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Chronicle AM: Mexican Military's Drug War Abuses, Norway Reduces LSD Penalties, More... (11/9/17)

The man behind Florida's medical marijuana initiatives is considering a run for governor and now wants to legalize it, a battle over medical marijuana is looming in Indiana, a new report says the Mexican military is getting away with murder in its US-backed drug war, and more.

Mexican Marines doing drug war duty (Borderland Beat/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Towns Approve New Pot Taxes. Voters in several localities approved proposals to set new marijuana taxes on Tuesday. Eagle County approved new sales and excise taxes that will start at 2.5% and increase to 5%. The town of De Beque appoved a 5% sales tax, while Longmont approved a 3% tax and Berthoud a 7% one.

Florida Attorney, Possible Gubernatorial Candidate, Says Legalize It. Florida attorney John Morgan, the man behind the state's medical marijuana initiatives, is considering a run at the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and he says he's ready to legalize marijuana. "As to marijuana itself -- and I've kind of evolved to this point -- I believe now that the real answer is that we should just legalize marijuana, period, in America," he said in an interview with WUFT TV. "There's so many kids, young people, whose lives are ruined forever for possession of marijuana. And you get arrested, yeah, you may not go to jail, but that may be the end of West Point, that may be the end of law school, that may be the end of getting this university, it may be the end of that job."

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Battle Lines Forming Over Medical Marijuana. A group of military veterans advocating for medical marijuana is holding a news conference today to make their case for legalization, but they're facing opposition from the state's county prosecutors, who have urged state leaders to resist legalization "in any form, for any purpose." In making their case, the Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys deployed Reefer Madness-style rhetoric, writing that "despite claims of the contrary, the legalization of marijuana could further exacerbate Indiana's opioid epidemic," and, "that information purporting that marijuana is medicine is based on half-truths and anecdotal evidence."

International

Backed by US Anti-Drug Funds, Mexico's Military is Getting Away With Murder, New Report Charges. A new report from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) charges that the Mexican military is resorting to torture, sexual violence, extrajudicial executions, and forced disappearances as it pursues its fight against drug trafficking organizations. Rampant violations go unpunished, and the report exposes a culture of impunity and a lack of transparency within the military. "Violence has increased in the country while human rights violations persist, the urgency and pressure to pass reforms to strengthen the civilian police force has decreased, and accountability has been virtually nonexistent," the report noted.

Norway Lowers Penalties for LSD Possession. Hearing an appeal from a man sentenced to five months in jail for possession of LSD for personal use, the Supreme Court has instead sentenced him to 45 hours of community service, setting the stage for a more general relaxation of penalties for LSD possession for personal use.

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

Chronicle AM: ME Lawmakers Try to Save MJ Reg Bill from Veto, Denver SIF Advances, More... (11/6/17)

Maine's governor vetoes the marijuana regulation bill, but the legislature will attempt an override today; a plan for a safe injection site in Denver advances, a Michigan roadside drug testing pilot program gets underway this week, and more.

A move is afoot in the legislature to bring a safe injection site to Denver. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Governor Vetoes Bill to Regulate Legal Marijuana Production, Sales. Gov. Paul LePage last Friday vetoed the bill that would regulate legal marijuana commerce in the state. In his veto message, he cited a number of concerns, including how the Trump administration is going to deal with the conflict between state and federal law. "Until I clearly understand how the federal government intends to treat states that seek to legalize marijuana, I cannot in good conscience support any scheme in state law to implement expansion of legal marijuana in Maine," the governor explained.

Maine Lawmakers Meet Today to Try to Override Governor's Veto. The legislature is set to meet at 4:00pm today in a bid to override Gov. LePage's veto of the marijuana regulation bill. The bill passed the Senate, but not the House, by a veto-proof majority earlier this year.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Announces First Licensees for Medical Marijuana Production. State officials announced last Friday they had issued 11 Level II medical marijuana licenses. The licenses will allow holders to begin medical marijuana growing operations.

