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Chronicle AM: Fed Sentencing Reform Bill Filed, Colombia Coca Clashes, More... (10/6/17)

Leading senators roll out a federal sentencing reform bill, Jeff Sessions ramps up the Safe Neighborhoods program, the VA doubles down against medical marijuana, more clashes erupt in Colombia's coca producing areas, and more.

A newly filed Senate bill seeks to address prison overcrowding. (supremecourt.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Just Keeps On Selling More and More Legal Weed. The state broke its marijuana sales record for the sixth consecutive month in August, a trend that officials expect to continue when September figures come in. Farmers sold 734 pounds of buds and 444 pounds of other marijuana plant parts to retailers in August, generating nearly $700,000 in taxes for the state.

Kentucky State Senator Calls for Legalization to Ease Budget Crunch. With the state facing a $200 million budget deficit this year, state Sen. Dan Seum (R-Fairdale) has suggested that legalizing marijuana could help. "My argument is before any new taxes, let's explore the potential of new monies," he told WKYT Thursday.

Maine Legalization Bill Now Requires Town to Opt In, Not Opt Out. Under the latest iteration of the legislature's bill to implement voter-approved marijuana legalization, localities would have to act affirmatively to allow medical marijuana businesses. That's the opposite of what the legalization initiative intended, which was to make localities opt out of participation if they didn't want pot businesses. The latest version of the bill is now headed for a floor vote on October 23.

San Diego Sets Legal Marijuana Business Rules. California's second largest city has made itself ready for legal marijuana. The city has finalized rules for pot growing and manufacturing ahead of the scheduled January 1 start date for legal marijuana sales. It will allow both indoor cultivation and manufacturing, as well as testing labs.

Medical Marijuana

Veterans Department Reiterates Opposition to Medical Marijuana Use. VA policy has been to disallow government doctors from recommending medical marijuana, but now, the agency has updated its website to state that opposition more firmly -- and inaccurately. As Tom Angell at Marijuana Majority noted, the website's claim that "as long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as Schedule I drug, VA health care providers may not recommend it or assist veterans to obtain it" is not technically true. There is no law barring the VA from allowing its doctors to recommend medical marijuana.

WADA No Longer Considers CBD a Prohibited Drug. The World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) has removed CBD from its 2018 list of prohibited substances. "Cannabidiol is no longer prohibited," WADA said. But it emphasized that THC, the euphoric psychoactive chemical in marijuana, remains banned and that CBD products could contain actionable amounts of THC. "Cannabidiol extracted from cannabis plants may contain varying concentrations of THC," WADA noted.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Federal Bill to Increase Opioid Prescribing Requirements Filed. Rep. David Roe (R-TN) Thursday filed House Resolution 3964, "to amend the Controlled Substance Act to establish additional registration requirements for prescribers of opioids." The bill text is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Ramps Up Safe Neighborhoods Program. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday plans to ramp up efforts against drug trafficking and violent gangs through the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative. In a memo, the country's top cop ordered federal prosecutors to emphasize violent crime reduction and develop plans to work with local police and prosecutors in the effort.

Sentencing

Senate Heavyweights File Sentencing Reform Bill. A bipartisan group of senators today reintroduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 to recalibrate prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, target violent and career criminals and save taxpayer dollars. The legislation permits more judicial discretion at sentencing for offenders with minimal criminal histories and helps inmates successfully reenter society, while tightening penalties for violent criminals and preserving key prosecutorial tools for law enforcement. It is led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Scott (R-SC), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO). The bill is S. 1917. Check back for a Chronicle feature on the bill.

International

Four Killed in Colombia Clashes Between Coca Growers, Eradicators. Four people are dead and 14 wounded after somebody attacking protesting coca farmers in the municipality of Tumaco, along the Pacific Coast. The government blamed members of a dissident FARC faction that has refused to lay down its arms, but local activists blamed government security forces for opening fire. Clashes between coca growers and security forces have become more frequent as production of cocaine in Colombia surged to record levels in recent years.

