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Drug War Chronicle

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NE Supreme Court Throws Out MedMJ Init, Bipartisan Federal Bail Reform for Drugs Bill, More... (9/11/20)

The Nebraska Supreme Court blocks the state from voting on a medical marijuana initiative, both houses of the Virginia legislature pass marijuana expungement bills, and more.

A new federal bill would ease bail requirements for drug offenses. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Legislature Passes Marijuana Expungement Bills. Both the state Senate and the House approved bills this week that would allow people with prior marijuana convictions to clear their records. The House passed its bill, HB 5146, Wednesday; the Senate followed suit with SB 5043 Thursday. The House bill has now been sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now, the two chambers have to negotiate their differences to get an expungement bill to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam (D).

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Supreme Court Invalidates Proposed 2020 Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative. The state's highest court ruled Friday that the medical marijuana initiative set to go before voters in November will not appear on the ballot because its language violates the state's single subject rule. The 5-2 ruling came in a case from a county sheriff and reversed a ruling from the secretary of state that rejected that argument. The court held that: "As proposed, the NMCCA contains more than one subject -- by our count, it contains at least eight subjects. In addition to enshrining in our constitution a right of certain persons to produce and medicinally use cannabis under subsections (1) and (2), in subsections (3) and (4), the NMCCA would enshrine a right and immunity for entities to grow and sell cannabis; and in subsections (6), (7), and (8), it would regulate the role of cannabis in at least six areas of public life. These secondary purposes are not naturally and necessarily connected to the NMCCA's primary purpose. As such, they constitute logrolling… The decision of the Secretary of State is reversed. We issue a writ of mandamus directing him to withhold the NMCCA from the November 2020 general election ballot."

Criminal Justice

Bipartisan Trio of Senators File Bill to Stop Feds from Throwing Drug Defendants in Jail Before They're Convicted. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Chris Coons (D-DE) have introduced a bill that could potentially keep people charged with federal drug crimes out of unnecessary pretrial detention. The Smarter Pretrial Detention for Drug Charges Act of 2020 would change federal bail policies that currently presume people facing drug sentences of 10 years or more will be detained before trial. Under this bill, people facing such charges would no longer be treated with the presumption that they would be denied bail. Bail could still be denied, though, in the case of flight risk or danger to the community. The bill has the support of criminal justice reform groups across the political spectrum. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Innocence Project, and the Drug Policy Alliance all support it, as do Americans for Prosperity, Justice Action Network, Americans for Tax Reform (federal pretrial detention costs taxpayers $18,615 per defendant), and FreedomWorks.

Federal MJ Research Bill Wins Committee Vote, MA Report on Racial Sentencing Disparities, More... (9/10/20)

The federal Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2019 is heading for the House floor, New Jersey Republican party leaders come out hard against marijuana legalization, and more.

A marijuana research bill heads for a House floor vote after winning a committee vote Wednesday. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Key House Committee Advances Marijuana Research Bill. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Wednesday voted unanimously by voice vote to advance HR 3797, the Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2019. The bill would "amend the Controlled Substances Act to make marijuana accessible for use by qualified marijuana researchers for medical purposes, and for other purposes." The bill would remove all limits on the number of research entities that could be federally approved to grow or distribute marijuana and require the Department of Health and Human Services to report to Congress within five years on a review of marijuana research and whether it should be rescheduled. The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

New Jersey Republicans Formally Oppose Marijuana Legalization Initiative. GOP leaders from all 21 counties in the state unanimously backed a resolution Thursday opposing the legislatively sponsored marijuana legalization referendum that will appear on the November ballot. The Republican County Chairmen's Association called on its on their supporters to vote it down. "Pro-pot legislators may not care about the damage that legal pot will do to our children, families, schools and neighborhoods, but as an organization deeply dedicated to promoting a healthy and safe New Jersey, my chairmen colleagues and I felt obligated to speak out against the ballot question," Hudson County Republican Chairman Jose Arango said.

Drug Policy

New Report Highlights Racial Disparity in Massachusetts Drug and Weapons Charges. Researchers at Harvard Law School released a report Wednesday that finds Black and Latino defendants are more likely than White ones to be imprisoned for drugs and weapons crimes and more likely to get longer sentences than White ones. The study was sought by the chief justice of the state's highest court, and found that racial disparities in sentencing length are largely because Black and Latino tend to be initially charged more harshly for crimes that "carry longstanding racialized stigmas." The disparities remain even "after controlling for charge severity and additional factors," according to the report from the law school's Criminal Justice Policy Program.

Drug Testing

Supreme Court of Ohio Gives Employers the Green Light to Drug Test At-Will Employees Under Direct Observation When the Employees Give Broad Consent. The state's highest court has ruled that if an employer has a substance abuse policy that requires workers to undergo random suspicionless drug testing and workers sign a consent form allowing "any testing necessary," they implicitly agreed to allow "direct observation" testing and have no privacy claim. "Direct observation" testing mean having someone watch workers as they provide a urine sample to be tested.

Medical Marijuana Update

Mississippi

Mississippi Poll Has Very High Support for Medical Marijuana Initiative. Polling firm FM3 Research recently conducted a survey of state voters and found a whopping 81% supported legalizing the use of medical marijuana. Voters will have the chance to vote on two competing initiatives, one championed by Mississippians for Compassionate Care, and another watered-down created by state legislators. The survey found voters preferred the original initiative, Initiative 65, over the watered-down one, Alternative 65A.

Nebraska

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Survives Legal Challenge. The secretary of state in late August rejected a legal challenge against a medical marijuana initiative headed for the November ballot. The move came just one day after the initiative had officially qualified for the ballot. The legal challenge claimed the initiative violated the state's single-subject rule and that it "creates doubt about what will be authorized after the election."

Nebraska Supreme Court Hears Lawsuit Seeking to Block Medical Marijuana Initiative. The state Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday from both sides on the constitutionality of a medical marijuana initiative that has already qualified for the ballot. The initiative is being challenged by Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner, even though it has already passed constitutional muster by state officials. The court has until September 11th to rule on this ballot measure and decide whether Nebraska voters will get to decide on medical marijuana.

Mass Murder at Illicit CA Marijuana Grow, Meth & Other Drug Use Up Amidst Pandemic, More... (9/9/20)

Maine finally issues its first adult-use marijuana business licenses, a mass killing at an illegal California marijuana grow leaves seven dead, and more.

Meth and other drug us is up during the pandemic, a testing lab company reports. (Warner Robbins, GA, PD)
Marijuana Policy

Seven Killed at Illicit California Marijuana Grow. Seven people were shot and killed over the weekend at an illegal marijuana grow outside the Riverside County town of Aguanga. Investigating authorities seized more than a thousand pounds of processed marijuana and hundreds of marijuana plants. The property had facilities to process that raw marijuana into high-THC cannabis oil. All of the victims were of Laotian descent.

Maine Issues First Active Licenses for Legal Marijuana Shops. The state Office of Marijuana Policy on Tuesday issued the first active licenses for recreational marijuana businesses, bringing the state one step nearer to actually allowing sales nearly four years after voters approved marijuana legalization in November 2016. Authorities issued three licenses for cultivation facilities, two for marijuana retail outlets, and one for a testing facility.

Methamphetamine

Meth Use Rose During Early Days of COVID Pandemic, Lab Report Finds. The drug testing laboratory firm Millennium Health reports that urine samples from across the US came back positive at a rate 20% higher in the early weeks of the pandemic compared to the same period before the pandemic began ratcheting up in early March. The increase was particularly dramatic in some states, with meth positives increasing two-fold in Nevada and nearly as much in Mississippi. The lab also reported increases in use of other drugs, such as fentanyl. "All US census divisions had a significant increase in adjusted UDT positivity rate for at least one drug, except the South Atlantic and West North Central. Notably, the East North Central and the East South Central had significant positivity rate increases for all four drugs. The West North Central saw significant decreases in positivity rates for all four drugs," the report said.

Biden Calls for Mandatory Treatment for Drug Law Violators, VT Lawmakers Closer to Legalizing MJ Sales, More... (9/8/20)

Joe Biden's approach to drug policy appears still rooted in the last century, the Trump administration releases mandatory guidelines for hair follicle testing for truck drivers, and more.

Joe Biden wants treatment not jail for drug offenders, but he wants to make treatment mandatory. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Lawmakers Get Closer to Deal on Legal Marijuana Sales. The House and Senate are drawing nearer to a final agreement on legislation that would allow for legal marijuana sales in the state. The main sticking point now appears to be how towns will earn revenues from the trade. The Senate wants to impose a 2% tax on towns that host dispensaries, but the House wants to give towns money from marijuana licensing fees. Negotiators will meet later this week where they'll continue to hammer out the details of the bill.

