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Chronicle AM: Bad Cops in CO, CT MedMJ, VA Pot Decrim Bill, WA Drug Defelonization Bill, More (11/26/14)

We have a couple of disturbing Colorado police stories, a pot decrim bill will be filed in Virginia, and a drug decrim one in Washington state, Connecticut patients seek to expand the list of conditions, Florida will try again on medical marijuana, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

New Idaho Group Forms to Fight for Pot Law Reform. A new group has formed to push for marijuana legalization in a most pot-unfriendly place: Idaho. Although it now borders two legal marijuana states—Oregon and Washington—Idaho continues its last-century approach to marijuana. Now, New Approach Idaho wants to change that with a new initiative effort. It has its work cut out for it: The last time activists tried to get an initiative on the ballot there, they were only able to come up with 11,000 of the necessary 60,000 voter signatures.

Virginia Legislator Will File Decriminalization Bill in January. State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) has said he will fill a bill to decriminalization the possession of small amounts for the next session of the legislature. "This is not going to legalize marijuana. It is going to make it no longer have a criminal penalty," he said. Under current law, a first possession offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Ebbin's bill would make possession a civil offense, with a maximum $100 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Doctors' Panel Hears Request to Add More Conditions. The state Medical Marijuana Program's Board of Physicians heard today from patients and advocates pleading with them to expand the state's medical marijuana law to include more medical conditions. The board has received petitions seeking to add severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis; sickle cell disease; Tourette's disorder; and post-laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy — chronic pain after back surgery — to the list of qualifying maladies. The program is accepting written submissions, petitions, and testimony from the public until December 12 and will deliberate on the issue in January. If it approves adding new conditions, that's just the first step. Click on the link for all the bureaucratic details.

Florida Advocates Announce Plans for a 2016 Initiative. United for Care, the group behind this year's medical marijuana initiative that came up just short, has announced it will try again in 2016. "We are swiftly mobilizing a new petition push to get medical marijuana'' on the 2016 ballot, United for Care director Ben Pollara told supporters this week in a fund raising announcement. This year's Measure 2 won 57% of the vote, but it needed 60% because it was a constitutional amendment. It looks like the group is going to go the constitutional amendment route again, despite the higher bar it creates.

Law Enforcement                                                                      

Citizen Video Captures Denver Police Beating Drug Suspect, Knocking Down Pregnant Wife; Cops Tried to Destroy Evidence. Denver resident Levi Frasier happened upon two police officers attacking a man on the ground and began recording with his tablet computer. Police were repeatedly punching the man in the head, and when his seven-month pregnant wife approached the scene, one of the officers swept her legs out from under her, dropping her to the ground. When police noticed Frasier recording the scene, they seized his tablet without his consent or a warrant and erased the video. But Frazier had software that automatically uploaded his videos to the cloud, and now he has made it available to a local TV station, which is raising many questions about the incident. Click on the link to see the video and the TV station's investigative report.

One Colorado Town's Horribly Out of Control Snitch-Driven Drug Busts. The Denver alternative weekly Westword has a lengthy investigative report on a series of drug busts in the town of Trinidad that repeatedly wrapped up innocent people based on the word of confidential informants who stood to benefit from snitching out others. Most of the cases have now been dismissed, but not without severe damage to the innocent. Local police and prosecutors seem not to care much. Click on the link to read the whole damning piece.

Sentencing

Drug Defelonization Bill to Be Filed in Washington State.  State Reps. Sherry Appleton (D-Bainbridge Island) and Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle) will reintroduce legislation to make drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The bill will be identical to House Bill 2116, which didn't pass this year. The effort is being supported by Sensible Washington.

International

Cannabis Cafe Quietly Operating in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A members-only marijuana consumption club, the High Life Social Club, has been open for business since early September. The club doesn’t allow pot smoking, just vaporizing, nor does it actually sell marijuana—it's a BYOB (bring your own buds) operation, and local police seem to be okay with it. The only requirement for membership is a payment of $5 and an ID showing you are over 18. 

