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Chronicle AM: MA Drug Lab Scandal Redux, PA MJ Support Strong and Rising, More... (9/22/17)

Pennsylvania support for marijuana legalization is strong and rising, Attorney General Sessions mixes drug and immigration policy, another federal court rules against Stingray, a second Massachusetts drug lab scandal could see thousands more cases dismissed, and more.

Massachusetts state drug testing labs continue to generate serious problems -- and thousands of case dismissals. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

California Will Issue Temporary Business Licenses. Regulators will introduce a temporary marijuana business licensing system to ensure a smooth start to regulated marijuana sales beginning on January 1, the state's top marijuana official announced Thursday. Businesses would only need to provide some "pretty basic information" for the temporary licenses, said Lori Ajax. The application will be available in early December, after temporary rulemaking is completed. "We don't have time to do regular rulemaking," she explained, adding that would come next year.

Pennsylvania Poll Shows Strong, Rising Support for Legalization. A Franklin & Marshall College poll released Thursday has support for marijuana legalization at 59%, with only 31% opposed and 9% undecided. The pro-legalization numbers are the highest ever in the poll, up three points since May and a whopping 19 points since June2015.

Immigration

Sessions Blames Lax Immigration Policies for Drug Gangs, Cartels. Attorney General Jeff Sessions used concerns over drug gangs and cartels to attack "loose" immigration policy in remarks in Boston Thursday. He specifically singled out MS-13 as an example, while failing to note the gang's origins among Salvadoran refugees fleeing a US-sponsored civil war there in the 1980s. He also attacked the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which offers protections to undocumented residents who were brought to the country as children. "The gangs use this program as a means to recruit members," Sessions said. "We cannot allow young people to be brought into this life of crime." Sessions did not mention that DACA participants are carefully vetted and must have no serious criminal records or that 90% of them are working or in college.

Law Enforcement

DC Court Latest to Rule Against Warrantless Stingray Searches. The DC Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the warrantless use of a Stingray cell-site stimulator to monitor phone calls was unconstitutional. The ruling was only the latest in a string of recent federal appeals court judgments that ruled using the Stingray amounts to a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. In the DC case, the court found the violation so egregious that it excluded all evidence derived from it, overturning the conviction of Prince Jones on drug charges.

ACLU Calls for Thousands More Massachusetts Drug Cases to Be Thrown Out in Drug Lab Scandals. Bay State judges have already dismissed more than 20,000 drug cases tainted by the misbehavior of state lab chemist Annie Dookhan, but now the ACLU is calling for judges and prosecutors to dismiss thousands more in a second case of lab tech misbehavior. Amherst state lab chemist Sonja Farak pleaded guilty in 2014 to stealing cocaine from the lab and admitted she was high nearly every day from 2004 to 2013 on cocaine, meth, and other stimulant drugs she pilfered from her job. The ACLU charges that prosecutors have sought to minimize Farak's misbehavior in a bid to preserve drug cases and convictions and failed to notify defendants that the evidence in their cases had been tainted. "Far worse than the Hinton scandal, the Amherst scandal combines a lab crisis with prosecutorial misconduct of unparalleled scope and irremediable consequence," the ACLU argued. "This latest systemic lapse in the justice system demands a most emphatic response." And that response would be mass dismissals.

International

Iceland Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Members of the Reform Party and the Pirate Party have banded together to file a bill that would legalize marijuana in the North Atlantic island nation. The bill would allow anyone 20 and over to possess and cultivate pot for personal use -- with a government permit. The bill would also allow retail sales and consumption lounges, but not at the same business.

Australia to See First Music Festival With On-Site Pill Testing. The Spilt Milk Festival in Canberra will provide on-site pill testing for attendees in a harm reduction move aimed at reducing overdoses and other bad drug interactions. The Australian Capital Territory government has given the okay for the project, which will be operated by the Safety Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events. That consortium consists of Harm Reduction Australia, the Australian Drug Observatory, the Noffs Foundation, DanceWize, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Trump BS Alert: The Border Wall Won't Stop Drug Smuggling [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

The president doesn't let reality get in the way of rhetoric. (Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)
President Trump sure loves his border wall. It was a staple of his campaign rhetoric, and despite Mexico's firm insistence that there is no way it's ever going to pay for it, Trump's desire for it is unabated. Now, he's threatening to shut down the government unless he can persuade the Congress to make American taxpayers pay for it.

Last week, Trump claimed that "building the wall will stop much of the drugs coming into the county." That claim is yet another example of what CNN contributor Fareed Zakaria pungently referred to as Trump's primary political product: bullshit.

