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Synthetic Marijuana Ban Mania Continues

The reflexive response of state legislators to respond to new, uncontrolled substances by banning them continues unabated this year as bills to proscribe synthetic marijuana have been filed in Nebraska and Indiana. Another synthetic pot ban bill is pending in Connecticut, and Washington state bureaucrats acted at year's end to ban the substances there.

In the bull's eye at the state house (image via Wikimedia)
Sold under names like K2 and Spice, the products contain synthetic cannabinoids that produce psychoactive effects roughly similar to marijuana. While about a dozen states and numerous municipalities moved against synthetic cannabinoids last year, the substances remained unregulated at the federal level until the DEA imposed an emergency ban that took effect on Christmas Eve.

But the federal ban has not deterred state legislators from acting since then. In Nebraska, Sen. Beau McCoy has introduced LB 19, which would prohibit the possession or sale of synthetic cannabinoids. That bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee, where a hearing has been set for January 19.

In Indiana, state Sen. Joe Zakas (R-Granger) introduced SB 152, which bans synthetic cannabinoids and punishes use or distribution with the same penalties in place for marijuana. That legislation passed the Senate Corrections Committee unanimously on Tuesday.

In Connecticut, no bill has been formally introduced yet, but several legislators, parents, and members of the anti-drug abuse group Connecticut Prevention Network met Monday to call for legislation there. Rep. Patricia Wilditz (D-Guilford) said the substances are becoming increasingly popular among young people and that the public needed to be warned of their dangers.

In Washington state, meanwhile, the compounds were banned by action of the State Board of Pharmacy on December 30. The ban there came three weeks after a Seattle man struck three pedestrians with his vehicle and later claimed to have been under their influence.

"The chemicals are very potent synthetic cannabinoids and can cause harm when used, generally by smoking," the Board of Pharmacy said. "These are effects that can affect behavior, judgments and health."

Reported adverse effects of synthetic cannabinoids include panic attacks, anxiety, agitation, rapid heartbeat, vomiting, hallucinations, tremors, and seizures. No fatal overdoses have been reported.

Federal Fake Marijuana Ban Challenged

Location: 
Duluth, MN
United States
A Duluth man is now part of the first lawsuit challenging a federal ban on several ingredients found in synthetic marijuana products. Jim Carlson owns Last Place on Earth in downtown Duluth. He was already challenging the city's ban on fake pot ingredients.
Publication/Source: 
WDIO (MN)
URL: 
http://www.wdio.com/article/stories/S1901571.shtml?cat=10335

This Year's Top 10 International Drug Policy Stories

This year saw continued turmoil, agitation, and evolution on the international drug policy front. While we don't have the space to cover all the developments -- the expansion of medical marijuana access in Israel, the rise of Portugal as a drug reform model, the slow spread of harm reduction practices across Eurasia -- here are what we see as the most significant international drug policy developments of the year.

The Mexican Tragedy

San Malverde, Mexico's patron saint of narco-traffickers
Mexico's ongoing tragedy is exhibit number one in the failure of global drug prohibition. This month, the official death toll since President Felipe Calderon deployed the military against the so-called cartels in December 2006 passed 30,000, with 10,000 killed this year alone. The multi-sided conflict pits the cartels against each other, cartel factions against each other, cartels against law enforcement and the military, and, at times, elements of the military and different levels of law enforcement against each other. The US has spent $1.2 billion of Plan Merida funds, mainly beefing up the police and the military, and appropriated another $600 million this summer, much of it to send more lawmen, prosecutors, and National Guard units to the border. None of it seems to make much difference in the supply of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine coming over (under, around, and through) the border, but the horrorific violence of Mexico's drug war is eroding public confidence in the state and its ability to exercise one of its essential functions: maintaining order. The slow-motion disaster has spurred talk of legalization in Mexico -- and beyond -- but there is little chance of any real movement toward that solution anytime in the near future. In the mean time, Mexico bleeds for our sins.

The Rising Clamor for a New Paradigm and an End to Drug Prohibition

The critique of the international drug policy status quo that has been growing louder and louder for the past decade or so turned into a roar in 2010. Impelled in part by the ongoing crisis in Mexico and in part by a more generalized disdain for failed drug war policies, calls for radical reform came fast and furious, and from some unexpected corners this year.

In January, the former French Polynesian President Oscar Temaru called for Tahiti to legalize marijuana and sell it to European tourists to provide jobs for unemployed youth. Three months later, members of the ruling party of another island nation spoke out for reform. In traditionally tough on drugs Bermuda, leading Progressive Labor Party members called for decriminalization.