Drug Testing

Trump Administration Releases Mandatory Guidelines for Hair Testing for Drugs in Truck Drivers. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last Friday released for comment long-awaited mandatory hair-testing guidelines to screen drivers for drugs. The proposed Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs using Hair (HMG) "will allow federal executive branch agencies to collect and test a hair specimen as part of their drug testing programs." Under the guidelines, federal agencies doing drug testing, such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) -- must collect at least one other specimen type, such as urine or oral fluid, authorized under the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs. The agency also must provide procedures for use of an alternate specimen when a donor is unable to provide a sufficient amount of hair for faith-based or medical reasons, or due to an insufficient amount or length of hair, according to the proposal.

Drug Treatment

Joe Biden Calls for Mandatory Drug Treatment for Drug Offenders. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has called for mandatory drug treatment for drug offenders in return for not jailing them and clearing their records. "Anybody who gets convicted of a drug crime -- not one that is in terms of massive selling, but consumption -- they shouldn't go to prison. They should go to mandatory rehabilitation," Biden said at a campaign event in Kenosha, Wisconsin last week. "Instead of building more prisons, as I've been proposing for some time, we build rehabilitation centers." Drug reform advocates generally oppose coerced treatment.

International

Poll Has Support Dropping for New Zealand Marijuana Legalization Referendum as Election Day Nears. With a September 19 election day drawing near, a new poll has support for marijuana legalization declining. In March, 43% favored the referendum, with only 33% opposed. Now, a new poll has support at 39%, with 46% opposed. If voters approve the referendum on the Cannabis Legalization and Control Bill, the bill will then be introduced in Parliament.

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

Drug Reform Pioneer Kevin Zeese Dies at Age 64

The American drug reform movement lost one of its pioneers on Sunday. Attorney Kevin Zeese died of a heart attack at home after going to bed Saturday night. He was only 64.

Kevin Zeese addresses a rally in Washington, DC, in 2006. (Elvart Barnes/Creative Commons)
Upon graduating from George Washington University School of Law in 1980, Zeese moved immediately into what was then a very lonely movement to end marijuana prohibition, becoming general counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and then being selected as NORML's executive director from 1983 to 1986. During his time at NORML during the dark days of the Reagan era, he emerged as one of the earliest advocates of medical marijuana and successfully fought to end the spraying of herbicides on Mexican marijuana crops.

He didn't stop there. After leaving NORML, Zeese joined with the also recently passed Professor Arnold Trebach in 1987 to found the Drug Policy Foundation, which after merging with the Lindesmith Center in 2000 became the Drug Policy Alliance, the largest and most influential drug reform group in the country. He served as vice president and counsel to the Drug Policy Foundation from 1986 to 1994.

He didn't stop there. In 1993, he helped found the Harm Reduction Coalition, a groundbreaking organization that has successfully advocated for such measures as needle exchanges, treatment on demand, and overdose prevention campaigns, and is currently leading the fight to introduce the proven harm reduction practice of safe injection sites in the United States. The Harm Reduction Coalition is also notable for emphasizing the rights of drug users and demanding that their voices be heard in setting drug policies.

He didn't stop there, either. His next move was to found Common Sense for Drug Policy (CSDP) along with businessman Robert Field and attorney Melvin Allen. CSDP sought to broaden support for drug policy reform through a campaign of advertising in serious national magazines across the political spectrum ranging from Reason and the National Review on the right to the Nation and the Progressive on the left. Ever since 1998, CSDP has published and updated the pamphlet Drug War Facts, a veritable activists' Bible of facts and citations related to drug policy issues. Zeese served as CSDP president up until his death.

Nor did he stop there. Broadening his horizons in the current century, and reflecting his disgust with the two-party political system, where he saw both major parties as corrupted by corporate capital, Zeese helped organized against the Iraq war and joined with Ralph Nader's Democracy Rising to push the group to embrace an antiwar position. Two years later, in 2006, he founded the national antiwar group Voters for Peace and served as its director until 2011.

Zeese with then-governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson and reformer group, probably late 1990s
Moving on to progressive third-party politics, Zeese advised campaigns for local Green Party candidates and joined the 2004 Ralph Nader presidential campaign, where he served as press secretary and spokesman for the candidate. In 2006, he ran for the US Senate in Maryland supported by the Greens, the Libertarians, and the Populist Party. He campaigned on withdrawing the US military and corporate interests from Iraq, economic and social justice, and electronic voting reform. He got only 1.5% of the vote.

And he didn't stop there. Zeese was active in the 2011 Occupy movement, participated in the takeover of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC, last year to keep it from Washington-supported foes of leftist President Maduro, and had continued to be involved in Green Party politics up until his last breath.

Joey Tranchina, who opened a syringe program in the early 1990s, and fought San Mateo County to make it legal with Zeese's help, wrote, "Kevin is the best activist field commander I've ever worked with. I never had more fun working with people or arguing with them. Kevin was not into the romance of lost causes; he fought to change evil things, that most people could not imagine ever changing."

Kevin Zeese left a powerful legacy for the drug reform movement and for progressive politics more broadly, but this recitation of biographical facts hardly does him justice. He was whip-smart, passionate, curious, fun and fun-loving. He was always ready to share a joint or a laugh (or both). I'm deeply saddened that he is gone so soon. And when I position his photo for this piece, I will make sure that it aligns left, not right.

MN Forfeiture Report Released, PA GOP Continues to Block Marijuana Legalization, More... (9/4/20)

The Nebraska Supreme Court hears a challenge to the state's medical marijuana initiative, Minnesota releases an audit of asset forfeiture practices in the state, and more.

An audit of asset forfeiture practices in Minnesota finds it hurts poor people more than it helps law enforcement. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Republicans Block Governor's Call for Marijuana Legalization. A day after Gov. Tom Wolf (D) called on the legislature to pass marijuana legalization to help the state budget, legislative Republicans are still blocking any progress. "There is just not the support in the caucus for legalizing marijuana right now," Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre) said Thursday.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Supreme Court Hears Lawsuit Seeking to Block Medical Marijuana Initiative. The state Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday from both sides on the constitutionality of a medical marijuana initiative that has already qualified for the ballot. The initiative is being challenged by Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner, even though it has already passed constitutional muster by state officials. The court has until September 11th to rule on this ballot measure and decide whether Nebraska voters will get to decide on medical marijuana.

Asset Forfeiture

Minnesota Audit Criticizes Asset Forfeiture Practices. State Auditor Julie Blaha released an annual report on asset forfeiture practices on Wednesday, and highlighted the fact that most seizures are from low income people and hurts them more than they help law enforcement. "The data shows that when it comes to the impact of forfeitures, the big story is in the small numbers," Blaha said in a statement. "Those kinds of amounts have a small impact on government systems, but they have a big impact at the individual level. If you are managing a public safety budget, small forfeitures are a minor and unpredictable part of your revenue stream," Blaha continued. "But if you are a low-income person experiencing a forfeiture, those amounts can have a big effect on your life. Having a few hundred dollars seized can mean the difference between making rent or homelessness. Losing that old car can lead to missing work and losing your job."

CA Safe Injection Site Bill Killed, Good Polls on MS MedMJ and DC Natural Psychedelic Initiatives, More... (9/3/20)

There are good polling results for medical marijuana in Mississippi and a natural psychedelic initiative in DC, Pennsylvania's top elected officials call for marijuana legalization, and more.

A psilocybin molecule. The plant-based drug would be effectively decriminalized if a DC initiative passes. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Governor, Lt. Governor Call on Legislature to Legalize Marijuana. Governor Tom Wolf (D) and Lt. Governor John Fetterman (D) called Thursday for the General Assembly to go beyond medical marijuana and legalize marijuana outright, not just medical, in Pennsylvania. According to the governor's office, legalization will provide a revenue stream that will help the state's economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Poll Has Very High Support for Medical Marijuana Initiative. Polling firm FM3 Research recently conducted a survey of state voters and found a whopping 81% supported legalizing the use of medical marijuana. Voters will have the chance to vote on two competing initiatives, one championed by Mississippians for Compassionate Care, and another watered-down created by state legislators. The survey found voters preferred the original initiative, Initiative 65, over the watered-down one, Alternative 65A.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Killed. Legislative leaders in Sacramento last week killed Assembly Bill 362, which would have allowed the cities of Oakland and San Francisco to establish safe injection sites in a bid to reduce drug overdoses. The bill had already passed the Assembly but was shelved in the Senate.

