Asset Forfeiture

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Good Riddance! Drug Reformers Applaud Sessions’ Departure from DOJ [FEATURE]

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced out of office Wednesday after less than two years in office, and while there is intense concern about the impact the move could have on ongoing investigations of Trump campaign and administration misdeeds, for drug and criminal justice reform advocates that concern is leavened by joy and relief at the forced exit of a man who staunchly promoted harsh and repressive drug and criminal justice policies.

Jeff, we hardly knew ye. (senate.gov)
Even as marijuana reform spread across the land and support for the tough sentencing practices of last century's drug war waned, Sessions strode bravely backward as attorney general. Among the lowlights of his tenure:

  • He escalated the war on drugs by ordering federal prosecutors to seek the toughest charges and sentences for drug offenses, a harsh return to some of the worst excesses of the drug war, one quite out of the mainstream of even Republican sentencing policy thinking these days.

  • He escalated the war on drugs by undoing Obama-era restrictions on federal asset forfeiture and restarting destructive asset forfeiture practices. His actions on asset forfeiture basically gave state and local law enforcement agencies a green light to evade state forfeiture laws by handing cases off to the feds in return for a massive cut of the proceeds.

  • He at least formally reversed the Obama administration's "live and let live" approach to marijuana reforms in the states, undoing the Cole memo that directed federal prosecutors to leave state law-compliant pot operations alone. But Sessions' anti-marijuana crusade ended up a quixotic quest, with even President Trump suggesting an openness to legal weed and leaving Sessions spinning in the wind.

  • He ignored harm reduction principles and best practices aimed at reducing drug overdoses and the spread of blood-borne disease by threatening to crack down on safe injection sites, facilities where drug users can shoot up under medical supervision that also serve as a nexus between problematic users and treatment and social services.

  • He undermined the work of the department's Civil Rights Division, particularly by moving to end the use of consent decrees that subject police departments troubled by brutality or discrimination to federal oversight.

Even some key Republican senators rejected his retrograde approach on marijuana and sentencing reform and have criticized his resort to civil asset forfeiture. While in the Senate, Sessions was one of the biggest obstacles to sentencing reform, and since he left, bipartisan support for drug policy reform has continued to grow. It's probably too much to expect progressive policies from anyone Trump appoints to replace Sessions, but it's hard to see getting someone more regressive.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) minced no words in its assessment of Sessions.

"Attorney General Jefferson Sessions was a national disgrace," said NORML director Erik Altieri. "NORML hopes that he finds the time during his retirement to seek treatment for his affliction of 1950s reefer madness."

The Trump administration needs to replace Sessions with someone more in tune with popular sentiment on marijuana, added NORML deputy director Paul Armentano.

With 33 states now recognizing the medical use of cannabis, and with 10 states having legalized the use and sales of marijuana for all adults, it is pivotal that the next US Attorney General be someone who recognizes that most Americans want cannabis to be legally regulated and that they oppose any actions from the Justice Department to interfere with these state-sanctioned efforts," he said.

The Drug Policy Alliance echoed that call.

"While Trump's dismissal of Sessions raises questions about the president's motivations, the Justice Department and Senate should seize this opportunity to right Sessions' wrongs," said DPA executive director Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno. "The US public understands that the drug war has failed spectacularly and needs to be replaced with a health-centered approach. It is critically important that the next attorney general be committed to defending basic rights and moving away from failed drug war policies."

Jeff Sessions: A man whose time has come -- and gone.

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

Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of both Drug Reporter and Drug War Chronicle.

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: 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.

Chronicle AM: FDA Seeks Public Comment on Marijuana Classification WA Bans Gummies and Candies, More... (10/10/18)

The FDA is seeking public comment on marijuana classification, Mississippi cops continue to seize cash and other goods despite a change in state law that should have stopped them, and more.

No marijuana-infused gummies for you, Washington staters! (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Trump Administration Seeks Public Comments On Marijuana Reclassification. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking public comment about "the abuse potential, actual abuse, medical usefulness, trafficking, and impact of scheduling changes on availability for medical use" of cannabis and several other substances now under international review. Marijuana is currently Schedule I under US law and international anti-drug treaties. Public comments "will be considered in preparing a response from the United States to the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the abuse liability and diversion of these drugs," Leslie Kux, FDA's associate commissioner for policy, wrote in a Federal Register filing published on Wednesday. "WHO will use this information to consider whether to recommend that certain international restrictions be placed on these drugs."