In February, an international conference of political figures, academics, social scientists, security experts, and activists in Mexico City called prohibition in Mexico a disaster and urged drug policies based on prevention, scientific evidence, and respect for human life. By August, as the wave of violence sweeping Mexico grew ever more threatening, President Felipe Calderon opened the door to a discussion of drug legalization, and although he quickly tried to slam it shut, former President Vicente Fox quickly jumped in to call for the legalization of the production, distribution, and sale of drugs. "Radical prohibition strategies have never worked," he said. That inspired Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to say that he supported the call for a debate on legalization. The situation in Mexico also inspired two leading Spanish political figures, former Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales and former drug czar Araceli Manjon-Cabeza to call for an end to drug prohibition in the fall.

Midsummer saw the emergence of the Vienna Declaration, an official conference declaration of the World AIDS Conference, which called for evidence-based policy making and the decriminalization of drug use. The declaration has garnered thousands of signatures and endorsements, including the endorsements of three former Latin American presidents, Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia. It has also picked up the support of public health organizations and municipalities worldwide, including the city of Vancouver.

Great Britain has also been a locus of drug war criticism this year, beginning with continuing resignations from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Several members of the official body had quit late last year in the wake of the firing of Professor David Nutt as ACMD after he criticized government decisions to reschedule cannabis and not to down-schedule ecstasy. In April, two more ACMD members resigned, this time in response to the government's ignoring their recommendations and banning mephedrone (see below).

The revolt continued in August, when the former head of Britain's Royal College of Physicians joined the growing chorus calling for radical reforms of the country's drug laws. Sir Ian Gilmore said the government should consider decriminalizing drug possession because prohibition neither reduced crime nor improved health. That came just three weeks after Nicholas Green, chairman of the Bar Council (the British equivalent of the ABA), called for decriminalization. The following month, Britain's leading cannabis scientist, Roger Pertwee called for cannabis to be legalized and regulated like alcohol and tobacco, and the chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officer's drug committee said marijuana should be decriminalized. Chief Constable Tim Hollis said decrim would allow police to concentrate on more serious crime. The following day, the Liberal Democrats, junior partners in a coalition government with the Conservatives, were lambasted by one of their own. Ewan Hoyle called for a rational debate on drug policy and scolded the party for remaining silent on the issue. And just this past week, former Blair administration Home Office drug minister and defense minister Bob Ainsworth called for the legalization of all illicit drugs, including cocaine and heroin.

From Mexico to Great Britain, Vancouver to Vienna, not to mention from Tahiti to Bermuda, the clamor for drug legalization has clearly grown in volume in 2010.

Opium and the Afghan War

More than nine years after the US invaded Afghanistan in a bid to decapitate Al Qaeda and punish the Taliban, the US and NATO occupation drags bloodily on. This year has been the deadliest so far for Western occupiers, with 697 US and NATO troops killed as of December 20. And while the US war machine is fueled by a seemingly endless supply of borrowed cash -- another $160 billion was just authorized for the coming year -- the Taliban runs to a large degree on profits from the opium and heroin trade. In a Faustian bargain, the West has found itself forced to accept widespread opium production as the price of keeping the peasantry out of Taliban ranks while at the same time acknowledging that the profits from the poppies end up as shiny new weapons used to kill Western soldiers and their Afghan allies. The Afghan poppy crop was down this year, not because of successful eradication programs, but because a fungus blighted much of the crop. But even that is not good news: The poppy shortage means prices will rebound and more farmers will plant next year. The West could buy up the entire poppy crop for less than what the US spends in a week to prosecute this war, but it has so far rejected that option.

The Netherlands Reins in Its Cannabis Coffee Shops

Holland's three-decade long experiment with tolerated marijuana sales at the country's famous coffee shops is probable not going to end under the current conservative government, but it is under pressure. The number of coffee shops operating in the country has dropped by about half from its peak, local governments are putting the squeeze on them via measures such as distance restrictions (must be so far from a school, etc.), and the national government is about to unveil a plan to effectively bar foreigners from the shops. The way for that was cleared this month when the European Court of Justice ruled that such a ban did not violate European Union guarantees of freedom of travel and equality under the law within the EU because what the coffee shops sell is an illegal product that promotes drug use and public disorder. Whether the "weed pass" system contemplated by opponents of "drug tourism" will come to pass nationwide remains to be seen, but it appears the famous Dutch tolerance is eroding, especially when it comes to foreigners. Do the Dutch really think most people go there just to visit the windmills and the Rijksmuseum?

Russian Takeover at the UNODC

In September, there was a changing of the guard at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), one of the key bureaucratic power centers for the global drug prohibition regime. Outgoing UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa, a former Italian prosecutor, was replaced by veteran Russian diplomat Yury Fedotov. Given Russia's dismal record on drug policy, especially around human rights issues, the treatment of hard drug users, and HIV/AIDS prevention, as well as the Russian government's insistence that the West resort to opium eradication in Afghanistan (Russia is in the throes of a heroin epidemic based on cheap Afghan smack), the international drug reform community looked askance at Fedotov's appointment. But the diplomat's first missive as ONDCP head talked of drug dependence as a disease, not something to be punished, and emphasized a concern with public health and human rights. Fedotov has shown he can talk the talk, but whether he will walk the walk remains to be seen.

