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Chronicle AM: FDA Grants "Breakthrough Therapy" Status for Psilocybin, MI Pot Poll, More... (10/29/18)

The Michigan marijuana initiative still has a healthy lead as Election Day nears, the FDA has granted "breakthrough therapy" status for psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression, and more.

The FDA thinks there could be something magic in these mushrooms. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Legalization Initiative With Comfortable Lead. A new Detroit Free Press poll has the Proposal 1 legalization initiative favored by a margin of 57% to 41%. That's nearly unchanged from the previous Detroit Free Press poll in September, which had the issue winning 56% to 41%. "Even though there are some law-enforcement groups and others that are putting out information against the proposal, it seems to have pretty solid support," the pollsters noted. "There has always been a perception that there are far too many people in jail for a minimal amount of use and that it prohibits the police from spending time on more serious crimes."

Michigan Marijuana Foes Spending Big Bucks. The organized opposition to Proposal 1, known as Healthy and Productive Michigan, has collected more than $1 million in the past quarter, nearly double the $529,000 raised by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Coalition, which is leading the "yes" campaign. The opposition still has $600,000 in the bank, which it is using for a series of cable TV ads. But the polling suggests the ads aren't working. Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) ponied up more than $600,000 to defeat the measure, while executives from DTE Energy have donated more than $300,000.

Oregon County's Lawsuit Challenging State Legalization Thrown Out. A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit from Josephine County contending that federal law criminalizing marijuana preempts the state's law allowing commercial production and sales. US District Court Judge Michael McShane ruled last Thursday that cities and counties don't have standing to sue a state in federal court. The county has not yet decided whether it will appeal the ruling.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Celebrate First Day of Legal Sales. The Sooner State saw its first legal medical marijuana dispensary sales last Friday. Some 600 dispensary licenses have already been approved, but only a handful of stores were actually open on opening day. That will change in the coming months.

Psychedelics

FDA Grants "Breakthrough Therapy" Status for Psilocybin to Treat Depression. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Breakthrough Therapy status to psilocybin -- the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms -- for use in treating depression after early experimental results showed promise. The designation allows the FDA to expedite research and review of psilocybin-based treatments. It is aimed specifically at a Phase IIb trial currently underway investigating the optimal dose range for psilocybin used for severe treatment-resistant depression.

Medical Marijuana Update

Arizona's attorney general backs away from arguing that hash is not medical marijuana, the Indiana legislature balks on medical marijuana, Missouri medical marijuana initiatives have raised big bucks, and more.

Arizona

Arizona Attorney General Withdraws Arguments Saying Hash Isn't Medical Marijuana. Citing fears of unintended consequences for patients, Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) on Monday withdrew his agency's arguments that the state's medical marijuana law doesn't include hashish. The state was responding to an appeal by a medical marijuana patient who was convicted of a felony for possessing 0.05 ounces of hash. "The last thing the attorney general wants is to deny medicine to legitimate patients that may be ingesting their marijuana an in extract or a tincture-type of a form," said his spokesman Ryan Anderson.

Indiana

Indiana Study Committee Doesn't Recommend Medical Marijuana Legalization. After hearing hours of testimony Thursday, the legislature's GOP-dominated interim study committee on public health rejected a recommendation to the full legislature that medical marijuana be legalized to treat chronic health conditions. The committee also rejected any further study of medical marijuana. But one Republican lawmaker, state Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour) said he planned to file a medical marijuana bill next year anyway. "I'm going to make it my mission as a legislator, as a fellow Hoosier, to make sure that this issue moves forward," Lucas said.

Missouri

Missouri Medical Marijuana Initiatives Raised Big Bucks. Two of the three medical marijuana initiatives appearing on the November ballot have successfully raised large amounts of money for their campaigns. New Approach Missouri, the group behind Amendment 2, has raised more than $1.3 million, including $285,000 from Drug Policy Action, the advocacy arm of the Drug Policy Alliance. Amendment 2 would impose a 4% on medical marijuana sales. Find the Cures, the group behind Amendment 3, which would impose a 15% tax, has raised more than $1.7 million, with $1 million coming from Springfield lawyer and physician Brad Bradshaw, who heads a board that would license medical marijuana businesses.

