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Study: Charging People With Murder for Drug Overdose Deaths "Bad Criminal Justice Policy" [FEATURE]

As the nation grapples with the deadliest drug crisis in its history -- more than 72,000 people died of drug overdoses last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- prosecutors across the country have rushed to embrace the use of "drug-induced homicide" charges as a means of combating the problem. That means charging the people who sold the fatal dose -- or sometimes just the people who shared it -- with murder or manslaughter and sending them away to prison for lengthy terms.

Drug-induced homicide charges are a regression to the lock 'em up policies of last century's drug war. (ussc.gov)
Faced with a public clamor to "do something," prosecutors are resorting to this facile, politically popular tactic in order to "send a message" of toughness to dealers in a bid to break the back of the epidemic. But a new study, "America's Favorite Antidote: Drug-Induced Homicide in the Age of the Overdose Crisis" concludes that the practice is worse than ineffective -- it's actually counterproductive.

Such prosecutions are "bad law and bad criminal justice policy" that have only worsened the opioid crisis that has taken tens of thousands of American lives, writes Leo Beletsky, associate professor of law and health sciences of the Northeastern University School of Law.

Beletsky notes that while the strategy dates back to 1986, in an atmosphere of moral panic set off by the death of NBA player Len Bias of an overdose from cocaine given to him by a friend, it has really taken off in recent years as the country lives through what he calls the "worst drug crisis in US history." Now, more than half the states have some form of drug-induced homicide law, while others are considering amending them to include fentanyl.

But the prosecutions amount to little more than "policy theater" rooted in the punitive approach long favored in the country's war on drugs, Beletsky argues. That is an unsuccessful approach that has largely failed to reduce drug use or stem the flow of drugs into the country, he notes.

Beletsky's study looked at data from 263 drug-induced homicide prosecutions between 2000 and 2016. One of the most striking findings was that, while such prosecutions are supposedly aimed at drug dealers, at least half of those charged were family members or partners.

"In many jurisdictions, it is enough to have simply shared a small amount of your drugs with the deceased to be prosecuted for homicide," he notes.

Another striking -- yet completely unsurprising -- finding is that when he applied his data to what he called "existing racially disparate patterns of drug law enforcement," he found evidence of racial differences in the application of drug-induced homicide laws as well. Such selective enforcement resulted in "gaping disparities between whites and people of color."

But the most bitter irony can be found in the impact of such laws on actual overdose deaths. Even though opioid overdose reversal drugs such as naloxone are now in wide use, many friends, fellow users, and family members are reluctant to call for emergency help because they fear the legal repercussions, even if they didn't provide the lethal drugs.

"Police involvement at overdose scenes may result in arrests on drug, parole violation, weapons, and other charges," wrote Beletsky. "It may also lead to loss of child custody, violation of community supervision conditions, and other legal consequences rooted in the pervasive stigmatization of substance use, but not directly linked to criminal law. Research suggests that fear of police contact and legal detriment is actually the single most important reason why people who witnessed overdoses do not seek timely emergency medical help," he concludes. "Aside from crowding out evidence-based interventions and investments, these prosecutions run at complete cross-purposes to efforts that encourage witnesses to summon lifesaving help during overdose events."

Rather than "tougher" policy responses to drug use such as the resort to drug-induced homicide charges, policymakers should be subjecting failed punishment-oriented policies to rigorous scrutiny while instead developing a "population-based" health policy emphasizing treatment and diversion from the criminal justice system, he suggested.

"A system that relies on the instrument of punishment to regulate the behavior of people affected by severe SUD (Substance Use Disorder) fundamentally misconstrues the nature of addiction," Beletsky writes. "The established scientific consensus predicts that individuals affected by addiction will substantially discount -- or totally disregard -- legal risks and threats of punishment as a matter of course. This scientific construct has yet to be translated into US jurisprudence, however."

"Drug-induced homicide prosecutions and other similar punitive approaches to the opioid crisis, such as curbing prescriptions and subjecting patients to drug testing regimes, have crowded out public health strategies that have been proven to work in limiting the deleterious impacts of widespread opioid use," he writes.

"The bottom line," Beletsky writes, "is that, when it comes to policies that hold the most empirical promise for addressing the overdose crisis, we know what to do; we just are not doing it."