US War on Coca on Autopilot

Coca production is ongoing, if down slightly, in the Andes, after more than a quarter century of US efforts to wipe it out. Plan Colombia continues to be funded, although at declining levels, and aerial and manual eradication continues there. That, and a boom in coca growing in Peru, have led to Peru's arguably retaking first place in coca production from Colombia, but have also led to increased conflict between Peruvian coca growers and a hostile national government. And remnants of the Shining Path have appointed themselves protectors of the trade in several Peruvian coca producing regions. They have clashed repeatedly with Peruvian police, military, and coca eradicators. Meanwhile, Bolivia, the world's number three coca producer continues to be governed by former coca grower union leader Evo Morales, who has allowed a limited increase in coca leaf production. That's enough to upset the US, but not enough to satisfy Bolivian coca growers, who this fall forced Evo's government to repeal a law limiting coca leaf sales.

Canada Marches Boldly Backward

Canada under the Conservatives continues to disappoint. When the Liberals held power in the early part of this decade, Canada was something of a drug reform beacon, even if the Liberals could never quite get around to passing their own marijuana decriminalization bill while in power. They supported Vancouver's safe injection site and embraced harm reduction policies. But under the government of Prime Minister Steven Harper, Canada this year fought and lost (again) to shut down the safe injection site. Harper's justice minister, Rob Nicholson, in May signed extradition papers allowing "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery to fall into the clutches of the Americans, in whose gulag he now resides for the next four years for selling pot seeds. And while Harper's dismissal of parliament in January killed the government's bill to introduced mandatory minimum sentences for a number of offenses, including growing as few as five pot plants, his government reintroduced the bill this fall. It just passed the Senate, but needs to win approval in the House of Commons. The Conservatives won't be able to pass it by themselves there, so the question now becomes whether the Liberals will have the gumption to stand against it. This as polls consistently show a majority of Canadians favoring marijuana legalization.

A New Drug Generates a Tired, Old Response

When in doubt, prohibit. That would seem to be the mantra in Europe, where, confronted by the emergence of mephedrone, a synthetic stimulant derived from cathinone, the active ingredient in the khat plant, first Britain and then the entire European Union responded by banning it. Described as having effects similar to cocaine or ecstasy, mephedrone emerged in the English club scene in the past 18 months, generating hysterical tabloid press accounts of its alleged dangers. When two young people supposedly died of mephedrone early this year, the British government ignored the advice of its Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which called for it to be a Schedule B drug, and banned it. Poland followed suit in September, shutting down shops that sold the drug and claiming the power to pull from the shelves any product that could be harmful to life or health. And just this month, after misrepresenting a study by the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addiction, the EU instituted a continent-wide ban on mephedrone. Meet the newest entrant into the black market.

Heroin Maintenance Expands Slowly in Europe

Heroin maintenance continues its slow spread in Europe. In March, Denmark became the latest country to embrace heroin maintenance. The Danes thus join Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and, to a lesser degree, Britain, in the heroin maintenance club. In June, British scientists rolled out a study showing heroin maintenance worked and urging the expansion of limited existing programs there. The following month, a blue-ribbon Norwegian committee called for heroin prescription trials and other harm reduction measures there. Research reports on heron maintenance programs have shown they reduce criminality among participants, decrease the chaos in their lives, and make them more amenable to integration into society.

Opium is Back in the Golden Triangle

Okay, it never really went away in Laos, Burma, and Thailand, and it is still below its levels of the mid-1990s, but opium planting has been on the increase for the last four years in the Golden Triangle. Production has nearly doubled in Burma since 2006 to more than 38,000 hectares, while in Laos, production has more than doubled since 2007. The UNODC values the crop this year at more than $200 million, more than double the estimate of last year's crop. Part of the increase is attributable to increased planting, but part is accounted for by rising prices. While Southeast Asian opium production still trails far behind that in Afghanistan, opium is back with a vengeance in the Golden Triangle.

This Year's Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories

A lot went on in the realm of drug policy reform in 2010. Here is our summation of what we think are the biggest stories of the year.

fire truck lent by Dr. Bronner's for SSDP/Prop 19 campus tour
Marijuana on the Verge -- Prop 19, Public Opinion, and the Looming Sea Change

California's tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative, Proposition 19, ultimately failed to get over the top on Election Day, but it garnered 46.5% of the vote, the highest ever for a legalization initiative, and generated reams of media coverage, making it the most watched initiative of any in the land this year. The battle for Prop 19 also yielded the broadest coalition yet behind marijuana legalization, as unions, dissident law enforcement groups, and Latino and African-American groups got on the legalization bandwagon in a big way for the first time. Launched with over a million dollars of funding from Oakland cannabis entrepreneur Richard Lee, the initiative garnered significant additional support during the campaign's final months, including a late $1 million donation from George Soros, but too little and too late to make a difference in the nation's largest and most expensive media market. The coalition that came together around Prop 19 is vowing to stay together and work to place another initiative on the ballot, most likely in 2012.

