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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drug Policy

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

Law Enforcement

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

Sentencing

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Law Enforcement

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

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

Outrageous Massachusetts Drug Bill Would Send You to Prison and Steal Your Car -- No Drugs Needed

p>With the support of state law enforcement, a Massachusetts Democratic state representative has filed a drug war bill that would send violators to prison for a mandatory minimum two years (five years for a second offense) and allow police to seize their vehicles -- all without the presence of any actual drugs.

Sponsored by Rep. Stephan Hay (D-Fitchfield), the measure, House Bill 1266, makes it a crime to have a hidden compartment in one's vehicle or to try to add one -- and it presumes that any hidden compartment in a vehicle is for "for the purpose of transporting or distributing controlled substances" and related contraband, such as cash or weapons. As the bill specifies in its asset forfeiture section:

Proof that a conveyance contains a hidden compartment as defined in this section shall be prima facie evidence that the conveyance was used intended for use in and for the business of unlawfully manufacturing, dispensing, or distributing controlled substances.

This is a legislative attempt to redefine reality in the name of drug war priorities akin to South Dakota's law deeming meth use or possession by a parent as child abuse. Despite that law, meth use is not child abuse, although it could lead to it. Similarly, having a hidden compartment in a car does not mean one is involved in trafficking, although one could be. But in both cases, legislators seek to twist reality to sync with prohibitionist -- and punitive -- ideology.

Only one state, Ohio, has a similar law on the books, and it has only been used once, but that one instance should be disturbing. In 2013, state troopers stopped Norman Gurley and discovered a secret compartment in his vehicle. They found absolutely no drugs but arrested him anyway on charges he broke the secret compartment law. That case briefly became a national news sensation before fading into obscurity, but it still lives: Gurley is set for a jury trial in December.

Police in Massachusetts are supporting this bill not only because it gives them one more tool in their war on drugs, but also because they get to keep any cars they seize. Massachusetts has the worst civil asset forfeiture laws in the country, and unlike states that are lining up to end forfeitures without a criminal conviction, as neighboring Connecticut did this week, cops only need to reach the threshold of probable cause that someone's cash or car or other property is related to a crime to seize it. This bill would make it all the easier, and they wouldn't even need to find any drugs.

Chronicle AM: NH Decrim Bill Advances, VT Legalization Bill Passes House, More... (5/3/17)

The long slog toward marijuana law reform continues in New Hampshire and Vermont, a Maine bill would ban kratom, Tom Marino is reportedly out as drug czar, and more.

Maine could join the handful of states that have banned kratom. (Project CBD)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Advances. After years of rejecting marijuana law reforms, the state Senate is advancing a decriminalization bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved House Bill 640 on a 3-2 vote. The bill would decriminalize the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of weed. The bill has already passed the House, but the House version decriminalized up to an ounce.

Oregon Bill to Protect Workers Who Use Marijuana Dies. A bill that would have ended workplace marijuana drug testing has died in the Senate after backers conceded they did not have the votes to pass it. Senate Bill 301 would have required employers from testing workers for any drug that is legal in the state, as long as it was consumed outside of work hours and didn't interfere with the workers' duties. The bill was opposed by business groups.

Vermont House Passes Legalization Bill, But… The House on Tuesday approved a bill to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana -- though not its sale -- but the bill is not expected to advance further this year. House Bill 170 passed on a 74-68 vote, but only after fending off attempts to send it back to committee and to weaken it. The bill also allows for the cultivation of two mature or four immature plants. The Senate has passed its own, more far-reaching legalization bill, which includes tax and regulate, but an amendment that would have brought the House bill in line with the Senate bill was defeated 42-99. The legislative session ends Saturday, and it is not expected that a compromise can be reached by then, but lawmakers can consider bills passed this session next year during the second half of the legislative biennium.