Chronicle AM: DC Pot Bill Moves, Seattle MedMJ Plan, BC Prescription Heroin, Malta Drug Decrim, More (11/25/14)

A marijuana tax and regulate bill advances in DC, a legalization bill gets filed in Georgia, Seattle's mayor has a plan to regulate medical marijuana, prescription heroin is coming to Vancouver, Malta is ready to decriminalize drug possession, and more. Let's get to it:

Pharmaceutical diacetylmorphine AKA diamorphine AKA heroin. Now on prescription for some in Vancouver. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Committee Approves Tax and Regulate Bill. The council's Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs today voted in favor of legislation to tax, regulate, and license the production, distribution, and sale of marijuana in the nation's capital. The bill is B20-466, the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act. Movement on the bill comes just three weeks after DC voters overwhelmingly approved the Measure 71 marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative. That initiative didn't address taxation and regulation because it could not do so under DC law, which leaves such moves to the council. And the council is moving.

Georgia State Senator Files Legalization, Medical Marijuana Bills. State Sen. Curt Thompson (D-Norcross) Monday pre-filed bills to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana. SR 6 is a resolution calling for a state constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, while SB 7 is a full-fledged medical marijuana bill that would allow patients to grow their own and possess up to two ounces, allow registered caregivers to grow for patients, and allow for dispensaries.

New Mexico State Representative Talks Pot Legalization. A marijuana legalization bill died in the legislature this year, and prospects for passage in the incoming, even more heavily Republican legislature next year are not good. But that's not stopping Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Las Cruces). He says the state needs to have the legalization conversation, and he's making his case today during a meeting of the interim Health and Human Services Committee. Click on the link for some McCamley quotes.

Medical Marijuana

Seattle Mayor Releases Medical Marijuana Plan. Mayor Ed Murray's office Monday unveiled its plan for regulating medical marijuana collective gardens and dispensaries. The plan would create two classes of collective gardens. Class 1 would operate dispensaries, while Class 2 would not and is subject to fewer regulatory restrictions. Under state law, recreational marijuana is regulated at the state level, but medical marijuana is not. While efforts to regulate medical are likely in the state legislature next year, Murray said even if they pass, they wouldn't go into effect until 2016, so the city is moving to regulate now.

International

Australia's Queensland to Toughen Penalties for Drug Dealers in Fatal Overdoses. The Queensland state government is set to introduce a bill today that would compel courts to consider the death of a drug user an aggravating factor in sentencing of drug dealers. Attorney General Jarrod Bleijie said the bill was inspired by a case last year in which a man was sentenced only to probation after supplying a shot of morphine to a minor who died of an overdose.

Prescription Heroin Coming to Vancouver. Doctors in Vancouver have received the first shipment of prescription heroin to be used by former participants in a clinical heroin maintenance trial. In all, 120 severely addicted people have been approved by Health Canada to receive the drugs. The first shipment will begin to be administered this week to the first 26 participants. The patients will go to a clinic two or three times a day to receive and inject the drug. They must then wait at the clinic for at least 20 minutes to nurses can monitor them. The project is an outgrowth of the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI) and the follow-up Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALOME).

Chile Celebrates Fourth Legalize Festival. Thousands of people attended the fourth annual Legalize festival in Santiago Monday. Part pot party, part political protest, the festival includes expositions, panels, and live music. Ancient British rockers Deep Purple were among the bands playing yesterday.

Malta Ponders Bill to Decriminalize Drug Possession. A major drug reform bill, the Drug Dependence Bill, which would decriminalize the first-time possession of drugs, went to parliament Monday. First offenders would face only fines, but repeat offenders would have to appear before a Drug Offender Rehabilitation Board and could be ordered to drug treatment if appropriate. People could grow one marijuana plant without being subject to mandatory jail time, and the bill would also allow for the use of medical marijuana. 

Chronicle AM: OR Pot Tax Battle, MA Mandatory Minimums Under Fire, More (11/19/14)

Oregon cities will fight to be allowed to tax marijuana, the CRS says state-level legalization leaves the US vulnerable to criticism on international drug treaties, federal reform bills pick up more sponsors, Hawaii medical marijuana patients get some rental protections, Iran is fine with executing drug traffickers, and more. Let's get to it:

Iran says drug traffickers deserve to be executed. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Research Service Says Legalization Leaves US Vulnerable to Charges It Violates International Drug Treaties. In a report released this week, the Congressional Research Service said state-level marijuana legalization challenges the international drug treaties, but that legalization in the District of Columbia would be the most direct affront because Congress has oversight over DC laws and the ability to void them. "This line of reasoning suggests that if Initiative 71 is permitted to take effect, this inaction by the federal government may strengthen the [International Narcotics Control] Board's argument that the United States has not fulfilled its commitments under the Single Convention," the report said. Congress could challenge DC legalization, but it appears there is little interest in doing so.