Drug Testing

Michigan Roadside Drug Testing Pilot Program Begins This Week. Michigan State Police are set to begin a pilot program in five counties to do roadside oral fluid drug tests of drivers in a bid to reduce drugged driving. The counties included are Berrien, Delta, Kent, St. Clair and Washtenaw. Under the program, officers trained in "drug recognition" will be able to require drivers to submit to a preliminary saliva test if they suspect he is impaired. The tests will look for the presence of marijuana, amphetamines, methamphetamines, benzodiazepines, cocaine and opiates.

Harm Reduction

Walgreen's to Carry Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug, No Prescription Needed. Walgreen's drugstores will soon stock the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) at its thousands of locations across the US, and it will be available over the counter, no prescription needed. Walgreen's is the nation's second largest drugstore chain with more than 8,000 stores. "By stocking Narcan in all our pharmacies, we are making it easier for families and caregivers to help their loved ones by having it on hand in case it is needed," Walgreen's vice president Rick Gates said in a statement. "As a pharmacy, we are committed to making Narcan more accessible in the communities we serve."

Denver Starts Down Path Toward Safe Injection Sites. Seattle and San Francisco are the US cities closest to opening safe injection sites for drug users, but now Denver is making a move in the same direction. A legislative committee last week gave unanimous approval to a plan to open a pilot site in the city. But that's just a first step: The next step is to get the legislation through the General Assembly when the legislature convenes in January.

International

Colombia, UNODC Sign Cooperation Agreement on Coca and Cocaine. In a deal announced last Friday, Colombia and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have agreed to cooperate on the county's coca reduction strategy. Under the deal, the UNODC will help Colombia implement "alternative and sustainable development programs in areas affected by coca cultivation," according to a press release from the Colombian presidency. The plan is estimated to require $315 million in funding over the next four years. The question is whether Colombia has the political will to come up with the money.

Chronicle AM: Trump Opioid Commission Calls for More Drug Courts, More... (11/1/17)

President Trump's opioid commission issues its recommendations, El Paso becomes the latest Texas locale to ease marijuana possession penalties, would-be Arkansas medical marijuana providers file suit over an application process that excluded them, and more.

The Trump opioid commission has called for drug courts nationwide to help ease the crisis.(virginia.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Task Force Report to Be Delayed. The legislative task force studying whether to legalize marijuana has delayed issuing its final report from the end of January to the end of February. The delay was requested by the Keep Delaware Safe and Healthy Coalition, a coalition of influential groups opposed to legalization.

New Jersey Court Rules State Must Consider Reclassifying Marijuana. An Appellate Division court ruled 2-1 Tuesday that the state must at least consider removing marijuana from its list of controlled substances. The ruling came in a case brought by two plaintiffs, a man serving a life sentence for marijuana trafficking and a young girl with epilepsy who uses marijuana for medical reasons. The court did not order the state to reclassify the herb, but said the head of the Division of Consumer Affairs should have considered reclassification instead of just flatly denying a petition to do so.

El Paso Becomes Latest Texas Locale to Not Automatically Arrest for Marijuana Offenses. El Paso county commissioners voted on Monday to approve a program under which first-time offenders caught with less than two ounces of weed can avoid arrest and criminal charges. The state passed a law allowing for the down-grading of pot possession offenses in 2014, but it has only been implemented in Austin, Dallas, and Houston.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Business Applicants Sue Over Rejected Bids. A group of applicants seeking to open some of the first medical marijuana businesses in the state filed lawsuits last week charging that the state Medical Marijuana Commission erred in its initial assessment of applications, where it rejected several applicants for failing to meet minimum requirements. The lawsuits seek a temporary restraining order to force the commission to include the plaintiffs' applications during a final scoring review.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

White House Opioid Commission Issues Recommendations. President Trump's commission on the opioid crisis called Wednesday for the nationwide expansion of drug courts and more access to alternatives to opioids for people suffering pain as part of a series of recommendations for shaping drug policy to more effectively address the crisis. The 56 recommendations also include requiring doctors to show they have training in the safe provision of such drugs before their DEA licenses are renewed, requiring health care providers to use prescription drug monitoring databases, and easing Medicaid and insurance payments for opioid drug treatment. The recommendations contain no provision for increased funding.