Here's what Trump claimed during his joint press conference last Monday with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto:

"The wall will stop much of the drugs from pouring into this country and poisoning our youth. So we need the wall. It's imperative… The wall is needed from the standpoint of drug -- tremendous, the drug scourge, what's coming through the areas that we're talking about… So we will build the wall, and we will stop a lot of things, including the drug -- the drugs are pouring in at levels like nobody has ever seen. We'll be able to stop them once the wall is up."

And here's the reality: Trump's own DEA and outside experts agree that building a wall along the 1,700 mile land border with Mexico will have little impact on the drug trade. Not only do drugs from Latin America enter America by sea and air as well as across the Mexican border, but the vast majority of drugs crossing the land border do so not in unfenced desert expanses, but through official ports of entry.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations "transport the bulk of their drugs over the Southwest Border through ports of entry (POEs) using passenger vehicles or tractor trailers," the DEA said in its 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment. "The drugs are typically secreted in hidden compartments when transported in passenger vehicles or comingled with legitimate goods when transported in tractor trailers."

Here's how the DEA detailed trafficking methods for various drugs:

Methamphetamine: "Traffickers most commonly transport methamphetamine in tractor trailers and passenger vehicles with hidden compartments. In addition, traffickers send methamphetamine through various mail services or by couriers traveling via bus or commercial airline.

Heroin: "Most heroin smuggled across the border is transported in privately-owned vehicles, usually through California, as well as through south Texas."

Cocaine: "Tractor trailers and passenger vehicles are frequently used to transport multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine. Cocaine is hidden amongst legitimate cargo or secreted inside of intricate hidden compartments built within passenger vehicles."

Marijuana: "Large quantities of marijuana are smuggled through subterranean tunnels."

A May 2017 DEA intelligence report obtained by Foreign Policy echoed the 2015 assessment. It, too, found that drugs coming from Mexico went indeed cross the border, but they mainly do so concealed in vehicles using ports of entry -- not those unfenced expanses. That report also noted that drugs headed for the Northeast United States, especially from Colombia -- the world's leading cocaine producer, as well as source of opium and heroin second only to Mexico in the US market -- come more often by plane and boat.

Drug traffickers "generally route larger drug shipments destined for the Northeast through the Bahamas and/or South Florida by using a variety of maritime conveyance methods, to include speedboats, fishing vessels, sailboats, yachts, and containerized sea cargo," the report found. "In some cases, Dominican Republic-based traffickers will also transport cocaine into Haiti for subsequent shipment to the United States via the Bahamas and/or South Florida corridor using maritime and air transport."

That report did not address the border wall, but its examples of how and where drugs enter the country show that in many cases, building a wall wouldn't make a scintilla of difference: "According to DEA reporting, the majority of the heroin available in New Jersey originates in Colombia and is primarily smuggled into the United States by Colombian and Dominican groups via human couriers on commercial flights to the Newark International Airport," the report found.

The report concluded with recommendations for reducing the drug trade, but none of them were about building a border wall. Instead, targeting foreign drug trafficking networks within the US "would be an essential component to any broad strategy for resolving the current opioid crisis."

It's not just his own DEA that is giving the lie to Trump's bullshit. His own chief of staff, John Kelly contradicted the president's position at a congressional hearing in April. Illegal drugs from Mexico "mostly come through the ports of entry," he said. "We know they come in in relatively small amounts, 10, 15 kilos at a time in automobiles and those kinds of conveyances."

Drug trafficking experts agreed with Kelly and the DEA -- not Trump.

Brookings Institution senior fellow and long-time analyst of drug production and trafficking Vanda Felbab-Brown summed things up bluntly in an essay earlier this month: "A barrier in the form of a wall is increasingly irrelevant to the drug trade as it now practiced because most of the drugs smuggled into the US from Mexico no longer arrive on the backs of those who cross illegally."

"The wall won't stop the flow of drugs into the United States," she told Fact Check last week.

Other experts contacted by Fact Check concurred. University of Maryland criminal justice professor and founder of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center Peter Reuter pronounced himself skeptical that a wall would have any impact on the drug trade.

"The history is that smugglers eventually figure a workaround," he said. "There have been many promising interdiction interventions -- none of them have made more than a temporary dent."

And Middle Tennessee State University political science professor Stephen D. Morris, whose research has largely focused on Mexico, came up with two reasons the border wall would not stop drugs.

"First, as you say, most drug shipments come disguised as commerce and are crossing the border by truck or in cargo containers. Human mules, to my knowledge, bring in a small fraction," he said. "Second, smugglers adapt. Whether it is tunnels, submarines, mules, drones, etc., they are good at figuring out new ways to get drugs to those in the US who will buy them."

It is a shame that Donald Trump's ascendency has so coarsened and vulgarized our national political discourse. But his lies demand a forthright response. Bullshit is bullshit.