New Jersey

New Jersey Ponders Allowing Medical Marijuana to Treat Opioid Addiction. The state Health Department has proposed a rule change that would make medical marijuana available to potentially thousands of opioid users. "Physicians should consider marijuana as another appropriate treatment for patients with many medical conditions, especially diseases for which conventional therapies aren't working for their patients," Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the state health commissioner, said in a statement. Current rules allow only people who became addicted to opioids while trying to manage chronic pain from a musculoskeletal to qualify for medical marijuana, but the proposed new rule would allow anyone with an opioid use disorder to use it.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: Opioid Overdoses Decline, But Cocaine ODs at Record High, CDC Reports, More... (10/24/18)

The CDC's latest drug overdose numbers are out, Arizona's attorney general retreats on hashish, the Justice Department clears the way for harm reduction measures at music venues, and more.

Overall drug overdose deaths are finally declining, but cocaine deaths are rising, the CDC reports. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Delayed Again, New Target is By Year's End. Top lawmakers now say they are no longer aiming at approving marijuana legalization by October 29, but are now looking at doing so before year's end. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Woodstown) and state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) say they still need to iron out differences with Gov. Phil Murphy (D). It's not clear what those differences are.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Attorney General Withdraws Arguments Saying Hash Isn't Medical Marijuana. Citing fears of unintended consequences for patients, Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) on Monday withdrew his agency's arguments that the state's medical marijuana law doesn't include hashish. The state was responding to an appeal by a medical marijuana patient who was convicted of a felony for possessing 0.05 ounces of hash. "The last thing the attorney general wants is to deny medicine to legitimate patients that may be ingesting their marijuana an in extract or a tincture-type of a form," said his spokesman Ryan Anderson.

Cocaine

Cocaine Overdose Deaths at Record High, CDC Reports. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 14,205 Americans died of overdoses involving cocaine in the past 12 months, an all-time high. The country is awash in Colombian cocaine after two years of large coca crops there, but the CDC also warned that more and more cocaine is being laced with fentanyl, which is likely driving up overdoses.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Opioid Overdose Deaths Finally Declining, CDC Reports. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that from April 2017 to March 2018, the number of fatal opioid overdoses declined by 2.3 percent compared to the 12 months ending in September 2017. "There are two major takeaways," said Leo Beletsky, a drug policy expert at Boston-based Northeastern University. "One is that we are not out of the woods yet, since these rates are still sky high. [And] we need to be doing much more of what works to get the rates down further."

President Trump Signs Opioid Package Today; Drug Policy Alliance Responds. President Trump Wednesday signed into law the omnibus opioid package aimed at curbing the overdose crisis. The package is the product of bipartisan efforts to pass opioid legislation in both the House and Senate in recent months. "This legislation takes some critical steps toward making lifesaving medication-assisted treatment more accessible, but should be seen as only one small step toward addressing overdose deaths rather than a comprehensive plan," said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Missing from the package is a sustained commitment from Congress and the Administration to deliver funding for evidence-based treatments, like methadone and buprenorphine, at the levels needed to meet the demand. For decades our nation's treatment infrastructure has been short-changed, while billions of dollars have been poured into arresting and incarcerating people who use drugs. Trump's opioid package doesn't even begin to close this gap. The opioid package could do much more to expand life-saving tools, like naloxone distribution and supervised consumption services. While Congress should be applauded for not including new mandatory-minimum sentences in this package, it doesn't reflect the kind of bold and innovative action needed to address the crisis."

