Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: Groups Oppose New Fed Bill, Still no DEA Research Grow Licenses, More... (7/5/17)

Drug reformers and others are trying to stop a bill that would give Attorney General Sessions new powers to criminalize new drugs and craft new penalties, after a year the DEA still hasn't issued any new marijuana research grow licenses, and more.

Civil rights, human rights, criminal justice, and drug policy reform groups are mobilizing to stop a new drug war bill.
Marijuana Policy

DEA Still Hasn't Issued Any New Marijuana Grower Licenses. Almost a year after the DEA announced it would allow more organizations to produce marijuana for research purposes, it has yet to do so. Although DEA has received 25 applications for research grows, it says it is still processing them and has no estimate for when any applications may be granted. There is increasing demand for research marijuana, as well as for more potent, more diverse, and higher quality marijuana than is being produced by the University of Mississippi under a NIDA monopoly it has enjoyed since 1968.

Massachusetts Lawmakers Get Back to Work on Crafting Legalization Implementation. The legislature missed a self-imposed Friday deadline for reaching agreement on competing legalization implementation bills in the House and Senate and the marijuana conference committee was set to meet today to try to seek agreement. Two big issues of dispute are tax rates and whether localities can ban pot businesses without a popular vote.

Industrial Hemp

West Virginia Joins the Ranks of Legal Hemp States. As of Tuesday, state residents can apply to the agriculture commissioner for a license to grow hemp for commercial purposes. Some growers grew hemp crops last year, but those were licensed research grows. Now, those growers can be licensed as commercial growers, too.

Drug Policy

Dozens of Reform Groups Send Letter to Congress Opposing New Drug War Bill. More than 60 civil rights, human rights, faith, criminal justice, and drug policy reform organization have sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee opposing House Resolution 2851, the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017. The measure is part of Attorney General Sessions' effort to reenergize the war on drugs and would give him sweeping new powers to schedule new drugs and set corresponding penalties, including new mandatory minimums. Similar legislation by Sens. Grassley and Feinstein has been filed in the Senate.

Chronicle AM: Catalonia Legalizes Marijuana, Greece Legalizes Medical Marijuana, More... (7/3/17)

Catalonia okays cannabis social clubs, the Greeks give formal final approval to medical marijjuana, a Delaware commission will study pot legalization and report back in January, and more.

street musicians at the Arc de Triomf monument in Catalonia's capital city, Barcelona
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Legislature Punts on Legalization, Will Instead Form Study Committee. The General Assembly voted last Saturday to create the Adult Use Cannabis Task Force, to "study adoption of a model for regulation and taxation of adult-use cannabis in Delaware, including local authority and control, consumer safety and substance abuse prevention, packaging and labeling requirements, impaired driving and other criminal law concerns, and taxation, revenue, and banking issues." The 23-member task force will hold a first meeting in September and must report its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly and the governor by January 31, 2018. The move comes in lieu of approving a legalization bill that was filed this year.

Medical Marijuana

Montana Issues Temporary Emergency Rules for Medical Marijuana Program. The state health department released "temporary emergency rules" last week to provide guidance to patients and providers as part of the state's new program went into effect last Friday. The emergency rules clarify how the Department of Public Health and Human Services will regulate possession limits, testing labs, and concentrate makers during the transition period until the full regulatory framework is set, which must happen by April 30, 2018.

International

Spain's Catalonia Legalizes Marijuana. The government of Catalonia has legalized marijuana following a popular petition campaign that forced a government debate. The parliament voted to regulate cannabis consumption clubs and will allow members to grow, consume, and distribute marijuana. Clubs will be limited to producing 330 pounds of dried buds per year and will have rules designed to discourage "drug tourism." Catalonia is an autonomous region within Spain, but the government in Madrid could seek to challenge the legalization move. That could lead to even more tension between Madrid and Catalonia, which plans to vote on an independence referendum on October 1.

Greeks Legalize Medical Marijuana. At a press conference last Friday, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made it official: medical marijuana is now legal in Greece. He announced that the Joint Ministerial Decision on the topic was now signed and published. "From now on, the country is turning its page, as Greece is now included in countries where the delivery of medical cannabis to patients in need is legal," he said.

"Shocks the Conscience": South Dakota Forcibly Catheterizes Three-Year Old in Drug War [FEATURE]

The state of South Dakota is practicing a form of drug war excess tantamount to torture, according to a pair of federal lawsuits filed by the ACLU on June 28. One suit charges that law enforcement and medical personnel subject drug suspects to forcible catheterization if they refuse to submit to a drug test.

Welcome to the Forced Catheterization State
The second suit charges even more outrageous conduct: State social workers and medical personnel subjecting a screaming toddler to the same treatment.

Let's be clear here: We are talking about a person having a plastic tube painfully inserted in his penis without his consent and with the use of whatever physical force is necessary by agents of the state. In the name of enforcing drug laws.

Law enforcement has an incentive to coerce people into consenting to warrantless drug tests -- with the realistic threat of forced catheterization -- because its state laws punish not just possession of drugs, but having used them. Under the state's "internal possession" or "unlawful ingestion" statutes, testing positive for illicit drugs is a criminal offense.

"Forcible catheterization is painful, physically and emotionally damaging, and deeply degrading," said ACLU of South Dakota executive director Heather Smith in a statement announcing the filings. "Catheterization isn't the best way to obtain evidence, but it is absolutely the most humiliating. The authorities ordered the catheterization of our clients to satisfy their own sadistic and authoritarian desires to punish. Subjecting anyone to forcible catheterization, especially a toddler, to collect evidence when there are less intrusive means available, is unconscionable."

In the case of the toddler, the ACLU is suing on behalf of Kirsten Hunter of Pierre and her thee-year-old son. According to the complaint, their ordeal began on February 23, when police arrived to arrest her live-in boyfriend for failing a probationary drug test. Accompanying the cops was Department of Social Services (DSS) caseworker Matt Opbroeck, who informed Hunter that she and her children would have to take drug tests, and that if she failed to agree, her two kids would be seized on the spot.

Under such coercion, Hunter agreed to take herself and her kids to St. Mary's Avera Hospital to be tested the next day. Here, in the dry language of the legal filing, is what happened next:

Ms. Hunter was met by [SMA medical staff] and told that she and her children needed to urinate in cups on orders of DSS.

At the time, A.Q., was not toilet-trained and could not produce a sample in a cup.

Even though other methods, such as placing a bag over his penis, would have yielded a urine sample, [SMA medical staff] immediately began to hold him down and to catheterize him.

At the time, [they] did not inform Ms. Hunter of altemative methods of getting a urine sample or explain the risks associated with catheterizing a child.

Ms. Hunter did not know that she could object nor was she given any opportunity to object. Ms. Hunter did not speak with or see a doctor.

A.Q. was catheterized and screamed during the entire procedure.

On information and belief, A.Q. was catheterized with an adult-sized catheter.

Ms. Hunter was humiliated and upset about A.Q.'s catheterization.

A.Q. was injured physically and emotionally.

In the aftermath of the state-sanctioned assault, three days later, A.Q. had to be taken to a hospital emergency room 100 miles away in Huron for constipation and pain and discomfort in his penis, and he had to return again to ASM two days after that, where he was diagnosed with a staph infection in his penis.

Hunter and the ACLU are suing DSS caseworker Opbroeck, Opbroeck's bosses, Department of Social Services Secretary Lynn Valenti and DSS Division of Child Protective Services Director Virginia Wieseler, and St. Mary's Avera, Registered Nurse Katie Rochelle, Nurse Practitioner Teresa Cass, and four unnamed SMA medical employees.

The ACLU argues that forcible catheterization of A.Q. violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against warrantless searches, the Fifth Amendment's right not to be forced to testify against oneself, and the 14th Amendment's due process clause because "it shocks the conscience, it was not medically necessary, and it was not reviewed by a judge." The lawsuit seeks monetary relief as well as declaration that the procedure is unconstitutional.

"The Fourth Amendment guarantees people the right to be free from unreasonable government searches," said Courtney Bowie, ACLU of South Dakota Legal Director. "There is nothing reasonable about forcibly catheterizing a child. The Constitution's purpose is to protect people from government intrusions exactly like this."

There is nothing reasonable about forcibly catheterizing drug defendants, either -- especially when the only drug use suspected is of marijuana -- but the second lawsuit filed by the ACLU alleges the practice is widespread among law enforcement agencies in the state, including repeated allegations of forced catheterizations after the victims have agreed to provide urine samples, the sole reason being that police involved could "gratify their sadistic desires," the complaint says.