Chronicle AM: White House Seeks MA MedMJ Data, Ecstasy for PTSD Advances, More... (8/28/17)

The White House is sniffing around Massachusetts medical marijuana patient data, the FDA has granted breakthrough drug status for MDMA as a treatment of PTSD, the DEA warns of a looming tide of cocaine, the State Department's top anti-drug official calls it quits, and more.

Cocaine supplies and seizures are at record levels, the DEA says. (US CBP)
Medical Marijuana

White House Seeks Massachusetts Data On Medical Marijuana Users. The National Marijuana Initiative, part of the Trump administration's anti-drug task force, has asked the state Department of Public Health to provide data on the health conditions cited by medical marijuana users. The department has already provided data on patient by age and gender, but said it was considering whether to hand over additional data.

Tennessee Lawmakers to Study Whether to Legalize Medical Marijuana. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R) and House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) announced in a letter last Friday that they are forming an ad hoc committee to study whether the state should legalize medical marijuana. The lawmakers said they would undertake a comprehensive review of the matter. The committee will consist of 10 legislators.

Ecstasy

FDA Grants Breakthrough Therapy Designation for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for PTSD. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) announced last Friday that Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation to MDMA for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). MAPS and the FDA have also reached agreement under the Special Protocol Assessment Process (SPA) for the design of two upcoming Phase 3 of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for patients with severe PTSD. MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is a novel treatment package that combines psychotherapeutic techniques with three administrations of MDMA as a pharmacological adjunct. By granting Breakthrough Therapy Designation, the FDA has agreed that this treatment may have a meaningful advantage and greater compliance over available medications for PTSD.

Drug Policy

State Department's Top Anti-Drug Diplomat Joins Exodus, Resigns. William Brownfield, the US Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs"), has announced he is quitting at the end of September. Foreign Policy had reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was considering Brownfield for a position as top envoy to Latin America, but instead Brownfield is leaving. His departure is only the latest of top officials from Foggy Bottom, including Brownfield's wife, Kristie Kenney, one of the department's senior foreign service officers, a few months back. Also resigning Friday, was Tracey Ann Jacobsen, the acting director of the Bureau of International Organization Affairs. Earlier in the week, Foreign Policy reported that the department's top official for European affairs, John Heffern, was forced out of his job, adding to "concerns of a growing wave of resignations by foreign policy professionals who are either being pushed out or resigning over frustration with an administration that has downgraded the importance of Washington's diplomatic corps."

Search and Seizure

Indiana Appeals Court Rules Genital Search for Blunt too Intrusive. The state Court of Appeals ruled last week that a police officer's search that included touching a woman's genitals was unconstitutional. Taccasia Porter had been convicted of marijuana possession, but appealed her conviction, arguing that the marijuana found in her underwear shouldn't have been admitted as evidence because it was the fruit of an unlawful search. The appeals court agreed, saying that while an initial search was lawful, the hands-down-the-pants search was not. "While the initial pat-down search was permissible, we find that the subsequent search ran afoul of both the federal and state constitutions," wrote appellate Judge John G. Baker. "All of this took place in a public area on the side of a road, with no evidence that any precautions were taken to protect Porter's privacy from pedestrian or vehicular passers-by or the two men on the scene," the opinion said. No word yet on whether prosecutors will appeal.

International

DEA Report Says Colombia Cocaine Expansion Fueling Rise in Use and Supply in the US. An August DEA Intelligence Brief notes that US cocaine supplies are at the highest levels since at least 2007 and the usage has jumped to the highest levels since 2009. The report also says that cocaine production and US border seizures "have reached the highest levels ever observed. The DEA argued that cocaine supply and us in the US will continue to rise barring a change in US drug habits, cartel behavior, or "a significant shift in the Government of Colombia's policies."

Trudeau Government Not Decriminalizing More Drugs Than Marijuana. Responding to calls from public health and political figures in British Columbia to decriminalize drugs in a bid to combat the opioid overdose epidemic, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott says no way. "Our government is currently working on the legalization, strict regulation, and restriction of access to cannabis, in order to keep it out of the hands of youth, and profits out of the hands of criminals," she said in a statement last week. "We are not looking to decriminalize or legalize other illicit substances at this time."

Mass March for Philippine Teen Drug War Victim.More than a thousand people joined the funeral procession last Saturday for Kian Delos Santos, 17, who was gunned down by Philippines police days earlier as part of their bloody anti-drug campaign. His killing has galvanized opposition to the year-long campaign undertaken by President Rodrigo Duterte upon his inauguration last year, which has resulted in thousands of deaths and increasing attention to charges that police are systematically executing suspected drug users and dealers.

Sessions/Trump Pull Off an Amazing Feat -- Making the DEA Look Reasonable [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has never been known as a forward-thinking place when it comes to drug and crime policy, but these days, the hide-bound drug fighting agency is coming off as much more reasonable on drugs than its bosses, President Trump and Attorney General Sessions.

