Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: Congress Takes Up MJ This Week, Colombia Coca Violence Flares, More... (7/25/17)

Congress will take up several amendments relating to marijuana policy this week, Maine is getting closer to agreement on how to implement legalization, fighting in Colombia's coca country is generating refugee flows, and more.

Fighting at the edge of coca country in Colombia generated refugee flows last week. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Congress Takes Up Marijuana Issues This Week. The Congress will take up several marijuana-related amendments this week. The House will take up amendments seeking to allow veterans to get medical marijuana recommendations through the Department of Veterans Affairs. A similar measure has already passed the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Senate Appropriations Committee will take up renewing a federal ban on spending to interfere with state marijuana laws. The House version of the amendment has already passed the House Appropriations Committee. And the House Rules Committee will take up an amendment protecting water rights for state-legal marijuana growers.

Maine Lawmakers Near Agreement on Legal Pot Rules. The special legislative panel overseeing implementation of the state's voter-approved pot legalization law has nearly finished its work. It has already agreed to remove the cultivation cap in the initiative and to block regulators from setting limits on cultivators, while adding a six-month state residency requirement for growers and sellers aimed at limiting out-of-state companies from dominating the market. The panel is leaving local control alone, meaning localities could ban pot businesses. And while it hasn't agreed on a final tax rate yet, it looks like it will be relatively low compared to other legalization states, coming in at between 10% and 20%.

Drug Testing

Maine Labor Department Tells Employers Not to Test for Pot Pending Changes in State Law. The Labor Department said most businesses should not test workers and job applicants for marijuana because the state does not have laws on the books. The Labor Department urged the legislative panel charged with implementing legalization to write laws that would clearly spell out what testing regimes would be allowed.

International

Fighting in Colombian Coca Zones Displaces Hundreds. Colombian security forces and an "unidentified illegal armed group" have been engaged in armed clashes in the municipality of Hacari in Norte de Santander state for several days, according to the United Nations. As a result, more than 200 locals have fled. The area is near Catatumbo, where there is more coca than government presence, and where dissident leftish guerillas and rightist paramilitary forces have been active.

Chronicle AM: Ominous DOJ MJ Report, Indonesia Prez Says Shoot Dealers, More.... (7/24/17)

A key Justice Deparatment report is slated to drop this week, so is a federal hemp bill, Indonesia's leader seems to be following in Duterte's footsteps, and more.

What is Attorney General Sessions cooking up for pot policy? We should know this week. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Justice Department Report to Be Released This Week Could Include Crackdown on Marijuana. A Justice Department Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is set to release its report this, and reformers and industry insiders worry the report will try to link marijuana to violent crime, laying the basis for a crackdown on marijuana users and purveyors.

Massachusetts Local Control Compromise Could Face Legal Challenge. A legislative compromise that would let elected leaders in some communities ban marijuana businesses without a popular vote could be challenged as unconstitutional under state law. Under the compromise, if a majority of a local jurisdiction opposed the 2016 legalization initiative, local leaders could ban without a popular vote, but if the majority voted for the initiative, a ban would require a popular vote. The initiative itself called for no bans without a popular vote. Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Essex) warned that the compromise language could be challenged on the basis it violates equal protection laws.

Medical Marijuana

Virgin Islands Medical Marijuana Bill Reintroduced. Territorial Sen. Positive Nelson has refiled his Virgin Islands Medical Cannabis Patient Care Act. A similar bill died in committee last year, and Nelson wants to avoid a similar fate this year. "I'm requesting that this measure be heard by the committee of the whole, and not the Health Committee, whose chair has exhibited an obvious bias against cannabis legalization in any form," Nelson said.

Hemp

Federal Hemp Bill to Be Filed This Week. US Rep. James Comer (R-KY) is expected to introduce the Industrial Hemp Farming Act this week. The bill, versions of which have been introduced in each Congress since 2009, would remove industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act and would allow research on hemp with up to 0.6% THC -- up from 0.3% in earlier bills.

Immigration

Permanent Resident Set to Be Deported for Marijuana Wins in Federal Appeals Court. The US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago has ruled in favor of permanent resident Ming Wei Chen, who had been ordered deported from the country after a marijuana conviction. The court ruled that the Board of Immigration Appeals misapplied Supreme Court rulings when it held his conviction constituted an "aggravated felony."

International

Indonesia's President Tells Police to Shoot Drug Dealers. President Joko Widodo has told police to shoot drug traffickers as part of his efforts to fight a "narcotics emergency" in the country. "Be firm, especially to foreign drug dealers who enter the country and resist arrest. Shoot them because we indeed are in a narcotics emergency position now," Widodo said in a speech last Friday. The remarks drew comparisons with statements from Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has overseen a drug crackdown that has left thousands dead there.

Amidst Violent Gun Battles, Mexico City Sees First Narco-Blockade. Mexican marines engaged in a gun battle with drug gangsters in the capital's Tlahuac neighborhood, leaving eight gunmen, including Tlahuac Cartel leader Jesus Perez Luna dead. During the shoot-out, dozens of people blocked streets in the area, setting on fire a truck and two stolen minibuses in a "narco-blockade" aimed at preventing the arrival of police and military reinforcements. That's a first for Mexico City.

Poland Legalizes Medical Marijuana. Polish President Andrzej Duda has signed a bill legalizing medical marijuana in the country. Patients will not be able to grow their own, but will be able to obtain imported marijuana products at pharmacies. The law allows people with severe illnesses to use medical marijuana if approved by a physician, but has no list of qualifying conditions. The law will go into effect in October.

Chronicle Interview: A Conversation With New DPA Head Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno [FEATURE]

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

Led by Ethan Nadelmann since its formation 17 years ago, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has been the most influential drug reform organization in the country, with a hand in advancing the causes not only of medical marijuana and marijuana legalization, but of drug law reform more broadly, in all its manifestations and intersectionality.

Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno (Drug Policy Alliance)
Thanks in good part to Nadelmann's vision and the efforts of DPA -- and its campaign and lobbying arm, the Drug Policy Action Network -- in state houses and court houses, in Congress and the executive branch, in media outreach and educational campaigns, the drug laws in America have changed for the better. Pot has gone mainstream, the mass incarceration mania of the Reaganite drug war (abetted by too many Democrats) has broken, sensible and life-saving harm reduction measures are spreading.

But now Nadelmann is gone -- at least as director or staff -- and DPA and the drug reform community face a Trump administration apparently intent on reviving and revitalizing the worst of drug war practices from the last century. Nadelmann's successor not only has big shoes to fill, but also faces reactionary impulses in Washington.

That successor is Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, holder of a law degree from New York University School of Law and for the past 13 years Co-Director of the US Program for Human Rights Watch (HRW), where she picked up plenty of domestic drug policy experience. There, she managed a team that fights against racial discrimination in law enforcement, punitive sentencing, and deportation policies that tear families apart -- all issues inextricably intertwined with the war on drugs.

The bilingual McFarland Sánchez-Moreno grew up in Peru and spent her early years at HRW researching Colombia, where drug profits helped fuel a decades-long civil war and corroded governmental legitimacy through corruption. That sharpened her awareness of the need for social justice and drug policy reform. She also pushed for the group to more directly take on the war on drugs as a human rights issue, and as a result, HRW became the first major international human rights organization to call for drug decriminalization and global drug reform. [Ed: McFarland's help and advice made it possible for Human Rights Watch to endorse our UNGASS sign-on statement.]

She is regularly quoted and published in national and international media, has testified before Congress on multiple occasions and has extensive experience advocating with US congressional offices, the White House, and the Departments of State, Justice and Defense. She recently authored a non-fiction book, There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia, which will be published by Nation Books in February 2018.

