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Chronicle AM: CT Pot Legalization Bill Filed, MI Moving to Rein in Civil Asset Forfeiture, More... (1/22/19)

Marijuana reform bills are starting to pop in state legislatures, a federal court judge rules in favor of a New Mexico medical marijuana provider in a free speech case, and more. 

With Democrats in control in Michigan, civil asset forfeiture could be coming to an end

Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Legalization Bill Filed. A legalization bill cosponsored by 40 Democrat legislators has been filed. HB 5595 would allow for legal sales to adults, home cultivation of up to six plants, and give priority in licensing to existing medical marijuana businesses. The bill also contains a provision for the expungement of previous pot convictions, and it would make it illegal for anyone to drive with more than 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.

Kentucky Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Jimmy Higdon (R-Lebanon) has filed a bill to decriminalize small-time pot possession. The measure, SB 82, would define less than an ounce of marijuana as a “personal use quantity” punishable only by a fine. The bill would also exempt “personal use marijuana accessories” from the state's drug paraphernalia law. Under current law, possession of eight ounces or less is a misdemeanor.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Court Upholds First Amendment Rights of New Mexico Medical Marijuana Company. US District Court Judge James Parker has found in favor of Ultra Health, the state's largest medical marijuana provider, in a case that pitted it against the New Mexico State Fair. Fair officials had blocked the company from displaying an educational booth at the fair in 2017, and Ultra Health sued. The judge found that fair staff had infringed on Ultra Health's free speech and civil rights: “The State Fair’s restrictions ... as applied to Ultra Health’s 2017 State Fair application were unreasonable in light of the purpose of the forum and the surrounding circumstances and therefore violated Ultra Health’s First Amendment right to free speech,” Judge Parker wrote in his ruling.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Legislature Takes Up Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. The Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee will on Thursday take up SB 002, a measure that would require police and prosecutors to win a criminal conviction before permanently seizing someone's property. Similar bills have failed in the past, but now Democrats control both the legislature and the governor's mansion, and both House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Attorney General Dana Nessel support the effort. 

Chronicle AM: Federal Marijuana Cases Decline, Oregon Ponders MJ Exports, More... (1/2/19)

Federal marijuana prosecutions are dropping as more states legalize, Oregon ponders legal marijuana exports, a South Carolina poll shows strong support for medical marijuana, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Prosecutions Are Declining. In a year-end report from the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that while overall drug prosecutions increased during Fiscal Year 2018, marijuana prosecutions were down. "Drug crime defendants, who accounted for 28 percent of total filings, grew two percent, although defendants accused of crimes associated with marijuana decreased 19 percent," Roberts wrote.

New York Governor Vows Marijuana Legalization in Inaugural Address. Gov Andrew Cuomo (D) used his inaugural address Tuesday to reiterate his support for legalizing marijuana. "When they write the history books and ask what did we do -- in the face of anger and division, when people were disillusioned, let New York's answer be that in this defining moment we brought healing and light and hope and progress and action," he said. "That New York led on legalizing recreational marijuana, bringing justice and new economic opportunity not for rich corporations, but for the poor communities that paid too high a price for too long." He also promised to propose "the most progressive agenda this state has ever seen, period" within a hundred days, and included marijuana legalization as part of that.

Oregon Ponders Becoming First State to Export Legal Marijuana. The Craft Cannabis Alliance, led by Adam Smith, is working with legislators on a plan to let the state start exporting marijuana to other legal pot states by 2021. Under draft language for a proposed bill, the state would allow wholesalers to ship across state lines to other legal pot states once the governor had signed a pact with the importing state to allow those deliveries. But any proposed bill to allow such sales faces obstacles at the federal level, where marijuana is still illegal.

Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new poll from Benchmark Research finds that nearly three-quarters of South Carolinians are ready for medical marijuana. The poll had support at 72%, with even 63% of Republicans behind it. Medical marijuana bills last year won some committee votes, but were unable to advance.

Chronicle AM: First Step Act Fight Continues, MI Gets Legal Marijuana December 6, More... (11/28/18)

Senate Republicans are trying to find a way to keep the First Step Act alive, marijuana use and possession becomes legal in Michigan next week, and more.