DEA doing its thing. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
And as is the case with everyone from Republican elected officials to top corporate executives, the Trump administration's bad case of crazy is forcing even the DEA to distance itself from some of Trump's more ill-thought and insidious mouthings.

No, the DEA hasn't gone soft. It's still out there doing its best to enforce federal drug prohibition, and just last year it was old school enough to refuse to move pot out of Schedule I. But several recent incidents show a DEA behaving in a more responsible manner than the president or his attorney general:

1. The DEA has been accepting applications from scientists to grow marijuana for research purposes, only to be blocked by the Sessions Justice Department.

For years, researchers have complained that a government monopoly on marijuana grown for research purposes has both stifled useful research and illustrated the DEA's role in hindering science. Late in the Obama administration, though, the agency relented, saying it would take proposals from researchers to grow their own crops.

But The Washington Post reported last week that DEA had received 25 research proposals since it began accepting applications a year ago, but needed DOJ's approval to move forward. That approval has not been forthcoming, much like DOJ when queried about it by the Post. DOJ may not have had anything to say, but some insiders did.

"They're sitting on it. They just will not act on these things," said one unnamed source described by the Post as a "law enforcement official familiar with the matter."

Another source described as a "senior DEA official" said that as a result, "the Justice Department has effectively shut down this program to increase research registrations."

2. The DEA head feels compelled to repudiate Trump's remarks about roughing up suspects.

The Wall Street Journal obtained an email from acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg to staff members written after President Trump told police officers in Long Island month that they needn't be too gentle with suspects. Rosenberg rejected the president's remarks.

Saying he was writing "because we have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong," Rosenberg said bluntly that Trump had "condoned police misconduct."

Instead of heeding the president, Rosenberg said, DEA agents must "always act honorably" by maintaining "the very highest standards" in the treatment of suspects.

It is a strange state of affairs when an agency many people consider to be the very embodiment of heavy-handed policing has to tell its employees to ignore the president of the United States because he's being too thuggish.

3. The DEA has to fend off the Trump/Sessions obsession with MS-13.

Trump loves to fulminate against MS-13, the vicious gang whose roots lie in the Salvadoran diaspora during the US-backed civil war of the 1980s, and to use them to conflate the issues of immigration, crime, and drugs. His loyal attorney general has declared war on them. Both insist that breaking MS-13 will be a victory in the war on drugs and are pressuring the DEA to specifically target them.

But, the Post reported, Rosenberg and other DEA officials have told DOJ that the gang "is not one of the biggest players when it comes to distributing and selling narcotics."

In the DEA view, Mexican cartels are the big problem and MS-13 is simply one of many gangs the cartels use to peddle their wares. DEA administrators have told their underlings to focus on whatever is the biggest threat in their area -- not MS-13 -- because "in many parts of the country, MS-13 simply does not pose a major criminal or drug-dealing threat compared with other groups," according to unnamed DEA officials.

"The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they could face professional consequences for candidly describing the internal disputes," the Post noted.

The president and the attorney general are seeking to distort what the DEA sees as its key drug enforcement priorities so Trump can score some cheap demagogic political points, and the DEA is unhappy enough to leak to the press. We are indeed in a strange place.

Chronicle AM: Wyden Wants DOJ to Release MJ Recs, Pressure on DHS Over Meth Death, More... (8/2/17)

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has asked Attorney General Sessions to release recommendations on possible changes in federal marijuana enforcement, congressmembers want changes at Customs and Border Protection after video of a Mexican teen's death after drinking meth in front of Customs agents went public, and more.

Puerto Rico is hoping medical marijuana will deliver an economic miracle. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Ron Wyden Asks Sessions to Release Crime Task Force Marijuana Recommendations. Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden sent a letter to Attorney General Sessions Tuesday pressing him to reveal any possible changes to federal marijuana enforcement policies contained in recommendations presented to him last week by the Justice Department's Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. "It is concerning to see this administration failing, once again, to be transparent and straightforward with the American people about the motivations behind its policy shifts," Wyden wrote. "I write to you today to ask that the recommendations of the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety immediately be made public."

Medical Marijuana

Puerto Rico Looks to Medical Marijuana as Economic Medicine. Economically ravaged Puerto Rico is counting on medical marijuana to boost its economy. The island's treasury secretary estimates the industry could generate up to $100 million a year and help reduce an unemployment rate currently around 12%. The US territory is in a fiscal crisis, facing billions in budgets cuts and a public debt load of $70 billion. David Quinones, operations director of Puerto Rico's largest medical marijuana producer, Natural Ventures, told the Washington Post: "Name one new industry in Puerto Rico capable of generating millions and billions in capital and improving an economy in a mega-crisis. There is none."

