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From the Blog: Three Marijuana Reform Bills Filed in Louisiana

(Welcome back to our one-time intern Jimi Devine, who has graciously volunteered his time to support our blog. We are cross-posting this piece to the Chronicle because it is news-focused.)

The smell of marijuana reform is strong in the bayou air, with Louisiana now home to a big push for both medical marijuana and major sentencing reforms around marijuana convictions.

Today the Louisiana legislature's House Health and Welfare Committee will hear a medical marijuana bill brought forward by Republican State Senator Fred Mills, a man who formerly served as head of the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy. Mills spent the last year working with law enforcement to make it past a committee and organizations that had held it back in the past.

According to Northeast Louisiana media outlet The News Star, major revisions have been made with support from the Louisiana Sheriffs Association, including:

  • Prescribed marijuana would be taken in a form other than smoking it, perhaps in a pill.
  • The state Agriculture Department would be in charge of growing marijuana to be used for medical purposes.
  • Dispensing pharmacies -- ten, at this point -- would be required to meet certain conditions.
  • The bill would "sunset," or be reviewed on Jan. 1, 2020, giving lawmakers a deadline for determining whether the changes to state law were beneficial. If the bill proves ineffective, the law could be modified or allowed to expire.
  • The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy would adopt rules about dispensing medical marijuana.

This session the bill made it through the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, which had halted its progress in 2014, and then passed the full senate with two thirds in support. On when he takes it before the House, Mills noted, "I'm hoping for a repeat performance from the Senate."

While the bill is very restrictive, it would reinforce national trends on the medical use of marijuana by bringing a law involving more than CBD marijuana strains to the south, and hopefully would lead to a more inclusive medical marijuana law in the future.

The sentencing reform bills look to reduce the penalties associated with a marijuana conviction in the state. Currently a third marijuana possession conviction could lead to a baffling 20 year sentence.

According to NOLA.com, the bill authored by New Orleans State Senator J.P. Morrell "reduces the maximum penalty for possession from 20 years in prison to eight, raises the threshold for a felony-level possession charge, and adds a second-chance provision for first-time offenders."

Penalties would still be much more severe than their counterparts in other states, but first time offenders would have one opportunity to expunge their record after two years without a conviction. The bill would also reclassify a second offense from a felony to misdemeanor for quantities between fourteen grams and two and a half pounds.

The bill is projected to save Louisiana $17 million over the first five years. This would cover the $900,000 a year in wasteful spending on corrections highlighted by the Office of State Inspector General with $13 million to spare.

NOLA.com columnist Jarvis DaBerry noted, "Such a bill does two important things. First, it establishes that a person with a small amount of weed isn't a real threat to the public. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the bill would keep such a conviction from haunting a person forever."

The second bill, authored by Rep. Austin Badon, would push major reforms, but is not as big a shift as the one presented by Morrell. Badon's bill would see those committing a third offense jailed five years, as opposed to the two year sentence in Morell's bill. It also does not include the possibility of conviction being expunged for first time offenders.

While Louisiana debates the direction of their sentencing procedures, I'll leave you with another quote from Jarvis DeBerry on the subject: "Here's a prediction: Sooner or later, we're going to look back at what Louisiana has doing to folks caught with marijuana, and we're going to be just as shocked those sentences had our officials' blessing."

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Philly's dirty narcs escape criminal convictions, a Georgia cop is in trouble for stealing dope from the evidence room, and a San Francisco cop heads to prison for ripping off drug dealers and supplying dope to snitches. Let's get to it:

On May 14, six former Philadelphia narcotics officers were found not guilty in a major federal police drug corruption case. Although prosecutors could not win convictions, the case has prompted scores of convictions to be overturned and prosecutions dropped amid allegations that the dope squad beat suspects, perjured themselves to win convictions, and stole more than $400,000 in drug money. The jury deliberated for more than a week before returning with "not guilty" verdicts. The former cops cleared are squad leader Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Perry Betts, Michael Spicer, Linwood Norman and John Speiser.

In Darien, Georgia, a former Darien police officer was indicted Tuesday on charges he stole drugs from the evidence room. Nicholaus Odell Roundtree is charged with single counts of theft by conversion and violating his oath of office. He is accused of stealing more than $1,500 worth of drugs for his own use. He is now out on bail.