Harm Reduction

Justice Department Clarifies That Harm Reduction Measures at Music Events Don't Violate Federal Drug Laws. The Justice Department has conceded that the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation (IDAP) Act of 2003, which aims to punish people who operate facilities that knowingly allow or facilitate drug use, does not prevent venue owners from providing harm reduction services at their events. The clarification came after Virginia US Sens. Tim Kaine (D) and Mark Warner (D), acting on the request of harm reduction activist Deirdre Goldsmith, whose daughter died of heat stroke after taking MDMA, asked the DOJ to clarify.

Chronicle AM: Gallup Has MJ Legalization at 66%, UN Drug War "A Failure," Report Says, More... (10/23/18)

A new Gallup poll shows still rising support for marijuana legalization, a new report from the IDPC calls for a radical shift in UN drug control policies, Bangladesh moves toward passing a bill mandating the death penalty or life in prison for even possessing small amounts of some drugs, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll: Two in Three Americans Now Support Legalizing Marijuana. Sixty-six percent of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, another new high in Gallup's trend over nearly half a century. The latest figure marks the third consecutive year that support on the measure has increased and established a new record. The poll is in line with other recent polls that have shown support for marijuana legalization above 60%. Gallup found last year that a slim majority of Republicans supported legal marijuana for the first time, and this year's figure, 53%, suggests continued Republican support. Views that pot should be legalized have also reached new peaks this year among Democrats (75%) and independents (71%). Democrats reached majority-level support for legalization in 2009, and independents did so in 2010.

North Dakota Poll Has Legalization Initiative Leading. A poll commissioned by LegalizeND, the group behind the Measure 3 legalization initiative, has support for the measure at 51%, with 36% opposed. The poll has a 4.9% margin of error, so support could actually be under 50%. What is encouraging is that undecideds would have to break pretty decisively against the measure for it to be defeated.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Ponders Allowing Medical Marijuana to Treat Opioid Addiction. The state Health Department has proposed a rule change that would make medical marijuana available to potentially thousands of opioid users. "Physicians should consider marijuana as another appropriate treatment for patients with many medical conditions, especially diseases for which conventional therapies aren't working for their patients," Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the state health commissioner, said in a statement. Current rules allow only people who became addicted to opioids while trying to manage chronic pain from a musculoskeletal to qualify for medical marijuana, but the proposed new rule would allow anyone with an opioid use disorder to use it.

International

Report Calls UN's Global War on Drugs a Failure. A major new report from the International Drug Policy Consortium says the last decade of UN anti-drug strategy has been a failure and calls for a major rethinking of global drug policy. The report argues that the UN's "war on drugs" approach has had little impact on global drug supply while generating significant negative impacts on public health, human rights, security, and development. "This report is another nail in the coffin for the war on drugs," said Ann Fordham, the Executive Director of IDPC, in a prepared statement. "The fact that governments and the UN do not see fit to properly evaluate the disastrous impact of the last ten years of drug policy is depressingly unsurprising. Governments will meet next March at the UN and will likely rubber-stamp more of the same for the next decade in drug policy. This would be a gross dereliction of duty and a recipe for more blood spilled in the name of drug control." [Disclosure: StoptheDrugWar.org is an IDPC member group and provided feedback for the report.]

Canada's Ontario to Move Forward on Safe Injection Sites. The provincial government has decided to keep its overdose prevention sites open and repurpose them as "consumption and treatment centers," Health Minister Christine Elliott announced Monday. Premier Doug Ford had been opposed but said he would listen to advice from experts. Apparently, he has. Overdose-prevention sites are temporary facilities approved by the province to address an immediate need in a community, while supervised-drug-use sites are more permanent locations approved by the federal government after a more extensive application process.

Vanuatu to Legalize Medical Marijuana. The Republic of Vanuatu, a 277,000-person South Pacific nation, has taken the first step toward legalized medical marijuana. "I confirm that the council of ministers on Sept. 20 passed a policy paper to change the laws of Vanuatu to permit the cultivation and use of cannabis for medicinal and research purposes in Vanuatu by licensed parties," Vus Warorcet Nohe Ronald Warsal, the country's acting deputy prime minister and minister for trade, tourism, commerce, and Ni-Vanuatu business, said in a letter. The government will present legislation to the parliament later this year, with licenses expected to be issued by December.