Federal Bill Would Reverse Perverse Incentives for Mass Incarceration [FEATURE]

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

Even as President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions descend into a law-and-order authoritarianism that views mass incarceration as a good thing, Democrats in Congress are moving to blunt such tendencies. A bill introduced last week in the House is a prime example.

House Reverse Mass Incarceration Act sponsor Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA)
Last Wednesday, Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) filed the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act of 2017 (HR 3845), which would use the power of the federal purse to reduce both crime and incarceration at the same time. Under the bill, states that decreased the number of prisoners by 7% over three years without a substantial increase in crime would be eligible for grants.

The grants would come from the Justice Department and would be awarded "to implement evidence-based programs designed to reduce crime rates and incarcerations," according to the bill text.

The measure essentially reverses the 1994 crime bill, which set up Justice Department block grant programs aimed at increasing arrests and incarceration. Instead of incentivizing states to increase prison populations, the legislation would pay states to decrease them, while keeping down crime.

Under the legislation, grants would be awarded every three years. States are eligible to apply if the total number of people behind bars in the state decreased by 7 percent or more in three years, and there is no substantial increase in the overall crime rate within the state. The bill could lead to a 20 percent reduction in the national prison population over 10 years.

Although state and federal prison populations have stabilized in the past decade and we are no longer seeing the massive increases in inmate numbers that began under Reagan and continued largely on autopilot through the Clinton and Bush years, the number of people incarcerated is still unconscionably high. With more than 1.5 million people in prison in 2015, the United States remains the world leader in incarceration, in both per capita and absolute numbers.

A healthy percentage of them are people locked up for drug offenses. The Bureau of Prisons reports that nearly half of all federal prisoners are drug offenders. Among the states, the percentage varies between about 15% and 25%; overall, about 17% of state prison inmates are drug offenders.

"The costs of our nation's epidemic of over-incarceration is not just metaphorical," said Rep. Cárdenas at a press conference rolling out the bill. "Yes, mass incarceration and mandatory minimums have taken their toll on our families and our communities, and represent one of the biggest civil rights issues of our time. At the same time, the cost to the taxpayer is real. Americans spend almost $80 billion per year on our prison system, in addition to much more significant long-term societal costs. It's time to right the wrongs of the last decades and help states have the freedom to implement programs that are more cost-effective and keep our streets and communities safer."

It's not just in the House. In June, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) filed the Senate version of the bill, SB 1458. Both Booker and Blumenthal came out for the rollout of the House version.

"In 1994, Congress passed the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, which created grant programs that incentivized states to incarcerate more people," said Sen. Booker. "The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act would do the opposite -- it would encourage states to reduce their prison populations and invest money in evidence-based practices proven to reduce crime and recidivism. Our bill recognizes the simple fact that locking more people up does little to make our streets safer. Instead, it costs us billions annually, tears families apart, and disproportionately drives poverty in minority communities."

"Our criminal justice system is in a state of crisis," said Sen. Blumenthal. "Under current sentencing guidelines, millions of people -- a disproportionate number of them people of color have been handed harsh prison sentences, their lives irreparably altered, and our communities are no safer for it. In fact, in many cases, these draconian sentencing policies have had the opposite of their intended effect. State sentencing policies are the major drivers of skyrocketing incarceration rates, which is why we've introduced legislation to encourage change at the state level. We need to change federal incentives so that we reward states that are addressing this crisis and improving community safety, instead of funneling more federal dollars into a broken system."

Senate Reverse Mass Incarceration Act cosponsor Sen. Cory Booker (D-CT)
While the bills don't have any Republican sponsors or cosponsors, they are backed by a panoply of civil rights, human rights, faith-based, and social justice organizations that are pushing hard for Congress to address mass incarceration and the class and racial disparities that underlie it.