Kratom

Maine Bill Would Ban Kratom. A bill that would make kratom a controlled substance in the same schedule as cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin has been filed in the state legislature. Senate Bill1546 was introduced last week and is now before the Joint Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Asset Forfeiture

Colorado Lawmakers Back With New Asset Forfeiture Bill. Senate Republicans killed a civil asset forfeiture reform bill earlier this session, but now a bipartisan group of lawmakers are back with a new bill, House Bill 1313, which has been modified to address the concerns of law enforcement and prosecutors, who opposed the earlier bill. The new bill cuts in half the $100,000 threshold that barred local law enforcement from partnering with the feds in order to get the bulk of seized goods. It also imposes reporting requirements on seizures. The bill won preliminary approval in the House on Tuesday.

Drug Policy

Donald Trump Will NOT Name Tom Marino Drug Czar. According to news reports, President Donald Trump will not be nominating Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to be director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (colloquially referred to as the "drug czar"). His nomination was opposed by the Drug Policy Alliance, which launched a campaign to prevent Marino from being nominated. Marino's nomination seemed all but certain just a few weeks ago but a flurry of news stories on his extremist views, like turning hospitals into prisons, and using his power as prosecutor to help his friends, no doubt put pressure on the administration to go in a different direction.

WATCH: Florida Sheriff's Creepy Tough Guy Video Threatens Heroin Dealers

As part of his effort to fight heroin trafficking, Lake County, Florida, Sheriff Peyton Grinnell has released a video pledging to go after drug dealers, but the effort from the sheriff's "Community Engagement Unit" is both creepy and wrong-headed.

The video features the sheriff surrounded by four masked officers, their eyes hidden behind sunglasses, their torsos protected by bullet-proof vests, wearing the olive green pants of the military -- not the blue of law enforcement. They look like some sort of paramilitary hit squad, and that's what Sheriff Grinnell promises they will be.

"To the dealers that are pushing this poison, I have a message for you," the glowering sheriff warns. "We're coming for you. As a matter of fact, our undercover agents have already bought heroin from many of you… To the dealers, I say: Enjoy looking over your shoulder, constantly wondering if today is the day we come for you. Enjoy trying to sleep tonight as you wonder if tonight's the night our SWAT team blows your door off its hinges."

The message is presumably designed to be reassuring for the good citizens of Lake County, but the sheriff's promise of increased resort to paramilitarized, high-intensity, middle-of-the-night drug raids is anything but, given the record of SWAT raid errors over the years.

The New York Times recently reported that in the past six years alone, at least 81 civilians and 13 cops have been killed in "dynamic entry" raids, oftentimes after police obtained a "no-knock" warrant allowing them to bust in a door and go in heavy without warning. And as the Washington Post noted in a roundup of SWAT raid mishaps last fall, such mistakes -- sometimes fatal -- continue to occur with depressing regularity.

But even when no one is killed and no headlines are made, mistaken SWAT raids corrode public confidence. Families whose children are subjected to screaming masked intruders kicking their doors down in the middle of the night and pointing guns at their heads are likely to be traumatized for years even if the cops say "sorry."

Bad raids happen for a variety of reasons. An informant may lie to score points with the cops. The cops might hit the wrong address by mistake. Or they may hit the right address, but without necessary information about who they may encounter, as was the case with the notorious 2014 Georgia raid where a SWAT member threw a flashbang grenade into a baby's crib and blew a hole in the 19 -- month-old's chest, nearly killing him. (Police in this case were also acting on a bad informant's tip.)

Heroin is a serious problem, and it is illegal. We expect police to enforce the law, but there has to be a better way than treating drug suspects like they're ISIS terrorists or Iraqi insurgents. What ever happened to, "We've got the place surrounded. Come out with your hands up!"?

Here's the video:

FEATURE: Ohio Opioid Overdose Outrage: One Town's Ugly Effort to Punish Victims

The article was prepared in collaboration with AlterNet.

Ohio is state with a serious opioid problem. It's tied with neighboring Kentucky for the third-highest overdose death rate in the county, and the state Department of Health reports that fatal overdoses, mostly due to opioids, have jumped eight-fold in the past 15, killing more than 3,000 Ohioans in 2015.

