Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Another Week, Another Pair of Drug War Deaths

A black New Orleans man was killed Monday after a traffic stop escalated into a chase and shootout, and a white South Carolina man was killed in a drug raid on his home Thursday, in the two latest deaths in the US drug war. Desmond Willis, 25, and Phillip Michael Burgess, 28, become the 18th and 19th persons die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to The New Orleans Times-Picayune, citing the account provided by Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Norman at a Wednesday press conference, deputies initially pulled Willis over for a traffic violation, but smelled marijuana from his open window. (This contradicts an earlier law enforcement statement that he was targeted as part of a drug investigation.) Deputies ordered him to put his hands up and turn off the SUV, but when one deputy reached into the vehicle to grab his arm, Willis sped off.

He then crashed his SUV and took off on foot. Norman said Willis fired at deputies and that witnesses inside an office building and a restaurant saw him firing. Deputies returned fire, killing him in the parking lot of New Orleans Seafood and Hamburger.

Detectives recovered a 9 mm pistol near his body, and a .38 caliber pistol and $800 in cash in his pockets. In the SUV, investigators found a half-pound of pot packaged for sale, as well as ammunition, sandwich bags, and a vacuum sealer.

According to Fox Carolina News, citing Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office sources, narcotics officers were serving a drug search warrant Thursday morning in Boiling Springs when Burgess became "belligerent."

The narcs called for backup, and two deputies showed up to assist. The official account said Burgess continued to be belligerent and grabbed a gun from atop the refrigerator, pointing it at deputies. The two deputies then opened fire, killing him.

Because his death was at the hands of law enforcement, it will be investigated by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

No word on if any drugs were found.

Chronicle AM: Third MI Init, TX MJ Bill Hearings, Drug Czar Touts Needle Exchanges, More (4/9/15)

An Alaska marijuana regulation bill continues its slow advance, another Michigan legalization initiative effort emerges, Texas pot bills get a hearing, the DEA recommends tripling the federal research marijuana crop, and more.

Drug czar Michael Botticelli touts needle exchang programs. (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Marijuana Regulation Bill Advances. The House Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a bill to create a marijuana control board to govern the state's soon-to-be legal pot industry. The committee advanced the bill, House Bill 123, without adopting amendments that would have barred people with felony convictions within the past five years or misdemeanor drug convictions within the past three years from getting licenses. The bill now goes to the House Finance Committee.

Michigan Legalization Initiative Group Files Proposed Language. The Michigan Cannabis Coalition today submitted proposed language to state officials for review. The coalition is one of three groups considering a 2016 legalization initiative. If approved for signature-gathering, initiatives would have to come up with some 250,000 valid voter signatures within 180 days to qualify for the 2016 ballot.

Texas Marijuana Reform Bills Get Hearing. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee ran late into the night last night hearing impassioned testimony on a set of bills aimed at decriminalizing marijuana. The main bill is House Bill 507, by Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso), which would make possession of less than an ounce a civil infraction. Another bill, House Bill 325, from Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) would make possession of less than a third of an ounce a Class C misdemeanor, the least serious criminal offense. Yet another bill, House Bill 414, from Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) would make possession of less than an ounce a Class C misdemeanor, while House Bill 1115, from Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) would keep pot possession a misdemeanor, but would require police to cite and release anyone caught with less than four ounces. Finally, House Bill 2165, from Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) would remove all marijuana prohibition laws from the books. No votes were taken.

Wichita Seeks Court Ruling on Legality of Local Decriminalization. The city has filed a petition for declaratory judgment in local district court asking the court to rule on the legality of enacting a decriminalization ordinance approved Tuesday by voters. State Attorney General Derek Schmidt said last month that the ordinance would have no effect, and he's also warned the city that he would be required to sue to enforce state law.

Medical Marijuana

DEA Recommends Government Triple Amount of Marijuana Grown for Research. The DEA recommended Wednesday that the government produce nearly 900 pounds of marijuana for research this year, more than three times the amount the agency had estimated it would need. The increase is because of "unanticipated medical, scientific, research, and industrial needs of the United States," the agency said in a notice published in the Federal Register.

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Dead for This Year. Both the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and the House Health Committee voted to kill pending medical marijuana bills this week. Both committees, however, agreed to create summer study committees to look at the legislation.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Senate Panel Takes Up Asset Forfeiture Bill. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice today took up Senate Bill 1534, from Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-Tampa). The bill would limit law enforcement to using seized funds only to reimburse themselves for the cost of holding seized property, with the rest going into the Crimes Compensation Trust Fund.

Harm Reduction

Drug Czar Touts Needle Exchange Programs in Kentucky Visit. Director of the Office of National Drug Control (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Michael Botticelli touted needle exchange programs as a means of reducing the spread of infectious diseases and to steer drug users toward treatment in a visit to Kentucky Wednesday. He said the program also reduce the danger of law enforcement getting stuck with dirty needles. Kentucky lawmakers just passed an anti-heroin bill that will allow for needle exchanges, and a nearby Ohio county just started an emergency needle exchange to combat an HIV outbreak.

International

Chile Harvests First Medical Marijuana Crop. TV cameras were on hand in Santiago Wednesday as the country's first permitted medical marijuana crop was harvested. Chilean health officials last fall gave the okay. The therapeutic Daya Foundation will produce cannabis oils from the plants and provide them to 200 selected cancer patients.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Drug-related law enforcement thievery from lowly police cadets to high-placed DEA and Secret Service agents is the them this week. Let's get to it:

In Baltimore, a DEA agent and a Secret Service agent were charged last Monday with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bitcoins from the Silk Road dark web drug sales website they were investigating. DEA Agent Carl Force, 46, is accused of extorting Silk Road operator Ross Ulbricht out of $250,000 in bitcoins by threatening to turn him in if he didn't pay up, as well as other bitcoin-related charges. He deposited $757,000 in personal bank accounts during a year when his salary was $150,000. He is charged with money laundering, wire fraud, and conflict of interest. Secret Service Agent Shaun Bridges, 32, allegedly ripped off Silk Road accounts by using password information obtained from a Silk Road customer service agent arrested in a drug sting. He allegedly stole $800,000. He is charged with wire fraud and money laundering.

In Houston, a Houston Police officer was arrested Tuesday after being caught escorting a cartel drug load across state lines. Noe Juarez was arrested on a DEA warrant out of New Orleans. The precise charges will not be revealed until he makes a first court appearance.

In Towson, Maryland, a former Baltimore County police cadet was sentenced last Wednesday to four years in prison for stealing drugs from the department evidence room. Nicholas Ishmael, 21, had pleaded guilty in January to felony theft and possession of oxycodone with the intent to deliver. He had been arrested last June after an investigation into missing drugs pointed toward him. He was carrying $40,000 in cash when arrested.

In Frankfort, Kentucky, a former Franklin County narcotics officer was sentenced Monday to 16 months in prison for stealing cash, jewelry, and gift cards from drug dealers. Matthew Christian Brown, 32, was the county sheriff's lead narc until December 2012 and enriched himself during drug busts. In one August 2012 case, he confiscated guns, drugs, and $32,000 in cash, but only logged the guns, drugs, and $18,000 into evidence, keeping the other $14,000. In another case, he stole an $11,000 ring and $3,000 watch from a drug dealer. He kept the ring, but sold the watch back to the dealer for $800 and kept the cash. He was charged with embezzlement, illegally distributing anabolic steroids, wire fraud, and lying to the FBI.

In Titusville, Florida, a former Titusville police officer was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in federal prison for participating in a drug deal. Richard Irizarry, 46, went down after befriending a DEA snitch and telling him he wanted to get into the drug business. Irizarry also helped the informant avoid detection by DEA officers. He was charged with attempting to aid and abet the distribution of cocaine and was found guilty in January.

Medical Marijuana Update

Key congressmen stick up for California's dispensaries, an Idaho CBD bill passes, an Indiana CBD bill fails, the Arizona Supreme Court allows parolees to use medical marijuana, and more.

National

Last Thursday, two key congressmen rejected DOJ claims that it can still prosecute California dispensaries. Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), authors of the successful congressional budget amendment protecting medical marijuana in states where it is legal, have rejected Justice Department claims that it can still go after dispensaries in California. "The Justice Department's interpretation of the amendment defies logic," Farr said. "No reasonable person thinks prosecuting patients doesn't interfere with a state's medical marijuana laws. Lawyers can try to mince words but Congress was clear: Stop going after patients and dispensaries." A Rohrabacher spokesman added that "the congressman believes the amendment's language is perfectly clear and that the DOJ's self-referential interpretation is emphatically wrong."

Alabama

Last Wednesday, a full-blown medical marijuana bill was filed. Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) filed Senate Bill 326, which would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients and which has a unique scheme setting three levels of allowable amounts possessed. The bill would allow one dispensary in cities with a population of 10,000 or more and two dispensaries in cities with a population of 150,000 or more. Companion legislation is expected to be filed in the House by Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham).

Arizona

On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court ruled that probationers and parolees can use medical marijuana. In two rulings, the state high court barred courts and prosecutors from denying registered patients the right to use medical marijuana while on probation. The cases are Arizona v. Farrell and Reed-Kaliher v. Arizona.

California

Last Tuesday, the Fresno city council approved the indoor cultivation of up to four plants. That's a change from the total ban on cultivation it passed last year. Still, patients expressed reservations about whether four plants would be sufficient. The council must approve the measure one more time before it becomes law.