"State agents, including law enforcement officers, in multiple cities and counties in South Dakota have conspired to attempt to rationalize, justify, and illegally forcibly catheterize drug suspects, and illegally coerce drug suspects to provide urine samples by threatening them with illegal forcible catheterization if they will not voluntarily provide a urine sample," the complaint says.

The conspiracy violates the civil rights not only of those subjected to forced catheterization, but those threatened with, the ACLU argues.

The lawsuit has five plaintiffs, all of whom were subjected to the procedure, and lists 20 unnamed police officers from Pierre, Sisseton, and the Highway Patrol, as well as one named Pierre officer, and the cities of Pierre and Sisseton. The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to stop the practice, as well as "compensatory and punitive damages."

Chronicle AM: SD Sued Over Forced Catheterization of Toddler for Drug Test, More... (6/30/17)

The ACLU sues South Dakota over the forced drug testing of a toddler, Detroit residents again sue the dope squad for killing dogs in pot raids, Pennsylvania's governor signs an asset forfeiture reform bill, and more.

Trump's EPA head stops California from setting pesticide regulations for marijuana crops.
Marijuana Policy

EPA Rejects California's Request to Recognize Allowable Marijuana Pesticides. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt last week rejected the state's request to recognize acceptable pesticides for pot crops. Pruitt used the fact of marijuana's continuing illegality under federal law to justify the decision: "Under federal law, cultivation (along with sale and use) of cannabis is generally unlawful as a schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. The EPA finds that the general illegality of cannabis cultivation makes pesticide use on cannabis a fundamentally different use pattern."

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Health Department Issues Dispensary Permits. The Health Department announced Thursday it had granted 27 medical marijuana dispensary permits. Each permit holder can open up to three dispensaries. They will be permitted to begin selling medical marijuana in six months. Click on the link for a list of permit recipients.

Asset Forfeiture

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signed into law Senate Bill 8 on Thursday. The bill does not end civil asset forfeiture, but does impose a higher burden of proof on law enforcement before forfeitures can take place, mandate a hearing before any seized real property is forfeited, and add protections for third-party property owners.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Sued Over Forced Catherization of 3-Year-Old for Drug Test. The ACLU of South Dakota has filed a pair of lawsuits over the forced use of a catheter to take a urine sample from a three-year-boy to test for drugs as part of a child welfare investigation. The suit comes in the case of a Pierre woman whose boyfriend violated probation by testing positive for illegal drugs. Child protective workers then told the women her children would be taken away if she did not submit them to a drug test. The federal lawsuit names as defendants the state of South Dakota and the hospital whose employees actually performed the procedure.

Law Enforcement

Detroit's Dog Killing Drug Cops Sued for Third Time. A Detroit couple has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Detroit Police alleging officers needlessly and maliciously killed their three dogs during a July 2016 marijuana raid after officers refused to let them retrieve the animals from the back yard. That brings to three the number of active lawsuits filed against Detroit cops for killing dogs during pot raids. The culprit is the department's Major Violators Unit, which conducts hundreds of raids a year in the city, and which has left a trail of dead dogs in its wake. One officer alone has killed 69 dogs.

Illinois Supreme Court Rules County DAs Can't Form Their Own Dope Squads. The state Supreme Court ruled Thursday the county prosecutors cannot form their own policing units to conduct drug interdiction efforts, including traffic stops. The ruling came in a case involving the State Attorney's Felony Enforcement (SAFE) Unit created by the LaSalle County district attorney. The unit operated for five years, mainly stopping cars on their way to and from Chicago. Previously, state appeals courts had ruled that the units were an overreach of prosecutorial authority, and now the state's highest court has backed them up.

Legal Marijuana Sales in Nevada: Eight Things You Need to Know

This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

As of 12:01am Saturday, legal adult marijuana sales begin in Nevada. And they will commence immediately, with dispensaries on the Las Vegas Strip announcing plans to be open to usher in Sin City's newest attraction.

Sin City gets another attraction. (Wikimedia)
But don't go lighting up on the Strip! Smoking in public is not allowed.

Nevada now joins Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington in allowing people to legally buy and sell weed in pot shops. It's the first of the states where voters legalized it at the polls to see shops open, getting out of the gate ahead of California, Maine, and Massachusetts.

That's because the state fast-tracked legal pot sales by granting licenses to a few dozen existing medical marijuana dispensaries in order to let them sell to any adults while officials finalized regulations for the legal marijuana market, which was mandated to begin by January 1, 2018.

So, now that you can add legal weed to Las Vegas's allures, here are a few things you need to know:

1. How much can I buy? Visitors and residents alike can purchase up to an ounce of buds and up to an eighth-ounce of marijuana edibles.

2. Where can I buy it? Look for medical marijuana dispensaries that have been granted recreational sales licenses. Those are clustered in the Las Vegas and Reno areas, including dispensaries on the Strip. There's a complete list of dispensaries here, but remember, not all have the recreational sales okay, so if you're about to go shopping, contact them directly to find out.

3. What do I need? You need to be at least 21 and have government-issued ID that says so. If you're a medical marijuana card holder, you don't have to be 21. And you need to have cash. That's because the federal government refuses to let banks handle marijuana business since pot is still federally illegal. Congress is working on this issue, but in the meantime, hit the ATM ahead of shopping.

4. What should I buy? Regular consumers will have a pretty good idea what they like, but novices can consult their budtenders. There will be a variety of high-quality, high-potency strains on sale, both "stimulating" sativas and "enervating" indicas, as well as a dizzying plethora of hybrid strains.

5. What about edibles? Edibles will be on sale, too, in a wide variety of forms, but because of emergency regulations issued Monday by the Department of Taxation, those products can contain no more than 10 milligrams of THC per dose or 100 milligrams per package. That 10 milligram measure is a good one; novice users will certainly feel an impact at that level. But those emergency regs, which also restrict packaging and labeling are likely to produce initial shortages of edibles given the short lag time between their promulgation and opening day.

6. What's it going to cost? Grams will be going for $10 to $15, ounces for anywhere from $150 for bargain buds to $325 for the primo. Edibles prices will depend on the various products.

7. Where can I smoke it? Well, therein lies the rub, especially for visitors. The only places smoking pot is allowed are at your home or on your front porch. There's no smoking it on the Strip, in clubs or casinos, at rock concerts, or any other public place. And there's no smoking it in hotel rooms, either. Either a lot of tourists are going to end up with public smoking citations, or they start making local friends in a hurry, or they end up paying smoke damage surcharges on their hotel room credit card bills, or all of the above. This is going to have to change, especially since estimates are nearly two-thirds of legal pot buyers are going to be visitors. In the meantime, it could make edibles more attractive.

8. Can I take it home with me? Not if you live in a state where it is illegal. And if you live in a state where it is legal, why bother? If you get caught trying to bring it onto an airplane, the TSA won't bust you (since they're looking for terrorists, not tourists), but will turn you over to the local cops, who also won't bust you (since your weed isn't illegal in Nevada), but the hassles might cause you to miss your flight.

Chronicle AM: WHO Calls for Drug Decrim, NV Legal MJ Sales Start Saturday, More... (6/29/17)

Massachusetts pols continue to work on a legalization implementation compromise, Nevada legal marijuana sales begin Saturday, a pair of federal sentencing reform bills get introduced, the World Health Organization calls for global drug decriminalization, and more.

Legal marijuana sales begin a minute after midnight Saturday -- but don't light up on the Strip! (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Possible Tax Compromise in Massachusetts. House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) has said he may be willing to move away from the House's position that retail marijuana sales be taxed at 28%, more than twice the 12% envisioned in the legalization initiative and the competing Senate bill. "I suppose there could be some negotiation," he said, referring to a legislative conference committee trying to reach agreement. "I found they are having fruitful conversations, so to speak, so I am hopeful," DeLeo said.

Nevada Legal Sales Begin at 12:01 a.m,Saturday. Nevadans and visitors will be able to legally purchase marijuana as of a minute after midnight Saturday. A few dozen medical marijuana dispensaries have been licensed to sell their products to anyone 21 and over with a proper ID as a stopgap measure before the recreational marijuana sales system goes online next year, and at least some of them will be open Saturday night to take advantage of the commencement of early legal sales. But tourists in particular will have to figure out where to smoke it -- there's no smoking on the strip, in casinos, or hotel rooms.

Medical Marijuana

Nevada Dispensaries Get Tougher Regulations on Edibles as Legal Sales Loom. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) Monday signed a Taxation Department emergency regulation that will impose tougher regulations beginning Saturday, the same day legal recreational pot sales through dispensaries begins. Under the new regulations, edibles can't contain more than 10 milligrams of THC per dose or 100 per package, they can't resemble lollipops or other products marketed to children, they can't look like real or fictional characters or cartoons, and they can't have images of cartoon characters, action figures, toys, balloons or mascots on the packaging.