Now, McFarland Sánchez-Moreno turns to drug reform as her primary remit, at the head of an organization with a $15 million budget; offices in California, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Washington, DC; a considerable cadre of experienced and talented professionals; and a well-earned reputation for being able to make drug reform actually happen. Drug War Chronicle spoke with McFarland Sánchez-Moreno on Friday about what lies ahead.

Drug War Chronicle: You're about to head the most powerful drug reform group on the planet. What is it about you and your experience that makes you the person for this job?

Mass incarceration is a drug policy issue. (nadcp.org)
Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: I don't know that I'm the right person to ask about that, but I will say I have been passionate about drug policy for a long time; it cuts across many of the social justice issues that I've been involved with throughout my career, starting in Colombia documenting atrocities committed by armed groups who were overwhelmingly financed by illicit drugs and for whom trafficking was their reason for existing. I came to realize that if you got rid of the illicit market, you could do serious damage to those groups.

And that continued in my work at HRW's US Program, covering issues like criminal justice and immigration, where you see so many vast problems in this country that are strongly linked to the war on drugs. From mass incarceration to large-scale deportations, a lot of it is people getting convicted of low-level drug offenses. And this also connects to a fundamental matter of justice: People shouldn't face prison time for choices about what they put in their bodies, absent harm to others.

Drug War Chronicle: Does your selection suggest that DPA is going to be even more internationally focused than it is now?

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: It's too early to say whether we will invest more internationally, but our main focus has to be domestic. We're a national organization with offices in many states, and we want to build on that strength. There's plenty of work to do right here, so we will remain focused on the US. While there is an argument to be made for the importance of international work, you don't need to worry about us shifting away from the home front.

Drug War Chronicle: What are some of the key global drug policy challenges? And where do you see opportunities for positive change?

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: Both domestically and internationally, there's real momentum around drug reform. After Colombia, Mexico, and Guatemala called for an international discussion of drug policy, which led to last year's UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, the nature of the debate around drugs began to change, and we're seeing real openness to reform in many countries. At the same time, in places like the Philippines or Indonesia, you see serious backsliding, with large scale killings in the name of fighting the war on drugs in the former and use of the death penalty in the latter. And in places like Mexico and Central America, we're seeing very serious violence related to drug prohibition.

The international situation is complex: There are some openings, some room for progress -- and when you have countries like Portugal and Uruguay moving toward reform and potentially setting good examples, that's something to point to here at home -- but we still have very, very serious problems associated with the war on drugs that we need to monitor and speak up about.

Drug War Chronicle: Here in the U.S., it's sort of a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, we have medical marijuana in 29 states, pot decriminalization in 13 or 14, and legalization in eight, with more likely to come in the next year or so. We have state legislatures enacting sentencing reforms and asset forfeiture reforms. At the same time, we have the Trump administration apparently leading federal drug policy down a retrograde prohibitionist path. How do you assess the overall situation?

The fight for legal marijuana will continue. (Creative Commons)
McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: It's similar to the international situation in that there are enormous opportunities for progress around marijuana law reform and harm reduction measures in some places, but we have a federal Justice Department that seems to be intent on doubling down on the war on drugs and using the most draconian measures possible.

All the horrors we're seeing with overdoses is leading many people to do some serious soul-searching about what's the best way to address this problem, so we're seeing some progress on harm reduction measures like access to naloxone, for example. Now, there's room to have some conversations where there wasn't before, such as decriminalizing the possession of all drugs. A few years ago, that would have been a hard conversation to have, but HRW released a report last year calling for it and DPA has just released its own report echoing that call, and there is a real receptiveness in the public to talking about that. We're in a different place now and can make progress at the state and local level.

But that fairly heated rhetoric coming from the attorney general, appealing to people's worst fears and often distorting reality, is a real problem. It's not just about what Sessions says and what policies he adopts at Justice; it's also about that dark narrative starting to take hold, people in other parts of the government thinking its more acceptable to return to those failed policies. It's disturbing to see bills filed that are headed in the wrong direction, like Sen. John Cornyn's (R-TX) Back the Blue Act (Senate Bill 1134). A year ago, he was part of bipartisan sentencing reform. Why is he going the other way now?

And then there's Sen. Dianne Feinstein's Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues (SITSA) Act (Senate Bill 1237), which would give Sessions the power to schedule new synthetic drugs without any scientific basis. I think having someone who is so extreme in his views at the Department of Justice is a green light for people in other parts of the government to take us in the wrong direction. This is a major challenge for DPA and the drug reform movement in general, and we will be focusing on that right off the bat.

Drug War Chronicle: Let's talk about racial equity. How do we advance that? Whether it's participation in the legal marijuana industry or sentencing policy or consent decrees to rein in police departments, race is implicated.

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: It's all bound up with what's coming out of Washington and the broader policies we're talking about. It's hard to disentangle racial justice issues from some of these other issues. We've been working on drug reforms in New Jersey and New York, and one of our biggest concerns has been to ensure that new reforms have a strong focus on empowering the very communities most damaged by the war on drugs. Making sure drug reforms takes that perspective into account and creates new opportunities for those communities is a critical part of our work.

Sessions backing away from consent decrees, the demonization of Black Lives Matter, and all that is very clearly tied to rhetoric coming from the White House and the Justice Department that is designed to stigmatize groups and lump people who use drugs in with drug dealers, with communities of color, with immigrants. They use that demonizing combination to justify very harsh policies that will be devastating to some of the most vulnerable communities in the country. We have to fight back against that; it's a big part of the story here.

And then there's the impact of the drug war on immigration policy. My colleagues at Human Rights Watch documented how a very large number of immigrants -- and not just undocumented ones -- ended up deported because they had a drug conviction, in many cases from many years back. They are torn apart from their families and often sent to places with which they have little connection, countries where they don't even speak the language. It's not just the deported -- their kids, parents, spouses, sibling, all of them suffer serious consequences. It's cruel and senseless.

It's very clear this administration has made immigration enforcement a top priority. Some very extreme portion of its base really views this as a priority. It's hard to talk to them, but most of the country favors immigration reform, and a very large and increasing number of people understand that using the criminal law when talking about drug use is harmful and makes no sense. If we can make progress on drug reform, we also make progress on immigration by reducing the number of people convicted and exposed to deportation. We have to talk about these issues together and work with immigration reform groups and take them on board in our joint fight.

Chronicle AM: US Lawmakers Rip Duterte, Harris/Paul Senate Bail Reform Bill, More... (7/21/17):

A congressional panel ripped into Philippines President Duterte and his bloody drug war Thursday, Kamala Harris and Rand Paul file a bail reform bill, a South Carolina Republican congressman files a bill to allow drug testing of unemployment applicants, and more.

US Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) at hearing of congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Thursday. (TLHRC)
Marijuana Policy

Maine House Approves Bill Requiring Marijuana Be Tested for Safety. The House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would require the state Agriculture Department to set up testing facilities for marijuana before it could be sold. This is the first bill from a special select committee of legislators charged with creating a regulatory regime for legal pot. It goes against the wishes of Gov. Paul LePage (R), who wants the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations to be in charge of all legal marijuana regulations.