If California has legalization on the ballot in 2012, activists in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington all took steps this year to ensure that it won't be alone. Ill-funded and controversial legalization initiatives missed making the ballot in Oregon and Washington this year, but organizers in both states have vowed to try again, and Sensible Washington, the folks behind this year's effort there, already have a pro-legalization billboard up on I-5 in the Seattle area. In Colorado, organizers bided their time this year amidst the medical marijuana explosion there, but are busy laying the groundwork for a legalization initiative there.

This year also saw a legalization bill pass out of the California Assembly Public Safety Committee in January, a first in the US. While that bill died later in the session, sponsor Tom Ammiano (D-SF), reintroduced it in March and it awaits further consideration in Sacramento. In New Hampshire, a decriminalization bill passed the House in March, only to be killed in a Senate committee in April, while in Washington state, legalization and decriminalization bills got a January hearing before dying in committee later that same month. In Rhode Island, a decriminalization bill was introduced in February and a state legislative commission endorsed it in March, but the bill went nowhere so far. Later in the year, the California legislature passed and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a decriminalization bill there. And in November, a marijuana legalization bill passed the House in the US territory of the Northern Marianas Islands, marking the first time a legalization bill has passed a legislative chamber anywhere in the US. It was later defeated in the Senate. No legalization or decriminalization bills passed this year, but the day is drawing near.

A plethora of public opinion polls this year suggest why, as support for pot legalization is now hovering just under 50%. In January, an ABC News/Washington Post poll had support at 46%; in April, a Pew poll had it at 41%. By July, an Angus-Reid poll had support at 52%, while Rasmussen showed it at 43%. In November, a Gallup poll had support for legalization at 46%, its highest level ever and a 15 percentage point increase over just a decade ago. Some of these polls showed majority support for legalization in the West, which will be put to the test in 2012.

Medical Marijuana -- the Ongoing Battle

The acceptance of medical marijuana continued in 2010, as two states, New Jersey and Arizona, along with the District of Columbia, became the latest to legalize the medicinal use of the herb. It's worth noting, however, that medical marijuana is not yet being produced or consumed in any of those places, even though the New Jersey legislation was signed into law in January and the DC medical marijuana initiative was actually revived last year. To be fair, voters only approved the Arizona initiative in November, and regulators there have three more months to come up with enabling regulations.

But the acceptance is by no means complete, and resistance from recalcitrant law enforcement and local governments continues apace. A medical marijuana initiative in South Dakota and an Oregon initiative to create a system of state-licensed, nonprofit dispensaries both failed in November. And despite efforts to pass medical marijuana bills through numerous state legislatures, none beside New Jersey came to fruition this year. Bills have stalled in Alabama, Illinois, Maryland, New York, and Wisconsin, among others, even as they are continually pared back to be ever more restrictive in a bid to appease opponents.

Medical marijuana states that have less loosely written laws -- all via the initiative process, including California, Colorado, Michigan, and Montana -- proved to be highly contested terrain in 2010. The blossoming of hundreds of dispensaries in Colorado this year led to the passage of regulatory legislation this summer, while a similar, if more limited outbreak of envelope-pushing in Montana has legislators there vowing to rein in the industry when they reconvene next year. In Michigan, law enforcement in some locales has arrested people in apparent compliance with the state law. In all three states, battles have also broken out at the city or county level, especially over efforts to ban medical marijuana operations. These fights will continue.

California is a world of its own when it comes to medical marijuana. The most wide open of the medical marijuana states, which, thanks to the language of Proposition 215, allows for medical marijuana to be recommended for virtually anything, it is also the state where legal and political conflict over medical marijuana is most entrenched. Despite more than a decade of litigation, the legality of selling medical marijuana remains unclear, and depending on the attitude of local authorities, dispensaries can be -- and are -- subject to raids and prosecution. The medical marijuana community dodged a bullet in November when Kamala Harris defeated dispensary arch-foe Steve Cooley, the Republican Los Angeles County prosecutor. Meanwhile, in communities across the state, battles rage over banning dispensaries, or, in happier circumstances, over how to permit and tax them. And medical marijuana is increasingly recognized for the big business it is. A growing number of California towns and cities this year voted to tax medical marijuana, and Oakland gave the go-ahead for massive medical marijuana mega-farms, although it may now retreat in the face of rumblings from the Justice Department. None of this got resolved this year, and the fight over medical marijuana in the Golden State is unlikely to wind down any time soon.