Chronicle AM: Murder Charges for Dealers in ODs "Bad Justice Policy," Study Finds, More... (8/21/18)

Prosecuting opioid dealers for overdose deaths is counterproductive "policy theater," concludes a new study; a key New Jersey politician says the votes are there to pass a legalization bill, and more.

Prosecuting drug dealers for murder in opioid overdose deaths is counterproductive and "bad justice policy," a new study finds.
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Senate President Says He Has Votes to Pass Legalization Bill. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) now says he has the votes needed to pass a marijuana legalization bill, probably next month. He told POLITICO that he will tie together efforts to legalize marijuana and expand medical marijuana so people who support medical will have to vote for recreational. "Don't be surprised when people who say they were against it vote for it," Sweeney said, predicting Republicans who support expanding medical marijuana will support legalization, too.

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Officially Fails to Make Ballot. Green the Vote organizers admitted earlier this month that they had failed to gather enough signatures to qualify the State Question 797 legalization initiative for the November ballot, and now Secretary of State James Williamson has made it official. He announced Tuesday that initiative supporters had gathered only 102,814 raw signatures. They needed 123,725 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Pennsylvania State Senator Starts Petition Drive to Boost Legalization Bill. State Sen. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny County) announced Tuesday that he has launched an online petition in support of a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2600. "There are tremendous benefits to legalizing marijuana and few downsides," said Wheatley. "It's estimated that legalization would generate more than $580 million in annual tax revenue for Pennsylvania. That's money to balance our budget, strengthen our economy, bolster our workforce and improve our schools."

Sentencing

Prosecuting Dealers for Opioid Deaths "Bad Justice Policy," Study Concludes. A new study says prosecuting drug dealers for opioid overdose deaths is not only "bad law and bad criminal justice policy," but also exacerbates a public health crisis that has taken tens of thousands of lives. Such prosecutions are little more than "policy theater," said study author Leo Beletsky, Associate Professor of Law and Health Sciences of the Northeastern University School of Law. "Aside from crowding out evidence-based interventions and investments, these prosecutions run at complete cross-purposes to efforts that encourage witnesses to summon lifesaving help during overdose events," Beletsky wrote.

New Jersey Suspends All Marijuana Prosecutions -- At Least Until Fall

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has shaken up New Jersey's marijuana politics with an announcement Tuesday that he has ordered county and municipal prosecutors to defer all marijuana-related cases until early September. The move was an unexpected response to a squabble over whether a city in the state could decriminalize pot possession on its own.

Last week, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop moved to unilaterally decriminalize small-time pot possession in his city. State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told him he couldn't do that. In a letter last Friday, Grewal declared that his office "takes no position" on marijuana legalization or decriminalization, by warned Fulop he was exceeding his authority.

"I write to advise that, as a municipal prosecutor, you do not have the legal authority to decriminalize marijuana or otherwise refuse to criminally prosecute all marijuana-related offenses in the municipal courts of Jersey City," Grewal wrote. "Accordingly, I am instructing you that your memorandum is void and has no effect."

But by Monday, Grewal was singing a different tune -- one that will affect thousands of people currently facing marijuana charges in the state. According to Politico, Grewal met with Jersey City officials that day and then agreed to create a working group to set a statewide policy for prosecutors by the end of August. Both the Jersey City prosecutor and the Hudson County (home of Jersey City) prosecutor will be part of the group.

"In the interim, I ask that all municipal prosecutors in New Jersey seek an adjournment until September 4, 2018, or later, of any matter involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal court," Grewal wrote in a letter to prosecutors. "This adjournment will give my office sufficient time to develop appropriate guidance for prosecutors."

The move comes as the legislature, with the encouragement of Gov. Phil Murphy (D), ponders a pair of legalization bills, S 2702 and S 2703, filed by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Cumberland). On Monday, Sweeney announced he would combine the bills, tying legalization to an expansion of the state's medical marijuana program.

Murphy had vowed to legalize marijuana within 100 days of his January inauguration, but that hasn't happened yet. That's due in part to opposition from the likes of state Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), head of the Legislative Black Caucus, who favors decriminalization over legalization, and who just last week was warning that legalization could lead to "sex toys and oils with marijuana," among other horrible consequences.

