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DEA Leaning On Massachusetts Docs with Dispensaries Ties

The Boston Globe is reporting today that the DEA has been visiting Massachusetts doctors involved with yet-to-open medical marijuana dispensaries and giving them an ultimatum: Cut your ties with the dispensary or lose your DEA-issued license to prescribe drugs.

The heavy-handed tactic from the prohibition enforcers is working.  The Globe interviewed two physicians who promptly severed their ties with dispensaries and a third who instead surrendered his license to prescribe (he said that as part-time surgeon, he didn't need it, although he'd had it for 40 years).

That could have an impact on the opening of some dispensaries, and that could have an impact on Massachusetts patients, who've already been waiting nearly a year-and-a-half for them to open since voters approved medical marijuana there in November 2012.

The DEA's actions to screw around with medical marijuana in Massachusetts come even as, in a historic vote, the House just a week ago voted to bar the DEA from interfering with medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Stories like this one from the Globe are only going to add pressure for the Senate to go along.

The DEA doesn't get it. It has already lost this war. It's time for the agency to get out of the way, or better yet, go the way of the dinosaurs.  But while the DEA and the prohibition regime it enforces may be dying dinosaurs, those final twitches of the tail still have the power to inflict injury. Better to put the beast out its misery.

Location: 
Boston, MA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

In an historic vote, the House tells the DEA and Justice Department to butt out of medical marijuana states, limited CBD medical marijuana bills are signed into law in Iowa and South Carolina, Minnesota becomes the 22nd medical marijuana state, one bill to regulate medical marijuana in California is still alive, and more. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, the US House voted to bar the DEA and Justice Department from interfering with medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The House voted 219-189 to approve an amendment to 2015 Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill to cut off funds for the Justice Department and its agencies, including the DEA, to interfere in state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs. If the Senate doesn't come up with similar language, the provision will have to be fought for in conference committee.

California

Last Wednesday, the state Senate approved a medical marijuana regulation bill. The state Senate approved Senate Bill 1262, sponsored by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Anaheim). It is supported by cities and law enforcement, and would impose tighter controls on dispensaries, cultivation, and recommending.

Last Thursday, the state Assembly defeated a medical marijuana regulation bill. Assembly Bill 1894, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) was defeated in the Assembly in a vote that appeared to be as much about political animosities as about regulating medical marijuana. That means that if California is going to regulate medical marijuana this year, Senate Bill 1262 is the only remaining vehicle.

On Tuesday, the San Jose city council again deadlocked on its proposed dispensary and cultivation regulation ordinance. That means the ordinance remains alive. One of the issues dividing the council is whether dispensaries should be forced to grow their own marijuana in San Jose. Another is how restrictive to make zoning. Patients, activists, and dispensaries organized as Safer San Jose are waiting on the sidelines with a plan of their own if they don't like what the council ends up doing. They already have 38,000 signatures ready to turn in to put an initiative on the November ballot.

Also on Tuesday, Tulare County supervisors ordered staff to draft an ordinance banning marijuana cultivation anywhere in unincorporated parts of the county. The board had considered allowing patients and caregivers -- but not collectives and dispensaries -- to grow their own, but in the end, chose to go for the total ban.

Also on Tuesday, Lake County voters approved Measure N, which means the county's ordinance banning grows on parcels of less than one acre will go into effect in 30 day. The ordinance was passed last December. The measure passed with 53% of the vote in a low turnout election.

Illinois

Last Friday, the state Senate approved medical marijuana for minors and people with epilepsy. The legislation is Senate Bill 2636. It has already passed the House and now goes to the desk of Gov. Pat Flynn (D).

Iowa

Last Friday, Governor Terry Branstad (R) signed a limited CBD medical marijuana bill. The legislation is Senate File 2360, which will allow people suffering seizure disorders to use high-CBD cannabis oil with a neurologist's recommendation.

Minnesota

Last Wednesday, Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) signed a medical marijuana bill. The bill allows for eight distribution centers across the state to by supplied by two medical marijuana manufacturers. The bill does not allow for the smoking of medical marijuana; but it can be vaped or eaten. Some medical marijuana groups are calling the law "overly restrictive."

New York

On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a deal for CBD trials. He announced that his administration has signed a deal with GW Pharmaceuticals to do a trial of its high-CBD, no-THC seizure drug Epidiolex. But medical marijuana advocates said the plan is too limited and will take too long, and Cuomo should be backing the Compassionate Use Act, a full-blown medical marijuana bill, instead of trying to blunt efforts to pass it by enacting half-measures.

Also on Tuesday, two key legislators met to seek a compromise on medical marijuana. Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) met yesterday in an effort to find a compromise between their two bills that could lead to passage of a bill before the session ends in two weeks. The Assembly has already approved Gottfried's bill, but the Senate has yet to act on Savino's. Being able to actually smoke marijuana may be an item for discussion.

South Carolina

On Tuesday, Governor Nikki Haley (R) signed a limited CBD medical marijuana bill into law. The measure, Senate Bill 1035 will allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil to treat seizures in children with epilepsy. The new law calls for a clinical trial at the Medical University of South Carolina, as well as a committee to study the feasibility of growing new strains in the state.