Psychedelics

DC Poll Has Solid Support for Psychedelic Decriminalization Initiative. A new poll of DC residents has support for Initiative 81 at 60%, up nine points since the poll was last conducted in April. The measure would make natural psychedelics the lowest law enforcement priority in the nation's capital.

International

Australian Officials Ponder Allowing MDMA, Magic Mushrooms for Mental Health Treatment. The country's medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, is seeking feedback on a proposal to legalize MDMA and psilocybin -- the active ingredient in magic mushrooms -- for mental health treatment purposes. Mind Medicine Australia, a non-profit that advocates for new treatments for depression and PTSD has asked the regulator to allow psychiatrists to use MDMA and the hallucinogenic psilocybin in therapy sessions.

One State is About to Vote on Radical Drug Policy Reform [FEATURE]

Oregon residents will have a chance in November to approve the most far-reaching drug reform measure ever to make the ballot in this country when they vote on Measure 110, the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act. While the initiative indeed expands drug treatment, what makes it really revolutionary is that it would also decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of all drugs, from psychedelics to cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as heroin and other illicit opioids.

Possession of illicit drugs will no longer be a criminal offense under Oregon law if this measure passes. (DEA)
"Our current drug laws can ruin lives based on a single mistake, sticking you with a lifelong criminal record that prevents you from getting jobs, housing and more," Bobby Byrd, an organizer with the More Treatment, A Better Oregon campaign," said in a press release.

If Oregon voters approve the measure, the state will be in select company. At least 19 countries, mostly in Europe and Latin America, have drug decriminalization laws on the books, with the most well-known being Portugal, which pioneered the way, decriminalizing drug possession in 2001. Instead of being arrested and jailed, people caught with illicit drugs there are given a warning and a small fine or asked to voluntarily appear before a local commission whose aim is to determine whether the person needs drug treatment and if so, to offer it to them at no expense. (It helps that Portugal has universal health care.)

Decriminalization has worked for Portugal. According to a Drug Policy Alliance report after a delegation visited Lisbon in 2018, before drug decriminalization, the country suffered rapidly increasing drug overdose deaths, a high number of people who caught HIV through needle-sharing, and led the European Union in drug-related AIDS. Since decriminalization, though, "the number of people voluntarily entering treatment has increased significantly, while overdose deaths, HIV infections, problematic drug use, and incarceration for drug related offenses has plummeted." Not bad at all.

It was just three years ago that the Oregon legislature approved drug defelonization -- making possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony -- but now advocates are already prepared to push further down the Portuguese path. That's because while, according to the state Criminal Justice Commission (CJC), drug defelonization indeed resulted in felony drug convictions dropping by nearly two-thirds, it also included a near 10-fold increase in misdemeanor drug possession convictions. That translates into only a slight decline in overall drug arrests, from just over 10,000 in Fiscal Year 2016 to 8,903 in Fiscal Year 2018.

Under Measure 110, those misdemeanor drug arrests would vanish as drug possession gets reclassified as a mere violation punishable only by a $100 fine or by completing a health assessment with an addiction treatment professional. Those who are deemed to benefit from drug treatment could go to an addiction recovery center, one of which will be located in every organization service area in the state. Those centers, as well as additional funding for treatment, would be paid for with revenues from marijuana sales taxes.

The measure is backed by Drug Policy Action, the political and lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which has put $2.5 million into the campaign already, DPA director of media relations Matt Sutton said in an email exchange. And that's just the beginning, he added.

"We'll continue to invest in terms of what it takes to win it," he said. "The campaign is starting a variety of different ads and raising awareness in the final push. We've invested a lot already and we're very committed to it financially. We think this is winnable."

So, why Oregon and why now?

"We have to start somewhere," said Sutton. "Oregon is a very progressive state and has really been the leader on a lot of drug policy reforms. It was one of the first to decriminalize marijuana, one of the first to legalize medical marijuana, one of the first to legalize marijuana, one of the first to defelonize drug possession. It's no surprise that Oregon would be an attractive state to do this in."

The special nature of this year, with its double whammy of enduring pandemic and its long, hot summer of street protests, makes drug decriminalization all the more relevant, Sutton said.

"Having a state like Oregon that has been a progressive leader take this on will signal to the rest of the country that this can be done and that it's not actually that radical of a proposition," said Sutton. "And just in terms of everything that's happened this year -- COVID and the awakening to racial injustice -- it just doesn't seem as such a radical proposition. With COVID we've seen the discrepancies in the health care system.

"It's the same communities that are being overpoliced and have been hit hardest by the war on drugs," he continued. "And people are realizing that the war on drugs is racist. The real reason behind the war on drugs was to criminalize and marginalize communities of color, and we've demonized drugs and the people who use them. The drug war hasn't made drugs less accessible to youth, but instead we get a lot more people incarcerated and dying of drug use. The more we criminalize it, the more dangerous it becomes."

In an August report, the state CJC made clear just what sort of impact drug decriminalization would have on racial inequities, and the results are impressive: Racial disparities in drug arrests, using an academically accepted comparison measure, would drop by an astounding 95%.

The report also found that decriminalization would radically reduce overall drug convictions, with projected convictions of Black and Indigenous people declining by an equally astounding 94%.

"This drop in convictions will result in fewer collateral consequences stemming from criminal justice system involvement, which include difficulties in finding employment, loss of access to student loans for education, difficulties in obtaining housing, restrictions on professional licensing, and others," the report found.

"This report only scratches the surface," Kayse Jama, executive director of Unite Oregon said in a press release. "Drugs are too often used as an excuse to disproportionately target Black and Brown Oregonians and economically disadvantaged communities."

"This initiative addresses those racial disparities more than anything," said DPA's Sutton. "It will help those communities that have been down for far too long. A lot of the economic problems we see there are a result of decades of drug war, taking generations of people out of their homes and saddling them with felony convictions. This would be a huge win in taking drug reform to the next level. It doesn't solve all the problems of drug prohibition -- people would still be charged with distribution and drug induced homicide -- but it would still be a huge step forward."

And now, a broad coalition of change agents are uniting to push the initiative to victory in November. Endorsements range from national and international groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, AFSCME, the National Association of Social Workers, and Human Rights Watch, as well as dozens and dozens of state and local racial justice, human rights, and religious groups and groups representing health and social welfare professionals.

"We've received an incredible amount of support, and it's really broad," said Sutton. "And there is no organized opposition."

If things go well in November, DPA and its lobbying and campaign arm, Drug Policy Action, are already planning next moves.

"We just a few weeks ago released a national framework for drug decriminalization, the Drug Policy Reform Act," Sutton said. "This has been a goal of DPA all along and where our work is focused today, all drug decriminalization. We think that people are ready for that. We decided to release the framework right now just because of everything happening in the country especially around racial justice issues. People are seeing the direct impact of the war on drugs and the racial disparities."

"We're already looking ahead at other states where we could replicate this," Sutton revealed. "Some of the first states to legalize marijuana would likely be the first to consider drug decriminalization."

Once again, Oregon voters have a chance to burnish their drug reform credentials, only this time with the most dramatic attack yet on drug prohibition. If they approve Measure 110, they will truly be the drug reform vanguard -- and blaze a path others can follow.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org, and we participated in the Lisbon delegation.

House to Vote on Legal Marijuana This Month, NE MedMJ Initiative Qualifies for Ballot, More... (9/2/20)

A bill to ban police searches based soley on the odor of marijuana is moving in Virginia, Pennsylvania's governor wants to legalize marijuana to help coronavirus-ravaged state economy, and more.

There will be a historic vote in the House this month. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization Bill This Month. The House will vote this month on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, HR 3884, this month, according to an email from Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC). The measure would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and expunge records of some marijuana-related offenses.

Pennsylvania Governor Wants Marijuana Legalization as Effort to Fix State Economy Ravaged by Coronavirus. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is calling on the Pennsylvania legislature to legalize recreational marijuana and use the tax revenue to help small businesses that have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. "Repairing the damage of this pandemic is not going to be easy," Wolf said at a news conference last Tuesday. "The legislature can act right now to get us back on track as quickly as we possibly can."