Criminal Justice

US Sens. Kamala Harris, Rand Paul File Federal Bail Reform Bill. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) filed the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act of 2017 on Thursday. The purpose of the bill is "to encourage states to reform or replace the practice of money bail, the requirement that individuals awaiting trial remain in jail unless they pay for their release." Without being able to make bail, people charged -- but not convicted -- with a crime can spend weeks or months behind bars, with devastating consequences for employment, finances, and families. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Drug Testing

South Carolina Rep Files Federal Unemployment Drug Testing Bill. US Rep. Buddy Carter (R-SC) filed a bill on Thursday that would let states screen unemployment applications for drug use and force them to undergo drug testing in some circumstances. The bill would deny unemployment benefits for 30 days to anyone testing positive for drug use, and a second positive drug test would result in a year-long ban. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

International

US Lawmakers Rip Philippines Drug War Abuses. At a hearing of the Congress's Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Thursday, American lawmakers ripped into Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte over drug war abuses, including the killing of thousands of drug suspects, and called on President Trump to condemn Duterte -- and to rescind an invitation to visit the White House. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) said she was "troubled" by the invite, while Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) said he would "lead the protest" if Duterte shows up. "President Duterte, by all accounts, seems to not have a high regard for human rights," McGovern said. "The United States government cannot afford any degree of complicity with the kinds of human rights violations that are occurring," he said. "No other country -- I repeat that, 'no other country' -- comes to mind where people are assassinated on the streets in the name of fighting drugs, and leaders brag about it as a good thing," he added.

UN Says Bolivia Coca Cultivation on the Rise. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has expressed concern about what it says is a 14% increase in land under coca cultivation. "This increase is a concern for us," said UN Drugs and Crime Representative of Bolivia, Antonio De Leo. Bolivian President Evo Morales expressed regret at the report, but noted that much more illicit coca is being grown in Colombia and Peru.

Chronicle AM: MA Legal MJ Bill Heads to Gov, DOJ Restarts Forfeiture Sharing, More .... (7/20/17)

Massachusetts lawmakers approve the legal marijuana bill, the Justice Department officially resurrects "adoptive sharing" for asset forfeitures, Gallup says more Americans have smoked pot than ever, and more.

California is on the verge of approving a state law to allow supervised injection sites to operate in the state. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll Has Number Who Say They've Used Marijuana at All-Time High. Some 45% of American adults have tried marijuana, according to Gallup. That's an all-time high, and it's more than ten times the number (4%) who admitted smoking pot in 1969, the first year Gallup asked the question. About 12% said they currently use marijuana.

Massachusetts Legislature Approves Compromise Legalization Bill. The House and Senate both approved a compromise measure to implement marijuana legalization Wednesday. House Bill 3818 now heads to the desk of Gov. Charlie Baker (R), who is expected to sign it. The bill increases taxes from 12% to up to 20%, and would allow authorities in localities that didn't vote in favor of the legalization initiative to ban pot businesses without a popular vote.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Bid to Expand Medical Marijuana Defeated. An effort to expand medical marijuana in the state was stopped by the House State Affairs Committee Wednesday. Rep. David Knoll (R) had tried to add an amendment to a special session bill authorizing the Texas Medical Board and other agencies, but the amendment never got enough support to come up for a vote.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Brings Back Aggressive Asset Forfeiture Policy. As Attorney General Sessions vowed earlier this week, the Justice Department on Wednesday formally unrolled a revamped "adoptive forfeiture" policy that will allow state and local law enforcement agencies to hand drug cases over to the feds to ensure that the cops get the great bulk -- 80% -- of the proceeds from seizures, in many cases doing an end-run around state asset forfeiture law. The program was halted by then-Attorney General Eric Holder in 2015 after a rising outcry over abuses. The move was praised by law enforcement but criticized by civil rights groups and even some members of Congress.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Rhode Island Governor Signs Package of Bills to Fight Opioid Epidemic. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) Wednesday signed into law three bills aimed at the state's opioid problem. One allows law enforcement to access an electronic prescription database without a warrant, one requires doctors to discuss the risks of addiction with patients when prescribing opioids, and one expands the kind of drugs that can be electronically prescribed. "Every Rhode Island community has been touched by this crisis, and I'll take every step I can to fight back," Raimondo said in a signing statement.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Awaits Senate Floor Vote. A bill that would allow supervised injection sites in the state has already passed the Assembly and has now been approved by both the Senate Health Committee and the Public Safety Committee. Assembly Bill 186, sponsored by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) now awaits a Senate floor vote. If the bill passes, it will go back to the Assembly for concurrence, and then to Governor Jerry Brown's desk.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A former Tennessee deputy digs himself a deeper hole, a former Georgia deputy gets nailed for buying meth on the job, and more. Let's get to it:

In Osipee, New Hampshire, a Carroll County Jail guard was arrested last Wednesday on charges she brought drugs into the jail. Guard Zina Ryan went down after a supervisor allegedly found a bag of methamphetamine while searching her purse. It's not clear what exact charge she faces.

In Memphis, Tennessee, a former Shelby County sheriff's deputy was charged last Thursday with seeking someone to kill a witness in a federal case against him. Jeremy Drewery, who was charged last fall with trying to extort thousands of dollars from a drug dealer, went down on the new charge after the sheriff's office told the FBI he had attempted to hire a hit man. Drewery now faces an additional charge of solicitation to commit a crime of violence.

In Oglethorpe, Georgia, an Oglethorpe County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Thursday after an investigation into a meth dealer uncovered evidence he had bought drugs from the man. Sheriff's Corporal John Raymond Parker, 45, is accused of buying drugs while on duty, with social media evidence to back the accusation. He is charged with possessing a controlled prescription drug, possession of a firearm during a felony crime and violating the oath of a public officer. He's out on bond now -- and he's been fired from the sheriff's office.

In Plattsburgh, New York, a state prison guard was arrested last Thursday as part of the rolling up of a heroin distribution ring. Now former Dannemora Prison guard Luke Kiroy was one of 10 people arrested on charges they transported heroin to the Plattsburgh area and sold it. They all face a federal charge of conspiracy to distribute heroin. There is no indication Kiroy smuggled drugs into the prison.

Medical Marijuana Update

A measure that would allow VA docs to issue medical marijuana recommendations advanced in the Senate, Massachusetts' highest court rules in favor of a worker fired for using medical marijuana, and more.

National

Last Thursday, a Senate panel approved medical marijuana for veterans. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to adopt an amendment that would allow military veterans to get medical marijuana recommendations through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bipartisan measure picked up four more votes than last year, when it was approved by the full House, but killed in conference committee.

Massachusetts

On Monday, the state's high court ruled for a woman fired for using medical marijuana. The state Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a woman fired after testing positively for legally recommended medical marijuana can sue her former employer for handicap discrimination. The employer had argued that the use shouldn't be allowed because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but the high court disagreed. If a doctor concludes medical marijuana is the most effective treatment for a debilitating condition, "an exception to an employer's drug policy to permit its use is a facially reasonable accommodation" and "the fact that the employee's possession of medical marijuana is in violation of federal law does not make it per se unreasonable as an accommodation."

Nevada

On Sunday, medical marijuana patients complained of higher prices after recreational sales began. Medical marijuana patients are complaining of "price gouging" in the wake of the advent of legal recreational marijuana sales in the state. "Our prices have almost doubled in some places," patient Emily Wilson said. Some patients are reportedly resorting to the black market because of high legal prices.

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

Chronicle AM: Uruguay Marijuana Pharmacy Sales Begin, DPA Names New Chief, More... (7/19/17)

All New England states have now either decriminalized or legalized marijuana, the Drug Policy Alliance names a new head, Uruguay begins legal pot sales at pharmacies, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Implementation Bill Could Go to Governor This Week. Legislative leaders defended their compromise pot bill, House Bill 3818, Wednesday, and votes on the bill could come at any time. The measure is expected to pass the legislature and then head to the desk of Gov. Charlie Baker (R), who is expected to sign it. The bill increases taxes from 12% to up to 20%, and would allow authorities in localities that didn't vote in favor of the legalization initiative to ban pot businesses without a popular vote.