Law Enforcement

Oregon Drug Task Force Disbanding. The Lane County Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team is disbanding effective immediately, with Board Chairman Rick Lewis, the police chief in Springfield, citing budget and staffing issues. The task force, which was founded in 1987 to deal primarily with meth labs, has disbanded once before. In 2005, it was shut down for three years after budgeting shortfalls. Last year, the task force made 110 arrests and seized nearly 15 pounds of meth and $133,000 in cash.

After Death Of Teen Who Drank Liquid Meth At Checkpoint, Lawmakers Call For Action. Members of Congress are calling on the Department of Homeland Security to take steps to improve training after video of a Mexican teen drinking liquid methamphetamine in front of Customs agents and then dying became public last week. The boy, Cruz Velazquez Acevedo, died in 2013. "What happened to Cruz Velazquez was absolutely horrible, and we must guarantee that something like this never happens again," Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Calif., said in an email Monday to KPBS. "I am requesting an immediate response from the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that proper training is put in place for Customs and Border Protection agents." The Department of Homeland Security has already paid a $1 million settlement with the teen's family.

Chronicle AM: Israel Decrim Now in Effect, VT MJ Advocates Seek Path Forward, More... (5/30/17)

There may be hope, albeit slim, for legalization yet this year in Vermont, Israeli marijuana decriminalization has gone into effect, South Carolina becomes the 31st hemp state, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Keeping Hope Alive in Vermont. Marijuana legalization advocates met last Friday with members of Gov. Phil Scott's (R) staff to discuss possible revisions in the marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 22, that could make it palatable enough to Scott to make him put away his veto pen. Scott vetoed the bill last week, saying he was not philosophically opposed to legalization, but wanted tougher penalties for using marijuana around children and a delay in the deadline for a legislative commission to study legalizing marijuana commerce. The current bill would only legalize personal possession and cultivation.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit Has Closed 167 Unpermitted Dispensaries; More to Come. The city's crackdown on illegally operating dispensaries has seen 167 of them shuttered since the campaign began last year, and another 51 are in line to be closed in coming weeks, according to Detroit corporation counsel Melvin Butch Hollowell. The city had identified 283 illegally operating dispensaries and has a goal of reducing the number in the city to 50.

Hemp

South Carolina Becomes 31st Hemp State. Gov. Henry McMaster (R) has signed into law House Bill 3559, which establishes a state hemp program that will award 20 licenses to farmers to grow and harvest hemp fields of up to 20 acres each. The bill passes the House unanimously and the Senate with a single "no" vote.

International

Trump Budget Would Cut in Half Mexican Drug War Aid. The administration's proposed budget for next year would cut almost in half foreign aid payments to Mexico, most of which goes to the police and military to wage the drug war south of the border. The budget does include $1.6 billion for building the border wall, though.

Israel Marijuana Decriminalization Has Gone Into Effect. As of this week, marijuana possession is decriminalized in Israel. People caught in possession of 15 grams or less will face a $280 fine for a first offense and a $560 fine for a second offense. Third time offenders will be investigated for drug offenses and have the violation added to their criminal records, while fourth-time offenders will face arrest.

Chronicle AM: CBS Poll: 61% Say Legalize It, Philly Mayor Says Legalize It, More... (4/25/17)

Support for marijuana legalization is at an all-time high in the CBS poll, Philadelphia's mayor joins the legalization chorus, Massachusetts drops more than 20,000 tainted drug convictions, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New CBS Poll Has Legalization Support at All-Time High. A New CBS poll has support for marijuana legalization at 61%, up an impressive five points over the same poll last year. Even more people -- 71% -- want the federal government to butt out of marijuana policy in states where it is legal.

DC Activists Arrested for 4/20 Capitol Hill Joint Giveaway. Eight DC-based marijuana reform activists were arrested last Thursday on the capitol grounds after police raided their "joint session" where the planned to give away joints to anyone with a valid congressional ID. Only two of the activists, including lead gadfly Adam Eidinger, were actually charged, but those charged now face local marijuana charges in DC. Police had recommended federal charges.

Philadelphia Mayor Calls for Legalization. Mayor Jim Kenney (D) has come out in favor of freeing the weed. "The real solution to this is legalizing it in the state of Pennsylvania as they did in Colorado," said Mayor Kenney. "We won't have to use police resources in these kinds of activities and actions." The mayor's comments came as he responded to questions about a Saturday raid on a marijuana "smokeasy" where 22 people were arrested.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Legislature Approves Last-Minute CBD Expansion Bill. In the space of four hours early last Saturday, the legislature saw a CBD cannabis oil bill introduced, considered, and approved by both houses. The bill would allow a sunsetted CBD law to continue to be in effect.

