Asset Forfeiture

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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.

State Banking Regulators Call for Passage of SAFE Banking Act, Colombia Could Elect a Drug War Critic as President, More... (5/27/22)

A congressman calls on the Transportation Department to adjust its drug testing policies for truck drivers to account for broad marijuana legalization, Michigan enacts a new asset forfeiture law for airports, and more.

Leftist Colombian presidential candidate Gustavo Petro is a harsh critic of the US drug war in Colombia. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

State Financial Regulators Urge Congress to Pass Marijuana Banking Protections as Part of Manufacturing Bill. The Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS), which represents state financial regulators from across the country, sent a letter Wednesday to House and Senate leaders urging them to include marijuana banking reform in the COMPETES Act, a large-scale manufacturing bill. "By granting a safe harbor for financial institutions, Congress can bring regulatory clarity to the financial services industry, address public safety concerns and ensure access to financial services for state-compliant marijuana and marijuana-related businesses," CSBS Acting President James Cooper said.

The group is calling on congressional negotiators to include the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking act in the version of the bill that will go to President Biden. The House included it in its version of the bill, but the Senate removed the language. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) has consistently blocked passage of the SAFE Banking Act, arguing that outright federal legalization is the path to go down, but there is little sign that there is sufficient support in the Senate for a legalization bill to pass.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Bill to Let Airport Authorities Seize Suspected Drug Cash Signed into Law. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has signed into law a pair of Republican-sponsored bills, House Bill 4631and House Bill 4632, that will allow airport authorities to seize suspected drug cash or property without first obtaining a conviction or guilty plea if the cash or property exceeds $20,000. The seizure would still have to be upheld in a civil judgement. "Drug trafficking will not be tolerated in Michigan," said bill sponsor Rep. Graham Filler (R-Clinton County). "The men and women who keep our airports secure need to have the proper authority to keep drugs and drug money out of our state -- and this reform gives them the tools they need to get the job done."

Drug Testing

Lawmaker Calls on Transportation Department to Amend "Outdated" Marijuana Testing Requirements. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg calling on the department to change its policies that punish commercial truck drivers for using marijuana while off the job. "To date, 48 states have enacted laws that, to varying degrees, relax their prohibitions against the use of marijuana," wrote Blumenauer. "Nevertheless, your department's zero-tolerance policy sweeps up drivers who were unimpaired, drivers who have not used cannabis for weeks or even months, and drivers who have used federally-legal CBD oils. Blanket disqualifications are unjust, unfair, and cause widespread economic and social damage. Thousands of driving positions are unfilled, compounding our supply chain woes. Penalizing safe drivers who comply with state cannabis laws harms both the drivers and the supply chains they support." Amidst supply chain challenges and a driver shortage, more than 36,000 truckers have had their licenses suspended for testing positive for marijuana metabolites in recent months.

International

Leftist Critic of US Drug War Poised to Win Colombian Presidency. Former leftist guerilla and Bogota mayor and current Senator Gustavo Petro is poised to win the first round of Colombia's presidential elections (although he may be forced into a run-off if he comes in with less than 50 percent of the vote). Petro is a staunch critic of the US's drug war in Colombia, frequently noting that despite spending billions on military and law enforcement and decades of US pressure to reduce drug production, the country remains a top supplier of cocaine and is awash in prohibition-related violence. He has also recently questioned the extradition last month of the head of the Gulf Clan Cartel, Dairo Antonio Usuga and is more broadly critical of extradition.

"Extradition: it merits a discussion -- a review of the figures -- to see if what’s been done for 40 years has worked or not; if a million dead Latin Americans -- the majority Colombians and Mexicans -- has been worth it," he said in an interview last month. Despite all the violence and security spending, Colombian cocaine production has tripled in the past decade, according to US government data.

DE House Passes Legal Pot Bill, US Reps Press DOJ on Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses, More... (5/6/22)

A South Carolina medical marijuana falls to opponents' House maneuvers, Venezuela is joining the ranks of coca and cocaine producers, and more.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) is calling on the Justice Department to explain civil asset forfeiture abuses. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware House Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The House on Thursday voted to approve a measure that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults, House Bill 371. The bill would not set up a system of taxed and regulated sales but does allow for the unremunerated transfer of up to an ounce from one adult to another. The bill now heads to the Senate, which, like the House, is controlled by Democrats. But it faces a potential veto by Gov. John Carney (D), who has expressed doubts about marijuana legalization.

Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Killed in House. A measure to legalize medical marijuana in the state, the Compassionate Use Act (Senate Bill 150) was killed on the House floor Wednesday after a debate over legislative process but without any discussion of the merits of the bill. The bill had already passed the Senate but faced long odds in the House, where opponents of reform filed more than a thousand amendments. One opponent, Rep. John McCravy (R), then created a constitutional challenge for the bill, claiming that it should have originated in the House because it involves a tax on medical marijuana. Under the state constitution, bills involving taxation must originate in the House. House Speaker Pro Tem Thomas Pope (R) then ruled to sustain McCravy's point of order and against an appeal from Rep. Todd Rutherford (D), who said he planned to later scrap the tax language via an amendment, effectively killing the bill. Sponsors said they would keep trying, though.

Asset Forfeiture

House Members Request Justice Department Briefing on Abuses of Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Program. Rep. Jamie Raskin and Rep. Nancy Mace, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting information about the Department of Justice's (DOJ) efforts to address longstanding abuses of its Equitable Sharing Program, which allows state and local governments to partner with DOJ by transferring property, money, or assets that have been seized by law enforcement to the federal government for forfeiture which then shares up to 80% of the proceeds with local and state law enforcement agencies, regardless of state law.

The letter came after a December hearing that examined the need to reform federal civil asset forfeiture programs, including equitable sharing, to prevent state, local, and federal law enforcement from abusing the civil rights and civil liberties of Americans. Expert witnesses testified that state and local law enforcement agencies use DOJ's Equitable Sharing Program to circumvent state laws aimed at curtailing civil asset forfeiture abuse. Between 2000 and 2019, DOJ paid at least $8.8 billion from its Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF) to state and local agencies.

"We are concerned that the Equitable Sharing Program creates a loophole allowing state and local law enforcement to seize assets from individuals without bringing criminal charges or a conviction, even in states that prohibit civil asset forfeiture," the Members wrote. "In addition, we are concerned that DOJ does not conduct adequate oversight of law enforcement agencies participating in the Equitable Sharing Program."

International

Venezuela Becoming a Coca, Cocaine Producer. InsightCrime, a website that covers Latin American drug trafficking, is reporting that Venezuela is becoming a coca producing and cocaine manufacturing country. Previously, it had served only as a transshipment point for cocaine produced in the big three coca-growing countries: Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. But now, "InsightCrime has uncovered evidence of the presence of significant quantities of coca in at least three municipalities in Zulia, and two more to the south in the state of Apure, each time verified and corroborated by multiple reliable sources," the web site reported. "In addition, sources in the field, international agencies, and the Venezuelan government's own reports show that the crystalizing laboratories used to process coca paste into cocaine hydrochloride have been proliferating in the same areas."

All of this activity is taking place in western part of the country, where Colombian guerilla groups and drug traffickers dominate and appear to be operating openly. "So far, cocaine production in Venezuela is nascent, representing just a drop in an ocean of coca compared to the historic levels seen in Colombia in recent years," InsightCrime noted. "But the country's border region, poor, isolated, abandoned by the state and dominated by armed groups, represents a perfect petri dish for it to spread. And in a country trapped in an economic crisis, ruled by a corrupt regime, and ravaged by criminality, that is a dangerous proposition."

SD House Panel Kills Marijuana Legalization Bill, Peru to Try "Kinder, Gentler" Approach to Coca Growers, More... (2/28/22)

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps makes the news in a couple of different ways today, an asset forfeiture reporting bill advances in South Dakota, and more.

Dr. Bronner's Cosmic Engagement Officer David Bronner. His company got a nice profile in the New York Times today.
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota House Panel Kills Marijuana Legalization Bill. If South Dakotans want marijuana legalized -- as they showed by voting to do just that in 2020 -- their only way may be to do it may again be the ballot box. A legislative effort to legalize marijuana that passed out of the Senate last week, Senate Bill 3, was killed Monday by the House State Affairs Committee on an 8-3 vote. That leaves a clear path for a legalization initiative sponsored by South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, which is currently in the signature gathering process.

