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Pennsylvania Marijuana Legalization Bill, MI Opioid Treatment Bills, More... (10/6/21)

A crack appears in Pennsylvania Republicans' opposition to legalizing marijuana, that DEA agent killed in Tucson on Monday died enforcing marijuana prohibition, and more.

A proposed Michigan bill would let community-based organization dispense the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Sees Bipartisan Effort to Legalize Marijuana. A Republican state senator has joined forces with a Democrat in a bid to garner bipartisan support for marijuana legalization. Senator Mike Regan (R) and Rep. Amen Brown (D) are teaming up on Regan's proposed bill, which would legalize marijuana, includes social equity provisions, and seeks to create a tax and regulatory structure for legal weed. Democratic politicians in the state, including Gov. Tom Wolf, have been calling for legalization, but the Republican-controlled legislature has so far resisted such entreaties. It's time for us to move forward in Pennsylvania," said Regan, a former US marshal who played a role in crafting the state's medical marijuana program. "If we can take the violence out of it and we can regulate it and tax it and let police focus on the really serious crimes, I think it's a huge step forward."

Opioids

Michigan House Committee Takes Up Opioid Treatment Expansion. The House Health Policy Committee has met to discuss several pieces of health-related legislation, including a pair of bills that would expand access to treatment for opioid use disorder, HB 5163 and HB 5166. "HB 5163 will expand capacity to treat opioid overdoses in emergency departments, a key interception point for people who use drugs where we see a high risk of overdose upon discharge," said bill sponsor Rep. Angela Witwer. The bill would allow emergency departments to provide medication-assisted treatment, create specific hospital overdose care protocols, and provide referrals to community-based care organizations. HB 5166 would increase access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone by allowing community-based organizations to distribute the drug. Currently, under a 2016 standing order law, pharmacists can give the drug without a prescription, similar to an over-the-counter drug. No votes were taken on the bills.

Law Enforcement

DEA Agent Killed in Tucson Was Enforcing Marijuana Prohibition. DEA Agent Michael Garbo, who was killed Monday in a shootout on an Amtrak passenger train in Tucson, died attempting to enforce federal laws against marijuana. The accused shooter, known only as D.T., opened fire on drug task force agents after they found 2.4 kilograms of marijuana, 50 packages of edibles, and "other marijuana and cannabis products," according to the court documents. D.T. and his partner, Devonte Okeith Mathis, were targeted by the DEA, whose agents were given a list "that contained names of several individuals on an Amtrak train that was arriving in Tucson" as part of their routine investigative activities. Task force officers saw Mathis move several bags a few rows away from where he and his partner were sitting, then took the bags off the train to inspect them and found marijuana. When agents then attempted to approach D.T., he opened fire, killing Garbo and wounding another DEA agent and a Tucson police officer. D.T. was then fatally shot.

Seattle Psychedelic Decriminalization, OH Towns to Vote on Marijuana Decrim, More... (10/5/21)

The Philippine government tries to look like it is doing something about human rights abuses in its drug war, Bolivian coca grower factions continue to clash, Seattle decriminalizes natural psychedelics and more.

Not only the cultivation and possession but also the sharing of natural psychedelics is decriminalized in Seattle. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Towns Will Vote on Marijuana Decriminalization Ballot Measures Next Month. Activists with NORML Appalachia of Ohio and the Sensible Marijuana Coalition have qualified marijuana decriminalization ballot initiatives for next month's ballot in more than a dozen municipalities, even as efforts to qualify in more communities continue. Voters in Brookside, Dillonvale, Laurelville, Martins Ferry, McArthur, Morristown, Mount Pleasant, Murray City, New Lexington, New Straitsville, Powhatan Point, Rayland, Tiltonsville, and Yorkville will have the chance to vote on the initiatives. Some of the 14 local measures read simply: "Shall [jurisdiction] adopt the Sensible Marihuana Ordinance, which lowers the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana offenses to the lowest penalty allowed by State Law?" Others are longer and more specific, but all aim to further undermine marijuana prohibition in the Buckeye State.

