail in policies and actions related to medical cannabis dispensaries that serve the patients in our communities," said Rep. Lee. "This harassment and constant threat of prosecution should end."

Drug Testing

Northern Marianas Bill Would Require Twice a Year Drug Tests for Elected Officials. A bill being crafted in the Northern Marianas Islands House of Representatives would require all elected officials to undergo drug tests every six months. The bill is being drafted by former cop Rep. Christopher Leon Guerrero, but is likely to be found unconstitutional if it ever passes, given federal court precedents.

Law Enforcement

Ohio Makes First Arrest under Automobile "Secret Compartment" Drug Law. An Ohio man arrested Tuesday for driving a vehicle that contained a hidden compartment becomes the first person charged under the state's 2012 law (Senate Bill 305) making it a felony to add a secret compartment with the intent of using it to conceal drugs for trafficking. Norman Gurley's vehicle had a secret compartment, but it contained no drugs or evidence of drugs.

Sentencing

Attorney General Holder Blasts High US Incarceration Rates at Colombia Conference. US Attorney General Eric Holder ripped into US incarceration policies at a conference of security ministers in Colombia Thursday, calling our imprisonment rates "both inadvisable and unsustainable." Holder added that the resort to mass incarceration "results in far too many Americans serving too much time in too many prisons -- and beyond the point of serving any good law enforcement reason." He also signaled that other countries should have greater flexibility in drug control policies. "We must acknowledge that none among us can fight this battle on our own, or by implementing a 'one-size-fits all' approach."

International

No Medical Marijuana for the Terminally Ill in Australia's New South Wales. The state government in New South Wales has rejected a request that terminally ill patients be granted an exemption to use marijuana to ease their pain. A bipartisan parliamentary committee had recommended that AIDS and terminally ill patients be allowed to possess up to a half-ounce for medical reasons, but the state government rejected the recommendation, saying the potency and safety of medical marijuana cannot be guaranteed. The decision was "cannabis hysteria at its worst," said Green MP John Kaye. "It's absurd to argue that someone dying of cancer should be denied access to a little bit of pain relief because it's the same substance some people use illegally."

DEA Raiding Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in Denver! [FEATURE]

DEA and IRS agents backed up by Denver and other state and local law enforcement raided a number of Denver area medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations Thursday. The US Attorney for Colorado's office confirmed the raids were taking place.

a Denver medical marijuana dispensary (not one of those raided Thursday) (wikipedia.org)
"The Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations, the Denver Police Department and state and local law enforcement are today executing lawfully obtained search warrants and seizure warrants," said Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the US Attorney for Colorado's office in a Thursday statement

"Although we cannot at this time discuss the substance of this pending investigation, the operation under way today comports with the Department's recent guidance regarding marijuana enforcement matters," Dorschner added. "As this is an on-going investigation, no additional information will be made available," he said.

Dorschner was referring to an August 29 Justice Department memorandum to federal prosecutors that said the Obama administration would not interfere with marijuana legalization provided certain boundaries were not crossed. US Attorney for Colorado John Walsh laid them out in his own statement that same day.

"Of particular concern to the US Attorney's Office are cases involving marijuana trafficking directly or indirectly to children and young people; trafficking that involves violence or other federal criminal activity; trafficking conducted or financed by street gangs and drug cartels; cultivation of marijuana on Colorado's extensive state and federal public lands; and trafficking across state and international lines," Walsh explained.

The Thursday raids come less than two months before state-legal marijuana retail stores open for business on January 1.

The Denver Post reported that the number of sites hit was "about a dozen," while the alternative weekly Westword put the number at fewer than 20, although that number is tentative. Among businesses mentioned by "reliable sources within the scene" to Westword are VIP Wellness, Cherry Top Farms, marQaha, and Swiss Medical in Boulder. Westword printed a photo of police cars in the parking lot of marQaha, while the Post printed a photo of piles of uprooted marijuana plants lying in the snow outside Swiss Medical.

Westword also reported that the owner of Swiss Medical told it that the raid there was prompted by one person among multiple tenants using its space, but that the raiders seized all the plants belonging to anyone who had a grow there. That's similar to what happened at Cherry Top Farms in 2011, when federal raiders targeting one grower seized all the plants on the scene.

"We do not yet know the details of these latest federal actions, so it is too soon to say what inspired them," said Denver-based Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert. "The Justice Department said it would respect states' rights to regulate marijuana, and that it would not go after businesses as long as they are complying with state laws. We hope they are sticking to their word and not interfering with any state-regulated, law-abiding businesses."

Tvert emphasized that at this point he does not know whether any of the businesses struck are accused of violating state laws.

"Colorado has demonstrated that regulating marijuana works," Tvert said. "Those businesses that are in clear compliance with state laws are meeting the needs of the community and not causing problems. As a result, they have not faced much in the way of federal interference. If a business is suspected of violating state laws, they will likely face increased scrutiny, and if they are found to be in violation, they will likely face consequences. That is how our society treats alcohol, and that is how we expect to see marijuana treated."

Denver-based attorney and marijuana activist Rob Corry was less diplomatic. He told the Post the Justice Department was acting like a bully and targeting "mostly mom-and-pop businesses."

"That is true to form, the DOJ, behaving like the classic schoolyard bully picking on the little guy," he said. "The DOJ needs to explain in a logical fashion why they are picking and choosing, going after only some of these entities when every one of them selling marijuana is running afoul of the federal law."

Denver, CO
United States

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