"At a time when we have an Attorney General who seeks to continue the unwise practice of privatizing prisons and putting more and more people in them, Congress must reform our criminal justice system and do more to address mass incarceration," said Vanita Gupta, former deputy attorney general for civil rights and currently CEO of the Leadership Conference on Human Rights.

"Rep. Cárdenas, and Senators Cory Booker and Richard Blumenthal, have developed a creative policy proposal that would serve as a powerful tool to accelerate state efforts in reversing the damaging impact of mass incarceration," said Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League. "This proposal builds on smart prison-reduction policies while also reducing crime. The National Urban League applauds the lawmakers and is committed to working with them until this bill is signed into law."

That could be awhile. With Republicans in control of the Congress, the bills' prospects this session are clouded. But even among congressional Republicans, there are conservative criminal justice reformers willing to take a hard look at harsh policies of the past, and there is always the next Congress. While the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act of 2017 is unlikely to pass this year, it deserves to be fought for and is laying the groundwork for sentencing reform victories to come. Let's hope they do so soon.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Alaska Towns Reject Marijuana Bans, DEA Names Acting Head, More...(10/4/17)

The DEA names an in-house acting administrator, the Massachusetts high court takes up the question of whether judges can order addicts to remain drug-free, Canada advances on looming marijuana legalization, and more.

Voters in Fairbanks and other Alaska towns rejected bans on commercial marijuana operations Tuesday. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Towns Reject Marijuana Bans. Voters in Fairbanks and several towns on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage rejected bans on commercial marijuana growing operations in local votes on Tuesday. The state legalized marijuana in 2014.

California Governor Signs Bill Making Smoking Pot While Motoring a $70 Ticket. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Monday signed into law a bill barring the use of marijuana or marijuana products while driving or riding in a motor vehicle. The maximum penalty is a $70 fine. But drivers who operate while impaired could still be nailed for that.

Hemp

Farm Bureau Endorses Federal Hemp Bill. The American Farm Bureau Federation has formally endorsed the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, House Resolution 3530, which would exclude industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act definition of marijuana.

Law Enforcement

DEA Veteran Named Acting Administrator. The Justice Department has named veteran DEA official Robert Patterson as acting administrator of the agency. He has been DEA's principal deputy administrator since last November, where he oversaw all of the agency's enforcement, intelligence, administrative, and regulatory activities worldwide. He is the highest ranking career special agent at DEA.

Massachusetts Court Ponders Whether Courts Can Require Addicts to Remain Drug-Free. The state's Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments Monday on whether judges can require people under their supervision who suffer from substance use disorder to remain drug-free. The case involves a woman who was sent to jail for failing a drug test while on probation for a larceny charge, but has large implications for how judges in the state deal with drug-using defendants. A decision in the case is expected around year's end.

International

Canadian Prime Minister Proposes 10% Marijuana Excise Tax. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has proposes an excise tax on retail marijuana sales of $1 for sales of up to $10, and 10% on sales over that amount. Provinces and territories would receive half the revenues under the proposal he made Tuesday, but some provinces argue that isn't enough. Trudeau responded that the details are still open to negotiation.

Alberta Proposes Minimum Age of 18 for Pot Use. The Alberta provincial government's draft plan for marijuana legalization sets the minimum age at 18. The province says it hasn't yet decided on whether to have government-run or private sales. The draft proposal also includes provisions for use in public areas where smoking is allowed and sets a public possession limit of 30 grams.

Chronicle AM: Atlanta A Step Closer to MJ Decrim, Drug Treatment Privacy Threat, More... (10/3/17)

Atlanta is one step away from decriminalizing marijuana possession, patient advocacy and health care groups unite behind a campaign to protect the privacy of drug treatment patients, and more.