On Tuesday, Gov. Murphy reiterated that decriminalization wasn't enough. "On the surface, [decriminalization] is intoxicating," Murphy told reporters at a joint appearance with Sweeney. "You think it's a step in the right direction but it actually leaves the business in the hands of the bad guys. Your kids are exposed, it's not regulated, it's not taxed. So I'll leave the specifics of that to the attorney general, but that's a conceptual answer."

Legalization is "the bigger lift," Murphy said. "The Senate president is leading that. I'm all in. I think the Assembly speaker... is all in."

Whether the governor and the legislative leadership can get it done this year remains to be seen. And so does whether the era of prosecuting people for pot in New Jersey is over once and for all, and not just for the next couple of months.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Chronicle AM: Good IL, MI Pot Polls, Denver Psilocybin Initiative, ACLU Targets DAs, More... (3/6/18)

Pot polls in a pair of key Midwest states are looking good, the ACLU seeks to influence district attorney races around the nation,  a Denver magic mushroom initiative is getting underway, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Illinois Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll has support for marijuana legalization at 66%, with only 32% opposed. The poll comes as a measure to hold a non-binding public referendum on legalization moves through the legislature.

Michigan Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new EPIC-MRA poll has support for a pending marijuana legalization initiative at 61%. The initiative campaign has already handed in some 365,000 signatures; it only needs 252,253 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. State officials have been counting signatures since November, but it remains unclear when they will decide the measure has qualified for the ballot or not.

Nevada Gambling Regulators Reject Ties to Marijuana Businesses. The state's Gaming Policy Committee has recommended that the gambling industry not have any business relationship wit marijuana distributors. That recommendation reflects existing policy, but the issue came up again after the state legalized weed in 2016.

New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Hearing Reveals Deep Splits. The Assembly Oversight, Refom and Federal Relations Committee heard from dozens of witnesses for and against marijuana legalization during a day-long hearing Monday. The hearing was the legislature's first step toward addressing legalization this session. Even though Gov. Phil Murphy (D) supports legalization, there was no consensus emerging from the hearing and no vote taken.

Rhode Island Report on Marijuana Legalization Released. Advocacy groups the Marijuana Policy Project and Regulate Rhode Island have released a report on legalization in the state: "How should Rhode Island legalize marijuana: Asking the right questions." The 42-page document features detailed discussion of different models for regulating marijuana for adults based on other states’ experiences and urges policymakers to consider the benefits and costs of various approaches.

Albuquerque City Council Files Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession. Albuquerque City Council members Pat Davis and Isaac Benton have filed a new bill to remove criminal sanctions pertaining to possession of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia from the city’s municipal codes. The proposed ordinance makes one ounce or less of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia a civil infraction with a fine of $25. A civil infraction is not considered a criminal conviction. The ordinance also takes away the potential for jail time. Currently, a person can spend more than two weeks in jail for a first offense and 90 days for a subsequent offense.

Medical Marijuana

<Idaho Senate Panel Kills Bill Allowing Use of CBD. A last-ditch effort to pass a CBD medical marijuana bill, House Bill 577, was derailed Monday amidst legislative turmoil. Sen. Tony Potts (R) accused the Republican legislative leadership of blocking action on the bill and asked Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chair Lee Heider (R) to allow a vote. That didn't happen; instead the committee approved a motion to keep the bill in committee, killing it for the year.Pennsylvania Dispensaries Facing Product Shortages. Medical marijuana dispensaries are already running out of supply less than two weeks after sales began in the state. The main reason is that only one of the state's 12 licensed growers is actually shipping product. The other reason is unexpected demand.

Psychedelics

Denver Magic Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative Getting Underway. A group calling itself Coloradans for Psilocybin has met with Denver officials about putting an initiative on the municipal ballot that would decriminalize psilocybin possession and make it law enforcement's lowest priority. Anyone caught with less than two pounds of magic mushrooms would face only a $99 ticket. The group says it will have an initiative cleared for signature gathering soon.

Drug Testing

Faced With Legal Weed, Full Employment, Employee Drug Testing is Declining Pre-employment drug testing is in decline in the face of spreading marijuana legalization and a tightening job market. The change is most evident in pot-legal states, such as Colorado, where the number of companies doing the tests declined from 77% last year to 66% now. "The benefits of at least reconsidering the drug policy on behalf of an employer would be pretty high," said Jeremy Kidd, a professor at Mercer Law School, who wrote a paper on the economics of workplace drug testing. "A blanket prohibition can't possibly be the most economically efficient policy" he told McClatchy.