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

ATF's Operation Gideon Raises Questions of Fairness, Justice, and Race [FEATURE]

Special to Drug War Chronicle by Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Part I of a series on the ATF's Operation Gideon, targeting inner city "bad guys" with drug house robbery stings

Early in May, a panel of judges from California's 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals denied petitions for an "en banc" hearing that would have allowed the full court to consider overturning long prison sentences for four would-be robbers seduced by an informant into believing they were about to rip-off a stash house loaded with drugs.

The stash house was fictional, those drugs never existed, and the brains behind the plot were not criminals, but federal agents.

The denial of the petition was not a unanimous decision, and it revealed deep fissures on the appeals court. Dissenting judges argued that the practice of enticing poor young men into robbing stash houses raised questions not only of fair play, but also of constitutionality. The dissenters were particularly concerned that federal agents targeted primarily minority neighborhoods filled with desperate, unemployed young men tempted by the lure of fast cash.

"The sting poses questions of whether the government intentionally targets poor minority neighborhoods, and thus, seeks to tempt their residents to commit crimes that might well result in their escape from poverty," Justice Stephen Reinhardt wrote in a blistering dissent. He also called it "a profoundly disturbing use of government power that directly imperils some of our most fundamental constitutional values."

The case involved four Phoenix men -- Cordae Black, Kemford Alexander, Angel Mahon and Terrance Timmons -- who were convicted in 2010 on charges of conspiracy to distribute more than five pounds of cocaine, as well as federal firearms charges, for a fake drug rip scheme set up by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). All four are now serving prison sentences of 13 to 15 years.

Even though federal appeals court judges have joined defense attorneys in calling the ATF drug rip schemes "outrageous conduct," they are not an anomaly, but are instead part and parcel of ATF's Operation Gideon, a nationwide program. The ATF, federal prosecutors, and the Phoenix police said a press release announcing a pilot sweep that rolled up 70 people, including Cordae Black and his crew, that Gideon "involved the deployment of some of ATF's most experienced undercover operatives to team with local agents and police investigators by conducting sting investigations involving violent home invasion crews."

According to a USA Today investigative report, as of last year, the feds had already locked up more than a thousand people who its agents had enticed into conspiracies to rob fake drug stash houses. And it's not just the AFT. The DEA often uses the fake drug rip-off schemes, as well.

US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt
The argument at the 9th Circuit in the Phoenix case centered on entrapment and whether ATF agents illegally enticed the defendants into the crime through "outrageous government conduct" beyond that allowed by entrapment doctrine.

Relying on the US Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in US v. Russell, where the court upheld such schemes if the defendant showed a predisposition to commit the offense, 9th Circuit Judges Susan Graeber and Raymond Fisher rejected claims of entrapment and outrageous conduct by the agents, and argued that the reverse sting was within legal boundaries of law enforcement tactics, which includes officers working undercover to infiltrate criminal organizations.

Fisher and Graeber said the agents' actions were reasonable when they offered the men the opportunity to make money by committing a drug robbery. The pair also held the defendants failed to show they lacked "predisposition to commit the offense."

That provoked a sharp retort from a second dissenter as well, Judge John T. Noonan.

"Today our court gives approval to the government tempting people in the population at large currently engaged in innocent activity, and leading them into the commission of a crime, which the government will then prosecute," he wrote.

It's not just the 9th Circuit. Fake drug stash operations that only target inner-cities have ignited a firestorm of controversy, including other caustic remarks from the federal bench.

"There is a strong showing of potential bias in the robbery stings," US District Court Judge Rueben Castillo wrote in an order last year. Castillo noted that since 2011, federal agents have used such stings to lock up at least 26 people in the Chicago area -- and that all of them were either black or Hispanic.

Federal officials retort that they are not engaging in selective prosecution based on race, but are going where known felons often commit violent home invasion-type drug robberies.

But defense attorneys argue that the operations target people who weren't doing anything, entice them with visions of easy wealth, set them up, and then throw the book at them.

"What the ATF is doing is basically targeting low-level criminals for high-level crimes," said attorney Tara Loveland, who is representing Cordae Black on appeal.

The case against Black and his codefendants raises serious questions about racial profiling. According to evidence introduced at the original trial -- and subsequently heard again at the re-hearing (via the appellate brief) -- ATF Agent Richard Zayas had a paid informant travel from Miami to Arizona to find "bad guys" in a "bad part of town."

That prompted Judge Reinhardt to say that Zavas' instructions obviously meant the informant should recruit people from minority communities. The targeting of the fake drug house robbery scheme was a practice "that creates the appearance of selective prosecution based on race and wealth inequality," he said.

"It is a tragedy when ATF has to drum up a crime that didn't exist," attorney Eugene Marquez, who represented Cordae Black at trial, told the Chronicle.