In a bid to address the problem, the state passed a 911 Good Samaritan law last year. Such laws, which are also in place in 36 other states, provide limited immunity from prosecution for drug possession offenses for overdose victims and people who seek medical assistance to help them. The idea is to encourage people to seek help for their friends rather than hesitate, perhaps with lethal consequences, out of fear of being busted.

But one Ohio town is getting around the intent of the law by using an unrelated statute to go after overdose victims. If you OD in the city of Washington Court House, you can expect to be charged with -- wait for it -- "inducing panic," which is used for cases that "cause serious public inconvenience or alarm."

In the last two months, Washington Court House police have used the "inducing panic" statute at least a dozen times to charge overdose victims. The charge is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The move has drawn fire from the ACLU of Ohio, which sent a demand letter to city officials urging the city to "immediately end its practice of charging people experiencing a health crisis under this vague and inappropriate criminal statute." The city's "unlawful application of this statute will intensify the dangers of heroin use -- not help to control them," the ACLU argued.

The arrests have also caught the attention of Human Rights Watch, which called them "misguided and counterproductive." The advocacy group added that "increasing penalties for drug use is not the solution to Ohio's opioid crisis" and "what city of Washington Court House should be providing is access to health and harm reduction services, including clean syringes, the overdose reversal medication naloxone, and access to treatment."

But the city isn't heeding those warnings. Instead, in the face of the criticism, the city last week dug in its heels, saying the arrests weren't about punishment, but were a means to help addicts.

"We are not after jail time. We are not after fine money. We are simply looking to get these people some assistance. Obviously they need it, but they are not seeking it willingly upon themselves to get the assistance," said Police Chief Brian Hottinger.

City Manager Joe Denen added that the city is not planning any changes to its policy.

"In challenging circumstances, charging some individuals with inducing panic provides the court system with a means of connecting people in need of treatment with treatment opportunities," he said.

Or they could just offer them treatment.

Legal Marijuana: The Sky is (Probably) Not Falling [FEATURE]

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

Barrels of ink have been spilled over the prospect that the Trump administration could attempt to turn back the clock when it comes to legal marijuana, but for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth out there, marijuana industry insiders, advocates, and activists don't seem all that worried.

Jeff Sessions loathes marijuana, but is going after it the best use of DOJ resources? (senate.gov)
"I don't think there's any more reason to be scared than to be hopeful at this point," said Mason Tvert, Denver-based communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "The administration has not changed its marijuana policy, and there is reason to believe it may maintain the existing policy or adopt a similar one that respects states' laws regulating marijuana."

"Marijuana is one of the least of my concerns with the Trump administration," said Dale Gieringer, coauthor of the pioneering 1996 Prop 215 medical marijuana initiative and long-time head of California NORML. "That's the first time I've been able to say that, but I just don’t see where there's any percentage in them going after marijuana. The polls are on our side, and they can't enforce the law."

The industry, too, seems to think that there's not really that much to fear from the Trump administration.

"We are in a posture of cautious optimism," said Taylor West, communications director for the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). "We're definitely not taking anything for granted -- it's quite clear that Sessions has really strong personal opposition to the industry -- but we are encouraged by the intense pushback, not just from the industry, but from elected officials, regulators, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. That is probably the most powerful signal to the Justice Department that dramatic changes to current policy would cause them a lot of problems."

West pointed to the strong reaction from state officials in marijuana-legal and medical marijuana states, as well as support from federal lawmakers and not just Democrats. She cited Nevada US Sen. Dean Heller as an example of a Republican lawmaker siding with the industry over the administration.

"They are speaking up because the industry and individual businesses and consumers have spoken up as their constituents and taught them about the industry and what we stand far and why we deserve respect from the federal government," she said.

And the marijuana money people appear largely unperturbed, too. In a report released Thursday, Arcview Market Research projected that the industry is going to continue to boom regardless of what happens in Washington, with revenues of nearly $7 billion this year and an astounding projected annual growth rate of 27% through 2021.

