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CT Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization in Budget Proposal, Baltimore Announces Policing Reform, More... (2/11/21)

The appetite for busting pot smokers grows weaker in Fort Lauderdale and Milwaukee, Idaho could this year finally legalize hemp, and more.

Baltimore police are reforming some of their stop and search practices. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization Plan in Budget Proposal. Gov. Ned Lamont (D) on Wednesday released his budget request, which includes a plan to legalize marijuana. His plan would involve creating a "comprehensive framework for the cultivation, manufacture, sale, possession, use, and taxation of cannabis that prioritizes public health, public safety, and social justice," Lamont said. "The proposal builds on the significant work that the Legislature has done on adult-use cannabis in recent sessions and ensures alignment with the approaches pursued by regional states," a summary of the plan says.

Florida's Broward County Gives Up on Misdemeanor Pot Prosecutions. Broward County (Ft. Lauderdale) State Attorney Harold Pryor has told county police agencies not to bother referring misdemeanor marijuana possession cases for prosecution. "Prosecuting these cases has no public safety value and is a costly and counterproductive use of limited resources," Pryor wrote in a memo to the law enforcement agencies. He asked them to refer violators to drug-treatment programs instead of the criminal justice system. Possession of up to 20 grams is a misdemeanor under state law. Neighboring Miami-Dade County enacted a similar policy six months ago. Dade and Broward are the state's two most populous counties.

Milwaukee County Board to Consider $1 Fine for Pot Possession. Board Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez has proposed an ordinance that would make the maximum penalty for possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana a $1 fine. Currently, possession is punished with fines of between $250 and $500. The board's Judiciary Committee will take up the ordinance on March 11.

Hemp

Idaho House Committee Files Hemp Bill. Acting on the behest of the state Farm Bureau, the House Agriculture Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to file legislation to legalize industrial hemp in the state -- the only state yet to do so. The committee vote sets the stage for a full hearing on the bill, which agriculture leaders say they hope will end years of debate on legalizing the crop.

Drug Testing

Utah Bill Would Ban Hair Follicle Drug Tests in Child Welfare Cases. Rep. Christine Watkins (R-Price) has filed House Bill 73, which would ban the use of hair follicle drug tests in child welfare cases. "It discriminates against people with dark hair," she said in a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday. "This is very, very disturbing," Watkins said. "Melanin in dark hair binds with the drugs for a longer time." That means Black and Hispanic parents disproportionately test positive in those tests, she added. The bill has the support of the state Department of Child and Family Services, which said it had been moving away from using the tests.

Law Enforcement

Baltimore Police Unveil New Stop and Search Policies to Comply with Federal Consent Decree. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison announced Wednesday that the department has implemented a new "stops, searches and arrests" policy as the department seeks to comply with a federal consent decree and eliminate unconstitutional interactions with the public. Under the policy, officers will be trained in what constitutes "reasonable, articulable suspicion" for stopping a citizen. The new policy makes clear that someone fleeing when he sees police is not an adequate reason to stop and investigate him. Police had frequently resorted to "jump outs at corners," jumping out of their vehicles at corners known for drug trafficking and detaining anyone who ran away. No more.

These Five States Are Well-Placed to Legalize Marijuana This Year [FEATURE]

Last year, the number of states that have ended marijuana prohibition reached 15 plus the District of Columbia, as voters in four states -- Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota -- legalized it via the initiative process. This isn't an election year, so any states that attempt to legalize in 2021 will have to do so through the much more cumbersome legislative process, but at least a handful are poised to do so.

It is no coincidence that the early progress toward state-level legalization has been led by states that allow for voter initiatives. State legislatures badly trail public opinion on the issue, and beyond that, the legislative process itself is messy, beset with horse-trading, and progress of a bill is beholden to key legislative gatekeepers -- the committee chairs and majority leaders. And because crafting legislation is a complex process, getting a legalization bill through both chambers and signed by a governor is a process that generally takes not one, but two or three or even more years.

Legalization bills are likely to appear in nearly every state that has not already freed the weed, but it's likely to be an uphill struggle this year for most of them. The five states listed below have already been grappling with marijuana reform for years though, they have governors who are backing legalization, and they will only be emboldened by the Democrats' majorities in the US House and Senate (which could pass federal legalization this year) and by budgetary pressures related to the pandemic to push forward. If all goes well, by years' end, the number of legal marijuana states could top 20.