Chicago Operation Gideon suspect William Alexander just before his arrest (atf.gov)
Defense attorneys who represented the defendants on appeal argued that "fake drug stings initiated by ATF amount to entrapment because there were no drugs -- and none of the defendants would have agreed to participate had it not been for a paid snitch and the ATF's scheme of enticing the men to arm themselves with weapons to rip-off a large quantity of drugs that automatically brings severe mandatory prison sentences."

"Our defense was outrageous conduct and sentencing entrapment," Marquez explained.

But 9th Circuit majorities weren't listening to the defense attorneys. In a separate ruling, they reiterated their original decision denying defense counsel's motion to overturn the original convictions.

"There is no bright line dictating when laws enforcement conduct crosses the line between acceptable and outrageous," Judge Raymond C. Fisher wrote for the majority. Outrageous government conduct can only occur when government agents engineer and direct a "criminal enterprise from start to finish -- or creating new crimes merely for the sake of pressing criminal charges," he argued.

Judge Reinhardt again dissented.

"In this era of mass incarceration, in which we already lock up more of our population than any other nation on earth, it is especially curious that the government feels compelled to invent fake crimes and imprison people for long periods of time for agreeing to participate in them -- people who but for the government's scheme might not have ever entered the world of major felonies," Reinhardt wrote.

If getting set up and convicted in a sting weren't bad enough, the defendants also got hit with longer sentences based on the imaginary amounts of drugs that were going to rob. Marquez explained that his client, Cordae Black, was hit a 10-year mandatory minimum because the ATF pretended the imaginary drug house had more than five kilos of cocaine in it.

But while jurists and defense attorneys grumbled, the ATF was pleased with its handiwork.

Arizona ATF agent Thomas Mangan welcomed the convictions of Black and his partners, as well as appeals court rulings upholding them. The stings had resulted in over 70 Arizona arrests, and the crew had "ample opportunity to back out, but had remained committed to carry out the robbery until they were arrested," he said in the Operation Gideon press release.

While court-approved enticement has a lengthy pedigree in this country, so does "outrageous government conduct" that can take it over the line into entrapment. A classic case is that of legendary automaker John Delorean, who was acquitted of cocaine conspiracy charges in 1984, even though prosecutors had Delorean on videotape wisecracking and saying that the cocaine stuffed inside a suitcase was "good as gold."

But Delorean's attorney was able to convince the jury that the FBI had leaned on a convicted drug smuggler, James Hoffman, to draw Delorean into a trap, complete with thinly-veiled threats if Delorean backed out of the sting.

"Without the government there would be no crime," Delorean's attorney told the jury.

Taking Down the Phoenix Crew

Putting together a fake drug robbery stings is like assembling the cast of a gritty crime drama. The Phoenix reverse sting worked against Cordae Black and his eager crew in typical take-down fashion. ATF agent Richard Zayas recruited a paid informant to frequent seedy bars and diffferent places in the "bad part" of town -- to find receptive players to rip-off a drug house. Zayas's informant met Shaver "Bullet" Simpson, a big-talking guy ready to play.

Zayas's informant duped Simpson into believing he had a friend with information on a stash house filled with drugs worth thousands of dollars. Simpson boasted he could find some tough-ass homies to do the job. Agent Zayas reminded Simpson that everyone involved with the plot must keep their mouths shut, and not talk about what goes down.

"My people straight," Simpson replied. "I hate snitchers."

Following the informant's meeting with Shaver Simpson, he introduced "Bullet" to undercover ATF Agent Richard Zayas, who fronted himself off as a disgruntled drug courier interested in having someone rob a dope house owned by Zayas's supposed cartel's connections. Zayas informed Simpson that Simpson's homeboys would need the "balls to do it because this ain't no easy lick."

Simpson then posed a question to Zayas: "My goons want to know whether they need to kill the people in the house."

Zayas responded nonchalantly that he "didn't care what they did as long as they took care of business."

Hooked like a fish, Simpson swallowed the bait, "Don't worry Daddy," he told Zavas. You got a real Jamaican (expletive), that's my family business; it's where I worked; I got this shit down to a science, man."

The beat goes on. Press conference announcing latest round of Operation Gideon busts, Stockton, CA, 2014 (atf.gov)
The trap was set. Shaver Simpson, the braggart, strangely, didn't show up for the showdown. But the work crew did. Once Cordae Black, Terrence Timmons, Kemford Alexander and Angel Mahon showed up at the designated meeting spot, the ATF agents and local police took the hapless crew down with guns drawn. A search of their vehicles produced four loaded weapons (which, according to the appellate brief, Zava insisted the crew have with them).

Despite Simpson's bravado about not being a snitch and hating such creatures, he pounced on the first opportunity to become one by testifying against his four homies. Still, at trial, Simpson accused ATF agent Richard Zayas of pressuring him to quickly find as many guys he could find to pull off the robbery.

Same Sorts of Cases, Different Results

In another Operation Gideon case, Chicago native William Alexander, a street-level crack dealer and beauty school dropout, got stung in a fake drug robbery on February 23 2011, along with his cohorts Hugh Midderhoff and David Saunders. All three were convicted of possession with intent to deliver five or more kilos of cocaine, along with firearms charges. To win a new trial, Alexander's lawyer argued on appeal that ATF's systematic strategy of sending informants into "bad parts of town" to recruit "bad people" meant that racial profiling played a vital role in Alexander's case.