Maryland Begins Open Enrollment for Patients. People who want to register as medical marijuana patients can now do so, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission has announced. The commission has further information at its website, mmcc.maryland.gov.

Montana House Approves Medical Marijuana Regulatory Bill. The House on Monday approved Senate Bill 333, which will set up a tax and regulatory structure for medical marijuana in the state. The Senate approved the bill, with amendments, last week, but the House now has to hold one more vote before sending the bill to the governor.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Allocates $200 Million to Fight Heroin and Opioid Abuse. Budget legislation just signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) devotes some $200 million to fighting the state's opioid crisis. About $145 million will go to in- and out-patient treatment services, $6 million will fund the use of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, and the balance will go to prevention.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Researchers and Advocates Join March for Science. Dozens of drug and public health policy researchers and advocates took part in last Saturday's March for Science in downtown Los Angeles. "I can't believe I have to march for objective reality," one sign at the march read. The scientists of all stripes marched to demand that policy be made on empirical evidence, a demand increasingly fraught as science faces the Trump administration.

Drug Testing

Maine GOP Lawmakers Are Back With Another Welfare Drug Testing Bill. Packaged as part of a campaign against welfare fraud, a new welfare drug testing bill has been filed in Augusta. The bill would require screening of welfare applicants, with those who have drug felonies or who are suspected of drug use being required to undergo drug testing.

Law Enforcement

Massachusetts Drops 21,000 Tainted Drug Convictions. The Supreme Judicial Court last Thursday vacated some 21,587 drug convictions after prosecuting attorneys said they would be unable or unwilling to prosecute them. The convictions are all tainted by links to a disgraced state chemist who admitted faking test results in 2013.

International

US Offers to Help Fund Mexico Opium Eradication. US Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs") William Brownfield said in an interview last Friday that the US has offered Mexico help in eradicating opium poppies. "We would be prepared to support (opium eradication efforts) should we reach a basic agreement in terms of how they would do more and better eradication in the future," Brownfield said. "That is on the table, but I don't want you to conclude that it's a done deal, because we still have to work through the details," he added. Mexico supplies the vast majority of heroin consumed in the US.

Chronicle AM: GA CBD Bill Advances, SD MedMJ & Legalization Inits Pass Hurdle, More... (3/29/17)

South Dakota activists hope the third time's the charm when it comes to medical marijuana initiatives, a Georgia CBD expansion bill advances, the Oklahoma Supreme Court slaps down former Attorney General (now EPA head) Scott Pruitt over medical marijuana ballot language, and more.

Will South Dakota ever approve medical marijuana? Voters could have another chance in 2018. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana Initiatives Get Attorney General Approval. State Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) has provided required attorney general explanations for two proposed initiatives. A marijuana legalization initiative would allow the possession of up to an ounce and the cultivation of up to five plants, as well as taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, while a medical marijuana initiative would allow patients to possess up to three ounces and grow a minimum of six plants. The initiatives are now ready for signature gathering and both need 13,871 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Restrictive Florida Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. While a half-dozen competing measures aim to address the state's voter-approved medical marijuana system, the most restrictive measure advanced in the House on Tuesday. House Bill 1397 would limit growers to the seven currently permitted and bans smoking, vaping, and edibles. It moved out of the Health Quality Subcommittee on a 14-1 vote, but faces two more committee votes before heading for the House floor. None of the five Senate bills addressing medical marijuana have yet had a hearing.

Georgia CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Clears House. The House voted 167-4 Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 16, which would add six new qualifying conditions for the use of cannabis oil, including autism, AIDS, Tourette's Syndrome, and Alzheimer's. The state Senate approved the bill last month.

Oklahoma Supreme Court Says Former Attorney General Wrongly Changed Initiative Ballot Question Wording. Former state Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), now head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, changed the ballot title for a medical marijuana initiative in a way that would mislead voters. The original ballot question read: "A yes vote legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma for medicinal purposes," but Pruitt changed that to: "This measure legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma. There are no qualifying medical conditions identified." Now, the original language for the 2018 initiative has been restored.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Senate Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. The state Senate on Tuesday approved Senate File 446, which would bar the seizure of property valued at less than $5,000 unless there was a prior criminal conviction. The measure also increases the standard of proof required for asset forfeiture from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." The bill is now in the House, where it must advance by a committee this week to survive.