Chronicle AM: Germany's Merkel May Agree to Legalization as Part of Coalition, More... (10/31/17)

Marijuana decriminalization takes center stage in Virginia drug policy debates, Germany's Angela Merkel may agree to legalize marijuana in a bid to build a governing coalition, and more.

German Prime Minister Angela Merkel could agree to marijuana legalization in a bid to build a governing coalition. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Crime Commission Briefed on Marijuana Stats. The state Crime Commission was briefed Monday on the results of a months-long study examining the costs and consequences of marijuana arrests in the Old Dominion. The study found there were more than 133,000 pot possession arrests in the state in the past 10 years, but that relatively few people went to jail for it in the state. The study was prompted by a proposal to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Virginia Senate Majority Leader Will File Decriminalization Bill. State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R) said Monday he plans to file a bill that would decriminalize small-time pot possession for first offenders. Norment said the bill is still being drafted, but would make first-time possession a civil offense punishable by a fine, mandatory education, and a drivers' license suspension.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Welfare Drug Testing Program Gets Underway. Under a program that took effect last week, state residents who apply for welfare must now undergo a drug screen questionnaire, with those whose responses are deemed suspicious required to take and pass a drug test. People who fail a drug test will be required to undergo drug treatment at their own expense -- while being denied funds that could help pay for it.

International

Germany's Merkel May Agree to Marijuana Legalization as Part of Coalition Deal. Reports from German media suggest that Prime Minister Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union Party may agree to support marijuana legalization as part of an effort to form a coalition government with two parties that want to free the weed, the Free Democrats and the Greens. Marijuana policy would be addressed at the end of coalition talks, the reports said.

Two NYPD Cops Charged with Raping Teen After Busting Her for Marijuana

A New York City grand jury indicted two Brooklyn narcotics officers late last week on charges they raped an 18-year-old woman after arresting her for smoking marijuana. The alleged victim says she was assaulted while handcuffed in the back of a police van in the parking lot of a Chipotle restaurant in September.

The two narcotics officers, Eddie Martins and Richard Hall, now face charges of first degree rape. The alleged victim, who posts on social media under the name Anna Chambers, including posts about the case, says that both narcs forced her to perform oral sex on them, and that one of them raped her. She alleges that she and two young men were pulled over by Martins and Hall for smoking pot, and that they targeted her after finding prescription drugs in the car. The narcs told her companions to leave before ordering her to undress so they could "search for drugs."

They didn't find any drugs on her, but handcuffed the teen anyway before coercing her into sex, her attorney, Michael David, told the New York Post.

"You'll spend three hours in the precinct," they allegedly told her. They also allegedly said: "This is what you're going to do for us, and we'll let you go," David said.

"There was zero consent," David said. "The cops were over 6 feet tall. She's very petite, like 5-2 and maybe 100 pounds. There's nothing she could do."

The grand jury issued the indictments October 26 after hearing a week of testimony, including testimony on the stand from Chambers herself. The narcs were not arrested upon indictment, but are expected to turn themselves in this week. They have been placed on modified duty and stripped of their guns and badges and are now suspended without pay. They're looking at between three and 25 years in prison if convicted.

The detectives, from NYPD's Brooklyn South narcotics squad, have not denied that they engaged in sex acts with the alleged victim, but claimed they were consensual. They also spent the past week trying to discredit and impugn their accuser.

In a letter to prosecutors, lawyers for the narcs pointed out that she had filed a $50 million claim against the city in October and that she had posted "provocative" selfies on her Instagram and Twitter accounts after the assault. The lawyers called on prosecutors "to further investigate Chambers' dubious claim before you ask the grand jury to return an indictment against Martins and Hall."

Chambers furiously rejects the narcs' claim that the sex was consensual, her lawyer said.

"She was shocked that the [cops] would say it was consensual after everything that was done to her. She wanted to get the word out," David explained. 'She just wants everybody to know it's an absolute lie that this was consensual. She was raped. She was viciously, brutally raped in handcuffs. It's the truth," he said.

"She's embarrassed," David continued. "She's very depressed over this. Her whole life had changed after this experience. She's afraid of the police, and she really wants justice to be served here."

After the attack, Chambers did what victims are supposed to do: She sought help at NYU Langone Hospital, which performed a rape kit on her that found the cops' DNA. She reported a sexual assault to police. She confided to friends after it happened. And she filed a civil lawsuit. And now, the criminal justice system swings into action against the perpetrators.