Psychedelics

New York Times Notes Dr. Bronner's Drug Reform Largesse, Psychedelic Philanthropy. In a major profile piece, the Times has published "Dr. Bronner's, the Soap Company, Dips Into Psychedelics," which details Dr. Bronner's CEO (Cosmic Engagement Officer) David Bronner's support of drug reform and psychedelic renaissance efforts over the years. Just since 2015, the company has donated more than $23 million to drug reform and research organizations. (Disclosure: This includes some support to this publication and our parent organization, going back to long before 2015.) The publicly-minded philanthropy has helped support research into the therapeutic benefits of MDMA, various marijuana initiatives, the 2020 Oregon therapeutic psilocybin initiative and local psychedelic decriminalization efforts, as well as broader drug reform efforts. There's much more at the link.

Dr. Bronner's Is Providing Psychedelic Therapy as Employee Healthcare Benefit. Dr. Bronner's, family-owned maker of the top-selling natural brand of soap in North America, has expanded its mental healthcare benefits to include Ketamine Assisted Therapy, as a first step in providing access to Psychedelic Assisted Therapy to employees to promote mental health. This innovative benefit plan is administered by Enthea, a nonprofit healthcare organization responsible for medical policy development, provider network management, and benefit plan administration. Enthea establishes high 'quality of care' standards for the treatments offered, including credentialing and managing a network of specialty providers.

"The health and well-being of our employees is the primary driver in how we think about benefits and compensation. Offering coverage for Ketamine Assisted Therapy is in the interest of providing tools to our workforce to have the best quality of life and best options for mental health care," explains Michael Bronner, President of Dr. Bronner's. "Our family and company are no strangers to depression and anxiety. We are deeply concerned about the mental health crisis society is facing, especially in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Considering all our advocacy on this issue, this employee benefit is the next logical step," Bronner continued. Coverage for employees began on January 1.

Asset Forfeiture

South Dakota House Approves Asset Forfeiture Reporting Bill. Rep. Aaron Aylward's (R-Harrisburg) bill requiring asset forfeiture reporting from law enforcement agencies that makes seizures, House Bill 1328, passed out of the House last Friday and is now set for a hearing later this week in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill requires seizing agencies to gave the state attorney general an annual report itemizing every item seized and requires that the attorney general make that information available online for public inspection. Agencies that fail to generate the required reports would face a fine of $500 or 25% of the value of the seized goods.

International

Peru Drug Agency Shifts to Voluntary, Sustainable Coca Eradication. Peru's anti-drug agency, DEVIDA, announced last Friday that given the lack of effectiveness of compulsory coca crop eradication, it is proposing a Citizen's Social Pact for voluntary, sustainable reduction of coca crops. The agency is now under the leadership of longtime reform advocate Dr. Ricardo Soberon and instead of resorting to compulsion is moving toward building a commitment between the state and civil society with reciprocal rights and duties. DEVIDA will work with indigenous peoples and agricultural producers so they "voluntarily reduce coca crops for illicit purposes in exchange for timely services from the State." The plan will rely on alternative development and reducing illicit crops in a gradual and sustainable matter.

DE Marijuana Legalization Advances in House, AL Fentanyl Test Strip Bill Nears Final Vote, More... (2/22/22)

Bills to end civil asset forfeiture and block "equitable sharing" with the feds are filed in Tennessee, a Delaware marijuana legalization bill advances, and more.

Trucker shortage? 60,000 are sidelined because of testing positive for marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances in House. The House Appropriations Committee last Thursday quietly advanced a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 305. The committee "walked the bill," which allows the bill to advance without a public hearing. The bill has already been approved by the House Health and Human Services Committee. The bill now heads for a House floor vote. The last time a legalization bill got that far, back in 2018, it lost on the House floor by four votes. HB305 would allow legal personal possession of 1 ounce of marijuana for adults ages 21 or older and set up a framework for its taxation and sale. It allocates 30 retail sale licenses, 30 manufacturing licenses, 60 cultivation licenses and five testing licenses to be issued within 16 months of the bill's approval.

Opiates and Opioids

Alabama Bill to Legalize Fentanyl Test Strips Faces Final House Vote. A bill that would legalize fentanyl test strips, Senate Bill 168, has passed the Senate and two House committee votes and now heads for a House floor vote. The bill aims to address the state's opioid overdose crisis by allowing users to test their substances for the presence of the powerful opioid.