Here are the five best state marijuana legalization prospects for 2020:

Connecticut

Marijuana legalization has been fermenting in the legislature for several years now, but in November, Democrats added to their legislative majorities, increasing the odds that the issue will move this year. Governor Ned Lamont (D) just reiterated his call for legalization in his State of the State address, saying: "I am working with our neighboring states and look forward to working with our tribal partners on a path forward to modernize gaming in our state, as well as the legislature on legalization of marijuana. Sports betting, internet gaming, and legalized marijuana are happening all around us. Let's not surrender these opportunities to out-of-state markets or even worse, underground markets." And House Speaker Matthew Ritter (D) is vowing to take the issue to the voters if the legislature doesn't act. "I think it'll be a very, very close vote in the House," he said at a pre-session press conference. "But if we do not have the votes -- and I'm not raising the white flag -- I want to be very clear: We will put something on the board to put to the voters of the state of Connecticut to amend the state constitution to legalize marijuana."

New Mexico

The Land of Enchantment saw a marijuana legalization bill get through one Senate committee last year only to be killed in another, but with the support of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who formed a working group on legalization in 2019, and the ousting of some anti-reform legislators in the November elections, this could be the year it gets over the finish line. Lujan Grisham has argued that if the state had legalized it last year, it could have helped reduce revenue shortfalls because of the coronavirus. And earlier this month, she emailed supporters to jab at legislative legalization foes: "Unfortunately, the Legislature couldn't come to an agreement, even though the economic impact would have created thousands of new jobs and sustainable state revenue sources to invest in New Mexico's future," she wrote. The Senate had been the biggest obstacle to moving a legalization bill, but now the Democratic senators who voted with Republicans to kill it last year are out. The state has a 60-day "short session" that begins January 19. It could be the first out of the gate this year.

New York

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has been calling for years for marijuana legalization, but measures in the legislature have always stalled because of disputes over taxes, social equity provisions, and pure legislative power plays. Now, like Connecticut, the Empire State is feeling the pressure of neighboring states having already legalized it, as well as increased budgetary pressure because of the pandemic, and Cuomo is once again calling for legalization. In his State of the State address this week, Cuomo again proposed legalization: "I think this should have been passed years ago," he said in a briefing. "This is a year where we do need the funding, and a lot of New Yorkers are struggling. This year will give us the momentum to get it over the goal line." Democrats now have a supermajority in both chambers, which both makes it easier to pass legislation despite Republican objections and makes it easier for the legislature to override any Cuomo's veto of a legalization bill over provisions he may not like. A legalization bill, SB 854, has already been filed in the Senate. For New York, the fifth time may be the charm.

Rhode Island

Governor Gina Raimundo (D) and legislative leaders are all on board with moving forward on legalization, although the governor wants a state-run model and some legislators favor a private model. "The time has come to legalize adult cannabis use," Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (D) said in November. "We have studied this issue extensively, and we can incorporate the practices we've learned from other states." He and Senator Joshua Miller (D), who spearheaded past efforts to get legalization passed, have been tasked by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D) with coming up with workable legislation this session. And the House is on board, too, with new Speaker Joseph Shekarchi (D) saying he is "absolutely" open to legalization and that the House is already "very close" to having enough votes to pass it. There are a couple of complicating factors for Rhode Island now, though: The division over state vs. private sales and the fact that Raimundo will likely soon be leaving office after being nominated as commerce secretary in the new Biden administration.

Virginia

Two legalization bills, HB 269 from Delegate Steve Heretick (D), and Delegate Lee Carter's (D) HB 87, have already been filed this year, and Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has said he supports marijuana legalization: "Legalizing marijuana will happen in Virginia," he said recently. At the time, Northam laid out his requirements for such a bill -- social, racial, and economic equity; public health; protections for youth; upholding the state Clean Air Act; and data collection -- and said it could take up to two years, but growing public and political support and financial pressures related to the pandemic could well speed up that timeline.

In Historic Move, House Votes to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition [FEATURE]

Breaking almost entirely along party lines, the House on Friday voted to approve the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 or the MORE Act of 2019 (HR 3884). The vote was 228 to 164, with only a handful of Republicans voting "aye" and a handful of Democrats voting "nay."

Friday was an historic day on Capitol Hill. (Creative Commons)
The MORE Act would effectively end federal pot prohibition by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act's list of scheduled substances and eliminating federal criminal penalties for its possession, cultivation and sale. The bill would not affect state laws that criminalize marijuana, but it would end the conflict between states that have already legalized marijuana and federal law.

