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MO Judge Okays Legal Pot Initiative, Taliban War on Opium a Dud So Far, More... (9/12/22)

Fentanyl has largely replaced heroin in the nation's capital and that's being reflected in overdose statistics, India creates a national drug trafficker registry, and more.

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow. Despite the Taliban's announced ban. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Judge Rejects Challenge to Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Show Me State voters will have the chance in November to show the country whether they support marijuana legalization or not after a Cole County judge dismissed a lawsuit from anti-marijuana groups seeking to keep Amendment 3 off the ballot. Opponents sued, arguing that some signatures were invalid because they were verified by the state instead of county election officials, but the judge dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the Colorado-based plaintiff did not provide evidence that she was a Missouri resident. But the judge also said he would have ruled against the lawsuit regardless of residency because the initiative met state signature-gathering requirements.

Opiates and Opioids

Fentanyl Replaces Heroin as Leading Cause of Overdose Deaths in DC. Fentanyl has now almost completely replaced heroin in Washington, DC, with heroin being detected in only 15 of the city's 166 opioid overdose deaths in the first five months of 2022. Heroin is now killing fewer Washingtonians than fentanyl, cocaine, alcohol, or prescription drugs. Public health experts say public health strategies must be adapted to adjust to the city's changing drug use profile. Most of the city's drug overdoses in the last year were among people between 40 and 70, and 84 percent of them were Black.

International

Taliban Make Little Progress in Countering Drugs. The Taliban banned opium in April, shortly after the last harvest, but as the next poppy growing season approaches, less than 250 acres of poppy have been eradicated and only 4,270 kilograms of opium have been seized, far behind the performance of previous Afghan governments. In 2020, for example, the government seized 80,000 kilos of opium, nearly 20 times as much as this year. And that has some experts questioning the Taliban's commitment to the ban. "There is serious doubt on the intentions of the current rulers whether they really want to eradicate poppy," said Javid Qaem, a former deputy minister for counternarcotics in Afghanistan and now a researcher at Arizona State University. "At the time of the Republic, security was a big challenge. Police could not go to the areas where poppy was cultivated. Taliban claim that they have all the areas under their control. They should be able to do it easily," he told said.

India's "Narco Files" Hold Over 500,000 Names. India's first registry of drug traffickers, launched only a month ago, now has more than 500,000 names on it. The National Integrated Database on Arrested Narco-offenders (NIDAAN) - a database of arrested narcotics offenders from states and union territories, developed by Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) - aims to profile each narco-offender by integrating with Inter Operable Justice System (ICJS) and Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and System (CCTNS), officials said. It holds the names of all people convicted of drug trafficking offenses in the past 10 years.

CA Bill to Protect Workers' Off-Duty Marijuana Use Passes, OK Supreme Court to Decide If Legal Pot Initative Makes Ballot, More... (8/31/22)

Workers' rights to use marijuana off duty are in the news, a Missouri marijuana legalization campaign draws organized opposition from within the cannabis community, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Bill to Protect Workers from Firing for Off-Duty Marijuana Use Heads to Governor's Desk. A bill that would provide broad employment protections for workers who use marijuana off the job, Assembly Bill 2811, has been approved by the legislature, easily winning a final concurrence vote in the Assembly late last week. The bill would "make it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person in hiring, termination, or any term or condition of employment, or otherwise penalize a person" solely because of off-duty marijuana use. The bill would also bar employees from demanding that workers or potential hires undergo marijuana testing, with exceptions for federal employees and some safety-sensitive positions. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiative Draws Organized Opposition—from Within the Cannabis Community. The marijuana legalization initiative from Legal Missouri 2022 has drawn its first organized opposition, and those foes are coming from within the Kansas City cannabis community and allied lawmakers. The critics say the initiative does not offer social equity provisions and that by legalizing marijuana through a constitutional amendment, it removes legislators from the process and prevents legislative oversight. Members of the Impactful Canna Reform Coalition include state Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove (D-Kansas City), a pair of Kansas City medical marijuana businesses, a cooking and catering business, a holistic wellness company, an herbal remedy company, and Kansas City-based community organizers. "The capitalism monster loves to exploit you, and that is what’s happening with this petition," Bland Manlove said in a statement. "Myself and like-minded community partners realized people from politicians to Bob on the street didn’t know the details. We want to make it known."

Nevada Supreme Court Rules That Recreational Use of Marijuana Is Not Protected Off-Duty Conduct. The state's highest court has ruled that a casino employee who was fired after he was injured on the job and then tested positive for marijuana does not any legal recourse. Under state law, workers cannot be punished for the "lawful use" of products while not on duty, but the Supreme Court held that because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, its use is not "lawful," and the employee is therefore not protected. The case is Ceballos v. NP Palace LLC.

Oklahoma Supreme Court Agrees to Consider Whether Marijuana Legalization Initiative Should Be on November Ballot. Organizers behind the State Question 820 marijuana legalization initiative handed in sufficient signatures to meet state requirements, but the initiative still might be kept off the ballot because, for the first time, the state used a private contractor to count signatures and that contractor slow-walked the signature counting process so long that the statutory deadline to put the question on the ballot passed last week. The count, which normally takes two or three weeks, took seven weeks this time, and now, proponents have asked the state Supreme Court to intervene. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court agreed to take up the issue. If it rules against the initiative campaign, the measure would then go before voters either in a later special election called by the governor or on the November 2024 ballot.

