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Four Ways Using Even Legal Marijuana Makes You a Second Class Citizen [FEATURE]

Marijuana is now legal in nine states constituting about one-fifth of the US population, and medical marijuana is recognized in a total of 29 states. That means people in those states can possess and use marijuana without fear of criminal prosecutions (if they have a doctor's recommendation in the medical marijuana-only states).

people enjoying marijuana (Darrin Frisby Harris/Drug Policy Alliance)
But even in legal marijuana states, pot smokers face restrictions that in effect turn them into second-class citizens, unable to do things non-drug users or users of legally sanctioned drugs, such as alcohol, can do, or somehow punished for doing them. While legalizing marijuana is a giant breakthrough, as long as marijuana users face stigma, discrimination, and worse over their choice of substances, the job is only half-done.

Here are four ways even legal marijuana users get screwed:

1. Employment Rights

You may be able to smoke pot legally, but it can still cost you your job. Even in legal marijuana states, legalization laws generally are careful not to intrude on the rights of employers to conduct drug testing for pot and to fire people who test positive -- even if they're not high or impaired at work.

Legal cases in California, Colorado, Montana, and Washington have all upheld the right of employers to fire or refuse to hire workers who test positive for marijuana even if they have a medical marijuana recommendation. But the law is rapidly evolving, and a recent case from Connecticut, a nursing home that refused to hire a medical marijuana patient after he tested positive for THC was ordered to reinstate the job offer.

A thriving economy and growing social acceptance of marijuana may also bring some solace to pot smokers. As Bloomberg noted just last month, we are now seeing a "slow decline in pre-employment drug screening," with some major employers abandoning the practice in the face of a tight job market. That trend, unsurprisingly, is being led by companies in the marijuana legal states. In Colorado, for instance, the percentage of employers using pre-employment drug tests declined from 77% in 2016 to 66% last year.

But still, if you smoked a joint on Friday night, Walmart still doesn't think you're fit to stock their shelves on Monday morning.

2. Gun Rights

If you smoke pot, you can't legally purchase or own a gun. As more states move toward legalization, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) has clarified its Form 4473, the federal Firearms Transaction Record that purchaser must fill out to buy a gun: "Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?" the form asks.

And just so you stoners get it, ATF has added the following language: "Warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside."

That means marijuana users who want to legally purchase a weapon have to lie on Form 4473. And that's a federal crime. (Unlikely to be caught and prosecuted, but still.)

In August 2016, a federal appeals court upheld the ban on gun sales to medical marijuana patients. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the federal government's ban on gun sales to medical marijuana cardholders does not violate the 2nd Amendment. The decision came in the case of a Nevada woman turned away from a gun shop after obtaining a medical marijuana card. The ruling sets precedent for all nine states in the circuit, including California, Oregon, and Washington.

There have been proactive efforts by law enforcement in a handful of states to, for example, order registered medical marijuana patients to turn in their guns, but those have so far been aborted in the face of loud opposition. In Pennsylvania, the state Health Department is no longer providing the names of patients to law enforcement after newspapers there reported the patients would not be able to buy firearms; in Illinois, regulators removed a rule that would have barred legal gun owners from becoming patients; and in Hawaii, police had to walk back a plan to force patients to hand in their guns.

Still, as long as the federal government maintains marijuana prohibition and as long as ATF considers marijuana a controlled substance, pot smokers' gun rights are at risk. And the NRA doesn't seem to care.

3. Parental Rights

In both medical marijuana states and full-blown legal pot states, parents have lost custody of their children over their marijuana use. Part of the problem is that marijuana remains federally illegal, turning the pot-using parent into a criminal in the eyes of courts of child protective services workers. Another part of the problem is discrimination and subjectivity about what constitutes "the best interest of the child." If a child protective bureaucracy or even an individual case worker harbors anti-marijuana sentiments, even non-problematic recreational use of pot can be used to take children from the home or deny custody to the offending parent.

Marijuana use is especially likely to pop up in divorces where custody of the child or children is contested. If your spouse griped about your pot-smoking while you were married, be prepared for him or her to try to use it against you in a nasty divorce case. Divorce attorneys warn parents facing this prospect to quit smoking pot now, well ahead of any court dates and court-ordered drug tests.

That's another way pot-smoking parents get hammered. Courts may demand onerous drug testing for months or year or require that visits with children be supervised.