Virginia Senate Approves Bill to Ban Police Searches Based Solely on the Smell of Marijuana. The state Senate approved a bill last Friday that would bar searches and seizures based solely on the odor of marijuana. The measure, SB5029, now needs approval in the House. The House version, HB5058, passed the House Courts of Justice Committee last Wednesday. Marijuana possession has been decriminalized in the state since June.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Survives Legal Challenge. The secretary of state last Thursday rejected a legal challenge against a medical marijuana initiative headed for the November ballot. The move came just one day after the initiative had officially qualified for the ballot. The legal challenge claimed the initiative violated the state's single-subject rule and that it "creates doubt about what will be authorized after the election."

Canada Gov't Must Respond to Psychedelic Decrim Petition, Colombia Court Halts Coca Eradication, More... (8/24/20)

At least one Mexican drug cartel has resorted to using drones armed with explosives, the Canadian federal government must respond to a petition calling for psychedelic decriminalization after signatures hit a trigger mark, and more.

The black market in cocaine is driving violence and conflict in Colombia and Mexico. (CBP)
International

Canadian Government Will Respond to Petition to Decriminalize Psychedelics. A petition calling for the decriminalization of psychedelic drugs has garnered nearly 15,000 signatures -- enough that the Canadians government will have to officially respond to it. The petition calls for the government to "immediately discontinue enforcement of statutes or regulations that prohibit or impose onerous restrictions on informed adult use, growing, or sharing of any plant or fungi, where an established record of traditional use exists. It also calls on lawmakers to amend federal drug laws to "distinguish and exempt these organisms when used for therapeutic practices, as adjuncts to medical care, for healing ceremonies or solitary spiritual growth and self-development."

Colombian Court Orders Army to Halt Coca Eradication, Implement Peace Deal. In a blow to the government of President Ivan Duque, an administrative tribunal in the southwest department of Cauca has ordered the National Army to halt the forced eradication of coca crops and emphasize crop substitution instead. The ruling came after farmers from three towns sued the army for eradicating their drug crops after they had expressed interest in joining a crop substitution program that is part of the 2016 peace deal with the leftist rebels of the FARC. The court ruled that the army cannot carry out eradication until and unless crop substitution has failed. The ruling only applies to those three municipalities in Cauca, but could set a legal precedent which other communities across the country could use to see eradication bans enacted there, too.

Mexican Drug Cartel Using Armed Drones Against Rivals. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (JNGC) has started using drones packed with the military explosive C4 and metal pellets to attack rival cartels in the southwestern state of Michoacan. Self-defense groups in the town of Tepalcatepec recovered two of the drones and four packages of explosives. The cartel has targeted the self-defense forces there in a bid to take over lucrative lime and avocado exports, in addition to running drugs. The only other known use of armed drones by cartels was last year in the southeastern state of Puebla.

AZ Legalization Initiative a Go, Oakland Cops Raid Mushroom Church, More... (8/21/20)

A British prescription heroin pilot program gets extended after promising first year results, police in Oakland raid a club that was selling magic mushrooms, and more.

Magic Mushrooms. In Oakland, apparently you can have them, but you can't sell them. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Supreme Court Rules Legalization Marijuana Legalization Initiative Stays on the Ballot. The state Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a lower court decision that the description on the Smart and Safe Arizona Act marijuana legalization initiative "accurately described the proposition," ending a legal challenge to it and clearing the final hurdle before it can go to voters in November.

Psychedelics

Oakland Police Raid, Close Nation's Only Magic Mushroom Church. Police in Oakland raided the Zide Door Church of Entheogenic Plants last week, seizing marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and cash after calling firefighters to break open the church's safe. Zide Door was the most prominent "magic mushroom" club in the country and likely the only brick and mortar place where one could purchase the mushrooms. Zide Door was originally a "cannabis church," but added mushrooms to its offerings after the city council approved a resolution making enforcement of laws around certain psychedelic plants law enforcement's "lowest priority." Police say the church went beyond the law by selling marijuana without a license and by selling magic mushrooms. "The council said mushrooms should not be our priority, and they're not," said Oakland Police Captain Randell Wingate, who supervises the unit that conducted the raid. "You can use mushrooms, you can grow your own mushrooms -- but selling mushrooms is still not legal."

International

British Heroin Maintenance Pilot Project Extended for Another Year. The United Kingdom's first heroin prescribing pilot project has been extended for another year after an evaluation found it created reductions in crime and homelessness. The first year's results were "very promising," the evaluation found. The project in Middlesborough led to a a large reduction in reoffending rates and street drug use, and significant improvement in participants' health and quality of life, including seeing initially homeless participants placed in stable housing.

DEA Loses Bid to Kill MJ Rescheduling Lawsuit, Canada to Stop Prosecuting Most Drug Possession Cases, More... (8/20/20)

A new poll shows bipartisan support for marijuana legalization, Colombian coca eradication goes into high gear amidst the pandemic, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New Poll Has Bipartisan Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Data for Progress has support for marijuana legalization at 58%, including 69% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans. Support among Democrats jumped to 79% when respondents were provided details of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which is currently pending before Congress. So did Republican support, which jumped to 60%.

Law Enforcement Professionals Call on Congress to Legalize Marijuana. More than 50 current and former law enforcement professionals have sent a letter to Congress urging it to move swiftly on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. The letter was signed by the National Black Police Association, Fair and Just Prosecution and Law Enforcement Action Partnership, in addition to dozens of current and former prosecutors, judges and police officers. Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) were among the list of signees.

Federal Appeals Court Rejects DEA Challenge to Marijuana Rescheduling Lawsuit. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a DEA request to throw out a lawsuit challenging marijuana's listing as a Schedule I drug. The lawsuit was filed in May by a group of scientists and veterans who argue that marijuana's classification is unconstitutional.

International

Canadian Federal Prosecutors Directed to Avoid Drug Possession Charges in Most Cases. The Public Prosecution Service of Canada has issued a directive to prosecutors to not prosecute drug possession cases unless major public safety concerns are involved. Charges should be filed only "in the most serious cases," said agency director Kathleen Roussel. In most cases, prosecutors should seek alternative approaches, such as restorative justice and indigenous approaches. "When deciding whether to initiate and conduct any prosecution, PPSC prosecutors must consider not only whether there is a reasonable prospect of conviction based on the evidence available but also whether a prosecution serves the public interest," she said.

Colombia Coca Eradication Goes into High Gear During Pandemic. Manual coca eradication is occurring at levels not seen for a decade even as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic. In June alone, more than 32,000 acres were forcibly eradicated, more than any month since the government and the FARC signed a peace treaty in 2016. "The government has taken advantage of the pandemic to do an eradication campaign and not to support farmers," said Eduardo Diaz, director of the Agency for the Voluntary Substitution of Illegal Crops under former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. "If the government wanted to support farmers, they would also take the opportunity to be present in the territories and support them in the production of food, support them in productive development. It takes the same effort to bring troops to do forced eradication as to bring technicians to do training and plant the fields... They have to pursue drug traffickers, but the farmers aren't drug traffickers."

Book Review -- Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed

Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed by David Farber (2019, Cambridge University Press, 214 pp., $24.95 HB)

As we live through the year of the pandemic, with its disproportionate impact on poor and minority communities, it is striking how those differential impacts mirror what happened with crack cocaine in the 1980s. Crack was never pandemic nor even truly epidemic -- its users numbered in the hundreds of thousands and only a vanishingly tiny number of Americans ever tried it -- but like the coronavirus, it ravaged predominantly Black communities, as did the heavy-handed official response to it.

University of Kansas historian David Farber takes the reader back to the days of vial-filled streets, especially the mid-1980s, when the emergence of this smokable form of cocaine, available in cheap, single dose units (rocks) made a drug that was formerly the province of the wealthy and well-connected a mass market commodity. A gram of powder cocaine, after all, was going for $100, but you could pick up a rock of crack and get an instant high for $5.

The problem was that the $5 high was gone in a few minutes. A lot of people, Farber notes, used crack recreationally. They'd buy a pocketful of rocks, smoke 'em up, and call it a night. But for some people, the crack high proved so alluring, the urge to hit the pipe so irresistible, that they lost everything to the drug. Their possessions -- pawned for pennies on the dollar to get another rock -- and then their friends' and families' possessions, thieved for more rocks, their cars, their homes -- all gone to feed a habit so compulsive women would give blow jobs in alleys for enough money for another rock and men would steal old ladies' purses in the street.

But who would find something like that alluring? Farber points to ethnologist Philippe Bourgeois, who lived among and wrote about a group of Queens crack dealers and their clientele, for an explanation: "Crack as a preferred drug of abuse only appeals to desperate population subgroups who are victims of extreme forms of structural violence," Bourgeois wrote.