His appeal brief noted that in the 17 stash house robbery stings prosecuted in the Northern Illinois Federal District since 2004, blacks were disproportionately represented. Of the 57 defendants, 42 were black, eight Hispanic, and seven white.

His appeal was denied -- because he couldn't show that the ATF and prosecutors intended racially disparate outcomes.

"To establish discriminatory intent, Alexander failed to show the decision makers in (his) case acted with discriminatory purposes -- and that the Attorney General and US Attorneys has broad discretion to enforce federal criminal laws," the appeals court held.

Antuan Dunlap and his heavily-armed posse-mates, Cedrick Hudson and Joseph Cornell Whitfield, had better luck. They were released from jail in an ATF drug house rip-off scheme when California US District Court Judge Otis Wright ruled the ATF crossed the line into entrapment.

Prosecutors had argued that Dunlap "manifested his propensity to commit robberies" by claiming to have engaged in similar activities in the past, and thus, "the defendant's words justified the reverse sting."

But in a 24-page stinging rebuke, the angry judge said the ATF engaged in "outrageous conduct" by enlisting people in "made-up crime" just so they could bust eager volunteers in drug stings. "Society does not win when the government stoops to the same level as the defendants it seeks to prosecute -- especially when the government has acted solely to achieve a conviction for a 'made-up' crime, Wright wrote. He also noted that such tactics "haven't brought down the crime rate nor taken drugs off the streets."

But the ATF and DEA fake drug rip-off schemes remain in full-swing across the nation despite the brewing controversy over tactics some defense attorneys and jurists regard with loathing. If the Justice Department will investigate whether the stings are aimed disproportionately at minority communities remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the Phoenix crew sits in federal prison, while their attorneys plan an appeal to the US Supreme Court.

Next in the series: ATF's Deadly Takedown in Fake Drug Robberies.

Chronicle AM--May 30, 2014

Yesterday was a bad day for the DEA as the House thrice voted to slap its hands, an anti-marijuana initiative in Montana gets okayed for signature-gathering, the New York Senate releases a report on heroin and opiate addiction and calls for more drug war, marijuana legalization supporters rally in Tel Aviv, and more. Let's get to it:

The DEA had a bad day on Capitol Hill yesterday.
Marijuana Policy

Montana Anti-Marijuana Initiative Approved for Signature-Gathering. An initiative that would repeal Montana's already severely scaled-back medical marijuana law and ban anything listed as a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act, including marijuana, has been approved for signature-gathering. But Billings car dealer and initiative sponsor Steve Zabawa has only three weeks to get the 24,175 signatures necessary to get the measure on the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

In Historic Vote, House Bars Justice Department, DEA from Using Taxpayer Funds to Interfere with Medical Marijuana in States Where It Is Legal. The US House of Representatives voted 219-189 last night to approve an amendment to 2015 Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill to cut off funds for the Justice Department and its agencies, including the DEA, to interfere in state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs. If the Senate doesn't come up with similar language, the provision will have to be fought for in conference committee.

Hemp

In Historic Vote, House Bars Justice Department, DEA from Using Taxpayer Funds to Interfere with Hemp Production in States Where It Is Legal. The US House of Representatives voted last night to bar the Justice Department and its agencies, including the DEA, from using taxpayer dollars to interfere with industrial hemp production in states where it is legal. Hemp production for research purposes in states that have laws allowing it was approved by the Congress as part of the omnibus farm bill earlier this year. A dozen states have such laws.

Law Enforcement

In Historic Vote, House Takes Funds from DEA, Shifts Them to Addressing Rape Kit Backlog. In addition to barring the DEA from going after hemp and medical marijuana in states where they are legal, the House also approved an amendment from Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) to take $5 million from the DEA's appropriation and shift the money into grants for state and local law enforcement to address backlogs of untested rape kits. The House voted down another Cohen amendment that would have taken $15 million from the DEA and allocated it instead to the Legal Services Corporation. The House also approved an amendment that would block additional staffing for the Pardon Attorney's Office in a bid to thwart President Obama's call for drug war prisoners to seek clemency.

Heroin and Opiates

New York Senate Task Force Proposes Massive Package of Prevention, Treatment, Law Enforcement Bills to Fight Increased Heroin, Prescription Pill Use. The state Joint Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction issued its final report Wednesday. The report, Solutions to New York's Heroin Epidemic, calls for prevention, treatment, and harm reduction measures, but the 25-bill package it includes is heavy on law enforcement. Thirteen of the 25 proposed bills would ratchet up the drug war. There is a complete list of the bills in the package in the report.

International

Colombian Government Releases Outline of Drug Accords With FARC. The Colombian government has released a document laying out the points agreed to with the FARC guerrillas on dealing with drug cultivation and the illicit drug trade. The two sides, meeting at peace talks in Havana a couple of weeks ago, reached the agreement a couple of weeks ago. Colombia Reports has the details at the title link.