Sentencing

Cory Booker Files Bill to Encourage States to Reduce Prison Populations. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has filed Senate Bill 1458, "to establish a grant program to incentivize states to reduce prison populations, and for other purposes." The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Keith Ellison Files Bill to Defelonize Drug Possession, End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) has filed House Resolution 3074, "to reclassify certain low-level felonies as misdemeanors, to eliminate the increased penalties for cocaine offenses where the cocaine involved is cocaine base, to reinvest in our communities, and for other purposes. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

International

UN World Health Organization Calls for Global Drug Decriminalization. The call came in a joint United Nations statement on ending discrimination in health care. One way that nations can do that, WHO said, is by: "Reviewing and repealing punitive laws that have been proven to have negative health outcomes and that counter established public health evidence. These include laws that criminalize or otherwise prohibit gender expression, same sex conduct, adultery and other sexual behaviors between consenting adults; adult consensual sex work; drug use or possession of drugs for personal use; sexual and reproductive health care services, including information; and overly broad criminalization of HIV non-disclosure, exposure or transmission."

Human Rights Watch Calls Duterte's First Year a Human Rights Calamity. The New York-based human rights watchdog said Wednesday Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's first year in office was "a human rights calamity" with thousands of people killed in Duterter's war on drugs. "President Duterte took office promising to protect human rights, but has instead spent his first year in office as a boisterous instigator for an unlawful killing campaign," Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch said in a statement. "Duterte has supported and incited 'drug war' killings while retaliating against those fearless enough to challenge his assault on human rights," he added. Human Rights Watch also slammed Duterte for subjecting critics of his anti-drug campaign to harassment, intimidation, and even arrest. "A UN-led international investigation is desperately needed to help stop the slaughter and press for accountability for Duterte's human rights catastrophe," the group said.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Deputies disgrace themselves and more. Let's get to it:

In Clovis, New Mexico, a now former Curry County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Friday for allegedly stealing methamphetamine while on the job. Brandon Nolen reportedly made a March 20 traffic stop and seized about four grams of meth, a gun, and drug paraphernalia. Days later, Nolen, who had to undergo drug testing because of an earlier "alcohol problem," then tested positive for amphetamines. That's when investigators discovered the meth he had seized was gone from the evidence locker. Now, the DA's office says it has had to dismiss more than 30 cases brought by Nolen. He is charged with meth possession, perjury, and tampering with public records.

In Belle Plaine, Minnesota, a Sibley County sheriff's deputy was charged Monday with drug and trespassing offenses after being seen at the sheriff's office while on paid administrative leave and then leading deputies on a chase before stopping and being found with prescription drugs. Deputy Jason David Ruehling is suspected of stealing the pills from the evidence room, but so far is only charged with a felony count of drug possession and two counts of trespassing.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, a former Drew County sheriff's deputy was sentenced last Friday to five years' probation after pleading guilty to scheming to plant methamphetamine on someone in order to make an arrest. Robert "Bo" Sunderlin, 26, went down after telling someone about the plot and that someone ratted him out to authorities. He pleaded guilty to using a communication device in the commission of a drug offense and abuse of office. A charge of methamphetamine solicitation was dropped as part of the plea agreement.

In San Diego, a US Border Patrol agent pleaded guilty last Thursday to smuggling backpacks he believed were full of drugs across the border. Noe Lopez, a 10-year veteran, struck up a friendship with a man he met at a party and bragged about how could smuggle drugs left at strategic points along the border fence, but the guy he bragged to went to the DEA, which set up a sting where Lopez would be paid $500 per kilo of meth and $1,000 per kilo of cocaine in backpacks he picked up at the border. The drugs were fake, but Lopez was really arrested. He pleaded guilty to attempted possession of meth and cocaine.

How Reefer Madness Helped Kill Philando Castile

The Minnesota cop who was acquitted last week of killing Philando Castile used the fact that he smelled marijuana in the car as part of his defense. Whether Officer Jeronimo Yanez really believed Castile's presumed pot use made him more dangerous or whether the testimony influenced the jury's decision to acquit remains unknown, but its use in his defense illustrates the enduring power of the demonization of the plant and its users.

Castile's killing last year sparked angry demonstrations and made national headlines after his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, live streamed the immediate aftermath of the shooting on Facebook, with a bloodied, mortally wounded Castile moaning as Reynolds says "That police just killed my boyfriend, he's licensed, and he was trying to get his wallet out of his pocket, and he let the officer know he had a firearm and he was reaching for his wallet, and the officer just shot him in his arm."

In the video, Yanez is visibly agitated: "I told him not to reach for it; I told him to get hand up!" he yells.

"You told him to get his ID, sir," Reynolds responds, as her four-year-old daughter in the back seat attempts to comfort her. "Oh my God. Please don't tell me he's dead. Please don't tell me my boyfriend just went like that."

Castile did go just like that, though. He was pronounced dead at the Hennepin County Medical Center 20 minutes after Yanez opened fire, shooting seven bullets at him.

Dashcam video from Yanez's patrol car, not released until Tuesday, shows that it only took 30 seconds before Yanez opened fire.

(Click here to watch the video on YouTube.)

Yanez didn't mention marijuana in Reynolds' video, but in court transcripts of his testimony, Yanez said he opened fire on Castile in part because he could smell marijuana -- and he assumed that Castile had been using it in front of the child.

"I thought I was gonna die and I thought if he's -- if he has the guts and audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five-year-old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke, and the front seat passenger doing the same thing, then what -- what care does he give about me?" Yanez said.

The argument apparently is that smoking pot in front of kids makes you a stone cold killer. Never mind the hyperbole of "risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her second-hand smoke," in Yanez's mind, someone who would smoke pot around kids is not only endangering their lives, but would be willing to kill a cop over a pot charge or a broken taillight (the original reason for the traffic stop), and that justifies pumping Castile full of lead.

Police did later find traces of marijuana in the vehicle, and defense attorneys used that and the marijuana smell to also insinuate that Castile was so high he was slow to comply with Yanez's demands. That made Yanez even more suspicious, the defense claimed.

But Yanez's claims about secondhand smoke border on the bizarre. Yes, ingesting secondhand pot smoke can be harmful, but secondhand smoke is quite different from intent to harm a police officer. And the most notorious source of unwanted secondhand smoke is cigarettes, yet no one insinuates that smoking them around kids makes you more likely to be a cop-killer. Yanez and his defense attorneys were singing a Reefer Madness tune with this claim.

Despite Yanez's claims and phobias, pot smokers are no more likely to behave violently than non-users, and in fact, some research shows they are less likely to. A 2014 study in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors found that marijuana use among couples was associated with lower risk of domestic violence.

Philando Castile was black. That was strike one. He was armed (and admitted it). That was strike two. And he was a pot smoker. That was strike three. Reefer Madness, either in the mind of Officer Yanez or the minds of the jurors, or both, helped kill Phil Castile.

Marijuana Legalization Dramatically Cuts Traffic Stop Searches

In states where marijuana has been legalized, traffic stops resulting in searches by state police are down dramatically, according to a new analysis from the Marshall Project and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

With marijuana possession being legal, police in legal states can no longer assume criminal activity merely because of the presence of pot, which would have given them probable cause to conduct a search. And that means fewer interactions between drivers and police, reducing the prospect of dangerous -- or even deadly -- clashes.

But even though the number of searches dropped for all racial groups, black and brown drivers are still being subjected to searches at a higher rate than whites, the study found. And because the report only studied state police (Highway Patrol) stops, not stops by local law enforcement, which patrols urban areas with higher minority population concentrations, it may understate the racial disparity in traffic stop searches.

The report is based on an analysis of data from researchers at Stanford University, who released a report this week studying some 60 million state patrol stops in 31 states between 2011 and 2015, the most thorough look yet at national traffic stop data. The results from the legal pot states of Colorado and Washington are striking.

In Colorado, the number of traffic stop searches dropped by nearly two-thirds for whites, 58% for Hispanics, and nearly half for blacks. In Washington, the search rate dropped by about 25% for whites and Hispanics, and 34% for African-Americans.

Still, racial disparities in search rates persisted in both states. In Colorado, the search rate for black drivers was 3.3 times that for whites, and the rate for Hispanic drivers was 2.7 times that for whites. In Washington, blacks were twice as likely to be searched as whites, while the search rate for Hispanics was 1.7 times that of whites.

The traffic stop search data parallels what happened with marijuana arrests in legal states. In Colorado, for instance, a 2016 Department of Public Safety report found that while the number of pot arrests dropped by nearly half after legalization, the arrest rate for blacks was still nearly three times that of whites.