New Hampshire Governor Signs Decriminalization Bill. Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has signed into law House Bill 640, which eliminates criminal penalties for the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana. Instead of jail time, violators will face a $100 fine for a first offense, $200 for a second, and $350 for a third offense within three years of the original offense. With the state now adopting decriminalization, all of New England has now either legalized or decriminalized marijuana possession.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Names New Executive Director. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the nation's most powerful drug reform organization, has selected a replacement for founder and long-time executive director Ethan Nadelmann, who stepped down earlier this year.The DPA board of directors announced Tuesday it had voted unanimously to appoint Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno as Nadelmann's successor. McFarland Sánchez-Moreno is moving over from Human Rights Watch, where for the past 13 years she served as Co-Director of the US Program, where she picked up plenty of domestic and international drug policy experience. She also pushed for the group to more directly take on the war on drugs as a human rights issue, and as a result, Human Rights Watch became the first major international human rights organization to call for drug decriminalization and global drug reform.

International

Uruguay Legal Marijuana Sales in Pharmacies Get Underway. Pharmacists in Uruguay began selling marijuana to customers Wednesday, the last step in a pioneering national legalization process that began more than three years ago. Uruguay is the first country in the world to completely legalize marijuana for recreational use. Canada is set to be next.

Drug Policy Alliance Names New Executive Director

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the nation's most powerful drug reform organization, has selected a replacement for founder and long-time executive director Ethan Nadelmann, who stepped down earlier this year.

Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno (Drug Policy Alliance)
The DPA board of directors announced Tuesday it had voted unanimously to appoint Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno as Nadelmann's successor.

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno is moving over from Human Rights Watch, where for the past 13 years she served as Co-Director of the US Program, where she picked up plenty of domestic and international drug policy experience. She also pushed for the group to more directly take on the war on drugs as a human rights issue, and as a result, Human Rights Watch became the first major international human rights organization to call for drug decriminalization and global drug reform.

She grew up in Peru and spent her early years at Human Rights Watch researching Colombia, where drug profits helped fuel a decades-long civil war and corroded governmental legitimacy through corruption. That sharpened her awareness of the need for social justice and drug policy reform.

"We are excited to have found someone with such passion to reverse and remedy the destructive effects of the drug war, and with the knowledge, experience and persistence to do it," said DPA board president Ira Glasser.

As Co-Director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch, she manages a team that fights against racial discrimination in law enforcement, punitive sentencing, and deportation policies that tear families apart -- all issues inextricably intertwined with the war on drugs.

"The war on drugs is a root cause of many of the injustices I have fought throughout my career," said McFarland Sánchez-Moreno. "I'm both honored and delighted to now take on the cause of ending the war on drugs, as part of an organization that has already been behind groundbreaking reforms in the US and abroad"

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno takes over at a very interesting time for drug reform. On one hand, marijuana legalization is becoming more popular and more widespread, and a large number of states have also embarked on other drug reform policies, such as reducing harsh sentencing practices. On the other hand, the federal government under the Trump administration appears determined to move aggressively backward on drug reform.

"We cannot allow fearmongering, ignorance, and dishonesty about drugs to drive policy in the United States," said McFarland Sánchez-Moreno. "At this critical time, the Drug Policy Alliance's mission of educating the public and policymakers, and advocating for a rational, compassionate approach to drugs, is more important than ever"

Chronicle AM: MA Solons Reach Legalization Accord, Sessions Wants More Forfeiture, More... (7/18/17)

Bay state lawmakers come together on implementing marijuana legalization, Jeff Sessions signals a ramped up asset forfeiture effort, DanceSafe is offering fentanly test strips, and more.

Fentanyl test strips being offered for sale by the harm reduction group DanceSafe (dancesafe.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Lawmakers Reach Agreement on Legalization Implementation Bill. Lawmakers announced Monday they had agreed on a rewrite of the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization law. Under the deal, taxes on pot could reach 20% (up from the 12% approved by the voters, down from the 28% proposed by the House). The measure, House Bill 3818, also addresses the issue of local control by requiring jurisdictions where a majority voted for the initiative to hold a popular vote before banning marijuana businesses; jurisdictions that didn't favor the initiative could ban such businesses without a popular vote.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Renews Call for Legalization. Auditor General Eugene DePascuale (D) came out in support of marijuana legalization earlier this year, and he was at it again this week. Now, he's arguing that legalization could help in fighting the opioid epidemic."So the connection I'm drawing there is: there are times when there are going to be people who will smoke marijuana as a way to reduce their pain," DePasquale said. "The ideal would be for nobody to have any pain, but that's not reality. In many instances, marijuana is a much safer alternative than opioids."

San Francisco Creates Office of Cannabis for Pot Businesses. The city has taken initial steps to create a new Office of Cannabis to handle marijuana permits and complaints and serve as a clearinghouse for the public and pot businesses. It will be responsible for creating and managing the permitting process for all pot businesses, as well as providing policy analysis and serving as the main point of contact for businesses, state regulators, and the public.

Asset Forfeiture

Attorney General Sessions Wants to Ramp Up Asset Forfeiture in Drug Cases. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Monday that the Dept. of Justice will seek to increase the use of asset forfeiture by state and local police forces. Sessions said in prepared remarks for the National District Attorney's Association meeting, "We hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture -- especially for drug traffickers. With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime."

Harm Reduction

DanceSafe is Now Offering Fentanyl Test Strips. The rave culture-oriented harm reduction group has studies various fentanyl detection strips and found that one offered by Canadian company BTNX was most effective at detecting the synthetic opioid and its analogues. It is now offering those strips for sale via its website. Click on the link for complete information.

Jeff Sessions Wants More Asset Forfeiture -- Especially in Drug Cases

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Monday that the Dept. of Justice will seek to increase the use of asset forfeiture by state and local police forces.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes another drug warrior move. (senate.gov)
Asset forfeiture is a practice in which police seize cash and property. It has come under sustained criticism in recent years, with critics arguing that it amounts to policing for profit, and state legislatures around the country have moved to rein it in. But Attorney General Sessions is headed in the opposite direction.

Sessions said in prepared remarks for the National District Attorney's Association meeting, "We hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture -- especially for drug traffickers. With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime."

But it's not just criminals who fall victim to asset forfeiture. Federal law and many states allow the seizure of cash or property without convicting or even charging someone with a crime, a procedure known as civil asset forfeiture. And some fairly significant chunks of money can be involved: As The Washington Post noted, the Justice Department's Inspector General has found that.since 2007, the DEA alone has seized more than $3 billion in cash, in cases in which the owners were never charged with crimes.

While many states allow police to keep the cash they seize, others have enacted legislation directing that forfeiture funds go to the general fund or some other specified fund, depriving law enforcement of a revenue stream to which it had become accustomed. Police in such states evade such laws by turning over seizures to federal law enforcement, which then returns 80% of it to the local law enforcement agencies. The feds and the cops get their money; other state purposes that would have benefited do not.

It's called the Equitable Sharing Program, and that's the "adoptive forfeiture" Sessions referenced in his speech. He was making clear that he intends to undo a 2015 Justice Department memo authorized by then-Attorney General Eric Holder curtailing the practice.

"Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate," Sessions emphasized, "as is sharing with our partners."

That isn't sitting too well with Robert Everett Johnson, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, a DC-based nonprofit that describes itself as "the Law Firm for Liberty."

"This is a federalism issue," Johnson told the Post. "Any return to federal adoptive forfeitures would circumvent limitations on civil forfeiture that are imposed by state legislatures… the Department of Justice is saying 'we're going to help state and local law enforcement to get around those reforms.'"