The DEA Continues to Misbehave

And then there's the DEA. It was in October 2009 that the Justice Department released its famous memo telling the DEA to butt out if medical marijuana operations in states that had approved them where not violating state law. While DEA raids have certainly declined from their thuggish heyday in the Bush administration, they have not gone away. After a Colorado medical marijuana grower had the temerity to appear on a local TV news program showing off his garden, the DEA raided him in February. The DEA also hit Michigan medical marijuana operations at least twice, in July and again early this month. The DEA has also raided numerous California medical marijuana operations this year, including the first collective to apply for the Mendocino County sheriff's cultivation permit program and a number of beleaguered San Diego area dispensaries. In most cases, the DEA is relying on the cooperation of sympathetic local law enforcement and prosecutors. Making the DEA live up to the Holder memo is a battle that is yet to be won.

The Obama administration's nomination of acting DEA administrator Michele Leonhart is not a good omen. Despite a horrendous record at the DEA, including a stint as Special Agent in Charge in Los Angeles during the height of the Bush administration raids on medical marijuana facilities, and in St. Louis during the Andrew Chambers "supersnitch" perjury scandal, Leonhart's nomination has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and is likely to be approved by the Senate as a whole once she takes some actions to improve access to pain medications for seniors in nursing homes -- an issue on which Sen. Herb Kohl was said will cause him to place a hold on a floor vote until she and the agency address it.

Drug War Juggernaut Continues Rolling

While support for marijuana decriminalization and/or legalization continues to grow, and while a number of states have enacted sentencing reforms in response to fiscal pressures, the drug war juggernaut keeps rolling along, chewing up lives like so much chaff. US law enforcement made more than 1.6 million arrests on drug charges last year, more than half of them for marijuana offenses, marking the first year pot busts made up more than half of all drug arrests. The number is actually down slightly from the previous year, but only marginally so, as drug law enforcement keeps humming along. But in the current economic crunch, such a high level of enforcement and punishment may no longer be sustainable. A Pew report found that state prison populations had declined for the first time since the 1970s, if only by 0.4%, although the federal prison population, more than 60% of which consists of drug offenders, increased by 3.4%. Similarly, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported than US jail populations had decreased for the first time in decades, dropping by 2.3% over the previous year. The tiny turnarounds are a good thing, but there is a long, long way to go.

Rolling Back the Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity


For the first time in the modern drug war era, Congress this year rolled back a harsh drug sentencing law. The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses had been under the gun for more than decade as it became increasingly evident that the laws were having a racially disproportionate impact. Under the old law, five grams of crack would earn you a mandatory minimum five-year sentence, while it took a hundred times as much powder cocaine to garner the same sentence. Although a majority of crack users are white, blacks accounted for more than 80% of all federal crack cocaine prosecutions. A bill to reduce, but not eliminate, the sentencing disparity passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in March and the Senate as a whole weeks later. The House Judiciary Committee had already passed a similar measure that would completely eliminate the disparity, but the House leadership chose to go along with the Senate, reducing the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, but not completely eliminating it when it voted to approve the bill in July. President Obama signed the bill into law days later. While passage of the bill is a milestone, it leaves work undone. The sentencing disparity, while reduced, still exists, and thousands of prisoners sentenced under the harsh old law remain in prison because the new law lacks retroactivity.

Demands for Drug Testing of Welfare Recipients, the Unemployed, and Even Politicians

The impulse to score cheap political points by unleashing moralistic wrath on the poor and the unfortunate remained alive in 2010. As in years past, efforts to demand drug testing of unemployment recipients or people receiving welfare benefits went nowhere, but not for lack of trying. In fact, the year was bookended by such efforts, starting with a Missouri bill that would have mandated drug testing for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) recipients upon "reasonable cause." That bill passed a Senate committee and the House in February, but died in the Senate after a Democratic filibuster. Similarly, drug testing bills in Kentucky, South Carolina, and West Virginia all died, as did a silly Louisiana bill that would have allowed Louisiana elected officials to submit to a voluntary drug test and post the results on the Internet. Later in the year, successful Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott called for mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients, a call he has vowed to carry out as governor.

Attack of (on) the Synthetic Cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids marketed as incense under names like Spice and K-2 first showed up on the national radar last year, and by early 2010 the prohibitionist impulse began rearing its ugly head in state legislatures across the land. Containing synthetic cannabinoids JWH-018 or JWH-073, synthesized by a university researcher in the 1990s, the stuff was available at head shops, smoke shops, and corner gas stations everywhere, as well as on the Internet. Although no overdose deaths linked to synthetic cannabinoids have been reported, there have been reports of emergency room visits and calls to poison centers by people under its influence. But it wasn't the alleged dangers as much as the fear that someone, somewhere could be getting high without getting into legal trouble that impelled a series of statewide and municipal bans. In March, Kansas became the first state to ban synthetic cannabinoids, followed by Alabama in April, Georgia in May and Missouri in July. Also banning the compounds this year were Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Tennessee. Similar legislation was also proposed in several more states, including Florida, Ilinois, and New York. Then, in November, the DEA announced an emergency nationwide ban to go into effect in 30 days, meaning you have until Christmas to use the compounds legally. After that, you're a federal criminal.