"Legalizing marijuana is not going to solve racial disparities," said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado. "We need to do a lot more before we get at that."

But legalizing marijuana does reduce the number of traffic stop searches, and given the fraught relationship between police and the citizenry, especially communities of color, that is a good thing in itself.

Medical Marijuana Update

An initiative campaign is getting underway in Utah, Florida's governor signs medical marijuana implementation into law, and more.

Arkansas

On Monday, the state announced it will begin accepting medical marijuana applications this week. The state Medical Marijuana Commission will begin accepting applications from potential medical marijuana growers and distributors as of this Friday, while the state Health Department will begin accepting applications from patients the same day.

Florida

Last Friday, the governor signed medical marijuana implementation bills into law. Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Senate Bill 6A and Senate Bill 8A, which formalize the voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana in the state and set up regulations for the new industry.

Utah

On Monday, advocates began a medical marijuana inititiative campaign. Medical marijuana supporters organized as the Utah Patients Coalition delivered a proposed initiative to the lieutenant governor's office. Frustrated by the state legislature's refusal to enact a medical marijuana law, the coalition wants to take the issue directly to voters. To qualify for the November 2018 ballot, supporters must hold at least seven public hearings around the state and collect 113,000 valid voter signatures. The measure would not allow smoking medical marijuana and the number of medical marijuana facilities would be limited. It creates a list of specified qualifying conditions.

On Tuesday, a new poll showed strong support for medical marijuana, even among Mormons. Just a day after the Utah Patient Coalition took initial steps to put an initiative on the November 2018 ballot, a poll it sponsored showed that 73% of Utah voters support the initiative, with only 20% opposed. Support came from all demographic groups, including active Mormons, 63% of whom said they were in favor.

Also on Tuesday, the Mormon Church came out in opposition to the initiative. The powerful Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) has come out in opposition to a medical marijuana initiative filed this week by the Utah Patients Coalition. The church acknowledged ongoing interest in medical marijuana and said it supported further research but argued that approval of medical marijuana should come after "the FDA approval process that all other drugs must go through before they are prescribed to patients."

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

Chronicle AM: IL Passes Forfeiture Reform, House Heroin Task Force Proposals, More... (6/28/17)

Utah's new medical marijuana initiative is exposing fissures between the LDS leadership and membership, an asset forfeiture reform bill sits on the desk of Illinois' governor, a bipartisan House heroin task force releases its proposals, and more.

Utahns are ready for medical marijuana. (Harborside)
Medical Marijuana

Utah Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. Just days after the Utah Patient Coalition took initial steps to put an initiative on the November 2018 ballot, a poll it sponsored showed that 73% of Utah voters support the initiative, with only 20% opposed. Support came from all demographic groups, including active Mormons, 63% of whom said they were in favor.

Mormon Church Opposes Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative. The powerful Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) has come out in opposition to a medical marijuana initiative filed this week by the Utah Patients Coalition. The church acknowledged ongoing interest in medical marijuana and said it supported further research but argued that approval of medical marijuana should come after "the FDA approval process that all other drugs must go through before they are prescribed to patients."

Asset Forfeiture

Illinois Legislature Passes Asset Forfeiture Reform. The legislature last Friday gave final approval to an asset forfeiture reform measure, House Bill 303, that raises the standard of evidence for seizures from probable cause to a preponderance of the evidence and bars seizures of under $500 in most drug cases. The bill does not, however, require a criminal conviction before a seizure can occur -- a sop to prosecutors and law enforcement groups who lobbied for that provision to be dropped. The bill now awaits action from Gov. Bruce Rauner (R).

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

House Bipartisan Heroin Task Force Releases Proposals. A bipartisan group of House members released a raft of proposals Tuesday aimed at fighting the nation's drug problems as "an American issue," not a partisan one. The package of bills from the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force includes increased funding for drug-screening gear at the border, studies on the effects of synthetic drug use, greater flexibility for use of health savings accounts, and creation of treatment centers for infants exposed to opioids during their mothers pregnancy.

International

Georgia Parliament Takes Up Drug Decriminalization. The Parliamentary Health Committee has introduced a bill to decriminalize the possession of all drugs that was developed by the National Drug Policy Platform, a grouping of more than 40 NGOs. The bill would annul the country's much-criticized strict 2007 drug law, as well as making changes to at least 10 criminal and administrative laws. The core principle behind the bill is to shift the country's drug policy away from a criminal justice approach, treating drug use instead as a public health issue. Earlier this month, parliament gave initial approval to marijuana decriminalization. Both pot decrim and broader drug decrim should be addressed during parliament's looming autumn session.

Chronicle AM: Key MJ Issues Dividing MA Pols, Some Coca Diverted, Says Morales, More... (6/27/17):

Massachusetts lawmakers are slugging it out over what legalization will look like this week, Bolivia's president acknowledges and decries the diversion of coca to the black market, and more.

Evo acknowledges and decries the diversion of Bolivian coca to the black market, and says he enjoys coca flour. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Implementation: What Divides the House and Senate. As legislators work this week to seek compromise between competing legalization implementation bills passed by the House and Senate, six major issues are at play. They are: tax levels (the House wants more), whether localities need to put marijuana bans to a popular vote, expungement of past marijuana convictions (the House doesn't address it; the Senate does), governance structures, safety and packaging regulations, and racial equity provisions.

Virginia Marijuana Driving Law Goes Into Effect on Saturday. A law that ends automatic drivers' license suspensions for marijuana offenders goes into effect Saturday. Instead, judges will have the option of ordering community service instead of license suspension for marijuana offenders who were not behind the wheel when busted.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Kentucky Tighter Opioid Prescribing Rules Go Into Effect Friday. A new law restricting the prescribing of Schedule II opioids goes into effect Friday. Under the new law, patients being treated for acute pain will be prescribed no more than a three-day supply, with a number of specified exceptions.

International

Bolivia's Morales Acknowledges, Decries Coca Being Diverted to Black Market. In his closing remarks at last weekend's Coca Fair in Cochabamba, Bolivian President Evo Morales acknowledged and decried the diversion of coca into the cocaine black market. "Unfortunately, part of the coca crop goes to an illegal coca market in the West," Morales said. He also called for continued coca industrialization, saying it would bring economic benefits to Bolivia, and revealed that he consumes coca flour daily. "I'm not ashamed, since last year I have eaten coca flour twice a day, that's how I can build up my stamina," he said.

Chronicle AM: Koch Bros Critical of Trump Drug Policies, FL Drug Treatment Fraud, More... (6/26/17)

Florida's medical marijuana regulatory system is now set, the conservative Koch network has some issues with Trump drug war policies, Support Don't Punish marches are going on worldwide, there's something rotten in the Florida drug treatment complex, and more.

Demonstrators took to the streets in more than 200 cities around the globe Monday to call for drug reforms.
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators to Revisit On-Site Consumption Next Month. The state Marijuana Control Board will look at three different options for on-site marijuana use at its meeting next month. One proposal would allow people to try marijuana at retail shops before leaving. Another proposal would allow consumption of edibles, but wouldn't allow smoking. A third proposal would limit on-site use to pot purchased at the site. But none of it is likely to happen before 2018, since the matter won't come up for a vote until August, and there's a 30-day public comment period after that.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas to Begin Accepting Medical Marijuana Applications. The state Medical Marijuana Commission will begin accepting applications from potential medical marijuana growers and distributors as of this Friday, while the state Health Department will begin accepting applications from patients the same day.

Florida Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Implementation Bills. Gov. Rick Scott last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 6A and Senate Bill 8A, which formalize the voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana in the state and set up regulations for the new industry.

Utah Advocates Begin Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign. Medical marijuana supporters organized as the Utah Patients Coalition delivered a proposed initiative to the lieutenant governor's office Monday. Frustrated by the state legislature's refusal to enact a medical marijuana law, the coalition wants to take the issue directly to voters. To qualify for the November 2018 ballot, supporters must hold at least seven public hearings around the state and collect 113,000 valid voter signatures. The measure would not allow smoking medical marijuana and the number of medical marijuana facilities would be limited. It creates a list of specified qualifying conditions.

Drug Policy

Koch Network Critical of Trump Administration on Drug Policy. The conservative Koch brothers political network isn't happy with Trump administration drug policy. At a meeting in Colorado over the weekend, one of the network's top leaders, Mark Holden, decried the administration's return to "the harsh sentencing era of the war on drugs" and added that "You are never going to win the war on drugs. Drugs won." Holden went on to criticize Attorney General Sessions' directive to reevaluate marijuana policies, saying "it's legal in a number of states, so we have to come to grips with that somehow" and that medical marijuana should be "off limits" in any federal crackdown.