Asset Forfeiture

Tennessee Bills Would End Civil Asset Forfeiture, Opt State Out of Federal Program. A pair of Republican lawmakers have introduced companion bills aimed at ending civil asset forfeiture in the state and blocking state law enforcement from evading the law by handing cases off to the federal government under what is known as the "equitable sharing" program. Rep. Jerry Sexton (R) introduced House Bill 2525 and Sen. John Stevens (R) introduced the companion, Senate Bill 2545 earlier this month.

The opt-out from "equitable sharing" is particularly important given that a policy directive issued in July 2017 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions greenlighting the practice remains in effect. The language in the bill on "equitable sharing" is quite direct: "A state or local law enforcement agency shall not transfer or offer for adoption property, seized under state law, to a federal agency for the purpose of forfeiture under the federal Controlled Substances Act, Public Law 91-513-Oct. 27, 1970, or other federal law." The bills are now in committee in their respective houses.

Drug Testing

Expert Blames Marijuana Testing for Drug Drivers as Leading Cause of Driver Shortage. Chris Harvey, the head of equity strategy at Wells Fargo, is blaming drug testing for making a major contribution to the truckdriver shortage that is causing problems in the supply chain and contributing to rising prices. "It's really about drug testing," Harvey said, speaking at an industry conference last week. "We've legalized marijuana in some states but, obviously, not all... What we've done is we're excluding a significant portion of that trucker industry."

More than 60,000 truckers have been sidelined for testing positive for marijuana as of December under industry drug testing policies that have become stricter even as marijuana is broadly legalized. Under a 2020 law, all truck drivers who have failed a drug test must be listed in a federal database to block them from being hired by other companies. Some 110,000 truckers have tested positive, with 56 percent of them for marijuana use. There is currently a shortage of about 80,000 truckers.

Manchin and Rubio File Anti-Crack Pipe Bill, New Overdose Memorial Site, More... (2/14/22)

Oregon goes after water haulters in a bid to repress illicit pot grows, the Utah House approves a psychedelic study task force bill, and more.

Joe Manchin apparently doesn't like harm reduction. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Bill Targets Water Haulers in Bid to Clamp Down on Illicit Marijuana Grows. A bill aimed at reining in rampant illicit marijuana production in the southern part of the state, House Bill 4061, would do so by imposing new record-keeping requirements on water haulers and imposing civil and even criminal penalties for haulers who violate the rules or sell to illicit marijuana growers. The bill would also make it a crime to pump ground water to supply illicit marijuana grows without a water right. Farm groups have raised concerns that the bill could have unintended consequences, and legal marijuana growers object to proposed additional licensing requirements. Bill sponsors said they will attempt to amend the bill to address those concerns.

Psychedelics

Utah House Approves Psychedelic Study Task Force Bill. The House last Thursday overwhelmingly approved House Bill 0167, which would create a task force to study the therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances and to develop possible regulations for their lawful use. The bill would create a Mental Illness Psychotherapy Drug Task Force, which would "study and make recommendations on drugs that may assist in treating mental illness." The bill now heads to the Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

Kansas Bill Would Reform State Asset Forfeiture Laws but Federal Loophole Would Remain. The House Judiciary Committee has introduced an asset forfeiture reform bill, House Bill 2648, which would end civil asset forfeiture (without a criminal conviction) in most cases and addresses "policing for profit" by directing all seizures go to the general fund instead of going to the law enforcement agency that made the seizure, as is the case under current state law. But the bill does not address a loophole that allows state and local law enforcement to get around state asset forfeiture laws by turning cases over to the federal government, which under its equitable sharing program then returns 80 percent of the proceeds to the seizing agency. Instead, it specifically allows police to "transfer the custody or ownership to any federal agency if the property was seized and forfeited pursuant to federal law." The bill gets a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Harm Reduction

Public Health Group Vital Strategies Launches Online Drug Overdose Memorial Site, Harm Reduction Media Campaign. The public health organization Vital Strategies launched a new, interactive, online memorial on Monday to honor those who have lost their lives to a drug overdose -- more than one million in the past two decades in the US -- far surpassing car crashes and firearm fatalities combined. Inspired by the AIDS quilt, the digital mosaic allows anyone to commemorate a loved one lost to overdose and calls for urgent action in their name.