Despite Drug Decriminalization, Colombia Continues to Arrest, Hassle Drug Users, Researcher Finds. In a report from the Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law, researcher Diane Guzman found that Colombia continues to rely excessively on punishing drug users, even though drug use is decriminalized there. Guzman blames police enforcement strategies and their focus on arrest, and reports that drug users detained by police are often let go after they pay bribes. She also found that Colombia's goal of reducing drug addiction suffers because the country doesn't devote sufficient resources to improving health care and rehabilitation for drug users. The report, En Busca De Los Derechos: Usuarios De Drogas Y Las Respuestas Estatales En América Latina, also examines drug policies in seven other Latin American countries. Guzman wrote the Colombia chapter.

Thousands March for Marijuana in Tel Aviv. An estimated 2,000 people marched and rallied for marijuana legalization in Tel Aviv Thursday night. The march comes as the Knesset prepares to debate a bill easing restrictions on medical marijuana next week and a bill from MK Tamar Zandberg to legalize marijuana a few weeks from now.

There Were Several Drug Policy Amendments to the CJS Bill

Reformers have mostly been talking about the Rohrabacher medical marijuana amendment that passed last night. I looked at the vote a little while ago, and realized that nearly 50 Republicans voted yes on the amendment, making it an even more historic occurrence than I'd realized.

There were three several other votes, though, that are important to know about. One of them, which passed, is a mean-spirited amendment to block the clemency initiative that Pres. Obama and AG Holder are taking. If it becomes law it will seek to prevent the administration from transferring staff temporarily to increase the Pardon Attorney Office's capacity. There was another good amendment that passed, though, by Rep. Steve Cohen, which shifts $5 millions of DEA funding, to spend it instead on grants to state and local police agencies to help them reduce the backlog in rape testing kits. Cohen sponsored another amendment that didn't get passed, which have shifted three times as much money from the DEA to the Legal Services Corporation.

We have info, including how every member of Congress voted, online here. There's a zipcode lookup form you can use, a the top of the page, to identify your own US Representatives and how they voted.

Update: There were more relevant votes than I'd realized when I wrote this. One of them had to do with hemp. We'll add them as able.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

House Passes Historic Medical Marijuana Amendment

Late Thursday night, the House of Representatives told the DEA to butt out of medical marijuana states by approving a budget amendment barring the use of taxpayer funds to do so.

Not with our tax dollars anymore--if the Senate gets on board (usdoj.gov)
Wow, things are changing fast. Efforts to pass similar amendments have never come close in previous years--the previous best was 165 yea votes in 2007--but the amendment passed by 30 votes tonight.

Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority is liking what he's seeing:

"This historic vote shows just how quickly marijuana reform has become a mainstream issue," he said. "The last time a similar amendment came up it didn't come very close to passing but, since then, more states have passed medical marijuana laws and a couple have even legalized marijuana for all adults. More states are on this way later this year and in 2016, and it's clear that more politicians are beginning to realize that the American people want the federal government to stop standing in the way. If any political observers weren't aware that the end of the war on marijuana is nearing, they just found out."

It ain't a done deal just yet, though. If the Senate version of the bill doesn't contain similar language, it will be up to the House leadership to fight for the amendment (or not) in conference committee.

Still, this is historic. I like it when we make history like this. And it seems to be happening more often these days.

Angell also makes another astute point. While we can grumble about the spate of what I call "limited CBD medical marijuana bills," and how they are so extremely restrictive, they have also spread the medical marijuana meme to places where it hadn't thrived before, like the Deep South. And that could be paying off in congressional votes like this one.

"This year's huge vote increase can largely be attributed to the fact that lawmakers only recently began hearing the moving stories of the many children whose severe seizures are only relieved by marijuana. Being able to list these CBD states in the amendment text meant that more members of Congress that represent these states voted yes than otherwise would have. Counting these states, 60 percent of the U.S. population lives in a place where state law disagrees with federal law."

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- May 29, 2014

Minnesota becomes the 22nd medical marijuana state, the California Senate passes a medical marijuana regulation bill and a bill equalizing crack and powder cocaine offenses, a new study reports on who current heroin users are, there are a series of votes set for today to rein in the DEA, a Canadian court allows heroin-assisted treatment trials to move forward, and more. Let's get to it:

Cocaine is cocaine, whether rock or powder, and the California Senate has voted to treat it like that. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Support for Legalization at 42%. A Detroit News/WDIV-TV poll released today has support for marijuana legalization at 42%, with 52% opposed. The poll conducted by the Glengariff Group of Chicago surveyed 600 voters. It has a margin of error of +/ -4%. "There is a sharp difference in attitudes on marijuana legalization among voters under and over the age of 40," said pollster Richard Czuba. "And while Democratic voters support legalization of marijuana, independents and Republican voters strongly oppose legalization." Click the link for more demographic details.

Washington, DC, Initiative is Sweating the Signature-Gathering. Organizers of the DC initiative to legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana -- but not the legalization and regulation of marijuana sales -- are "a little nervous" about the progress of their signature-gathering campaign. They have until July 7 to collect 22,373 valid voter signatures. They had collected some 19,000 raw signatures by Monday, but of the 16,734 that have been processed, only 5,360 have been found to be valid.