Law Enforcement

ACLU Using Soros Money to Target District Attorney Races. Backed by millions of dollars from financier George Soros's Open Society Foundations, the ACLU is making a major play to influence local prosecutor races around the country. The group is planning voter education and outreach campaigns in district attorney races in California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Vermont and possibly North Carolina and Missouri. The ACLU says it will focus on big cities with large jail populations in what it's calling its Campaign for Smart Justice. The ACLU doesn't endorse candidates, but says its goal is to raise awareness of criminal justice issues.

Montana Prosecutor Calls for "Immediate Crackdown" on Pregnant Drug and Alcohol Users [FEATURE]

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

Taking the war against pregnant women to a whole new level, a Montana prosecutor called this week for an "immediate crackdown" on women who use drugs or alcohol while pregnant; urged friends, family members, health care providers, and even strangers to turn in women they suspect to authorities; and warned drug- or alcohol-using pregnant women to "immediately self-report" to state health authorities to avoid criminal prosecution.

On the Crow Reservation, Big Horn County, Montana (Wikimedia)
Even though there is zero scientific evidence supporting policies of coercion and punishment directed to pregnant women, some jurisdictions, mainly in the South, have taken to prosecuting women who give birth to children with drugs in their system. That's not good enough for Big Horn County Attorney Gerald "Jay" Harris, who has concocted a toxic brew of anti-abortion and war on drugs ideology, along with a nice dollop of real world racial disparity, to call for prosecuting women while they are still pregnant -- and to go after them if they seek abortions to avoid prosecution.

In a Thursday press release, County Attorney Harris announced the crackdown, saying he will seek protection orders restraining pregnant women from any non-medically prescribed use of illicit drugs or alcohol, and those who violate the orders will be jailed to "incapacitate" them.

"It is simply not satisfactory to our community that the protection of innocent, unborn children victimized in this manner and subject to a potential lifetime of disability and hardship relies exclusively on social workers removing the child from the custody of the mother at birth," Harris explained. "This approach is not timely and has not proven to be a sufficient deterrent to this dangerous, unacceptable behavior and will no longer be the state's policy in Big Horn County."

Big Horn County, home to the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Native American reservations, is 60% Native American and only 33% white, including County Attorney Harris.

Harris called on both the reservations and other prosecutors in Montana to join him in his crusade, which National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) described in a statement as a "reckless call to hunt down pregnant women." The advocacy group said it was "shocked by this attack on the health, liberty, and basic human rights of women in Big Horn County."

Harris's statement "irresponsibly promotes medical and scientific misinformation, promotes an environment of fear and reflects a shocking disregard for the rights and well-being of women and families, NAPW charged.

NAPW warned that Harris has no legal authority to carry out such a policy, saying enforcement would violate state and federal law. It also had a heads-up for potential busy-bodies: "People who heed the prosecutor's call to report pregnant women and violate patient privacy and confidentiality may themselves be subject to legal action," the group advised.

As NAPW noted, policies of coercion and punishment directed at pregnant women are actually counterproductive. Such policies discourage them from seeking prenatal health care and may even drive some to seek abortions to avoid arrest. And this is where Harris's anti-abortion politics and view of women as essentially little more than incubators rears its head.

"In the event an expecting mother chooses to abort an unborn child instead of refraining from drug or alcohol use and litigation extends beyond our local courts, we trust Attorney General Fox will make the right decision on behalf of all Montanans and continue this fight to the extent necessary to ensure justice is afforded to the most vulnerable of our society," he warned.

The NAPW, for its part, is cautioning women against "self reporting" to government agencies that could incarcerate them and is further urging "every medical and public health provider in Big Horn County to immediately oppose this dangerous, unethical, and counterproductive policy." It is also encouraging everyone who supports the health, dignity, and human rights of pregnant women to contact Harris "to let him know you oppose this outrageous action."

Harris thoughtfully provided his office phone number on his press release. It is (406) 665-9721.

Federal Marijuana Justice Act Filed in House [FEATURE]

Attorney General Sessions' announcement last week that he was rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors to generally leave law-abiding marijuana operations alone in states where it is legal has paradoxically had the effect of energizing the movement to legalize marijuana at the federal level. The latest evidence of the reaction came Wednesday, as Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA) filed a legalization bill in the House.