In San Francisco, a former San Francisco police officer was sentenced Tuesday to a year in federal prison for his role in a conspiracy to steal money and property from alleged drug dealers and provide illegal drugs to informants. Reynaldo Vargas, 46, admitted that he and two other SFPD officers repeatedly stole money and property during arrests and searches and that the officers kept the items for themselves and gave drugs to informants. Vargas pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, distribution of marijuana, conspiracy to commit theft concerning a federal funded program, and theft concerning a federally funded program. His two partners have already gone to prison.

Medical Marijuana Update

California localities continue to wrestle with medical marijuana, Illinois' nascent program gets an extension, another South Dakota initiative could be coming, Seattle plans to shut down dozens of dispensaries, and more.

California

Last Tuesday, Marin County supervisors began working on a restrictive medical marijuana ordinance. The ordinance envisions up to three nonprofit dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county, but critics said it would create so much red tape that it would be difficult to comply with its provisions.

Last Wednesday, the State Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Yuba County patients challenging the county's new marijuana cultivation ordinance and especially its urgency provision. That provision effectively stopped opponents' ability to circulate petitions for a voter referendum. Other legal challenges to the ordinance are still pending.

On Tuesday, a successful Santa Cruz County referendum blocked a supervisors' ban on commercial medical marijuana grows. The supes had voted last month to enact the ban, but opponents managed to gather enough signatures in just three weeks to qualify an initiative for the ballot, thus putting the ban on hold until the vote.

Illinois

Last Thursday, the Senate approved an extension of the medical marijuana program. The state Senate voted 33-16 to approve House Bill 3299, which would extend the program by two more years. The measure has already passed the House and is headed for the desk of Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), but it's unclear if he will sign it. He has said he didn't think the program should be extended until it's been fully evaluated -- but it hasn't even really started.

Nebraska

Last Thursday, the legislature approved a CBD cannabis oil study bill. The state Senate gave final approval to Legislative Bill 390, under which the University of Nebraska Medical Center would study the effectiveness of CBD in treating epileptic seizures. Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) now has five days to act on it.

On Wednesday, a CBD cannabis oil bill was pronounced dead. A bill that would have allowed the limited use of CBD cannabis oil has died. LB 643, filed by state Sen. Tommy Garrett (R-Bellevue), did not have enough support to advance, Garrett said. He said he would bring it back next year.

Pennsylvania

On Monday, it looked like the medical marijuana bill had been blocked in the House. A medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 3, has passed the Senate, but appears to be bottled up in the House after being assigned to the Health Committee, which is headed by medical marijuana foe Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga County). He told local media last week he didn't see the bill moving any time soon. Bill supporters are exploring their options, including moving the bill to a different committee, adding it as an amendment to other legislation, and including it in a budget measure.

South Dakota

On Wednesday, word came that a medical marijuana initiative is in the works. Maybe the third time will be the charm. An activist from Emery has submitted initiative language to the state Attorney General's office. If approved, petitioners would have to gather 13,871 valid voter signatures by November 8 to qualify for the 2016 ballot. South Dakota voted down previous efforts in 2006 and 2010.

Washington

Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court uphold local collective garden bans. The high court ruled 8-1 that the city of Kent can ban medical marijuana collective gardens. The decision upheld lower court rulings allowing cities to impose bans via zoning regulations. The case was Cannabis Action Council v. City of Kent.

On Tuesday, Seattle's mayor said he planned to shutter dozens of dispensaries. Mayor Ed Murray said Tuesday he plans to require special business licenses for marijuana shops and that dispensaries in operation before January 1, 2013, will get priority in licensing. But of the city's 99 dispensaries, 54 either opened after that date or are operating without a license, and the mayor's office says they need to shut down.

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

Three Marijuana Reform Bills Filed in Louisiana

(Welcome back to our one-time intern Jimi Devine, who has graciously volunteered his time to support our blog.)

Louisiana State Capitol
The smell of marijuana reform is strong in the bayou air, Louisiana is now home to a big push for both medical marijuana and major sentencing reforms around marijuana convictions.