Fed Judge Rules for Opioid Distributors in WV Lawsuit, CA Kills Marijuana Cultivator Tax, More... (7/5/22)

A Washington state county commissioner demonstrates her cluelessness about harm reduction, Senate drug warriors file the END FENTANYL Act, and more.

pain pills (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Signs Bill Ending Cultivation Tax on Marijuana Growers. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed into law Assembly Bill 195, a wide-ranging bill to restructure the state's legal marijuana system whose most striking feature is the removal of the wholesale tax on marijuana growers. The aim of the bill is to provide relief to the struggling industry and further erode the marijuana black market. The bill also shifts collection of the state's 15 percent excise tax from the distributor level to the retail level, and it freezes the excise tax for at least the next three years. Aiming at unlicensed operators, the bill allows for fines of up to $10,000 per day for property managers who knowingly rent or lease space to unlicensed marijuana businesses. It also includes $40 million in tax credits, half for equity operators and half for microbusinesses. Social equity operators will also be eligible for a $10,000 tax credit and will be able to keep 20 percent of excise tax revenues for reinvesting in their businesses.

Opiates and Opioids

Bipartisan Group of Senate Drug Warriors File END FENTANYL Bill. Sens. Rick Scott (R-FL), Mike Braun (R-IN), Diane Feinstein (D-CA), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) have filed the cutely-acronymed Eradicating Narcotic Drugs and Formulating New Tools to Address National Yearly Losses of Life (END FENTANYL) Act (Senate Bill 4440). The bill would require the Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to update its policies at least once every three years to ensure drug interdiction guidance is up to date. The legislation was prompted by a 2019 GAO report, Land Ports of Entry: CBP Should Update Policies and Enhance Analysis of Inspections, which found drug interdiction guidance has not been updated in 20 years. Scott used a press release about the bill to slam President Biden for his "failed open border policies" even though DEA figures show that 80 percent of fentanyl comes through ports of entry, not in the backpacks of refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented border crossers.

Federal Judge Rules for Opioid Distributors in West Virginia Lawsuit. A federal judge ruled against West Virginia plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking damages from three major drug distributors who they accused of causing a public health crisis by distributing 81 million pills in eight years in one county hard hit by opioid addiction. Cabell County and the city of Huntington had sued AmerisourceBergen Drug Company, Cardinal Health, and McKesson Corp.

Plaintiffs argued that the companies sent a "tsunami" of prescription pain pills into the county and that their conduct was unreasonable, reckless, and disregarded the public health. "The opioid crisis has taken a considerable toll on the citizens of Cabell County and the City of Huntington. And while there is a natural tendency to assign blame in such cases, they must be decided not based on sympathy, but on the facts and the law," US District Judge David Faber wrote in the 184-page ruling. "In view of the court's findings and conclusions, the court finds that judgment should be entered in defendants' favor. Plaintiffs failed to show that the volume of prescription opioids distributed in Cabell/Huntington was because of unreasonable conduct on the part of defendants," Faber wrote, noting that the plaintiffs supplied no evidence that the companies distributed opioids to any entity that was not properly registered with the DEA or the state Board of Pharmacy. The city and the county had sought more than $2.5 billion that would have gone toward opioid efforts. The goal of the 15-year abatement plan would have been to reduce overdoses,

Harm Reduction

WA County Commissioner Fears "Normalization" of Naloxone. Amanda McKinney, a Republican Yakima County Commissioner, is concerned that the use of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone will be "normalized." She was responding to a presentation by the Board of Health about the increase in drug overdose deaths and the district's overdose awareness campaign, but zeroed in on one sentence: Among the goals of the campaign was "Increase awareness and education about the benefits of naloxone to normalize its use."

That set off McKinney: I'm really concerned about that last slide where it says normalize use. I would really like for us to expand on what that means," McKinney said. "I'm just wondering if there is a better term than normalize, 'cuz normalize to me means we're accepting this and promoting this as part of our daily lives and I think that that word is inappropriate."

Apparently unfamiliar with the notion of harm reduction, she also questioned the effectiveness of needle exchanges and fentanyl test strips. "I'd really like to know what the effectiveness is of fentanyl testing strips and syringe exchange services for actually successfully getting people off and away from being someone who is a habitual drug user," McKinney said. "I question those methods as being methods that are successful in getting people actually off the drugs." Following McKinney's comments, Health District Director Andre Fresco explained that harm reduction's primary goal is not to end drug use, but to save lives, and added that the district is involved in efforts to get people off drugs.

Another Push for the SAFE Banking Act, NJ Magic Mushroom Legalization Bill Filed, More... (7/1/22)

The Ohio Supreme Court rejects a police backpack search for marijuana, the Massachusetts Senate has approved an asset forfeiture reform bill, and more.

Psilocybin mushrooms. It could be legal to grow, possess, and share them under a New Jersey bill. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Lawmakers File Marijuana Banking Amendment to Must-Pass Defense Bill in Latest Reform Push. Led by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-OR), sponsor of the House-passed version of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (HR 1996), a bipartisan group of lawmakers are pushing an amendment to the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act to attach that legislation to the must-pass bill. This is the second year Perlmutter has tried to get the SAFE Banking Act language into the defense spending bill. Passage of the bill in the Senate has been stymied by Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), who has been blocking the incremental bill as he continues to push for a full-scale marijuana legalization bill. Perlmutter's amendment will be taken up in the House Rules Committee, and if approved as part of the spending bill in the House, would be subject to conference committee approval with Senate leaders.