Law Enforcement

Arizona Senator, Congresswoman File Federal Bill to Increase Penalties for Border "Spotters." US Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) have introduced the "Transnational Criminal Organization Illicit Spotter Prevention and Elimination Act," which would toughen penalties on "spotters" who warn drug and human smugglers about the position of Border Patrol surveillance or officers. The bill would subject such people to up to 10 years in federal prison. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Blunting Trump's Mass Deportation Plans With Drug Reform [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

As President Trump ratchets up the machinery of mass deportation, supporters of a humane, comprehensive approach to immigration are seeking ways to throw sand in its gears. When mass deportation is touted because of the "criminality" of those targeted, one solution is to reduce criminalization, which is not to turn a blind eye to violent or dangerous criminals, but to recognize that we live in an over-criminalized society. That means school kids can now be arrested for behavior that would have sent them to the principal's office in years past (especially if they're a certain color). The US also generates the world's largest prison-industrial complex, and has criminalized tens of millions of people for the offense of simply possessing a certain plant, and millions more for possessing other proscribed substances.

ICE arrests an immigrant in San Jose. (dhs.gov)
While Trump talks about "bad hombres" as he ramps up the immigration crackdown, data shows that the net of criminality used to deport not just undocumented workers, but also legal immigrants and permanent resident aliens, is cast exceedingly wide. It's overwhelmingly not gang members or drug lords who are getting deported, but people whose crimes include crossing the border without papers, as well as traffic and minor drug offenses.

The report Secure Communities and ICE Deportations: A Failed Program , which examined Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation records, found that the top three "most serious" criminal charges used to deport people and which accounted for roughly half of all deportations were illegal entry, followed by DWI and unspecified traffic violations.

The fourth "most serious" criminal charge used to deport people was simple marijuana possession, with more than 6,000 people being thrown out of the country in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, the years the study covered. Right behind that was simple cocaine possession, accounting for another 6,000 in each of those years. "Other" drug possession charges accounted for nearly 2,500 deportations each of those years.

Nearly 3,000 people a year were deported for selling pot, and more than 4,000 for selling cocaine, but only about 2,000 a year for the more serious offense of drug trafficking, accounting for a mere 1% of all deportations in those years.

ICE raid in Atlanta. (dhs.gov)
This has been going on for years. In the same report, researchers estimated that some 250,000 people had been deported for drug offenses during the Obama administration, accounting for one-fifth of all criminal deportations. Now, the Trump administration gives every indication it intends to be even tougher.

In light of the massive use of drug charges to deport non-citizens, drug reform takes on a whole new aspect. Marijuana decriminalization and legalization may not generally be viewed through the lens of immigrant protection, but they shield millions of people from drug deportation in those states that have enacted such laws. Similarly, efforts to decriminalize drug possession in general are also moves that would protect immigrants.

Now, legislators and activists in vanguard states are adopting prophylactic measures, such as sealing marijuana arrest records, rejiggering the way drug possession cases are handled, and, more fundamentally, moving to decriminalize pot and/or drug possession. In doing so, they are building alliances with other communities, especially those of color, that have been hard hit by the mass criminalization of the war on drugs.

In California, first decriminalization in 2011 and then outright legalization last year removed pot possession from the realm of the criminal, offering protection to hundreds of thousands of immigrants. But the California legalization initiative, Proposition 64, also made the reduction or elimination of marijuana-related criminal penalties retroactive,meaning past convictions for marijuana offenses reduced or eliminated can be reclassified on a criminal record for free. Having old marijuana offenses reduced to infractions or dismissed outright can remove that criminal cause for removal from any California immigrant's record.

Across the county in New York, with a charge led by the state legislature's Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus, the state assembly voted in January to approve AB 2142, which would seal the criminal records of people who had been unjustly arrested for simple possession of marijuana in public view, a charge police used to still bust people for marijuana after it was decriminalized in 1977. Like the Prop 64 provision in California, this measure would protect not only minority community members in general -- who make up 80% of those arrested on the public possession charge -- from the collateral consequences of a drug conviction, but immigrants in particular from being expelled from their homes.

"A marijuana conviction can lead to devastating consequences for immigrants, including detention and deportation," said Alisa Wellek, executive director of the Immigrant Defense Project. "This bill will provide some important protections for green card holders and undocumented New Yorkers targeted by Trump's aggressive deportation agenda."

"Sealing past illegitimate marijuana convictions is not only right, it is most urgent as the country moves toward legalization and immigrant families are put at risk under our new federal administration," said Kassandra Frederique, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Comprehensive drug law reform must include legislative and programmatic measures that account for our wrongheaded policies and invest in building healthier and safer communities, from the Bronx to Buffalo, Muslim and Christian, US-born and green card-holding."

Companion legislation in the form of Senate Bill 3809 awaits action in the Senate, but activists are also pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include similar language as part of his decriminalization proposal in state budget legislation, opening another possible path forward.

One-way street? (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
"In New York State 22,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in 2016. The misdemeanor charge for public view of marijuana possession gives those people convicted a criminal record that will follow them throughout their lives, potentially limiting their access to education, affecting their ability to obtain employment, leading to a potential inability to provide for their families," said Sen. Jamaal Bailey, author of the Senate bill.