Will the First Step Act get a Senate vote this year? And if it does, will it pass? Stay tuned. (ussc.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Marijuana Legalization Goes into Effect December 6. As of a week from tomorrow, it will be legal to possess and use small amounts of marijuana. But it will probably take until sometime in 2020 for pot shops to open for business. The state says it will start taking business applications late in 2019.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Unlicensed Dispensaries Can Stay Open Until Year's End. Medical marijuana dispensaries will be able to continue operating until at least December 31 as they await state licenses, the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation announced Tuesday. Some 40 dispensaries have received state licenses so far; another 98 await licenses.

Psychedelics

Oregon Attorney General Approves Psilocybin Ballot Measure Language. An initiative that would allow licensed medical professionals to administer psilocybin for therapeutic purposes has had its ballot language approved. The next step is signature-gathering to get the measure on the 2020 ballot. The measure will need 140,000 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Drug Treatment

Massachusetts Federal Court Judge Orders Jail to Provide Methadone. A federal court in Massachusetts granted a preliminary injunction this week, requiring that the plaintiff in the case be provided continued access to methadone treatment for his opioid use disorder while incarcerated. The ruling requires a jail in Essex County to provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to a man who is about to be sentenced for conduct that occurred two years ago, before he first started his recovery. The court held that the plaintiff is likely to succeed on his claim that the jail's refusal to provide methadone treatment violates both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the 8th Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

Sentencing Reform

Senate Republicans Seek Way to Get Sentencing Reform Bill Moving Again. Senate Republicans are pondering changing the First Step Act (S.2795) to make it more palatable for some conservatives, but which could blow up the bipartisan compromise that supports the bill as is. Some of the changes being discussed include tightening the safety valve provision, getting tougher on fentanyl offenders, and backing away from an ending the "stacking" regulation, which adds more time to sentences of people convicted of drug offenses while possessing a firearm. President Trump, meanwhile, continues to push Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring the bill to a Senate vote.

Medical Marijuana Update

A Pennsylvania patient challenges the federal gun ban, an Ohio court has thrown out the state's law requiring racial justice in licensing, and more.

Indiana

Indiana Poll Finds Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. Even in red-state Indiana, they like their medical marijuana, a new poll finds. The poll from Ball State University finds that 81% of Hoosiers believe marijuana should be legal for medical reasons. The poll had support for full legalization at only 39%.

Kansas

Kansas Governor-Elect Supports Medical Marijuana. Laura Kelly, the Democrat who won a surprise victory in conservative Kansas, is ready to take the state down the path toward legal medical marijuana. "I think that there is some momentum in the legislature to pass, to legalize medical marijuana," she said. "I think we would do it Kansas-style, where it would be well-regulated. With a supporter in the governor's mansion, legislators no longer have to worry about coming up with supermajorities to overcome a gubernatorial veto."

Ohio

Ohio Court Rules Racial Justice Requirement for Grow Licenses Unconstitutional. An Ohio district court has ruled unconstitutional the state's "racial quota" for selecting medical marijuana business licenses. The state's medical marijuana law requires 15% of all licenses to be awarded to businesses owned by racial minorities, and the state awarded two of 12 available licenses to minority-owned firms even though they scored lower than other applicants. One of the applicants who did not get a license sued. The ruling could prompt the state to award a provisional license to the plaintiff in order to make the case go away.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Doctor and Medical Marijuana Patient Sues for Right to Own a Gun. A Philadelphia physician who is also a medical marijuana patient filed a lawsuit in federal court last Thursday challenging a federal law that prevents him from owning a firearm because he uses medical marijuana. Dr. Matthew Roman was blocked from buying a gun earlier this year when he honestly answered a question about marijuana use. Roman's lawsuit claims that the blanket prohibition against marijuana users violates the constitutional rights of tens of thousands of nonviolent, law-abiding American citizens. The filing, in US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, claims the law violates both the Second and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution.

Utah

Utah Medical Marijuana Backers Threaten to Sue Over Mormon Church Involvement in Bill to Replace Prop 2. Medical marijuana supporters said last Thursday they are exploring legal action to challenge the legislature's move to replace the voter-approved Prop 2 medical marijuana initiative "at the behest" of the Mormon Church. Even though voters approved Prop 2 this month, lawmakers plan to meet in a December special sessions to replace the measure with a proposal more acceptable to opponents, including the church. "Although initiative statutes may be amended or repealed by the Legislature, the almost immediate extreme undermining of numerous provisions of Proposition 2 at the behest of The Church of Jesus Christ is anti-democratic and contemptuous of the... recognition in the Utah Constitution that the people are to have the power to enact legislative changes," attorney Rocky Anderson, former Salt Lake City mayor, wrote.