One of the reasons the war on drugs is so loathed is that it provides the opportunity for crooked cops to abuse their power in ways that have been alleged in this case. One wonders how many similarly abused women have not come forward.

New York, NY
United States

Chronicle AM: Second Australia SIJ Coming, DEA Adds Heroin Enforcement Teams, More... (10/30/17)

The Victoria state government has approved a safe injection site in Melbourne, a new report warns that high taxes on legal marijuana could push people to the black market, New Jersey adds some new qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use, and more.

Australia's second safe injection site will open in Melbourne next year. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Report: High Legal Pot Taxes Could Push Consumers to Black Market. California retail marijuana taxes, which could reach as high as 45% in some cases, could potentially push consumers out of legal pot shops and into the black market, according to a new report from the credit rating agency Fitch Ratings. "The existing black market for cannabis may prove a formidable competitor to legal markets if new taxes lead to higher prices than available from illicit sources," the report says.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Adds Five New Qualifying Conditions. The state's Medical Marijuana Review Panel has officially approved five new qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. They are anxiety, chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders, migraines, chronic pain of visceral origin, and Tourette's Syndrome. The panel rejected adding chronic fatigue syndrome and asthma as qualifying conditions.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Creates Six New Heroin Enforcement Teams. The DEA has announced the establishment of six new enforcement teams focused on heroin and fentanyl. The teams will operate in New Bedford, Massachusetts; Charleston, West Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Long Island, New York. The DEA got funding in its Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations to pay for the teams.

Public Health Experts Issue Report With Comprehensive Recommendations for Opioid Crisis.
Experts from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in collaboration with the Clinton Foundation have issued a report with comprehensive recommendations for stemming the opioid crisis. Among its 10 priority recommendations are: expanded electronic opioid prescription monitoring, policies in line with CDC Opioid Prescribing Guidelines, clear guidance on opioid disposal and "take back" programs, increased federal funding for drug treatment in the most hard hit communities, and cheaper naloxone.

International

Taliban Now Making Heroin -- and Increased Profits. For years, Afghanistan's Taliban have profited from opium poppy production, using the proceeds to finance their war, but now, Afghan and Western officials say that more than half of Afghan opium is being processed in-country, and that is leading for increased profits for the Taliban, for whom the drug trade consists of about 60% of its income.

Australia to Get Second Safe Injection Site, in Melbourne. The Victoria state government cabinet has approved a safe injection site for the North Richmond area of Melbourne. It is set to open next year. At the same time, the state government is also moving to crack down on heroin traffickers by reducing the amounts of heroin needed to impose harsh sentences.

Chronicle AM: New Gallup Poll Has Record Support for Marijuana Legalization, More... (10/25/17)

Nearly two-thirds of Americans now support marijuana legalization, and even more in Connecticut, the House passes a bill increasing funding for drug interdiction, the GAO reports on five years of US drug war spending in Latin America, Afghanistan has a whopping record opium crop, and more.

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow... and grow and grow. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll Has Legalization Support at Record High, Approaching Two-Thirds. A Gallup poll released Wednesday has support for marijuana legalization at a record high 64%, up four points from last year and twice as high as just 17 years ago. The poll also includes another first: For the first time, a majority of Republicans support legalization.

Connecticut Poll Has Legalization Support Above 70%. A new Sacred Heart University Institute for Public Policy poll has support for legalization at a whopping 70.6%. That includes both "strongly support" and "somewhat support." Among people under 35, 83.2% wanted to legalize it, and even 73.6% of residents with children in the household were supportive. Legalization should be on the legislative agenda next year.