Oakland's Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee (Wikimedia)
And it's not just any legalization bill. Their Marijuana Justice Act would help correct decades of injustice surrounding the discriminatory enforcement of marijuana criminalization laws in the United States.

"We intend to end this destructive war on drugs, and this legislation will do that," said Lee at press conference rolling out the bill. "It's a roadmap for ending the drug war, but it also begins to address mass incarceration and disinvestment in communities of color. It is an essential step to correcting the injustices of the failed war on drugs, namely racial disparities in arrests and incarceration."

In addition to ending federal marijuana prohibition by removing the drug from the DEA's list of controlled substances, the bill would allow anyone currently serving a sentence for drug possession to appeal for judicial review of his or her sentence. It would also use federal spending to incentivize states to reform their marijuana laws "if those laws were shown to have a disproportionate effect on low-income people and/or people of color."

That last provision is especially striking given that nearly every state disproportionately arrests and imprisons blacks for marijuana. With this language, the federal government could become an engine for state-level marijuana legalization instead of an impediment to it.

"This would force states with records of racial bias in arrests and sentencing to clean up their acts by cutting funds to the worst offenders," said Lee.

But even that would only begin to repair the damage done by the drug war, the Oakland congresswoman explained.

"It's not enough to just expunge records and end over-incarceration," Lee said. "Restorative justice is extremely important, and these victims of our failed policies deserve our support during the reentry process, too."

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA)
For bill cosponsor Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), it's the economics, but not just in the traditional sense of increased economic activity and tax revenues. While he pointed to the potential economic gains of legalization, he also highlighted the opportunity costs of pot prohibition and underlined provisions in the bill that would spend federal funds to invest in communities ravaged by the drug war.

"The estimates are that legalization would lead to a $40 billion a year industry, with a million jobs and $7 billion tax revenues, which would more than offset the $500 million in the bill to help invest in communities of color. It's a net gain for government and for job creation," Khanna noted.

"But the economic impact is so much broader," he pointed out. "How many people of color got arrested at 19, 20, or 25? That represents hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic potential. With this bill, we're not just talking about legalization, but about giving people a second chance.

The Marijuana Justice Act is the House version of the bill introduced in the Senate earlier this year by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Senate Bill 1689. Booker was at Wednesday's press conference for the House version.

"There is a rush of enthusiasm for legalization," he said, "but it seems like hypocrisy and injustice if you legalize it but don't ty to undo the damage of the war on drugs. You can't get a Pell grant or a business or professional license for doing something three out of our last four presidents have admitted doing. The war on drugs is one of the greatest assaults on people of color since Jim Crow, and that's why this is a very happy day for me. We're trying to make this nation live up to is promise of liberty and justice, not just for the privileged few, but for all.

Sen.Cory Booker (D-NJ) filed the Senate version of the bill last August.
"I think we are seeing momentum growing," Booker continued. "People who were skeptics are being converted. A lot of people are aware of how unjust this has been, and now there is more confidence from seeing early state like Colorado be so successful."

Indeed. One of the most politically striking moments since the Sessions announcement was Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner -- not a supporter of legalization -- taking to the Senate floor to excoriate Sessions over the move and vow to block Justice Department nominees until Sessions reverses himself.

"More than 30 states have passed marijuana reforms," said Lee. "The grassroots and democracy is working. You will see members of the House and Senate move forward because the public supports this. It can't be stopped."

"We are at a tipping point, with nearly two-thirds supporting marijuana legalization and an overwhelming 91% supporting medical marijuana, said Queen Adesuyi of the Drug Policy Alliance, which has been working closely with Booker and Lee on the bills. "Eight states have already legalized it, with Vermont and New Hampshire on the cusp. Yet, Attorney General Sessions continues to threaten the states. It's time to legalize marijuana, protect patients, and end federal marijuana prohibition."

While momentum is building, the bills both face an uphill battle in their respective chambers. The Booker bill, introduced last August, still has only one cosponsor, Oregon Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden, and there is no indication it will get even a committee hearing this session. Lee and Khanna's House version of the bill already had a dozen cosponsors on day one, but again, it is unlikely to get a hearing under the House Republican leadership.