Ohio Supreme Court Finds Marijuana Backpack Search Unconstitutional. In a unanimous decision, the state Supreme Court has thrown out the conviction of a woman for marijuana possession, ruling that a warrantless search of her backpack in her home violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against warrantless searches. Police came to the woman's home with an unrelated arrest warrant and searched her backpack while she was already handcuffed and sitting in a patrol car. They found 391 grams of mostly marijuana edibles and charged her with felony marijuana possession. Police and prosecutors argued that they had the right to search the backpack for weapons, but the justices held there was no rationale for a weapons search once the woman was detained. Police and prosecutors also argued that a bit of plastic baggie protruding from the backpack justified the search, but the justices rejected that as well. "When police search a bookbag in a home under circumstances that do not give rise to any exigency, they must follow the command of the Fourth Amendment: get a warrant," wrote Justice Patrick DeWine. The case goes back to lower courts for reconsideration.

Psychedelics

New Jersey Senate President Files Bill to Legalize Magic Mushrooms for Personal Use. Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D) has filed a bill, Senate Bill 2934, that would allow people 21 and over to "possess, store, use, ingest, inhale, process, transport, deliver without consideration, or distribute without consideration, four grams or less of psilocybin," the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms. People could legally grow, cultivate, or process the mushrooms capable of producing psilocybin on private property. The bill would also expunge past criminal offenses for magic mushrooms. "This bill is a recognition of evolving science related to psilocybin and its medical uses related to mental health, and if science can provide relief in any fashion with this natural substance under a controlled environment then we should encourage this science," Scutari said. In 2021, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill downgrading psilocybin possession from a third-degree crime to disorderly persons offense with a maximum $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

Asset Forfeiture

Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill to Reform Civil Asset Forfeiture. The state Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would raise the evidentiary standard for prosecutors to be able to pursue civil asset forfeiture. The bill, Senate Bill 2671, would raise the standard from the lowest legal standard -- probable cause -- to the "preponderance of evidence." The bill also bars asset forfeiture prosecutions for less than $250 and provides the right to counsel for indigent people in asset forfeiture cases. "We view ourselves as a socially progressive state with strong protection for civil liberties. But our current laws on civil asset forfeiture are anything but, and reforming in this area is long overdue," said Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), lead sponsor of the bill.

Supreme Court Sides with Inmate in Crack Cocaine Resentencing Case [FEATURE]

In a Monday decision little-noticed amidst the rising clamor over recent Supreme Court decisions on guns, abortion, and religion, the highest court in the land ruled in favor of a federal crack cocaine prisoner seeking a sentence reduction under the terms of the 2018 First Step Act. The ruling could affect thousands of other mostly Black inmates sentenced under the nation's harsh crack cocaine laws.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor writes for the majority. (Creative Commons)
During the crack panic of the 1980s, Congress passed legislation creating a 100:1 disparity in the weight of the drug required to trigger a mandatory minimum federal prison sentence. Confronted with the increasingly unassailable evidence that the sentencing disparity was neither scientifically justified nor racially neutral -- nearly 80 percent of federal crack prosecutions targeted Black people by 2009 -- Congress in 2010 passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced but did not eliminate the weight disparity, setting it at 18:1.

The Fair Sentencing Act provided relief to people sentenced after its passage, but it was not retroactive, meaning people sentenced under the old standard still had to do those harsh sentences. In order to address that oversight and reduce racial inequities, Congress in 2018 passed the First Step Act, making those sentencing changes retroactive and opening the door for people sentenced under the old law to seek resentencing.

The case in question, Concepcion v. United States, began when Carlos Concepcion pleaded guilty to selling crack in 2009 and was sentenced to 19 years in prison based on the 100:1 sentencing disparity in effect at the time. After passage of the First Step Act and having already served a decade of his sentence, Concepcion filed for a reduced sentence. Part of his argument was that he was no longer considered a "career offender" subject to harsher sentencing because of changes in the federal sentencing guidelines unrelated to the First Step Act.

Without that "career offender" designation, Concepcion would have been a free man after serving just less than six years [Ed: six years is itself a very long time], but a Massachusetts federal district court judge declined to consider factors unrelated to the First Step Act and denied his resentencing request. That denial was upheld by the 1st US Circuit Court in Boston, and Concepcion and his attorneys then appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor in a 5-4 decision.

The majority on the court was an odd one, consisting of the three liberal justices -- Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor -- joined by hard conservative justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas. Sotomayor wrote the opinion.

In it, she argued that judges enjoy broad discretion at sentencing and that discretion continues in any later proceedings that may change the sentence.

"Federal courts historically have exercised broad discretion to consider all relevant information at an initial sentencing hearing, consistent with their responsibility to sentence the whole person before them," she wrote. "That discretion also carries forward to later proceedings that may modify an original sentence. District courts' discretion is bounded only when Congress or the Constitution expressly limits the type of information a district court may consider in modifying a sentence."

There is nothing in the First Step Act that limits that discretion, she added.

"Nothing in the text and structure of the First Step Act expressly, or even implicitly, overcomes the established tradition of district courts' sentencing discretion," she wrote. "The text of the First Step Act does not so much as hint that district courts are prohibited from considering evidence of rehabilitation, disciplinary infractions, or unrelated Guidelines changes. The only two limitations on district courts' discretion appear in §404(c): A district court may not consider a First Step Act motion if the movant's sentence was already reduced under the Fair Sentencing Act or if the court considered and rejected a motion under the First Step Act. Neither limitation applies here."