Medical marijuana support groups report hundreds of cases of parents losing custody of their kids, some merely for having registered as medical marijuana patients. But there are small signs of positive change on the horizon: California's Prop 64, for instance, includes a provision saying courts can no longer rescind or restrict a parent's custodial rights solely because they have a medical marijuana recommendation.

That's a start, but we still have a long way to go before pot-smoking parents can rest easy.

4. Housing Rights

You can be kicked out of your home for using marijuana if you are poor and live in HUD, Section 8, or other federally-subsidized housing. Under a 1999 HUD Memorandum Regarding Medical Marijuana in Public Housing still in effect, any activity relating to controlled substances, including even medical marijuana, can get you evicted.

And it doesn't have to be just you. If you live in federally-subsidized housing and your grandson gets caught smoking a joint in the parking lot, you can find yourself tossed out on the street.

Even people who don't live in federally-subsidized housing face problems, especially if they live in rental housing. Landlords can prohibit tenants from using marijuana, and rental apartment industry associations typically counsel their members that "banning the use or possession of marijuana on site does not violate any landlord/tenant or fair housing laws, even when marijuana has been legalized by local ordinance or state statute." Nor, they argue, is allowing the use or cultivation of medical marijuana a "reasonable accommodation" required by law, even if it's been medically recommended.

Marijuana is increasingly legal and accepted, but the progress is uneven, and the battle to be treated like normal citizens remains unfinished.

Chronicle AM: AZ Bill Would Speed Adoption of Drug-Exposed Babies, CT Pot Bill Advances, More... (4/5/18)

A Connecticut legalization bill advances, Michigan GOP lawmakers are worried a legalization initiative there will drive turnout and drive them from office, Tennessee lawmakers pass a bill to end civil asset forfeiture, and more.

In a historic first, a marijuana legalization bill wins a committee vote in Connecticut. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Legalization Bill Advances in Historic Committee Vote. For the first time, a marijuana legalization bill has won a committee vote in Hartford. The Assembly Appropriations Committee voted 27-24 Thursday to approve House Bill 5394, which calls for a developing a plan for legalization and regulation of sales, along with funding for drug prevention and treatment programs. The bill will now go before the full General Assembly.

Michigan's Looming Initiative Prompts GOP Lawmakers to Ponder Passing Preemptive Legalization Bill. There is a specter haunting the state's Republican lawmakers: The fear that a legalization initiative likely to appear on the ballot will encourage voter turnout and depress their chances of retaining control of the legislature. So now, GOP lawmakers are muttering about the possibility of approving marijuana legalization before the November election to thwart that possibility. Stay tuned.

Oregon County Sues State to Invalidate Legalization Law. Josephine County filed a lawsuit in US district court in Medford Tuesday challenging the state's marijuana legalization laws. The county seeks to invalidate the laws on the grounds they conflict with strict federal drug laws.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Medical Marijuana Bill Killed in Committee. The Legislative Oversight Committee voted Wednesday to kill a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1554. The bill would only have allowed some people suffering from terminal illnesses to use medical marijuana, but even that was too much for the committee. Show Me State residents will likely be able to vote directly on medical marijuana come November; a medical marijuana initiative campaign is now in the final stages of signature gathering and should qualify for the ballot.

Asset Forfeiture

Tennessee Legislature Passes Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. The House on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday have approved an asset forfeiture reform bill, Senate Bill 316. The bill ends civil asset forfeiture, requires "clear and convincing evidence" the asset is linked to a crime, and provides that all forfeited goods go into the state general fund. The bill now goes to the governor's desk.

Families

Arizona Legislature Passes Bill to Cut Off Parental Rights for Drug-Exposed Babies After One Year. The legislature has approved Senate Bill 1473, which would allow babies born exposed to drugs and whose parents have substance abuse problems to be put up for adoption by the first birthday. The bill would also let courts consider foster parents who have cared for an infant or toddler for at least nine months as equal to the child's family members when deciding who gets custody. Current law only allows adoption to take place after they are two years old. The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Doug Ducey (R).

International

France Apologizes to Italy Over Migrant Drug Test Incident. France apologized to Italy Wednesday after French border patrol agents used a train station in an Italian border town to conduct a drug test on a Nigerian immigrant. "I'm sorry for the misunderstanding," France's Budget Minister Gérald Darmanin, who is also responsible for customs, said in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. "It was an unfortunate incident, which arose over a misunderstanding between French customs and Italian railways about the use of a facility located at Bardonecchia railway station."