Farber himself elaborates on that theme: "Crack become so popular and then so problematic in poor communities... because most of the people drawn to chronic crack use were already in deep trouble of all kinds before they took their first hit," he writes. "The trouble -- economic, educational, psychological, cultural… the list goes on -- was shaped by the callous and racist society in which they lived. And then once these troubled people started using crack, most every kind of authority, from the police to social workers to local prosecutors, mostly made their lives worse rather than trying to help them."

It didn't help, Farber explains, that the crews getting rich off selling crack were almost entirely Black, whether Dominicans, Jamaicans, or African-Americans. That made it all the easier for mass media and politicians to demonize them, and indeed, fed by a feast of sensational crack stories, by 1988, nearly two-thirds of American cited drugs as the worst problem facing the country. And by drugs, they largely meant crack.

The political response to the ravages of crack -- not just the decimation of its users but also the violence and disorder of the black-market crack trade -- was savage. At the federal level, Farber traces the three separate crime bills in the 1980s and 1990s (including one in which Joe Biden played a significant role) that paved the way for mass incarceration), including the creation of the infamous 100:1 crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing disparity.

But going after Michelle Alexander's thesis in The New Jim Crow that the crackdown on crack was driven almost entirely by racism, Farber draws out the leading role played by Black politicians, particularly Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, who hounded the Republicans in power in the 1980s to lower the hammer. In so doing, Rangel was responding to increasingly loud complaints from his Black constituents, who for obvious reasons didn't want gun battles, thefts, and dissolute behavior on their doorsteps.

But while federal crack prosecutions helped stuff the federal prison system to the rafters, states and localities certainly added to the repression. Farber points to Chicago, where by 1987 the number of drug cases alone more than doubled the total number of felony cases in the county just a dozen years earlier. The creation in 1989 of a special drug court to handle crack cases dramatically accelerated a streets-to-prison pipeline. The special crack court simply rationalized and made more efficient the effort that sent thousands of mainly Black Chicagoans into the state prison system.

Farber also takes a fascinating look at the links between crack, crack culture, and hip-hop, which all emerged at roughly the same time in the same places, and some of whose stars (Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Biggie Smalls) grew up in the trade. The garish displays of wealth endemic to both the trade and hip-hop culture, were symbols of status in impoverished communities.

And wasn't that what America was all about? The 1980s, after all, was the era of "greed is good," and if that attitude held on Wall Street, it also held on the streets. Farber doesn't excuse the violence of the trade -- it precipitated a large increase in murders nearly everywhere it emerged -- or the callousness of knowingly selling an addictive, life-wrecking drug to one's neighbors -- nor does he minimize the damage done to the users most in its grip (and their families and their communities), but he expresses some sympathy for the people whose only real access to the American dream was through slingin' rocks.

"For a short while in the 1980s and 1990s" he writes, "crack was the main chance for tens of thousands of unemployed, undercapitalized young men who dreamed of a world where they were rich and respected and admired. The crack sellers and the crack bingers invented a consumer marketplace with the tools they had on hand and within the possibilities they could imagine. Within their economic and cultural realm, in a broader culture of entrepreneurial greed, what they did made sense."

Crack is a fine work of social and cultural history. If you thought you already knew all about crack, think again, then go out and add this to your library.

Border Meth Seizures Surge, VT Lawmakers Aim for Accord on Legal Marijuana Sales, More... (8/19/20)

Vermont legislators look to reconcile House and Senate legal marijuana sales bills, UN officials in Colombia denounce an increasing number of massacres, and more.

methamphetamine (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Lawmakers Meet to Advance Legal Marijuana Market. A group of lawmakers are meeting today to try get a bill approved that would allow for legal marijuana sales in the state. The House approved a bill with a 20% sales tax in February; the Senate approved a bill with a 16% sales tax last year. Now, a conference committee of lawmakers will try to iron out the differences. Some nonprofits and small businesses are opposing the current Senate bill, S.54, because they say it fails to provide opportunities for Black people to participate and it fails to include local families and small businesses.

Methamphetamine

US Border Officials See Methamphetamine Resurgence. Meth seizures on the border are rising, US officials say, pointing to the seizure earlier this month of nearly 800 pounds of meth valued at $16 million on the Pharr International Bridge near McAllen, Texas. Days later, another 650 pounds of meth was discovered in a semi-truck crossing the border at San Diego. According to Customs and Border Patrol statistics, its officers have seized 59 tons of meth in the fiscal year beginning last October. That's one and a half times the amount seized in the previous fiscal year, and we still have two months to go.

International

UN Peace Mission Condemns Spike in Colombia Massacres. The UN's peace mission in Colombia, set up to monitor adherence to the 2016 peace deal with the FARC, is condemning what it calls spiraling violence around the country. The mission says it has documented 33 massacres so far this year. It also said it was investigating the killings of 97 human rights defenders since then and that at least 41 former FARC combatants had been killed. In the past week alone, at least 13 people were killed, including eight gunned down at a birthday party in Narino department and five Afro-Colombian teenagers whose bodies were found in a field outside Cali. The UN defines a massacre as the killing of three or more people in the same event by the same group.

State Treasurers Lobby for Marijuana Banking in COVID Bill, Journalists Harassed in Colombia, More... (8/18/20)

A coalition of state treasurers is urging Congress to pass marijuana banking reforms as part of any coronavirus relief package, Arizona's Maricopa County improves the way it handles smalltime pot busts, and more.

Can the marijuana industry catch a break with the coronavirus relief bill? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

State Treasurers Group Lobbies for Marijuana Banking in Coronavirus Bill. A coalition of state treasurers from around the country are calling on Congress to include marijuana banking reforms in the next coronavirus relief package. The move would boost the economy by giving it a much-needed infusion of capital, while protecting workers in the sector, the treasurers argued. The House included the SAFE Banking Act in the relief bill it passed in May, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has long opposed marijuana reforms, sharply criticized House Democrats for including marijuana in the bill. Negotiations on the relief bill are currently going nowhere.

Arizona's Most Populous County Will Defer Pot Possession Prosecutions if Offenders Get a Medical Marijuana Card. Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney Allister Adel has announced that anyone who gets arrested in Maricopa County on a simple marijuana possession charge can apply for a medical marijuana card to avoid prosecution. "In cases where the defendant was not in compliance with the AMMA [Arizona Medical Marijuana Act] at the time of the crime solely because the person did not have a valid medical marijuana card, MCAO will dismiss a charge involving any crime covered by the AMMA if the defendant obtains a medical marijuana card and provides proof by the [initial pretrial conference]," the new policy says. That's a vast improvement over past practice under former County Attorney Bill Montgomery. Under the reign of Montgomery and his predecessors, low-level, first- and second-time marijuana offenders were sent to a drug treatment program called TASC, where they would shell out thousands of dollars and submit to frequent urine tests. The county attorney's office would get a cut of the profits.

Drug Policy

Minneapolis Suburb Repeals "Crime-Free, Drug-Free" Ordinance. The city council in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park voted unanimously Monday to repeal a controversial housing ordinance that police used to order landlords to evict tenants over suspected criminal activity. Tenants who were never convicted or even charged with a crime lost their housing, and once a local news station went public with its investigation, the city council moved quickly to repeal the policy.

International

Committee to Protect Journalists Calls for Investigation After Colombian Soldiers Shoot at Journalist, Threaten Reporters Covering Coca Protests. The Committee to Protect Journalists called Monday for Colombian authorities to undertake a thorough and transparent investigation into an incident where soldiers fired weapons at journalists Fernando Osorio and Edilson Álvarez as they covered a coca grower protest, then detained them for six hours and accused them of being left-wing guerrillas. "Colombian authorities should thoroughly investigate soldiers' brazen attacks on journalists Fernando Osorio and Edilson Álvarez and ensure that all those responsible are held to account," said CPJ Central and South Americas Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. "The fact that this is the second shooting attack by soldiers on Osorio highlights the disregard that some in the Army appear to have for journalists. Impunity in these attacks will only perpetuate violence against journalists."

Maine Marijuana Stores to Finally Open, KY "Breonna's Law" Banning No-Knock Raids Filed, More... (8/17/20)

After years of delay, Maine regulators say retail marijuana outlets will be open in October, eight people were killed in a Colombian region where different leftist guerrillas are fighting each other for control of the drug trade, and more.