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh argued that the First Step Act only authorized judges to cut sentences related to changes in the crack sentencing ranges, but not unrelated factors.

"Congress enacted the First Step Act to provide a targeted retroactive reduction in crack-cocaine sentencing ranges, not to unleash a sentencing free-for-all in the lower courts," Kavanaugh wrote.

But that was the minority opinion. And if reducing unduly harsh crack cocaine sentences that were based on panic and prejudice is "a sentencing free-for-all," that would be a small price to pay for some restorative justice.

Supreme Court Rules for Crack Prisoners, CO Psychedelic Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures, More... (6/28/22)

A major Swiss bank gets convicted of cocaine money laundering, a House committee wants a GAO report on federal psilocybin policy, and more.

Something good came out of the US Supreme Court on Monday. (Pixabay)
Psychedelics

House Appropriations Committee Calls for Review of Federal Psilocybin Policy. In reports accompanying new spending bills, the leaders of the House Appropriations Committee are calling for a federal review of psilocybin policy, as well as letting researchers study marijuana from dispensaries and using hemp as an alternative to Chinese plastics. The report for the spending bill for Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies calls for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to analyze barriers to state, local, and tribal programs using psilocybin. The committee said the GAO should study the impact of federal drug prohibition in jurisdictions that allow psilocybin. The call comes as a psilocybin reform movement is gaining momentum across the country.

Colorado Activists Turn in Signatures for Psychedelic Initiative. The Natural Medicine Colorado campaign, the group behind an initiative to legalize psychedelics and create licensed psilocybin "healing centers," announced Monday that it had turned in 222,648 raw signatures. The campaign only needs 124,632 valid voter signatures, and this cushion of nearly 80,000 excess raw signatures suggests that the initiative will qualify for the November ballot. The measure would legalize the possession, use, cultivation, and sharing of psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline (not derived from peyote), DMT, and psilocyn for people 21 and over. It does not set specific possession limits, nor does it envision recreational sales. The measure would also place responsibility for developing rules for a therapeutic psilocybin with the Department of Regulatory Agencies.

Drug Policy

At Oversight Hearing, Director of National Drug Control Policy Highlighted Biden-Harris Administration's Commitment to Tackling Overdose and Addiction Crisis. On Monday, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, held a hearing with Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), to examine the federal government's response to the overdose and addiction crisis, including the Biden-Harris Administration's 2022 National Drug Control Strategy.

During the hearing, Director Gupta highlighted illicit drug seizures at the southern border and disruption of drug trafficking across the US; the need to expand treatment services; steps such as telehealth services to expand access to care for people in underserved communities; and overdose prevention efforts funded by the bipartisan Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act of 2022. Gupta and committee members also highlighted Chairwoman Maloney's Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act.

Supreme Court Rules Judges Can Weigh New Factors in Crack Cocaine Cases. The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the First Step Act allows district court judges to consider post-sentencing changes in law or fact in deciding whether to re-sentence people convicted under the harsh crack cocaine laws of the past.

While the penalties are still harsh, they are not quite as much as they were prior to passage of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the ratio of quantity triggers for the worst sentences for powder vs. crack cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1. The First Step Act made those sentencing changes retroactive, giving prisoners the chance to seek reduced sentences. The decision was 5-4, with conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joining the court's liberal minority in the opinion.

The case is Concepcion v. United States, in which Carlos Concepcion was sentenced to 19 years for a crack offense in 2009, a year before passage of the Fair Sentencing Act. He sought resentencing "as if" the Fair Sentencing Act provisions "were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed." That is proper, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the majority opinion: "It is only when Congress or the Constitution limits the scope of information that a district court may consider in deciding whether, and to what extent, to modify a sentence, that a district court's discretion to consider information is restrained. Nothing in the First Step Act contains such a limitation."

International

Swiss Court Convicts Credit Suisse of Cocaine Money-Laundering. The Swiss Federal Criminal Court has found the bank Credit Suisse guilty of failing to prevent money-laundering by a Bulgarian cocaine trafficking organization. One former bank employee was convicted of money-laundering in the case against the country's second-largest bank. The trial included testimony about murders and cash-filled suitcases. The court held that Credit Suisse demonstrated deficiencies in both the management of client relations with criminal groups and the implementation of money-laundering rules. "These deficiencies enabled the withdrawal of the criminal organization's assets, which was the basis for the conviction of the bank's former employee for qualified money laundering," the court said. Credit Suisse said it would appeal.

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of "Pill Mill" Docs, UN Human Rights Experts Call for End to Drug War, More... (6/27/22)

Drug charges account for nearly one-third of all federal criminal prosecutions, Pakistan moves toward licensing medical and industrial cannabis production, Spain moves toward medical marijuana sales, and more.

The Supreme Court holds prosecutors to a high standard on charging doctors over prescribing. (Pixabay)
Opiates and Opioids

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Doctors Accused of Overprescribing Opioids. The Supreme Court on Monday set aside the convictions of two doctors accusing of running opioid "pill mills," making it more difficult for the government to prosecute doctors who overprescribe drugs. In seeking to distinguish between legitimate medical conduct and illegally overprescribing, the court held that prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the doctor knew or intended to prescribe drugs in an unauthorized manner. "We normally would not view such dispensations as inherently illegitimate; we expect, and indeed usually want, doctors to prescribe the medications that their patients need," Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the court. The cases involved a doctor in Alabama whose clinic dispensed nearly 300,000 opioid prescriptions over a four-year period and a doctor who practiced in Arizona and Wyoming who operated mostly on a cash-only basis, but who also accepted property as payment, including firearms.