The bill also includes strong social equity provisions, including the creation of a fund to support programs and services for communities devastated by the war on drugs, a provision for expungement of past federal marijuana offenses, and a provision that bars the federal government from discriminating against people for marijuana use. The latter would protect immigrants from being deported for past marijuana convictions and would ensure that earned benefits are not denied to marijuana users.

The historic vote marks the first time either chamber of Congress has voted for legalization. But there is virtually no chance that the Republican-led Senate will take up -- let alone approve -- the measure in the remaining days of this session, meaning this is a battle that will continue in the next Congress.

Still, drug policy reformers were quick to celebrate the victory.

"Today's vote marks a historic victory for the marijuana policy reform movement. It indicates that federal lawmakers are finally listening to the overwhelming majority of Americans who are in favor of ending prohibition and comes at a critical time as this important measure addresses two key challenges we currently face," Marijuana Policy Project executive director Steven Hawkins said in a statement moments after the vote ended.

"Serious criminal justice reform cannot begin in our country without ending the war on cannabis," Hawkins continued. "The MORE Act would set federal marijuana policy on a path toward correcting an unfair system and help restore justice to those who have been victimized by prohibition. This legislation would also help address our country's fiscal and economic challenges by empowering states to implement programs that can stimulate economic growth and generate new tax revenue at a time when both are desperately needed. We call on the Senate to listen to the American people and pass the MORE Act without delay."

"This is HUGE!" said the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in a blog post announcing the vote. "This is an historic day for marijuana policy in the United States. This vote marks the first time in 50 years that a chamber of Congress has ever revisited the classification of cannabis as a federally controlled and prohibited substance, and it marks the first time in 24 years -- when California became the first state to defy the federal government on the issue of marijuana prohibition -- that Congress has sought to close the widening chasm between state and federal marijuana policies."

"The criminalization of marijuana is a cornerstone of the racist war on drugs. Even after a decade of reform victories, one person was arrested nearly every minute last year for simply possessing marijuana," Maritza Perez, director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) said in a statement. "Today the House took the most powerful step forward to address that shameful legacy. But the MORE Act as passed is imperfect, and we will continue to demand more until our communities have the world they deserve."

DPA is particularly irked by the insertion of language during the legislative process that limits expungement and resentencing provisions to people with nonviolent marijuana offenses and language that blocks people with marijuana felony convictions from fully participating in the industry. The group said in the statement that it would work with Congress next session "to remove these additions and pass a bill that fully aligns with our principles."

"Getting to this point definitely gives us hope, but the fight is far from over. We will continue to build support for an even stronger, and more inclusive bill in the next session," Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for DPA's Office of National Affairs, said in the statement. "We are grateful that members of Congress have rightly come to the realization that the drug war has exacerbated the racial injustices in this country and ending marijuana prohibition is a concrete tangible action they can take to benefit our communities now."

Not everyone was happy, though. America's leading anti-pot activist, Kevin Sabet, president and co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana lashed out at the vote and the House leadership in a statement that called it "a useless show vote."

"The pot industry has won a post-season exhibition game, but they're treating it like Game 7 of the World Series," he snarked. "The bill is a smokescreen for Altria Phillip Morris and their Big Tobacco gang of investors. As we have seen in state after state, marijuana commercialization does not lead to any tangible benefit for disadvantaged communities and social equity programs continue to be manipulated. Legalization simply results in rich, overwhelmingly white men getting richer while using predatory marketing tactics to expand substance abuse in the communities that were somehow supposed to benefit. Big Pot doesn't care about social justice or equity, its only concern is profit."

But while Sabet goes on about his mythical "Big Pot," he neglects to mention who actually supports the bill: the American people. In the latest Gallup poll, released less than a month ago, 68% said they wanted legal marijuana. They may have to wait for NORHWWE Congress to get in done at the federal level, but passage of the MORE Act is in line with what the public wants, even if prohibitionists don't wish to acknowledge that.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of Drug War Chronicle.

Washington, DC
United States

Fed Judge Approves Purdue Pharma Settlement, US Drops Case Against Ex-Mexican Defense Minister, More... (11/18/20)

Mississuppi's higest court agrees to a hear a challenge to the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, New York City public hospitals say no more drug testing pregnant women without their consent, and more.