It was a 15-0 vote for marijuana decriminalization in the Atlanta city council chambers Monday.
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Panel Meets Again This Week, Has Issues. The state task force charged with examining issues around the legalization of marijuana is set to meet again on Wednesday. Members said that before legalization could occur, several issues would have to be addressed, including public and workforce safety, taxation and banking rules, insurance and liability issues, and concerns about the long-term effects of marijuana use.

Massachusetts Regulators Urged to Avoid "Walmart of Weed" Situation. State pot grower advocates urged regulators Monday to institute a tiered licensing system for marijuana cultivation to avoid out-of-state corporate control of the state's legal pot crops. Peter Bernard, president of the Massachusetts Grower Advocacy Council, said a 1 million square foot grow facility being funded by "Colorado money" makes his "New England blood boil" because it could signal that locals will be shut out in the nascent industry. Instead of a "Walmart of Weed" approach, Bernard said, the state should encourage craft cooperatives. "Craft cooperative grows will provide that top shelf product that commands a top shelf price, much like a fine bottle of wine commands a higher price than box wine. Only the tourists and occasional tokers will waste their money on Walmart Weed," he said in testimony reported by MassLive.

Atlanta City Council Unanimously Approves Decriminalization Ordinance. The city council voted 15-0 Monday to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. The mayor now has eight days to sign or veto this bill. If the mayor does not act, the ordinance becomes law. State law allows for up to six months in jail for pot possession, but the Atlanta ordinance would limit punishment to a $75 fine.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

As Opioid Crisis Rages, Campaign to Protect Patients' Privacy Rights Launched. More than a hundred of the nation's leading patient advocacy and health care organizations have launched the Campaign to Protect Patient Rights to advocate for maintaining the confidentiality of substance abuse disorder patients. The campaign comes as moves are afoot to eradicate existing protections in a misguided bid to address the crisis. Under federal substance abuse disorder confidentiality rules, treatment providers are barred from disclosing information about a patient's drug treatment without his or her consent. Proposals to replace those rules with the more relaxed HIPAA standards "would not sufficiently protect people seeking and receiving SUD treatment and could expose patients to great harm," the groups said.

Chronicle AM: Trump DEA Pick Has Issues, FL MedMJ Licenses Delayed, More... (10/2/17)

The man Trump will reportedly name to head the DEA has some racial profiling issues in his past, the Global Commission on Drugs issued recommendations on dealing with the opioid crisis, the 6th Circuit slaps down the DEA in an asset forfeiture case, and more.

The next DEA head? New Jersey State Police Superintendent Joseph Fuentes (Wikimedia)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Will Miss Deadline for Issuing Grower Licenses. Florida officials were supposed to distribute ten medical marijuana cultivation licenses Tuesday, but that's not going to happen. Officials said last Friday said the delay would be brief and pointed fingers at Hurricane Irma and a recently-filed lawsuit from a black farmer challenging the state's effort to achieve racial diversity among growers. That farmer charged that the state's guidelines were too restrictive.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Global Commission on Drug Policy Releases Position Paper on North America Opioid Crisis. The Global Commission on Drug Policy Monday released a position paper on The Opioid Crisis in North America. The members of the Global Commission, several of whom faced similar crises while occupying the highest levels of government, share their views and recommendations on how to mitigate this epidemic. The Commission warns against cutting the supply of prescription opioids without first having supporting measures in place, and emphasizes the need to improve and expand proven harm reduction services and treatment options, including opioid substitution therapy and heroin-assisted treatment. Regulation of prescription opioids needs to become well-balanced to provide effective pain care while minimizing misuse. The Global Commission also calls for the de facto decriminalization of drug use and possession for personal use at the municipal, city or State/Province levels, so that people in need of health and social services can access them freely, easily, and without fear of punishment. Finally, the Global Commission suggests allowing pilot projects for the responsible legal regulation of currently illicit drugs including opioids, to bypass criminal organizations that drive and benefit from the black market.