Washington State Marijuana Sales Top $1 Billion Mark This Year. By the end of September, retail marijuana sales topped $1.1 billion, according to data released by the State Liquor and Cannabis Board. That's just short of Colorado's figure of $1.118 billion so far this year.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Bill Would Create Federal Task Force to Fight Fentanyl and Heroin. US Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Evan Jenkins (R-VA) filed HR 4090, the Fentanyl and Heroin Task Force Act, on Monday. The bill would create a multi-agency task force including members of Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, the IRS, the International Trade Administration, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the US Postal Inspection Service. The task force would coordinate federal efforts to go after fentanyl trafficking groups and identify the sources of heroin and fentanyl production and distribution. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

House Passes Bill to Beef Up Customs, Border Patrol to Wage Drug War. The House voted 412-3 to approve HR 2142, the INTERDICT Act. The bill appropriates funds to pay for new screening devices, laboratory equipment, facilities, and personnel needed to enforce prohibition against fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. A companion measure in the Senate hasn't moved yet.

Foreign Policy

GAO Report: US Spent $39 Billion Fighting Drugs in Western Hemisphere in Five Years. Between 2010 and 2015, US agencies implementing the National Drug Control Strategy spent $39 billion trying to block the flow of drugs from Latin America into the United States. That includes the Defense Department, Homeland Security's ICE, Homeland Security's CBP, the Coast Guard, the Justice Department's DEA and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, the State Department, and the Agency for International Development. Given the huge drug flows from south of the border, it doesn't seem to be working that well.

State Department Wants Stronger Anti-Drug Efforts from Mexico. A day after the DEA identified Mexican drug trafficking groups as the key criminal threat in drug enforcement, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told a business meeting in Mexico that Mexico needed to do more to help. "More rigorous, collaborative efforts to confront the threat posed by the production and distribution of heroin and fentanyl are a priority for the United States," Sullivan said in remarks reported by ABC News.

International

Afghanistan Has Record Opium Harvest This Year. The opium poppy crop this year is a record and more than double last year's crop, according to Afghan Counter-Narcotics Minister Salamt Azimi. He blamed high levels of insurgency for preventing eradication programs from operating. Last year's crop was estimated at 4,700 tons, but this year's will likely exceed 10,000 tons.

Chronicle AM: Iran Restricts Death Penalty in Drug Cases, Belize MJ Decrim Move, More... (10/23/17)

Iran has approved dramatic changes in the use of the death penalty in drug cases, an Indiana county ends needle exchange and cites the Bible to do so, Jamaica issues its first marijuana business licenses, and more.

In an historic move, Iran has dramatically restricted use of the death penalty in drug cases. (handsoffcain.info)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Credit Union Sues Federal Reserve Over Cannabis Banking. The Fourth Corner Credit Union has filed a lawsuit against the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City over its refusal to grant the business a master account because Fourth Corner wants to provide financial services to groups in the marijuana business. Fourth Corner received a state banking charter in 2014 and even altered its business plan to only serve marijuana advocacy groups -- not pot businesses -- but the Fed still refuses to issue a master account.

Medical Marijuana

Montana Scores $300,000 in Medical Marijuana Taxes. The state collected medical marijuana taxes at the rate of $100,000 a month for the three months ending in September, the Department of Revenue reported. The proceeds are coming from a 4% tax on provider's gross revenue. The tax went into effect on July 1.

Utah Poll Shows Continuing Strong Support for Medical Marijuana Initiative. A new Salt Lake Tribune/University of Utah Hinckley School of Politics poll has support for a 2018 medical marijuana initiative at 75%. That result mirrors a July poll that had 77% support.

Harm Reduction

Indiana County Ends Needle Exchange Program, Cites Biblical Morality. County commissioners in Lawrence County voted last week to end a needle exchange program, with commissioners citing the Bible and morality as reasons for doing so. "It was a moral issue with me. I had severe reservations that were going to keep me from approving that motion," County Commissioner Rodney Fish, who voted against the program, told NBC News. "I did not approach this decision lightly. I gave it a great deal of thought and prayer. My conclusion was that I could not support this program and be true to my principles and my beliefs." Before voting, Fish quoted a Bible verse about people turning from their "wicked ways."

International

Belize House Passes Marijuana Decriminalization. The House last Friday approved a marijuana decriminalization bill that would allow the possession of up to 10 grams of pot. It would also legalize industrial hemp. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Colombia Prosecutor General Calls for Reconsideration of Aerial Fumigation of Coca Crops. In an interview with the newspaper El Tiempo, Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez called on the government to consider resuming aerial spraying of coca groups with herbicides. The call comes amid rising concerns over the government's ability to rein in coca production in the wake of its peace treaty with the leftist rebels of the FARC.