Bangladesh Moves Forward With Death Penalty Drug Bill. The government has sent to parliament a bill that contains provisions mandating the death penalty or a life sentence for possessing, producing, or distributing more than five grams of methamphetamine or more than 25 grams of heroin and cocaine. Under current law, there is no provision for the death penalty or life sentence for heroin and cocaine offenses.

Chronicle AM: Canada's Era of Legal Weed Begins, VT Council Rejects Safe Injection Sites, More... (10/17/18)

Marijuana is now legal in Canada, the Canadian government moves to allow pardons for people busted with small amounts of it, a Vermont governor's council rejects safe injection sites, and more.

Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Legalization Opponents Get Big Out-of-State Bucks. Opponents of the Measure 3 legalization initiative are far out-fundraising proponents, thanks almost entirely to an out-of-state anti-marijuana group and in-state business groups. The anti-legalization SAM (Smart About Marijuana) has provided 100% of the funding for Healthy and Productive North Dakota, giving more than $50,000 in cash and more than $100,000 in in-kind donations, while a second anti-pot political action committee, North Dakotans Against the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana, has raised more than $116,000 from in-state business groups and political figures. Pro-legalization PACS have received only about $10,000 in cash and $14,000 in in-kind donations, with over half the cash coming from donations of under $100.

Harm Reduction

Vermont Governor's Opioid Council Rejects Safe Injection Sites. Gov. Phil Scott's (R) Opioid Coordination Council released a report Monday in which it says that the risks of operating a safe injection site outweigh any potential benefits of reducing overdoses and getting more people in treatment. Safe injection sites are "not a viable option for Vermont," the report says. "They are illegal under federal law and highly controversial. Cost-effectiveness and neighborhood impacts are unknown. Most importantly, they have an unproven track record of harm reduction and for providing a pathway to treatment." Some state officials support safe injection sites, but the council concluded that more study on the sites' effectiveness is needed.

International

Canada Legalizes Marijuana Today. Legal marijuana sales and commerce began in Canada today, just four months after the parliament approved marijuana legalization legislation. The first sale was made at 12:01am in Newfoundland. Canada becomes the second nation to free the weed, after Uruguay, and the largest national legal marijuana market. (It's still smaller than the legal market in the US state of California.)

Canada Will Pardon People Busted With Less Than 30 Grams of Marijuana. As the country enters the era of legal marijuana, the government is moving to pardon people who were arrested for possession of less than 30 grams of weed -- the amount now legal for personal possession.  People seeking pardons will have to apply for them. 

How This Red State's Cruel Meth Laws Are Putting Women Behind Bars in Record Numbers [FEATURE]

Like other Great Plains states, South Dakota has a methamphetamine problem. But it's becoming increasingly evident that South Dakota also has a problem with the way it deals with meth.

South Dakota women's prison in Pierre (KELO-TV screen grab)
Because of its strict drug laws, the state is seeing a dramatic spike in women being sent to prison for meth. According to a new report from the nonprofit South Dakota News Watch, the number of women in prison in the state has jumped 35 percent since 2013, while the male prison population has increased at only one-quarter of that rate. Nearly two-thirds of all women prisoners in the state are there for nonviolent drug offenses. The state now has the fourth-highest incarceration rate for women in the country, trailing only Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Kentucky.

Overall, about one-third of all inmates in the state are doing time for drug-related offenses, the majority of them for simple drug possession. That's a higher percentage than most other states, where drug offenders tend to make up somewhere around 20 to 25 percent of the inmate population.