The move is also drawing criticism from at least one Capitol Hill arch-conservative, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT). In a statement Monday, he told Reason he had serious concerns with a return to aggressive federal asset forfeiture, and he cited Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's remarkable dissent in an asset forfeiture case before the court last month.

"As Justice Thomas has previously said, there are serious constitutional concerns regarding modern civil asset forfeiture practices," Lee said. "The Department has an obligation to consider due process constraints in crafting its civil asset forfeiture policies."

But Attorney General Sessions gave no indication he's going to be slowed down by such considerations. Between his embrace of asset forfeiture, his threatening comments about legal marijuana, and his call for a return to harsh federal drug sentencing practices, Sessions is turning out to be just as bad as reformers thought he would be.

Minneapolis, MN
United States

Chronicle AM: Houston Cops Drop Faulty Field Drug Tests, AK Pot Clubs Coming, More... (7/17/17)

Houston police will quit using faulty field drug tests that sent hundreds of innocents to jail, a Colorado appeals court rules a drug dog alert on marijuana in a vehicle is not sufficient grounds for a vehicle search, the Massachusetts high court sides with an employee fired for medical marijuana use, and more.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled in favor of an employee fired for medical marijuana use. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators Advance Social Consumption Proposal. At its meeting last week, the state Marijuana Control Board voted 3-2 to approve draft rules for on-site marijuana consumption at retail outlets. Now there will be a 60-day public comment period before the rules come back to the board, most likely at its November meeting.

Colorado Appeals Court Rules Marijuana Scent Not Enough to Search Vehicle. An appeals court ruled last Thursday that a drug dog's detection of the scent of marijuana in a vehicle does not give police the authority to search the vehicle. "Because Amendment 64 legalized possession for personal use of one ounce or less of marijuana by persons 21 years of age or older in Colorado, it is no longer accurate to say, at least as a matter of state law, that an alert by a dog which can detect marijuana -- but not specific amounts -- can reveal only the presence of "contraband,'" he wrote.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts High Court Rules for Woman Fired for Using Medical Marijuana. The state Supreme Judicial Court ruled Monday that a woman fired after testing positively for legally recommended medical marijuana can sue her former employer for handicap discrimination. The employer had argued that the use shouldn't be allowed because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but the high court disagreed. If a doctor concludes medical marijuana is the most effective treatment for a debilitating condition, "an exception to an employer's drug policy to permit its use is a facially reasonable accommodation" and "the fact that the employee's possession of medical marijuana is in violation of federal law does not make it per se unreasonable as an accommodation."

Nevada Medical Marijuana Patients Facing Higher Prices With Legalization. Medical marijuana patients are complaining of "price gouging" in the wake of the advent of legal recreational marijuana sales in the state. "Our prices have almost doubled in some places," patient Emily Wilson said. Some patients are reportedly resorting to the black market because of high legal prices.

Drug Testing

Houston Cops End Use of Field Drug Tests That Sent Innocent People to Jail. Police in the nation's fourth largest city have ended the use of $2 chemical field drug tests, whose use have led to hundreds of wrongful convictions in recent years. Police announced the move as an officer safety measure in the face of dangerous new drugs, but did not mention the faulty tests' role in the recent scandal over convictions based on false positives.

Chronicle AM: Dark Web Drug Sales Site AlphaBay Busted, Owner Kills Self in Jail, More... (7/14/17)

AlphaBay is history, Nevada moves to ease its legal pot shortage, the White House opioid commission misses a deadline -- again -- and more.

Marijuana Policy

Nevada Regulators Approve Emergency Measures to Ease Pot Shortage. The state Tax Commission voted Thursday to let the Department of Taxation to again determine whether limiting marijuana transport licenses to licensed alcohol distributors would result in a shortage of legal marijuana distributors. If the department does make that determination, it could then award transport licenses to previous medical marijuana distributors. "When businesses operate we get the tax revenue and that's what the state wants," testified Deonne Contine, director of the Department of Taxation. "We need to do everything we can to get more distributors licensed so these businesses can continue operating."

Industrial Hemp

Utah Regulators Give Initial Approval for Hemp Research Grows. The state Agricultural Advisory Board on Thursday gave initial approval to a new rule that would allow limited marijuana cultivation for research purposes. The rule would allow anyone with a permit to grow industrial hemp. State universities are already able to cultivate hemp for research purposes under the 2014 federal Farm Bill, but this rule now expands who can grow the plant. The rule is open for public review through the summer and if finalized, would allow the state to begin issuing permits next January.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

White House Opioid Commission Again Misses Deadline. The president's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), will miss a second deadline for filing an interim report. Under a Trump executive order establishing the commission, the panel had until June 27 to file its interim report, but failed to do so and said it would on July 17. Now, in a notice printed in the Federal Register Friday, the commission said it would reschedule its July 17 call until July 31, again missing its deadline. The commission has until October 1 to issue a final report.

Law Enforcement

Dark Web Giant AlphaBay Busted, Owner Hangs Himself in Thai Jail. AlphaBay, one of the largest drug sales websites on the Dark Web, has gone dark. It wasn't, as some suspected, a scam and rip-off by the owners, but the result of a joint law enforcement operation by police in Canada, the US, and Thailand. Canadian citizen Alexandre Cazes, identified as AlphaBay's owner, was arrested July 5 in Thailand, where he owned three luxurious homes. He was found hanged in a Thai jail cell Wednesday.

Chronicle AM: Vets MedMJ Vets Advances in Senate, Drug War Bill Advances in House, More... (7/13/15)

Congress is dealing with medical marijuana and drug policy issues, legalization advocates call on New Hampshire's governor to kill a marijuana study commission bill, Rhode Island's governor issues an executive order dealing with the state's opioid crisis, and more.

VA docs could recommend medical marijuana for veterans under legislation moving in the Senate (Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska's Largest City Wants Social Consumption at Pot Shops. The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday urged the state Marijuana Control Board to allow tourists and locals to smoke or otherwise consume marijuana at retail stores. The move comes as the board is set to meet in Fairbank later this week. The board is expected to examine several proposals related to consumption in pot shops at that meeting.

Montana Man Challenges State's Standard for Marijuana DUIs. A Billings man facing a vehicular manslaughter charge for an accident while he was allegedly under the influence of marijuana is challenging the state's de jure standard of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Kent Roderick Jensen and his attorney argue that the standard is arbitrary and the charge should be dismissed. "There is no science to back up the 5 ng/mL level as a level that indicates impairment in a sizable enough portion of users to make it a standard for everyone," his attorney wrote in a motion seeking dismissal. The judge in the case has heard oral arguments and received written briefs, but has yet to make a decision.

New Hampshire Governor Should Veto Marijuana Study Commission, Reform Advocates Say. Advocates sent a letter to Gov. Chris Sununu (R) asking him to veto House Bill 215, a bill that would create a study commission to consider marijuana legalization and regulation. The letter, which was signed by leading advocates including the bill's prime sponsor, Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton), notes that, "The commission envisioned by the final bill includes numerous vocal opponents, such as the Association of Chiefs of Police and New Futures, but it does not include any known supporters." The House version of the bill included a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and a representative from the Marijuana Policy Project, which would have added some balance to the commission, but the Senate removed those prospective members from the bill.

Wisconsin Lawmaker Files Legalization Bill. Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) on Thursday announced she would file a marijuana legalization bill. There are no details on it yet. This would be the fourth time she has filed a similar bill.