Asset Forfeiture

6th Circuit Slaps Down DEA Cleveland Airport Cash Seizure. Even when it looks like they have the perfect case, the DEA and the courts can't cut corners in their efforts to seize suspected drug money, the court held in a case decided late last month. Agents had seized $41,000 in cash from two men with previous drug convictions who had purchased tickets to -- gasp! -- California, and their drug dog told them the money was tainted. The men appealed the seizure, saying the cash was legally obtained, but the DEA moved to strike their claim, saying they had provided no proof, and a lower court agreed. But the DEA and the lower court erred, the appeals court ruled, by shifting the burden of proof to the claimants at that early stage of the proceedings: "Finally, we note our concern that the government's approach would turn the burden of proof in forfeiture actions on its head. Under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA), the government bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that the subject of a civil forfeiture action is, in fact, forfeitable," the opinion concluded. "Requiring a forfeiture claimant to explain the nature of his ownership at the pleading stage would be asking the claimant to satisfy the government's burden of proof, or at least go a long way toward doing so."

Drug Policy

Trump Could Name Racial Profiling Apologist to Head DEA. The Washington Post has reported that President Trump will name New Jersey State Police Superintendent Joseph Fuentes to head the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). In 2000, Fuentes, then a state police trooper, wrote a paper defending "suspect profiling" as the state was embroiled in controversy over "driving while black" and police tactics like asking hotel clerk to report guests who were "suspicious" because they had dreadlocks or spoke Spanish. "Because of the disproportionate involvement of minorities in these... arrests, civil rights groups have branded the whole process of highway drug enforcement as racist," he wrote. But when pressed during his nomination to head the state police, Fuentes disavowed that position and denied being an apologist for racial profiling.

Chronicle AM: Houston Quits Trying "Trace Amount" Drug Cases, US Chides Colombia, More... (9/28/17)

San Antonio quits arresting small-time pot violators, Houston quits prosecuting folks caught with trace amounts of drugs, Vermont begins pondering how to do pot legalization, the US chides Colombia on coca and the FARC, and more.

With moves in Houston and San Antonio, change is coming to the Lone Star State.
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Marijuana Commission Begins Legalization Study. The state Marijuana Advisory Commission is holding its first meeting today. The commission is charged with studying the best way to legalize marijuana in the state. Gov. Phil Scott (R) empaneled the commission after vetoing a legalization bill in May. In his veto message, Scott said he wasn't opposed to legalization, but had concerns about underage use and impaired driving. The commission is set to report back to the legislature in January.

San Antonio to Quit Arresting People for Pot Possession. Authorities in Bexar County (San Antonio) announced Wednesday that they will no longer arrest small-time marijuana and other misdemeanor offenders, instead issuing them citations. People cited must complete a program before charges are dismissed. San Antonio now joins Harris County (Houston) and Dallas in enacting policies to no longer arrest small-time pot offenders.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Lawmakers Seek to Keep Dispensaries Open. As the state prepares to shift to a new regime allowing licensed dispensaries, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has tentatively asked all existing dispensaries to shut down by December 15 and seek licenses. But some legislators have filed House Bill 5014, which would allow dispensaries to stay open while their license applications are pending before the department. A Senate version of the bill is expected to be filed shortly.

Law Enforcement

Houston Stops Prosecuting Cases of Trace Amounts of Drugs. Harris County (Houston) District Attorney Kim Ogg has quit pursuing thousands of "trace drug" cases, where people are charged with drug possession based on drug residues left in baggies or syringes. Ogg actually quietly implemented the policy in July, but has gone public with it now. The move will save the county the cost of prosecuting somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 felony cases each year.

Sentencing

New House Bill Creates Incentives to Reduce Crime, Incarceration at Same Time. Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA) filed the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act of 2017 on Wednesday. Companion legislation, Senate Bill 1458, was filed in June by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). The bill would essentially reverse the 1994 crime bill, which provided incentives to states to increase prison populations. It would instead pay states to decrease incarceration rates through incentivizing grants.