Last Friday, a Yuba County judge denied a temporary restraining order against the county sought by medical marijuana growers. The Yuba Patients Coalition and six growers had sought to undo an "urgency" designation with the county's cultivation ordinance that eliminated a period for signature-gathering for a referendum challenging the ordinance. The growers said they will appeal.

On Tuesday, the State Water Board issued best practice guidelines for marijuana cultivation. The effort includes a "Know Before You Grow" brochures and a "Pesticide Use on Marijuana" research paper. Click on the link for much more.

Connecticut

On Monday, a legislative committee approved expanding the medical marijuana program.The committee endorsed Senate Bill 1064 after lengthy debate. The bill would be a significant expansion of the state's medical marijuana system and would allow children with specified diseases to participate, but they wold be limited to using low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Florida

Last Friday, the state's CBD implementation bill faced more problems. A bill trying to get the state's CBD cannabis oil law, passed last year, actually implemented is now facing a new challenge: how to give black farmers a fair shot at growing the new crop. The existing law only allows farms that have been in existence for at least 30 years and that grow 400,000 plants or more to apply for one of five licenses to cultivate and distribute the crop. But hundreds of black farmers say they are being cut out of the deal because 30 years ago, they were still fighting with the US Department of Agriculture over discriminatory lending practices and weren't yet in business. The sponsor of both last year's successful bill and this year's implementation bill, Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), said he would attempt to address the issue. The bill is Senate Bill 7066.

Idaho

Last Monday, the CBD cannabis oil bill came back from the dead. The bill, Senate Bill 1146, was killed on a tie vote in the House State Affairs Committee Monday, but the committee has agreed to reconsider it and was set to meet today for further discussion on it. If it passes the committee, it could go to a House floor vote tomorrow.

Last Thursday, it passed the Senate. The bill was killed in committee on Monday, but brought back to life Thursday and passed the Senate today. Senate Bill 1146would allow for the use of CBD for "intractable seizure disorder." It won the support of all seven Democratic state senators and 15 of 27 Republican state senators.

Last Friday, it passed the House. A bill that appeared dead only a week ago has now passed both houses of the legislature and heads for the desk of Gov. Butch Otter (R). The bill is Senate Bill 1146.

Illinois

On Monday, officials began pondering whether to add 14 new qualifying conditions. The state Medical Cannabis Advisory Board is now reviewing 22 petitions requesting the addition of some 14 diseases or medical conditions to the list of those that qualify for medical marijuana. The board will hold a hearing in May and then make recommendations to the director of the Department of Publich Health, who will make the ultimate decision. Click on the link to see the whole list.

Indiana

On Tuesday, a CBD cannabis oil bill was killed. A bill to allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat children with epilepsy sailed through the House earlier this session, but was killed by a Senate committee vote Tuesday after prosecutors opposed it, saying it was similar to legalizing medical marijuana.

Massachusetts

On Wednesday, the state announced it was revamping the application process for dispensaries. The state Department of Public Health (DPH) today announced significant changes to the Commonwealth's Medical Marijuana Dispensary program first authorized in 2012. The revised process will license Registered Marijuana Dispensaries (RMD) in a format similar to other healthcare facilities, such as pharmacies, which DPH also administers. This process will phase out the current use of state procurement policies to register a dispensary. Click on the link for more details.

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

Chronicle AM: France Okays Safe Injection Sites, Wichita Decriminalizes, Egypt Hash Debate, More (4/8/15)

A Louisiana poll shows rising support for marijuana legalization; if Massachusetts want to legalize, it will be up to the voters; Wichita votes to decriminalize it, a CBD cannabis bill dies in Indiana, France okays safe injection sites, and more.

A proposal to legalize hash in Egypt has stoked debate. (justice.gov/dea)
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana Poll Sees Rising Support for Legalization, But Still No Majority. The 2015 Louisiana Survey, released Tuesday, shows support for marijuana legalization at 45%, up from 42% two years ago. Opposition was at 52%, down from 56% two years ago. Support was twice as high in southwest Louisiana (57%) than northeast Louisiana (28%). The state has some of the harshest pot laws in the country, but the legislature appears little inclined to do anything about them.

Massachusetts Lawmakers to Punt on Legalization. There is "no appetite" among lawmakers to address marijuana legalization, leaving the field open for ballot initiatives next year, said Senate President Stanley Rosenberg. "There's been conversations and there seems to be no appetite in the Legislature to take up... recreational marijuana, so you should expect to see it on the ballot in 2016," Rosenberg (D-Amherst) told the Boston Herald's internet radio station on Tuesday.

Wichita Votes to Decriminalize. Voters in Wichita voted 54% to 45% to approve a local initiative to decriminalize small-time marijuana possession. The measure would make first-time possession an infraction with a $50 fine. But state law says it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, and state Attorney General Derek Schmidt (R) has vowed to sue the city if it passes. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Killed. A bill to allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat children with epilepsy sailed through the House earlier this session, but was killed by a Senate committee vote Tuesday after prosecutors opposed it, saying it was similar to legalizing medical marijuana.

Massachusetts Revamps Application Process for Registered Dispensaries. The state Department of Public Health (DPH) today announced significant changes to the Commonwealth's Medical Marijuana Dispensary program first authorized in 2012. The revised process will license Registered Marijuana Dispensaries (RMD) in a format similar to other healthcare facilities, such as pharmacies, which DPH also administers. This process will phase out the current use of state procurement policies to register a dispensary. Click on the link for more details.

Drug Testing

Kentucky GOP Gubernatorial Hopeful Proposes Drug Testing Welfare Recipients. Would-be Republican gubernatorial nominee Hal Heiner is seeking to win support from the base by pushing a scheme to drug test welfare recipients. He made the call in a series of TV ads that began appearing yesterday. "I am simply asking welfare recipients to do what many employees in Kentucky are already required to do," Heiner said in a statement. "If working Kentuckians can be required to take drug tests, it is certainly reasonable to expect those who are benefiting from their tax dollars to do so as well."

International

France Approves Safe Injection Sites. The National Assembly Tuesday adopted a draft health law that will allow for safe injection sites for injection drug users. Opposition deputies denounced the move as "a first step toward legalizing drugs," for creating "no-go zones," and for sending "incomprehensible messages to our youth," but they did not prevail. Pilot sites will open in Paris, Bordeaux, and Strasbourg, and the law will prevent users from being arrested for drug possession within safe injection sites. Safe injection sites already operate in around 10 countries, including Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain.

Call for Hash Legalization in Egypt Sparks Lively Debate. Just a few days ago, Cairo tobacco traders called for hash legalization as a revenue measure and submitted a proposal to that effect to the cabinet, and that has sparked strong reactions. The Ministry of Social Solidarity's Drug Control and Addiction Treatment Fund warned that hash is a serious threat to Egypt, which is "safe by nature." The fund claimed hash is a major factor in road accidents because it causes "lack of awareness of one's surroundings." The fund also claimed that a survey it conducted found that 86% of rapists and 23% of murderers were hash users. But hash users cited in the story disagreed. Click on the link for more.

Mexican Cartel Attack Kills 15 Cops in Jalisco. An ambush of a police convoy by presumed drug cartel gunmen on the highway between Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara left 15 policemen dead and five wounded. It was the deadliest attack on Mexican police since 12 federal police were killed in neighboring Michoacan state in 2010. Fingers are being pointed at the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which has grown to be one of the country's most powerful. The state has seen a spate of violence in recent weeks, including a March 19 ambush of federal police that killed five, a March 23 shootout in which police killed a gang boss, an unsuccessful March 30 attempt to assassinate the state security commissioner, and the killing Monday of the police chief in the town of Zacoalco de Torres. The security commissioner said the recent attacks were revenge for the killing of the gang leader.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Drug War Chronicle Seeking Writing Interns

Posted in:

Would you like to spend your internship writing for this publication? Drug War Chronicle is a high-quality newsletter covering the full range of drug policy. Marijuana legalization, sentencing reform, harm reduction, the drug war in Latin America and Asia, are just a few of the issues we follow and report on for our informed and engaged readership.

Interns will assist longtime Chronicle writer/editor Phillip Smith in researching material for feature stories, writing news briefs, and compiling the daily "Chronicle AM" roundups. Interns could also get involved in writing for our blog and with our work.

To apply for an internship with Drug War Chronicle, please send your resume, and writing sample if available, to psmith@drcnet.org and borden@drcnet.org. Internships can begin at any time. Thank you for your interest.

Time Is Running Short...

Posted in:

Dear reformer,

The clock is ticking on the first stage of the crucial new campaign on international drug policy I've written about the last two weeks. We have received generous donations from many members -- thank you if you are one of them. But they're not yet enough to let us to act on the first key budget item, which is help with getting the word out to media. If you haven't donated yet, would you be willing to make a donation now to help us take at least this first step?

UN General Assembly headquarters, New York
Time is of the essence. As I wrote late last month, on May 7 the United Nations in New York will hold a special "Thematic Debate," pressed for by governments that want a venue for open discussion on the changes that need to be made to drug policy. Our coalition, which includes some leading national and global organizations, has an important message that needs to be heard there, and heard loudly. Because this event is just a few weeks away, we need to move now to make the arrangements for the help we need to do that effectively, and that requires at least a few thousand more dollars of funding. Will you step up today to enable us to make these important plans?

There is much more work beyond May 7 that is part of this. You can read about some of it in the last two emails I sent, copies of which are online here and here.