Today the Louisiana legislature' House Health and Welfare Committee will hear a medical marijuana bill brought forward by Republican State Senator Fred Mills, a man who formerly served as head of the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy. Mills spent the last year working with law enforcement to make it past a committee and organizations that had held it back in the past.

According to Northeast Louisiana media outlet The News Star, major revisions have been made with support from the Louisiana Sheriffs Association, they include:

  • Prescribed marijuana would be taken in a form other than smoking it, perhaps in a pill.
  • The state Agriculture Department would be in charge of growing marijuana to be used for medical purposes.
  • Dispensing pharmacies -- ten, at this point -- would be required to meet certain conditions.
  • The bill would "sunset," or be reviewed on Jan. 1, 2020, giving lawmakers pause to determine if the changes to state law were beneficial. If the bill proves ineffective, the law could be corrected or ended.
  • The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy would adopt rules about dispensing medical marijuana.

This session the bill made it through the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that halted its progress in 2014, and then passed the full senate with two thirds in support. On when he takes it before the house Mills noted, "I'm hoping for a repeat performance from the Senate."

While the bill is very restrictive, but it would reinforce national trends on the medical use of marijuana in Louisiana. Hopefully leading to a more inclusive law in the future.

The sentencing reform bills look to reduce the penalties associated with a marijuana conviction in the state. Currently a third marijuana possession conviction could lead to a baffling 20 year sentence.

According to NOLA.com, the bill authored by New Orleans State Senator J.P. Morrell,

"reduces the maximum penalty for possession from 20 years in prison to eight, raises the threshold for a felony-level possession charge and adds a second-chance provision for first-time offenders."
 

Penalties would still be much more severe than their counterparts in other states, but first time offenders would have one opportunity to expunge their record after two years without a conviction. The bill would also reclassify a second offense from a felony to misdemeanor for quantities between fourteen grams and two and a half pounds.

The bill is projected to save Louisiana $17 million over the first five years. This would cover the $900,000 a year in wasteful spending on corrections highlighted by the Office of State Inspector General with $13 million to spare.

NOLA.com columnist Jarvis DaBerry noted,

"Such a bill does two important things. First, it establishes that a person with a small amount of weed isn't a real threat to the public. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the bill would keep such a conviction from haunting a person forever."
 

The second bill authored by Rep. Austin Badon would push major reforms, but is not as big a shift as the one presented by Morrell. Badon' bill would see those committing a third offense jailed five years, as opposed to the two year sentence in Morell' bill. It also does not include the possibility of conviction being expunged for first time offenders.

While Louisiana debates the direction of their sentencing procedures, I'll leave you with another quote from Jarvis DeBerry on the subject:

"Here's a prediction: Sooner or later, we're going to look back at what Louisiana has doing to folks caught with marijuana, and we're going to be just as shocked those sentences had our officials' blessing."
 

Chronicle AM: MO Pot Lifer Wins Commutation, MD Gov Vetoes Drug Reform Bills, DEA Heroin Threat, More (5/26/15)

A second Arizona legalization initiative has been filed, a Missouri marijuana lifer gets a reprieve, Maryland's Republican governor vetoes drug reform bills, the DEA warns of the heroin threat, there's more violence in Latin American drug war zones, and more.

The Show Me Cannabis campaign to free Jeff Mizanskey bears fruit. (twitter.com)
Marijuana Policy

Second Arizona Legalization Initiative Filed. The Campaign to Legalize and Regulate Marijuana last week filed paperwork for a second legalization initiative in the state. The other initiative, filed by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is affiliated with the Marijuana Policy Project, handed in its paperwork last month. Both would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of pot and propose a 15% tax, but the new initiative would make possession of more than eight ounces a misdemeanor, while the first one would make it a felony.

Maryland Governor Vetoes Marijuana Reform Bill. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last Friday vetoed Senate Bill 517, which would have added some housekeeping measures to last year's decriminalization bill. The bill would have decriminalized public pot smoking and possession of pot paraphernalia. Hogan's explanation for the veto was that he is worried police won't be able to do anything about people smoking pot while driving.