"While the uncertainty created by the mixed signals coming out of the administration may cause a temporary dip in some valuations of cannabis companies and some more risk-averse institutional investors and multinational companies may continue to stay on the sidelines, it won't impact the growth of the market much at all," said Troy Dayton, CEO of Arcview Market Research. "No matter what the administration does, states will continue to issue cannabis licenses to a long line of applicants and licensed cannabis outlets will continue to have long lines of consumers ready to purchase this product from regulated establishments."

Maintaining the Status Quo

Legal marijuana could be a $7 billion industry by 2021. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Medical marijuana is now legal in more than half the states and adult recreational use is legal in eight, including the entire West Coast. Some early enforcement actions notwithstanding, the Obama administration largely turned a blind eye to state-legal but federally-illegal marijuana. The Obama Justice Department adhered to the Cole memorandum, a 2013 "guidance" to federal prosecutors that essentially limited them to going only after legal marijuana operations that crossed specified lines: selling to minors, diverting product to non-legal states, being involved in violence or other trafficking, and the like.

Medical marijuana states at least are also protected by the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which bars the Justice Department from using federal funds to go after state-compliant medical marijuana operations. A similar measure, the McClintock-Hollis amendment, would have extended that same shield to the adult-legal states, but came up just short in the last Congress. Both amendments will be offered again this year.

"Jeff Sessions doesn't like marijuana -- that much is clear -- but that's not the question," MPP's Tvert argued. "The question is whether he believes limited federal resources should be used to interfere in state marijuana laws. As of right now, there's no reason to believe that's the case."

Tvert pointed to Sessions' seeming acceptance of the Cole memo, as well as a memo Sessions sent to federal prosecutors last month telling them to go after "the worst of the worst" and violent crime.

"State licensed and regulate marijuana businesses are by no means violent or the 'worst of the worst,'" Tvert noted. "They want to go after cartels and violent criminals and focus on serious crime, so why force marijuana back into the underground market?"

"President Trump said states should be able to determine own marijuana policies, and he also had strong support for legal access to medical marijuana, and we haven't heard anything new from him on it," said Tvert. "But again, it's not a question of the president's personal views, but of what the federal laws are and the realities of enforcement. Sessions has said on multiple occasions that the federal government cannot effectively enforce federal prohibition in states where it is legal."

The view was not quite as sanguine from Washington, DC, where national NORML has its offices.

"As far as the industry goes, even the threat of a crackdown by the Justice Department has a chilling effect," said Justin Strekal, NORML political director and lobbyist. "While medical marijuana is protected under Farr-Rohrabacher, the adult use economy has no such protections -- at least for now."

"The Cole memo is just a piece of paper," Strekal said, "and there is nothing stopping Sessions from just throwing it away, as the Heritage Foundation has called for him to do. But the Justice Department has no way to force states to recriminalize marijuana in decrim or legal states. The worst case would be that the adult use states are rolled back to a situation where there is no way to have a legal distribution system, but local law enforcement is not going to be enforcing federal marijuana prohibition."

Where apprehension about the direction of Trump administration pot policy is having a real impact right now is in causing politicians to think twice about legalization in states that are considering it, Strekal said.

"We're hearing feedback from legislators in Connecticut and Maryland saying that the attorney general's comments are acting as a road block, while in Georgia, we just saw a defelonization bill defeated. The mere presence of a Reefer Madness-era Jeff Sessions is frightening off potential supporters of ending prohibition."

Still, Bad Things Could Happen

If Congress blocks funding, DEA can't go after legal marijuana (sort of). (justice.gov/dea)
While an oppositional Trump administration may retard the expansion of legal marijuana in the states, the status quo of a fifth of the country living under legalization and more than half with access to medical marijuana appears unlikely to be rolled-back. But that doesn't necessarily mean a free ride for legal weed.

"There could be some sort of federal action against some adult use facility or grower or cultivation company whose product is found to have gone across state lines in quantity, or something like that," CANORML's Gieringer offered. "Like if you have a situation where Nebraska complains, maybe that could stir up pressure in the Justice Department. But that's the most I expect. I could be wrong, though."