Drug Treatment

Florida's Billion Dollar Drug Treatment Industry is Plagued With Fraud and Overdoses. An NBC News investigative report has found crooked treatment centers have created an "insurance fraud mill" by partnering with "body brokers" and operators of "sober homes" to find patients with good health insurance and then billing insurance companies tens of thousands of dollars "for often questionable counseling, costly and potentially unnecessary drug screens, and exotic laboratory tests." And some treatment centers actually encourage drug use because for them, relapse doesn't mean failure, it means more profits.

International

Thousands Take to Streets in Global Drug Reform Day of Action. Thousands of people took to the streets in more than 200 cities in more than 90 countries as part of the Support Don't Punish campaign's "Global Day of Action." Events range from concerts and debates in Belgium, to a float parade and dialogue with parliamentarians in Ghana, a capacity building workshop for religious leaders in Mauritius, drug user and NGO gatherings in Malaysia, Lithuania, Canada and Australia, street art in Portugal, Bolivia, Ecuador and Montenegro, a 250km bike tour to sensitize the general public in India, a football tournament between people who use drugs and service providers in Morocco, the launch of a global call in support for harm reduction in Brazil, and much, much more.

One Year Later, Philippines Drug War Has Killed Thousands, Yet Meth is Cheaper. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte took power last June 30 and immediately embarked on a brutal campaign to end drug abuse that has left an estimated 9,000 people dead, but the street price of meth has fallen and Filipinos are still as anxious as ever about crime. "If prices have fallen, it's an indication that enforcement actions have not been effective," said Gloria Lai of the International Drug Policy Consortium, a global network of non-governmental groups focused on narcotics.

Watch: Minnesota Drug Task Force Cop Assaults Motorist

Worthington, Minnesota, resident Anthony Promvongsa, 21, had a run-in with an angry motorist as he drove through the streets of town last July 28. Promvongsa went on his way, but that agitated motorist -- who turned out to be an off-duty cop -- called on his colleagues to go after the young man, and this is what happened:

(Click here to watch the video on YouTube.)

The cop doing the cursing, kicking, and punching in the video is Agent Joe Joswiak, a city of Worthington police officer and a member of the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force.

"I had no idea what was going on when I was approached and attacked by this officer," Promvongsa said in a statement released Thursday by the ACLU. "I did not even have the opportunity to take off my seatbelt before I was literally blindsided with this unnecessary attack. I immediately pulled over for the Worthington squad car and before I knew what was happening, I was beat and ripped from my vehicle."

"I know I am not the first person to have this type of traumatic experience with law enforcement in Worthington," Promvongsa added.

Not only did Joswiak brutalize the young man, he and local prosecutors then charged Promvongsa with multiple felonies over the alleged traffic incident. He faces charges of fleeing in a motor vehicle and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon (his car), but, as the ACLU notes, "no matter what happened before the dashcam video began rolling, Anthony did not deserve to be abused by the police in this way."

Joswiak claims that Provongsa refused his order to leave the car, but the video makes clear Joswiak never gave him any chance to do so. Instead, the ACLU notes, "it shows a textbook case of excessive force."

There was no mention of any drug offense in original police reports, although police searched Promvongsa's vehicle after assaulting him. Later in the video, Joswiak can be heard hopefully asking Promvongsa "Have you been in trouble with narcotics?" He received a negative response.

The ACLU says it and Promvongsa are weighing their options, and calls on the Worthington Police and the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force "to immediately investigate the incident, take all appropriate personnel actions, and ensure this never happens again." It also calls for Agent Joswiak to be "held accountable for his actions, up to and including termination and prosecution."

The ACLU's concern that "this never happens again" suggests that it has happened before. "Based on additional complaints that we are receiving, this does not appear to be an isolated incident," the ACLU said. "Rather, there's evidence that racial profiling and police brutality are systemic problems that span the Worthington Police Department, Nobles County Sheriff's Office, and the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force as Worthington becomes a much more diverse city."

The incident has drawn the attention of US Rep. Tim Walz, who represents the area. "Like many Minnesotans, I found the video released today deeply disturbing," he said in a statement Thursday. "I have had a chance to speak with local officials and leaders in the community and believe all parties are passionate in pursuing justice. I will continue closely monitoring this situation. Addressing situations like this one in our communities and in Minnesota is an absolute necessity and we are all in this together."

The Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force, Worthington Police Department and the Nobles County Attorney's Office issued a joint press release Thursday afternoon that amounted to hunkering down and evading the issue of excessive force altogether.

"The July 28, 2016 video released by ACLU is one piece of evidence in a pending criminal case," the release begins. "Release and discussion of evidence in pending criminal cases is limited by the data practices law and criminal court procedural rules. The video, viewed in a vacuum, shows only a short segment of the incident that is the basis of the criminal charges."

"Because the case is now awaiting a jury trial date, the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force, Worthington Police Department and the Nobles County Attorney's office feel it is inappropriate to comment further."

The Buffalo Ridge Drug Task force lauds itself for "aggressive enforcement" and brags about "seizures of vehicles, firearms, jewelry, and large amounts of cash." But now it's becoming known nationwide because of the "aggressive enforcement" actions of one of its officers.

Worthington, MN
United States

Chronicle AM: RI, VT to Study Legalization, Some NV Rec Sales to Begin July 1, More... (6/23/17)

After marijuana legalization comes up short this year, Vermont and Rhode Island will both have study commissions to examine the issue, Nevada's governor finds a way to get recreational sales going next week, Cuba says no to legal weed, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Study Finds No Increase in Traffic Fatalities After Marijuana Legalization. A study published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health finds that vehicle crash fatality rates in Colorado and Washington were similar to those of control states both before and after the two states legalized marijuana. The study concluded: "Three years after recreational marijuana legalization, changes in motor vehicle crash fatality rates for Washington and Colorado were not statistically different from those in similar states without recreational marijuana legalization." (Another study was reported the previous day, which by contrast found increased collision claims.)

Massachusetts Legislature Names Conference Committee to Hammer Out Differences on Marijuana Bill. Legislative leaders on Friday named a six-member House-Senate conference committee to try to come up with a compromise bill to implement voter-approved marijuana legalization after the House formally rejected the Senate's version of the bill. The House version had higher taxes and allowed localities to ban pot businesses without a popular vote; the Senate version didn't.

Nevada Governor Signs Executive Order to Let Recreational Sales Begin July 1. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) has signed an executive order creating an emergency regulation that will allow the state to issue recreational retail licenses next week even if it doesn't approve the distribution licenses caught up in a court battle. Under the emergency regulations, medical marijuana dispensaries could sell surplus product for recreational use effective July 1.

Rhode Island Gives Up on Legal Marijuana This Year, Will Create Study Commission Instead. Both the House and the Senate have now passed bills that would set up a 19-member joint legislative commission to study the effect of legalizing marijuana. The House already approved identical legislation, so only a final concurrence vote on Senate Bill 277A in the House remains.

Vermont Governor Will Appoint Commission to Study Legal Marijuana. Just a day after House Republicans blocked a last-ditch effort to get marijuana legalization passed this year, Gov. Phil Scott (R) announced Thursday he will appoint a commission to study legalization in the state. Last month, Scott vetoed a legalization bill that had passed both chambers, saying he had public safety concerns. A revamped bill addressing those concerns got through the Senate, but was snuffed out when the House refused to waive rules to allow a vote on it.

International

Cuba Says Marijuana Legalization is Fueling Drug Trafficking. The secretary of the Cuban National Drugs Commission said Friday that it will not follow the regional trend toward the liberalization of marijuana laws and that that trend is fueling drug trafficking. "Cuba is facing a very difficult situation at the moment with regards to drug trafficking," Antonio Israel Ibarra said at a news conference. "Firstly because in Latin America and the Caribbean, there is a group of countries trying to legalize, or that has legalized, the use of marijuana. We have not legalized it, nor will we."

Chronicle AM: Americans Want Trump to Leave MJ States Alone, MA Legal MJ Battle, More... (6/22/17)

The Massachusetts House and Senate have different ideas about how to implement marijuana legalization, a new poll finds a strong majority of Americans want Trump to butt out of legal marijuana states, Wisconsin Gov. Rick Walker's Medicaid drug testing plan has virtually no public support, and more.

They're battling in Boston over the shape of legal marijuana in Massachusetts. (MPP)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: Strong Majority of Americans Want Trump to Respect State Marijuana Laws. A new Survey USA poll commissioned by Marijuana Majority finds that a whopping 76% of Americans want the Trump administration to respect state medical marijuana and marijuana legalization lies. There was majority support for the position about Democrats, Republicans, independents, and every age group. The 76% figure is three points higher than in a Quinnipiac poll asking a similar question in April.