Pennsylvania Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill to decriminalize the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana, House Bill 928, was approved in the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday. Under current state law, possession is a third-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a driver's license suspension. The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

Philadelphia Mayor Again Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said once again on Tuesday that Pennsylvania should legalize the recreational use of marijuana statewide. "Legalizing cannabis is the right thing to do for the commonwealth," Kenney said as he announced the 2018 Cannabis Opportunity Conference next weekend. "We don't need to be wasting precious resources locking people up for marijuana possession when we should be focused on improving our schools and other priorities."

Washington State Regulators Move to Ban Marijuana Gummies and Hard Candies. The state Liquor and Cannabis Control Board announced last week it would reverse its earlier approval of marijuana-laced gummies and hard candies because they are "especially appealing to children." The board told pot companies that "all production of hard candy, tarts, fruit chews, colorful chocolates, jellies, and any gummy type products should cease" because they will no longer be approved for sale under new regulations that go into effect January 1, 2019. Stores can sell such products through April 3, 2019, or until existing inventory is depleted.

Asset Forfeiture

Mississippi Police Ignore New State Law, Keep Seizing Property. Police agencies in the state have continued to seize cash, guns, and vehicles under a state law that lapsed on June 30. That law allowed police to seize up to $20,000 in property associated with illegal drugs. Now, Mississippi agencies must sue in court and get a judge to approve seizures, as they already were required to do with larger amounts, but state police agencies have made at least 60 seizures since then without obtaining prior judicial approval.

Chronicle AM: Trump Plans UN Meeting to Push Drug War, NJ Pot Bill Details Unveiled, More.... (9/19/18)

President Trump is headed to the UN to rally global drug warriors, New Jersey's long-awaited marijuana legalization bill is just about ready, Philadelphia settles a massive asset forfeiture lawsuit, and more.

President Trump will address a UN side meeting of hard-line drug war counties next week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Bill Just About Ready, Draft Released. Legislators have sent a draft legalization bill to Gov. Phil Murphy's (D) office and legislative leaders say they aim to pass it next month. NJ Advance Media obtained a copy of the draft. Bill features include taxed and regulated marijuana commerce; set asides for minorities, women, and areas with high unemployment; social consumption spaces, delivery services, but no home cultivation.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Fight Over Medical Marijuana Doses. A "negotiated rulemaking" panel of the Department of Health spent hours Monday arguing about how much medical marijuana doctors should be able to recommend for patients. The state currently has no caps on how much pot patients can consume or their doctors prescribe. Some physicians are arguing for controls, saying they underestimated the dangers of opioid prescribing and didn't want to repeat that mistake. But other physicians argued that equating marijuana with opioids is "problematic" for a number of reasons. In the end, the panel agreed to set daily limits at a total of 1,550 milligrams for THC and 2,250 for CBD, or about five to six times the average recommended dosages for medical marijuana patients.

Asset Forfeiture

Philadelphia to Roll Back Civil Forfeiture, Pay $3 Million to Victims. To settle a lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice, the city of Philadelphia agreed Tuesday to stop allowing law enforcement from profiting from asset forfeiture and to set up a $3 million fund to compensate people victimized by past asset forfeiture actions. The plaintiffs were Philadelphia residents who had property seized through civil asset forfeiture, including one man whose home was seized after his son made a $40 drug sale. Under the settlement, the city agreed to not seize property for minor drug crimes like possession, not forfeit cash in amounts less than $250, and not use any proceeds to pay police officers or prosecutors, to name a few conditions.

Foreign Policy

Trump Administration Plans UN Side Meeting to Ramp Up Global Drug War. The Trump administration will hold an invitation-only event at the UN next week to push for tougher global drug law enforcement. The "Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem" is limited to countries that have signed onto a US "action plan."  Among the signatories are countries with some of the world's harshest drug policies, including China, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore, as well as Russia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, India, and Costa Rica. Countries who signed on will "receive an invitation to attend this High-Level Event" with the US president. "The purpose of this event is to demonstrate international political will to enhance efforts to effectively address and counter the serious threats posed by the world drug problem," says the so-called diplomatic note.