"Since Colorado started its licensing program, there's always been a fear that the Justice Department would just bring a lawsuit saying the state is participating in an ongoing conspiracy to distribute a Schedule I drug," Gieringer observed. "They had their chance and they didn't do it. If they tried it now, they will have taken away hundreds of millions of dollars from Colorado and potentially billions from other states and leave anarchy. They can't enforce the marijuana laws anyway; it's a drain on federal resources to even try."

"A federal injection is a potential threat, but it was a potential threat six months ago, too," said MPP's Tvert. "It's still a question of resources. If that were to happen, marijuana would continue to be legal, but the federal government would be preventing states from controlling its production and sale. That would be a real serious problem."

But Tvert warned that the heavy hand of the federal government could still reach out and slap someone down.

"Sean Spicer said they would have greater enforcement, and that could mean anything," he said. "They could be planning to more rigorously enforce the laws against people not in compliance with state laws, there could be more enforcement against illegal actors, they could push states to strengthen their regulations to prevent interstate trafficking. They perhaps could encourage states to increase funding to law enforcement to investigate illegal activity. There is plenty they could do without interfering with the legal market."

The Fightback Against Rollback Will Only Grow Stronger

The advent of a potential hostile Trump administration isn't changing the way NORML does business, Strekal said.

"We're continuing to do what we've always done and act as a grassroots consumer advocacy group," he explained. "We have 150 chapters and we're engaging as an advocacy group at every level of government from city councils to state legislatures to the federal government. At the federal level, we're very encouraged by the formation of the congressional cannabis caucus. We've been working with them to host a few events."

"This moment in time, where there is a lot of uncertainty at the federal level, is the kind of moment the NCIA was created for," said West. "We've been building relationships and allies in DC around industry issues, so when we need those allies, we have them."

Like MPP, the NCIA has a full-time staff lobbyist in Washington. It also works with another DC-based lobbying firm to work the Hill, and with legislators and elected officials.

"You've been able to see, through our work and the work of others, a very strong pushback from people who previously wouldn't have been in favor of the marijuana industry," West said. "The federal government can try to enforce marijuana prohibition in states where it is legal, but it doesn't really have the personnel to do that without the full cooperation of state and local law enforcement. If states are resisting that crackdown, which elected officials have said they would do, it becomes very difficult, if not impossible."

Legal marijuana is on guard, but it's not running away from a fight. The question for the Trump administration becomes whether this is a fight worth fighting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: Trump Rolls Out Crime & Drug War, Brazil Top Judge Says Legalize, More... (2/10/17)

Donald Trump takes a hard line on crime and drugs, a new Michigan poll has support for marijuana legalization at an all time high, a Brazilian Supreme Court justice calls for an end to the drug war there, and more.

Donald Trump takes a hard line on crime and drugs. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Support for Legalization at Highest Level Ever. A new poll from EPIC/MRA has support for marijuana legalization in the state at 57%. That's a four percent increase from the same poll last year. The poll comes as activists organized as MILegalize prepare efforts to get a legalization initiative on the 2018 ballot. They came up just short last year after the state legislature and state courts blocked their efforts to get all their signatures counted.

New Jersey Lawmakers Vow to Press Forward With Legalization Effort Despite Trump. Garden State lawmakers say the appointment of marijuana legalization foe Jeff Sessions as President Trump's attorney general will not stop them from pressing forward with their efforts. State Sen. Nick Scutari (D) said he is "concerned," but not deterred. "It doesn't give me pause. It's a concern but we are not going to pause," Scutari said Thursday. "Hopefully he will follow what President Trump said as a candidate -- that it's a states' rights issue."

Vermont's GOP Governor Opposes Legalization Bill. Gov. Phil Scott's (R) administration came out firmly against legalization Thursday. "We oppose this bill," State Police Major Glenn Hall told the House Judiciary Committee. "We speak with one voice," added Public Safety Commissioner Tom Anderson. "That's what the governor stands for also."