Missouri Governor Commutes Sentence of Marijuana Lifer Jeff Mizanskey. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) last Friday commuted the life sentence meted out to 61-year-old Jeff Mizanskey, who had been the subject of a campaign led by Show-Me Cannabis to get him released. Nixon's action doesn't free Mizanskey, but does make him eligible for a parole hearing, after which he could be released.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Appears Blocked in House. A medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 3, has passed the Senate, but appears to be bottled up in the House after being assigned to the Health Committee, which is headed by medical marijuana foe Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga County). He told local media last week he didn't see the bill moving any time soon. Bill supporters are exploring their options, including moving the bill to a different committee, adding it as an amendment to other legislation, and including it in a budget measure.

Heroin

DEA Says Heroin Deaths Highest in a Decade. The number of heroin overdose deaths more than tripled between 2007 and 2013, according to a National Heroin Threat Assessment released last Friday by the DEA. Deaths totaled more than 8,200 in 2013. Meanwhile, the number of heroin users doubled from 161,000 in 2007 to 289,000 in 2013. Still, heroin overdose deaths pale in comparison with those from prescription drugs, with more than 30,000 people dying of prescription drug overdoses in 2013. [Ed: One cause of increased heroin use is the crackdown on prescription drugs, which has led some users to take to the streets.]

Asset Forfeiture

Maryland Governor Vetoes Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last Friday vetoed Senate Bill 528, which would have required police to establish that a property owner knew the property was connected to a crime, set a minimum amount of $300 for triggering seizures, and forbid police from transferring asset forfeiture cases to the federal government (to get around state asset forfeiture laws). Hogan's given reason for the veto was… heroin. "Maryland is currently facing a heroin epidemic," he said in a veto statement. "The individuals involved in the manufacture and sale of drugs are profiting from the deaths and ruined lives they are creating. The asset forfeiture law helps to ensure that these criminals do not reap any economic benefits from their crimes."

International

FARC Calls Off Ceasefire After Colombian Military Kills 26 Rebels. Colombia's leftist rebels have ended their unilateral ceasefire during protracted peace negotiations with the government after a government air and ground offensive killed 26 FARC fighters last Thursday. But the FARC said it will continue with peace talks. The Colombian military offensive began after the FARC killed 11 soldiers on patrol last month, but the FARC claims the military has been harassing it throughout the peace talks.

Mexican Cops Kill 42 Drug Suspects in "Shoot Out." At least 42 suspected drug cartel members and one federal police officer died last Friday in what authorities described as a fierce, three-hour gunfight between police and drug gang gunmen. The killings took place in Jalisco state, home of the up-and-coming Jalisco New Generation cartel, although authorities did not name the group. While authorities reported a fierce fight, the one-sided death toll is raising eyebrows.

Paris City Council Announces Location of France's First Safe Injection Site. The city council announced Monday that the country's first "drug consumption room" will be located at the city's Lariboisiere Hospital. The site was chosen after the plan for the original site was derailed by neighborhood opposition.

Chronicle AM: IL Senate Approves Decrim, MedMJ Extension; Ex-Cincy Police Chief Endorses Pot Init, More (5/22/15)

Midwest marijuana news dominates today, with the Illinois Senate approving decriminalization and medical marijuana extension bills, a prominent Ohio law enforcement figure endorsing a legalization initiative and the state attorney general rejecting another one, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Illinois Senate Passes Decriminalization Bill. The state Senate Thursday approved House Bill 218, which would decriminalize the possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana, replacing the possibility of jail time and a criminal record with a maximum $125 fine and no criminal record. The bill has already cleared the House, but will not go to the governor's desk until sponsors get some additional cleanup language approved.

Former Cincinnati Police Chief Endorses Ohio Legalization Initiative. Former Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher has come out in favor of the controversial ResponsibleOhio pot legalization initiative. "Our state spends over $120 million per year to enforce marijuana prohibition, even though we all know these laws do not work," Streicher said. "Law enforcement should instead be able to spend their time and their resources cracking down on the real criminals." ResponsibleOhio is the midst of a signature-gathering campaign to qualify for the November 2015 ballot. It needs more than 300,000 approved voter signatures to qualify, but says it has 320,000 raw signatures right now and aims to gather 800,000 by the July deadline.