The memorial's launch is accompanied by the largest-ever national advertising campaign promoting harm reduction, starting with a full page ad in the New York Times featuring 200 real people working in harm reduction, on the front lines of the overdose crisis. Three video ads featuring overdose prevention advocates whose own lives were saved by harm reduction will air 6,000 times in and around Washington, DC on a range of channels including: CNN, BET, ESPN, YouTube, Hulu and various podcasts, totaling 37 million impressions.

Manchin, Rubio File Bill to Block Federal Government from Buying Crack Pipes. US Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) sought to score political points around last week's federal "crack pipe" controversy by a filing a bill last Friday to bar the use of federal funds to buy and distribute devices used to consume drugs, such as glass pipes used for smoking crack and meth and syringes. Their bill is the cutely acronymed Preventing Illicit Paraphernalia for Exchange Systems Act, or PIPES Act.

"Every American and West Virginian has been impacted by the drug epidemic that has killed over 101,000 Americans from April 2020 to April 2021," Manchin said. "While this is a heartbreaking issue that must be fully addressed by the federal government, using taxpayer funds to buy paraphernalia for those struggling with substance use disorder is not the solution." But the provision of supplies such as clean syringes and "smoking kits" that include rubber stoppers, screens, cleaning dowels, vaseline, and scouring pads are a proven harm reduction intervention aimed at reducing overdoses and the spread of infectious disease, as well as improving overall user health.

MS House Passes MedMJ Bill, MO Drug Decrim Bill Filed, More... (1/20/22)

A marijuana services company has filed a federal lawsuit over massive cash seizures by cops in California and Kansas, the Colombian Constitutional Court puts the kibosh on spraying coca crops with herbicide, and more.

Colombian coca farmers will not have to worry about having toxic herbicides dumped on their fields. (DEA)
Medical Marijuana

Mississippi House Amends Medical Marijuana Bill to Lower Possession Limits, Then Passes It. The House on Wednesday approved the Senate's medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 2095, but only after amending it to lower the amount of marijuana flower patients can possess each month from 3.5 ounces to 3 ounces. The Senate had previously lowered the limit from 4 ounces to 3.5 in a bid to soothe the concerns of Governor Tate Reeves (R), who has expressed worry that the bill allowed patients too much marijuana. The bill now goes back to the Senate. If the Senate rejects the House's amended limit, the bill would then go to conference committee to hash out the differences.

Asset Forfeiture

Marijuana Services Company Sues Cops in California and Kansas Over Seizures of $1.2 Million in Cash. Empyreal Logistics, a company that uses armored cars to transport cash to and from marijuana businesses, has had its vehicles stopped and cash seized on five separate occasions since last May by sheriff's deputies in Kansas and California. The stops resulted in no citations or criminal charges, but the deputies seized $1.2 million in cash under state civil forfeiture law.

Now, with the help of the Institute for Justice, Empyreal has filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the seizures violate state law, federal law, and the US Constitution. In a complaint it filed last Friday in the US District Court for the Central District of California, Empyreal says it is "entitled to protection from highway robberies, regardless of whether they are conducted by criminals or by the Sheriff and federal law-enforcement agencies acting under color of law."

In both California and Kansas, local sheriffs handed the seizures over to the DEA in a bid to circumvent state laws limiting seizures and who profits from them. The lawsuit charges that the DEA's involvement violates the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, a spending rider that bars the Justice Department (which includes the DEA and the FBI) from using any of its funds to interfere with the implementation of state laws authorizing the medical use of marijuana. Because the DEA violated that restriction, the company says, it also violated the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. And because the seizure was motivated by the prospect of financial gain, the lawsuit says, it violated the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process.

Drug Policy

Arizona Bill Would End Restriction on Food Stamp Benefits to Drug Felons. A bill that would remove requirements that people with past felony drug convictions agree to random drug testing and to taking part in a drug treatment program in order to access the Supplemental Nutritional Program (SNAP) has passed its first hurdle. Sponsored by Rep. Walter Blackman (R-Snowflake), the measure, House Bill 2060, was approved unanimously on Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee. It now heads for a House floor vote.

Missouri Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Rep. Peter Merideth (D) has filed a bill to decriminalize a range of drugs including marijuana, psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and cocaine. The measure, House Bill 2469, would make low-level drug possession an infraction punishable by a maximum $100 fine or participation in a drug treatment program if ordered by a court. The bill would decriminalize up to 10 grams of cannabis, one gram of heroin, one gram of MDMA, two grams of methamphetamine, 40 units of LSD, 12 grams of psilocybin, 40 units of methadone, 40 oxycodone pills and two grams of cocaine. The bill also lowers charges for possessing some quantities greater than personal use from felonies to misdemeanors. It currently has no hearing scheduled.