Donations to our tax-deductible nonprofit, DRCNet Foundation, and our non-deductible lobbying nonprofit, Drug Reform Coordination Network, both can be put toward this project and support the needs of this campaign. Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate to donate by credit card or PayPal, or send your check or money order (made out to one of the two names listed above) to P.O. 9853, Washington, DC 20016.

We can also accept donations of stock; the information to give your brokerage is Ameritrade, (800) 669-3900), DTC #0188, and account number 781926492 for tax-deductible gifts to DRCNet Foundation or 864663500 for non-deductible gifts to Drug Reform Coordination Network -- please contact us if you are donating this way.

We'd also like to hear from organizations that might like to endorse our sign-on statement or get involved in the campaign in other ways. If that might be you, please replying to this email or write to borden@drcnet.org. I would be happy to speak with potential endorsers or coalition supporters by phone as well.

Thank you for your support and for taking the time to read this message. With your help, we will change things for the better -- time, and the truth, are on our side!

Sincerely,

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
P.O. Box 9853
Washington, DC 20016
http://stopthedrugwar.org

Bronx Teen Fleeing Cops Over Marijuana Falls to His Death

A Bronx teenager has died two days after falling from the roof of a six-story apartment building as he fled police who were chasing a group of young marijuana smokers. Hakeem Kuta, 17, becomes the 17th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Hakeem Kuta (family photo)
According to The New York Times, citing NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis, four probationary NYPD officers were approached Thursday evening by a man who told them about "kids in the lobby of the building smoking pot," and the officers went to investigate.

Davis said one of the teens "impeded" the cops by sticking his arms out as they came to the door and that six or seven more fled up a staircase headed to the roof.

Two of the officers, Edmundo Rivera and Eduard Solano, chased them onto the roof, where the kids split up, with four going in one direction, hopping to the roof of the neighboring building, and getting away. But two others, including Kuta, ran in the other direction and ended up penned in at roof's edge by a wall on the neighboring building.

"Please don't move, please don't move," Davis quoted the officers as telling the two teens. But Kuta tried to step over a short wall on the edge of the roof he was on, but instead began to fall. His friend grabbed his vest, but could not hold him.

"He was gone, you're talking seconds," Davis said.

Kuta landed in the alley six floors below, critically injured. He died Saturday at St. Barnabas Hospital.

Police said they recovered marijuana in the building, but made no arrests in connection with the incident.

Kuta had no criminal record. He was born in Ghana and came to the US with his parents and a younger sister three or four years ago, a relative said.

New York, NY
United States

Chronicle AM: ID CBD Bill Passes, Another OH Legalization Init, NV Heroin Maintenance Hearing, More (4/7/15)

Busy busy in Ohio, Arizona Supreme Court upholds patient rights, Idaho legislature approves CBD bill, Nevada legislature hearing about heroin-assisted treatment today, Rand Paul announces, and more.

Pharmaceutical diacetylmorphine AKA diamorphine AKA heroin. It could be coming to Nevada. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Another Ohio Legalization Campaign Gets Underway. Cleveland-based Ohioans to End Prohibition has begun initial signature-gathering for a proposed 2016 initiative that would allow adults to grow up to six plants and possess up to 100 grams (3.5 ounces) and would allow for marijuana commerce. The group needs to get a thousand valid voter signatures before moving to the next phase, where state officials will vet the initiative's language. The group would then need to gather more than 300,000 signatures to qualify for the 2016 general election ballot. Another group, Responsible Ohio, is already gathering signatures for a 2015 initiative.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Supreme Court Rules Probationers Can Use Medical Marijuana. In two rulings today, the state high court barred courts and prosecutors from denying registered patients the right to use medical marijuana while on probation or parole. The cases are Arizona v. Farrell and Reed-Kaliher v. Arizona.

Connecticut Legislative Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion.The committee endorsed Senate Bill 1064 after lengthy debate. The bill would be a significant expansion of the state's medical marijuana system and would allow children with specified diseases to participate, but they wold be limited to using low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Idaho Legislature Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. A bill that appeared dead only a week ago has now passed both houses of the legislature and heads for the desk of Gov. Butch Otter (R). The bill is Senate Bill 1146.

Illinois Officials Ponder Adding 14 More Qualifying Conditions. The state Medical Cannabis Advisory Board is now reviewing 22 petitions requesting the addition of some 14 diseases or medical conditions to the list of those that qualify for medical marijuana. The board will hold a hearing in May and then make recommendations to the director of the Department of Publich Health, who will make the ultimate decision. Click on the link to see the whole list.

Drug Policy

Rand Paul Announces Republican Presidential Nomination Bid. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul today announced he is seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Paul has been a voice for drug reform in the Senate, calling for the federal government to let states set their own marijuana policies and filing bills on sentencing reform, industrial hemp, and medical marijuana.

Heroin

Nevada Senate Holding First Ever US Hearing on Heroin Maintenance. The state Senate is holding a hearing on Senate Bill 275, which would establish a four-year heroin maintenance (or heroin-assisted treatment) pilot program. This is the first time such a proposal has gotten a legislative hearing anywhere in the US. Witnesses will include Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann and Dr. Martin Schecter, principal investigator for Canada's North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI).

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania State Police to Start Carrying Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) formally announced today that state troopers will start carrying the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. About 30 states have naloxone legislation, but in only a few do police forces routinely carry the drug.

International

Chile Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances. A bill that would allow people 18 and older to grow up to six marijuana plants passed the congressional health committee Monday and now goes for a floor debate in the Chamber of Deputies. If the bill passed the chamber, it then goes to the Senate. The bill also allows people to possess up to 10 grams, but bars the public use of pot. Chile already allows for medical marijuana and was preparing for its first legal harvest this week.

This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Tulsa Meth and Guns Suspect Killed When Reserve Deputy Grabs Pistol Instead of Taser

A Tulsa man targeted in undercover meth and gun trafficking investigations was shot and killed last Thursday by a 73-year-old reserve deputy who said he mistook his pistol for a Taser. Eric Harris becomes the 16th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to Tulsa's News on 6, citing a Tulsa County Sheriff's Office account, Harris was being investigated for "a form of methamphetamine called ICE" by the Violent Crimes Task Force. He sold meth to undercover officers on several occasions, during which he mentioned that he could also obtain a sawed-off shotgun and other weapons.

The task force set up a gun buy in a Dollar Store parking lot, and Harris delivered a 9mm semi-automatic pistol and 300 rounds of ammunition.

When an "arrest team" of deputies tried to arrest him, he "confronted undercover deputies" and fled. Deputies "observed him reaching for his waistband areas near his hip, causing concern for deputies' safety," according to the sheriff's office statement.

When deputies caught up to him, Harris continued to struggle and "refused to pull his left arm out from underneath his body where his hand was near his waistband." Reserve Officer Charles Robert Bates, 73, who was assigned to the task force, opened fire, striking Harris once.

The sheriff's office has not mentioned recovering any weapon from Harris (other than the one he sold them earlier).

According to the sheriff's office, "initial reports have determined that the reserve deputy was attempting to use less lethal force, believing he was utilizing a Taser, when he inadvertently discharged his service weapon."

The sheriff's department report said Harris briefly continued to resist arrest after being shot before officers managed to cuff him. It also claimed he told emergency medical personnel at the scene he had taken PCP. He was transported to a local hospital, where he died.

Bates is a retired long-time Tulsa police officer and "advanced level" reserve deputy, meaning he had hundreds of hours of training and annual weapons exams. He had training in "homicide investigations, meth lab identification and decontamination, and other specialized training."

Chronicle AM: FL, OH, PA Poll Tight Majority for MJ Legalization, Needle Exchange, More (4/6/15)

Quinnipiac University polls in three big states show narrow majorities for marijuana legalization, medical marijuana and overdose prevention bills get filed in Alabama, Egypt's tobacco traders want to legalize and tax hash, and more.

Marijuana Policy

At Hash Bash, Michigan Lawmaker Says He Will File Legalization Bill. Tommy Chong got the biggest cheers at Ann Arbor's 44th Annual Hash Bash Saturday, but hometown Rep. Jim Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) may have a bigger impact on marijuana politics in the state. He told the Hash Bash crowd he would introduce a legalization bill. He said he was in the process of drafting the legislation.

Florida Poll Has Support for Legalization at 52%. A new Quinnipiac University poll has found majority support for marijuana legalization in the Sunshine State, with 52% of registered voters in favor and 44% opposed. Medical marijuana won overwhelming support, too, with 84% saying they favored it.

Ohio Poll Has Support for Legalization at 52%. A new Quinnipiac University poll has found majority support for marijuana legalization in the Buckeye State, with 52% of registered voters in favor and 44% opposed. Medical marijuana won overwhelming support, too, with 84% saying they favored it. The poll comes as at least two different groups seek to place legalization measures on the 2016 general election ballot.

Pennsylvania Poll Has Support for Legalization at 51%. A new Quinnipiac University poll has majority support for marijuana legalization in the Keystone State, with 51% of registered voters in favor and 45% opposed. Medical marijuana won overwhelming support, too, with 88% saying they favored it. A medical marijuana bill is in play in Harrisburg.

Washington Senate Approves 37% Marijuana Sales Tax. The state Senate last Friday approved Senate Bill 6062, which would remove the excise tax on pot producers and processors and replace it with a 37% tax on retail sales. The measure passed 26-22 and now heads to the House.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) last week filed Senate Bill 326, which would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients and which has a unique scheme setting three levels of allowable amounts possessed. The bill would allow one dispensary in cities with a population of 10,000 or more and two dispensaries in cities with a population of 150,000 or more. Companion legislation is expected to be filed today in the House by Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham).