Indonesia Drug Czar Threatens Philippines-Style Killings of Drug Dealers. National Narcotics Agency (BNN) head Commander General Budi Waseso said last Thursday that police should be prepared to shoot drug dealers on the spot. "People said that the BNN cannot shoot on the spot. Why not?" Waseso said, in remarks reported by the Jakarta Post. "Stern actions" are justified because "there are too few drug dealers who are dead, while they have killed thousands of people."

Iran Limits Death Penalty in Drug Cases. The Islamic Republic's Guardian Council last Wednesday approved amendments to the country's Law Against Drug Trafficking that will greatly reduce the imposition of the death penalty for drug offenses. In past years, Iran has executed hundreds of people each year for drug trafficking offenses, but the amendment limits imposition of the death penalty to drug lords, armed traffickers, people with significant prior convictions, and people who use children to sell drugs.

Jamaica Issues First Marijuana Licenses. The Cannabis Licensing Authority of Jamaica issued the first two licenses for marijuana businesses last Wednesday. One went to Everyting Oily Labs for processing, and the other went to Epican for cultivation. "Although it has taken some time to get to this historic occasion, we have remained committed to getting it right and to ensure that Jamaica's stake in the global medicinal cannabis industry is never compromised and remains sustainable," said Authority Chairwoman Hyacinth Lightbourne in a press release. "During the process, we have endeavored to remain in dialogue with our applicants every step of the way, and we are confident that they have satisfied the rigors of the regulations," she said.

Wine Country Fires Hit Northern California Marijuana Industry Hard

The wildfires raging through Northern California's Wine Country these past weeks have killed at least 41 people, left dozens missing, and thousands burned out of their homes. They have also put a significant hurt on the region's namesake wine industry, and its up-and-coming country cousin, the weed business.

As of this week, more than 5,000 structures had gone up in flames, including whole neighborhoods in Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 about an hour north of San Francisco. Tens of thousands of people endured mandatory evacuations as smoke turned skies grey as far south as San Jose.

Vineyards and wineries along the Silverado Trail in Napa County and the Highway 12 corridor between Santa Rosa and Sonoma in Sonoma County have been destroyed or damaged. Wine Country towns like Kenwood and Glen Ellen have been hard hit.

Major tourist hotels like the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country and the Fountaingrove Inn in Santa Rosa have burned. At least one Silverado Trail winery, Signorello Estates, appears to have been destroyed, while damage reports are pending on others. Similarly, Sonoma County wineries including Chateau St. Jean, Kenwood, Kunde and B.R. Cohn, were endangered Tuesday.

"It looks like a bombing run," winemaker Joe Nielsen told the San Francisco Chronicle as he viewed what was left of Donelan Family Wines. "Just chimneys and burnt out cars and cooked trees."

The Wine Country devastation will have an impact not only on tourism, but also on the price of some fine reds. While 75% of the region's grapes have already been picked, premium merlot and cabernet sauvignon crops are mostly still on the vines. The number of wineries burned or threatened could cause shortages of these prized grapes for years, since California produces about 85% of American wine, and Napa and Sonoma counties produce the bulk of its premium wines.

The same temperature Mediterranean climate that makes the area so suitable for grape growing makes it ideal for pot farming, too, and Sonoma County's estimated 3,000 to 9,000 marijuana growers have been hard-hit, as well. While damage reports for the wine industry will take a while, pot people are already reporting losses in the tens of millions of dollars.

The marijuana harvest begins a bit later than the grape harvest, and when the fires reared up, thousands and thousands of outdoor marijuana plants were still in the ground. Now, some of those fields are little more than ash, including in neighboring Mendocino County, where the Redwood Valley fire is burning up pot crops, too.

This is shaping up to be "the worst year on record for California's growers," California Growers' Association head Hezekiah Allen told SFGate last week, adding that at least two dozen members had lost their entire farms.

"This is going to leave a deep scar," he said. "I had one conversation today where the family was in tears, saying, 'We don't know how we're going to make it to January, let alone next planting season.'"