Auto Insurance Study Links Increased Car Crash Claims to Legalized Marijuana. The Highway Loss Data Institute, an insurance research group, released a study Thursday saying collision claims increased 2.7% in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington after legalization when compared to neighboring non-legal states. "We believe that the data is saying that crash risk has increased in these states and those crash risks are associated with the legalization of marijuana," said Matt Moore, senior vice president with the institute, which analyzes insurance data to observe emerging auto-safety trends. But legalization advocates pointed out that comparing claims in largely rural states such as Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming to rates in more urbanized Colorado, Oregon, and Washington may be problematic.

Massachusetts House Passes Bill to Repeal and Replace Voter-Approved Legalization Law. The House on Wednesday approved a bill that would raise the retail tax on marijuana from 12% to 28%, impose stringent background checks and fingerprinting for all people who own or work in licensed marijuana-related businesses, and allow localities to ban marijuana businesses without first getting voter approval. The Senate is poised to take up its own version of the bill with more modest revisions to the voter-approved law, setting the stage for a compromise in the coming week. Legalization advocates attacked the House bill as setting taxes too high and ignoring the will of the voters.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor's Plan to Drug Test Medicaid Recipients Has Virtually No Public Support. Gov. Scott Walker's (R) plan to drug test Medicaid recipients and increase premiums has garnered a grand total of five fully positive comments out of more than a thousand submitted by the public -- and one of them is from his own lieutenant governor. That's a support rate of one half of one percent. "Drug testing has been determined to be expensive, ineffective, and illegal," wrote Bobby Peterson, executive director of ABC for Health, a nonprofit Madison law firm that helps people get health care. "You have espoused Jesus and are embracing the devil and demons that have gained control of the political process," said another email, the name of the sender redacted. "May God have mercy on you in this time of reckoning for surely you are cursed." Walker needed to give the public 30 days to comment before seeking approval from the Trump administration to move forward with its plan.

Vermont House Republicans Kill Last Chance Marijuana Legalization Bill

Vermont will not become the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislative process, or at least it won't do so this year. House Republicans on Wednesday evening killed a last chance effort to get it done this year by refusing to take up a compromise legalization bill that had been passed by the Senate earlier in the day.

Vermont won't legalize marijuana this year. (Wikimedia)
A marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 22, had passed the legislature earlier this year, setting the state up to be the first the free the weed legislatively, only to be vetoed last month by Gov. Phil Scott (R). In his veto message, Scott said he was not philosophically opposed to legalization, claiming "a libertarian streak in me," but had public safety concerns about marijuana and driving and marijuana and kids. The veto message contained specific recommendations for crafting a bill the governor would find acceptable.

The bill passed by the Senate today, an amendment to House Bill 511, which has already passed the House, attempted to address Scott's concerns. Like S.22, it would have legalized the possession of up to an ounce and the cultivation of up to two mature and four immature pot plants by adults, but not create a legal marijuana market. Instead, it would have created a legislative study commission to develop legislation for taxed and regulated cannabis commerce.

Changes to the bill to appease the governor included giving the study commission a broader membership and extending the time given for it to issue its report, as well as stiffer penalties for driving while high, providing marijuana to children, or exposing it to them in cars. The bill didn't contain a roadside marijuana "impairment testing mechanism" desired by Scott, mainly because there are none on the market.

But all of that is moot for now. For the bill to pass during the veto session, House Republicans would have had to agree to waive normal legislative rules, but in Wednesday evening's GOP members largely refused. A motion to waive the rules needed 107 votes to pass (out of a House of 150), but with only 83 Democrats, it needed substantial support from GOP House members to pass. It didn't get it; failing on a vote of 78-63.

Vermont will not legalize marijuana in 2017, but H.511 remains alive. It can and will be taken up by the legislature when it reconvenes next year, and Vermont could still end up being the first state to legalize marijuana legislatively. It's just not happening this year.

Customs Seizes Childproof Marijuana Lock Boxes, Calls Them "Drug Paraphernalia" [FEATURE]

In a prime illustration of the perversities of the war on drugs, US Customs has seized a shipment of a thousand lock boxes aimed at allowing marijuana, tobacco, and pharmaceutical users to keep their stashes safe from kids. Customs has officially designated the boxes as drug paraphernalia, even though everyone involved concedes the boxes are aimed at preventing drug use by kids.

The stash cases were designed by and destined for Stashlogix, a Boulder, Colorado, firm established in the wake of marijuana legalization in the state in 2012 to address a mini-panic over news reports about the dangers of marijuana for kids. Those reports were generally overstated, but the need for secure stashes for pot and other potentially dangerous goodies remained.

"People didn't have ways to safely store these items out of reach of kids, other than up on shelves or in sock drawers," Stashlogix cofounder Skip Stone told the Washington Post. So he and a partner founded the company to market cases and containers "for the storage and transport of medicine, tobacco, and other stuff."

The company's small, lockable cases, with tiny jars and odor-neutralizing inserts included, were a hit with customers. "People love the product," Stone said. "They use it for all sorts of things, but cannabis is definitely one of them. They keep it locked, they feel safer, they feel more responsible."

So the company geared up production, placing orders with a Chinese factory, but things came to a crashing halt on April 28, when Customs seized 1,000 of the storage cases.

"This is to officially notify you that Customs and Border Protection seized the property described below at Los Angeles International Airport on April 28, 2017," read a letter received by Stashlogix. The agency had seized the bags, valued at $12,000, because "it is unlawful for any person to import drug paraphernalia."

Stashlogix's childproof pot lock box
When challenged by Stashlogix, Customs conceded that "standing alone, the Stashlogix storage case can be viewed as a multi-purpose storage case with no association with or to controlled substances," but it pointed out that the odor-absorbing carbon inset could be used to hide the smell of weed, and it cited favorable reviews of the product in the marijuana press, concluding "that there exists one consistent and primary use for the Stashlogix storage cases; namely, the storage and concealment of marijuana."

The federal government doesn't officially recognize the legality of medical or recreational marijuana, and Customs is following decades-old drug war paraphernalia laws to achieve a perverse result: Making marijuana potentially riskier in places where it is legal. After all, half of current pot smokers are parents, and this application of federal policy is making it more difficult for them to keep their kids out of their stashes.

Stone is appealing the ruling, but in the meantime, he's had to write off an additional $18,000 worth of goods still outside the country and lay off his three employees. He's looking for a domestic manufacturer for his cases, since Customs can't mess with domestic goods and the DEA hasn't made paraphernalia a high priority, but the ultimate solution lies in Washington.

"It's going to take an act of Congress to clear up some of these contradictions between state and federal law," he told the Post. "These paraphernalia laws are outdated. Keeping kids safe should be more important than outdated regulations."

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's a New York-New Jersey special edition! The Troy Police drug unit is under investigation, an NYPD officer gets popped for transporting drugs for money, a New Jersey cop gets caught with his hand in the pill jar, and more. Let's get to it:

In Troy, New York, the entire Troy Police drug unit was under investigation as of last Friday for trying to cover up a raid where members entered a home without a search warrant. Members of the unit filed a false burglary report to try to justify their warrantless entry resulting in a "fractious argument" among them. Now, all six officers in Firearms Interdiction and Narcotics Suppression (FINS) unit have been suspended pending the results of an internal investigation.

In Bridgeton, New Jersey, a Vineland police officer was arrested last Wednesday after allegedly pilfering drugs from a prescription drug drop-off box while on duty at police headquarters. Officer Richard Janasiak, 30, went down after an internal audit uncovered possible criminal activity. He is charged with unlawful possession of prescription legend drugs.

In New York City, an NYPD officer was arrested last Thursday for transporting marijuana and cocaine in exchange for money. Officer Nysia Stroud, 29, agreed to transport drugs after meeting with an undercover police officer in March and became transporting large quantities of supposed marijuana and cocaine for payments ranging from $250 to $1,000. Stroud was under investigation after Internal Affairs received allegations she was involved in drug activity. She was charged with possession of a controlled substance and official misconduct.

In Elizabeth, New Jersey, a former Middlesex County probation officer was sentenced last Friday to three years in prison for taking bribes from a man so he could avoid court-ordered drug tests. Rhonda Battle, 48, repeatedly accepted bribes from the probationer to allow him to skip drug testing while in the drug court program. After being caught on surveillance video taking money from the man, Battle pleaded guilty in April to a single count of official misconduct.

Medical Marijuana Update

Congress sees a pair of medical marijuana bills filed, the New York legislature has voted to approve medical marijuana for PTSD, Kentucky residents sue the state over the medical marijuana ban, and more.