Harm Reduction

Needle Exchange Gets Underway in Southwest Indiana County With HIV Outbreak. A needle exchange program began last Saturday in Scott County, where the state's largest ever HIV outbreak is underway. The move comes after Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed an executive order temporarily suspending the state's ban on needle exchanges, but only in that county.

Alabama Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug Access Bill Filed. Rep. Allen Treadaway (R-Morris) has filed a bill that would allow doctors and dentists to describe the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone to friends and family members of drug users. The measure is House Bill 208. It would also provide for training for law enforcement agencies that want their officers to carry the drug. The bill also has 911 Good Samaritan provisions.

International

Egyptian Tobacco Trade Group Calls for Hash Legalization, Taxation. The Cairo and Giza Tobacco Traders Association has called for serious study of a proposal to legalize the hash trade and said a 10% tax levied on hash transactions would quickly shrink the national budget deficit. The proposal is currently before the Legislative Reform Committee of the parliament.

Mexican Troop Presence Didn't Stem Drug War Killings, But Aggravated Them, Study Finds. A new study published on the website of The American Statistician found that the arrival of Mexican troops to areas with high rates of drug cartel violence did not lower homicide rates but increased them, at least in the short run. Longer-term decreases in violence could be attributed to increased civic engagement, not the presence of soldiers.

Chronicle AM: Reps Challenge DOJ on Dispensary Prosecutions, CO Harm Reduction Bills, More (4/3/15)

A pair of congressmen reject the Justice Department's stance that it can still prosecute California dispensaries, an Alaska marijuana regulation bill moves, a Mississippi legalization initiative gets a boost, two Colorado harm reduction bills become law, and more.

Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) says DOJ is wrong to say it can still prosecute California dispensaries. (congress.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska House Passes Marijuana Regulation Bill. The House Thursday gave final approval to House Bill 75, which clarifies the ability of localities to ban or regulate commercial pot businesses. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Florida Activist Will Help Pay for Mississippi Legalization Initiative Signatures. Jeremy Bufford, president of Florida's Medical Marijuana United, has announced he will pay $1 for each valid signature gathered for Ballot Initiative 48, the Mississippi marijuana legalization initiative. He said he would pay $2 per signature in some areas of the state where people have been reluctant to sign. The initiative campaign needs 107,216 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Congressmen Reject DOJ Claim It Can Still Prosecute California Dispensaries. Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), authors of the successful congressional budget amendment protecting medical marijuana in states where it is legal, have rejected Justice Department claims that it can still go after dispensaries in California. "The Justice Department's interpretation of the amendment defies logic," Farr said. "No reasonable person thinks prosecuting patients doesn't interfere with a state's medical marijuana laws. Lawyers can try to mince words but Congress was clear: Stop going after patients and dispensaries." A Rohrabacher spokesman added that "the congressman believes the amendment's language is perfectly clear and that the DOJ's self-referential interpretation is emphatically wrong."

Idaho Senate Passes CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The bill was killed in committee on Monday, but brought back to life Thursday and passed the Senate today. Senate Bill 1146 would allow for the use of CBD for "intractable seizure disorder." It won the support of all seven Democratic state senators and 15 of 27 Republican state senators.

Harm Reduction

Colorado Governor Signs Harm Reduction Bills. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) today signed into law two harm reduction bills: SB 15-53, which expands access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone, and SB 15-116, under which people carrying needles would not be subject to arrest if they reveal they have them prior to being searched by police.

International

Indian Maoists Fund Their Fight With Marijuana. Officials in Orisha state say that Maoist militants known as Naxalites are relying on marijuana cultivation as a major source of funding. The Naxalite rebellion has festered in parts of the country for decades.

Chronicle AM: DOJ Says It Can Still Prosecute Dispensaries, GA Forfeiture Bill Passes, More (4/2/15)

A Tennessee "decrim" bill moves, an Idaho CBD cannabis oil bill is back from the dead, a Georgia asset forfeiture reform bill passes, the Justice Department says it can still prosecute California dispensaries, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Tennessee Bill to Lessen Marijuana Penalties Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would make possession of up to an ounce a misdemeanor punishable only by a $100 fine was approved by the House Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday. The bill, House Bill 873, now goes before the House Finance and Ways and Means Committee. Companion legislation, Senate Bill 1211, is set to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee next week. Under current law, possession of between a half-ounce and 10 pounds is a felony.

Medical Marijuana

Justice Department Says It Can Still Prosecute California Dispensaries. A Justice Department spokesman said Wednesday that the congressional ban on the agency interfering with medical marijuana in states where it is legal does not apply to California dispensary prosecutions. Patrick Rodenbush said the department does not believe the amendment to a spending bill applies to cases against individuals, but only stops Justice from "impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws."

Florida CBD Implementation Bill Faces More Challenges. A bill trying to get the state's CBD cannabis oil law, passed last year, actually implemented is now facing a new challenge: how to give black farmers a fair shot at growing the new crop. The existing law only allows farms that have been in existence for at least 30 years and that grow 400,000 plants or more to apply for one of five licenses to cultivate and distribute the crop. But hundreds of black farmers say they are being cut out of the deal because 30 years ago, they were still fighting with the US Department of Agriculture over discriminatory lending practices and weren't yet in business. The sponsor of both last year's successful bill and this year's implementation bill, Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), said he would attempt to address the issue. The bill is Senate Bill 7066.

Idaho CBD Cannabis Oil Bill is Back from the Dead. The bill, Senate Bill 1146, was killed on a tie vote in the House State Affairs Committee Monday, but the committee has agreed to reconsider it and was set to meet today for further discussion on it. If it passes the committee, it could go to a House floor vote tomorrow.

Prescription Opiates

FDA to Help Drug Makers Develop Abuse-Deterrent Opiates. "The science of abuse-deterrent medication is rapidly evolving, and the FDA is eager to engage with manufacturers to help make these medications available to patients who need them," Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, the FDA's commissioner, said in a press release. "We feel this is a key part of combating opioid abuse. We have to work hard with industry to support the development of new formulations that are difficult to abuse but are effective and available when needed." The agency also issued a document called "Guidance for Industry: Abuse-Deterrent Opioids -- Evaluation and Labeling," outlining how future studies can decide whether a new drug has abuse-deterrent properties.

Asset Forfeiture

Georgia Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Passes Senate. A bill that would standardize asset forfeiture procedures easily passed the Senate Tuesday. The bill is House Bill 233. It has already passed the House and now goes to the desk of Gov. Nathan Deal (R). The bill creates safeguards for owners of seized assets, requires regular accounting, and prohibits law enforcement agencies from using seized goods for anything other than law enforcement.

Fwd: APPEAL: Crucial New Campaign Needs Your Support!

Posted in:

A special thanks to those of you who donated last week in response to my appeal for funds for the first US-based coalition taking on broad, international drug policy reform -- as the UN and US prepare for the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) -- the biggest opportunity since 1998 to advance treaty reform (reconciling the UN drug conventions with the reality of legalization), human rights in the drug war, public-health focused drug policies, development for third world countries instead of crop eradication, global access to controlled substances for medicine, more. A copy of that email is online here.

If you are able to support this campaign but haven't yet done so, I hope you'll consider making a generous donation, providing activist help by involving your own organization, or both.

The reason I'm writing again today is that things are at an important and time-sensitive point. The government of Jamaica has announced they intend to seek drug treaty reform, an historic development to which our work has direct relevance. The coalition's statement launched this month and has 57 organizational signatories, some major. On May 7 another UN session will take place, this time in New York, pressed for by Mexico's UN delegation to have a forum for "open discussion" -- we want to get the total number of signatories of our statement up to 100 by then, to keep the momentum. On June 26 is the global "Support Don't Punish" campaign, coinciding with the UN's annual International Day Against Drug Abuse and release of the World Drug Report -- we need your help to ensure a major US component. And over the next few months, Congress will deal with the annual Foreign Operations Appropriations legislation, a process our coalition should weigh in on, and the last before UNGASS.

To make as forceful a showing as we can, we need media support and additional in-house staff, but at a minimum we need to increase the time spent by current staff on the project. We need to continue building our coalition and organizing to get our message out that the Obama administration's stance on international drug policy is good but not good enough, and that it doesn't make sense to not at least start a discussion of treaty reform at the UN, at a time when legalization is progressing.

Thank you for reading our emails and for your support for drug policy reform. Donations to our tax-deductible nonprofit, DRCNet Foundation, and our non-deductible lobbying nonprofit, Drug Reform Coordination Network, both can be put toward this project and support the needs of this campaign. Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate to donate by credit card or PayPal, or send your check or money order (made out to one of the two names listed above) to P.O. 9853, Washington, DC 20016.

We can also accept donations of stock; the information to give your brokerage is Ameritrade, (800) 669-3900), DTC #0188, and account number 781926492 for tax-deductible gifts to DRCNet Foundation or 864663500 for non-deductible gifts to Drug Reform Coordination Network -- please contact us if you are donating this way.

If your organization can endorse our statement (linked above), or you would like to consider it but need more information, please let us know by replying to this email or writing to borden@drcnet.org. I would also be happy to speak with potential endorsers or coalition supporters by phone as well.

Thank you for being a part of drug policy reform and for your support of our work. With your help we will succeed -- time, and the truth, are on our side!