Psychedelics

Seattle Becomes Largest City to Decriminalize Psychedelics. The city council on Monday approved a resolution to decriminalize not just the cultivation and possession but also the noncommercial sharing of a wide range of psychedelic substances, including psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, and non-peyote derived mescaline. The non-inclusion of peyote is a nod to concerns voiced by the indigenous community, where members of the Native American Church consume the cactus as a sacrament. Seattle police already have a policy of not arresting or prosecuting people for drug possession, but this ordinance extends that protection to people growing and sharing psychedelic plants and fungi for open-ended "religious, spiritual, healing, or personal growth practices." The ordinance passed on a unanimous vote.

Law Enforcement

DEA Agent Killed in Drug Sweep of Amtrak Train in Tucson. A DEA agent and a person on an Amtrak train stopped in Tucson were killed in an outburst of gunfire that broke out Monday morning as members of a joint drug task force conducted a drug sweep of the train. Another DEA agent was critically wounded, while a city police officer was also shot and is in stable condition. Two people on board the train reacted to the police presence, with one opening fire. "They were checking for illegal guns, money, drugs," Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus said. "This is something they do, as I said, routinely at pretty much all transit hubs." Magnus said he did not know whether any guns or drugs were found by officers. One person is now in custody.

International

Bolivian Anti-Government Coca Growers Storm La Paz Coca Market. Following more violent clashes with security forces, thousands of anti-government coca growers stormed the Adepcoca market in La Paz on Monday. For more than a week, pro- and anti-government coca grower factions have clashed over control of the market, through which 90 percent of the country's legal coca passes, after pro-government coca unions ousted an opposition leader to take control of it. The anti-government faction is centered in the Yungas region, which is the traditional center of Bolivian coca production. Yungas growers have been upset with the ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) Party since 2017, when then-President Evo Morales ended the Yungas monopoly on coca growing by legalizing coca production in his region of Cochabamba.

In Bid to Blunt International Criminal Court Investigation, Philippines Says 154 Police Could Be Liable for Drug War Conduct. Faced with a formal International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into rampant human rights abuses -- including thousands of killings -- during President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs, Filipino Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced Sunday that 154 police officers could be criminally liable for their conduct in the drug war, including 52 cases of killings. The Philippine government is refusing to cooperate with the ICC probe, arguing that it is capable of policing itself, but the 154 officers who are listed as facing potential criminal liability represent only a tiny fraction of the killings that have taken place, of which the government officially acknowledges more than 6,000. Human rights groups have put the figure north of 30,000.

Chronicle Book Review: "We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption"

We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption by Justin Fenton (2021, Random House, 335 pp., $28.00 HB)

The thuggish, racially-charged reality of the war on drugs sometimes leaps dramatically into the national spotlight, as when gung-ho drug cops in Louisville gunned down Breonna Taylor in her own apartment last year or when a North Carolina SWAT team sent to execute a routine drug warrant managed to shoot Andrew Brown in the back of the head as he fled in his car. Both were African-American, both collateral damage in the endless drug war.

Such outrages inevitably -- and deservedly -- shock the conscience of the nation and garner lots of headlines. And they sometimes lead to reforms, with Taylor's death resulting in a Louisville ban on no-knock raids and a statewide partial ban on them, as well as propelling legislation both in other states and in Congress.

But most of the time, the drug war just grinds on, chewing up its victims and turning them into raw inputs for the criminal justice industrial complex, but also engendering both crime related to black market activities and deep mistrust if not outright loathing in the communities of color most ground down by the heavy hand of prohibition policing.

It also has a way of chewing through the integrity of too many cops. Corruption and drug law enforcement have gone hand in hand from the days of Harry Anslinger's crooked federal narcs all the way through the war on drugs. The litany of drug-related police corruption scandals is long and sordid, from Serpico's NYPD to the LAPD's Ramparts scandal, the Oakland Riders, Philadelphia's Tarnished Badge scandal and lesser, but equally corrupt groups of officers in places such as Miami, Memphis, Tulsa, and Baton Rouge.