Breonna Taylor (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Marijuana Retail Shops to (Finally) Open in October. It's been nearly four years since Mainers voted to legalize marijuana, and finally, the state is ready for the outlets to open. The state Office of Marijuana Policy will issue its first recreational marijuana business licenses on September 8, giving stores a month to harvest, test, and package their products before the October 9 opening date. "Today's announcement is a major milestone in honoring the will of Maine voters and a significant step toward launching a new industry in the state," OMP Director Erik Gundersen said in a statement.

Law Enforcement

Kentucky Bill Named for Breonna Taylor Would Ban No-Knock Raids. State Rep. Attica Scott (D) announced Sunday that she was filing a bill named "Breonna's Law" that would ban no-knock search warrants statewide. Under the bill, police would have to knock and announce their presence, police would be subject to alcohol and drug testing after killing someone, and police body cameras to be turned on for at least five minutes before and after serving a warrant. Breonna Taylor was an Emergency Medical Technician shot and killed by Louisville Metro Police officers serving a no-knock warrant for a drug raid. No drugs were found, but her boyfriend opened fire on the late-night home invaders, injuring one officer, and officer fired back wildly, killing Taylor. Her cause has been taken up by the Black Lives Matter movement, and her death has sparked months of protests in Louisville.

International

Eight Gunned Down in Colombia Coca-Growing Region. Unknown gunmen shot and killed eight people in one of Colombia's primary coca-growing regions, officials said Sunday. The killings took place in the town of Samaniego in Narino department, where 20 people have been gunned down in the last two month. Narino borders Ecuador, making it a strategic location on a favored route for smuggling drugs north to Central America and the US. Leftist FARC rebel dissidents are fighting for control of the region with another leftist guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army.

Groups Demand Action on MORE Act, MT Marijuana Inits Qualify, More... (8/14/20)

More than a hundred social justice and drug reform groups call on Congress to move the marijuana legalizing MORE Act next month, researchers at Johns Hopkins are partnering with a nonprofit on new research into psilocybin, and more.

psilocybin (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

125 Groups Urge Congressional Action on the MORE Act, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Drug Policy Alliance, and 123 other national and state organizations today called on House Leadership to swiftly advance the bipartisan Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3884) to the House floor when Congress returns in September. The MORE Act, the most comprehensive marijuana justice legislation to be considered in Congress, is needed now more than ever to alleviate economic hardship caused by COVID-19 and meet the calls for justice reform echoing all across America. "In November 2019, the House Judiciary Committee made history when it advanced the MORE Act, becoming the first congressional body to vote favorably for a marijuana descheduling bill. Since that time, the circumstances of 2020 have made the failed War on Drugs even more untenable and amplified the voices of those demanding transformation in our criminal legal system. In the face of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and a growing national dialogue on unjust law enforcement practices, marijuana reform as a modest first step at chipping away at the War on Drugs is more relevant and more pressing than ever before. The MORE Act remains the most effective and equitable way forward," the groups said in the letter.

Montana Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Qualify for November Ballot. The secretary of state has certified that the I-190 marijuana legalization initiative and the C-118 constitutional amendment to set the legal age for marijuana at 21 have presented enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The state will now join Arizona, New Jersey, and South Dakota in voting on marijuana legalization this fall.

Psychedelics

New Psychedelic Research Nonprofit Teams with Johns Hopkins University for Real-World Study on Use of Psilocybin Mushrooms. In a new research study that will greatly expand knowledge of the real-world uses and effects of psychedelic mushrooms (Psilocybin), the nonprofit research organization Unlimited Sciences is collaborating with Johns Hopkins University Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research to conduct a survey of people from across the globe, in hopes of becoming the largest registry of its kind. The study by renowned Hopkins researchers, funded by the Denver-based nonprofit Unlimited Sciences, will ask current users of Psilocybin mushrooms validated questions before, during, and after their use of the substance, which has shown promise in previous clinical studies in helping people suffering from depression and other behavioral health conditions. Researchers have long struggled to understand how the drug's effects change outside of laboratory settings, for example in nature, concerts and other popular settings and what implications those effects have on the most common uses.

DC MJ Sales Init Filed, Filipino Drug Cops Face Murder Charges, More... (8/13/20)

DC activists have filed a legal marijuana sales initiative and hope to get it on this year's ballot, the Bahamas extends the mandate of a commission charged with recommending marijuana law reforms, and more.

Could non-medical sales come to the nation's capital? DC activists want to make it happen. (Sandra Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Washington, DC, Legal Marijuana Sales Initiative Filed. Activists in the nation's capital have filed the New Modern Day Cannabis Justice Reform Act initiative, which would end the prosecution of marijuana cultivation, sales, and consumption offenses. Since the District voted to legalize marijuana possession in 2014, a congressional rider has barred it from using tax dollars for that reason, but perhaps anticipating a Congress with a different complexion next year, activists are moving ahead with the measure anyway. And they want to get it on the ballot this year. They would have to be approved by the Board of Elections at its September 2 meeting and then gather more than 24,000 valid voter signatures to qualify.

International

Bahamas Extends Marijuana Commission Until June 2021. The Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana, which is charged with assessing public opinion on the issue and making final recommendations to the government, has been reappointed for another year, its chairman, Quin McCartney said Thursday. The commission's mandate was initially for three months, but it has now been engaged on the issue for more than two years. It was formed following recommendations by the Regional Commission on Marijuana at the 39th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The regional commission put forward the view that in a regulated framework marijuana should be treated similarly to tobacco and alcohol. A preliminary commission report calls for decriminalization of marijuana possession, but not outright legalization. It also recommends allowing for medical marijuana patients to grow their own and allowing tourists to use medical marijuana.

Philippines Drug Cops Face Complaint of Killing Two Men in Fake Drug Raid. Eleven anti-drug policemen in San Jose del Monte are facing criminal complaints for abducting and killing two men in a fake drug sweep in February. The National Bureau of Investigation Death Investigation Division (NBI-DID) filed the complaint on Wednesday. Police had initially reported that Erwin Mergal and Jim Joshua were killed in a shootout with police during a buy-bust operation. But eyewitnesses said the men were seized by police as they passed by the home of a drug suspect. They were photographed while being held by police. In addition to murder charges, the police face charges of planting weapons and planting drugs on the victims. It is a rare exception in President Duterte's drug war, under which police have acknowledged killing thousands of people during drug enforcement operations, and more than 30,000 are believed to have been killed by police or vigilantes. Duterte promised to kill hundreds of thousands of drug suspects during his campaign, and continues to take credit for the killings, but there have been only been a handful of prosecutions of police for drug war killings.

Can Marijuana Win Over Voters in This High Plains Red State? [FEATURE]

Marijuana is on the ballot in South Dakota this year. This is a state that has the dubious distinction of being the only one to twice defeat a medical marijuana initiative. And it has another dubious distinction: It's the only state where people get prosecuted for having marijuana show up on a drug test.

That South Dakota has reactionary drug laws is not surprising; it is a pretty reactionary state. It voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, and Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has (in)famously discussed adding the president's likeness to Mt. Rushmore with him. The state's congressional delegation is all-GOP, including Senate Majority Whip John Thune, and Republicans control both houses of the legislature as well, holding a supermajority in both for nearly a quarter-century.

Still, not one but two marijuana initiatives managed to find enough support to make the ballot, and local organizers supported by national reform groups New Approach PAC and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) are hoping that marijuana's momentum can overcome rock-ribbed Republican recalcitrance on the prairie come November.

The first, Initiated Measure 26, led by New Approach South Dakota, would create a medical marijuana program for patients with doctor-certified specified debilitating medical conditions. Patients could possess up to three ounces and grow up to three plants -- or more if a doctor okays it. The state Department of Health would create and enforce rules and regulations.

The second, Constitutional Amendment A, would legalize up to an ounce for adults 21 and over and set up a system of taxed and regulated cultivation and sales. It would allow people to grow up to three plants at home -- but only if there are no retail sales outlets in their local government jurisdiction. The amendment would also require the legislature to legalize the sale of hemp and create a state medical marijuana program by April 1, 2022.

Can green win in red South Dakota? Perhaps the state isn't as red as it seems, said Michael Card, an associate professor of political science at the University of South Dakota.

"There are more no-party voter registrations now," he said in a phone interview. "Within five years, independents will probably come close to catching up to Republicans. Democrats are fleeing the party because they don't win."

"Our campaign is really bipartisan; this isn't a partisan issue," said Melissa Mentele, director of New Approach South Dakota, which is leading the effort for the medical marijuana initiative. "It doesn't matter what your party is; this is something that has brought so many people together," she said in a phone interview.

And it's no longer the last century or even the last decade, pointed out MPP campaigns coordinator Jared Moffat, who is working with South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws in support of both initiatives.