Culture Shock: American Activists Confront Compassionate Portuguese Drug Policy [FEATURE]

The American activists couldn't wrap their heads around it. Sitting in a dingy office in a nondescript building in central Lisbon, they were being provided a fine-grained explanation of what happens to people caught with small amounts of drugs in Portugal, which decriminalized the possession of personal use amounts of drugs 17 years ago.

partial view of Lisbon, looking toward the Tagus River (Wikimedia)
The activists, having lived the American experience, wanted desperately to know when and how the coercive power of the state kicked in, how the drug users were to be punished for their transgressions, even if they had only been hit with an administrative citation, which is what happens to people caught with small quantities of drugs there.

Nuno Capaz was trying to explain. He is Vice Chairman of the Lisbon Dissuasion Commission, the three-member tribunal set up to handle people caught with drugs. He had to struggle mightily to convince the Americans that it wasn't about punishment, but about personal and public health.

"The first question," he explained, "is whether this person is a recreational user or an addict."

If the person is deemed only a recreational user, he may face a fine or a call to community service. If he is deemed an addict, treatment is recommended -- but not required.

"But what if they don't comply?" one of the activists demanded. "Don't they go to jail then?"

No, they do not. Instead, Capaz patiently explained, they may face sanctions for non-compliance, but those sanctions may be little more than a demand that they regularly present themselves to a hospital or health center for monitoring.

In a later hallway conversation, I asked Capaz about drug users who simply refused to go along or to participate at all. What happens then? I wanted to know.

Capaz shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing," he said. "I tell them to try not to get caught again."

Welcome to Portugal. The country's low-key, non-headline-generating drug policy, based on compassion, public health, and public safety, is a stark contrast with the US, as the mind-boggled response of the activists suggests.

Organized by the Drug Policy Alliance and consisting of members of local and national groups that work with the organization, as well as a handful of journalists, the group spent three days in-country last month seeing what an enlightened drug policy looks like. They met with high government officials directly involved in creating and implementing drug decriminalization, toured drug treatment, harm reduction, and mobile methadone maintenance facilities, and heard from Portuguese drug users and harm reduction workers as well.

The Portuguese Model and Its Accomplishments

They had good reason to go to Portugal. After nearly two decades of drug decriminalization, there is ample evidence that the Portuguese model is working well. Treating drug users like citizens who could possibly use some help instead of like criminals to be locked up is paying off by all the standard metrics -- as well as by not replicating the thuggish and brutal American-style war on drugs, with all the deleterious and corrosive impacts that has on the communities particularly targeted for American drug law enforcement.

Here, according to independent academic researchers, as well as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the European Monitoring Center of Drugs and Drug Abuse, is what the Portuguese have accomplished:

Drug use has not dramatically increased. Rates of past year and past month drug use have not changed significantly or have actually declined since 2001. And Portugal's drug use rates remain among the lowest in Europe, and well below those in the United States.

Both teen drug use and "problematic" drug use (people who are dependent or who inject drugs) have declined.

Drug arrests and incarceration are way down. Drug arrests have dropped by 60% (selling drugs remains illegal) and the percentage of prisoners doing time for drug offenses has dropped from 44% to 24%. Meanwhile, the number of people referred to the Dissuasion Commission has remained steady, indicating that no "net-widening" has taken place. And the vast majority of cases that go before the commission are found to be non-problematic drug users and are dismissed without sanction.

More people are receiving drug treatment -- and on demand, not by court order. The number of people receiving drug treatment increased by 60% by 2011, with most of them receiving opiate-substitution therapy (methadone). Treatment is voluntary and largely paid for by the national health system.

Drug overdose deaths are greatly reduced. Some 80 people died of drug overdoses in 2001; that number shrunk to just 16 by 2012. That's an 80% reduction in drug overdose deaths.

Drug injection-related HIV/AIDS infections are greatly reduced. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of new HIV cases shrank from nearly 1,600 to only 78. The number of new AIDS cases declined from 626 to 74.

"We came to the conclusion that the criminal system was not the best suited to deal with this situation," explained Capaz. "The best option should be referring them to treatment, but we do not force or coerce anyone. If they are willing to go, it's because they actually want to, so the success rate is really high. We can surely say that decriminalization does not increase drug usage, and that it does not mean legalizing drugs. It's still illegal to use drugs in Portugal, it's just not considered a crime. It's possible to deal with these users outside the criminal system."