And now we can add Baltimore's Gun Trace Task Force scandal. The name should ring a bell among regular readers of the Chronicle's This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories, where task force members made regular appearances among our listings of officers arrested, convicted, and sentenced for their criminal misdeeds in the past few years. But now, Baltimore Sun crime reporter Justin Fenton, who covered the whole thing as it unfolded, wraps it all up in an ugly little package in We Own This City, the title taken from the arrogant braggadocio of one of the miscreants.

In the 2010s, Baltimore was a city battered by decades of deindustrialization and declining population, hammered hard by heroin, and with surging crime and a murder count reaching record highs. Mayors came into office with new anti-crime plans and appointed new police chiefs with new strategies, but nothing was working. And then came the death of Freddy Gray, a 25-year-old Black man who died in the back of a police paddy wagon under suspicious circumstances.

As the city and the police department reeled in the face of furious outbreaks of rioting and mass protests, they turned to one of the department's stars, a self-promoting hot dog of a cop who managed to make more gun busts than anyone -- and made sure his supervisors knew it -- Sgt. Wayne Jenkins and his squad of elite plainclothes "jump out boys" in the Gun Trace Task Force.

But Jenkins and his boys were less about addressing the drugs and guns problem than exploiting it for their own ends. For years, the crew went on a rampage of unlawful traffic stops, break-ins, robberies, evidence-planting, and drug dealing as they preyed on the citizens of Baltimore -- mostly the Black citizens of Baltimore. They specialized in identifying and ripping off drug dealers and used their networks of informants to peddle the dope right back onto the same streets they took in from. Their false testimonies sent people to prison, and their reckless behavior led to the death of at least one innocent bystander.

That the Gun Trace Task Force got away with its out-of-control crime spree for years is an indictment not only of the amoral men involved, but also the public officials and police administrators who should have caught on but remained clueless until it all exploded in their faces thanks to a federal investigation that eventually cracked the case wide open. It's also a reminder that enforcing drug prohibition generates such scandals on a predictably regular basis.

Fenton does an admirable job of tying this multi-tentacled story into a neat, if disturbing little package. As a local crime reporter, he has the background and extensive contacts to provide a thorough understanding of city and state politics, the intricacies of the Baltimore Police Department, and the people of the city, both folks involved in the trade and just regular folks swept up in the task force crime wave. In so doing, he becomes the voice of the city, appalled and disgusted by the moral rot within the Gun Trace Task Force.

Drug war police corruption is an old story, but this time with a new locale and a new cast of characters, brought to life by a seasoned journalist. We Own This City is a gripping and disturbing read, carrying a lesson we still have not learned.

Trump's Latest Drug Budget: Pretty Much More of the Same [FEATURE]

The Trump administration rolled out its proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 National Drug Control Budget Tuesday, and it's pretty much more of the same -- $35.7 billion more, to be precise. That's a proposed $94 million increase over what was actually allocated in the current fiscal year.

cocaine seized by US Customs at the Mexican border (dhs.gov)
To be fair, only about half of that money would be destined for the fruitless and endless battle to enforce drug prohibition. The request includes $18.6 billion for prevention and treatment efforts and $17.1 billion for "domestic law enforcement, interdiction, and international drug control efforts," the drug war side of the federal drug budget.

"The FY 2021 budget request sends a strong message that, although we've seen signs of real progress, the Trump administration will not let up in our efforts to save American lives," Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Jim Carroll said in a statement accompanying the budget release. "Whether it is going after drug traffickers, getting people struggling with addiction the help they need, or stopping drug misuse before it starts, this budget request ensures our partners will have the resources needed to create safer and healthier communities across the nation."

But big talk notwithstanding, there's not really much of a bump for much-needed treatment. The budget would provide more than $14 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services for drug treatment funding, a 3% increase for the department and a 2.9% increase for treatment funding across the federal government. That includes $3.9 billion in drug treatment funding for the DEA for something outside its purview and for which it has not been previously funded.

There's another $2.135 billion for prevention, which we tend to think of mainly as educational efforts, but which the administration notes includes coercive and punitive "drug-free workplace programs" and "drug testing in various settings, including athletic activities, schools, and the workplace."