The high drug-related incarceration overall and for women in particular stems less from the prevalence of drug use than from the conservative, largely rural state's reaction to it. South Dakota has not responded to decades of failed war on drug policies by reforming them, but by doubling down on them.

The state has not moved toward the defelonization of drug possession, as at least 16 others have. Instead, it has moved in the opposite direction. South Dakota has mandatory sentencing laws that include prison for not only for the manufacture and distribution of meth but also for simple possession.

State lawmakers and cops have long favored tough drug laws, and they are still at it. This year, state Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) guided bills through the legislature that heighten penalties for meth dealing and increase sentences for dealers whose clients overdose and die.

But the state's most notorious and contentious drug law -- bone that is sending hundreds of people to prison -- is the state's "possession by ingestion" statute. Otherwise known as an "internal possession" law, the statute allows for a felony conviction if a drug test reveals the presence of illicit drugs in a suspect's system. (The law also applies to marijuana, but the penalty for testing positive for pot is only a misdemeanor.)

The strictest in the nation, that law was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2004. Last year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers filed a measure that would have slightly tweaked the law by removing marijuana, but that bill was killed by a unanimous vote in the first committee that heard it.

As of August, about nine percent of the male prison population and an astonishing 21 percent of the female prison population was doing time for unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance. That's right: More than one out of five women prisoners in South Dakota is behind prison bars for nothing more than having used drugs.

South Dakota law enforcement and lawmakers may be happy with the status quo, but the man who actually runs the prison system isn't. State Corrections Secretary Denny Kaemingk told South Dakota News Watch that the cops' and courts' proclivity for busting and imprisoning women on drug charges is creating an expensive and ineffective cycle of imprisonment, release, and recidivism.

"We seem to think that locking individuals up is going to solve their addiction problem," said Kaemingk, a former drug officer. "They're coming to us in corrections and we're thinking that solves the problem, and I think in many cases it makes the problem worse."

Criminalizing addiction, especially among women who are mothers, Kraemingk said, creates a situation where the children are more likely to end up in prison themselves. He pointed to national studies showing that up to 80 percent of children who have parents behind bars will end up there themselves.

"Imprisonment in South Dakota is generational," Kaemingk said. "The females behind prison walls have experienced that as a child. The generation we have back there now as inmates experienced the same things when they were children."

Kraemingk and other relatively enlightened actors in the state are pushing for enhanced treatment opportunities and expanding drug courts, among other measures, to better deal with the situation, but nobody seems to be talking about not involving these women in the criminal justice system in the first place. A first step would be getting rid of that hideous "possession by ingestion" statute. The next step would be defelonization or outright decriminalization of drug possession in the state. Drug use absent harm to others should not be the state's business.

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

Chronicle AM: New DOJ Task Force to Target Cartels, CA Pain Summit Next Month, More... (10/16/18)

The Justice Department creates a new anti-cartel task force, a California summit will address issues around chronic pain and the war on drugs, the New York Assembly holds a hearing on marijuana legalization, and more.

Attorney General Sessions (R) wants more, better drug war aimed at cartels and MS-13. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New York State Assembly Holds Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. Four legislative committees held a joint hearing on marijuana legalization in Albany Tuesday. The hearing covered how marijuana should be legalized, taxed, and regulated. The hearing comes ahead of next year's legislative session when lawmakers are expected to take up proposals to legalize the herb.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Will Let Dispensaries Post Price Information. State officials announced late last week that medical marijuana dispensaries can post their product prices online, so now patients can shop around and be better-informed consumers. "Medical marijuana patients should benefit from online price information just as shoppers do when they buy a car, a plane ticket or any other consumer goods," Department of Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal said in a statement. Listing prices is not mandatory, however.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