Sentencing Policy

US Sentencing Commission Quarterly Report Shows Drugs Remain Most Common Federal Offense. Enforcing federal drug prohibition accounts for nearly one-third of all federal criminal prosecutions, according the US Sentencing Commission's latest quarterly report. Drug offenses accounted for 32.3 percent of all prosecutions in the last two quarters, with methamphetamine accounting for nearly half (48.6 percent) of all drug offenses and fentanyl continuing to increase, now accounting for 11.8 percent of all drug offenses. Immigration was the second largest category of federal prosecutions, accounting for 26.5 percent of all federal prosecutions, followed by firearms offenses at 14.9 percent. No other federal crime category accounted for more than 10 percent of federal prosecutions. A decline in prosecutions that took place during the coronavirus pandemic has now ended, with about 5,000 federal drug prosecutions every six months.

International

UN Human Rights Experts Use International Day Against Drug Abuse and Trafficking to Call for End of War on Drugs. UN human rights experts have called on the international community to bring an end to the so-called "war on drugs"and promote drug policies that are firmly anchored in human rights. Ahead of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on 26 June 2022, the experts issued the following statement:

"Data and experience accumulated by UN experts have shown that the 'war on drugs' undermines health and social wellbeing and wastes public resources while failing to eradicate the demand for illegal drugs and the illegal drug market. Worse, this 'war' has engendered narco-economies at the local, national and regional levels in several instances to the detriment of national development. Such policies have far-reaching negative implications for the widest range of human rights, including the right to personal liberty, freedom from forced labor, from ill-treatment and torture, fair trial rights, the rights to health, including palliative treatment and care, right to adequate housing, freedom from discrimination, right to clean and healthy environment, right to culture and freedoms of expression, religion, assembly and association and the right to equal treatment before the law."

Click on the link above for the rest of the statement.

New Zealand Poll Shows Most Support Replacing Punitive Drug Laws with Health-Based Approach. A new poll produced by The Navigators on behalf of the NZ Drug Foundation finds that a solid majority of New Zealanders support replacing the 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act with a health-based approach. Some 68 percent of respondents favored the change. A strong majority -- 61 percent -- also favored drug decriminalization and introducing more support for education and treatment. The poll also showed that there is strong support for more funding to be provided for treatment and education (82 percent) and harm reduction initiatives like drug checking (74 percent).

Pakistan Moves to Allow Cannabis Farming for Medical and Industrial Use. The Ministry of Science and Technology will form an authority to regulate and facilitate the farming and use of cannabis, or "Bhang," as it referred to in the country. The authority will issue 15-year licenses for industrial, medical, processing, research, and development purposes. The Department of Commerce will issue licenses for cannabis exports.

Spain Moving Toward Allowing Medical Marijuana Sales in Pharmacies. A subcommittee in the Congress of Deputies has accepted a draft bill to regulate medical marijuana sales and referred the bill to the Commission on Health for a vote this week. While the proposed bill has very tight distribution rules, it is being lauded as the first step toward providing greater access. Once the bill is approved by the Health Commission, the Spanish Medicines Agency will have six months to draft appropriate regulations. The draft bill will make THC-containing flowers available by prescription for the treatment of specified illnesses and conditions.

Pell Grants for Prisoners Are Coming Back Next Year, OK Legal Pot Initiative Signature-Gathering Begins, More... (5/3/22)

Signature-gathering for a marijuana legalization inititiave is underway in Oklahoma, the courts block a San Francisco effort to enact broad bans on alleged drug dealers in the Tenderloin, and more.

San Francisco. The courts are blocking the city's effort to ban alleged drug dealers from the Tenderloin. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Files Preemptive Lawsuit Over Whether It Will Appear on November Ballot. Anticipating an effort by Republican lawmakers to keep their marijuana legalization initiative off the November ballot, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol filed a lawsuit last Friday to block the expected move. Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) submitted petitions to the legislature on January 28, giving it until May 28 to approve the petitions calling for legalization, after which, the coalition could then do another round of signature-gathering to put the question directly before voters in November. But Republican legislative staffers have argued that because the petitions were not submitted to the legislature 10 days before the start of the session, as required by the state constitution. But the preemptive lawsuit argues there is state Supreme Court precedent for allowing a November vote.

Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Begins Signature-Gathering. Marijuana legalization advocates have begun signature gathering for State Question 820, which would legalize adult use marijuana and levy a 15 percent excise tax on retail purchases to fund the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority. Campaigners will need 95,911 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot and have until August 1 to do so. Another pair of initiatives could also appear on the ballot. State Question 818 would create a State Cannabis Commission that would replace the OMMA and guarantee patients' medical cannabis access in the Oklahoma Constitution, while State Question 819 would legalize adult-use marijuana and guarantee medical and adult-use marijuana access in the Constitution. Because these two questions would change the state constitution, they face a higher signature-gathering threshold than State Question 820, which would only make statutory changes. The threshold for constitutional questions is 177,958 valid voter signatures.