International

Colombia High Court Blocks Government Plan to Spray Coca Crops with Toxic Herbicide. The country's Constitutional Court ruled Wednesday that the administration of conservative President Iván Duque cannot spray the herbicide glyphosate on coca crops without the consent of rural communities. That effectively blocks the proposed renewal of spraying. The ruling came after rural black and indigenous communities sued to block the plan, saying the herbicide causes disease, destroys traditional crops and pollutes the water.

The court imposed a one-year deadline for agreement to be reached to allow spraying, effectively blocking the Duque administration, which leaves office in August, from moving forward before then. Spraying the coca crop with glyphosates was done in the past but blocked by the Constitutional Court in 2015. President Duque has spent the four years of his administration trying to get it going again.

Drug ODs Top 100,000 in One Year, GOP Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed, More... (11/17/21)

A Czech marijuana magazine editor gets convicted of promoting "toxicomania," the DEA has to return money it stole from Americans in two separate cases, New Yorkers rally for sentencing reform, and more.

Another bumper crop of Afghan opium this year. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

GOP House Member Files Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) introduced the States Reform Act, which would legalize marijuana at the federal level. It would do so by removing marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, leaving it up to the states to set their own marijuana policies. The bill would also set a 3 percent federal excise tax and release and expunge the records of those convicted of federal marijuana offenses. Mace said her bill represented a compromise that could gain support from both Republicans and Democrats.

Wisconsin Bipartisan Bill Would Lighten (Most) Marijuana Penalties. Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez (D-Milwaukee) and Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers) have filed a bill that would lessen penalties for marijuana possession in most of the state, but increase fines in some of the state's largest cities, including Madison and Milwaukee, where the fine for pot possession is $1 in the former and $0 in the latter. Under current state law, pot possession is punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. Under the new bill, the maximum penalty would be a $100 fine with no possibility of jail time. Marijuana reforms have so far gone nowhere in the Republican dominated legislature, which has refused to pass even medical marijuana.

Asset Forfeiture

DEA Forced to Return $100,000 Stolen from Two Victims. Twice in the past week, the DEA has been forced to return money it seized from travelers as they tried to board flights at domestic airports. Although it is not illegal to carry large sums of cash, in both cases, the DEA decided the cash had to have been illegally obtained and seized it. In one case, New Orleans resident Kermit Warren had $30,000 he was carrying to buy a tow truck seized by agents in Cincinnati. Only afte Warren's lawyers presented corroborating evidence to prosecutors back down, agree to return his seized money, and dismiss the case "with prejudice," being they cannot go after the money later. In the second case, with the same elements -- a US airport, a domestic flight, the presence of cash, and unsubstantiated claims about drug trafficking -- the DEA seized $69,000 from New York filmmaker Kedding Etienne. But Etienne, too, fought back and prevailed, but only after rejecting an offer to drop the case after the DEA skimmed 10% off the top.

Harm Reduction

US Overdose Deaths Topped 100,000 in One Year, CDC Says. An estimated 100,300 Americans died of drug overdoses in the period from May 2020 to April 2021, the highest one-year death toll ever, according to provisional estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That's a jump of 30 percent over the previous year. Experts point to the prevalence of fentanyl in the unregulated drug supply and the social isolation of the coronavirus pandemic as major drivers of the increasing toll. "This is unacceptable and it requites an unprecedented response," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Fentanyl was implicated in nearly two-thirds of overdose deaths, other opioids in about 12 percent, and non-opioid drugs were implicated in about a quarter of the deaths.

Sentencing

New York Activists Rally for Sentencing Reforms. Activists rallied all across the state on Wednesday to demand sentencing reforms under the rubric Communities Not Cages. Arguing that current laws are unfair and disproportionately target communities of color. The campaign is also calling for the passage of a trio of reform bills, the Eliminate Mandatory Minimums Act, the Second Look Act, and the Earned Time Act. The first would eliminate mandatory minimums and the state's three-strikes law, the second would allow imprisoned people to seek resentencing after serving either half of their sentence or 10 years, and the third would increase "good time" laws to allow prisoners to earn more time off their sentences.