Purdue Pharma will cop to serious felonies and pay $2 billion in a settlement with the DOJ. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Mississippi High Court Takes Up Challenge To Medical Marijuana Measure. Whether voters will actually get the medical marijuana program they approved at the polls earlier this month is now in question after the state Supreme Court announced Tuesday it will take up a challenge to its validity. The challenge was filed by the mayor of the town of Madison days before the election. It argues that the measure is invalid because of a state signature-gathering requirement that is impossible for any initiative to actually comply with. Initiatives are supposed to only get one-fifth of their signatures from each congressional district, but the state now has only four.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Federal Judge Approves Purdue Pharma OxyContin Settlement. A federal judge in New York has approved a settlement in a case brought by the Justice Department against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. Under the agreement, the company must plead guilty to "multiple serious felonies" in coming days. It will cop to conspiracy to defraud the United States, breaking laws against kickbacks, and one other count. The settlement also includes a $2 billion payout, with the federal government getting $225 million and states getting $1.775 billion to fight opioid addiction.

Drug Testing

New York City Public Hospitals Will Stop Drug Testing of Pregnant Women. Responding to an announcement that the city's Commission on Human Rights is investigating racial bias in the drug testing and reporting to child welfare authorities of pregnant women at three major hospitals, the city's public hospitals have announced they will no longer drug test pregnant women unless they have written consent. This is a change from the previous policy of the City Health and Hospitals Corporation, under which doctors and nurses did not need to inform pregnant patients they were being drug tested.

Foreign Policy

US Abandons Drug Case Against Former Mexican Defense Minister. Federal prosecutors made the surprise announcement Tuesday that they are dropping drug charges against former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos, who was arrested at LAX after arriving in the US last month. The announcement came in a joint statement with Mexican attorney general's office. "The United States has determined that sensitive and important foreign policy considerations outweigh the government's interest in pursuing the prosecution of the defendant," prosecutors said. Cienfuegos was accused of using his position to shield the H2 cartel and going after its rivals. But his arrest without prior notification of Mexican officials has strained ties between the two countries, with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador threatening to look again at agreements allowing DEA agents to operate in the country.

International

Thailand Loosens Drug Laws to Allow Sale and Possession of Drugs for Research Purposes. The Public Health Ministry has issued new regulations loosening controls on Category II drugs, such as cocaine, opiates and opioids, and ketamine. Under the new rules, such drugs can be sold and possessed for medical and scientific research, medical treatment and disease prevention, or for other government purposes. The new rules go into effect in 240 days.

VA Bill to Limit Traffic Stops Goes to Governor, NJ Pot Poll Looking Good, More... (10/12/20)

The Arizona marijuana legalization initiative picks up a big endorsement, Michigan's governor signs a package of "clean slate" bills that includes expunging past pot offenses, and more.

A Virginia bill would bar police from making stops for small-time equipment infractions and searching based on the odor of weed.
Marijuana Policy

Arizona's Largest Newspaper Endorses Marijuana Legalization Initiative. The Arizona Republic, the state's largest circulation newspaper, has endorsed the Prop 207 marijuana legalization initiative. "The Arizona Republic recommends passage of Prop. 207 because we need to right an historic wrong -- to decriminalize marijuana use and put the responsibility back on individuals to choose wisely when it comes to low-grade substances such as marijuana and alcohol," the newspaper's editorial board wrote Sunday. It will be legal because the United States made a mistake when it chose to employ criminal law to control marijuana use -- an improper use of the government's most muscular authority," they wrote. "Now we're in the process of a state-by-state correction."

Michigan Governor Signs Bill to Expunge Marijuana Convictions. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has signed six "clean slate" bills, including one that will allow past marijuana offenders to have their offenses expunged from their records. The bill doesn't apply to felony convictions that earned a sentence of 10 years or more. "This is a historic day in Michigan. These bipartisan bills are a game changer for people who are seeking opportunities for employment, housing, and more, and they will help ensure a clean slate for hundreds of thousands of Michiganders," said Governor Whitmer.

New Jersey Poll Shows Marijuana Legalization Initiative Doing Well. A new Farleigh Dickinson University poll has the state's marijuana legalization initiative winning the support of 61% of likely voters and those who have already voted. Only 29% were opposed. That leaves 10% undecided, but if the poll is accurate, even if every undecided voter voted "no," the measure would still pass.