Sincerely,

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
P.O. Box 9853
Washington, DC 20016
http://stopthedrugwar.org

Drug War Chronicle Seeking Writing Interns

Posted in:

Would you like to spend your internship writing for this publication? Drug War Chronicle is a high-quality newsletter covering the full range of drug policy. Marijuana legalization, sentencing reform, harm reduction, the drug war in Latin America and Asia, are just a few of the issues we follow and report on for our informed and engaged readership.

Interns will assist longtime Chronicle writer/editor Phillip Smith in researching material for feature stories, writing news briefs, and compiling the daily "Chronicle AM" roundups. Interns could also get involved in writing for our blog and with our work.

To apply for an internship with Drug War Chronicle, please send your resume, and writing sample if available, to psmith@drcnet.org and borden@drcnet.org. Internships can begin at any time. Thank you for your interest.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Holy cow! Pull up a seat -- this week's corrupt cops rogues' gallery is going to take awhile to get through. We've got jail guards, FBI agents, deputies, internal affairs officers, a deputy police chief, even a judge. Let's get to it:

In Fresno, California, the Fresno deputy police chief was arrested last Thursday as part of a federal drug conspiracy investigation. Deputy Chief Keith Foster, 51, went down after a year-long undercover investigation by the FBI and BATF. Few details are known except for the charges: possession and distribution of heroin, oxycodone, and marijuana. He has been placed on administrative leave.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, a Catoosa County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Thursday after an acquaintance called police to say he had stolen prescription drugs from him. Deputy Joshua Wilson is charged with possession of hydrocodone and tramadol, unauthorized distribution of a controlled substance, and violating the oath of an officer. He had the drugs in his vehicle when he was pulled over in a traffic stop.

In Prescott Valley, Arizona, a former Prescott Valley Police commander was arrested last Thursday on charges he was stealing drugs discarded by the public as part of a drug take-back program. Commander Arthur Eskew, a 20-year veteran, resigned in January after a motion-activated still camera and hidden video camera in the evidence room caught him pocketing pills. Now he faces criminal charges, although those haven't been specified.

In North Haverhill, New Hampshire, a former Grafton County jail guard was arrested last Thursday on charges he delivered heroin to prisoners. Michael Baraa, 29, faces two charges, but they weren't specified.

In Huntsville, Tennessee, a former Scott County sheriff's deputy was arrested Tuesday for allegedly breaking into the evidence room and stealing drugs. Cody Scott Yancy, 25, is charged with three counts of burglary, theft under $500, possession of burglary tools, official misconduct, tampering with evidence, and two counts of vandalism under $500. He was fired after an investigation into the thefts last fall.

In Miami, a former NYPD officer pleaded guilty last Friday to traveling to Florida and providing security for a $200,000 cocaine deal that turned out to be a federal drug sting. Phillip LeRoy, 28, copped to one count of drug trafficking conspiracy. He's looking at 10 years to life in federal prison.

In Washington, Pennsylvania, a former state court judge pleaded guilty last Friday to stealing cocaine that he had ordered police to keep in his chambers instead of the evidence room. Former Washington County Judge Paul Pozonsky copped to theft by unlawful taking, obstruction of the administration of law, and misapplication of entrusted property. In return, prosecutors dropped one felony and one misdemeanor count. Pozonsky supposedly took the drug for his own use. He's looking at up to two years in jail when sentenced in July.

In Washington, DC, a former FBI agent pleaded guilty Monday to charges related to stealing heroin from evidence bags. Matthew Lowry, 33, admitted stealing the smack and using it himself, as well as trying to replace it with other substances and falsifying records to hide his misdeeds. He said he had been strung out on pain pills. He copped to 38 counts of obstruction of justice, 13 counts of conversion of property, and 13 counts of heroin possession. Because of Lowy's hand in the cookie jar, prosecutors have had to throw out dozens of drug cases.

In Las Cruces, New Mexico, a former Dona Ana County jail guard pleaded guilty Tuesday to plotting to distribute heroin, cocaine, and meth within the jail. Francisco Balderrama, 27, copped to conspiracy to distribute narcotics and providing contraband in a prison facility. He's now looking at up to 20 years in federal prison.

In Miami, a former Miami-Dade police internal affairs lieutenant pleaded guilty Tuesday to working with cocaine smugglers to smuggle guns through airport security. Ralph Mata worked in the department's internal affairs division, but helped cocaine smugglers get guns through Miami International Airport, helped plot the execution of two rival drug dealers, provided secret intelligence to the group, and suggested ways to better smuggle dope through the city. He copped to three counts, including aiding and abetting a narcotics conspiracy. He's looking at 10 years to life in federal prison.

In Birmingham, Alabama, a former Winston County sheriff's deputy was sentenced last Friday to nearly four years in federal prison for threatening a woman with an arrest warrant unless she agreed to cook meth for him. Grady Concord, 42, also supplied the woman with the precursor ingredient pseudoephedrine, which he stole from the department evidence room. He copped to one count of manufacturing meth on a premise where children were present.

In Bridgeton, New Jersey, a former Bayside State Prison guard was sentenced Tuesday to seven years in state prison for selling drugs to inmates. Nazir Bey, 30, was found guilty by a jury of second-degree official misconduct for selling heroin to an inmate at the prison.

In Titusville, Florida, a former Titusville police officer was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in federal prison for arranging drug deals. Richard Irizarry, a five-year veteran of the force admitted to giving out information on his department's drug investigations to traffickers in return for cash. He was convicted in January of attempting to aid and abet the distribution of cocaine, possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug distribution and using a telephone to facilitate drug distribution.

Medical Marijuana Update

A federal CBD bill is filed, the federal medical marijuana bill picks up more sponsors, and bills are moving (or dying) in a number of state. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, a federal CBD bill was filed. Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) filed HR 1635, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude cannabidiol (CDB) and CBD-rich marijuana plants from the definition of marijuana under the act.

As of Tuesday, the House CARERS Act had eight cosponsors. The House version of the federal bill to allow states to move forward on medical marijuana without federal interference is accumulating cosponsors. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced it a week ago today, and it now has seven more cosponsors. Click on the link to see who they are.

California

Last Thursday, the Fresno city council voted to allow residents to grow up to four plants. The move would be a step forward for the city, which last year banned all cultivation within the city limits. The council will take a second and final vote on the measure in coming weeks.

Also last Thursday, four Yuba county medical marijuana growers sued the county over its new, restrictive medical marijuana cultivation ordinance. The ordinance allows only for up to 12 plants to be grown inside a structure -- but not a residence -- and no outdoor grows.

Last Friday, a raided El Dorado County dispensary operator sued the county to recover marijuana and financial and medical records seized during a sheriff's department raid last November. The Pure Life Cannabis Collective has been closed since the raid. The lawsuit charges that the dispensary was legitimate and the raid was not.

Florida

Last Friday, more delays came for the state's CBD medical marijuana program. A Central Florida grower and a South Florida trade association are the latest to file legal challenges to the state Health Department's rules for the program. The program envisions only five growers, and the competition is vicious. Now, there are three active legal challenges, which means the department cannot proceed with the program until they are resolved. This is after an earlier delay caused by an earlier legal challenge.

On Tuesday, an expanded CBD medical marijuana bill won a committee vote. The Senate Health Policy Committee approved a bill that would expand the list of qualifying conditions for the use of CBD cannabis oil, quadruple the number of dispensing organizations to 20, and establish a time frame for issuing licenses.

Georgia

Last Wednesday, a CBD medical marijuana bill passed the legislature. The House gave final approval to House Bill 1, which would allow patients with eight specified diseases to use CBD cannabis oil. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said today he will sign the bill.

Last Friday, Gov. Deal signed an executive order to speed expedite the new law. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed the order to speed up the enactment of House Bill 1, which has passed both houses of the legislature. The bill provides immunity from prosecution for CBD patients who register with the state. Deal said he would sign the bill at the end of the legislative session.

Hawaii

Last Wednesday, a dispensary bill won a pair of committee votes. The Senate Public Health and Public Safety committees have approved House Bill 321, which would create dispensaries and production centers in each county in the state. They also amended the bill to speed up the opening of dispensaries, which would now be set for next year.

Idaho

On Monday, the governor's office pushed back against a CBD cannabis oil bill. Gov. "Butch" Otter (R) sent his drug policy point-man to the capitol today to speak out against Senate Bill 1146, which would provide an affirmative defense for parents of children using low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil to treat severe seizures. Elisha Figueroa, head of the Idaho Office of Drug Policy, warned that "Idaho will be violating federal law if this bill passes." Fourteen other Republican-controlled legislatures have passed similar laws, but they're all violating federal law, too, he said. Figueroa is pushing for a different bill, Senate Bill 1156, which would set up a special program to run trials on a GW Pharma CBD product called Epidiolex.

On Tuesday, the bill was killed in committee. The House State Affairs Committee listened to hours of tearful testimony from supporters of Senate Bill 1146, which would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat epileptic seizures in children, then voted to kill it Monday.

Iowa

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana bill won a committee vote. The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved Senate Study Bill 1243, which would allow patients with a number of specified medical conditions to use medical marijuana -- but not to smoke it.

Missouri

On Monday, a medical marijuana bill won a committee vote. The House Select Committee on General Laws approved House Bill 800, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana for a handful of specified diseases. It would also allow for up to 30 dispensaries.

New Jersey

Last Thursday, the Assembly approved a trio of medical marijuana bills. Legislators in Trenton Thursday approved adding PTSD to the list of qualifying diseases, and then some. They also approved ACR 224, which would undo the Christie rule that doctors who recommend medical marijuana must be publicly listed and A 4286, which allows dispensaries to share surpluses. The bills now go to the state Senate.