But the legalization bills could fare better next year if the Democrats manage to take back the House and/or the Senate. And Jeff Sessions' war on weed could help them to do just that.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, 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: AG's Pot Move Sparks Outrage, VT House Votes to Legalize, More... (1/5/18)

The attorney general's war on marijuana proves unpopular, legalization proves popular (again), Vermont moves forward on a legalization bill, and more.

the Pew Poll over time
Marijuana Policy

Sessions' Marijuana Shift Generates Bipartisan Opposition. Attorney General Sessions' announcement that he was rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors to generally leave state law-abiding marijuana operations alone, has ignited a firestorm of opposition, including high-ranking Republican elected officials. Among them are Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), both representing legal pot states, and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), representing a medical marijuana state. Less surprisingly, Democratic senators and representatives, as well as state government officials, have also denounced the move.

New Pew Poll Finds Six in 10 Americans Support Legalization. A Pew poll released Friday has support for marijuana legalization at 61%, nearly double the 32% who supported it only seven years ago in 2010. All demographic groups reported in the poll had majority support for legalization, except for two: Republicans at 43% and white evangelical Christians at 38%.

Vermont House Passes Legalization Bill (With No Sales). Ignoring the hubbub emanating from the nation's capital, the House on Thursday approved a bill that would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but would not allow taxed and regulated sales. Instead, a task force appointed by the governor would study the issue and report back by December 15. The measure, House Bill 511, now goes back to the Senate, which already approved it last year. Gov. Phil Scott (R), has said he is comfortable with the bill and has signaled he will sign it. That would make Vermont the first state to legalize pot through the legislative process.

Medical Marijuana

Three Kettle Falls Five Members See Convictions Vacated, Charges Dismissed. Three members of a Washington state family prosecuted for growing medical marijuana for themselves have seen their convictions vacated at the request of federal prosecutors. The feds said congressional bans on using Justice Department funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana programs made it impossible for them to continue with an appeal.

Oklahoma Will Vote on Medical Marijuana Initiative in June. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) announced Thursday that a medical marijuana initiative will go before the voters during the June 26 primary election. The initiative will be Question 788 on the June ballot. It would create a full-fledged state medical marijuana system, and patients would be allowed to grow up to six mature plants themselves.

International

Turkish Interior Minister Says Police Should Break Drug Dealers' Legs. In the latest iteration of 21st Century drug war thuggery, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has called for the imposition of physical violence on some drug sellers. "If a dealer is near a school, the police have a duty to break his leg," he said. "Do it and blame me. Even if it costs five, 10, 20 years in jail -- we'll pay." Well, hey, at least he isn't calling for them to be killed, as in Malaysia, or actually killing them, as in Indonesia, and to a much greater extent, the Philippines.

Chronicle AM: MA Drops 6,000 More Tainted Drug Cases, German MJ Petition Scores, More... (12/1/17)

Washington state ponders allowing home marijuana cultivation, Michigan legalizers are drawing organized opposition, Ohio's medical marijuana program takes another step forward, and more.

The Michigan legalization initiative is getting organized opposition, including from medical marijuana interests.
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Legalization Initiative Drawing Organized Opposition. At least two groups are gearing up to fight the legalization initiative that now looks very likely to qualify for the November 2018 ballot. One group, Healthy and Productive Michigan, is led by a Republican-connected political consultant and claims to represent business, faith, and law enforcement groups opposed to legalization. The other group, the Committee to Keep Pot Out of Neighborhoods, appears to have a purely pecuniary interest: It is funded by the Michigan Responsibility Council, a group of businessmen who want to get into the medical marijuana business.

New Jersey Lawmaker Files Bill to Require Blood Samples of Suspected DUID Drivers. Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-Morris) has filed a bill that would require police officers to take blood samples from anyone arrested for drug-impaired driving. "This bill will be a useful tool for law enforcement in their efforts to prosecute and convict people who refuse to be tested and who are likely driving while impaired," Bucco said in a statement. "Driving under the influence of marijuana should be treated no differently than driving under the influence of alcohol." The move comes as a push for legalization is about to get underway in the legislature.