National

Last Thursday, the CARERS Act was reintroduced in the Senate. US Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Corey Booker (D-NJ), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) reintroduced a bill that would end the federal prohibition of medical marijuana. Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also signed on to the legislation as original cosponsors. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (or CARERS) Act of 2017 would allow individuals and entities to possess, produce, and distribute medical marijuana if they are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. It would also open up avenues to medical marijuana research and allow physicians employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states where it is legal. The bill also proposes excluding cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana, from the federal government's definition of "marijuana."

Last Thursday, Corey Booker and Steve Cohen filed identical medical marijuana protection bills. Tennessee Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen has filed House Resolution 2920, "to extend the principle of federalism to drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana." New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker has filed a companion bill, Senate Bill 1374, in the upper chamber.

Arkansas

Last Friday, medical marijuana regulations took another key step. The Legislative Council, which serves as the legislature's governing body between sessions, approved draft rules from the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the Department of Health, and the Medical Marijuana Commission aimed at regulating the state's nascent medical marijuana system. The state will begin accepting applications for licenses to operate marijuana cultivation centers and dispensaries June 30.

Kentucky

Last Wednesday, a lawsuit challenging the state's medical marijuana ban was filed. Three Kentuckians who say they have used marijuana to ease health problems have filed a lawsuit in state court charging that banning medical marijuana violates their constitutional privacy rights. The suit names as defendants Gov. Matt Bevin (R) and Attorney General Steve Beshear (D).

Michigan

Last Thursday, lawmakers filed bills to ban medical marijuana billboard ads. State Sen. Rick Jones (R) and Rep. Andy Schor (D) have filed identical bills that would effectively ban billboard for medical marijuana businesses. The bills are Senate Bill 463 and House Bill 4767. They are not yet available on the state legislative web site.

New Mexico

Last Friday, the state nixed medical marijuana for opioid addiction and Alzheimer's. Rejecting the recommendation of the state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board, Secretary of Health Lynn Gallagher declined to add opioid use disorder and Alzheimer's as qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.

New York

On Tuesday, the Senate approved medical marijuana for PTSD. The state Senate voted to approve Senate Bill 6092, which allows medical marijuana to be used to treat PTSD. The Assembly passed an identical measure earlier this year, so the bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Pennsylvania

Last Thursday, the governor warned Attorney General Sessions not to interfere with medical marijuana. In a sharply worded letter, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) warned Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to interfere with medical marijuana in the state. "For a lot of patients, this is the only medicine that works. So for him to go after medical cannabis is kind of flying in the face of science and the facts," said a spokesman for the governor.

On Tuesday, the state issued the first medical marijuana permits. The Department of Health on Tuesday announced 12 medical marijuana grower permits, with the permits going to two companies in each of the six permitting regions the department established as part of the implementation of the state's medical marijuana law. The department will announce the allocation of 27 dispensary permits before the month ends, it said.

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

Chronicle AM: NV MJ Sales Could Be Delayed, Forfeiture Reform Goes to PA Gov, More... (6/21/17)

MPP loses bank accounts as the financial sector gets worried about a Trump crackdown on legal marijuana, Nevada's July 1 goal for legal pot sales hits a bump, a New York bill that would allow medical marijuana for PTSD goes to the governor, and more.

Las Vegas may have to wait a while longer for legal marijuana stores. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy Project Loses Bank Accounts. PNC Bank has notified the Marijuana Policy Project that it will close the group's bank accounts on July 7 in what is seen as "a sign of growing concerns in the financial industry that the Trump administration will crack down on the marijuana industry in states that have legalized it." Many financial institutions refuse to do business with marijuana companies while marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but policy groups like MPP have up until now been spared. In this case, PNC Bank said because MPP received money from marijuana businesses, it is cutting the cord.

Nevada July 1 Legal Marijuana Sales Date in Jeopardy After Court Ruling. A district judge in Carson City on Tuesday extended a temporary order barring the state from moving ahead with plans to issue marijuana distribution licenses to existing dispensaries so they can begin recreational sales on July 1. The order comes in a case brought by licensed liquor wholesalers, who say they should have exclusive rights to those licenses for the first 18 months. State officials said they remain committed to the July 1 date, but it's not clear how that's going to happen.

Medical Marijuana

New York Senate Approves Medical Marijuana for PTSD. The state Senate voted Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 6092, which allows medical marijuana to be used to treat PTSD. The Assembly passed an identical measure earlier this year, so the bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Pennsylvania Issues First Medical Marijuana Permits. The Department of Health on Tuesday announced 12 medical marijuana grower permits, with the permits going to two companies in each of the six permitting regions the department established as part of the implementation of the state's medical marijuana law. The department will announce the allocation of 27 dispensary permits before the month ends, it said.

Asset Forfeiture

Pennsylvania Legislator Passes Timid Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. With a unanimous vote in the House on Tuesday, the legislature has approved Senate Bill 8, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but does require county governments to audit all asset forfeitures by local law enforcement agencies and send reports to the state attorney general and the General Assembly each year. The bill also establishes a higher legal threshold before police can seize high-value assets such as cars and houses and bars the seizure of real estate without a hearing. The bill originally would have ended civil forfeiture, but it was amended under pressure from district attorneys to be less strict.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Legalizes MedMJ, China Bans More Synthetic Opioids, More... (6/20/17)

New Jersey pols look to legalize pot next year, Vermont pols look to legalize it this week, China bans more synthetic opioids, Mexico officially embraces medical marijuana, and more.

Medical marijuana is now officially legal in Mexico, but rules and regulations will take some time.
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a legalization measure, Senate Bill 3195, on Monday. The testimony was largely favorable, including from a former state Republican Committee head, the head of a doctors' organization favoring legalization, and from a long-time municipal prosecutor. "I believe by legalizing and regulating it and discouraging, officially as official government policy, like we do with tobacco and alcohol, we will be far better off than the status quo," prosecutor J.H. Barr told the committee. No vote was taken. The bill is strongly opposed by Gov. Chris Christie (R), but he'll be gone in January.

Vermont Legislators Will Try to Get Weed Legalized in Special Session This Week. Gov. Phil Scott (R) vetoed the legalization bill in May, saying he had public safety concerns. Supporters of legalization have come back with a bill that now has stiffer penalties for drugged driving, smoking pot in cars with kids, providing pot to kids, and selling pot in school zones -- all in a bid to win the governor's support. The bill does not include "impairment testing mechanism" requested by Scott, largely because there are no marijuana breathalyzers on the market. Scott has declined to comment on the revised bill. The special session begins Wednesday.

Harm Reduction

Boston Ponders Supervised Injection Sites. With six people a day dying of opioid overdoses in the city so far this year, the city council has set a hearing next Monday to explore the potential impact of supervised injection sites. The move comes after the Massachusetts Medical Society urged state officials to open at least two of the facilities.

International

China Bans Synthetic Opioids Linked to US Overdose Deaths. China announced on Monday that it is banning the ultra-potent synthetic opioid U-47700 and three others. The DEA says China is the chief source of synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and carfentanil, which China has already banned. U-47700, MT-45, PMMA, and 4,4-DMAR will be added to the country's list of controlled substances as of July 1, said Deng Ming, deputy director of the National Narcotics Control Commission.

Mexico Legalizes Medical Marijuana. President Enrique Pena Nieto issued a decree on Monday officially legalizing medical marijuana in the country. Legislation authorizing medical marijuana sailed through the Senate in December and passed the lower house on a 347-7 vote in April. Now, the Ministry of Health will be tasked with drafting and implementing rules and regulations.

Chronicle AM: Roger Stone Wants to Legalize, MA Regulation Battle, More... (6/19/17)

The politics of marijuana regulation continue to roil Massachusetts, Trump adviser and political trickster Roger Stone has formed a legalization lobbying group, the government of the Republic of Georgia backs away from harsh pot sentences, and more.

What is political trickster Roger Stone up to? (alternet.org)
Marijuana Policy

Trump Associate Roger Stone Forms Legalization Lobbying Group. Longtime political trickster and Donald Trump associate Roger Stone announced last Friday that he has formed the United States Cannabis Coalition for the express purpose of legalizing marijuana. He will be joined by former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura (I), as well as both Democratic and Republican political strategists. "I am going to be working with a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, progressives and libertarians, liberals, and conservatives to persuade the president to keep his campaign pledge," Stone said, "and to remind the president that he took a strong and forthright position on this issue in the election." During the campaign, Trump said marijuana legalization should be a state issue and that he was "100%" behind medical marijuana.

Massachusetts Senate Plan Would Not Raise Taxes. State Sen. Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville) last Friday released the Senate's plan to implement marijuana legalization, a sharp contrast with the House bill that would raise the tax rate on marijuana from 12% to 28% and allow local elected officials to ban pot businesses. Jehlen's bill would keep the tax rate at the 12% envisioned by last fall's successful initiative. "A high tax rate is not the will of the voters," she said after releasing the outline of the Senate bill. "You want to start low enough to make the legal market catch hold." The two bills should pass their respective houses and go to conference committee later this month.