California Pain Summit Set for Next Month. Over a hundred California physicians, administrators, policymakers, and advocates will be meeting at the For Grace's Change Agent Pain Summit in Los Angeles on November 2. For Grace is a group devoted to dealing with women's issues around pain. The aim of the summit is to create a patient-centered state-level pain policy is to localize key recommendations from the National Institutes of Health's National Pain Strategy in the Golden State. Among those attending will be Diane Hoffman, director of the Law and Health Care Program and Jacob A. France Professor of Health Care Law at the University of Maryland. "There's an imbalance in our drug control laws and policies between treating pain and reducing drug diversion and addiction. And it's hurting pain patients," said Hoffman. "The efforts to restrict prescribing and eliminate Medicaid coverage of opioids, like what has been proposed in Oregon and the outright abandonment of patients is outrageous. We need more leadership from the medical community," she added.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Creates New Task Force Targeting Cartels, MS-13. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced at a Washington conference Monday that the Justice Department has created a new task for aimed at breaking three Mexican drug cartels and the MS-13 street gang. Sessions described the groups, along with Hezbollah, as top transnational organized crime threats and said DOJ would "develop a plan to take each of these groups off the streets for good." The three cartels named are the Sinaloa Cartel, the New Generation Jalisco Cartel, and the Gulf Clan. All of this because the last half-century of drug prohibition has worked so well.

New Jersey Legislative Committee Advances Parole System Reform. The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee voted 4-3 Monday to advance a bill, Assembly Bill 1986, which rewards good behavior and encourages rehabilitation by allowing for the release of low-risk individuals from prison after they have served their basic sentence, provided they commit no serious disciplinary infractions while incarcerated and participate in rehabilitation programs.

Chronicle AM: PA US Attorney's SIJ Warning, Malaysia MedMJ Death Penalty Lifted, More... (10/15/2018)

The US Attorney for Eastern Pennsylvania tries to scare away a proposed safe injection site in Philadelphia, Malaysia's cabinet puts a "moratorium" on the death sentence for a medical marijuana provider -- and the country is likely to end the death penalty as a whole because of the case -- and more.

The specter of a safe injection like Vancouver's InSite in Philadelphia garners a warning from the federal prosecutor. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Regulators Put Temporary Hold on Pot Candy Ban. The State Liquor and Control Board last week announced a ban on certain marijuana-infused candies, but now says it will hold off on the ban for a month in order to allow marijuana industry groups to present alternative rules. The board will now accept public comment for 30 days before taking up the ban again.

Wisconsin Senate Candidates Clash Over Marijuana Policy. US Senator Tammy Baldwin (D) and her Republican challenger, Leah Vukmir, clashed over marijuana policy during a debate Saturday night. Baldwin said she would support changing marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II to allow the drug to be researched for medical purposes. Vukmir responded by that it was "concerning" that Baldwin would support legalization (Editor's Note: She didn't). She also called marijuana highly addictive and suggested it would worsen the opioid crisis.

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia US Attorney Warns on Safe Injection Sites. The US attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, William McSwain, warned Saturday against the city moving forward with plans for a safe injection site. "This sort of facility that is being proposed is illegal under federal law," he said. He added that his office is reviewing possible options to stop it, including court orders, blocking the opening of the facility, and even possibly arrests and prosecutions. "Nobody is above the law -- and by that I mean nobody," McSwain said. "I mean the leaders who would be involved in setting up this proposed deadly drug-injection site, the board members… the city officials who would be involved in supporting it, the medical personnel who might be staffing it or the folks who might be using the drugs."

International

Malaysia Medical Marijuana Distributor Death Sentence on Hold as Case Prompts Likely End to Death Penalty Entirely. The Malaysian cabinet has agreed to place a moratorium on the death sentence for Muhammed Lukman, who was convicted of possessing, processing, and distributing cannabis oil. "As a consensus, we agreed that it (death penalty) should not have been imposed. At the same time, we have also agreed to put a moratorium on his death penalty," Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq told reporters.

But that's not all. The case has catalyzed a likely end to the death penalty in Malaysia entirely, with political figures up through the Prime Minister calling for it. Saddiq said about the issue, "[I]t's two accounts. One is the death penalty as a whole, which will be taken down. And second, at the same time, the usage of medical marijuana should never be punished by death penalty." He also said the Cabinet had agreed that patients who used medical marijuana should never be punished by the law.