Delaware Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington) today introduced a decriminalization bill, House Bill 371. It would make possession of up to an ounce a civil offense with a maximum $100 fine for people 21 and over. Currently, possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) today signed into law the medical marijuana bill approved earlier this month by the legislature. It allows for eight distribution centers across the state to by supplied by two medical marijuana manufacturers. The bill does not allow for the smoking of medical marijuana; but it can be vaped or eaten. Some medical marijuana groups are calling the law "overly restrictive."

California Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill. The state Senate yesterday approved Senate Bill 1262, sponsored by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Anaheim). It is supported by cities and law enforcement, and would impose tighter controls on dispensaries, cultivation, and recommending. A competing bill, Assembly Bill 1894, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) was expected to be voted on today. If both pass their respective houses, look for a compromise.

Drug Policy

Congress Set to Vote Today on Four Amendments to Reign in DEA. Congress is set to vote today on at least four amendments aimed at reigning in the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). One would prohibit DEA from interfering in states that allow medical marijuana; another would prohibit it from blocking hemp seed imports in states that have approved hemp research; a third would prohibit it from undermining state laws that allow for hemp cultivation; and a fourth would reject a proposed $35 million increase in the DEA's FY 2015 budget.

Heroin

Today's Heroin Users Are Mainly Young, White and Not in the Big City, New Study Finds. A new research article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that, unlike the heroin boom of the 1960s, most heroin users today are young white men whose opiate habits overwhelmingly started with prescription pain pills. "Our data show that the demographic composition of heroin users entering treatment has shifted over the last 50 years such that heroin use has changed from an inner-city, minority-centered problem to one that has a more widespread geographical distribution, involving primarily white men and women in their late 20s living outside of large urban areas," the authors concluded.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Prosecutor "Sending a Message" Charges Five Teens With Murder in Teen Girl's Overdose Death. Washington County Attorney Pete Orput has charged five local teenagers with murder in the January death of a 17-year-old girl who died after taking a new synthetic hallucinogen. "We think there's a moral obligation to keep kids free of drugs," said Orput. "We're sending a message that suppliers will be held fully to account." Those charged include a 19-year-old, an 18-year-old, and three 17-year-olds. Orput said the three minors will be charged as adults. The 19-year-old is accused of being the dealer; the others bought some of the drug and shared it among themselves and the dead girl.

Customs to Curtail Searches of General Aviation Aircraft Not Crossing Borders. After loud complaints from private pilots that their domestic flights were being searched for drugs by Customs agents, the Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) has announced it will curtail the searches. An official told National Public Radio yesterday that "his agency has heard pilots' grievances and the program is being altered so as not to needlessly affront law-abiding pilots." The Airline Operators and Pilots Association has been raising a stink about the issue for the past year, saying it has received more than 50 reports from members who recounted their encounters with law enforcement at airports.

Georgia SWAT Team Throws Flash-Bang Grenade, Burns Toddler in Drug Raid. A 2-year-old child was burned when members of the Habersham County Special Response Team deployed a "distraction device" as they executed a drug search warrant early yesterday morning. The raid came a day after a snitch made a drug buy at the home and reported no children present. The raiders got themselves a no-knock warrant and breached the door of the home. "What had happened was there was a playpen -- a Pack N Play -- that was pushed up against the door, and when they breached the door it wouldn't open up because of the Pack N Play," Sheriff Joey Terrell said. "It was just wide enough to toss the flash bang in, then they had to physically push it [Pack N Play] on out of the way to get in. That's when the team medics saw the child, stopped at the child, took the child out and began first aid. "The door that we entered was the door that we bought dope out of -- that's why entered at that door," Terrell said. "Our team went by the book. Given the same scenario, we'll do the same thing again. I stand behind what our team did," he maintained. He blames the target of the warrant. Read the whole story at the link.

Sentencing

California Senate Approves Bill to Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. The state Senate Wednesday approved a bill that would equalize the penalties for crack and powder cocaine sales and make it easier to get probation for either. The measure is Senate Bill 1010, introduced by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). It now goes to the Assembly.

International

Peru Names Former Defense Minister as New Drug Czar. President Ollanta Humala has named former Defense Minister Luis Otorala as the new head of the Peruvian anti-drug agency, DEVIDA. He replaces Carman Masias. Otarola said that while eradication of coca crops will continue, greater emphasis will be placed on economic alternatives for farmers. Hardline critics said the move and the new emphasis "showed a weakening in the resolve of the government" to confront the drug trade. Peru is once again the world's leading coca and cocaine producer.

Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced in Philippines. Rep. Rodolfo Albano III has filed a medical marijuana bill in the Philippine legislature. House Bill 4477, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Bill, is intended "to provide accessible, affordable, safe medical cannabis to qualifying patients."