Ironically given ONDCP's role in rolling out the drug budget, the budget once again takes aim directly at ONDCP. Since the Bush administration, there have been efforts to eliminate or sideline ONDCP, and the Trump administration is back at it. This budget, if enacted, would slash the drug czar's office funding from the $261 million allocated this year to a measly $4.3 million next year, a whopping 98.4% reduction. Congress has so far always rejected such moves. The major part of that reduction results from the transfer of control over High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) funds from ONDCP to the DEA.

And speaking of the DEA and the prohibition enforcement fraction of the overall drug budget, DEA would see its budget increase to $3.1 billion, an increase of 15.8% over this year. More than half of that increase, though, comes from the transfer of those HIDTA funds from ONDCP.

Overall, domestic drug law enforcement spending would increase to $9.95 billion dollars, a jump of 0.9% over this year. That would include $3.4 billion to pay for housing federal drug war prisoners, $931 million for the US Marshals Service to catch more drug war fugitives, and more than half a billion dollars for the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force program, among other line items.

There's also $3.4 billion for the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection to "protect America's land, sea, and air borders from drug trafficking-related security threats." At the same time, though, the budget would reduce the Defense Department's drug interdiction activities -- think Coast Guard ships loaded with seized cocaine -- from $225 million to $109 million, a reduction of more than half.

But there's also international drug enforcement spending, and the Pentagon would get another $200 million for interdiction and counterdrug activities. That would be a dramatic 43% reduction from the $354 million appropriated this year.

The Justice Department, though, would see a 31% increase in its overseas spending, to just over half a billion dollars. The vast bulk of that funding -- $499.7 million -- would be destined for DEA overseas activities.

But the department with the biggest chunk of foreign drug war funding is State, which would see its Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement ("drugs and thugs") funded at $441 million, up 15% over this year. That includes things like trying to suppress the Afghan opium crop or the Colombian coca crop, tasks which have proven remarkably futile.

This is the Trump administration's drug war wish list. It is only a budget proposal and is unlikely to remain unchanged, and with keeping ONDCP active a long-running congressional priority, the radical reduction in its funding is one item that's likely to be amended. Still, the Congress has for years passed largely similar drug budgets, and this one will probably pass, too, without many substantial changes.

Chronicle AM: FL MedMJ Moves, CA Safe Injection Site Bill Filed, More... (2/5/19)

Florida courts and the legislature are both dealing with the legislature's previous efforts to mess with the voter-approved medical marijuana amendment, a pot legalization bill gets a hearing in New Hampshire, a Virginia trooper and a drug suspect are killed in the drug war, and more.

There's a battle over smokable medical marijuana in Florida. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Guam's Governor Supports Marijuana Legalization Bill. Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has come out in support of a marijuana legalization measure, Bill 32-35, the Guam Cannabis Industry Act of 2019. Her move came after meeting with bill author Sen. Clynt Ridgell last Friday, but her support is not surprising; she’s been in favor of legalization for some time. The bill would allow adults to possess and grow their own marijuana, as well as create a system of legal marijuana commerce.

New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. A bill to legalize marijuana, HB 481, got a public hearing Tuesday. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton), is opposed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Bill to End Ban on Smoking Gets Twisted. A bill from Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) that would end the ban on smoking medical marijuana, SB 182, was so altered in the Senate Health Policy Committee Monday that Brandes now says it would be worse for patients that doing nothing at all. At the behest of Chairwoman Gayle Harrell (R-Port St. Lucie), the committee voted to require that patients seeking to use smokable marijuana get a second opinion from a physician and to mandate that doctors would only be able to order smokable marijuana if it were the only route of administration that would benefit the patient. Brandes says the bill “will have to be significantly amended” before he would send it to the Senate floor for a full vote.