Dr. Joao Goulao, who largely authored the decriminalization law and who is still General Director for Intervention on Addictive Behaviors -- the Portuguese "drug czar" -- pointed to unquantifiable positives resulting from the move: "The biggest effect," he said, "has been to allow the stigma of drug addiction to fall, to let people speak clearly and to pursue professional help without fear."

They Take the Kids! (with them to treatment)

The American activists know all about fear and stigma. And the cultural disconnect -- between a country that treats drug users with compassion and one that seeks to punish them -- was on display again when a smaller group of the activists met with Dr. Miguel Vasconcelos, the head psychologist at the Centro Taipa, a former mental hospital that now serves as the country's largest drug treatment center.

As Dr.Vasconcelos explained the history and practice of drug treatment in Portugal, one of his listeners asked what happened to drug users who were pregnant or had children.

"They take the kids," Vasconcelos said, smiling. But his smile turned to puzzlement as he saw his listeners react with resignation and dismay.

For the Americans, "they take the kids" meant child protective services swooping in to seize custody of the children of drug-using parents while the parents go to jail.

But that's not what Vasconcelos meant. After some back and forth, came clarity: "No, I mean they take the kids with them to treatment."

Once again, the Americans, caught firmly in the mind set of their own punishing society, expected only the worst of the state. But once again, light bulbs came on as they realized it doesn't have to be like that.

Now that cadre of activists is back home, and they are going to begin to try to apply the lessons they learned in their own states and communities. And although they had some abstract understanding of Portuguese drug decriminalization before they came, their experiences with the concrete reality of it should only serve to strengthen their desire to make our own country a little less like a punitive authoritarian state and bit more like Portugal.

Chronicle AM: MedMJ Icon Dennis Peron Dies, ALEC Spurns Drug-Free Zone Laws, More... (1/29/18)

A pioneer of the medical marijuana movement is dead, the conservative group ALEC calls for reform of drug-free zone laws, the Trump administration is turning to private prisons, and more.

Dennis Peron, RIP (Pinterest)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Calls for Marijuana Legalization. "Legalize it. Tax it. Use the revenue to fix Florida's public schools and move us up from 29th in the nation to #1." That's what Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum tweeted last week in response to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showing 60% of Americans favor legalization. No other candidate supports legalization, but at least two have called for decriminalization. Although at least five Democrats are running, Gillum is one of the leading contenders.

Medical Marijuana

Dennis Peron, "The Father of Medical Marijuana," Dead at 72. A key player in California's groundbreaking embrace of medical marijuana has died. Dennis Peron, an AIDS activist whose partner, Jonathan West, died of the disease in 1990, argued for the benefits of medical marijuana for AIDS patients, opened the nation's first dispensary in San Francisco, and was a driving force behind the city's 1992 ordinance allowing medical marijuana. That was the first step toward the state's historic passage of Prop 215 four years later. Peron was 72. He died of lung cancer at a San Francisco hospital.

Asset Forfeiture

Kansas Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. The House Judiciary Committee has filed House Bill 2459, which would not eliminate civil asset forfeiture, but would create a process for people to file a claim on seized property and assets. The bill was the result of an effort by the Kansas Judicial Commission to draft reform recommendations after eight different reforms bills were offered last year. In a hearing last week, the bill won the support of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, although no vote was taken.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Bill to Allow Drug Testing of Infants Advances. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 6-1 last week to approve Senate Bill 105, which would allow doctors to drug test newborns for up to 28 days for evidence of prenatal drug exposure. The measure would absolve health care workers from any civil or criminal liability related to the test. Doctors would be required to report positive test results to the state. The bill now heads to a Senate floor vote.

Sentencing Reform

ALEC Calls on States to Reform "Drug-Free Zone" Laws. The conservative, pro-business American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which drafts model bills for state legislatures, passed a resolution last Friday calling on states to reform drug-free zone laws. Such laws impose stiffer penalties for drug offenses committed within such areas, typically around schools, churches, and parks. They have been criticized as unduly harsh and having a disproportionate racial impact. "Most Drug-Free Zone laws were established decades ago," the resolution says, "but have not been reformed despite evidence that Drug-Free Zones are arbitrary and often unnecessarily broad, are ineffective at deterring drug- related crime, and create significant unintended consequences, including unwarranted disparate impacts on minority defendants."