Chronicle AM: NY Gov Signs Opioid Bill, VT Dems Want Full MJ Legalization, More... (8/27/18)

An Arizona prosecutor gets challenged for trying to profit off small-time pot offenders, Oregon regulators slash the daily purchase amounts for medical marijuana patients, a Louisiana prisoner featured in the Chronicle years ago gets a break, and more.

Oregon patients will only be able to buy one ounce a day under new emergency rules. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona County Attorney Sued Over Drug Court Diversion Program for Smalltime Marijuana Offenders. The Civil Rights Corps, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group, and a local law firm have sued Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney Bill Montgomery. They allege that he and the county drug court diversion program are preying on and profiting off people charged with minor pot possession offenses. Under the state's harsh laws, possession of even small amounts is a felony, but first- and second-time offenders are eligible for a diversion program. The problem is the diversion program has a $1,000 fee, and those who cannot pay the entire fee linger in the program, paying $15 to $20 fees for drug testing as often as several times a week and face being tried as felons if they fail to complete the program. "The complaint explains that the marijuana diversion program operated by TASC Inc. and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office represents a two-tiered legal system," Civil Rights Corps Attorney Dami Animashaun said in a statement. "Wealthy people buy their way off diversion quickly, while poor people risk being expelled from the program and prosecuted for a felony solely because they cannot afford to pay."

Vermont Democrats Call for Taxed, Regulated Legal Marijuana Sales. Vermont has already legalized the personal possession and home cultivation of marijuana, and now the state's Democratic Party has formally endorsed expanding legalization to include taxed and regulated legal marijuana sales. "We believe that marijuana should be legal, taxed and regulated in the interests of consumer and public health, and economic opportunity," reads a platform plank adopted by delegates at the Vermont Democratic Party's platform convention on Sunday.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Regulators Slash Daily Purchase Limit for Patients. In a bid to reduce leakage into the black market, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission last Thursday dramatically reduced the amount of medical marijuana patients can purchase each day. Medical cardholders may now buy only one ounce a day, not the 24 ounces that had been the limit. The emergency change is in effect until December 27.

Illinois Governor Signs Hemp Bill. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) on Saturday signed a bill legalizing industrial hemp, the Illinois Hemp Act. "Legalizing the farming of industrial hemp just makes good sense," Rauner said in a statement. "Roughly 38 states -- including our neighbors in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee -- have allowed or are considering allowing cultivation of this crop for commercial, research or pilot programs. Our farmers should have this option as well." The state Department of Agriculture will issue licenses to farmers who want to grow it, and regulators will establish rules for THC-level testing of industrial hemp crops.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Governor Signs Legislation To Expand Use Of Rehabilitation And Diversion Services To Combat Heroin And Opioid Epidemic. Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) last Friday signed legislation (A.10403/S.8760) to help in the fight against the heroin and opioid epidemic by diverting substance-dependent individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system. This legislation provides another form of support to prosecutors and law enforcement officers as they seek treatment and counseling for people who are addicted to opioids. These diversion models include law enforcement assisted diversion, known as LEAD, and other programs treating substance abuse and addiction. The legislation expands the allowable use of funding from seized or forfeited assets by law enforcement and the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse."We must use every tool at our disposal to combat this nation's opioid epidemic and the underlying issues that lead people to commit crime, and this legislation makes available additional funding to help New Yorkers in need," Governor Cuomo said. "By helping New Yorkers turn their lives around, this program helps strengthen communities, increase public safety and break the vicious cycle of recidivism once and for all."

Sentencing

One Louisiana Man Gets a Sentence Cut. A Louisiana man sentenced to life in prison for marijuana possession as a habitual offender has received a sentence reduction that will allow him to go free in a matter of weeks. Jody Butler's case was covered by the Chronicle's Clarence Walker back in 2013, but it took until now for justice to be done. New Orleans Parish District Attorney, who made a career of imposing long sentences on small-time drug offenders, raised no objection to a sentence reduction in Butler's case, the latest in which he has backpedaled away from his earlier, harsher stance.

Chronicle AM: Feds Cracking Down on Fentanyl OD Deaths, OK Revises MedMJ Rules, More... (7/30/18)

A bill to protect marijuana-using federal workers in states where it is legal is filed, federal prosecutors are going hard after dealers linked to fatal fentanyl overdoses, the Republic of Georgia ends administrative punishments for marijuana use, and more.