Mobile Retreats from Decriminalization Ordinance. Mobile, Alabama, Mayor Sandy Stimpson has requested that discussion of a municipal ordinance to decriminalize marijuana possession be withdrawn from the agenda for Tuesday's city council meeting. The reason for the withdrawal is unclear, but the topic has been controversial with law enforcement and city staff.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Regulations Take Another Key Step. The Legislative Council, which serves as the legislature's governing body between sessions, last Friday approved draft rules from the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the Department of Health, and the Medical Marijuana Commission aimed at regulating the state's nascent medical marijuana system. The state will begin accepting applications for licenses to operate marijuana cultivation centers and dispensaries June 30.

New Mexico Nixes Medical Marijuana for Opioid Addiction, Alzheimer's. Rejecting the recommendation of the state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board, Secretary of Health Lynn Gallagher declined to add opioid use disorder and Alzheimer's as qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.

International

After Protests, Georgia Marijuana Reform Bill Filed. The government has filed a bill in parliament that would end prison sentences for the possession, cultivation, or sale of less than 70 grams (a bit more than a quarter-pound) of marijuana. The move comes after mass protests last weekend over the arrests of two rappers on what are widely believed to be trumped-up marijuana charges for releasing videos critical of police. The bill would also slash by nearly half prison sentences for marijuana offenses involving larger quantities.

Chronicle AM: MJ Policy Keeps Northeast Busy, Major Louisiana Sentencing Reforms, More.... (6/16/17)

Marijuana policy continues to roil statehouses across the Northeast, a US senator and a congressman file identical medical marijuana protection bills, Louisiana -- the lock 'em up state -- enacts comprehensive sentencing reforms, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts to Get New Legalization Rewrite Bill on Monday. After criticism and errors in the text force the House leadership to pull its marijuana legalization rewrite bill this week, House committee chair Rep. Mark Cusack (D-Braintree) said a redrafted version of the bill would be released on Monday, with debate expected in the House on Wednesday. At issue are tax rates and a governance model for the industry.

New Jersey Arresting More People Than Ever for Marijuana, ACLU Report Finds. Marijuana arrests have climbed steadily in the state in recent years, with black residents three times more likely than whites to be targeted. The report, which analyzed FBI Uniform Crime Report and U.S. Census data from 2000 to 2013, comes as lawmakers are making a push to legalize marijuana in the state. The report found a steady increase in marijuana arrests over that period, from 19,607 in 2001 to 24,067 in 2013.

Rhode Island Legalization Advocates Offer Compromise Bill. Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston), along with Regulate Rhode Island, have outlined a compromise bill that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana starting July 1, 2018, with an advisory board to study the effects of legalization and report to the General Assembly next year on setting up a taxed and regulated system of marijuana commerce. Assembly leaders are pushing a bill that would defer legalization until a legislative commission studies the issue.

Vermont Governor Says Legalization Deal Still Possible. Gov. Phil Scott said Thursday an agreement with legislators on marijuana legalization is still possible this year. Scott vetoed the legalization bill last month, citing concerns about drugged driving and children. "We are still negotiating," Scott said. "They understand... what my reservations are in terms of what they're planning, but I still think it's workable." If an agreement is reached, House Republicans would have to agree to suspend the rules of the veto session to allow a vote on the pot bill. They do not sound very interested in that, but Scott has said that if he can reach agreement on a bill, he will try to persuade his GOP colleagues to allow a vote.

Medical Marijuana

Corey Booker, Steve Cohen File Identical Medical Marijuana Protection Bills. Tennessee Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen has filed House Resolution 2920, "to extend the principle of federalism to drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana." New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker has filed a companion bill, Senate Bill 1374, in the upper chamber.

Michigan Lawmakers File Medical Marijuana Billboard Ad Ban Bills. State Sen. Rick Jones (R) and Rep. Andy Schor (D) have filed identical bills that would effectively ban billboard for medical marijuana businesses. The bills are Senate Bill 463 and House Bill 4767. They are not yet available on the state legislative web site.

Pennsylvania Governor Warns Session Against Interfering with Medical Marijuana. In a sharply worded letter, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) warned Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to interfere with medical marijuana in the state. "For a lot of patients, this is the only medicine that works. So for him to go after medical cannabis is kind of flying in the face of science and the facts," said a spokesman for the governor.

Criminal Justice

Louisiana Enacts Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reforms. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) on Thursday signed a package of 10 bills that shrink sentences, mostly for nonviolent offenders, and expand parole and probation and reentry opportunities for offenders. The state has the highest proportion of its population behind bars of any state, but Edwards predicts that the new laws will see the state's prison population falling by as much as 10% in the next decade. The bills are House Bills 116, 249, 489, 519, 680 681 and Senate Bills 16, 139, 220, 221. They can be viewed at the state legislative website.

International

British Columbia Court Throws Out Mandatory Minimums for Marijuana Producers. The BC Court of Appeals last week threw out the mandatory minimum sentence for people caught producing more than six marijuana plants, saying the law mandating it was unconstitutional. "I note that a six-month sentence is typical for a first-time trafficker involved in a relatively sophisticated commercial dial-a-dope operation. Imposing that sentence on a 19-year-old student or a migraine sufferer who is growing six plants intending to share them with friends would, in my view, be abhorrent to most Canadians," the trial court judge held, instead giving the man a suspended sentence. The government appealed, and lost last week.

Chronicle AM: Federal CARERS Act Refiled, RI Legalization Commission Bill Advances, More... (6/15/17)

A bipartisan group of senators reintroduce the CARERS Act to protect medical marijuana in the states, marijuana legalization is keeping legislators busy in the Northeast, New York GOP senators want more drug war to fight opioids, and more.

Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is among a bipartisan group of senators who reintroduced the CARERS Act today. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legal MJ Rewrite Bill Delayed By Errors, Concern at High Tax Rates. House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) has postponed a vote on the legislature's rewrite of the marijuana legalization law approved by voters last fall after errors in the drafting of the bill and the high tax rate proposed -- 28% -- drew protests from Democratic lawmakers. "I think there are certain things that we have to clear up, so because of that, I think it's important that with a bill of this mag that we try to get it right or close to right this first time, so I'd rather do that than try to rush it through," DeLeo said, adding that there was a consensus among Democrats on the basics of the bill.

New Jersey Legalization Bill Gets Hearing Monday. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Monday morning on Senate Bill 3195, which legalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana and sets up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. The Drug Policy Alliance has expressed "concern" that the bill "does not include essential components to create a fair and equitable marijuana market in New Jersey." Such legislation must include polices to repair past harms to minority communities, DPA said.

Rhode Island Legalization Study Commission Bill Passes House. A bill that creates a legislative commission to study marijuana legalization -- instead of just legalizing it -- passed the House Wednesday night. House Bill 551A now heads to the Senate. Regulate Rhode Island, the main advocacy group for legalization, has said it will not participate in the commission, which it describes as a delaying tactic.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Bill to End Federal Prohibition of Medical Marijuana Reintroduced in US Senate. US Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Corey Booker (D-NJ), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) reintroduced a bill Thursday that would end the federal prohibition of medical marijuana. Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also signed on to the legislation as original cosponsors. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (or CARERS) Act of 2017 would allow individuals and entities to possess, produce, and distribute medical marijuana if they are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. It would also open up avenues to medical marijuana research and allow physicians employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states where it is legal. The bill also proposes excluding cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana, from the federal government's definition of "marijuana."

Kentucky Lawsuit Challenges State's Medical Marijuana Ban. Three Kentuckians who say they have used marijuana to ease health problems have filed a lawsuit in state court charging that banning medical marijuana violates their constitutional privacy rights. The suit names as defendants Gov. Matt Bevin (R) and Attorney General Steve Beshear (D).

Rhode Island Governor Proposes Medical Marijuana Expansion. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has proposed a budget amendment that calls for "no less than six licensed compassion centers" and increased licensing fees that would generate $1.5 in revenues for the state's general fund. There are three existing dispensaries, which would each be allowed to open one more store front, plus the three additional ones proposed.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Republicans Want More Drug War to Fight Opioids. A Republican Senate task force says that adding funding for addiction treatment is good, but that it's time to increase heroin penalties "to get dealers off the street." The senators are proposing charging dealers with murder if one of their customers dies and increasing penalties based on the weight of the drugs sold. Assembly Democrats rejected the idea, calling the approach one that's been "tried and failed." The Assembly killed a similar approach last year.

Drug War Issues

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