Florida Judge Again Strikes Down Cap on Dispensaries. For the second time in a month, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers has struck down a state law capping the number of dispensaries a medical marijuana business can operate. The limit on the number of storefronts was not contained in the state’s successful medical marijuana amendment but imposed by the legislature in 2017. In her opinion, Gievers harshly criticized the legislature and state health officials for failing to comply with the amendment. "The evidence clearly and conclusively establishes beyond any doubt that conveniently located medical marijuana dispensaries (as opposed to vehicle delivery, the only allowed alternative means of dispensing) promote authorized users’ improved access to medical marijuana products and related information and services, at lower cost, and promote public safety (the stated goals for regulation in the amendment)," Gievers wrote in Friday’s ruling.

Hemp

Mississippi Lawmakers Reject Move to Let Farmers Grow Hemp. The House Drug Policy Committee on Monday rejected on a tie vote an amendment that would have changed state law to allow farmers to grow hemp in the state. Congress last year approved the production of hemp in pilot programs.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Gets Hearing. The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony Monday on HB 1286, which seeks to end civil asset forfeiture in the state. Law enforcement officials testified against ending civil forfeiture but appeared open to transparency and reporting requirements in the bill.

Harm Reduction

California Legislature to Consider Allowing Pilot Overdose Prevention ProjectsState Assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman (D-Stockton) and State Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) on Monday filed a bill to allow the City of San Francisco to pilot and evaluate an “overdose prevention site” program. These sites would allow drug users could consume illegal drugs, including heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine, under the supervision of staff trained to prevent and treat drug overdose and to help steer people who use drugs into drug treatment, housing, and other medical and social services. The bill is AB 362.

Law Enforcement

Virginia Trooper, Suspect Killed in Drug Raid. State Trooper Lucas Powell was shot and killed Monday night as he participated in a drug raid by the Piedmont Regional Gang and Drug Task Force in Cumberland County. The person whose home was being raided and who killed Powell, Corey Johnson, was then shot and killed by police.

International

Mexico to Try New Tactics in Search for Those Missing in Drug War. Mexican officials said Monday they have a new plan to search for the more than 40,000 people who have gone missing amidst the country’s drug wars. The government will create a new forensic institute and work more closely with families and international groups, interior ministry undersecretary for human rights Alejandro Encinas said at a press conference. In addition to the 40,000 missing, there are some 26,000 unidentified bodies in the forensic system, he said.

Chronicle AM: Harborside Loses Pot Tax Case, Hemp in Final Version of Farm Bill, More... (11/30/18)

The US Tax Court has ruled against Harborside being able to deduct standard business expenses, a hemp provision is in the final version of the farm bill, Mexico and the US disagree over Mexican heroin production levels, and more.

Pot shops can't deduct standard business expenses, the US Tax Court ruled in a case Thursday. (Sonya Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

California Dispensary Loses in US Tax Court. In a decision Thursday, the US Tax Court rejected a bid from Harborside Health Center to be able to declare normal business expenses on its taxes. The court held that Harborside was "engaged in only one trade or business, which was trafficking in a controlled substance" and since Section 280E of the internal revenue code bars criminal enterprises from taking the expense deduction, "Section 280E prevents [Harborside] from deducting ordinary and necessary business expenses."

Michigan Republican Lawmaker Files Bill to Ban Home Growing. Republican Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) on Thursday filed a measure, SB 1243, which would ban the home grows included in the marijuana legalization initiative approved by voters earlier this month. Under the initiative, adults can grow up to 12 plants for personal use in their homes, but that's got Meekhof worried: "People don’t get to make alcohol and serve it in unregulated bars to anyone they want to. Homegrown marijuana is basically unregulated," he said. "It should be in some regulated form, so we have consistency and safety. It’s a mind-altering substance like alcohol. It should be somehow controlled." Meekhof seems to have forgotten that Michigan allows the unregulated home production of up to 200 gallons of beer a year.

Industrial Hemp

Hemp Legalization Included in Final Farm Bill. A provision to legalize industrial hemp will be included in the 2018 farm bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and top figures in the House Agriculture Committee confirmed Thursday. Legislators in the House and Senate agricultural committees said they had reached an agreement on principle on the bill and are now finalizing the language.