New York

On Wednesday, the state issued final regulations for the medical marijuana program and advocates were not happy. The state has issued final regulations for the program, and they are very similar to the heavily-criticized draft regulations it started out with several months ago. The regs limit the number of dispensaries to 20 and don't add any new qualifying conditions. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), the law's sponsor, said the final regs are needlessly restrictive and "gratuitously cruel."

North Carolina

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana bill was killed in committee. After an intense hour-long hearing, the House Judiciary Committee voted to kill a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 78. Some supporters of the bill vowed to move to other states, while one Republican foe of the bill, Rep. Dan Arp, complained he was struck in the back by an angry supporter. The man was detained by police, but later released without charges.

Tennessee

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill won a committee vote. The House Health Subcommittee unanimously approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookville). The measure, which would not allow for the smoking of marijuana, now goes to the full House Health Committee.

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

Chronicle AM: Holder Takes on Forfeiture Again, NY Medical Marijuana Final Rules, More (4/1/15)

It's mainly medical marijuana news today, but there's also another move on asset forfeiture from Attorney General Holder.

Eric Holder
Medical Marijuana

Florida CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Health Policy Committee approved a bill that would expand the list of qualifying conditions for the use of CBD cannabis oil, quadruple the number of dispensing organizations to 20, and establishe a time frame for issuing licenses.

Idaho CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Killed in Committee. The House State Affairs Committee listened to hours of tearful testimony from supporters of Senate Bill 1146, which would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat epileptic seizures in children, then voted to kill it Monday.

Missouri Medical Marijuana Bill Moves. The House Select Committee on General Laws has approved House Bill 800, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana for a handful of specified diseases. It would also allow for up to 30 dispensaries.

New York Issues Final Regulations for Medical Marijuana Program; Advocates Upset. The state has issued final regulations for the program, and they are very similar to the heavily-criticized draft regulations it started out with several months ago. The regs limit the number of dispensaries to 20 and don't add any new qualifying conditions. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), the law's sponsor, said the final regs are needlessly restrictive and "gratuitously cruel."

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Moves. The House Health Subcommittee unanimously approved Tuesday a medical marijuana bill sponsored by Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookville). The measure, which would not allow for the smoking of marijuana, now goes to the full House Health Committee.

Asset Forfeiture

Attorney General Holder Announces New Curbs on Civil Asset Forfeiture. Federal authorities will only seize bank accounts when serious illegalities have been documented, he said Tuesday. The guidance focuses on Justice Department and IRS agents who have made seizures related to "structuring," or intentionally limiting the size of deposits to avoid scrutiny. "With this new policy, the Department of Justice is taking action to ensure that we are allocating our resources to address the most serious offenses," Holder said in a statement. "Appropriate use of asset forfeiture law allows the Justice Department to safeguard the integrity, security and stability of our nation's financial system while protecting the civil liberties of all Americans."

Chronicle AM: AK Pot Bill Advances, Obama Commutes Drug Sentences, Brit Drug Spat, More (3/31/15)

There will still be marijuana felonies under a bill moving in Alaska, North Dakota has a new hemp law, an Arkansas welfare drug test bill heads to the governor's desk, Obama commutes sentences, and more.

Are there hemp fields on the horizon in North Dakota? (votehemp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Senate Passes Marijuana Bill -- Without Ban on Concentrates. The Senate voted Monday night to approve SB 30, the bill designed to update the state's criminal code to reflect marijuana's legalized status. The bill was approved 17-3 after an amendment to make concentrates illegal in two years was defeated. It continues to list pot as a controlled substance and has provisions making it a felony to possess more than a pound or to grow more than 25 plants. It also bans pot businesses in unorganized boroughs.

Another Maine Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Mark Dion (D-Portland) has filed a bill to allow adults 21 and over to use marijuana, regulate commercial sales, and tax them at 15%. The bill is still being drafted and is not yet available on the legislative web site. Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) has also filed a legalization bill, but its language isn't completed yet, either. There are also two separate legalization initiative campaigns brewing the in the state.

Hemp

North Dakota Governor Signs Hemp Bill Telling Feds to Butt Out. Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) last Friday signed House Bill 1436, which allows farmers to apply to grow the crop for either research or commercial purposes. The bill says that "license required by this section is not conditioned on or subject to review or approval by the United States drug enforcement agency," a direct jab at the DEA. Instead, licensing will be up to the state agriculture department.

Drug Testing

Arkansas Legislature Passes "Suspicion Based" Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The House Monday approved Senate Bill 600, which would set up a two-year pilot program for "suspicion based" drug screening and testing of public benefits applicants. The Senate, which had already approved it, gave it a final approval today, and the bill now heads to the governor's desk.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Needle Exchange Bill Wins House Committee Vote. The House Public Health Committee Monday approved a bill to allow needle exchanges in the 23 counties in the state with the highest rates of hepatitis C infections. The bill actually addresses an HIV outbreak in southeastern Scott County, where Gov. Mike Pence (R) days ago issued an executive order allowing for emergency needle exchanges. The bill now goes to the House floor.

Law Enforcement

Maine Governor Slams Foes As "Weak on Drugs." Faced with legislative skepticism over his proposals to beef up the state's drug enforcement apparatus, Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage has come out swinging. "They are weak on drugs," LePage told reporters, describing the legislators. "They simply don't want to deal with the problem. Frankly, they shouldn't be in this hall, they shouldn't be in this building if they can't take care of our children. And the gloves are off now."

Sentencing

Obama Commutes Sentences of 22 Drug Offenders. The president today doubled the number of drug sentence commutations he has issued in one fell swoop by cutting sentences for 22 drug offenders, mostly crack cocaine offenders and mostly doing sentences of 20 years or more. Eight were doing life sentences for drug offenses, including one doing life for growing pot plants.

International

Spanish Cannabis Club Wins Acquittal. The provincial court in Vizcaya has acquitted five people accused of violating Spanish law by forming a club to grow and consume marijuana. The members of the Pannagh collective were charged with drug trafficking and "criminal organization," but in a victory for cannabis advocates, the court held that Pannagh acted within the limits of the concept of "collective cultivation."

British Labor Party Attacks Lib Dems as "Soft on Crime, Drugs, and Thugs." Labor has put out a leaflet attacking the Liberal Democrats on drug and crime policy ahead of looming parliamentary elections, but Labor is taking lots of flak for its efforts. One critic called the Labor approach "medieval," another accused it of underestimating the intelligence of the electorate, and yet another accused Labor of "turning their back on progressive, sensible, evidence-based reform."

Obama Commutes 22 Drug Sentences, Including Eight Lifers

President Obama today commuted the sentences of 22 convicted federal drug offenders. With that action, he has doubled the number of commutations he has issued since taking office in January 2009.

President Obama commuted 22 drug sentences today. (whitehouse.gov)
The prisoners who got their sentences cut were all convicted of possession of drugs with intent to distribute. Fourteen of the cases involved cocaine.

Many of those were convicted under harsh crack cocaine sentencing laws adopted in the 1980s and at least partially rolled back during the Obama administration. The sentences were typically 20 years or longer, with most of the prisoners having already served more than a decade behind bars.

In eight cases, the defendants were serving life sentences for drug crimes. Among the life sentences, six were for crack cocaine offenses (one included heroin, too), one was for a meth offense, and one was for a Kentucky man convicted of growing more than a thousand marijuana plants.

"Had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society," White House counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement announcing the commutations. "Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years -- in some cases more than a decade -- longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime."

In a first, the president also sent letters to each of the prisoners whose sentences he commuted urging them to take full advantage of any post-release opportunities.

"I wanted to personally inform you that I have granted your application for commutation," President Obama told Terry Barnes at the Federal Correctional Institute in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Barnes was only halfway through a 20 year sentence for crack cocaine distribution.

The same letter went out to the other 21 commutees as well.

The prisoners will see their sentences end on July 28. For a complete list, click on the link at the top of this article.

Washington, DC
United States

Here Comes Italy: The Next Country to Legalize Marijuana? [FEATURE]

An effort to legalize marijuana is getting underway in the Italian parliament, with some 60 lawmakers having signed onto a motion to do just that by the time it was rolled out three weeks ago. Now, the "all party" group is getting to work on the twin tasks of drafting an actual bill and getting it enacted into law.

The effort is being led by Sen. Benedetto Della Vedova, who is also Italy's undersecretary of state for foreign affairs. Della Vedova was a long-time member of the country's Nonviolent Radical Party, but was elected to parliament as a member of the centrist Scelta Civica.

The Radicals are a small but influential party that has called for drug legalization since the 1970s, including for marijuana, and Della Vedova's pot politics go back to the last century as well. He and other Radicals were arrested for publicly distributing hashish at an anti-prohibitionist rally in 1995.

They didn't get much political traction then, but times have changed. Della Vedova is a senator, not an agitator; there is support from within the governing coalition and even from within law enforcement; and the Italian public seems to be ready to relax the marijuana laws.

A little more than a year ago, the country's top court threw out a 2006 law that put marijuana in the same legal category as heroin and cocaine and swelled the country's prison population. That Berlusconi-era approach has been replaced by a sort of decriminalization, where users face misdemeanor charges, but only fines or administrative penalties, such as suspension of a driver's license. But people caught growing plants still face possible jail time.