Law Enforcement

Virginia Bill to Limit Police Traffic Stops Goes to Governor. The General Assembly has approved HB 5058, which would bar police from stopping drivers for a wide range of small-time vehicle equipment infractions and block them from searching vehicles on the basis that police smell marijuana coming from the vehicle. "This might be the most significant reform of the state's criminal justice system in decades," said Arlington Public Defender Brad Haywood, executive director of Justice Forward Virginia, a reform coalition that helped to spearhead the legislation. "his is a big step forward for racial justice in Virginia." It is now up to Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to sign the bill.

Will New Jersey Be the Next State to Legalize Weed? [FEATURE]

New Jersey looks set to be the next state to legalize marijuana. It's on the ballot come election day, the polls are looking good, and while it's not the only state with marijuana legalization on the ballot, the others -- Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota -- are all out West, and the Garden State should beat them by a few hours.

The New Jersey legalization initiative, Public Question 1, would amend the state constitution to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and its cultivation, processing, and retail sale. It also designates the existing Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC), which currently handles medical marijuana, to regulate all legal marijuana commerce. Retail marijuana sales would be subject to the state sales tax of 6.625%, but any other states sales taxes would be prohibited. The initiative authorizes the legislature to let local governments add a 2% local sales tax.

It also leaves it up to the legislature and the CRC to address unresolved issues. Those include whether and how home cultivation would be allowed, how much weed people could possess, and detailed retail regulations.

If the measure passes, New Jersey will be not only the first to legalize it this election day, it will also be the first Mid-Atlantic state to do so, and the first to legalize it via a legislatively-initiated voter referendum. Of the 11 states (and the District of Columbia) that have so far legalized marijuana, nine did it through citizen-based ballot initiatives, while in the other two, Illinois and Vermont, the legislatures passed legalization bills.

But even though Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on marijuana legalization in 2017 and vowed to get it passed in 100 days, legislative infighting, opposition within the Legislative Black Caucus, and bickering over revenues blocked the legislature from ever getting it done. As a last resort, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) and marijuana reform champion Sen. Nick Scutari (D) filed the resolution giving the voters the final decision. It passed with overwhelming Democratic support over strong Republican opposition last December.

And the polls have consistently shown it winning in November.An April Monmouth University poll of registered voters had the measure winning 61% of the vote, while a July Brach Eichler Cannabis Poll of likely voters had support at 67.6%. An August Brach Eichler Cannabis Poll had support at 66%, a barely noticeable decline and still a number to warm the hearts of legalization supporters.

That latter poll also had a large majority (74%) saying the state should make sure that racial equity issues are addressed, while another large majority, 71%, wanted tax revenues to be used for drug awareness and education. More than half (55%) wanted to see higher marijuana taxes.

"The [poll] shows that as we get closer to the November election, public awareness and support for the legalization of adult cannabis use is steady or growing," John D. Fanburg, co-chair of the Cannabis Law Practice at Brach Eichler, said in a press release accompanying the poll. "Additionally, we can see that voters are recognizing the importance of addressing the social justice impact of disproportional enforcement and arrests against New Jersey's minority population."

For Ken Wolski, RN, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana -- New Jersey (CMM-NJ), supporting the initiative is a no-brainer. Wolski and CMM-NJ are part of a broader coalition, NJ CAN 2020, that is working with Head Count's Cannabis Voter Project to end marijuana prohibition in the Garden State. Other coalition members include the ACLU-New Jersey, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, the Latino Action Network, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, and the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association.

"Legalizing marijuana is the best way to get the right medicine to the most people," Wolski told the Chronicle in an email exchange. "Legalization will make it much easier for adults to take advantage of the tremendous therapeutic potential of cannabis. No longer will adults need a specific diagnosis and multiple visits to physicians to obtain cannabis. Adults in New Jersey will be able to purchase cannabis over the counter, like they purchase aspirin now. NJ currently has some of the most expensive medical cannabis in the country, but increased competition will bring down those prices. Home grow should also come into play. Easily available marijuana will improve public health," he said.

Wolski is counseling reefer revolutionaries who don't think the measure goes far enough to think again. There will be opportunities to further shape what legalization looks like down the road, he said.

"Unfortunately, some marijuana reform advocates oppose the amendment because it does not address their specific concerns about guaranteeing home cultivation, ensuring that ex-felons can participate in the new legal industry, ensuring reparations for individuals and communities harmed by the war on marijuana, etc.," he explained.