Law Enforcement

Houston Drug Sting Leaves Two Dead, Seven Arrested. A drug sting operation involving a multi-jurisdictional task force including the DEA, Houston Police, and a SWAT team left two men dead and seven under arrest. Task force agents met with several known drug dealers, one of whom allegedly fired on SWAT officers moving in to make arrests. He was shot and killed by a SWAT officer. A second man fled the scene, but was found by a police dog and brought back to the scene, where he complained of problems breathing and then died despite efforts by tactical medics to revive him. The seven men arrested face federal drug charges.

International

Mexico Disputes US Heroin Production Estimates. The Mexican government and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said Thursday that opium poppy production in the country last year encompassed some 75,000 acres, far less than the 110,000 acres estimated by the US earlier this month. The Mexicans also said they had eradicated more than 90% of the crop, which would leave only enough for about 900 kilograms of heroin. The US estimated that Mexico produces 111 tons of heroin last year. 

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Law Enforcement

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

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

Chronicle AM: MO MMJ Inits Hand in Beaucoup Signatures, OH Racial Profiling Drug Dogs, More... (5/7/18)

Two separate Missouri medical marijuana initiatives appear set to qualify for the November ballot, the Utah medical marijuana initiative is generating organized opposition -- including the DEA -- Canada's prime minister says it's full steam ahead for marijuana legalization, and more.

Black drivers in Ohio are more likely to get drug dogs sicced on them than white ones, official data shows. (Wikimedia)
Medical Marijuana

Missouri Initiative Campaigns Hand in Many Signatures. New Approach Missouri and Find the Cure, the folks behind a pair of medical marijuana initiatives (they differ only on how regulations would work and where tax dollars would go), announced last Friday that they had handed in roughly double the number of signatures they need to come up with 160,000 valid voter signatures. Find the Cure said it had handed in more than 300,000 signatures, while New Approach Missouri said it had handed in more than 370,000. Although initiative petitions occasionally see half of their signatures get disqualified, it's far more typical for them to lose a third. If both initiatives make the ballot, the one with the most votes on election day wins.

Michigan Regulators Recommend Approving 10 New Qualifying Conditions. The state's Medical Marihuana Review Panel has recommended the approval of 10 new conditions that could qualify people to use medical marijuana. That's out of a list of 22 conditions people had asked the panel to review. The conditions include obsessive compulsive disorder, arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel diseases, Parkinson's, Tourettes, spinal cord injury, autism, and chronic pain. The recommendations now go to Shelly Edgerton, the director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, who has until July 10 to make a final decision.

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Gets Organized Opposition, Including the DEA. Organized opposition to the Utah Patients Coalition's medical marijuana initiative has emerged, and it includes a local DEA task force, raising questions about a federal agency interfering in a state-level ballot question. Drug Safe Utah is recruiting paid canvassers to try to get voters who signed initiative campaigns to retract their signatures. Its members include the Utah Medical Association and the DEA's Salt Lake City Metro Narcotics Task Force.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Three Democratic Senators Urge FDA to Pull High-Dose Opioids from Market. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Ed Markey (D-MA) are urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to remove ultra-high dose opioids from the market because of concerns about "accidental ingestion, borrowed medication, and recreational use." The senators said patients who need high dose opioids could just take more pills, patches, or other formulations. "We believe these ultra-high dose opioids can be removed from the market without imposing hardship on those with legitimate pain needs," the senators wrote. But the Academy of Integrative Pain Management disagreed, saying the pulling the high dose opioids would "in some situations, create a greater danger because patients would be required to have several times more pills available to meet their needs. The burden of this would fall on the sickest patients, including those with cancer and/or receiving palliative/hospice/end-of-life care, whose quality of life would be diminished."

Racial Profiling

Ohio Highway Patrol More Likely to Use Drug Dogs on Black Drivers. The Associated Press has examined records on highway stops that show the state Highway Patrol uses drug-sniffing dogs on black drivers at a disproportionate rate. Blacks account for about 13% of the state population and 14% of drivers stopped by troopers, but 28% of stops where drug dogs were used. The AP made the records request after a federal appeals court criticized the arrest of a black driver on the Ohio Turnpike in 2014 and threw out the evidence used to convict him.