Sonoma County Growers Alliance chair Tawnie Logan reported significant losses among her membership.

"We have a lot of people who have lost their farms in the last 36 hours, and their homes," she said last week, citing a $2 million greenhouse crop that went up in smoke on the first night of the fires. "There's no way for them to recover the millions in anticipated revenue they just lost," she said. "It's gone. It's ashes."

The San Francisco dispensary SPARC reported that while it had suffered "some pretty substantial damage" at its farm in Glen Ellen, it was preparing Tuesday to try to salvage some of its crop. The Sonoma County Cannabis Company also was also hit hard -- and working frantically to avoid a total wipeout.

"There are no words right now to describe the loss, the heart break and the trauma that our beloved home and community is going through," the company posted to its Instagram account. "We are trying to save what we can."

While the losses could put a dent in the county's multi-hundred million dollar pot industry, consumers are unlikely to notice any impact. The state already grows so much marijuana that downward pressures are already keeping prices low, and even the losses incurred in this week's fires aren't going to shake the market.

But unlike the wine industry, marijuana growers are unlikely to be able to obtain insurance to replace lost crops and facilities. Those pot farmers who took losses are going to be feeling the pain for a good while.

Amidst Controversy Over Anthem Protests, NFL Endorses Drug Sentencing Reform [FEATURE]

Caught up between players who insist on exercising their right to call out racial injustice in a manner of their choice and a scapegoating president who demands the league stifle what he deems unpatriotic protest, the National Football League has reacted in a surprising and progressive way: In a Monday letter to leading senators, the NFL endorsed a federal sentencing bill aimed at reducing the number of drug offenders.

The bill is the bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 (S. 1917), rolled out earlier this month by such Senate heavy hitters as Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA), ranking Democratic member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), minority whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), among others.

"We are writing to offer the National Football League's full support for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 (S. 1917)," said Commissioner Roger Goodell and Seattle Seahawks owner Doug Baldwin, Jr. in the letter. "We want to add our voice to the broad and bipartisan coalition of business leaders, law enforcement officials, veterans groups, ci vii rights organizations, conservative thought leaders, and faith-based organizations that have been working for five years to enact the changes called for in this comprehensive legislation."

The subject of years of negotiation in the Senate, the bill would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenders, give judges greater discretion to sentence below federal sentencing guidelines, reform sentencing enhancements around weapons possession (to allow departures from mandatory minimums if the weapon wasn't used or brandished), make Fair Sentencing Act of 2012 reforms retroactive, and create programs to reduce recidivism.

As compromise legislation, the bill isn't all reform. It also includes provisions creating new mandatory minimum sentences -- for interstate domestic violence and providing weapons to terrorists -- and harshly punishing the sale of heroin cut with fentanyl. Still, overall, the bill would be a big step toward reducing the federal prison population overall and the federal drug prisoner population in particular.

NFL player takes a knee. (PxHere)
More than two thirds of NFL players are black. And just like the rest of us, they understand that pro football isn't the only place blacks are overrepresented: As the by now numbingly familiar refrain goes, African-Americans make up only 13% of the population and use drugs at roughly the same rate as other groups, but constitute 40% of all prisoners and a whopping 72% of federal drug prisoners.

With racial justice issues bubbling up in the NFL since then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem before a game last season to protest racial injustice in general and police killings of black men in particular, and reaching a fever pitch when President Trump used anthem protests to throw red meat to his base this season, the NFL has been desperately searching for a way to get over the anthem controversy and back to the business of pro football. Endorsing federal sentencing reform could be a way to do that, but it leaves the league trying to appease players on one hand while trying to give props to the cops on the other.

"Football and community are the twin pillars of the NFL," Goodell and Baldwin added. "Over the last two seasons, one particular issue that has come to the forefront for our players and our teams is the issue of justice for all."

For the NFL, they wrote, the challenge is "ensuring that every American has equal rights and equal protection under the law, while simultaneously ensuring that all law enforcement personnel have the proper resources, tools, and training and are treated with honor and respect."

For the team owners, however, the challenge is whether this move will quell the controversy, get the players back to concentrating on football, and get President Trump back to concentrating on anything -- anything! -- other than the NFL.

Drug War Issues

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