The feds are meting out stiff sentences to dealers of fentanyl whose product kills people. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Federal Bill Would Block Federal Government from Firing Workers for Positive Pot Test Results in States Where It Is Legal. US Reps. Charlie Crist (D-FL) and Drew Ferguson (R-GA) filed the "Fairness in Drug Testing Under State Law Act" last Thursday. The bill would protect federal workers from being fired for testing positive for marijuana if they reside "in a state where that individual's private use of marijuana is not prohibited." The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Campaign in Final Days of Signature-Gathering. Green the Vote announced Sunday that it now has more than 132,000 raw signatures aimed at earning a place on the ballot for its legalization initiative, State Question 797. The group needs about 124,000 valid voter signatures and has until August 8 to hand in more signatures. The rule of thumb is that 20% to 30% of raw signatures may be found invalid, meaning Green the Vote can't really rest easy until it has around 180,000 raw signatures. Even if the group comes up with enough valid signatures, it would still face timeline to being approved for the November ballot because it is bumping up against deadlines for getting the measure approved by the governor and the state supreme court.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Health Officials Revise Proposed Medical Marijuana Rules. The Department of Health last Friday released new proposed medical marijuana rules that remove some of the most criticized provisions of its first swing at the issue. The rules no longer ban the sale of smokable marijuana or require female patients to get a pregnancy test (!). The department also ditched a rule that limited the amount of THC in marijuana products.

Asset Forfeiture

Coalition of Public Policy Groups Calls on House to Limit Civil Asset Forfeiture. A broad coalition of public policy organizations last Thursday submitted a letter to the US House of Representatives, urging members of Congress to limit civil asset forfeiture through amendments to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Industries (CJS) appropriations bill. "Current law allows law enforcement to confiscate property from innocent Americans without charging anyone with a crime," the letter says. "When citizens object, they encounter a system that is stacked against them procedurally and that treats them as presumptively guilty. This unpopular practice, known as civil forfeiture, is an affront to property rights and civil liberties and must be banned or reformed as soon as possible, but the immediate priority should be to amend the CJS appropriations bill when it is considered in the House of Representatives in order to roll back the Department of Justice's unjustified expansion of this practice. Click on the link to a see a list of the signatory groups.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

The Feds Are Prosecuting Fentanyl Overdose Deaths as Homicides in Crackdown on Opioid Dealers. Federal prosecutors are increasingly treating fentanyl overdose deaths as homicides as they crack down by punishing opioid dealers with ever more severe prison sentences. They are using charges that carry lengthy mandatory minimum sentences. In one case, a dealer charged with distributing fentanyl that resulted in the overdose of a New Hampshire man got a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence. Federal fentanyl prosecutions have nearly tripled, with 51 cases in FY 2016 to 181 in FY 2017. Last year, 95 people nationwide received federal prison sentences for distributing drugs resulting in death or serious injury, nearly double the number in 2014, according to the US Sentencing Commission.

International

Georgia Constitutional Court Outlaws All Punishment for Marijuana Consumption. The Constitutional Court ruled Monday that people can no longer be hit with administrative punishments, such as fines, for using marijuana. The decision goes into effect immediately and comes eight months after the same court abolished criminal penalties for marijuana use. Using marijuana is "an action protected by the right to a person's free development," the court held. Cultivation and distribution of marijuana remain criminal offenses.

Chronicle AM: Senate Votes for Legal Hemp, State Department Pushes Aerial Coca Eradication, More... (6/29/18)

The US Senate votes to legalize hemp, the State Department gets behind Colombia's plan to reintroduce aerial fumigation of coca crops, an Arizona court rules that hash isn't medical marijuana, and more.

The Trump administration is down with dumping herbicides on the heads of these Colombian coca farmers. (DEA)
Medical Marijuana

Arizona Appeals Court Rules Patients Face Can Be Arrest For Hashish. The state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that medical marijuana patients can still be arrested for possessing hashish because it wasn't included by name in the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative in 2010. The ruling came in the case of card-carrying patient Rodney Jones, who was caught with 0.05 ounces of hash. After spending more than a year in jail, he waived his right to a jury trial, but not his right to appeal. "If the drafters wanted to immunize the possession of hashish they should have said so," the ruling said. "We cannot conclude that Arizona voters intended to do so." Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, which is supporting Jones, said the ruling will be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Oklahoma Sees First Medical Marijuana Clinic. That didn't take long. Just hours after the polls closed Tuesday and voters approved a medical marijuana initiative, the Tulsa Higher Care Clinic opened for business. The clinic provides doctors who will write medical marijuana recommendations, but it isn't selling any product… yet.