Oregon Cities Seek to Tax Marijuana. The League of Oregon Cities says it will ask the legislature to amend the voter-approved Measure 91 legalization initiative to explicitly allow local taxes imposed before the measure was approved earlier this month. Measure 91 sponsors say they will oppose the move because it could drive prices up high enough to encourage users to continue to resort to the black market. The legislature is considering forming a joint committee to consider this and regulatory issues in the wake of Measure 91's passage. Measure 91 allows for the state to tax marijuana, but not localities. Some 70 Oregon localities passed tax measures before Measure 91 was approved.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act Picks Up New Cosponsors. The bill, HR 5526, would amend the Controlled Substance Act to remove cannabidiol (CBD) and "therapeutic hemp" from the definition of marijuana. "Therapuetic hemp" is defined as marijuana plants containing less than 0.3% THC. The bill was introduced by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) and now has 36 cosponsors -- 20 Democrats and 16 Republicans. The latest are Reps. Jimmy Duncan (R-TN), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Austin Scott (R-GA). The bill has been assigned to subcommittees of the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce committees.

Hawaii Law Protecting Medical Marijuana Patient Housing Rights Goes Into Effect. As of this month, a new law voids provisions in state rental agreements that previously allowed for tenants to be evicted based on their status as registered medical marijuana patients. The Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii fought for and now applauds this step toward protecting patient rights. The law does not, however, protect people living in government-subsidized housing.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, HR 5212, would strengthen protections against asset forfeiture and require that seizures be proportional to the offense. It was sponsored by Rep. Tim Walhberg (R-MI) and now has 20 cosponsors -- 15 Republicans and five Democrats. The latest is Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA). The bill is before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Drug Treatment

Federal Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act Picks Up New Cosponsors. The bill, S 2389, was introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). It would provide grants to community-based anti-drug coalitions, create treatment instead of incarceration programs, and provide for evidence-based opioid treatment interventions, among other provisions. It now has six cosponsors -- four Democrats and two Republicans. The latest are Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Al Franken (D-MN). It is before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sentencing

Federal Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up New Cosponsors. The bill, HR 3383, was introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and would allow federal judges to sentence most drug offenders without regard to mandatory minimum sentences. It would also allow crack cocaine offenders sentenced before 2010 to seek sentence reductions. It now has 55 cosponsors -- 36 Democrats and 19 Republicans, and is before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Federal Second Chance Reauthorization Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, HR 3465, was introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and would expand federal grants to aid former prisoners reentering society. It has 45 cosponsors -- 37 Democrats and eight Republicans. The latest is Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY). It is before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Massachusetts Chief Justice Renews Call for End to Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenders. After a visit to Worcester Trial Court to meet with local court officials and employees, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants reiterated an earlier call to abolish mandatory minimums for drug offenders. He said he wants "individualized, evidence-based" sentencing. "Everybody sort of feels that the drug problem is not getting any better. I think everybody recognizes that we're not going to incarcerate ourselves out of the problem," he said.

Massachusetts Criminal Justice Panel Recommends Eliminating Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenders. The Special Commission to Study the Commonwealth's Criminal Justice System has recommended ending mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offenses in the state. It is also calling for parole eligibility for all inmates who have served at least two-thirds of the lower end of their sentences, except for those convicted of murder or manslaughter. The commission is working on a report for incoming Gov. Charlie Baker (R). Baker signaled support for ending mandatory minimums for drug offenders during the campaign.

International

Iran Rejects Criticism of Its Resort to the Death Penalty for Drug Traffickers. Iranian Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi Tuesday rejected criticism from human rights campaigners and UN human rights bodies over its frequent executions of drug traffickers. "We do not accept the statements made by the UN human rights bodies that drug-related convicts should not be executed," he said. He added that anyone who smuggles or deals drugs deserves to be executed.

Report on Drug Policy Progress in Asia. The Open Society Foundations Global Drug Policy Program has published "Moving the Needle on Drug Policy in Asia," which examines innovations in drug policy in an area that boasts some of the world's harshest drug policies. The report looks at harm reduction programs in Taiwan and drug treatment programs in Malaysia. Click on the title link to read it.