That softening of the marijuana laws went largely unopposed and unremarked upon. A more remarkable indication of changing attitudes was the February release of the National Anti-Mafia Directorate's annual report. That report from Italy's top crime-fighting organization said frankly that marijuana prohibition had failed and that it was time to consider legalization.

Senator Benedetto Della Vedova (sceltacivica.it)
In view of "the failure of prohibition," the group will draft "a pragmatic, non-ideological bill" regulating marijuana, thus diverting profits from organized crime," Senator Della Vedova told reporters as he announced the measure. "Repressive action has totally failed."

The time has come, he said.

"This is a bipartisan proposition from members of the parliament of different political backgrounds," Della Vedova said. "This shows that even in Italy, a pragmatic approach, based on a rigorous cost-benefit analysis, is now increasingly popular in the political and cultural debate, not only outside but also inside the parliament."

The idea is picking up steam, Carmelo Palma, technical coordinator for the parliamentary working group, told Drug War Chronicle this week.

"The group has now reached more than a hundred members, and it's very rare that a group of concerned legislators get together during a session to attempt to co-draft a bill," he said. "This is more than just a nice beginning."

Most of the signatories are from the ruling center-left Democratic Party, although some members of right parties have signed on as well. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi hasn't commented on the push, but has previously gone on record supporting the decriminalization of "soft drugs."

The parliamentary group met for the first time last Thursday to select a coordinator who will gather the various legalization proposals put forward, and there is a meeting to review the scientific evidence around marijuana that will take place in May or June. After that, said Palma, will come a public meeting before parliament recesses for the summer.

Radical Party UN representative Marco Perduca (flickr.com)
The process will take some time, but that's to be expected, said Radical Party United Nations representative Marco Perduca, who served in Italy's Senate from 2008 to 2013.

"Some sort of consensus legalization model needs to emerge," he told the Chronicle. "Being an 'all-party' group, there are different approaches, from the super-libertarian to the statist. I think what is clear is that all aspects will have to be regulated, from production to consumption through commercialization."

Perhaps a limited duration trial program would be the way to go, he suggested.

"In any case, personal cultivation should always be allowed at home, and commercial production should also be allowed with clear rules," Perduca offered. "As far as selling is concerned, both cannabis social clubs and coffee shops could be models to adopt."

Perduca was willing see limitations -- at least temporarily -- on quantities that could be purchased, but rejected restricting sales to citizens, as the Dutch have tried to do in a bid to head off "drug tourism."

Marijuana legalization is desirable for both moral and practical reasons, the Radical said.

"Isn't a freer world a good enough answer?" he asked. "Money spent to bust pot smokers has always been money wasted, and legalizing marijuana would allow us to not only invest in other public policies, but also promote a model of where the state doesn't tell you what to do, but allows you to make your own choices in an informed way."

It isn't going to happen this month, or probably even this year, but marijuana legalization seems to be on its way in Italy. If that's the case, Italy could lead the way for the rest of Europe. Pot is decriminalized in several countries, and Holland famously turns a blind eye to its famous cannabis coffee shops, but no European country has yet followed the lead of Uruguay and that small but growing number of US states that have freed the weed.

Italy

Chronicle AM: CO Defends Pot Law, Drug Testing News, Feds Target Reddit Users, More (3/30/15)

Colorado defends marijuana legalization at the Supreme Court, a DC seed sharing event goes big on its second day, pediatricians reject drug testing in schools, two courts set limits on worker drug testing, the feds go after Reddit users over dark web drug sales, and more.

Drug testing took a couple of shots in the courts, and pediatricians say it shouldn't be used in schools. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska House Marijuana Regulation Bill Moves. The House Judiciary Committee has approved a new version of House Bill 79, which defines a municipality's role in regulating pot businesses, sets a maximum household limit of 24 plants, and includes pot clubs in the list of regulated marijuana businesses. The bill also bans public consumption of marijuana.

New Legalization Ballot Campaign Launched in Arizona. Dr. Gina Berman, chair of the Marijuana Policy Project's Arizona legalization initiative campaign, has formed a second ballot committee, Responsible Arizona. It's unclear exactly why, although it could be an effort to blunt opposition to marijuana law reforms from a recently-formed group called Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy. Responsible Arizona has not yet released a draft initiative.

Kansas Bill to Lessen Pot Penalties Will Get Floor Vote. A bill that would lessen penalties for first- and second-time pot law violators will get a floor vote this session, House Speaker Rep. Ray Merrick (R-Stilwell) has confirmed. The measure, sponsored by Rep. John Rubin (R-Shawnee), would make second-time possession a misdemeanor with no jail time, as opposed to the up-to-42 months the charge now carries.  

DC Seed Sharing Event Draws Thousands on Day Two. People lined up for blocks around the DC Cannabis Campaign headquarters in Adams Morgan Saturday to get marijuana seeds. The second day of the "seed sharing" event was even more successful than the first.

Colorado Defends Marijuana Legalization at the Supreme Court. State Attorney General Cynthia Coffman last Friday urged the high court to reject a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma and Nebraska seeking to invalidate the state's legalization of marijuana. She told the justices the two states were trying to "selectively invalidate state laws with which they disagree." She also pointed out that overturning the state's regulation and taxation of marijuana would lead to a situation where marijuana remains legal, but unregulated.

Medical Marijuana

House CARERS Act Picks Up Cosponsors. The House version of the federal bill to allow states to move forward on medical marijuana without federal interference is accumulating cosponsors. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced it a week ago today, and it now has seven more cosponsors. Click on the link to see who they are.

Georgia Governor Signs Executive Order to Expedite CBD Cannabis Oil Law. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) last Friday signed the order to speed up the enactment of House Bill 1, which has passed both houses of the legislature. The bill provides immunity from prosecution for CBD patients who register with the state. Deal said he would sign the bill at the end of the legislative session.

Idaho Governor's Office Pushes Back Against CBD Cannabis Oil Bill.Gov. "Butch" Otter (R) sent his drug policy point-man to the capitol today to speak out against Senate Bill 1146aa, which would provide an affirmative defense for parents of children using low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil to treat severe seizures. Elisha Figueroa, head of the Idaho Office of Drug Policy, warned that "Idaho will be violating federal law if this bill passes." Fourteen other Republican-controlled legislatures have passed similar laws, but they're all violating federal law, too, he said. Figueroa is pushing for a different bill, Senate Bill 1156, which would set up a special program to run trials on a GW Pharma CBD product called Epidiolex.

Drug Testing

Pediatricians Reject School Drug Testing. The American Academy of Pediatricians has recommended against schools using suspicionless drug testing. There is little evidence that drug testing deters drug use or helps get users into drug treatment, the group said in an updated policy statement published in the journal Pediatrics.

Anonymous Tip Not Enough to Create "Reasonable Suspicion" for Employee Drug Test, Federal Court Rules. An unidentified source telling a reporter about on the job drug use and the reporter then relaying the assertion to the employer is not enough to create individualized reasonable suspicion" to require a public employee to submit to a drug test, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled this month. The ruling came in the case of a Detroit construction inspector who was fired after refusing a drug test after a reporter called public works to say an anonymous informant had told him workers were smoking pot. The inspector has been reinstated.

Presence of Marijuana Metabolites in Drug Test Doesn't Workman's Comp Benefits, Ohio Court Rules. A worker who had marijuana metabolites in his system is not barred from collecting workman's compensation benefits unless drug use was the proximate cause of his work-related injury, the Ohio Court of Appeals has ruled. In the case in question, the employer showed no evidence the worker was under the influence of marijuana when he was injured, only that he had used it sometime in the recent past.

Law Enforcement

Feds Target Reddit Users in Bid to Crack Dark Web Drug Sales. The Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division has subpoenaed Reddit demanding that it turn over personal data about five users of its dark web drug markets forum. The feds are seeking names, IP addresses, data on site visits, and other information, such as phone numbers and credit card data, that Reddit doesn't possess. The popular web discussion site doesn't even require an email address to register. The subpoenas appear to be an expansion of investigations into the Evolution dark web drug sales site.

Sentencing Reform

DC Sentencing Reform Summit Drew Hundreds. More than 600 lawmakers, advocates, and criminal justice leaders gathered in the nation's capital last Thursday to unite for sentencing reform. Among those attending were Attorney General Holder, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), The Wire creator David Simon, and many more. Click on the link for more details and press coverage. 

International

Vietnam Moving to End Death Penalty for Some Drug Offenses. The Ministry of Justice last week proposed abolishing the death penalty for a number of crimes, including heroin smuggling. It said it would keep the death penalty for heroin dealing, but not for smuggling and possession. Those acts will only carry a penalty of up to life in prison. 

Two More Drug War Deaths This Week

A Virginia man was shot and killed by police Tuesday after a drug investigation turned into a chase and confrontation, and a Florida man died Wednesday after swallowing drugs in a bid to avoid arrest by a police drug task force. Walter Brown III and Michael Antoine Rodriguez become the 14th and 15th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, citing police sources, Brown was sitting in a car with another man outside the Southside Garden apartments in Portsmouth when police conducting surveillance for drug activity suspected he might have been selling drugs. The other man got out of the passenger seat, but Brown, in the driver's seat, drove away. Police chased him through Portsmouth until he pulled onto the lawn of a residence and ran up to the front door. (It was Brown's house.)