SWAT Raids and Drug War Killings

It's not just the massive extent of the drug war that generates criticism, but the law enforcement violence and overkill that too often accompanies it. This year, the now infamous SWAT team raid in Columbia, Missouri, in February that left a dog dead and a family traumatized in a raid over marijuana went got national attention when a video of the raid went viral on the Internet at mid-year. Another SWAT raid in Detroit in May generated outrage when it resulted in the death of 7-year-old girl shot by a raider, and that same month, a Georgia grandmother suffered a heart attack when her home was mistakenly hit by the local SWAT team and DEA agents. And then there was the case of Trevon Cole, a 21-year-old black man killed as he knelt in his own bathroom as the apartment he shared with his pregnant girlfriend was raided over small-time pot sales. The police shooter, of course, was found innocent of any wrongdoing in a coroner's inquest, and now Cole's family is suing. So is the family in the Columbia SWAT raid.

Sentencing Reforms Continue in the States

In a bid to reduce corrections spending, a number of states in the last decade have moved to implement sentencing reforms, and 2010 saw the trend continue. In May, Colorado passed reforms that will reduce some drug use and possession sentences, allow greater judicial flexibility in sentencing, and keep some technical parole violators from being sent back to prison. But the package also increases some drug sales and manufacturing sentences. In June, South Carolina passed reforms that will end mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses. In August, Massachusetts passed reforms that will eliminate some mandatory minimums in a bill that was watered down from an earlier Senate version.  In all three cases, it was not bleeding hearts but bleeding wallets that was the impetus for reform.

A Congressional Drug Warrior Goes Down in Flames

It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. This year is also notable for the spectacular May end to the career of inveterate congressional drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). The doughy cultural conservative crusader from the heartland resigned from Congress after admitting at a press conference to having an affair with a female staffer with whom he had once made abstinence videos. Souder is best known to drug reformers as the author of the "smoke a joint, lose your federal aid" provision of the Higher Education Act, and thus deserves credit for almost singlehandedly causing the formation of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. But his enthusiasm for the war on drugs also led him to the chairmanship of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources from 2001 to 2007, where he used his position to support harsh drug policies. He was, for instance, a staunch foe of medical marijuana and a loud voice against the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendments, which would, if passed, have stopped federal raids on medical marijuana patients and providers. To be fair, Souder did offer committee legislation in 2006 to restrict the reach of his student aid penalty, and he was also a key Republican supporter of the recent "Second Chance" prisoner reentry funding legislation. Still, reformers are happy that one of the staunchest and most active drug warriors is out of Congress now, struck down by his own hypocrisy.

Idaho Businesses Try Selling Altered Versions of Spice

Location: 
ID
United States
Certain Treasure Valley businesses think they've created an exception to the ban by tweaking the chemicals found in Spice, but law enforcement says, "not so fast." Officers went into a couple businesses, seized samples, and sent those off for testing. Results are not back yet but according to the Idaho Office of Drug Policy, the sellers could be charged.
Publication/Source: 
Northwest Cable News (WA)
URL: 
http://www.nwcn.com/news/idaho/Idaho-businesses-try-selling-altered-versions-of-Spice-111552764.html

In a Rush, European Union Bans Mephedrone

The justice ministers of the 27 countries that constitute the European Union (EU) announced Friday that they had agreed to ban the synthetic stimulant mephedrone across the EU. The drug, which is comparable to ecstasy or cocaine in its effects, is already illegal in 15 EU countries.

Mephedrone, now available in Europe only via the black market (image courtesy Wikimedia)
Marketed under the name "Meow Meow" or "plant food," mephedrone is widely available at retail sales outlets in EU countries where it is still legal. It can also be purchased via the Internet. Mephedrone is derived from cathinone, a stimulant compound found in the khat plant.

The justice ministers' announcement comes about a month and a half after the European Commission proposed in October that governments act to stop the spread of mephedrone. Friday's decision bans the manufacture and marketing of mephedrone, making those acts a crime anywhere in Europe.

"It is good to see that EU governments are prepared to take swift action to ban this dangerous drug," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner in a statement Friday. "This drug is sold over the Internet, often behind innocent names like plant food or bath salts. Young people should not be fooled. These drugs are harmful. The EU has shown today that we can act quickly to stop this kind of drug from taking more lives."