Medical Marijuana

US Senate Panel Approves Medical Marijuana for Veterans. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted on Thursday to adopt an amendment that would allow military veterans to get medical marijuana recommendations through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bipartisan measure picked up four more votes than last year in the committee. Then, it was approved by the full House, but killed in conference committee.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Rhode Island Governor Signs Executive Order Dealing With Opioid Crisis. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) was joined by White House acting drug czar Richard Baum on Thursday as she signed an executive order aimed at curbing the "alarming rate of deaths" due to opioid overdoses. The 18-point order includes directives calling for a family task force on impacts of opioid use, expanded access to "sober" homes for people in recovery, and the creation of diversion programs to keep people out of the criminal justice system, among others.

Drug Policy

House Judiciary Committee Approves Bill that Gives Attorney General Sessions Unchecked Power to Ban New Drugs and Set Criminal Penalties. The committee on Wednesday advanced legislation that greatly expands the penalties for new drugs and gives Attorney General Sessions unilateral new powers to schedule drugs. Opponents warned that the legislation is a counterproductive approach to the opioid crisis that will exacerbate mass incarceration and enable Attorney General Sessions to ban hundreds of substances and prosecute people with long federal prison terms in violation of the new drug laws. The measure is House Resolution 2851, the "Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017," or "SITSA."

International

Colombia's Coca Crop Substitution Program Faces Same Old Obstacles, Report Finds. A new report from the Colombian Ideas for Peace Foundation casts doubt on the government's ability to eradicate 250,000 acres of coca plantings, saying a vacuum left by the demobilization of leftist FARC guerrillas has not been filled by the state, but is instead being filled by illegal armed drug trafficking groups and paramilitary formations. That means the state is not providing adequate security measures and sustainable alternatives in areas historically hit hardest by decades of armed conflict.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

The nation's drug cops were apparently well-behaved this past week, but we can't say the same thing about prison guards. Let's get to it:

In San Diego, a former California state prison guard pleaded guilty last Thursday to smuggling drugs and cellphones into the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility. Anibal Navarro, 39, admitted receiving around $45,000 over a two-year period to smuggle meth, heroin, and cellphones to inmates. He went down after being popped by the FBI and the prison's internal affairs unit as he attempted to smuggle 10 ounces of meth and four ounces of heroin into the prison at Otay Mesa.

In Savannah, Georgia, a former federal prison guard was sentenced last Thursday to 46 months in prison for attempting to transport cocaine for a prisoner. Akeiran Lawson admitted approaching an inmate and offered to transport loads for a drug trafficking organization, but the inmate ratted him out, which led to a federal undercover sting. In the sting, Lawson agreed to transport a load from Savannah to Atlanta for $20,000, but was arrested after he took possession of the fake cocaine.

Medical Marijuana Update

Florida gets sued over its "no smoking" medical marijuana law, Maryland gets its first dispensary approved, West Virginia's medical marijuana law goes into effect, and more.

Florida

Last Thursday, the state was sued over the no smoking provision in the medical marijuana law. Orlando attorney John Morgan, the mastermind and chief funder of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law, filed a lawsuit challenging a legislative ban on smoking medical marijuana. He is asking the courts to throw out the implementing law, saying legislators are violating the will of the voters by altering the constitutional amendment they approved last November. "Inhalation is a medically effective and efficient way to deliver Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and other cannabinoids, to the bloodstream," the lawsuit argues. "By redefining the constitutionally defined term 'medical use' to exclude smoking, the Legislature substitutes its medical judgment for that of 'a licensed Florida physician' and is in direct conflict with the specifically articulated Constitutional process."

Maryland

Last Wednesday, regulators approved the state's first dispensary. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission approved a dispensary license for the Wellness Institute of Maryland in Frederick on Wednesday. The store began seeing patients Thursday for "pre-orders," but won't actually have a crop to harvest for several months.

Last Thursday, the governor overhauled the medical marijuana commission. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Thursday overhauled the commission, which had come under fire for its launch of the state's medical marijuana program. He replaced six members whose terms on the 16-member panel had expired and filled three vacancies. The new appointments doubled the number of minority commissioners from two to four, responding to calls from the Legislative Black Caucus and others to create more diversity in the program.

North Dakota

Last Friday, the state sought letters of intent from prospective growers and dispensaries. The Health Department last asked prospective medical marijuana growers and dispensary operators to send in letters of intent to apply under the state's new medical marijuana law. The department said it wants a better idea of how many applications it will receive in coming months. Interested parties have until July 28 to send in their letters.

Puerto Rico

On Sunday, the governor signed a medical marijuana bill into law. Gov. Ricardo Rosello, a former biomedical engineer, signed into law a bill that legalizes and regulates medical marijuana in the US territory. The move comes after Rossello criticized an earlier executive order allowing medical marijuana as insufficient. "As a scientist, I know firsthand the impact that medicinal cannabis has had on patients with various diseases," he said. "The time has come for Puerto Rico to join the flow of countries and states that have created similar legislation."

West Virginia

Last Wednesday, the state's medical marijuana law went into effect. The state's Medical Cannabis Act is now in effect, but it could still be months or years before Mountain State patients are able to medicate with marijuana. But now an advisor board has been appointed to create a regulatory framework for medical marijuana regulations, and it could be 2019 before patients are able to legally purchase their medicine.

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

Chronicle AM: CT Ends Civil Forfeiture, Sessions Calls for More Drug War (Again), More... (7/12/17)

Connecticut has become the 14th state to end civil asset forfeiture, Nevada's state government is moving to ease a potential marijuana shortage, Jeff Sessions gives another drug war speech, and more.

Attorney General Sessions showed up at DARE to slam Obama-era drug reforms. (senate.gov).
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Governor Says Deal on Legalization Close. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said Thursday lawmakers are close to reaching a deal on a bill that will regulate legal marijuana in the state. The House had favored a 28% tax and allowing localities to ban pot businesses without a popular vote, while the Senate held to the 12% tax included in the voter-approved legalization initiative and wouldn't allow pot shop bans without a popular vote. "I'm told there are only a couple minor things that are outstanding. I hope they get them done because if they don't get them done, I think at some point, we're going to have to go forward with the law as it was written," said Baker.

Nevada Regulators Set to Approve Emergency Regs to Avoid Pot Shortage.State tax officials are set to vote Thursday on an emergency regulation that they hope will allow marijuana stores to avoid running out of supply. The regulation would allow the state to issue distribution licenses that are currently being held up by a legal challenge from liquor distributors, who want a cut of the action. Because of heavy demand since legal sales started July 1, some shops are "running on fumes," said Nevada Dispensary Association President Andrew Jolley.

Asset Forfeiture

Connecticut Governor Signs Bill Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) on Monday signed into law House Bill 7146, which ends property or cash seizures in the state without a criminal conviction. Connecticut becomes the 14th state to require a criminal conviction in most or all forfeiture cases.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions Again Attacks Drug, Sentencing Reforms. In a speech at the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) training conference in Dallas on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the country's drug problem "unprecedented" and generally blamed it on Obama-era sentencing reforms that led prosecutors "not to charge the most serious offenses." Sessions said a new Justice Department police directing prosecutors to seek mandatory minimum sentences was the way to go. "We are going to trust our prosecutors again," Sessions said Tuesday. "This policy empowers trust in professionals to apply the law fairly and exercise discretion when appropriate."

Chronicle AM: MI Init Signatures Coming Fast, OR Decriminalizes Drug Possession, More... (7/11/17)

Michigan legalizers are fast off the mark in their initiative signature-gathering campaign, the Drug Policy Alliance and 30 groups call for drug decriminalization, Oregon is set to defelonize drug possession, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Michigan Initiative Campaign Already Has 100,000 Raw Signatures. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which wants to put a legalization initiative on the November 2018 ballot, announced Monday that signature gathering was ahead of schedule and that the group had already passed the 100,000 mark. To qualify for the ballot, the group must collect 252,523 valid voter signatures within a six-month period. They began signature gathering in late May.