Trump Administration Seeks to Boost Use of Private Prisons.The Bureau of Prisons now has the goal of "increasing population levels in private contract facilities," a memo sent last week by the agency's Assistant Director for Correctional Programs Division Frank Lara said. The memo follows guidance from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse an Obama-era policy to reduce reliance on private prisons. DOJ is also seeking to cut federal prison guard positions.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York, NY
United States

Chronicle AM: MA MJ Talks Resume, WI "Cocaine Mom" Law Back in Effect (For Now), More... (7/10/17)

Massachusetts lawmakers finally figured out their budget, so now maybe they can figure out how to implement the will of the voters on legal pot; the Supreme Court lets Wisconsin continue to enforce its "cocaine mom" law as the state appeals a lower court ruling it's unconstitutional; Colombian coca cultivation was way up last year, and more.

Colombian coca cultivation jumped last year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime says. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Lawmakers Resume Talks on Implementing Legalization. A House-Senate conference committee was set for a closed door meeting Monday afternoon to restart negotiations over legislation that would implement the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization law. House and Senate negotiators are split over a number of issues, foremost among them taxation rates and whether localities can ban pot businesses without a popular vote.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Seeks Letters of Intent from Prospective Growers and Dispensaries. The Health Department last Friday asked prospective medical marijuana growers and dispensary operators to send in letters of intent to apply under the state's new medical marijuana law. The department said it wants a better idea of how many applications it will receive in coming months. Interested parties have until July 28 to send in their letters.

Drug Policy

US Supreme Court Lets Wisconsin "Cocaine Mom" Law Stay in Effect Pending Appeal. The Supreme Court last Friday issued an order lifting an injunction against Wisconsin's "cocaine mom" law imposed in April. The law allows state officials to detain pregnant women suspected of using drugs or alcohol. A federal district court judge ruled the law unconstitutionally vague and issued the injunction, but now the Supreme Court will allow the state to continue to use the law while it appeals the lower court ruling.

Sentencing

Report: Some Federal Prosecutors Ignored Obama Sentencing Recommendations. A report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General released last Friday finds that at least 20 of the country's 94 federal prosecutorial districts did not follow Obama administration "Smart on Crime" sentencing recommendations aimed at reducing the number of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Still, the report noted, the initiative had an impact: Drug offenders sentenced without mandatory minimum sentences increased from 40% in 2014 to 54% in 2015.

International

UN Says Colombia Coca Cultivation Increased Dramatically Last Year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that the amount of land under coca cultivation jumped from 250,000 acres in 2015 to 363,000 acres last year, an increase of nearly 50%. The UNODC notes that most of the increase came in areas that had been under the control of the now demobilized FARC guerrillas. The Colombian military failed to take effective control of those areas, leaving a power vacuum filled by dissident guerrilla groups, rightist paramilitaries, and drug trafficking organizations.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Drug War Violence Roils Reynosa, RI MJ Commission Expanded, More... (6/8/17)

A Rhode Island legislative commission studying marijuana legalization gets an expanded membership, including more seats favorable to legalization, cartel infighting leaves a bloody toll in Reynosa, British public health experts call for festival pill testing, and more.

No let up in prohibition-related violence along the Rio Grande. (Borderlands Beat/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Legalization Commission Gets Expanded. The House Judiciary Committee has voted to expand the membership of a commission studying legalization by adding five more people. The five new members will add heft to the commission's pro-legalization contingent. They include the head of the local NAACP branch, a representative of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, a criminal defense attorney, and the director of the local chapter of Direct Action for Rights and Equality. This brings the size of the commission to 22. The panel would report recommendations on legalizing marijuana to the General Assembly by March 2018.

Drug Policy

Wisconsin Seeks to Keep Locking Up Pregnant Women Suspected of Drug Use Despite Court Ruling. The state Department of Justice has asked the 10th US Circuit of Appeals to let it continue to apply a law allowing it to detain pregnant women it suspects of drug use even though a US district court judge struck it down in April. State officials first sought an emergency stay to block the ruling while they appeal, but when that was denied Monday, on Tuesday they asked to continue to apply the law to pending cases while it appeals the denial to the US Supreme Court.