Hemp

US Senate Votes to Legalize Hemp. The Senate passed the omnibus Farm Bill Thursday, and that bill includes an amendment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that legalizes the cultivation, processing, and sale of hemp. For years, the DEA has refused to recognize hemp as distinct from marijuana, but that distinction will be enshrined in law if the bill is signed into law. "Consumers across America buy hundreds of millions in retail products every year that contain hemp," McConnell said in a floor speech on Thursday. "But due to outdated federal regulations that do not sufficiently distinguish this industrial crop from its illicit cousin, American farmers have been mostly unable to meet that demand themselves. It's left consumers with little choice but to buy imported hemp products from foreign-produced hemp."

Asset Forfeiture

Idaho Civil Asset Forfeiture Reforms Go into Effect on Sunday. Reforms passed by the legislature and signed into law earlier this year go into effect on Sunday. The new law doesn't end civil asset forfeiture but does ban the seizure of vehicles for simple drug possession, requires that a connection is shown between seized property and a crime, and states that simple possession of a large amount of cash isn't grounds for it to be seized. The bill also requires for the first time statewide reporting of civil forfeitures and includes a provision allowing people accused of crimes to retain their property until found guilty.>

Foreign Policy

State Department Supports Resumption of Aerial Coca Eradication in Colombia. The US State Department Thursday expressed its support for resuming aerial coca spraying in Colombia. "The United States believes that all tools must be used to reverse the sharp increase in cocaine production," a department spokesperson said. Aerial fumigation was banned in 2015 because of environmental damage and health concerns for residents of areas being sprayed. Colombia produced a record amount of cocaine last year.

Chronicle AM: Canada Legalizes Marijuana! (6/20/18)

Canada has become the second country to legalize marijuana after final votes in parliament Tuesday, the Supreme Court agrees to hear an Indiana asset forfeiture case, Eleanor Holmes Norton files a bill to allow marijuana in public housing in states where it's legal, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Eleanor Holmes Norton Files Bill to Allow Marijuana Use in Public Housing Where It's Legal. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has filed a bill that would allow residents of public housing in states and localities where marijuana is legal to use it at home without fear of being evicted. Under Norton's bill, a person may not be denied federally-assisted housing for the use of marijuana in jurisdictions where medical or recreational marijuana has been legalized. Under Norton's bill, smoking marijuana would be treated the same as smoking tobacco in federally-assisted housing. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

Asset Forfeiture

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Indiana Civil Asset Forfeiture Case. The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of an Indiana man who used the proceeds of his father's life insurance policy to buy a $42,000 Land Rover only to have the vehicle seized after he was caught selling heroin with it. When authorities moved to forfeit the vehicle, Tyson Timbs challenged the action and won in the Grant Superior Court, with the judge finding the vehicle was purchased legally and that its forfeiture would be "grossly disproportionate" to Timb's offense. The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed, noting that the maximum fine for Timbs' offenses was only $10,000 and suggested the seizure amounted to an "excessive fine." The state Supreme Court then reversed, Timbs appealed, and here we are.

Reproductive Rights

Federal Appeals Court Panel Rejects Wisconsin Woman's "Cocaine Mom" Lawsuit. A three-judge panel on the US 7th Circuit of Appeals on Monday dismissed a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin's "cocaine mom" law, which permits the detention of pregnant women who are suspected of abusing drugs. The panel dismissed the case because the woman, Tammy Loetscher, had moved out of the state. A US district court judge last year found the law unconstitutional and issued an injunction barring it from being enforced, but the law has remained in force while the state appealed. The appeals court panel's ruling leaves the law in force for now. "Today's decision means that all women in Wisconsin have to worry that when they seek health care, if there's even a chance they might be pregnant, the state can take them into custody, lock them up in a drug treatment program, a mental hospital or a jail -- whether or not drug treatment is really needed," said Nancy Rosenbloom, director of legal advocacy for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which represented Loertscher.