DC Public Use Marijuana Arrests Tripled Last Year. More than 400 people were arrested in the nation's capital last year for publicly using marijuana, a nearly three-fold jump over the 142 arrested in 2015. And this year so far the pace of arrests remains steady. Some advocates criticized the increase in arrests, with Adam Eidinger, the man behind DC's legalization law, saying the right to smoke marijuana in the District is effectively reserved for "those who own private property," with renters, residents of public housing, and visitors out of luck. "A lot of it is people not realizing they can't smoke in public," he said of the increase in arrests. "A lot of it is people who have no place else to go."

Medical Marijuana

Puerto Rico Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Ricardo Rosello, a former biomedical engineer, on Sunday signed into law a bill that legalizes and regulates medical marijuana in the US territory. The move comes after Rossello criticized an earlier executive order allowing medical marijuana as insufficient. "As a scientist, I know firsthand the impact that medicinal cannabis has had on patients with various diseases," he said. "The time has come for Puerto Rico to join the flow of countries and states that have created similar legislation."

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Report Calls for US Drug Decriminalization. In a new report endorsed by more than 30 organizations, the Drug Policy Alliance is calling for the end of arresting people simply for using or possessing drugs. "Our current laws have branded tens of millions of people with a lifelong criminal record that makes it hard to get a job or an apartment," said Art Way, senior director of national criminal justice strategy at the Drug Policy Alliance. "The experience of the last few decades shows that criminalization has been utterly ineffective in reducing problematic drug use."

Sentencing

Oregon Defelonizes Drug Possession. The state legislature has approved House Bill 2355, which makes simple possession of drugs such as heroin, MDMA, and meth a misdemeanor punishable by no more than a year in jail. Under current law, drug possession is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The bill also includes a provision aimed at reducing racial profiling by police. The legislature also approved House Bill 3079, which reduces penalties for property crimes often related to problematic drug use. Gov. Kate Brown (D) is expected to sign the bills into law shortly.

Chronicle AM: MA MJ Talks Resume, WI "Cocaine Mom" Law Back in Effect (For Now), More... (7/10/17)

Massachusetts lawmakers finally figured out their budget, so now maybe they can figure out how to implement the will of the voters on legal pot; the Supreme Court lets Wisconsin continue to enforce its "cocaine mom" law as the state appeals a lower court ruling it's unconstitutional; Colombian coca cultivation was way up last year, and more.

Colombian coca cultivation jumped last year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime says. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Lawmakers Resume Talks on Implementing Legalization. A House-Senate conference committee was set for a closed door meeting Monday afternoon to restart negotiations over legislation that would implement the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization law. House and Senate negotiators are split over a number of issues, foremost among them taxation rates and whether localities can ban pot businesses without a popular vote.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Seeks Letters of Intent from Prospective Growers and Dispensaries. The Health Department last Friday asked prospective medical marijuana growers and dispensary operators to send in letters of intent to apply under the state's new medical marijuana law. The department said it wants a better idea of how many applications it will receive in coming months. Interested parties have until July 28 to send in their letters.

Drug Policy

US Supreme Court Lets Wisconsin "Cocaine Mom" Law Stay in Effect Pending Appeal. The Supreme Court last Friday issued an order lifting an injunction against Wisconsin's "cocaine mom" law imposed in April. The law allows state officials to detain pregnant women suspected of using drugs or alcohol. A federal district court judge ruled the law unconstitutionally vague and issued the injunction, but now the Supreme Court will allow the state to continue to use the law while it appeals the lower court ruling.

Sentencing

Report: Some Federal Prosecutors Ignored Obama Sentencing Recommendations. A report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General released last Friday finds that at least 20 of the country's 94 federal prosecutorial districts did not follow Obama administration "Smart on Crime" sentencing recommendations aimed at reducing the number of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Still, the report noted, the initiative had an impact: Drug offenders sentenced without mandatory minimum sentences increased from 40% in 2014 to 54% in 2015.

International

UN Says Colombia Coca Cultivation Increased Dramatically Last Year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that the amount of land under coca cultivation jumped from 250,000 acres in 2015 to 363,000 acres last year, an increase of nearly 50%. The UNODC notes that most of the increase came in areas that had been under the control of the now demobilized FARC guerrillas. The Colombian military failed to take effective control of those areas, leaving a power vacuum filled by dissident guerrilla groups, rightist paramilitaries, and drug trafficking organizations.

Chronicle AM: Drug Warriors Push Back on Sentencing Criticisms, Mexico Violence, More... (7/7/17)

There's medical marijuana news from Maryland, drug warriors defend Sessions' harsh sentencing approach, Mexico's prohibition-related violence is ticking upward, and more.

Coca processing lab at site of first coca plantation found and destroyed in Honduras. (Honduras Public Prosecutor's Office)
Medical Marijuana

Maryland Regulators Approve First Dispensary. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission approved a dispensary license for the Wellness Institute of Maryland in Frederick on Wednesday. The store began seeing patients Thursday for "pre-orders," but won't actually have a crop to harvest for several months.

Maryland Governor Overhauls Medical Cannabis Commission. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Thursday overhauled the commission, which had come under fire for its launch of the state's medical marijuana program. He replaced six members whose terms on the 16-member panel had expired and filled three vacancies. The new appointments doubled the number of minority commissioners from two to four, responding to calls from the Legislative Black Caucus and others to create more diversity in the program.

Sentencing

Drug Warriors Defend Sessions' Hard Line on Drug Sentencing. The heads of professional groupings committed to punitive, prohibitionist drug policies penned an op-ed Wednesday defending Attorney General Sessions' return to harsh sentencing practices and charging that Obama administration efforts to reduce drug sentences had left "a devastating mark downstream on the safety of communities across the nation." The piece was a direct response to an op-ed last month by former Assistant Attorney General Sally Yates, who noted that violent crimes rates are still at historic lows and accused Sessions of "stoking fear" with an argument that "just isn't supported by the facts."

International

Cartel Clashes in Northern Mexico Leave 26 Dead. At least 26 people were killed in a predawn gun battle between warring cartels Wednesday in Las Varas, Chihuahua, as members of La Linea squared off against a Sinaloa cartel faction. The violence in Chihuahua comes just days after a firefight with police near the resort town of Mazatlan, Sinaloa, left 19 suspected cartel members dead. Violence is surging in Mexico, with 2,186 homicide investigations opened in May, the most in any month since the government began publishing homicide statistics in the 1990s.

Honduras Destroys First Coca Crop. Honduran Army units on Friday destroyed a coca plantation containing 12,000 plants near the town of Esquipulas del Norte in Olancho province, marking the first time a coca crop had been found and eradicated in the country. Authorities had discovered the planting in late April. They also found a crude coca processing lab nearby and are investigating "the possible involvement of foreigners."

Chronicle AM: Canada Expanding Safe Injection Sites, FL Sued Over MedMJ Smoke Ban, More... (7/6/17)

Canada is expanding the use of safe injection sites, the man behind Florida's successful medical marijuana constitutional amendment is suing the state over a smoking ban enacted by lawmakers, Massachusetts lawmakers continue to struggle with how to implement marijuana legalization, and more.