Drug Policy

California Appeals Court Blocks San Francisco Bid to Ban Drug Dealers from Tenderloin, SOMA. In a case that began when the city sued 28 alleged drug dealers in the Tenderloin and South of Market (SOMA) neighborhoods and banned them from a 50-square-block area in those neighborhoods, which are rife with open drug dealing and drug use, a state appeals court has upheld a lower court decision last year blocking the bans from taking effect. In its ruling last Friday, the 1st District Court of Appeals held that while local governments may be entitled to narrowly target ban orders in some limited circumstances, but not such a broad one. The lower court decision held that the ban was so broad it would violate the constitutional right to travel, and that state law did not appear to authorize it.

The appeals court largely agreed: "We are mindful of, and sympathetic to, the challenges faced by the city in addressing the issues of illegal drug sales, drug use, and the drug-related health crisis and its effects on the people who live and work in the neighborhood," Justice Marla Miller wrote in Friday's 3-0 ruling. But, she continued, "although the city contends these defendants have no reason to ever even be in the 50-square-block Tenderloin neighborhood except to sell drugs there was evidence that many community resources and government agencies are located in the Tenderloin." The lower court judge was entitled to believe statements from the four people "that they were interested in taking advantage of the employment, treatment, housing, and health services available in the 50-square-block neighborhood," the appeals court added. The city said it was "disappointed" with the ruling, but had yet to decide whether to appeal.

Education

Pell Grants Will Be Available for Prisoners Again Beginning Next Year. Once upon a time, incarcerated Americans were able to try to advance themselves by using Pell Grants to pay for college tuition and textbook costs -- just like other students -- but when Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, it barred prisoners from accessing that financial aid. In 2020, though, Congress restored the eligibility for both state and federal prisoners. In the fall of 2021, the Department of Education begin developing rules for the expansion of Pell Grants to prisoners and has now announced that application forms for imprisoned students will be available on October 1 for the 2023 academic year.

International

British Virgin Islands Premier Asserts Immunity in Cocaine Case, Demands Immediate Release. British Virgin Islands (BVI) Premier Andrew Fahie, who was arrested last week in a US government sting in Miami, argued in court Monday that as the elected head of government, he is immune from prosecution and should be released immediately. No word yet on when a federal judge will decide that question, and in the meantime, Fahie remains in custody. Fahie and his ports director, Oleanvine Maynard, were busted at the Miami airport where they met what they thought were Mexican drug traffickers but were actually DEA agents seducing them into a scheme to import cocaine from South America through the BVI. Back home, Fahie already faced allegations of deep corruption, and his arrest may help propel a push to temporarily suspend the constitution and return to rule from London in an effort to clean up the government. Busting a head of state is a big deal and would have required approval at the highest levels of the Justice and State departments.

Executions of Drug Offenders Surged Last Year, Pot Industry Push for SAFE Banking Act, More... (3/21/22)

A suburban Atlanta prosecutor's big to clamp down on Delta-8 THC products runs into a judicial roadblock, the University of Michigan SSDP chapter is spearheading a municipal drug decriminalizaiton resolution, and more.

Marijuana industry execs are swarming Capitol Hill in a last-ditch bid to win passage of the SAFE Banking Act. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Industry Pushing Hard to Get Banking Measure Passed Before Midterms. More than 20 head executives of major marijuana companies have unleashed a lobbying blitz on Congress in a bid to get the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996) passed before the November midterms. They worry that if Republicans take over after the November elections, passage of the bill would be doomed. Passage of the bill has been blocked by the Democratic Senate leadership, which is holding out for a yet-to-be finalized marijuana legalization bill from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The marijuana companies say that while they also support legalization, they do not see the votes to pass it this year. "We want comprehensive reform, but we also recognize that with the potential for the House and Senate to change hands, we have an opportunity now to pass impactful legislation, and if we fail to do that, it could be years until we get something done," said Jared Maloof, CEO of Ohio-based medical marijuana company Standard Wellness.

Georgia Judge Blocks DA's Efforts to Ban Delta-8, Delta-10 Cannabis Extracts.  Suburban Atlanta Gwinnett County District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gaston has been blocked from enforcing a ban on cannabis extracts contained Delta-8 and Delta-10 by an order from Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall. Last Friday, Schwall issued a 30-day restraining order barring Gwinnet County from prosecuting people for possessing or selling the extracts. The two cannabinoids are similar to THC (Delta-9 THC), but have less powerful psychoactive effects, and they inhabit a hazy legal status. In January, Austin-Gaston said that possessing, selling, or distributing such products are felony offenses and raided two distributors, seizing millions of dollars worth of product, charging at least one person with a felony. Her actions are blocked as part of a lawsuit brought by two owners of a Gwinnet County vape story chain, who are seeking to have the extracts declared legal in the state.

Drug Policy

University of Michigan Students Push Ann Arbor Drug Decriminalization Resolution. The university chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy has launched a campaign to decriminalize the possession of drugs and their small-scale distribution. After consulting with community members, the group has drafted the Ann Arbor Resolution to Advance Sensible Drug Policy, which will be put before the city council. After consultation with stakeholders, the resolution sets a suggested permitted amount of 15 grams of any drug, much higher than other decriminalization measures. While drug laws are generally set by the state and federal governments, the resolution, if adopted, would make drug possession the lowest law enforcement priority and ban the use of city funds to enforce the prohibition on drug possession.