International

Afghanistan's Opium Production Continues to Rise, UN Report Says. Even as the country's Western-backed government was crumbling in the face of a Taliban advance this past summer, Afghan opium production was on the increase, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Wednesday. The 2021 harvest was some 6,800 tons of opium, up 8 percent over 2020. That generated between $1.8 and $2.7 billion for the Afghan economy, but "much larger sums are accrued along illicit drug supply chains outside Afghanistan," it added. The Taliban has threatened to ban the crop, but faces the reality that opium -- which accounts for 10 percent of the national economy -- is a mainstay for thousands of families. "There is no work, all the families are in debt, and everyone's hope is opium," farmer Mohammad Wali explained.

Czech Marijuana Magazine Editor Convicting of Promoting "Toxicomania." Robert Veverka, the editor of the magazine Legalizace, and the magazine itself have been convicted in a district court in the town of Bruntal of inciting and promoting "toxicomania." Veverka was sentenced to 2 ½ years of probation, with a one-year jail sentence hanging over his head. Judge Marek Stach conceded that the magazine provided comprehensive information and expert opinion, as well as insight into medical marijuana, but ruled that some articles could "incite" readers to acquire the means to grow marijuana themselves.

Surgeon General Say Don't Jail People for Pot, ME Law Ends Civil Asset Forfeiture, More... (7/19/21)

The AMA Advocacy Update chronicles one doctor's problems trying to prescribe for chronic pain and addicted patients, Maine becomes the fourth state to end civil asset forfeiture, and more.

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says it is time to stop locking people up for marijuana. (hhs.gov)
Marijuana Policy

US Surgeon General Says Time to Stop Locking People Up for Marijuana. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Sunday that it is time to stop locking up people for using marijuana. "When it comes to decriminalization, I don't think that there is value to individuals or to society to lock people up for marijuana use," Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in a CNN appearance. "I don't think that serves anybody well." His comments came in response to a question about a new draft marijuana legalization bill, and are in line with President Biden, who supports marijuana decriminalization, but not commercial legalization. "When it comes to marijuana, I think we have to let science guide us," Murthy said in the CNN interview. "And we know that the science tells us that there are some benefits to marijuana from a medical perspective but there are also some harms that we have to consider -- and we have to put those together as we think about the right policy."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

AMA on a Doctor's Trials Trying to Treat Pain Patients in the Context of Arbitrary Policies. The American Medical Association (AMA) Advocacy Update has published a piece on the travails of southern Illinois family medicine and addiction medicine specialist Dr. Aaron Newcomb, whose patients found themselves unable to refill prescriptions after he was "blacklisted" by a pharmacy chain citing 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines aimed at reducing opioid prescribing in the face of a rising opioid overdose death toll.

"When the CDC guidelines came down in 2016 basically saying we needed to take as many people as we could off opioids, I knew that my patients were in for a world of trouble," said Dr. Newcomb. "I was particularly concerned about my patients who were stable on low-dose opioid therapy for years. And my concerns have translated into an even worse reality for both me and my patients. Getting blacklisted by a national chain who had no clue about my practice was professionally wrong, but it also hurt my patients and my community."

Newcomb had to explain the nuances of pain prescribing to the pharmacy chain: "When they got back to us, they basically questioned a specific formulation of buprenorphine I was prescribing for stable patients with cost or tolerability problems that isn't a preferred type unless there is a clinical reason," Dr. Newcomb explained. "They were also concerned about opioid therapy in general as well as the dose of buprenorphine used to effectively treat patients, and their algorithm out of context painted a misrepresentative picture of my controlled-substance prescribing habits."

Newcomb was eventually able to get back in the chain's good graces and his patients are now receiving their medication, but his case illustrates the challenges faced by pain physicians and their patients in a time where the opioid-prescribing pendulum has swung so dramatically back to the conservative side.

Asset Forfeiture

Maine Becomes 4th State to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. A new law barring asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction went into effect without the signature of Gov. Janet Mills (D), making Maine the fourth state to abolish the practice of civil asset forfeiture. The legislature earlier this year passed LD 1521, which fully repeals the state's civil forfeiture laws, while also strengthening the criminal forfeiture process. While touted as a tool against drug dealers, one report found that half of all forfeitures in the state were under $1,670 dollars. The other three states that have ended civil asset forfeiture are North Carolina (1985), New Mexico (2915) and Nebraska (2016).