Vancouver's Insite supervised injection facility (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts House Speaker Wants Marijuana Talks Suspended Until Budget is Passed. Legislators locked in a battle over how to implement the state's voter-approved pot legalization law are being told to put the issue on hold until solons can get a budget passed. House Speaker Roberto DeLeo (D), whose chamber is backing a plan that radically increases taxes and would allow localities to ban marijuana businesses without a popular vote, called Wednesday for setting the issue aside to take on the budget. But Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D) countered that the Senate could work on both bills and that "mischief makers are once again at work."

Nevada Opening Pot Sales Exceed Store Owners' Expectations. Legal marijuana sales that began just after midnight Saturday have exceeded the expectations of pot shop operators. Long lines formed in the wee hours Saturday morning, and shops are continuing to report heavy interest, with lines forming again before shops opened for business on Monday. "I'm very happy with the way sales have gone and continue to go, especially when you consider that the word didn't really get out ahead of time," Andrew Jolley, president of the Nevada Dispensary Association and a store owner told Leafly. "The public really only had a couple of weeks' notice, whereas Colorado had a full year to prepare."

Medical Marijuana

Florida Sued Over No Smoking Provision in Medical Marijuana Law. Orlando attorney John Morgan, the mastermind and chief funder of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law, filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging a legislative ban on smoking medical marijuana. He is asking the courts to throw out the implementing law, saying legislators violated the will of the voters by altering the constitutional amendment they approved last November. "Inhalation is a medically effective and efficient way to deliver Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and other cannabinoids, to the bloodstream," the lawsuit argues. "By redefining the constitutionally defined term 'medical use' to exclude smoking, the Legislature substitutes its medical judgment for that of 'a licensed Florida physician' and is in direct conflict with the specifically articulated Constitutional process."

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Law Now in Effect. The state's Medical Cannabis Act went into effect Wednesday, but it could still be months or years before Mountain State patients are able to medicate with marijuana. But now an advisory board has been appointed to create a regulatory framework for medical marijuana regulations, and it could be 2019 before patients are able to legally purchase their medicine.

Drug Testing

Colorado Employers Begin to Walk Away from Testing for Marijuana. Changing social attitudes and a tight labor market are pushing employers in the state to drop screenings for marijuana from pre-employment drug tests, said a spokesman for the Mountain States Employers Council. "We're finding that for employers, it's such a tight labor market, that they can't always afford to have a zero-tolerance approach to somebody's off-duty marijuana use, Curtis Graves told Colorado Public Radio.

Harm Reduction

Mississippi Law Easing Naloxone Access Now in Effect. As of July 1, health care providers can write "standing prescriptions" for the opioid overdose reversal drug for family members of people strung out on opioids. "This will save many lives," said Rep. Tommy Reynolds (D-Water Valley).

International

Canada Expanding Safe Injection Sites. Once there was only InSite, the Vancouver safe injection site under constant assault from the Conservative federal government. But now, the Liberals are in power, and the number of safe injection sites has expanded to seven, including three in Montreal and another in Vancouver. Another Montreal site is set to open soon, and so are three in Toronto, with more than a dozen other potential sites being considered.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More jail and prison guards gone bad, plus a Border Patrol agent gets nailed in a tricky trafficking scheme. Let's get to it:

In Greenville, South Carolina, a Greenville County detention officer was arrested last Thursday for allegedly slinging meth. Now former officer Kendall Shon Marlin, 47, went down after he attempted to purchase 400 grams of meth from a State Law Enforcement Division undercover officer. He is charged with trafficking methamphetamine. His alleged dealing was not at the jail, the sheriff said in a news conference.

In Albuquerque, a state prison guard was arrested last Thursday after allegedly smuggling drugs into the state prison at Santa Fe. John Aragon, 60, went down after prison authorities heard claims he was involved in dope smuggling and set up a meeting with him to provide heroin and suboxone strips for prisoners and $1,500 for himself. He is charged with drug possession with intent to distribute.

In Brownsville, Texas, a former Border Patrol agents pleaded guilty last Friday to lying about drug seizure that had been diluted so traffickers could steal the original drugs. Eduardo Bazan, 49, conspired with traffickers to stage a seizure with the diluted drugs, then lie to his fellow officers about what had actually happened. He admitted receiving $8,000 for his efforts. He pleaded guilty to a single count of making a false statement regarding a narcotics seizure. He's looking at up to five years in the federal slammer.

Legal Marijuana is a Job Creation Engine

It's been less than four years since the first legal recreational sales in the United States took place in Colorado, but since then, the US marijuana industry has been creating jobs at rapid pace, and there are now more people employed in the pot industry than there are working in a number of common professions.

buying legal marijuana (Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
That's according to a new report from the Marijuana Business Daily's Marijuana Business Factbook 2017, which pegged the size of the cannabis labor force at somewhere between 165,000 and 230,000 full- and part-time workers.

That's compared to 169,000 massage therapists, 185,000 bakers, and 201,000 dental hygienists. And marijuana industry workers are on a path to shortly exceed the number of telemarketers (238,000) and pharmacists (297,000).

Granted, the legal marijuana industry begins with a base of several tens of thousands of workers producing and selling medical marijuana products, especially in California, with its loose medical marijuana law, but the boom is being propelled by growth in the recreational market, and that is only set to continue and accelerate as more legal states come online next year, including California, Maine, and Massachusetts. Nevada joined the ranks of the legal pot selling states on July 1.

California's recreational pot market by itself could generate around $5 billion in annual retail sales within a few years, doubling the size of the current legal weed market and creating a massive impact on job creation there.

In arriving at its numbers, Marijuana Business Daily included employment figures for retailers, wholesale growers, edibles and concentrates producers, testing labs, and ancillary firms, such as companies providing legal, marketing, security or other services to marijuana companies. The industry daily used a variety of methodologies, including survey data, on the average number of employees for each kind of company in the business, and that data was then applied to the estimated number of companies in each sector to arrive at final estimates.

One important caveat: The employment numbers mentioned here cover only a fraction of the people involved in the marijuana business -- those involved in the legal marijuana business. Even when California, Maine, and Massachusetts begin legal retail sales next year, the legal pot states will only amount to about one-fifth of the US population, and people are growing and selling marijuana in all the other states, too. From black market growers to clandestine dabs lab workers to cross-country couriers to dorm-room dealers, the number of people making a living in the illegal pot industry undoubtedly still dwarfs the number doing it legally.

Medical Marijuana Update

The past week has been a quiet one on the medical marijuana front, but Montana instituted emergency regs to get its new program up and running, Pennsylvania announced the issuance of dispensary permits, and more.

Montana

Last Wednesday, the state issued temporary emergency rules for the medical marijuana program. The state health department released "temporary emergency rules" to provide guidance to patients and providers as part of the state's new program went into effect last Friday. The emergency rules clarify how the Department of Public Health and Human Services will regulate possession limits, testing labs, and concentrate makers during the transition period until the full regulatory framework is set, which must happen by April 30, 2018.

Nevada

Last Monday, dispensaries got tough edibles regulations as legal sales loomed. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) signed a Taxation Department emergency regulation that will impose tougher regulations beginning Saturday, the same day legal recreational pot sales through dispensaries begins. Under the new regulations, edibles can't contain more than 10 milligrams of THC per dose or 100 per package, they can't resemble lollipops or other products marketed to children, they can't look like real or fictional characters or cartoons, and they can't have images of cartoon characters, action figures, toys, balloons or mascots on the packaging.

Pennsylvania

Last Thursday, the Health Department announced it had issued dispensary permits. The Health Department announced it had granted 27 medical marijuana dispensary permits. Each permit holder can open up to three dispensaries. They will be permitted to begin selling medical marijuana in six months. Click on the link for a list of permit recipients.

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

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