"To those who say the question does not go far enough, I point out that the CRC must follow the regulatory process, which ensures input from the people of the state," Wolski continued. "The CRC will hold public hearings before they draft the regulations, then there will be a Public Comment period before they adopt the regulations. This will be the time to make opinions about home grow, social equity, affordable licenses, etc. known. The entire process will be transparent. If some of our demands are not met in the first go-round, we can immediately file to amend the regulations. The very first step is to give whole-hearted support for the ballot question, without which, there will be no reform of marijuana laws in New Jersey for the foreseeable future."

And he'll be fighting for home cultivation, he said.

"We anticipate arguments in civil and criminal courts that the amendment does, in fact, allow home cultivation," Wolski explained. "We plan to work with the CRC in the development of regulations to ensure that home cultivation is part of legal cannabis in New Jersey. At the same time, we will continue to work with legislators for a bill to specifically allow New Jersey medical marijuana program patients and caregivers to grow a limited supply of cannabis for their medical needs."

But first, the measure needs to win.

"If the ballot question fails, the war on marijuana will be business as usual, and we will be that much further away from home cultivation, legalization, expungement, social justice, etc.," Wolski warned. "The first step is victory in November that we can build on. We encourage New Jersey residents to join us in our efforts to pass this ballot question."

Settlement in Breonna Taylor Drug Raid Killing, UN Human Rights Chief Criticizes Philippines Drug War, More... (9/15/20)

There is a landmark settlement in the killing of Breonna Taylor, the federal government hints at a move toward the use of hair follicle testing for federal employees, and more. 

Drug war victim Breonna Taylor. Her family has settled with the city of Louisville. (Taylor family)
Medical Marijuana

Utah Lawsuit Over Legislature's Replacement of Voter-Approved Medical Marijuana Initiative Dropped. Proponents of a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative have dropped a lawsuit challenging the state legislature's replacement of it with a more restrictive program have dropped their lawsuit against the state after the legislature backed off of a plan to have the state dispense the medicine to qualifying patients.

Drug Testing

Feds Push for Hair Follicle Drug Testing Despite Known Racial Disparities in Results. The Department of Health and Human Services has announced a proposal to set scientific and technical guidelines for the use of hair follicle specimens for drug testing federal workers—even though the hair follicle tests are known for producing racially disparate results. The proposal would allow executive branch agencies "to collect and test a hair specimen as part of their drug testing programs with the limitation that hair specimens be used for pre-employment (i.e., for applicants applying for federal testing designated positions) and random testing."

Law Enforcement

City of Louisville Reaches Settlement with Breonna Taylor Family. The city of Louisville has settled a lawsuit with the family of Breonna Taylor, the black women killed by Louisville police in a badly botched no-knock drug raid in which no drugs were found. In addition to a $12 million cash settlement, the settlement will require police commanders to approve all search warrant application, require police to undergo extensive risk assessments before applying for a warrant, and require that an EMT or paramedic by on site during the execution of search warrants. The settlement does not impact ongoing criminal investigations of the police involved in the raid.

International

UN Human Rights Chief Calls for End to Policies, Rhetoric That Lead to Abuses and Killings in the Philippines. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Monday that the Philippine government should change policies that lead to killings and other human rights violations. Her remarks came during her opening statement at the 45th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. She said that human rights principals "require accountable policing and access to justice help to avert the escalation of tensions and grievances into violence and conflict." Bachelet acknowledged that the Philippine government has committed to investigate more than 5,000 drug war killings, but said that was just a first step. "We are seeking details from the government so we can advise and assess the review panel's scope, process and efficacy," Bachelet said. "However, beyond this initial process, there is clearly an urgent need to revoke the policies that continue to result in killings and other human rights violations, to bring to justice the perpetrators, and to halt the use of rhetoric inciting violence against people who use or sell drugs."

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.

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.

Book Review: The Year of Dangerous Days: Riots, Refugees, and Cocaine in Miami 1980 [FEATURE]

The Year of Dangerous Days: Riots, Refugees, and Cocaine in Miami 1980 by Nicholas Griffin (2020, Simon & Schuster, 318 pp., $26.99 HB)

In this, of all years, that a book like The Year of Dangerous Days should make an appearance seems apropos. As we live our own year of dangerous days, with pandemic, economic disruption, and streets simmering over police violence, especially aimed at Blacks, this is a tale of Florida's glittering jewel living through a similar three-pronged existential crisis.