British Columbia Supreme Court Grants Injunction for Heroin Treatment Study to Continue. Canada's BC Supreme Court today granted an injunction for an exemption from federal drug laws for participants in the SALOME study (The Study to Assess Long-term Opioid Maintenance Effectiveness). The injunction will allow doctors in the study to continue prescribing heroin to patients for whom other treatment options have been ineffective.

Medical Marijuana Update

We could see a congressional vote on barring the feds from interfering in medical marijuana states this week, California stays contentious, the New York Assembly passes a medical marijuana bill (again), and more. Let's get to it:

National

As early as Thursday, Congress will vote on banning the DEA and Justice Department from interfering in medical marijuana states. The House could vote as early as Thursday on the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which would ban the Justice Department and its agencies, including the DEA, from using federal taxpayer funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. The time to contact your representatives is now. Click on the link for more information.

California

Last Thursday, Santa Monica medical marijuana opponents announced an initiative campaign to regulate dispensaries there. The city has a proposed zoning ordinance that would allow for two dispensaries, but initiative proponents want to "have medicinal collectives operate with reasonable regulation that mirror those put forward by the League of California Cities and California Police Chiefs Association" in pending Senate Bill 1262, which would put the state in charge of licensing dispensaries. The council voted last month not to endorse that bill.

Also last Thursday, Bakersfield officials sent letters to five dispensaries demanding they shut down within 30 days. The city council banned dispensaries last July and won a court challenge to that ban last month. The city said it selected dispensaries that had complaints from neighbors. City officials say there are 21 dispensaries operating in the city and that they plan to move against the others, too.

On Tuesday, the ACLU of Northern California sued Fresno city and county over total bans on marijuana cultivation. "The bans are at odds with state law enacted by the voters of California," the ACLU said. The lawsuit charges that the Fresno ordinances are invalid because they are preempted by the state's medical marijuana laws. Read the ACLU complaint here.

Also on Tuesday, the Desert Hot Springs city council voted unanimously to allow dispensaries and ordered city staff to come up with draft regulations by June 5. Palm Springs is currently the only city in Riverside County to allow dispensaries. Members agreed in general that a tax should be collected and that the number of dispensaries should be limited.

New Mexico

Last Thursday, medical marijuana advocates launched a campaign to force a rewrite of proposed new rules. The state Health Department released proposed rule changes a week earlier that advocates say will make access to medical marijuana more difficult. The Don't Take Away My Medicine campaign is being led by the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patient's Alliance, the South East New Mexico Medical Cannabis Alliance, and the Drug Policy Alliance. Click on the title link for more details.

New York

On Tuesday, the Assembly passed a comprehensive medical marijuana bill. It approved Assembly Bill 6357 by a margin of 91-34. This is the fifth time the Assembly has passed a medical marijuana bill, only to see them die in the Senate. The Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 4406, has already passed the Senate Health Committee and now awaits consideration in the Senate Finance Committee. The chairman of that committee said he would allow it to come to a vote -- if the Senate leadership agrees.

North Carolina

Last Thursday, a bill calling for a referendum on medical marijuana was filed. Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg) has filed House Bill 1161, which, if approved, would put a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to legalize the use and cultivation of marijuana to treat specified medical conditions. Alexander had filed a medical marijuana bill last year, but it went nowhere in the legislature. The new bill would have to get super-majorities in both chambers of the legislature before it could go to the voters.

On Tuesday, a limited CBD medical marijuana bill was filed. Rep. Pat McElraft (R-Carteret County) Tuesday filed a bill to allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil for people suffering "intractable seizures." The measure is House Bill 1220.

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

Chronicle AM -- May 27, 2014

Chuck Schumer wants $100 million to fight heroin in New York, a congressional vote to stop the DEA from attacking medical marijuana in states where it is legal is coming soon, the New York Assembly is voting today on a medical marijuana bill, an Oklahoma prescription drug bill dies, and more. Let's get to it:

Will another $100 million stop heroin in New YorK? (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Decriminalization Initiatives Planned for Albuquerque and Santa Fe. ProgressNow New Mexico and Drug Policy Action, a 501(c)4 that's affiliated with Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, are planning municipal decriminalization initiatives for the November election in New Mexico's two largest cities, Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The initiatives envision decriminalizing up to an ounce, with a maximum $25 fine. Backers filed a petition with the Santa Fe city clerk this week; Albuquerque efforts should be coming soon.

Medical Marijuana

Congress to Vote Soon on Banning DEA, Justice Department From Interfering in Medical Marijuana States. The House could vote as early as this week on the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which would ban the Justice Department and its agencies, including the DEA, from using federal taxpayer funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. The time to contact your representatives is now. Click on the link for more information.

New York Assembly to Vote Today on Compassionate Care Act. The Assembly is set to vote today on the Compassionate Care Act (Assembly Bill 6357), a comprehensive medical marijuana bill for the Empire State. Patients and supporters from all over the state are heading to Albany for a day of last-minute lobbying and to watch the Assembly debate and vote on the bill. The Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 4406, has already passed the Senate Health Committee and now awaits consideration in the Senate Finance Committee.