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

Chronicle AM: Judiciary Committee Change, Massachusetts Marijuana Sales, More... (11/19/18)

There's a changing of the guard at the top of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a Pennsylvania medical marijuana patient sues over gun access, a new report finds fake and counterfeit drugs killing tens of thousands each year in Africa, and more.

Massachusetts will see its first marijuana stores open this week. (Sondra Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Graham to Replace Anti-Marijuana Hardliner Grassley as Head of Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced last Friday that he is stepping down as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He will be replaced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who, while not exactly a friend of marijuana law reform, is not nearly as oppositional as Grassley. While Grassley has stifled marijuana bills during his tenure as chair, Graham has cosponsored bills to protect legal medical marijuana states from federal interference, reschedule marijuana, and remove CBD from the list of banned substances. (Grassley has also been a champion late in his career for enacting at least modest criminal justice and sentencing reform.)

Massachusetts's First Marijuana Stores to Open Tuesday. Slightly more than two years after voters approved marijuana legalization, the state's first retail marijuana outlets are set to open their doors tomorrow. The state Cannabis Control Commission announced last Friday that retail shops in Leicester and Northampton had received final sign-offs to start selling recreational weed.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Poll Finds Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. Even in red-state Indiana, they like their medical marijuana, a new poll finds. The poll from Ball State University finds that 81% of Hoosiers believe marijuana should be legal for medical reasons. The poll had support for full legalization at only 39%.

Pennsylvania Doctor and Medical Marijuana Patient Sues for Right to Own a Gun. A Philadelphia physician who is also a medical marijuana patient filed a lawsuit in federal court last Thursday challenging a federal law that prevents him from owning a firearm because he uses medical marijuana. Dr. Matthew Roman was blocked from buying a gun earlier this year when he honestly answered a question about marijuana use. Roman's lawsuit claims that the blanket prohibition against marijuana users violates the constitutional rights of tens of thousands of nonviolent, law-abiding American citizens. The filing, in US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, claims the law violates both the Second and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution.

Harm Reduction

Opioid Reversal Drug Company Gouged Taxpayers With 600% Price Increase. A new report from the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations finds that a pharmaceutical company "exploited the opioid crisis" to gouge taxpayers by increasing the price of its overdose reversal drug by 600% between 2014 and 2017. The report found that the company Kaléo raised the price of its drug EVZIO from $575 in 2014 to $4,100 in 2017. EVZIO is an auto-injector form of the drug naloxone. The price hikes cost taxpayers more than $142 million over the past four years in Medicare and Medicaid charges.

International

Fake and Counterfeit Drugs Are Killing Thousands in Africa, Report Finds. A new European Union-funded report finds that tens of thousands of Africans are dying because of fake and counterfeit drugs. Fake or substandard anti-malarial drugs alone were linked to anywhere between 64,000 and 158,000 deaths each year, the report found. The fake drugs are especially entrancing to the region's poor, who often cannot afford prescribed drugs and turn to the streets to buy cheaper alternatives. "So this is a criminal activity, you can focus on and try to find the source of this. The problem is also the access of the real medicine, the cost to buy them is too high so poor people are just despaired (they despair) to find something, anything that they think could help them," said Ruth Dreifuss, Chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

Mexico Supreme Court Rejects Law Regulating Tr0ops Fighting Drug Cartels. In a 9-2 decision last Thursday, the nation's highest court threw out a new law aimed at regulating the use of the military to fight drug cartels. The law was meant to set out rules of engagement for the armed forces in their fight with organized crime, but human rights groups warned it could clear the way for more military human rights abuses. The court ruled that Congress does not have the power to legislate on "domestic security" and only the executive can dispatch troops. The court ruling came a day after incoming security minister Alfonso Durazo said there was "no way" to withdraw the military from the fight because it is more trustworthy than the police.

Chronicle AM: NJ MJ Poll Shows Strong Support, IN Forfeiture Case Goes to Supreme Court, More... (10/31/18)

A new poll has support for marijuana legalization in New Jersey at 58%, Kansas gubernatorial candidates debate marijuana policy, truck drivers will face hair drug testing one of these years, and more.