"It's been 10 years since the last attempt to reform South Dakota's marijuana laws through the ballot, and in that time, a lot has changed," he said in an email exchange. "Support for marijuana policy reform has increased significantly in every part of the county and 11 states have adopted adult-use legalization laws -- and they're working well. No state has made a serious attempt to repeal those laws. We also have recent internal polling of South Dakotans that suggests we have a great shot at passing both initiatives."

"We've had six years of education leading up to this medical marijuana initiative, the same bill has been sponsored twice in the legislature, it's been debated publicly, there's been a lot of media, and I think it's time," said Mentele. It will take a nice, slow, steady march to victory," she added.

When queried about the need for a separate medical marijuana initiative, she bristled just a bit.

"We need to press forward with both," she said. "Legalizing adult use is beneficial to the economy, but I'm a patient advocate; I'm about things like teaching people how to move off of opioids and pharmaceuticals, and when adult use programs come on board they tend to swallow medical programs. We don't want that to happen. We want two distinct markets with a tax break for patients. The people who aren't medical can buy it and pay taxes, but a true medical marijuana program passes savings on to patients."

So, will both pass, will one pass, will neither pass?

"If I had to predict, expecting high turnout for the presidential race, you're looking at Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County, the largest county in the state voting for it, and probably Brookings and Clay counties [home of South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota, respectively], and Union County, and the reservation counties," said Michael Card, associate professor of political science at USD in a phone interview.

But that means a whole lot of South Dakota counties likely won't be voting for either medical or recreational marijuana this fall. Still, with the Sioux Falls metro area population of 266,000 constituting nearly 30% of the entire state population, that makes up for a number of sparsely-populated, more conservative counties. It's going to be competitive.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the constitutional amendment passed because of the inclusion of industrial hemp and the taxation of marijuana," said Card. "If I were leading the campaign, I'd be telling people this is a tax you don't have to pay. It's also being supported by a former US attorney, Brendan Johnson."

But, Card said, it's also possible that voters could reject legalization and just pass medical marijuana. "Our population is aging, we're seeing more patients, and even for many youth there are medicinal uses, so the idea that they could vote down legalization and approve medical is certainly plausible," he said.

"The governor is very strongly against marijuana in any way, shape, or form," said Card. "She kept the South Dakota legislature from adopting a farmers' hemp cultivation bill. She drew a line in the sand and said no way."

Noem is not alone in opposing marijuana reforms; the usual suspects are also out to block it. In July, the South Dakota Medical Association came out against both initiatives and will write the opposition statement that will appear on the general election ballot. The association maintains that marijuana is a hazardous drug and a public health concern.

Also in July, the legalization initiative drew organized oppositionin the form of a ballot committee calling itself NO Way on Amendment. That group is led by David Own, the president of the state Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He is being joined by law enforcement, public officials, and social work leaders.

"South Dakota's current marijuana laws aren't working, and they are not serving South Dakotans' best interests," argued Moffat. "Amendment A and Measure 26 will fix what's broken and establish a commonsense approach that provides relief to patients, improves public safety, and strengthens South Dakota's economy."

The campaign is still honing messages for key voters, he added, but will likely emphasize the need for tax revenues in the face of economic downturns and the need to get marijuana out of the criminal justice system. He noted that one out of 10 arrests in the state in 2018 was for marijuana. The campaign will also make the argument that passage of the constitutional amendment is necessary to protect medical marijuana from legislative chicanery, as happened with a campaign finance law approved by voters in 2016 and gutted in Pierre.

The campaign is in decent financial shape in small-market South Dakota and ready to do battle, said Moffat.

"With significant in-state and national support, as well as an expanding small-dollar fundraising effort, we are feeling good about the campaign budget at this point. Compared to other states where there are competitive national races, we expect our advertising dollars will go pretty far in South Dakota," he said. "We never want to underestimate the opposition. Right now, it's not clear what they are willing to spend, in terms of both money and political capital, to fight us. My sense is that they're not willing to expend much, but that could change. We'll have to see."

Indeed. Early voting starts September 18.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Border Patrol agent does a litle drug transporting on the side, a Utah cop gets frisky with drug court probationers, a pair of California sheriff's deputies pay a price for stealing hundreds of pounds of weed, and more Let's get to it:

In Price, Utah, a Price police officer was arrested July 31 for having sex with a woman who was a drug court participant and on probation and with another woman who was on probation. Officer Michael Gordon Jones, 30, told one of the women not to say anything about the relationship, especially to her probation officer and drug court tracker. He was arrested for investigation of custodial sexual relations, although he has yet to be charged. He has since resigned from the department.

In Meridian, Mississippi, an East Mississippi Correctional Facility employee was arrested last Monday 3 for allegedly smuggling marijuana into the jail. Dominique Louise Tingle, 29, is charged with possession of drugs in a correctional facility.

In Brownsville, Texas, a Cameron County jail guard was arrested last Thursday for smuggling marijuana into the jail. Homero Lopez II went down after a jail inmate was caught with weed and an investigation revealed that he had called Lopez's home phone number. When he arrived at work that evening, he was confronted and eventually confessed to smuggling drugs into the jail. Both Lopez and the prisoner were charged with bringing prohibited substances and items into a correctional facility.

In Bakersfield, California, two former Kern County sheriff's deputies pleaded no contest last Thursday to felony charges for stealing more than 350 pounds of marijuana seized by the sheriff's office in 2015. Former deputy Logan August entered his plea to all 15 felony charges against him, which included conspiring to commit a crime, second-degree burglary and falsifying a report as a peace officer. August faces a potential prison sentence of upwards of 10 years and will be sentenced in October. Former deputy Derrick Penney entered his plea to two felony counts of falsifying a report as a peace officer. Penney's remaining five felony charges were dismissed and he will serve 90 days in custody and be placed on probation, according to the DA's office. The pair had earlier been sentenced to probation in federal court after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana in August 2017.

In Phoenix, a US Border Patrol agent was arrested Sunday for allegedly transporting a shipment of drugs from the border to the Phoenix airport. Agent Carlos Victor Passapera Pinott, 53, faces multiple counts of conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute controlled substances. He served in the Tucson Sector's Ajo Station. He is accused of driving to a remote border location, then driving to the airport and loading two duffle bags full of dope into another vehicle, which was stopped by investigators who found 21 kilos of cocaine, a kilo of heroin, a kilo of fentanyl, and 350,000 pills of fentanyl. Later that day, agents executed a search warrant at Passapera's home, where they found $329,000 in cash and an additional $40,000 in the vehicle he allegedly drove that morning. He's looking at up to of life in prison, a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years, and up to a $10,000,000 fine.

MA MJ Industry Unionization Battles, Bolivian Coca Growers Mobilize, More... (8/12/20)

A former crime-fighting prosecutor and attorney general who now wants to legalize marijuana is Joe Biden's vice-presidential pick, a Wyoming judge frees some hemp farmers from a spurious prosecution, and more.

Joe Biden has selected Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), the sponsor of a marijuana legalization bill, as his vice-presidential pick.
Marijuana Policy

Joe Biden Selects MORE Act Sponsor Kamala Harris for VP. Presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee has selected Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) to be his vice-presidential pick. For drug reformers, Harris's record as San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general is a mixed one, but she is currently sponsoring a federal marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (S.2227). The Senate version of the bill hasn't moved, but the House version, HR 3384) made history last year by passing out of the House Judiciary Committee, the first time a legalization bill won a vote in Congress.

Massachusetts Marijuana Cultivation Workers Unionize. Workers at Cultivate Holdings in Leicester voted by an "overwhelming majority" to join the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local 1445, the latest victory for organized labor in the industry. In July, workers at Mayflower Medicinals in Holliston voted to join the UFCW. But the union isn't winning every vote; recently, workers at New England Treatment Access voted down unionization. The UFCW accused management of "anti-union tactics" in that case.

Hemp

Wyoming Judge Throws Out Drug Trafficking Charges Against Hemp Farmers. Late last week, a Laramie County judge threw out drug trafficking charges brought against a pair of hemp advocates and farmers and two of their workers after the Division of Criminal Investigation raided their farm last November. Prosecutors sought to bring marijuana manufacture, delivery, possession, and cultivation charges against all four, but the judge ruled that the farmers had intended to produce hemp, not marijuana. Under Wyoming law, hemp has to have less than 0.3% THC. This crop contained less.