North Carolina Lawmaker to File CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. State Rep. Pat McElraft (R-Carteret County) has announced that she will file a bill allowing for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil to reduce seizures in epileptic children. It's not a medical marijuana bill, she said, rather "this is only a medicine for these children so they can develop motor skills."

Drug Policy

Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act Gets Marked Up Thursday. The House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere will be marking up House Resolution 4640, "to establish the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission" Thursday. "Mark up" means subcommittee members will debate, amend, and rewrite the bill.

Prescription Drugs

Oklahoma Prescription Drug Crackdown Bill Dies. A bill that was the centerpiece of Gov. Mary Fallin's (R) effort to crack down on prescription drug abuse is dead after being defeated in committee last Friday. The bill, Senate Bill 1820, would have required doctors to check the state's existing Prescription Monitoring Program registry every time they wrote or refilled a prescription for a Schedule II or III controlled substance. Those schedules include opiate pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrodocone, as well as many non-opiates, including hormone supplements. The bill was opposed by doctors.

Law Enforcement

Chuck Schumer Wants $100 Million to Fight Heroin in New York. US Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is seeking $100 million in taxpayer dollars "to fight the scourge of heroin." He wants the money to go to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program. He said he would seek the funding in a pending appropriations bill.

In Licking County, West Virginia, the Drug War Dominates the Court Docket. The most recent felony indictments in Licking County Common Pleas Court show that more than half (60%) are for drug offenses. Seven of the 12 indictments were for drug offenses, and six of those were for either "aggravated drug possession" or "abusing harmful intoxicants."

In Mendocino County, California, Marijuana Dominates the Court Docket. Busy, busy. Mendocino County jail bookings for May 11-15 show 22 people taken to the slammer. Fifteen of them were marijuana sales and/or transport and one was for "possessing proceeds from drug transactions." Marijuana offenses accounted for more than two-thirds of all bookings. There were also two arrests each for assault with a deadly weapon and DUI, and one each for indecent exposure, battery, and embezzlement.

Sentencing

California Bill to End Mandatory Jail Sentences for Drug Use Killed. California law requires a mandatory 90-day jail sentence for anyone convicted of using or being under the influence of drugs (not including marijuana). A bill that would have ended the mandatory sentences, Assembly Bill 2515, has now died in the Assembly. It needed 41 votes for passage, but only got 34 because many members didn't vote. There were only 16 votes against it.

International

Jamaica Marijuana Conference Calls for Road Map to Decriminalization within Four Months. The first Jamaica Cannabis Conference took place over the weekend and ended with a call from participants for the government to create a pathway to decriminalization within four months. The conference also called for recognition of Rastafarians' sacramental rights to use ganja, a sustained drug education program in the schools, and a properly regulated medical marijuana industry.

Barcelona Now a Stop on the Marijuana Tourism Trail. Spain has decriminalized marijuana possession, people can grow their own in small amounts, and cannabis clubs are offering the chance to join by phone or email and purchase marijuana. As a result, marijuana tourism is up in Barcelona, and local authorities are beginning to think about ways to regulate it all. Click on the link to read more.

Zambia's Green Party to Continue Campaigning for Marijuana Legalization. Zambia's Green Party will continue to campaign for marijuana legalization, its leader, Peter Sinkamba said last Friday. "As the Green Party, we have a task to sell the Green agenda by not joining any politics on the constitution-making process, but ensure that marijuana is legalized," he said. "This is the only way we can create employment for the people and make medicine available for every citizen. You know marijuana is used for many things including the provision of medicines, hence the need for it to be legalized and get the benefits that will help the country make its own medicines." The Greens are not represented in the Zambian parliament.

Kentucky Gets its Hemp Seed as DEA Backs Off

It's a done deal. A UPS truck delivered more than 250 pounds of hemp seed to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture this afternoon. It took a lawsuit and a lot of political pressure on DEA head Michele Leonhart, but the agency has backed away from its initial refusal to allow the seeds to be imported.

Hemp seeds will soon be sprouting in Kentucky (votehemp.org)
As the Associated Press reported this afternoon, the seeds arrived at the department's headquarters in Frankfort, the state capital. They had been being held hostage at a US Customs warehouse in Louisville after being imported from Italy. At the last minute, the DEA had refused to issue an import license for the seed, which was destined for research authorized under the omnibus farm bill passed earlier this year.

That prompted an intense and angry reaction from state officials, who promptly sued the DEA, the Justice Department, and Customs in federal court, and from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who just happens to be from Kentucky. It's not clear exactly what went down, but after two Wednesday meetings, the DEA started singing a different tune.

One meeting brought together lawyers for the federal government and the state of Kentucky before a federal judge; the other was face-to-face between McConnell and Leonhart. By the end of the day Wednesday, the DEA had backed down.

The DEA just ain't getting no respect these days. Leonhart was recently chastised by her boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, over her remarks before Congress dissing the administration's moves to reduce the reliance on mandatory minimum sentencing, the Drug Policy Alliance is calling for her head, and drug expert Mark Kleiman is  suggesting maybe it's time to disband the agency. Couldn't happen to a more deserving set of folks. 

Location: 
Frankfort, KY
United States

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