International

Canadian PM Says Marijuana Legalization Plan Will Proceed Without Delay. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last Thursday that his plan to legalize marijuana this summer will proceed without delay, despite misgivings being voiced in the Senate. "We're going to continue to move forward. We're going to bring in legalization as we've committed to this summer on schedule," Trudeau said.

Nigeria Bans Codeine. Responding to the rising recreational use of codeine-based cough syrups, the Nigerian federal government last week banned further imports of codeine into the country. The move comes as the country attempts to rewrite its drug and mental health policies.

Chronicle AM: Second Australia SIJ Coming, DEA Adds Heroin Enforcement Teams, More... (10/30/17)

The Victoria state government has approved a safe injection site in Melbourne, a new report warns that high taxes on legal marijuana could push people to the black market, New Jersey adds some new qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use, and more.

Australia's second safe injection site will open in Melbourne next year. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Report: High Legal Pot Taxes Could Push Consumers to Black Market. California retail marijuana taxes, which could reach as high as 45% in some cases, could potentially push consumers out of legal pot shops and into the black market, according to a new report from the credit rating agency Fitch Ratings. "The existing black market for cannabis may prove a formidable competitor to legal markets if new taxes lead to higher prices than available from illicit sources," the report says.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Adds Five New Qualifying Conditions. The state's Medical Marijuana Review Panel has officially approved five new qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. They are anxiety, chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders, migraines, chronic pain of visceral origin, and Tourette's Syndrome. The panel rejected adding chronic fatigue syndrome and asthma as qualifying conditions.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Creates Six New Heroin Enforcement Teams. The DEA has announced the establishment of six new enforcement teams focused on heroin and fentanyl. The teams will operate in New Bedford, Massachusetts; Charleston, West Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Long Island, New York. The DEA got funding in its Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations to pay for the teams.

Public Health Experts Issue Report With Comprehensive Recommendations for Opioid Crisis.
Experts from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in collaboration with the Clinton Foundation have issued a report with comprehensive recommendations for stemming the opioid crisis. Among its 10 priority recommendations are: expanded electronic opioid prescription monitoring, policies in line with CDC Opioid Prescribing Guidelines, clear guidance on opioid disposal and "take back" programs, increased federal funding for drug treatment in the most hard hit communities, and cheaper naloxone.

International

Taliban Now Making Heroin -- and Increased Profits. For years, Afghanistan's Taliban have profited from opium poppy production, using the proceeds to finance their war, but now, Afghan and Western officials say that more than half of Afghan opium is being processed in-country, and that is leading for increased profits for the Taliban, for whom the drug trade consists of about 60% of its income.

Australia to Get Second Safe Injection Site, in Melbourne. The Victoria state government cabinet has approved a safe injection site for the North Richmond area of Melbourne. It is set to open next year. At the same time, the state government is also moving to crack down on heroin traffickers by reducing the amounts of heroin needed to impose harsh sentences.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

We've only got a couple this week, but they're both pretty juicy and involve federal law enforcement officials. Let's get to it:

In New Orleans, a DEA agent and a Hammond police officer were arrested Sunday on charges related to the DEA task force led by Agent Chad Scott. Task force members are accused of stealing property and thousands of dollars in drug investigations, as well as a raft of related offenses. Scott and Hammond Police Officer Rodney Gemar are accused of participating in a seven-year conspiracy to not report drug, cash, and property seizures and instead keep them for their own profit. Scott faces ten counts, including falsifying government records, obstruction of justice, perjury, conspiracy, and seeking and receiving illegal gratuities. Gemar faces six counts, including stealing evidence and conspiracy. Gemar is out on bail, but Scott was still being held after appearing in court Monday.

In Orlando, Florida, a Department of Homeland Security officer was arrested last Monday for allegedly taking bribes to help a Colombian cocaine trafficker avoid criminal charges. Special Agent Christopher Ciccione was the case agent for an organized crime and drug trafficking task force that obtained indictments for a number of Cali Cartel cocaine traffickers, but Ciccione is accused of taking a $20,000 bribe to get the indictment dismissed, then altering records and lying to federal prosecutors. He is charged with conspiracy, corruption, and obstruction of justice.

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