Hair drug tests for truck drivers could be coming soon under an opioids bill signed into law this month. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Gubernatorial Debate Highlights Sharp Differences on Marijuana Policy. In a pre-election debate Tuesday, gubernatorial candidates Kris Kobach (R) and Laura Kelly (D) differed on marijuana policy. Kobach said he opposed both medicinal and recreational marijuana while expressing some openness to using CBD. "With medical marijuana, I don't think the time is right," he said. Kelly said she supports marijuana legalization, and especially the legalization of medical marijuana. "There are many benefits for young children with severe seizure disorders and for end-of-life use," said Kelly. "It would also be incredibly helpful in helping to reduce the opioid crisis." She also called for sentencing reform for marijuana offenses. "We are destroying our families and costing the state of fortune," said Kelly. "We need treatment options, not incarceration." Independent candidate Greg Orman also said he supported legalization. The latest polls have the race between Kelly and Kobach too close to call.

New Jersey Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new Rutgers Eagleton poll has support for marijuana legalization at 58% with only 37% opposed. Nearly four out of five of those supporting legalization said they viewed it as a social justice issue. The poll comes as the legislature tries to get its act together to advance marijuana legalization legislation next month.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Judge Blocks Halloween Shutdown of Unlicensed Dispensaries. The same day state regulators ordered more than 200 unlicensed dispensaries to shut down by Wednesday, a Michigan judge blocked that order. Court of Claims Judge Stephen Borello granted a motion Tuesday that kills the state's latest attempt to shut down any medical marijuana dispensaries operating without a license. Borello issued a temporary injunction blocking the shutdowns and barring the state from imposing any other licensing deadlines until the court rules again.

Asset Forfeiture

Supreme Court to Hear Indiana Asset Forfeiture Case Next Month. The US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on November 28 on whether Indiana officials in effect imposed "excessive fines" on a man who pleaded guilty to selling heroin by seizing his vehicle, which was valued at more than the maximum fine for his offense. Cops seized a $42,000 Land Rover belonging to Tyson Timbs, which he bought with an inheritance after his father's death. The maximum fine for dealing heroin in Indiana is $10,000..

Drug Testing

Congressional Opioid Bill Demands Hair Drug Testing for Truck Drivers. The omnibus opioid bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump earlier this month calls for making progress on standards for hair drug testing of truck drivers. Drug testing of hair samples provides a much longer window to detect drug use than urine or blood tests. Hair testing was okayed in the 2015 FAST Act, but the Department of Homeland Security has so far failed to provide hair drug testing protocols. The new law requires DHS to provide guidelines and for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to report to Congress on progress in creating and issuing guidelines for hair drug testing.

(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: Brazil's New Leader is Bad News on Drug Policy, CO Legalization Faces RICO Suit, More... (10/30/18)

A lawsuit using federal RICO statutes to challenge Colorado marijuana legalization got underway today, North Dakota medical marijuana patients and caregivers can now apply to the registry, Brazil's president-elect is a giant step backward on drug policy, and more.

Brazilian President-Elect Jair Bolsonaro favors harshly repressive drug policies. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Lawsuit Challenging State's Marijuana Law Goes to Trial. A lawsuit filed by two landowners who claim that a nearby marijuana grow has reduced their property values -- in part because the smell allegedly makes horse riding less attractive -- got underway in federal court in Denver Tuesday. The case is based on federal racketeering laws, and an adverse decision could have significant disruptive effects on the state's marijuana industry. The lawsuit was filed by Safe Streets Alliance, a national anti-marijuana group.

New Jersey Lawmakers Aim for Marijuana Hearings Next Month. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3rd District) told reporters Monday he had been meeting with Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-22nd District) on advancing marijuana legalization legislation, and "I think we're real close." While Sweeney did not offer any firm timelines, Scutari said he has been looking at holding a hearing on November 26.

Medical Marijuana

More Than 200 Unlicensed Michigan Dispensaries Must Close Down By Wednesday. The state's Medical Marijuana Licensing Board has approved 14 more dispensary licenses, but some 215 pot businesses that have not obtained licenses, most of them in Detroit, received cease and desist letters Tuesday and must close their doors by Wednesday if they want any chance at getting a license in the future.