Ohio Attorney General Rejects Language for Third Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Mike DeWine Thursday rejected the ballot summary language for a third statewide legalization initiative, the Ohio Cannabis Control Amendment from Ohioans to End Prohibition. Two other initiatives, from ResponsibleOhio and Better for Ohio, have already been approved and are in the signature-gathering phase. Now, Ohioans for Prohibition will have to gather another 1,000 signatures and resubmit modified language if it wants to move forward.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Senate Approves Extension of Medical Marijuana Program. The state Senate voted 33-16 Thursday to approve House Bill 3299, which would extend the program by two more years. The measure has already passed the House and is headed for the desk of Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), but it's unclear if he will sign it. He has said he didn't think the program should be extended until it's been fully evaluated -- but it hasn't even really started.

Nebraska Legislature Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Study Bill. The state Senate Thursday gave final approval to Legislative Bill 390, under which the University of Nebraska Medical Center would study the effectiveness of CBD in treating epileptic seizures. Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) now has five days to act on the bill.

Washington Supreme Court Upholds Local Collective Garden Bans. The state Supreme Court ruled 8-1 Thursday that the city of Kent can ban medical marijuana collective gardens. The decision upheld lower court rulings allowing cities to impose bans via zoning regulations. The case was Cannabis Action Council v. City of Kent.

Drug Testing

Maine Committee Rejects Governor's Food Stamp Drug Testing Bill. The legislature's Health and Human Services Committee voted 6-5 on party lines to reject LD 1407, Gov. Paul LePage's (R) bid to impose drug testing on food stamp recipients. That doesn't mean the bill is dead, though; it is still likely to be debated in the House, and the question will be whether the Democrats can hold their caucus together in opposition.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Jail Becomes First in South to Offer Naloxone to Released Inmates. The Durham County Detention Facility last month began distributing overdose reversal kits to inmates being released in a bid to cut the overdose rate among the newly freed whose tolerance to opiate drugs has been reduced by the jail stays. The formerly incarcerated are more than a hundred times more likely to die of drug overdoses in the first two weeks after their release than the general population.

International

Iceland Support for Marijuana Legalization Doubles, But Still Low. Nearly one quarter (24.3%) of Icelanders now support marijuana legalization, up from 12.7% in 2011, a new survey finds. Men were more supportive than women (31% v. 16%), and the youth were more supportive than older cohorts, but even among people under 30, support was only at 43%.

Chronicle AM: Bernie Sanders on Marijuana Policy, LA Reform Bill Advances, New DEA Head Nominated, More (5/21/15)

Marijuana continues to dominate the drug policy news, plus public benefits drug testing bills move in Maine and Wisconsin, the NYPD decides not to bust middle-aged dopers, and more.

Bernie Sanders (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Mellow on Marijuana. The Vermont senator seeking the Democratic presidential nomination hinted at support for marijuana legalization during a Reddit question and answer session Tuesday, although he did not explicitly call for it. "I can tell you very few people were arrested for smoking marijuana [when I was mayor]," Sanders said. "Our police had more important things to do." He said he supported decriminalization in Vermont and was watching Colorado closely. "Colorado has led the effort toward legalizing marijuana and I'm going to watch very closely to see the pluses and minuses of what they have done,"Sanders said. "I will have more to say about this issue within the coming months."

Louisiana Marijuana Sentencing Reform Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a bill that would reduce the state's draconian marijuana possession sentencing. The measure is Senate Bill 241.

Maine Legalization Bills Get Hearing. The Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday heard testimony on a pair of marijuana legalization bills. Sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland), LD 1380 and its companion bill in the Senate would craft a regulatory structure for pot commerce and then put it before voters. If the legislature fails to act, the state could see two legalization initiatives next year.

Second Ohio Pot Legalization Initiative Certified for Signature-Gathering. The secretary of state's office has certified a legalization initiative from Better for Ohio, which means the group can now commence trying to gather the 306,000 signatures needed to qualify for this year's November ballot. Another group, ResponsibleOhio, is already in the signature-gathering phase.

No Decriminalization Initiative for Nashville. An effort by TN-NORML to put a marijuana decriminalization on the municipal ballot this year has apparently fallen short. Monday was the deadline day for handing in signatures, and TN-NORML didn't hand any in. Earlier, the group said it had only 4,000 signatures; it needed nearly 7,000 to qualify.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Governor Signs Bill Limiting Medical Marijuana Growers. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) Monday signed into law a bill that will limit medical marijuana caregivers to growing no more than 99 plants. The bill is Senate Bill 15-014. The bill also allows parents to have someone other than themselves grow medical marijuana for child patients and allows school districts to consider allowing medical marijuana use on campus.