International

US Ambassador to Colombia Says FARC Has Not Complied With Peace Deal. "The FARC have not complied, in my opinion, with their obligations under the agreement," US Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker said during a recent interview with El Tiempo. Whitaker claimed the leftist rebels continued to encourage coca cultivation in some parts of the country and said they should not be involved in government-sponsored crop substitution programs. Whitaker's comments are in line with other US officials, who have become increasingly critical of the peace deal between the FARC and the government as coca and cocaine production have increased in the past two years.

Philippines Claims It Doesn't Allow Extrajudicial Killings in Drug War. In a statement released as Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano met in Washington with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Philippines government denied it had a policy of killing suspected drug users and dealers. "Contrary to media reports, Cayetano also clarified to Tillerson that the Philippines does not have a state policy allowing extrajudicial killings, especially of illegal drug suspects," the statement read. The statement also welcomed further cooperation with Washington and reiterated the "seriousness" of the country's "drug problem." Thousands of people have been killed since President Duterte unleashed his drug war, but the Philippines claims it only kills suspects who were violently resisting arrest.

Chronicle AM: Citing Trump, DEA Head Quits; Atlanta Moves Toward MJ Decrim, More... (9/27/17)

DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg is outta here, Atlanta moves closer to pot decriminalization, San Francisco goes slow on legal pot sales, Florida's governor wants to restrict opioid prescriptions, and more.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) wants to restrict opioid prescriptions. That could leave some patients in the lurch. (fl.gov)
Atlanta Decriminalization Ordinance Advances. The city council's Public Safety Committee approved a decriminalization bill Tuesday night. The measure now goes to the full city council. If passed, the measure would give Atlanta police the discretion of citing pot law violators under the ciy ordinance or charging them with the crime of marijuana possession under state law.

Los Angeles Marijuana Regulations Advance. A city council committee approved new rules to regulate the impending legal marijuana industry Monday. The measure now goes to the full city council. The rules spell out requirements for marijuana growers, manufacturers, and sellers, but don't yet address some of the thorniest issues, including licensing and public smoking laws.

San Francisco Looks to Delay Legal Marijuana Sales. City supervisors introduced an ordinance to regulate the impending legal marijuana industry Tuesday, but admitted they have no idea what regulation will look like or how it will operate. And the city won't issue permits for marijuana businesses until it gets it figured out. Among issues the supes will have to handle are ensuring they create a method for helping low-income residents, people of color, and former drug offenders get in on the action. A report on the equity program is due November 1. Earlier this month, supervisors enacted a 45-day moratorium on new dispensary permits, but that is likely to be extended into next year, beyond the hoped for January 1 starting date.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Florida Governor Calls for Restrictions on Opioid Prescribing. Gov. Rick Scott (R) on Tuesday rolled out a serious of proposals to deal with the opioid crisis, including a three-day limit on opioid prescriptions, requiring all doctors prescribing opioids to enroll in the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, and taking on unlicensed prescribers with new regulations. The governor's press release suggests the limitation on prescription opioids is a general one, not limited to new prescriptions or prescription for acute pain. If enacted, such a measure would cause huge disruptions for Floridians accustomed to receiving larger supplies for the treatment of chronic pain and other ailments.

Drug Policy

DEA Head Quits, Says Trump Has Little Respect for the Law. Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg will resign at the end of this week, law enforcement officials said. The unnamed sources said Rosenberg had become convinced that his boss, President Trump, had little respect for the rule of law. Trump's July Long Island speech where he urged police to "please don't be too nice" to suspects drew a rebuke from Rosenberg, and Rosenberg, who had been a chief of staff to Trump-fired former FBI Director James Comey, had reportedly grown "disillusioned" with the president.