International

British Public Health Group Calls for Pill Testing at Festivals. Citing the danger of "serious health harm" from stronger ecstasy in the UK, the Royal Society for Public Health is calling for a program to allow festival goers to test their drugs on site. The society reported than a one-off pill testing pilot program last year resulted in 18% of people bringing their drugs in deciding to through them in the garbage after they turned out to be counterfeit or adulterated.

Mexico Drug War Violence Continues to Roil Reynosa. At least 50 people have been killed in the past month in the Mexican border town of Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, according to unofficial counts in local media. Most of the dead are reportedly gunmen from rival factions of the Gulf Cartel, who are fighting for control of local drug trafficking routes, but at least one civilizan -- a taco cart vendor -- is among the dead.

Chronicle AM: No Fed $$$ for Anti-MedMJ, MA Docs Call for Safe Injection Sites, More... (5/2/17)

Congress won't fund federal medical marijuana enforcement in states where it's legal, the Massachusetts Medical Society calls for a pilot safe injection site, a Wisconsin federal judge throws out that state's "cocaine mom" law, and more.

Chris Christie is back to attacking marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

Chris Christie Accuses Democrats of Wanting to "Poison Our Kids" With Pot to Raise Tax Revenues. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Monday criticized efforts to legalize marijuana and claimed Democrats were willing to "poison our kids" to get marijuana tax revenues. A reference to a recent report saying the state could earn $300 million in pot taxes set him off. "This is the part that liberals love the most: We can tax it. Sweet Jesus, we can tax it! More money for us!" Christie exclaime. "I can say this now because I'm not running for anything again: $300 million is nothing. We have a $35.5 billion budget; $300 million is a rounding error. I'm sorry. It's true. Think about it, that's 1 percent, less than 1 percent, of the entire state budget for a year. And we're going to poison our kids for 1 percent more money that they can spend on some God awful, stupid program that they can put in the mailer and send out and say, 'I delivered $300 million more for this.'" There's more, too; just click on the link.

Medical Marijuana

Congress Rolls Out Interim Budget With No Funding for Medical Marijuana Enforcement. The budget bill crafted by Congress to keep the federal government working in the short term includes the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment language barring the spending of federal dollars to enforce federal pot prohibition in states that have legalized medical marijuana. The language is only good through September, though.

Federal CBD Bill Filed. US Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) on Monday filed House Resolution 2273, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD-rich plants from the definition of marijuana. It's been referred to the House Judiciary, Financial Services, and Energy and Commerce committees.

Florida House Passes Medical Marijuana Implementing Bill. The House on Tuesday approved a medical marijuana regulation measure, House Bill 1397, after altering several provisions opposed by patients and the industry. The measure removes the ban on using low-THC marijuana products in public, increases the number of dispensaries to 17 statewide, and allows patients to only have to see a doctor once every seven months to get renewed. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Baltimore Cops Begin Investigating Overdoses in Bid to Nail Dealers. A task force of five Baltimore police detectives have begun investigating drug overdoses in an effort to build criminal cases against drug dealers. But with 800 fatal overdoses in the city las year, five detectives may not be able to keep up. The state lacks a law allowing prosecutors to charge dealers in the death of an overdose victim, but prosecutors say there exists "a wide range" of ways they can bring related charges.

Harm Reduction

Massachusetts Docs Call for Supervised Drug Consumption Sites. The Massachusetts Medical Society has endorsed lobbying state and federal policymakers to allow the state to begin a safe injection site pilot program. At the group's annual meeting last Saturday, the membership adopted a policy calling for "a pilot supervised injection facility program in the state, to be under the direction and oversight of the state" as well as wider use of naloxone and more treatment for substance use disorder. The policy calls for the organization to lobby for a federal exemption and state legislation to allow such a facility.

Law Enforcement

Federal Judge Blocks Wisconsin "Cocaine Mom" Law. A US district court judge in Madison ruled last Friday that the state's "cocaine mom" law, which allows the state to detain a pregnant woman suspected of drug or alcohol abuse, is so vague as to be unconstitutional. The law is "void for vagueness," Judge James Peterson held. "Erratic enforcement, driven by the stigma attached to drug and alcohol use by expectant mothers, is all but ensured." The law allowed the state to treat fetuses like children in need of protection if the "expectant mother habitually lacks self-control in the use of alcohol beverages, controlled substances or controlled substance analogs, exhibited to a severe degree, to the extent that there is a substantial risk that the physical health of the unborn child, and of the child when born, will be seriously affected or endangered." But Peterson ruled that such terminology is not "amenable to reasonably precise interpretation."