Chronicle AM: NYC Council Head Says Legalize, UT Drug Defelonization Move, Burma Opium, More (11/14/14)

New York's city council speaker says legalize it, there are medical marijuana moves in Connecticut and Maryland, a Utah commission suggests defelonizing drug possession, a Peruvian petition seeks to end arrests for drug use, which is not a crime in Peru, and more. Let's get to it:

image from the Peruvian petition drive campaign to stop illegal drug use arrests
Marijuana Policy

New York City Council Speaker Says Legalize It. Melissa Mark-Viverito, speaker of the New York City Council, has come out for marijuana legalization. "It's not something we can just do randomly, but with a thought process, and looking how it's being implemented in other areas. But I do support the legalization of marijuana," she said in response to a reporter's question. "States are speaking. Based on the conversations that we see happening nationally, and how people feel about it, I think that it's just something that is appropriate at this time." At least four other council members, including Rafael Espinal, Stephen Levin, Mark Levine, and Jumaane Williams, have also pronounced in favor of freeing the weed.

Medical Marijuana

San Diego Moves Ahead on Shutting Down Unpermitted Dispensaries. San Diego officials forced yet another unpermitted dispensary to shut down Thursday after shutting down four others three weeks ago. About 50 unpermitted dispensaries still operate in the city, which is going to allow permitted dispensaries to begin operating early next year.

Maryland Commission Approves Medical Marijuana Regulations. The commission charged with drafting the regulations approved them Thursday, but they still need to be approved by a legislative panel and the state's health secretary. The approval came after a delay last month, when some critics said fees for growers and dispensaries were too high. They still ain't cheap: Fifteen licensed growers will have to pay $250,000 every two years, while dispensaries will have to pay $80,000 every two years. The program isn't expected to be operational until 2016.

South Carolina Senator Will Introduce Medical Marijuana Bill. State Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), who sponsored a successful low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana bill this year, said Thursday he will sponsor a full-fledged medical marijuana bill next year. He made the announcement at a meeting of the state Medical Marijuana Study Committee at Clemson University.

Connecticut to Consider Adding New Qualifying Conditions for Medical Marijuana. The state Department of Consumer Protection is considering whether to expand the state's quite restrictive list of qualifying medical conditions to include sickle cell anemia, Tourette's syndrome, "failed back syndrome," severe psoriasis, and psoriatic arthritis. The Board of Physicians will hold a public hearing on the matter on November 26. Click on the title link for more information.

Asset Forfeiture

The Orange County Register Calls for Federal Asset Forfeiture Reform. In a Thursday editorial, The Orange County Register wrote that one way a divided Congress could show some bipartisanship is by passing asset forfeiture reform legislation. "Civil asset forfeiture hasn't made many headlines until this year. But its very obscurity has bred a degree of corruption that badly undermines the integrity of law enforcement -- from local police all the way to the FBI," the newspaper noted, calling the process "rife with abuse." The suburban Los Angeles daily, California's 5th largest circulation newspaper, also said asset forfeiture too often resembled "literal highway robbery -- committed by the very people charged to serve and protect." The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (HR 5212) is pending in the Congress.

Harm Reduction

Report on the 10th National Harm Reduction Coalition Conference. The Harm Reduction Coalition's 10th national conference took place late last month in Baltimore. Click on the title link to get a lengthy and informative report on it from the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition's Tessie Castillo.

Sentencing

Utah Crime Commission Calls for Defelonzing Drug Possession. In a report released Thursday, the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Commission rolled out a package of recommendations for controlling prison population growth, including making first-time drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony. All of the report's recommendations were approved unanimously by the commission. Now, it will be up to the legislature to enact them.

International

Another Year of Rising Opium Production in Burma. The Irawaddy Journal and Magazine has a lengthy report on this year's opium crop in the Shan state. Production is up for the sixth year in a row, and Burma now accounts for 18% of global opium production, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). "We could not grow any other plants here to make a living, except poppy. If they [the government] ban it, we will have no other jobs," said a 50-year-old villager. A good read; check it out.

Petition Urging Peruvian Government to Stop Arresting People for Drug Use, Which is Not a Crime. Drug use is not a crime under Peruvian law, but more than half of all drug trafficking charges are for drug use -- not drug trafficking. Activists in Peru have been working to get police to actually obey the law and not arrest drug users, but so far to no avail. Now, there is a petition directed at Interior Minister Daniel Urresti and the National Police, urging them to abide by the law. Click on the link to sign it. They are seeking 25,000 signatures, but only have 526 so far. Okay, make that 527 now.