An officer used a stun gun on Brown without being able to subdue him, police said. Brown and the officer struggled into the house, down a hallway, and into a bedroom before two other officers arrived. Brown was again hit with a stun gun, again to no avail. Police said he then pulled out a handgun. One officer yelled "Gun!" and tried to grab it from Brown's hand, and another officer opened fire, shooting Brown three to five times.

Medics pronounced him dead at the scene.

Brown's wife, Octavia, was in the house at the time. She told reporters she had been ordered out of the room where her husband and police were fighting. Then she heard shooting. She said police would not let her see her husband's body. She said he had just gone out to pick up lunch before going to work.

"Why would they take him from us?" she asked. "Why would they take him from his kids?"

She said police treated her husband like an animal.

"He didn't drink, he didn't smoke, he was a family person," she said. "He did not have a weapon."

Police said they recovered a handgun from the scene.

"I know my son had emotional problems all his life," said Walter Brown, Sr., who said his daughter-in-law had called him to tell him his son was dead. "He had problems with authority. He didn't like nobody grabbing on him. He would fight back," he said. "No matter if it was drug-related or whatever, it could have been handled a different way."

Meanwhile, according to The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, citing police sources, on Wednesday, the Broward County Drug Task Force was conducting an undercover drug operation in Oakland Park when Rodriguez, 38, showed up shortly before 10:00pm carrying a methamphetamine delivery.

When Rodriguez saw narcs approaching to arrest him, he swallowed the drugs. Detectives tried to stop him, but failed. They then called for medical assistance, and Rodriguez was taken to Holy Cross Hospital nearby. He then went into cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead.

Chronicle AM: CA Legalization Progress Report, DC Seed Share Event Draws Hundreds, More (3/27/15)

Check out the progress report on pot legalization in California, DC's seed share event draws big crowd, more delays for CBD in Florida, medical marijuana bills move in New Jersey, and more.

Marijuana Policy

line forms for seed share event at DC Cannabis Campaign headquarters (via DCMJ & Twitter)
Here's the California Legalization Progress Report. The Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy, headed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has released its initial progress report and identified three key issues to be addressed: protecting children and youth, ensuring public safety, and establishing tax and regulation schemes that will maximize revenue while eliminating the illicit market. The report's release also signals the beginning of the public phase of the commission's work, which will include a series of public forums across the state, in addition to the launch of the commission's website at www.safeandsmartpolicy.org.

DC Cannabis Campaign's Seed Giveaway Draws Hundreds. The "seed share" event, where growers could trade seeds and others could obtain them for free, drew hundreds of people to Northwest Washington's Adams-Morgan neighborhood Thursday. The event was held at the Libertine Bar, and the line to get in stretched for blocks. Under DC law, people can possess and grow their own pot, but they can't buy it at the store. Another seed share was set for this afternoon.

Medical Marijuana

More Delays for Florida's CBD Medical Marijuana Program. A Central Florida grower and a South Florida trade association are the latest to file legal challenges to the state Health Department's rules for the program. The program envisions only five growers, and the competition is vicious. Now, there are three active legal challenges, which means the department cannot proceed with the program until they are resolved. This is after an earlier delay caused by an earlier legal challenge.

New Jersey Assembly Approves Adding PTSD, Letting Dispensaries Share, Challenges Christie Rules. Legislators in Trenton Thursday approved adding PTSD to the list of qualifying diseases, and then some. They also approved ACR 224, which would undo the Christie rule that doctors who recommend medical marijuana must be publicly listed and A 4286, which allows dispensaries to share surpluses. The bills now go to the state Senate.

Heroin and Opiates

New Jersey Assembly Approves Bill on Prescription Opiates. The Assembly Thursday passed S 2372, which seeks to increase the coordination of state efforts to combat prescription opiate abuse and illegal use. The bill also authorizes the attorney general to conduct training of law enforcement officials and medical professionals on how to detect prescription drug diversion. The bill has already passed the Senate and now goes to the governor's desk.

California Bill Seeks to Name Three Obscure Substances "Date Rape Drugs," Enhance Penalties [FEATURE]

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

Possession of so-called date rape drugs could become a felony under a California bill that marks the first effort to roll back parts of last year's voter-approved Proposition 47. That initiative is an effort to begin to reverse the state's prison-swelling war on drugs by making simple drug possession a misdemeanor.

the "date rape" drug ketamine (wikimedia.org)
The avowed goal of the new legislation -- seeking to prevent date rape -- is indeed laudable, but the politicians behind the move are either misinformed about who uses such drugs and why or they are deliberately misrepresenting the facts.

"Date rape drugs are tools in the hand of predators and they're not a recreational drug," said Rep. Tom Lackey(R-Antelope Valley), a former Highway Patrol sergeant and chief sponsor of Assembly Bill 46. A companion measure has been filed in the Senate.

The bills would break with Prop 47 by treating three specified drugs -- ketamine, Rohypnol, and GHB -- more severely than other drugs. Instead of charging people caught with personal amounts of these substances as misdemeanors, as is the case with cocaine, heroin, meth, and all other drugs, prosecutors would now have the option of charging them with a felony.

"We should not wait for women to be victimized before serious charges are available to prosecutors,” said Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), sponsor of the Senate version. "A person found in possession of these drugs is likely intending to use them to commit a sexual assault -- not for personal use. Law enforcement must be able to charge a person accordingly."

But not only are the legislators misrepresenting the vast majority of the users of these drugs, they are also missing the forest for the trees. If they really wanted to criminalize a drug to prevent date rape, that drug would be alcohol. According to a 2005 Justice Department study, the specified "date rape" drugs were present in only 4.2% of sexual assaults, while other drugs, including alcohol, were present in 61%. (That same study also listed 45 other substances that could be used to impair someone.)

Similarly, a study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism implicated alcohol in 50% of all -- sexual assaults.

Experts on the topic tell similar stories.

"Quite honestly, alcohol is the No. 1 date rape drug," said Mike Lyttle, regional supervisor for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's Nashville crime lab. "Roofies are very rarely -- if ever -- seen in real life," he told USA Today.

"We really don't know for sure what the actual numbers are," said Dr. Susan R.B. Weiss, associate director for scientific affairs for the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health. "But drugs that are sedating drugs or incapacitating drugs probably are not that common in sexual assault. We really don't know the true prevalence, but we know for sure alcohol is much more common than other drugs."

the most common date rape drug (wikimedia.org)
Still, substances targeted in these bills -- Rohypnol, ketamine, and GHB -- are only used as "date rape drugs" and that justifies their users getting harsher treatment, the legislators said.

But a quick glimpse at the -- Vaults of Erowid -- puts the lie to that claim. Erowid is a web site dedicated to "documenting the complex relationships between humans and psychoactives," and one of its most fascinating sections is its user reports. They consist of write-ups of thousands of experiences with a panoply of mind-melting substances submitted by the users themselves.

Erowid describes ketamine as "a disassociative psychedelic" that can, at higher doses, cause users to "find themselves completely removed from their surroundings and their bodies." People going down the K-hole, as it were, might experience "alternate planes of existence, a sense of movement through a space or landscape, a oneness with everything, past and future revelations, and strange fabrics or textures of all sorts," Erowid reports.

The Erowid Experience Vaults for ketamine has hundreds of user reports -- the good, the bad, and the truly weird -- some from people using Special K in lower doses, sniffing it like coke as a social party drug; many from avid and dedicated psychonauts, those explorers of the chemically-enhanced inner mind who blast themselves into some very strange inner places; even some from people attempting to use it therapeutically, self-medicating with it to address issues like depression, addiction, and anxiety.

Erowid describes GHB as "a sedative used both as a prescription sleep-aid and as a recreational intoxicant. It is known for its ability to induce a short (several hour) coma-like sleep at high doses."

Rohynpol, AKA "roofies" (wikimedia.org)
It's obvious from the description that GHB is used to party with, and the Erowid GHB vault, with more than 200 entries, backs that up. The drug is also described as a sedative, and like any sedative, it could be used to dose someone without her knowledge. On its GHB page, Erowid thoughtfully provided an admonitory primer on substance related sexual assault -- nearly 15 years ago.

Rohypnol ("roofies"), a trade name for flunitrazapam, is a strong sedative and hypnotic prescribed for chronic or intense insomnia, but not in the US. The drug has never been approved by the FDA for use here, and actually seems to have had its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, until it was labeled a date rape drug.

It doesn't seem to be much of one now. That Justice Department study cited above found Rohypnol in only 0.5% of victims of drug-facilitated sexual assaults, and a 2006 British study found only 2% had any sedatives in their urine 12 hours after the assault. Similarly, a 2009 Australian study of 97 patients admitted to hospitals claiming their drinks had been spiked was unable to find a single case where the drinkers had actually been dosed with sedatives. They did find, however, that the mean blood alcohol level of the patients was 0.096%, well above what is legally considered too drunk to drive in the US.

Compared to the other drugs in question, Rohypnol doesn't appear to be of much interest to the Erowid set -- there are only 20-odd user reports in the flunitrazepam vault. They appear to be using for recreational or self-therapeutic reasons, and user report titles such as "My Mind Is A Blank," "Goofy Roofie," and "A Lot I Don't Remember" provide a hint of the experiences.

It seems clear that while ketamine, GHB, and Rohypnol, like many other drugs, including most prominently alcohol, can be used for nefarious purposes, those three substances are only a tiny part of the problem. It seems equally clear that substantial numbers of people who are not date rapists but recreational drug users are using these drugs. If these misinformed bills actually become law, the people who will be hit with harsher penalties are much more likely to be innocent partiers than deviant criminals.

Sacramento, CA
United States

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