It is both fast-paced thriller and thoughtful meditation on race, class, immigration, crime, and the role of cocaine in violence and corruption. We're still grappling with all those issues that beset Miami 40 years ago, a sad truth that doesn't reflect too favorably, but perhaps leaves some room for lessons to be learned.

In Dangerous Days, Miami resident and veteran author Nicholas Griffin takes us to 1970s Miami, or rather, the three Miamis: Anglo, Black, and Hispanic. With the city becoming increasingly Spanish-speaking thanks to the influx of Cuban refugees after Fidel Castro's revolution came to power in 1959, Whites were grumbling about speaking English in America, damn it! -- while Blacks were feeling displaced, left behind, and tired of heavy-handed policing and the Cubans were mainly flexing their growing political power as right-wing anti-communist extremists devoted to restoring their ancien regime 90 miles across the Caribbean in Havana.

The up-and-coming Sunbelt city was presided over by a charismatic, visionary Puerto Rican mayor, Maurice Ferre -- the city's first Latino mayor -- whose family construction business fueled its fortune by supplying the concrete that helped build the I-95 freeway through the heart of Overtown, the city's Black commercial and social soul back in 1965. That act of "urban renewal" drove thousands of displaced black residents into Liberty City, the nation's first public housing project, where tensions festered throughout the 1970s.

Ferre's vision for Miami was as a southward-facing city keyed to the economies of Latin America -- and it worked. Foreign banks piled into the city, Latin American tourism and home-buying boomed, and Miami soon earned the sobriquet "the capital of Latin America" as flight capital from Central and South American countries. But capital flight alone couldn't account for the massive, multi-billion dollar surpluses showing up in the Miami Federal Reserve bank at the time. That money was cocaine cash.

The laundered cash from cocaine sales took place quietly and largely unnoticed -- at least at first -- but the violence unleashed by Colombian drug traffickers in Miami was another story. The July 1979 Dadeland Mall Massacre put those gunmen on the map, and repeated brazen broad daylight killings by Colombian hitmen finally got the attention of Miami police, although they remained bewildered by just who they were dealing with. (And the homicide unit in particular remained hampered by the fact that a third of its detectives went down in a cocaine corruption bust engineered by the FBI.)

Griffin follows an eventual joint federal-local investigation into cocaine money-laundering, Operation Greenback, as its operatives watch a key Colombian money-launderer literally carrying duffle bags full of cash to a series of all-too-welcoming banks on a daily basis. And he follows the efforts of Miami police and prosecutor Janet Reno to actually arrest and convict their first Colombian hitman. Here's where the book most resembles a police procedural.

From a drug policy perspective, Griffin is not great. For him, that cocaine is illegal is unquestioned, and the role of its illegality in generating both violence and black-market profits in the billions goes largely unmentioned. He does mention that if cocaine were legal, that money launderer would just be considered a hard-working professional, but he leaves it at that.

At least Mayor Ferre acknowledged the role of cocaine capital in helping build the city: He called the illicit drug trade "a depravity of the human soul," but then went on to say that "from the economic point of view, once the money goes to the bank and gets deposited, and is loaned out to build more condominiums, well, money is money."

Miami's 1980 cocaine crisis was, of course, only part of the city's struggle that year. After Dade County police beat Black motorcyclist Art McDuffy to death in late 1979, the city's Black community seethed with anger, and when an all-White jury in Tampa cleared the killer cops of any criminal liability, Liberty City exploded in some of the worst race riots of the past half-century. Over three days in May, the destruction left 10 Blacks and eight Whites dead and at least $80 million in property damage before the flames died down. Griffin details the trajectory of this disaster in fine form.

At the same time, tensions over immigration exploded when Fidel Castro responded to pressure (from within and without) to let disaffected Cubans leave the island by opening the doors to a flotilla of boats piloted by Miami Cubans gone to rescue their family members. This resulted in the Mariel boatlift, in which more than 100,000 Cubans were ferried to Miami. But Castro had the last laugh, using the boatlift to dump thousands of prisoners, mental patients, and other "anti-social elements" on Florida.

Between the cocaine cowboys, the racial tensions that exploded in Liberty City, and the radical demographic shift heralded by the Marielitos, 1980 was indeed a watershed year for Miami. Nicholas Griffin turns the tangled tales of triple trouble into an eminently readable and illuminating tale, even if he doesn't provide us with a scathing critique of the results of cocaine prohibition.

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