Lukman was arrested in December 2015 for possessing 3.1 liters of cannabis oil, 279 grams of compressed cannabis, and 1.4 kilograms of "substance containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)."

(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 website. 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: US Clarifies Canada Pot Worker Entry, Rendell Defends Safe Injection Sites, More... (10/11/18)

The US has clarified that Canadiana marijuana workers and investors can enter the US but not engage in business here, New Jersey's governor says a vote on marijuana legalization will happen before month's end, Pennsylvania's former governor sticks up for safe injection sites, and more.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy says legislature should vote on legalization October 29. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Signs Bill Banning CBD Cocktails and Beverages. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed into law Assembly Bill 2914, which prohibits the sale of CBD beverages and alcoholic drinks. "This bill would prohibit an alcoholic beverage licensee from, at its licensed premises, selling, offering, or providing cannabis or cannabis products, including an alcoholic beverage that contains cannabis or cannabis products, and would provide that no alcoholic beverage shall be manufactured, sold, or offered for sale if it contains tetrahydrocannabinol or cannabinoids, regardless of source," says a legislative summary.

New Jersey Governor Says Legalization Coming at End of Month. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) says he and the legislature are looking at October 29 as the date the legislature will pass a bill legalizing marijuana. One issue yet to be settled, though, is how much to tax legal pot. Still, Murphy said, October 29 "feels about right."

Drug Testing

Pennsylvania Representative Proposes Bill to Add Drug Testing of Legislators to Bill to Drug Test Welfare Recipients. Philadelphia County Rep. Angel Cruz (D) has filed House Bill 620 as an amendment to Senate Bill 6. The Senate bill would mandate drug testing of welfare recipients; Cruz's bill would mandate drug testing of legislators. "If it's good for one, it's good for all," said Cruz. "The lawmakers are the lawmakers, and we're not above the law."

Foreign Policy

US Clarifies Policy on Entry of Canadian Marijuana Industry Workers. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has clarified its position on whether Canadians involved in the legal marijuana industry can enter the US. "A Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the US for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the US," CBP said Tuesday. But there is a big but: "[I]f a traveler is found to be coming to the US for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible," CBD said.

Harm Reduction

Former Pennsylvania Governor Challenges DOJ on Threats to Prosecute Safe Injection Site Operators. Former Gov. Ed Rendell (D) is not backing away from supporting a Philadelphia safe injection site despite threats from Justice Department Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Rendell sits on the board of a nonprofit to run such a facility, and he said that if the Justice Department wants to crack down on the harm reduction move, it should start with him: "I have a message for Mr. Rosenstein: I'm the incorporator of the safe injection site nonprofit and they can come and arrest me first," Rendell said.

ACLU Files Lawsuit Against San Francisco Cops for Targeting African-Americans in Drug Busts [FEATURE]

San Francisco's Tenderloin is a heavily populated, racially mixed neighborhood in the heart of one of America's iconic progressive cities. Yet when the San Francisco Police Department and the DEA targeted the neighborhood to crack down on drug dealing between 2013 and 2015 as part of "Operation Safe Schools," the only people they managed to roll up were black.

hustling in the Tenderloin (SFPD surveillance video screen grab)
When 37 black defendants -- and no defendants of any other race -- got hauled away, nobody noticed. That is until the defendants started showing up looking for federal public defenders. The federal public defenders noticed, and they began making noise about racial disparities and selective enforcement of the drug laws.

Their charges only grew louder with the posting in 2015 of undercover police surveillance video to YouTube revealing a police officer muttering "fucking BMs," police code for black males, as he monitored a group of young men on the street. The video also apparently showed an undercover informant turning down drugs being offered by an Asian woman to instead buy drugs from a black woman.