International

Bolivian Coca Growers Mobilize, Blockade Roads in Rising Protests Against Delayed Elections

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

AZ Legalization Initiative Qualifies, Canada to Allow Psilocbyin for Terminal Patients, More... (8/11/20)

One more state will be voting on marijuana legalization in November, Canadian authorities have granted four terminally ill patients the right to use psilocybin for coming to terms with end of life, and more.

COVID is in the federal prisons. California US senators want to do something about it. (Creative Commons)
MarijuanaPolicy

Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative Qualifies for Ballot. The Smart and Safe Act marijuana legalization initiative has qualified for the November ballot, the secretary of state's office announced Monday. The measure would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of weed and grow up to six plants. It also envisions taxed and regulated sales and features several restorative justice provisions. The measure will be on the ballot as Prop 207.

Incarceration

California US Senators, Congressman Call for COVID-19 Package to Include Funding to Control Federal Prison Outbreaks. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Kamala D. Harris and Congressman Salud Carbajal (all D-CA) called Monday for the House and Senate leadership to quickly finalize a COVID-19 emergency response package that includes critical assistance to respond to outbreaks in federal prisons in California. "We are concerned that BOP has not yet implemented universal testing or onsite testing for inmates and staff to stop the spread of the virus throughout the prison system or within our communities," the members wrote. "We therefore urge you to work swiftly to ensure the necessary funds are made available to better equip the BOP in handling this crisis. The House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act, with $200 million for the BOP to respond to COVID-19 outbreaks, over 10 weeks ago. Our communities cannot afford further delays."

International

Canada to Allow Psilocbyin Access for Terminally Ill Patients. The Health Ministry and the Office of Controlled Substances have announced that four terminally ill patients will be granted access to psilocybin. The move comes just a hundred days after the patients asked the government to let them use the drug to come to terms with their lives ending. "The acknowledgment of the pain and anxiety that I have been suffering with means a lot to me, and I am feeling quite emotional today as a result," said Laurie Brooks, one of the patients able to receive her treatments. "I hope this is just the beginning and that soon all Canadians will be able to access psilocybin, for therapeutic use, to help with the pain they are experiencing, without having to petition the government for months to gain permission."

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

DC Natural Psychedelic Initiative Qualifies, DPA Federal Drug Decrim Push, More... (8/10/20)

Residents in the nation's capital will vote on whether to effectively decriminalize natural psychedelics, the Arizona pot legalization initiative survives a legal challenge, the Drug Policy Alliance pushes for federal drug decriminalization, and more.

Decriminalize Nature DC street signs
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative Fends Off Legal Challenge. The Smart and Safe Arizona marijuana legalization initiative has survived a legal challenge from foes. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Smith ruled late Friday that the measure's summary did not mislead voters and the measure can be on the ballot. "At 100 words, the summary also cannot include everything," he wrote. "That is why the full initiative must accompany the petition. This initiative is plain: It wants to legalize recreational marijuana," the judge wrote. "That is the principal provision. It is unlikely electors signing these petitions would be surprised by cascading effects of legalizing a formerly illegal substance."

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Proposes Federal All-Drug Decriminalization, Releases New Legislative Framework. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) released a new federal legislative proposal Dismantling the Federal Drug War: A Comprehensive Drug Decriminalization Framework, which provides a roadmap to effectively end the criminalization of people who use drugs and begin repairing the harm drug law enforcement has caused to communities of color. The DPA model decriminalization legislation -- the Drug Policy Reform Act -- takes the first steps in dismantling the punitive apparatus built up over the past 50 years. To begin refocusing federal drug policies, the legislation shifts the authority for classifying and regulating controlled substances from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The legislation eliminates criminal penalties for all possession of personal-use quantities of controlled substances, and shifts federal resources away from futile enforcement strategies to supportive initiatives to protect the public health and safety.

Methamphetamine

Senators Feinstein and Grassley File Methamphetamine Response Act. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) last Thursday introduced the Methamphetamine Response Act, a bill declaring methamphetamine an emerging drug threat which would require the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to develop, implement and make public a national plan to prevent methamphetamine addiction and overdoses from becoming a crisis.

Psychedelics

Washington, DC, Natural Psychedelics Initiative Qualifies for the Ballot. The DC Board of Elections announced last Wednesday that Initiative 81, the Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act of 2020, has qualified for the November ballot. The act would effectively decriminalize the use and possession of natural psychedelics by making the enforcement of laws against them the lowest priority.

International

World Anti-Doping Association to Shorten Punishments for Recreational Drug Offenses. Beginning next January, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) will no longer issue long suspensions for athletes testing positive for recreational drugs out of competition. Instead of being banned for two years, the athletes will now be banned for one to three months. "If the athlete can establish that any ingestion or use occurred out of competition and was unrelated to sport performance, then the period of ineligibility shall be three months," WADA's new code says. "In addition, the period of ineligibility calculated... may be reduced to one month if the athlete or other person satisfactorily completes a substance of abuse treatment program approved by the Anti-Doping Organization."

British Tory Drug Reform Group Calls for Rescheduling Psilocybin. The Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group (CDPRG) has published a new report with the Adam Smith Institute outlining the potential medical benefits of psilocybin and urging the UK Home Office to reschedule the compound for research purposes. The not-for-profit group also urges the Home Office to reduce regulatory restrictions on the compound to allow for research into its medical efficacy. The report is Medicinal use of psilocybin: Reducing restrictions on research and treatment.

Colombia's Former President Uribe Placed on House Arrest During Investigation of Ties to Drug Cartels, Paramilitary Groups. Last Thursday, President Ivan Duque announced that former President Alvaro Uribe will be held in custody as the Supreme Court investigates allegations of witness tampering. Uribe, president of Colombia from 2002 to 2010, has long been accused of criminal activities, including having ties to drug cartels and paramilitary groups. He is currently accused of being a founding member of a rightist paramilitary group involved in the decades-long conflict between the government and leftist rebels.

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

New Federal Legalization Bill, Houston Narcs Indicted, Peru Coca Production Up (Maybe), More... (8/3/20)

Peru and the US are in a dispute over how much coca and cocaine is produced there, Houston narcs involved in a deadly botched drug raid get indicted, and more.

How much coca and cocaine is Peru producing?
Marijuana Policy

New Senate Bill Would Legalize Marijuana Like Tobacco. Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) has filed the Substance Regulation and Safety Act (S.4386), which would deschedule marijuana and require the Department of Health and Human Services to develop regulations that treat marijuana like tobacco. The bill would also create a national research institute to study the risks and benefits of marijuana, require the Department of Agriculture to set quality control standards and require the Department of Transportation to study methods for detecting THC-impaired driving.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Law Allowing Medical Marijuana for Any Debilitating Condition Now in Effect. A new law that broadly expands access to medical marijuana has now gone into effect. The new law allows doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients for any debilitating condition. Under the state's old law, only a limited list of specified illnesses and conditions were eligible for medical marijuana.

Law Enforcement

Houston Ex-Cops in Deadly Botched Drug Raid Indicted. A Harris County grand jury has indicted six former Houston narcotics officers after their unit came under scrutiny in the wake of a 2019 raid in which an innocent pair of homeowners were killed. Prosecutors charge that the former officers falsified documentation about drug payments to confidential informants, routinely used false information to get search warrants, and lied in police reports. A total of 17 felony charges were brought against the officers, led by Gerald Goines.

International

ONDCP Releases Data on Coca Cultivation and Production in Peru. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released the results of the annual United States Government estimates measuring coca cultivation and potential cocaine production for the Republic of Peru: "Coca (the plant used to make cocaine) cultivation in Peru significantly increased to 72,000 hectares in 2019, with potential pure cocaine production of 705 metric tons… "Coca cultivation in Peru and across the Andean Region of South America remains a significant threat to the American people. That's why President Trump ordered a surge in counternarcotics operations to take the fight directly to the drug cartels. This surge has already resulted in preventing 183,521 pounds of cocaine from entering the United States, resulting in $2.1 billion in lost revenue for drug cartels. As part of its partnership with the United States, Peru must expand its efforts to curb coca cultivation and production. The Trump Administration remains committed to bringing those who profit from drug trafficking to justice with the singular goal of saving American lives," ONDCP Director Jim Carroll said.

Peru Rejects US Estimates on Increased Cocaine and Coca Leaf Production. The Peruvian government on Saturday rejected an ONDCP report that said coca leaf and cocaine production had dramatically increased last year. The anti-drug office, Devida, said the report contained "a series of errors" because it did not consider the amount of coca eradicated nor the traditional consumption of coca and the country's licit coca industry, which does not produce cocaine.

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