The move comes after a wave of hysterical reporting about mephedrone, especially in the British press, and after a risk assessment by the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). That assessment found that while mephedrone can cause acute health problems and lead to dependence, there have been few verified fatalities reported across Europe.

Britain reported two fatalities in which mephedrone appeared to be the sole cause of death, but it later turned out that those two deaths had been caused by methadone, not mephedrone.

In fact, the EMCDDA risk assessment noted that despite health dangers, there is no direct causal link between mephedrone alone and any deaths. The risk assessment also warned against banning the drug. "Control measures could create an illegal market in mephedrone with the associated risk of criminal activity," the assessment warned.

The EMCDDA noted that 37 deaths had been "linked" to mephedrone, but warned against jumping to conclusions. "In some of these cases it is likely that other drugs and/or other medical conditions or trauma may have contributed to or been responsible for death," the assessment noted. "The inquests into the deaths are pending for the majority of these cases therefore it is not possible at this time to determine the contribution of mephedrone."

And while the risk assessment noted health dangers with the drug, including headaches, nausea, agitiation, palpitations, chest pains, paranoia, teeth grinding, and sexual arousal, it found that serious side effects such as seizures or abnormal heart rhythms were "rare."

"Taken as a whole, the scientific evidence base available for drawing conclusions is limited and this proviso should be borne in mind when interpreting the findings of the risk assessment exercise," the EMCDDA warned.

Too bad the EU doesn't listen to its own advisors, instead choosing to play to the sensationalist media peanut gallery.

Legal or Not, Synthetic Marijuana is Here to Stay

Spice was destined to become a phenomenon. For decades, magazines like High Times have advertised famously fake pot products that apparently sold well enough to support a robust marketing campaign, despite being completely useless. Anyone could have predicted that a legal marijuana substitute capable of producing the familiar buzz of pot itself would be massively successful. That's exactly what happened, and regardless of the pending federal ban announced this month by the DEA, there's good reason to believe this drug is here stay.

At first glance, you might think prohibition could prove uncharacteristically effective against a drug whose primary selling point is its legality. Once you take away the convenient retail sales and freedom from arrest, synthetic marijuana begins to lose its competitive advantage over the real thing. As prices rise and purity begins to fluctuate, many users may revert back to the established illicit marijuana market, rather than making the effort to hunt down a formerly over-the-counter product that no longer comes with any form of quality assurance. Good pot, with its distinctive look and smell, is a lot harder to counterfeit than a bag of random leafy crap laced with chemicals, and the inevitable proliferation of weak or fake products on the black market could badly damage the drug's appeal.

Nevertheless, K2/Spice possesses one unique characteristic that ensures its survival: it will remain an effective option for getting high and still passing a drug test. Drug screening products allegedly capable of identifying the unique compounds contained in K2/Spice are beginning to enter the market, but an industry-wide overhaul incorporating new technology will be far too costly to implement in an organized or efficient manner. The situation is potentially profitable for the scumbags in the drug testing industry, but it's a big headache for agencies and employers who've already spent thousands only to find that they're no longer covering all the bases.

Moreover, even a full-scale effort to incorporate K2/Spice into routine drug testing programs will be undermined considerably by the composition of the drug itself. As Forensic Science International explains:


Due to the high affinity of these compounds to the cannabinoid receptors, their effective dose is lower than that of the marijuana products resulting in a low concentration of the excreted metabolites accompanied by a higher psychoactive potency.

The small size of an active dose makes it far more difficult to identify than marijuana, and that's a significant advantage. The drug testing industry has long thrived on marijuana's uniquely prolonged presence in the body, which makes even casual users vulnerable to detection. K2/Spice is only detectable for 1-3 days after use depending on the amount consumed, compared to up to a month for marijuana. Given that testing is currently almost non-existent and will barely work even if widely implemented, the drug has already achieved notoriety as an enjoyable and drug-test-proof alternative to marijuana. This feature alone is enough to ensure continued demand and a profitable market for those willing to make it available.

Once the ban takes effect, police will be confronted with a potent, odorless, and easily concealed substance that's suddenly commanding high prices in the pot market. As distribution is pushed underground, new and more dangerous forms will emerge and the familiar horrors of prohibition will be exhibited before our eyes yet again, as another drug that was never meant to exist establishes a permanent foothold in the illicit market. Whatever unpleasantness arises from all of this will owe its origins entirely to the mindless war on marijuana, and it's truly the height of irony that K2/Spice will soon be subjected to the same failed prohibition policy that made it popular in the first place.