In January 2017, 12 of those charged in the operation won a discovery motion from a judge who found there was "substantial evidence suggestive of racially selective enforcement" in their arrests. Instead of allowing the proceedings to continue so a full accounting of police conduct could occur, prosecutors instead dropped the charges.

At the time, the presiding judge, US District Court Judge Edward Chen, made clear that while he was granting the dismissals because they were in the best interest of the defendants, he was concerned that doing so would prevent the allegations of police bias from being aired.

"These are serious issues, serious allegations regarding claims of discriminatory enforcement patterns," Chen said. "I think the defendants in this case have raised a very substantial prima facie case that, at the very least, raises some serious questions that would warrant a response and a full airing of the issues."

Now, a year and a half later, the ACLU of Northern California on Thursday filed a federal civil lawsuit on behalf of six of those rolled up in the busts. The lawsuit alleges the plaintiffs were targeted because of their race and cites a survey of Tenderloin drug users to bolster its case. That survey found racial diversity among Tenderloin drug sellers. About half were black, but 20 percent were Latino and 17 percent were white.

The lawsuit is "an opportunity to hold the actors in the San Francisco Police Department and the city itself accountable for the police department's longstanding practices of engaging in racially discriminatory law enforcement," said ACLU attorney Novella Coleman, who is representing the plaintiffs.

It's also about financial relief for the plaintiffs, Coleman allowed. "The court will determine how to monetize that," she said.

Not an Anomaly

Racially biased policing is nothing new in San Francisco. In fact, as Ezekiel Edwards, director of the national ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project, pointed out in a post announcing the lawsuit, the city has the dubious honor of setting precedent for the idea that law enforcement targeting people based on their race is unconstitutional. In an 1886 case, Yick Wo v. Hopkins, the city attempted to deny laundry permits to Chinese people while granting them to non-Chinese. Such an action could only be explained by the city's "hostility to the race and nationality" of the applicants, a violation of the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and the evidence that the city's penchant for targeting non-whites for harsher treatment remains intact just keeps piling up. Numerous studies in the past few years have documented racially biased policing practices, including a 2002 ACLU report on SFPD racial profiling and a city-commissioned study by a national expert on biased policing.

Those studies uncovered a range of bias-related problems and made concrete recommendations for reform. Those were ignored. As the rotten policing practices festered, more reports detailing racial and ethnic disparities across the criminal justice system came out in 2013 and 2015.

Then, in 2015, as "Operation Safe Schools" was winding down, SFPD was hit by a new scandal when officers were caught exchanging racist text messages. Some used the N-word, others referenced cross burnings. Officers were caught calling black residents "savages," "wild animals," and "barbarians," and one officer told his sergeant "All n[ -- ] must fucking hang." Another officer sent a text with an image of a white man spraying a black child with a hose above the caption "Go be a n -- somewhere else."

That finally got the attention of city fathers -- as well as the Obama-era Justice Department. The city district attorney convened a Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement that documented SFPD's history of racially disparate enforcement and concluded that it was "in urgent need of important reforms." In 2016, the Justice Department weighed in with its own report finding that the department still engaged in racially biased policing, especially around traffic stops and police use of deadly force.

It's Not Just San Francisco

The ACLU's Edwards concisely makes the case that San Francisco is no exception when it comes to racially biased policing:

"Unequal treatment by race is commonplace among police departments large and small in cities across a range of ideological leanings. This is the reason for the racial profiling lawsuits filed in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Maricopa County, Arizona. This is the motivation, prior to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for Justice Department consent decrees seeking to end racially discriminatory police practices in Seattle, Los Angeles County, New Orleans, Baltimore, Newark, East Haven CT and Ferguson MO. This is why the ACLU has found racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests across the country, in drug possession arrests more broadly, in stops and frisks in Boston, in seatbelt enforcement in Florida, and in arrests for low-level offenses in Minneapolis."

When will things ever change?

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

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