International

Gunmen Kill 14 at Mexico Drug Rehab Center. Masked gunmen broke into the Familias Unidas drug rehab center in Chihuahua City Tuesday and shot 22 people, leaving 14 dead. The state is embroiled in violent conflict between the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels, and cartel hit-men are the leading suspects. Cartels have on some occasions used such centers as barracks for their soldiers, and they have been attacked by rival cartels before, most notably in Ciudad Juarez in 2009 and Torreon in 2011.

Drug Arrests, Marijuana Arrests Both Up Last Year, FBI Reports [FEATURE]

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

Despite spreading marijuana legalization and despite a growing desire for new directions in drug policy, the war on drugs continues unabated. According to the FBI's latest Uniform Crime Report, released Monday, overall drug arrests actually increased last year to 1.57 million, a jump of 5.63% over 2015. The increase includes marijuana arrests, which jumped by more than 75,000 last year compared to 2015, an increase of 12%.

The war on drugs rolls on. (Wikimedia)
That comes out to three drugs arrests every minute, day in and day out, throughout 2016. It's also more than three times the number of people arrested for violent crimes. Drug offenses are the single largest category of crimes for which people were arrested last year, more than burglaries, DUIs, or any other criminal offense.

Unlike previous years, this year's Uniform Crime Report did not immediately make available data on specific offenses, such as drug possession or drug sales, nor did it break arrests down by type of drug, but the Marijuana Policy Project obtained marijuana arrest data by contacting the FBI. It reported some 653,000 people arrested on marijuana charges last year, although the FBI did not provide data on how many were simple possession charges.

While that figure marks a decline from historic highs a decade ago -- pot arrests peaked at nearly 800,000 in 2007 -- the sharp jump in pot arrests last year demands explanation, especially as it comes after a decade of near continuous declining numbers.

"Arresting and citing nearly half a million people a year for a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol is a travesty," said MPP communications director Morgan Fox. "Despite a steady shift in public opinion away from marijuana prohibition, and the growing number of states that are regulating marijuana like alcohol, marijuana consumers continue to be treated like criminals throughout the country. This is a shameful waste of resources and can create lifelong consequences for the people arrested."

While the majority of drug (and other) arrests are conducted by local law enforcement, DEA helps, too. (justice.gov)
Despite the lack of specific offense data, 2016 is unlikely to turn out markedly different from previous years when it comes to the mix of drug arrests. Past years typically had simple drug possession offenses accounting for 85% to 90% of all drug arrests and small-time marijuana possession arrests accounting for around 40%.

That means that of the more than 1.5 million drug arrests last year, probably 1.3 million or so of them were not drug kingpins, major dealers, gangbangers, or cartel operatives. Instead they were people who got caught with small amounts of drugs for personal use.

"Criminalizing drug use has devastated families across the US, particularly in communities of color, and for no good reason," said Maria McFarland Sánchez Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Far from helping people who are struggling with addiction, the threat of arrest often keeps them from accessing health services and increases the risk of overdose or other harms."

Perpetuating the war on drugs leads not only to the criminalization of millions, but also perpetuates racially biased outcomes and heightens racial tensions in the US. Black people make up just 13% of the U.S. population and use drugs at similar rates to other ethnic groups, but they constitute 29% of all drug arrests and 35% of state drug war prisoners.

And it has a huge negative impact on immigrants, fueling mass detentions and deportations. Non-citizens, including legal permanent residents -- some of whom have been here for decades and have US citizen family members -- face deportation for even possessing any drug (except first-time possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana). Between 2007 and 2012, more than a quarter million people were deported for drug offenses, including more than 100,000 deported for simple drug possession.

Last year, the Obama administration was in power and setting the tone on drug policy and criminal justice matters -- and the number of arrests still went up. These disappointing numbers show that reformers have their work cut out for them all the more with the "tough on crime" Trump administration in power for at least the next few years.