Washington State Regulators Release Report on Home Grow Issues. The state Liquor and Cannabis Board released a report Wednesday on the potential costs and challenges associated with allowing personal marijuana cultivation. Washington is the only legal marijuana state that does not allow for home cultivation. The report doesn't make any recommendations, but includes a list of concerns lawmakers will need to address if they do try to change the law.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Licenses Another Dozen Large Medical Marijuana Grow Ops. State regulators licensed a final 12 medical marijuana cultivators Wednesday. They licensed a first dozen cultivators earlier this year. Each of the large growers can grow up to 25,000 square feet. They now have nine months to get up and running, with sales set to begin in September.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

West Virginia Seeks Public Input on Opioid Policy. The state Department of Health and Human Resources Office of Drug Control Policy announced Thursday it had developed a plan to combat the opioid epidemic, but it is asking state residents to help develop the plan through public comment and recommendations through December 15. The office is also coordinating with a panel of public health experts from West Virginia University, Marshall University and Johns Hopkins University.

Law Enforcement

Massachusetts Prosecutors Drop Another 6,000 Tainted Drug Cases. Local prosecutors have dropped more than 6,000 drug cases tainted by former state public chemist Sonja Frank. The move comes months after prosecutors dropped another 21,000 cases tainted by another state public chemist, Annie Dookhan.

International

German Activist Petitions Will Force Bundestag Debate on Marijuana Legalization. A petition from the German Hemp Association has reached the required threshold of 50,000 signatures to trigger a debate in the Bundestag. That doesn't mean the Bundestag will legalize marijuana, but it does mean it will have to put the issue on its agenda.

. Scottish Parliamentarians Call for New Approaches to Stop Overdoses. Members of parliament from all five Scottish parties united to call on Scotland's Futures Forum, parliament's independent think tank, to come up with fresh policy solutions to stem a rising overdose toll. "Drugs and drugs policy is one of the biggest issues facing communities across Scotland," said Labor MP Neil Findlay. "None of the signatories to this letter has the answer but we are willing to say that whatever we are doing at the moment just isn't working."

Chronicle AM: Fed MJ Amendments Coming, Trump to Name Marino as Drug Czar, More... (9/5/17)

Trump nominates a drug czar, federal drug prosecutions are down, Obama's clemency program barely scratched the surface, British nitrous oxide prosecutions get laughed out of court, and more.

Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) is Trump's pick for job czar. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Representatives File Marijuana Banking Amendments. Congressional supporters of legal marijuana have filed two amendments to the House Treasury appropriations bill. One would prohibit Treasury from spending money to punish banks that service the legal marijuana sector; the other bars Treasury from altering FinCEN's guidance to banking institutions. If passed, the bills would allow marijuana businesses in compliance with state laws to have access to the banking system.

Rep. Ted Lieu Files Amendment to Cut DEA Eradication Funding. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) has reintroduced an amendment to slash funding for the DEA's marijuana eradication program by half. Last year, the budget for eradication was $18 million, spent mainly on uprooting low-THC feral hemp in the Midwest. The program "is a ridiculous waste of precious federal resources, especially when multiple states and jurisdictions have already legalized marijuana… it is time for the federal government to stop making marijuana use or possession a federal crime," Lieu said.

California Regulation Bills Die As Legislature Gets Out of the Way. The Senate Appropriations Committee last Friday bottled up ten bills aimed at regulating legal marijuana commerce, leaving the way clear for the state's new Bureau of Cannabis Control to finish its own rulemaking process before lawmakers come back with additional restrictions. "Legislative leaders are working with the administration on a budget trailer bill to resolve cannabis-related issues. It makes sense to take a comprehensive approach," Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) chairman of the committee, told the Marin Journal.

Colorado Lawsuit Claims DOJ Using IRS to Do Criminal Investigations of Pot Businesses. The owners of a medical marijuana business in the town of Silt have filed a lawsuit challenging IRS subpoenas to the state's Marijuana Enforcement Division that seek information about how much marijuana the businesses have grown, who they sold it to, and when. The lawsuit alleges that the information is being sought for possible use in criminal investigations by the Justice Department. The IRS says it is simply trying to verify financial records.

Delaware Task Force on Marijuana Legalization Will Meet Wednesday. A state legislative task force charged with studying how marijuana might be legalized and making recommendations on doing so will meet for the first time on Wednesday. The task force was created by legislative resolution after a bill to legalize marijuana failed earlier this year.

Drug Policy

Trump to Name Pennsylvania Republican Congressman as Drug Czar. The White House announced Friday that President Trump will nominate Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Marino had been mentioned as a possible drug czar earlier, but withdrew from consideration in May, citing family illness.