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Bills to "Fix" Medical Marijuana Law Moving. Six medical marijuana-related bills moved out of committees to face floor votes in their respective chambers Wednesday. The House Rules Committee advanced five bills, while the Senate Education Committee advanced one bill. More bills are still in committee. Many of the bills deal with technical "fixes," but some of them would alter the way the program is intended to work. Click on the link for a complete rundown on the bills.

Drug Policy

Trump Signs Executive Orders Aimed at Drugs, Crime. The president signed three executive orders he said were "designed to restore safety in America." One that aims to "reduce crime and restore public safety" directs Attorney General Sessions to create a Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, which is charged with developing "strategies to reduce crime, including, in particular, illegal immigration, drug trafficking and violent crime" proposing new legislation, and submiting at least one report to the President within the next year. The second is aimed at combatting international drug trafficking organizations, while the third directs the Justice Department to use existing federal law to prosecute those who commit crimes against police officers.

International

Brazil Supreme Court Judge Calls for Marijuana, Cocaine Legalization. Supreme Court Justice Robero Barroso called Friday for marijuana and even cocaine to be legalized to erode the growing power of illegal drug trafficking organizations. Fifty years of drug war had only clogged jails with small-time offenders and fueled violent gang battles. "Unlike the United States and Europe where the problem lies in the impact drugs have on consumers, in Brazil the problem lies in the power drug traffickers have over poor communities," Barroso said. "I can assure you it is only a matter of time. Either we legalize marijuana now or we do it in the future after we have spent billions and incarcerated thousands."

Chronicle AM: Drug Warrior Jeff Sessions is AG, NY Gov Calls Marijuana Gateway Drug, More... (2/9/17)

A man who thinks marijuana users aren't "good people" is now the US attorney general, New York's Democratic governor cites the gateway theory as he opposes marijuana legalization, North Dakota lawmakers kill a welfare drug testing bill, and more.

Meet the new boss: Attorney General Jeff Sessions takes office. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New York Governor Calls Marijuana "Gateway Drug," Rejects Legalization. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Wednesday that marijuana is "a gateway drug, and marijuana leads to other drugs and there's a lot of proof that that's true... There's two sides to the argument. But I, as of this date, I am unconvinced on recreational marijuana."

Washington Bill Would Bar State From Helping Any Federal Crackdown. A bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. David Sawyer (D-Lakewood) and three others would attempt to protect the state's legal marijuana industry by "prohibiting the use of public resources to assist the federal government in any activity that might impede or interfere with Washington state's regulation of marijuana and marijuana-related products." The measure is House Bill 1895, which is now before the House State Government, Elections, and Information Technology Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City) has filed Senate Bill 155, which would allow patients with specified diseases or conditions to grow and possess medical marijuana, or have a caregiver grow it for them. The bill also envisions the creation of state regulated and taxed "compassion centers" or dispensaries.

Drug Policy

Jeff Sessions Confirmed As Attorney General, Drug Policy Reformers React. The Senate confirmed Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General on a near party-line vote Wednesday night. The marijuana and drug reform communities -- among many others -- are nervous about how Sessions might deviate from the Obama administration's hands-off policy on marijuana in the states, as well as broader criminal justice issues. "Jeff Sessions and President Trump are stuck in the 1980s when it comes to drug policy, while most of the country knows by now that we need alternatives to the failed drug war," the DPA's Bill Piper said. "If the Administration tries to roll back marijuana reform or to undermine criminal justice reform they will find themselves even less popular than they are now."

Drug Testing

North Dakota Senate Kills Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Senate killed Senate Bill 2279, which would have required mandatory "addiction screening" of people receiving food stamps, with those identified as being "at risk" of drug use being forced to undergo drug treatment. The measure died on a 20-26 vote after legislators pointed out that similar welfare drug testing programs have found only a tiny number of people.

International

Peru Government Will Present Medical Marijuana Bill. The administration of President Pedro Kuczynski said it will present a bill allowing for the use of medical marijuana to the legislature, which is dominated by the opposition. The move comes in the wake of a public uproar after police raided a Lima house where a group of parents grew marijuana to make cannabis oil to treat their children's epilepsy and other diseases.

Drug War Issues

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