International

Uruguay Begins Registering Users to Buy Pot in Pharmacies. The first country to legalize marijuana took another step toward implementing that decision on Tuesday as it opened a registry for people who wish to buy marijuana from pharmacies beginning in July. All potential pharmacy pot customers must register before availing themselves of the service. Pot will go for about $1.30 a gram, with each user limited to 10 grams per week.

Chronicle AM: At Least Four States Voting on MedMJ, Filipino Prez Could Face ICC, More... (8/25/16)

Michigan legalizers lose a court battle, Oklahoma medical marijuana advocates look to be heading for the ballot box, the 10th Circuit rules that having license plates from marijuana states is not sufficient reason for a stop and search, and more.

Medical marijuana will be on the ballot in at least four states. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Legalizers Lose Court Bid to Get on Ballot. The backers of the MI Legalize legalization initiative have struck out in court in their bid to get their measure on this year's ballot. The group had collected some 354,000 signatures, well above the 220,00 required, but more than 200,000 of the signatures were gathered outside a 180-day window that the State Board of Canvassers was the only time signatures could be considered. The campaign argued that the 180-day rule was unconstitutional and unfair, but the state Court of Claims ruled Wednesday that the Board of Canvassers was correct. The campaign says it will appeal to the state Supreme Court, but the election clock is ticking and time is running out.

Medical Marijuana

These Four States Will Definitely Be Voting on Medical Marijuana in November. Get a look at the details of and prospects for medical marijuana initiatives that have officially qualified for the November ballot in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota. There is also an Oklahoma initiative that may still qualify (see below), a second Arkansas initiative that may qualify, and a Montana anti-marijuana initiative that is appealing come up short on signatures.

Arkansas Prohibitionists Go to Court to Block Medical Marijuana Initiative. A group calling itself Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana Wednesday asked the state Supreme Court to block the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act from appearing on the November ballot. The measure has already qualified, but the group's lawsuit claims the wording of the proposal is misleading and omits key information.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Initiative Has Enough Signatures, But Is Not on the Ballot Yet. Secretary of State Chris Benge announced Tuesday that a medical marijuana initiative, State Question 788, has handed in 67,761 valid voter signatures. It only needs 65,987 to qualify for the November ballot, but there are still a couple more hurdles to overcome. The secretary of state's office must send a report on its findings to the state Supreme Court, which will then determine if the number of signatures is enough to put the initiative on the ballot.

Incarceration

Report Finds Women Increasingly Jailed for Drug Offenses. A new report from the Vera Institute for Justice finds that the arrest rate for drug possession for women tripled between 1980 and 2009 and that 29% of women in jails were there for drug offenses. Two-thirds of those women are black or Hispanic, and nearly 80% are mothers, largely single mothers. The report called for localities to adopt cite and release policies and/or decriminalizing drug possession.

Search and Seizure

Marijuana State License Plate is No Reason for Police Stops and Searches, Fed Court Rules. In a case involving a Colorado man pulled over in Kansas, the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that police violated his constitutional rights by stopping and searching him based primarily on the fact that he came from a state that was a "known drug source." Cops can't do that, the court ruled bluntly. To allow such a practice would justify searching drivers from the 25 states that allow medical or fully legal marijuana. "It is time to abandon the pretense that state citizenship is a permissible basis upon which to justify the detention and search of out-of-state motorists, and time to stop the practice of detention of motorists for nothing more than an out-of-state license plate," Circuit Judge Carlos Lucero wrote in the opinion. "Absent a demonstrated extraordinary circumstance, the continued use of state residency as a justification for the fact of or continuation of a stop is impermissible," he added.

International

Philippines President Could Face International Tribunal Over Drug War Killings, Senator Says. President Rodrigo Duterte could be charged with crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the wave of killings of alleged drug users and sellers since he took office two months ago, according to Sen. Leila de Lima. "There are some experts who are saying that… if this spate of killings go unabated and unchecked, it could reach that point that the ICC could send a prosecutor to our country and investigate all these for possible prosecution under the Rome Statute," she was quoted saying. "This is not a joke. The last thing we need right now is for our dear president to be subjected to an investigation by an international tribunal like the International Criminal Court. I am not threatening the president. I am just stating a fact," she added.

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