North Dakota Patients and Caregivers Can Now Register. The state Department of Health began accepting applications Monday for medical marijuana patients and caregivers, with registry cards to begin being mailed out in December. It costs $50 to apply. The move comes just under two years after voters there approved a medical marijuana initiative.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Massachusetts Governor Seeks $5 Million for Opioid Drug War. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) will file legislation seeking $5 million for a pilot program for a "regional, multi-agency approach to fentanyl interdiction and crime displacement," he said Monday. He said his proposal targets drug dealers who move from town to town to evade police crackdowns. "We want to give departments the resources to coordinate with each other across their districts, essentially flooding the zone against the drug dealers who are peddling addiction and death in their communities," Baker said. "We want to go after the dealers who too often evade authorities by moving to another nearby location in a different municipality." The $5 million would be used to "supplement surveillance work and overtime costs for units," he said.

International

Brazil's Presidential Election Winner is Bad News on Drug Policy. Jair Bolsonaro, the winner of Sunday's Brazilian presidential election and known as "the Trump of Brazil" for his right-wing populist views, is bad news for drug reform in Latin America's most populous country. He favors intensifying ongoing bloody crackdowns on people involved with drugs, he has said on repeated occasions that police should kill people suspected of drug trafficking, and he has openly praised Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war, saying "he did the right thing for his country." He opposes marijuana legalization, saying it would "benefit traffickers, rapists, and hostage takers." And Bolosonaro isn't just bad on drug policy; he gets downright weird. He has also claimed, in a bizarre homophobic rant, that smoking pot makes people gay.

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.

Chronicle AM: Trump Marijuana Plans, More Cases Thrown Out in MA Drug Lab Scandal, More... (10/12/18)

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) says the president will move on marijuana policy after the election, the Supreme Court will hear an important asset forfeiture case later this year, thousands more drug defendants will see drug charges dismissed in the Massachusetts drug lab scandal, and more.

Rep. Dana Rohrabcher (R-CA) says the Trump administration will move on marijuana policy after the election. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Trump Plans To Back Legal Medical Marijuana After Midterms, GOP Congressman Says. In an interview with Fox Business on Thursday, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said that he had been talking with people inside the White House about ending marijuana prohibition. Rohrabacher added that he's been "reassured that the president intends on keeping his campaign promise" to protect state marijuana policies from federal interference. He didn't point to any specific legislation but said details would begin to take shape after the election. "I would expect after the election we will sit down and we'll start hammering out something that is specific and real," he said. "It could be as early as spring of 2019, but definitely in the next legislative session," he said.

Asset Forfeiture

Supreme Court to Hear Asset Forfeiture Case Later This Year. The US Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in an important asset forfeiture case on November 28. The case is Timbs (and a 2012 Land Rover) v. Indiana, in which Tyson Timbs appeals the seizure of his vehicle after he was arrested for selling heroin to undercover police officers. Timbs bought the vehicle with proceeds from his late father's life insurance policy -- not drug profits -- and argues that seizing the vehicle amounts to a violation of the 8th Amendment's ban on excessive fines. A state appeals court had overturned the seizure, calling it "grossly disproportional," but the state Supreme Court vacated that decision on the grounds the ban on excessive fines does not apply to the states.

Criminal Justice

Massachusetts High Court Orders Dismissal of Thousands of Cases in Drug Lab Chemist Scandal. The state's Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday ordered the dismissal of thousands of additional drug convictions due to the misconduct of Amherst drug lab chemist Sonja Farak, some dating back as far as 2004. "We conclude that Farak's widespread evidence tampering has compromised the integrity of thousands of drug convictions apart from those the Commonwealth has agreed should be vacated and dismissed," wrote Justice Frank Gaziano in the court's 61-page unanimous decision. "Her misconduct, compounded by prosecutorial misconduct, requires that this court exercise its superintendence authority and vacate and dismiss all criminal convictions tainted by government wrongdoing." Farak has pleaded guilty to stealing drug samples to feed her addiction. State prosecutors had already agreed to dismiss some 8,000 cases. Now there will be thousands more, though an exact number is not immediately available.

International

Colombia Coca Farmers Protest Against Forced Crop Eradication. Coca-growing peasants set up roadblocks on Thursday to protest against the forced eradication of coca crops and fumigation measures. The farmers in several municipalities of Norte de Santander are demanding to be included in the program of crop substitution so they have an alternative to growing coca. Farmers in Cucuta and El Zulia blocked two main local highways. They are members of the National Coordination of Cultivators of Coca, Poppy and Marijuana and the Campesino Association of Catatumbo.

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.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School