Drug Policy

Obama Nominates Chuck Rosenberg to Head DEA. FBI senior official and former US Attorney Chuck Rosenberg has been nominated to replace Michelle Leonhart as head of the DEA. For the last 18 months, Rosenberg has served as chief of staff to FBI Director James Comey. He previously served as US Attorney for Southern Texas and US Attorney for Eastern Virginia and has won support from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Public Benefits Drug Testing Bill Advances. A bill that would require applicants for welfare benefits, unemployment benefits, job training programs, and health coverage through the state-sponsored program to be assessed for drug use passed the Senate Budget Committee Wednesday. People whose assessments suggest they may be using drugs would have to take and pass a drug test to win benefits. A provision to include food stamp recipients was stripped out because it would likely be challenged by the federal government. The measure is Assembly Bill 192.

Maine Bill to Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients Gets Hearing. The Health and Human Services Committee heard Monday from the administration of Gov. Paul LePage (R) about its bill that would require people on the food stamp program to take a written screening test to see if they are using drugs. If the assessment suggested they may be using drugs, they would have to submit to a drug test. People who tested positive could keep their benefits as long as they sought and completed drug treatment. The bill would also bar people with drug felonies from getting food stamps.

Law Enforcement

NYPD To Not Bust Middle-Aged Drug Offenders. The NYPD last week issued a memo instructing its narcs not to bust drug offenders over age 40 and instead concentrate on younger dealers. The department considers younger drug suspects to be more dangerous.

(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.)

Two Mississippi Cops Killed in Traffic Stop Turned Drug Search

The two Hattiesburg, Mississippi, police officers killed last Saturday died after a traffic stop turned into an attempted search for drugs and other contraband. Officers Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate become the 23rd and 24th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Associated Press, Officer Deen, the department's drug dog handler, stopped a car driven by Joanie Calloway for speeding. Also in Calloway's vehicle were her boyfriend, Marvin Banks, and another passenger, Cornelius Clark.

Officer Deen decided to search the vehicle and called for backup. This is the point the incident turned from a "routine traffic stop" to a drug war incident. (At a Monday eulogy for Deen, his comrades described him as an enthusiastic officer who made "many drug arrests with his dog, Tomi, at his side.")

When Officer Tate arrived, Deen told the trio to get out of the car. At that point, Banks produced a weapon and shot both officers, Deen in the face and Tate in the lower back.

Both officers were wearing bulletproof vests, but the vests did not protect them from either the head shot or the shot to the back. Both died shortly thereafter.

According to USA Today, Banks has a drug-related criminal history, an ongoing drug habit, and mental issues. He was arrested for both the sale of crack cocaine and possession of a stolen firearm in a three-month period in 2010, and possession of marijuana in 2011. In 2013, he was arrested again on crack cocaine sales charges, and last October, he was arrested for trespass at the University of Southern Mississippi. He had already done two stints on prison, and the drug charge was still pending when he was pulled over.

Banks's mother, Mary Smith, told USA Today that he smoked synthetic marijuana on a daily basis and that he had been hearing voices since being attacked and struck over the head with a pipe several years ago.

"You could tell something was wrong with him," she said. "I hate it for these families that he wasn't in his right mind."

Now, Banks is charged with capital murder, Calloway is charged with being an accessory after the fact, and Clark is charged with obstructing justice. Deen will be buried Thursday and Tate's funeral is set for Sunday.

Hattiesburg, MS
United States

Colombia Suspends Use of Aerial Herbicide to Kill Coca Crops [FEATURE]

[This article was written in collaboration with AlterNet and originally appeared here.]

No more of this. (wikipedia.org)
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced today that he is halting the use of the herbicide glyphosate as part of a US-backed effort to destroy coca crops. More than four million acres of land in the country have been sprayed with the Monsanto-manufactured weed killer.

The US has paid for the program as part of its multi-billion dollar, decades-long anti-drug campaign in the country that had been (and might be again) the world's largest coca and cocaine producer. US contractors paid by the State Department do some of the spraying.