International

Executions for Drug Convictions Surged in 2021; Most Are Kept Secret. According to a new report from Harm Reduction International, The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: Global Overview 2021, at least 131 people were executed for drug offenses last year, but "this number is likely to represent only a fraction of all drug-related executions carried out globally." Even so, it is nearly four times the number of executions reported in 2020. HRI named Iran and China as definitely carrying out drug executions last year, and it suspects that Vietnam and North Korea did as well, but cannot confirm that because of government secrecy. The report identifies "High Application States" where "executions of individuals convicted of drug offenses were carried out, and/or at least 10 drug-related death sentences per year were imposed in the past five years." Along the countries mentioned above, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Singapore all make this rogue's gallery. At least 3,000 people are on death row for drugs worldwide, the report found, with at least 237 drug death sentences issued last year in 16 countries. 

What Happens When Cops Plant a GPS Tracker on Your Car Without You Knowing? [FEATURE]

This piece was written for Drug War Chronicle by criminal justice reporter Clarence Walker, [email protected].

What happens if an unsuspecting citizen finds a police-installed GPS tracking device attached beneath his vehicle? As documented in the case of Indiana v. Derek Heuring, things can turn pretty strange.

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At first glance, the "tiny box" resembled a bomb -- so the vehicle owner snatched the GPS tracker and tossed it. But should the law then allow the arrest of a person for theft of the GPS? The police thought so, because this bizarre sequence of events happened to suspected drug seller Derek Heuring, a Boonville, Indiana resident.

After they executed a search warrant, the Warrick County Sheriff Department narcotics officers in Heuring's hometown charged him with theft of a GPS tracker, which they had secretly put on his SUV. Heuring never knew who owned the tracker or why the device had been under his vehicle.

A search warrant must clearly show the officers had sufficient probable cause to believe Mr. Heuring had committed a crime to make a theft of the GPS stick. How can people be lawfully charged with theft of property found on one's vehicle, when they didn't know it was there in the first place?

Evansville Indiana criminal attorney Michael C. Keating insisted from the beginning that Heuring did not know what the device was or who it belonged to -- and Keating said his client "had no obligation to leave the GPS tracker on his vehicle."

Desperate to find the GPS, officers executing the search warrant on separate properties owned by the Heuring's family scored a bonus when they recovered meth, drug paraphernalia, and a handgun.

The Indiana Supreme Court Justices threw out the GPS theft charge including the methamphetamine possession charges on February 20, 2020.

"I'm not looking to make things easier for drug dealers," Justice Mark Massa said during arguments on the case. "But something is left on your car even if you know it's the police tracking you, do you have an obligation to leave it there and let them track you -- and if you take it off you're subject to a search of your home?" Massa asked rhetorically.

Deputy Attorney General Jesse Drum answered Massa's question with a resounding "yes".

"The officers did everything they could to rule out every innocent explanation," Drum told the justices, hoping to have the warrants upheld and win the state's case.

This legal groundbreaking story is important for law enforcement authorities, judges, prosecutors, and the public because the charges against Derek Heuring highlight the wide-ranging tactics police often use to justify illegal searches in drug cases, as well as raising broader questions about privacy and government surveillance.

In addition, Heuring's case raises the question of whether the police, even with a warrant, should have the leeway to both place a tracking device on a person's vehicle and forbid the individual to remove it from their vehicle if the person knows the police put it there to watch their every move. For example, if a person discovered a hidden camera in his bedroom should the law require him to leave it there without removing it -- knowing the police are trying to build evidence against them?

Antoine Jones (photo by Clarence Walker)
US vs. Antoine Jones became the first landmark case to be decided by the US Supreme Court involving law enforcement's illegal use of a GPS tracking system. Jones had been sentenced to life in prison without parole on drug conspiracy charges and his conviction was reversed on January 23, 2012. FBI and DEA agents planted a warrantless GPS on Jones' vehicle to monitor his movements thinking he was a Mexican cartel associate responsible for distributing mass amounts of cocaine in the Washington DC area. Jones' case is the standard-bearer that forces law enforcement in America today to first obtain a warrant to track someone with a GPS. Antoine Jones singlehandedly fought the almighty Feds tooth, nail, and claw, and finally won his freedom.

In Heuring's situation, the circumstances show how the narcs used a dubious search warrant to recover a GPS tracker claiming that Heuring had stolen it. The police charged him with the GPS theft without evidence that a theft occurred. They were hoping a bogus theft case would suffice against Heuring whom they suspected of dealing illegal drugs.

In a final ruling against state prosecutors that effectively dismissed the cases altogether, another justice opined, "I'm struggling with how that is theft," said Justice Steven David.

"We hold that those search warrants were invalid because the affidavits did not establish probable cause that the GPS device was stolen. We further conclude the affidavits were so lacking in probable cause that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule does not apply," Justice Loretta Rush wrote.

Thus, under the exclusionary rule, "the evidence seized from Heuring's home and his father's barn must be suppressed."

"We reverse and remand,'' the Indiana Supreme Court Justices wrote.

How It Went Down

Indiana resident Derek Heuring (Facebook)
During summer 2018, Warrick County Sheriff Department narcotic officers Matt Young and Jarrett Busing received information from an informant that Heuring was slinging dope for a living. Officer Young obtained a warrant on July 28 to place the department's GPS tracking devices onto Heuring's Ford Expedition SUV to track his movements for 30 days. This GPS tracker was a black box, about 4 inches by 6 inches with no identification to identify where it came from.

The warrant authorized 30 days of tracking, but the device failed to transmit Heuring's location after the sixth day. Then on the seventh day, the narcs received a final update from the tracker showing Heuring's SUV at his residence. The officers were increasingly puzzled over why they weren't detecting location information three days later. Finally, however, a technician assured the officers that the battery was fully charged but that the "satellite was not reading."