"Furthermore, and even more problematic, there exist significant racial disparities in the manner that marijuana possession policy is enforced. Blacks and Latinos are arrested at higher rates despite the fact that white people use marijuana at higher rates than people of color. Responsible and fair policy is what we need here," Bailey added. "We must act now, with proactive legislation, for the future of many young men and women of our state are at stake here."

Meanwhile, back in California, Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) has reintroduced legislation explicitly designed to shield immigrants from deportation for drug possession charges, as long as they undergo treatment or counseling. Under her bill, Assembly Bill 208, people arrested for simple possession would be able to enroll in a drug treatment for six months to a year before formally entering a guilty plea, and if they successfully completed treatment, the courts would wipe the charges from their records.

The bill would address a discrepancy between state law and federal immigration law. Under state drug diversion programs, defendants are required to first plead guilty before opting for treatment. But although successful completion of treatment sees the charges dropped under state law, the charges still stand under federal law, triggering deportation proceedings even if the person has completed treatment and had charges dismissed.

"For those who want to get treatment and get their life right, we should see that with open arms, not see it as a way of deporting somebody," Eggman said.

Eggman authored a similar bill in 2015 that got all the way through the legislature only to be vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who worried that it eliminated "the most powerful incentive to stay in treatment -- the knowledge that the judgment will be entered for failure to do so."

In the Trump era, the need for such measures has become even more critical, Eggman said.

"It might be a more complex discussion this year, and it's a discussion we should have," she said. "If our laws are meant to treat everyone the same, then why wouldn't we want that opportunity for treatment available to anyone without risk for deportation?"

Reforming drug laws to reduce criminalization benefits all of us, but in the time of Trump, reforming drug laws is also a means of protecting some of our most vulnerable residents from the knock in the night and expulsion from the country they call home.

Trump Vows to Win War on Drugs, But Doesn't Mention Marijuana [FEATURE]

In his inaugural address to Congress Tuesday night, President Trump echoed the ghosts of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan -- not to mention summoning the specter of Miguel Cervantes -- as he vowed to defeat drugs.

If there is a silver lining, his ire appears directed at heroin and other hard drugs. The word "marijuana" did not appear once in his speech.

"Our terrible drug epidemic will slow down and ultimately, stop," he promised as part of a litany of MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN accomplishments to come. ("Dying industries will come roaring back to life. Heroic veterans will get the care they so desperately need…")

And, having forgotten -- or more likely, never learned -- the lessons of the past half century of American drug prohibition, he's going to defeat drugs the old-fashioned way: with more war on drugs.

"To protect our citizens, I have directed the Department of Justice to form a Task Force on Reducing Violent Crime," Trump said. "I have further ordered the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, along with the Department of State and the Director of National Intelligence, to coordinate an aggressive strategy to dismantle the criminal cartels that have spread across our Nation."

But talk is cheap. Drug law enforcement costs money. The DEA and other federal agencies are already waging a multi-billion dollar a year war on drugs; if Trump's budget proposals match his rhetoric, he will have to be prepared to spend billions more. Just when he wants to cut just about all federal spending but defense, too.

Trump can ratchet up the drug war in some ways without relying on congressional appropriations through his control of the executive branch. For instance, his Justice Department could direct federal prosecutors to seek mandatory minimum prison sentences in most or all drug cases, a practice eschewed by the Obama Justice Department. That, too, has budgetary consequences, but until some time down the road.

Trump did at least pay lip service to addressing drug use as a public health issue, saying he would "expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted," but that doesn't gibe with his call to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If Obamacare is repealed, nearly three million Americans with addiction disorders with lose access to some or all of their health coverage, including nearly a quarter million receiving opioid addiction treatment.

Trump's Tuesday night crime and drug talk was interwoven with talk about the border, comingling immigration, drugs, and his border wall in a hot mess of overheated, but politically useful, rhetoric.

"We've defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross -- and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate," he said, ignoring the quadrupling in size of the Border Patrol in the past 20 years and the billions pumped into border security since 2001. "We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth."

Trump also said that he was already making America safer with his immigration enforcement actions.

"As we speak, we are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our citizens. Bad ones are going out as I speak tonight and as I have promised," he said.

It's too early to see who is actually being deported in the opening days of the Trump administration, but if the past is any indicator, it's not "gang members, drug dealers, and criminals," but, in rank order, people whose most serious crime was crossing the border without papers, alcohol-impaired drivers, other traffic violators, and pot smokers. Those were the four leading charges for criminal immigration deportations in one recent year, according to Secure Communities and ICE Deportations: A Failed Program?

Trump's drug war rhetoric is triumphalist and militaristic, but so far it's largely just talk. The proof will be in budget proposals and Justice Department memoranda, but in terms of progressive drug policy, he's striking a very ominous tone. This does not bode well.

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