Santos acted a little more than a month after the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the herbicide is probably carcinogenic and days after the Colombian Health Ministry, citing the WHO report, recommended that the program be halted.

Critics of the spraying program had complained for years that the herbicide not only killed coca crops, but also injured people, livestock, and other plant life exposed to it. Those claims got some backing last year when Daniel Mejia, chairman of an expert panel advising the Colombian government on its drug strategy, published research showing high rates of skin problems and miscarriages in areas sprayed with glyphosate.

The move comes in the midst of peace talks between the Santos government and the rebels of the FARC (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces), who have been in rebellion against the government in Bogota for more than 50 years. The two sides had already agreed that aerial eradication should be used only as a last resort.

It was the strength of the rebels around the turn of the century that was a principal reason for the resort to aerial spraying. Their presence in coca-growing areas, where guerrilla fighters protected the crops, made manual eradication risky. At least 62 manual eradicators -- 48 of them soldiers -- have been killed since 2009 and nearly 400 injured, most of them the victims of guerrilla groups.

Colombian coca cultivation had declined for the previous six years, but jumped 39% last year, according to a US government report that came out last week. The conveniently timed report, which blamed the increase on new cultivation outside areas where aerial eradication was allowed, failed, however, to stop the Colombian government from suspending the program.

Chronicle AM: Fiorina on Drugs, Hawaii Dispensaries, Drugs on the UN Agenda More (5/8/15)

Marijuana reforms pass the Kansas House, a dispensary bill passes the Hawaii legislature, another Ohio legalization initiative is moving, one Republican presidential contender makes some nice noises about drug policy, and more.

GOP presidential contender Carly Fiorina stakes out some progressvie drug policy positions. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas House Passes Marijuana Reform Bill. The House Thursday approved a bill that would decrease penalties for small-time marijuana possession, allow for the sale of CBD cannabis oil, and set up a study for uses of industrial hemp. The measure is House Bill 2049. It now heads to the Senate.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Approved by Attorney General. Attorney General Mike DeWine has approved the ballot summary for the "Legalize Marijuana and Hemp in Ohio" initiative proposed by Better for Ohio. The group is pushing this 2015 initiative as alternative to the controversial one being run by ResponsibleOhio, which would set up a 10-grower monopoly on commercial cultivation. The ResponsibleOhio initiative is already deep into its signature-gathering campaign.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Legislature Approves Dispensaries. Fifteen years after it gave the go-ahead to medical marijuana, the state legislature has gotten around to approving a bill that would allow up to 16 dispensaries statewide by mid-2016. House Bill 321 was approved unanimously in the Senate Thursday and passed the House the same day on a 38-13 vote. Gov. David Ige (D) is expected to sign the bill.

Drug Policy

Carly Fiorina Hints at Support for Drug Decriminalization, Would Leave Legal Marijuana States Alone. GOP presidential contender Carly Fiorina staked out some progressive drug policy ground Thursday in an interview with the Des Moines Register editorial board. "I would not, as president of the United States, enforce federal law in Colorado, where Colorado voters have said they want to legalize marijuana," she said, adding that she didn't personally support legalization. "I do not think they should legalize marijuana," she said. "If you look at a place like Colorado, we've sent the message that pot is just no big deal. And it's just not true." And on drug decriminalization, she had this to say: "I don't think it helps this nation to criminalize drug abuse," she said. "It is not helpful -- to the system, the community, or to a drug abuse victim -- it's not helpful to treat them as hardened criminals and throw them into jail."

International

China Urges UN to "Firmly Oppose" Drug Legalization. At a UN debate in preparation for next year's UNGASS on Drugs, China took a predictably hard line stance on legalization: "In recent years, there have been voices calling for the legalization of narcotic drugs and raising doubts about the three UN Conventions on drug control and other existing international drug control mechanisms," said Wang Min, China's deputy permanent representative at the world body. "This is not conducive to the healthy development of international drug control," he added.

Reformers Take on Drug Prohibition At UN. Not all countries agree with China, and global civil society is also active at the UNGASS on Drugs prep sessions. Click on the link to read Dave Borden's account of what's going on.

(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.)

Drug War Issues

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