Law Enforcement

Federal Drug Prosecutions Fall Under Trump. Despite all the tough talk about cracking down on crime coming from the White House and the Justice Department, the latest data from the department show that overall criminal conviction and drug conviction are both down during the first 10 months of Fiscal Year 2017. Overall criminal convictions were down 12.3% over last year and are now lower than at any time since 2008. Federal drug convictions were also down by 4.0%, reaching their lowest level since 1997. Of all DOJ prosecutions, immigration offenses accounted for 53.1%, followed by drug conviction at 18.6%.

Sentencing

Report on Obama's Clemency Initiative Finds Only a Small Percentage of Those Eligible Actually Got Clemency. The US Sentencing Commission has released an analysis of the implementation of the Obama administration's 2014 clemency initiative, which encouraged long-serving, nonviolent drug offenders to apply for sentence cuts. The report found that while President Obama granted more commutations than any other president (1,928) and that most of them (1,696) were sentence commutations under the 2014 Clemency Initiative, the initiative only saw sentence cuts for only 3.4% of all federally imprisoned drug trafficking offenders who appeared to meet all the clemency criteria. On the other hand, those who did get sentence cuts saw an average reduction of nearly 12 years.

International

Philippines Drug War Has Nation's Jails Creaking Under the Pressure. While the horrid killings of thousands of suspected drug users and dealers had grabbed the world's attention, President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war has also seen nearly 100,000 people arrested on drug charges, with almost all (94%) of them still in jail awaiting trial. As a result, the country's jails are now tremendously overcrowded, with one prison with an official capacity of 262 inmates now holding 2,975 -- three-fourths of them for drug offenses. It's not just the jails that are feeling the pinch; the Public Attorney's Office, which defends the cases, reports a backlog of 303,000 drug cases, nearly 2 ½ times the backlog when Duterte took office.

British Courts Throw Out Laughing Gas Prosecutions. In the past few days, two cases in which the government attempted to prosecute people for supplying nitrous oxide (laughing gas) have collapsed, with courts ruling that that the stuff is a medicine and thus exempt from last year's Psychoactive Substances Act. This is no surprise to drug experts, including the government's own drug advisors, who warned the law was overly broad and unworkable.

Chronicle AM: Fed Bills Would Shrink CSA Reach, Slow Start to Sessions Drug War, More... (7/31/17)

New federal bills aim to remove state-legal marijuana and industrial hemp from the purview of the Controlled Substances Act, Jeff Sessions' drug war is slow getting off the ground, an Indian minister comes out for medical marijuana, and more.

What's in your Ecstasy? British festivalgoers could find out. (erowid.org)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Bill to Make CSA Inapplicable to Marijuana in Legal Marijuana States Filed. US Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) filed House Resolution 3534 on Friday. The bill would "make the Controlled Substances Act inapplicable with respect to marijuana in states that have legalized marijuana and have in effect a statewide regulatory regime to protect certain Federal interests."

Industrial Hemp

Federal Bill to Exempt Hemp from CSA Filed. Rep. James Comer (R-KY) filed House Resolution 3530 on Friday. The bill would "amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marihuana."

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions' Drug War Hasn't Taken Hold -- Yet. The attorney general has vowed to crack down on drugs, but data released last week show it isn't happening yet. Federal drug prosecutions are at historic lows, with experts pointing to a federal hiring freeze instituted by the Trump administration and the Senate's slow pace on appointing new US attorneys as potential causes. Without having key people in key positions, the Sessions Justice Department must rely on local investigators and prosecutors who may still be operating under Obama-era reforms.

International

Indian Minister Calls for Medical Marijuana Legalization. Indian Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi has come out in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. "Marijuana should be legalized for medical purposes, especially as it serves a purpose in [treating] cancer," she said during a ministerial discussion on India's National Drug Demand Reduction. Although cannabis has been part of Indian culture for more than 3,000 years, the country banned it in 1985 under US pressure.

British Festival Allowed Pill Testing. Attendees at the Kendal Calling music festival in Cumbria this past weekend were able to get their pills and powders tested for potency and adulteration without fear of arrest thanks to an on-site lab operated by an NGO. Testers reported finding malaria medication, insecticide and concrete in some of the substances tested. "We accept that some people will get drugs on site and some people will be planning to take them so what we're doing is trying to address any potential health problems," said Professor Fiona Measham, director of the NGO The Loop. "This is a focus on public health rather than on criminal justice."

Drug War Issues

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