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

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

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

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

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

Immigration

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

Law Enforcement

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

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

International

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

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

Chronicle AM: CVS to Limit Opioid 'Scrips, Sessions Slams Legal Pot (Again), More... (9/21/17)

The attorney general makes clear yet again that he doesn't like legal weed, a Kentucky court throws out a medical marijuana lawsuit, one of the nation's largest pharmacy chains is moving to tighten up on opioid prescriptions, Rodrigo Duterte is ready to kill his own kid for the sake of the drug war, and more.

Attorney General Sessions reprises a favorite theme even as his underlings ponder what to do about legal cannabis. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Sessions Attacks Marijuana Legalization Again. "I've never felt that we should legalize marijuana," Sessions said Wednesday in San Diego in remarks reported by Reuters. "It doesn't strike me that the country would be better if it's being sold at every street corner," he added, noting that it remains prohibited under federal law. But despite the attorney general's repeated anti-legalization comments, the Justice Department has yet to move seriously against states where it is legal. Last week, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the Cole memo, which set the Obama administration's largely laissez-faire policy toward legal pot states, is now under review.

Maine Legislators Propose Online and Drive-Through Pot Sales. Proposed regulations from the legislature's marijuana committee would let adults buy pot over the Internet and at drive-through windows at licensed pot shops. The rules are not yet set, however, and opponents are seeking to tighten access. Stay tuned.

Las Vegas Gets First 24-Hour Pot Shop. The city council voted unanimously Wednesday to allow a pot shop, Oasis Cannabis, to stay open 24 hours a day. It will be the first 24/7 pot shop to be located near the Strip, but other pot shops in nearby North Las Vegas are already open around the clock. In approving the move, the council overrode its own city code, which requires pot businesses to shut down between 3:00am and 6:00am.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Court Dismisses Lawsuit Aimed at Governor, Attorney General. A lawsuit filed against Gov. Matt Bevin (R) and Attorney General Andy Beshear (D) seeking to force them to legalize medical marijuana in the state was thrown out Wednesday. A Franklin circuit court judge ruled that legal precedent makes it clear that only the legislature can regulate the use of marijuana in the state -- not the executive branch and not the courts.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

CVS to Limit Opioid Prescriptions in Bid to Address Crisis. The national drug store chain announced Thursday it will take steps to limit initial prescriptions to seven-day supplies for new patients facing acute pain. It will instruct pharmacists to contact prescribing doctors if they see prescriptions with what they believe are more opioids than necessary. The chain will also cap daily dosages and require new patients to get medications that offer short-period pain relief instead of longer duration ones. CVS did not address how the moves would impact patients suffering from chronic pain.

Nevada Governor Sets Opioid Task Force Meeting. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) has announced that the state's task force on opioid abuse is set to meet Monday. He said the task force will hear updates from state and federal agencies on their progress in fighting opioid abuse. The task force has already made the overdose reversal drug naloxone available to first responders, Sandoval noted.

Asset Forfeiture

lIllinois Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) signed House Bill 303 into law on Tuesday. The new law does not end civil asset forfeiture, but raises the bar for seizures, mandates the collection and reporting of seizure data, and imposes new sanctions for abuse or violations of asset forfeiture rules. Under the new law, the government's burden of proof standard rises from probable cause to a preponderance of the evidence. The law also provides that possession of small amounts of drugs will no longer be a legal basis for forfeiture.

International

Duterte Tells Cops to Kill His Own Son if Drug Smuggling Rumors Are True. In a not very reassuring effort to demonstrate that his own family is not above the law, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said in a speech Wednesday that police could kill his children if they prove to be involved in drugs. The remarks came amid reports that his 42-year-old son Paolo was involved in drug smuggling. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Duterte said he warned his son: "My orders are to kill you if you are caught, and I will protect the police who kill you." That way, people wouldn't think the first family was getting special treatment. "That's better ... so I can say to the people: "There, you keep talking. That's my son's corpse,' he said.

Drug War Issues

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