International

Mexico President Makes Rare Call for Dismissal of a State Attorney General. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called last Friday for the resignation of Guanajuato state Attorney General Carlos Zamarripa after the state registered 1,562 murders in the first five months of this year. That figure is higher than any other state, even though Guanajuato is only the country's sixth most populous states. He also suggested there was corruption or collusion with some of the drug cartels battling to control the state. "If he [Zamarripa] were the manager of a company, with this kind of performance they would have fired him," López Obrador said Friday. "When officials do not act with honesty, with rectitude, when there is no division between criminals and the authorities, no progress can be made." López Obrador said.

Zammaripe, who has been attorney general for 12 years, has been accused by businessmen and local experts of being close to the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel, which had such control over an oil refinery that it could brazenly steal fuel in and around the plant, leading to a federal troop deployment. "Carlos Zamarripa for many years protected El Marro," the leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima gang who was arrested in 2020," said security expert David Saucedo. But now, said Saucedo, Zamarripa seems to have changed sides, expecting the Santa Rosa gang to fall apart as the Jalisco New Generation cartel moved in. Instead, the Sinaloa cartel sent reinforcements to assist the Santa Rosa gang, and the death toll has skyrocketed. "Definitely, Zamarripa is part of the problem," Saucedo said.

CT Set to Become 19th Marijuana Legalization State, Another Filipino "Narco Politician" Gunned Down, More... (6/17/21)

A minor civil asset forfeiture bill advances in Michigan, another new poll has strong support for drug decriminalization, and more.

A bill to legalize marijuana in Connecticut is now before the governor. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for Governor's Desk. With final votes in the House and Senate approving Senate Bill 1201, Connecticut is set to become the 19th state to legalize marijuana. Gov. Ned Lamont (D) had aired concerns about whether an equity program went too far in prioritizing marijuana business licenses for people with marijuana arrests or convictions—even if they were now wealthy—but late amendments in the legislature addressed those concerns, and he is now expected to sign the bill.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan House Approves Minor Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. On a vote of 108-1, the House on Tuesday approved House Bill 4240, which mandates the funds derived from civil asset forfeitures will be distributed "through the treasurer of the unit of government overseeing the law enforcement unit, so that they may be appropriated for uses that enhance enforcement of criminal laws." The bill comes after a scandal last year in which the former Macomb County prosecutor was charged with official misconduct and embezzlement of civil asset forfeiture funds while in office. The bill does not otherwise restrict civil asset forfeiture.

Drug Policy

Second Recent Poll Finds Strong Support for Ending War on Drugs. A new poll from Data for Progress and The Lab found that 71% of respondents said federal anti-drug policies aren't working and reform is needed, 59% supported decriminalizing drug possession, 60% support moving regulatory authority of drugs from the DEA to HHS, and even 55% support decriminalizing small-time drug sales. An ACLU/Drug Policy Alliance poll last week had even stronger results, with 83% saying the war on drugs had failed and 66% supporting drug decriminalization.

Law Enforcement

Wisconsin Assembly Approves Limited Policing Reforms. The Assembly has passed a package of bills approving police reform measures, including barring chokeholds unless an officer's life is under threat, requiring police who shoot someone to take a drug test, and tracking the use of no-knock warrants. But some Democrats said that failing to enact a complete ban on chokeholds and no-knock search warrants meant the Assembly was not seriously addressing the issue. Legislative leaders countered that the bills were a step in the right direction.

International

Another Filipino Accused of Being "Narco Politician" Shot Dead in Police Custody. Former Talitay Mayor Montasser Sabal was shot and killed by police Wednesday after they arrested him on drug trafficking charges. Police said he tried to grab a gun from officers while being brought to Manila. In May 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte identified 44 mayors and other elected officials as "narco politicians." More than 20 on the list have already been killed in similar circumstances. In cases where police ackowledge killing people in anti-drug operations during the Duterte drug war -- 6,117, a figure far lower than the 30,000 estimated by NGOs watching the situation, police claim those killed were resisting arrest ("nanlaban") in all but a few cases. In its request for authorization to investigate announced this week, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court wrote there is "a reasonable basis to believe that between at least 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019, members of Philippine security forces... deliberately killed thousands of civilians..."

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