International

Canada Legalizes Marijuana. With final votes in the House of Commons and Senate on Tuesday, the Canadian parliament has approved the marijuana legalization bill, C-45. The bill legalizes the possession of up to 30 grams in public and allows the cultivation of up to four plants per household. It will also allow for regulated and taxed marijuana businesses, with regulations of sales left to the provinces. Provincial and territorial governments need s few weeks to prepare for retail sales, so the actual rollout of legalization is expected to happen in mid-September.

Australia Festival Pill Testing a Success, Should Be Emulated, Report Finds. A study released Wednesday by the Safety and Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events finds that pill testing at the Groovin the Moo festival in Canberra in April was "an overwhelming success" and the federal government should take a leadership role in introducing a plan for broader pill testing. "The pilot demonstrated that such an intervention is possible and that people are willing to use the service, despite the limitations arising from the tight timelines, inauspicious physical infrastructure and the lack of dissemination strategies on-site during the festival," the report said. Less than half the drugs tested at the festival were relatively pure.

Missouri Cops are Diverting School Funding and Making a Joke of State Law

Responding to myriad tales of abuses, like many other states, Missouri has reformed its asset forfeiture laws to require a criminal conviction before cash or property is seized and, in a bid to prevent "policing for profit," to require that money seized by state law enforcement agencies goes solely to the state's schools.

Under Missouri law, seized cash is supposed to go to the schools, but the cops have found an end-around. (Wikipedia)
Somebody needs to tell the cops. As Kansas City TV station KMBC reported, state and local law enforcement agencies seized more than $19 million in the past three years, but only some $340,000 has actually made it to the schools. That's a measly 2% of the cash seized.

That's because police, with the help of the Trump Justice Department, are doing an end run around the state law. Under the Justice Department's Equitable Sharing Program, which was suspended late in the Obama administration but reinstated last year by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, state and local law enforcement agencies can hand their cash-laden cases over to federal prosecutors instead of turning them in to local district attorneys. And when they do, the reporting agency gets to keep 80% of the seized cash, with the Justice Department getting the rest.

The scheme not only subverts state law by diverting much-needed funding for schools to police agencies, but also by allowing state and local cops to seize cash and goods under the federal law, which does not require a criminal conviction first. In this manner, Missouri's cops are not only ripping off the schools, they are also giving a big middle finger to the state's democratically elected representatives who passed the asset forfeiture reform law.

The cops like things just as they are.

"We can immediately put that back in our tool belt if you will," said Major Derek McCollum, the head of the Kansas City Police Department's Asset Forfeiture Squad. The money buys "computer type equipment, covert surveillance type equipment," McCollum told KMBC, adding that he didn't feel like law enforcement was taking money from the schools.

The Missouri School Board Association begs to differ.

"Absolutely, the constitution says it is," said association attorney Susan Goldammer of the forfeiture money. "We still have school districts that don't have air conditioning or have concerns about asbestos. We've got many, many school buildings in the state that are way more than 100 years old," she added.

Instead of turning forfeitures over to the state's school system, the state Highway Patrol spent $70,000 on new weapons. And in Phelps County, which sits astride the east-west throughway Interstate 44 and which profited the most from asset forfeiture, the sheriff spends the money on the department's buildings -- not school buildings.

State Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-St. Louis) is working on a partial fix. He has authored House Bill 1501, under which only cases involving more than $50,000 could be handed over to the feds. (He had originally pegged the figure at $100,000, but has now halved it after "pushback from law enforcement.")

Dogan told KMBC that cases over $50,000 account for about 20% of asset forfeiture cases statewide and that he believes many smaller seizures are from innocent victims or involve rights violations.

"We can eliminate that incentive for them to just take money or take property," Dogan said. "The government seizes their money and says, "we think you're a suspected drug dealer. The government never produces any drugs, never charges you with a crime and then you have to spend more than they've actually seized trying to get your property back. That's unfair."

The $100,000 version of Dogan's bill is currently stalled in the legislature. Facing law enforcement opposition, the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee voted in February to postpone action on it, and the bill has no hearings scheduled and is not on the House calendar.

Perhaps he can get the $50,000 version moving. In the meantime, Missouri's cops continue to perversely profit from prohibition, while the state's schools are out of luck.

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