DEA Criminalization of 'Fake Marijuana' Repeats Mistakes of Past Prohibitions (Opinion)

Grant Smith, federal policy coordinator in the Drug Policy Alliance's office of national affairs in Washington, D.C., says we know from marijuana prohibition that law enforcement has no control over the drug market and the criminals who run it. By choosing to ban K2 outright, lawmakers are committing millions of taxpayer dollars to investigate, prosecute and incarcerate K2 users. He points out that we simply cannot afford to expand the war on drugs at a time when budgets are in the red and the United States incarcerates more people than any country in the world.
Publication/Source: 
Alternet (CA)
URL: 
http://www.alternet.org/drugs/149036/dea_criminalization_of_%27fake_marijuana%27_repeats_mistakes_of_past_prohibitions

DEA Bans Synthetic Marijuana

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced Wednesday that it is issuing an emergency ban on five chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana products. The ban will go into effect in 30 days and will at least temporarily place the chemicals on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

Banned in 30 days (Image courtesy Wikimedia)
Marketed as incense and sold under names including Spice and K2, the stuff has grown increasingly popular since it first appeared on store shelves around two years ago. Spurred on by prohibitionist reflex, as well as reports of emergency room visits and calls to poison centers, 15 states have already banned synthetic pot products. Similar legislation is pending in several more. Last week, powerful Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) wrote a letter to the DEA seeking a federal ban.

The ban announced Wednesday is temporary and will be in effect for one year, with the possibility of a six-month extension. During that period, DEA and the Department of Health and Human Services will decide whether the substances should be permanently controlled. 

“The American public looks to the DEA to protect its children and communities from those who would exploit them for their own gain,” said DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart. “Makers of these harmful products mislead their customers into thinking that ‘fake pot’ is a harmless alternative to illegal drugs, but that is not the case. Today’s action will call further attention to the risks of ingesting unknown compounds and will hopefully take away any incentive to try these products.”

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) was quick to criticize the DEA's move. "The DEA says that prohibiting synthetic marijuana will 'control' it – yet we know from history that prohibition is the complete opposite of drug control," said DPA spokesman Tony Newman in a Wednesday press release. "DPA is advocating for establishing regulatory restrictions, such as age limits and product labeling requirements, rather than banning it outright and relegating it to the black market."

Despite approximately 2,000 poison control center contacts from synthetic pot users complaining of a variety of symptoms including nausea, rapid heartbeat, and disorientation, DPA noted that there are no known cases of fatal synthetic pot overdoses and that there is no evidence the stuff is addictive.

"Scheduling [synthetic marijuana] as a controlled substance will have unintended detrimental consequences," DPA warned. "If K2 were banned outright, young adults could face immediate, devastating and life-long legal barriers to education, employment, voting and government benefits for K2-related drug law violations, despite a lack of evidence of harm to themselves or others. The use of scarce government funds to enforce, prosecute and incarcerate people who use K2 would put a strain on criminal justice resources."

Washington, DC
United States

Sen. Orrin Hatch Asks DEA to Ban Spice, K2

Products containing synthetic cannabinoids possessing psychoactive properties similar to marijuana if ingested, have been banned in a number of states -- and more are currently considering bans -- but are not illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Not yet, anyway. Last week, Sen. Orrin Hatch, the powerful Utah Republican, sent a letter to the DEA asking the agency to use its emergency powers to make synthetic cannabinoids a Schedule I controlled substance.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/orrin-hatch.jpg
a new target for the stalwart drug warrior
Sold under names such as K2, Spice, Yucatan Fire, and Solar Flare, among others, the stuff is marketed as incense or potpourri and can be found at smoke shops, head shops, gas stations, and other retail outlets in states where it is legal. It is also easily available via the Internet.

Users seek to replicate the high of marijuana without the attendant legal risks, but according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, they sometimes get more than they bargained for. The centers issued a report Monday saying that they had received more than 2,000 calls about synthetic cannabinoids so far this year.

Symptoms reported included nausea, rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, anxiety, and disorientation. While the centers reported that some symptoms can be "life-threatening," there are no known cases of a fatal synthetic cannabis overdose.

"Young adults and adolescents are turning to 'Spice' as a form of legalized marijuana, Hatch wrote in his letter to DEA acting administrator Michelle Leonhart. "Currently, almost two dozen states have passed legislation identifying spice as a controlled substance. I am requesting your assistance in having the Drug Enforcement Administration exercise its emergency scheduling authority to classify Spice as a schedule I substance."

Spice use in Utah was at "epidemic proportions" among the state's youth, Hatch complained.

If the DEA accedes to Hatch's demand, synthetic cannabinoids would be officially considered drugs with no accepted medical use and high potential for abuse, like marijuana, LSD, and heroin. Sales would be banned, and their users and sellers would be subject to federal prison sentences.

But Hatch's demand is no guarantee the agency will act. The DEA has had salvia divinorum on its list of drugs of interest for close to a decade now and has still not moved to make it a controlled substance, even though it has been banned or restricted in more than a dozen states.

Washington, DC
United States

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