Alarmed over the ensuing problem, Officer Busing decided to check out the happenings with the GPS. Busing drove over to Heuring's father's barn where the SUV was parked. He thought the location of the barn thwarted the satellite signal. Subsequently, the officers saw the vehicle parked away from the barn, and then parked outside of the family's home. Officer Young again contacted a technician "to see if the GPS would track now." The tech informed him, "that the device was not registering and needed a hard reset."

Officers went to retrieve the GPS from the SUV, but it was gone!

The officers discussed how a GPS had previously disengaged from a vehicle by accident, yet still, the device was located because the GPS continued to transmit satellite readings. Convinced the GPS had been stolen and stashed in either Heuring's home or his father's barn, Officer Busing filed affidavits for warrants to search both locations for evidence of theft of the GPS.

With guns drawn, deputies stormed Heuring's home and the barn. Deputies recovered meth, drug paraphernalia, and a handgun. Next, Officer Busing obtained warrants to search the house and barn for narcotics. The officers located the GPS tracker during the second search, including more contraband. Finally, deputies arrested the young man.

Although a jury trial hadn't taken place, Heuring's defense attorney Michael Keating filed a series of motions in 2018 to suppress the seized evidence. Keating challenged the validity of the search warrants under both the Fourth Amendment and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. Keating's motion argued the initial search warrants were issued without probable cause that evidence of a crime -- the theft of the GPS device -- would be found in either his home or his father's barn. Prosecutors argued the opposite, and the trial court judge ruled against Heuring, thus setting the stage for defense attorneys to appeal the trial court adverse ruling with the first-level state appellate court, arguing the same facts about the faulty search warrants. After hearing both sides, the appellate judges upheld the trial court's refusal to suppress the evidence against Heuring.

Despite the trial court and the lower-level court upholding the questionable warrants the Indiana Supreme Court Justices heard oral arguments from the defense attorney and the attorney general on November 7, 2019. The central point of the legal arguments boiled down to the search warrants. Supreme Court justices pinpointed the fallacies of the officer's search warrants by in their opinion.

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Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush
"All of the evidence must be suppressed because the initial warrant was invalid," Justice Rush wrote. "Affidavits filed by the officers in support of the search warrant failed to establish probable cause in two respects; first the warrants lacked information that the person who removed the GPS was aware to get consent from the Sheriff's Department, and second, the affidavits lacked information that there was an intent to deprive the Sheriff's Department of the value or use of the GPS."

The justices concurred, "The affidavits support nothing more than speculation -- a hunch that someone removed the device intending to deprive the Sheriff's Department of its value or use."

"We find it reckless for an officer to search a suspect's home and his father's barn based on nothing more than a hunch that a crime had been committed. We are confident that applying the exclusionary rule here will deter similar reckless conduct in the future", Justice Rush concluded.

Derek Heuring is a free man today. Thanks to common sense judges.

And Another GPS Tracking Case: Louisiana Woman Cold-Busted State Police Planting GPS on Her Vehicle; She Removes It; Police Want it Back

Just last year in March, an alert citizen identified as Tiara Beverly was at home in her gated apartment complex in Baton Rouge, Louisiana preparing to run errands when she noticed something peculiar. She spotted a group of suspicious white men standing near her car. Beverly's adrenaline shot sky-high when she saw one of the cool-acting fellows bend over and placed something under her car.

"I instantly panicked," Beverly told local television station WBRZ. "I didn't "know if it was a bomb, but I found out it was a tracker.

Unsatisfied with Beverly's denial that she didn't have a location on the person they were looking for, the police planted a GPS under her car. Two weeks prior, Louisiana State Troopers visited Beverly's home and harshly questioned her about a personal friend she knew. Again, Beverly vehemently denied knowing the person's whereabouts. Finally, two days later, the officers put the GPS on Beverly's vehicle, Details are sketchy of how the police gathered evidence to arrest Beverly on narcotic-related charges in February 2021. A judge released Beverly on a $22,000 bond.

When Beverly finally determined the GPS was placed on her vehicle by police, she rushed to the local NAACP in Baton Rouge and told her story to NAACP president Eugene Collins. Collins told the reporter he contacted the police on Beverly's behalf and the police immediately demanded Collins and Beverly to return the GPS tracker -- and they threatened her.

"They asked me to return the box, or it could make the situation more difficult for me," Collins recalled.

Civilians are prohibited from possessing or using GPS devices, but they are legal for law enforcement, parole, and probation officers or correctional officials to use, according to Louisiana Revised Statute 14: 222.3.

Police told reporters they had a warrant for the tracking device placed on Beverly's vehicle. However, when the WBRZ reporter asked to see the warrant, the State Trooper's Office declined to produce it, issuing the following statement: "Upon speaking with our detectives, this is part of an ongoing investigation involving Ms. Beverly and a suspect with federal warrants."

The Public Information Officer added, "Further information regarding charges and investigative documents will be available."

"The fact that a young woman can see you doing something like this means you're not very good at it," Collins told WBRZ.

Police in Beverly Tiara's case had a good shot to track her whereabouts, yet they blew it big time. Tiara's case isn't over yet, so we'll be reporting on future developments.

In Derek Heuring's criminal charges, Chief Justice Loretta Rush summed it up best when she said, "There is nothing new in the realization that the Constitution sometimes insulates the criminality of a few to protect the privacy of us all."

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