Saudi Arabia Executes Another Drug Offender, 22nd This Year. A Pakistani man convicted of smuggling heroin into the kingdom in his intestines was beheaded in Kharj Thursday. Niaz Mohammed Ghulam Mohammed was the seventh person beheading for drug trafficking this month, and the 22nd of the year. Drug offenders account for about 40% of all Saudi executions so far this year.

Chronicle AM: Historic UK Drug Debate Looms, NYPD Ending Marijuana Possession Arrests, More (11/10/14)

Look out! Here comes the next wave of marijuana legalization efforts. Also, NYPD will stop its penny-ante pot arrests, Oregon DAs ponder dropping pot charges, the FBI's annual arrest figures are out, the ACLU gets $50 million to fight overincarceration, Britain awaits a historic debate on drug policy, and more. Let's get to it:

The election was only last week, but eyes are already turning to 2015 and 2016. (www.regulateri.org)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada 2016 Legalization Initiative Ready to Hand in Signatures. The Nevada Coalition to Regulate Marijuana says it will turn in 170,000 signatures Wednesday for its proposed 2016 initiative to legalize marijuana. It needs 102,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. This is a Marijuana Policy Project effort.

Oregon Prosecutors to Rethink Pending Pot Cases. Although marijuana possession won't be legal in the state until July 2015, prosecutors in some of its most populous counties say they will revisit pending marijuana cases in light of last week's legalization victory at the polls. DAs in Clackamas (Oregon City), Multnomah (Portland), and Washington (Hillsboro) counties all said they are trying to figure out how to proceed.

Rhode Island Activists Aim to Legalize It in 2015. Which will be the first Northeastern state to legalize marijuana? Rhode Island activists organized into Regulate Rhode Island want their state to be the one. They are putting together a coalition to try to push a bill to tax and regulate marijuana through the General Assembly next year. The bill died in the legislature this year. This is a Marijuana Policy Project effort.

NYPD to Stop Arrests for Minor Marijuana Offenses. The NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced today that the department will quit arresting people for low-level marijuana possession. NYPD has been arresting tens of thousands of people each year, but in the face of withering criticism, it will now begin issuing tickets instead. But people caught smoking pot in public will continue to face arrest.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Calls for Drug Testing for Unemployment, Food Stamps. Newly reelected Republican Gov. Scott Walker is calling drug testing of people seeking public benefits, including unemployment insurance. He and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) both say it will be a priority in the coming legislative session. Walker and Vos haven't unveiled an actual proposal, but any bill that calls for mandatory, suspicionless drug testing is certain to face constitutional challenges.

Law Enforcement

Pot Arrests Drop, But Still 1.5 Million Drug Arrests Last Year. More than 1.5 million people were arrested for drug offenses in the US last year, and more than 693,000 of those for marijuana offenses. The figures come from the FBI's 2013 Uniform Crime Report, which was released today. Marijuana arrests have declined from peaks early in this century. In 2008, there were a record 872,000 marijuana arrests, so pot busts have declined by slightly more than 20% since then. But arrests for other drug offenses continue apace, actually increasingly slightly last year. Still, because of the decline in marijuana arrests, the overall number of drug arrests dropped by about 50,000.

Sentencing

ACLU Gets $50 Million to Fight to Reduce Incarceration. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been awarded a $50 million grant from George Soros's Open Society Foundations to mount an eight-year campaign to change criminal justice policies and reduce incarceration in this country. The group says there is an emerging bipartisan consensus to make reforms, although last week's election results may stiffen opposition. The ACLU wants to reduce imprisonment by 50% in the next years.

International

Missing Mexican Students Were Murdered By Drug Gang, Officials Say. Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said last Friday that 43 radical student teachers missing for more than a month in Iguala, Guerrero, had been murdered by a drug gang working with the wife of the mayor of the city. Murillo said the students were killed and their bodies burned, with the remains scattered in a local river. The announcement of the students' fate has not, however, quieted outrage in the country, where corruption and impunity are major issues. Demonstrators torched the wooden front doors of the National Palace in Mexico City Saturday night and were blocking the Acapulco airport Monday, among other actions.

Former Chilean President Calls for Drug Decriminalization. In an interview last Friday, former President Ricardo Lagos said decriminalizing marijuana -- and possibly even cocaine -- possession was the best way to reduce both prohibition-related crime and drug use. Start with marijuana, he said. "After one or two years we will see if we dare to legalize cocaine. It starts with a major prevention campaign and with providing non-prison punishment for those who are incarcerated today, depending on the magnitude of their offenses," Lagos proposed. "The only thing that's clear to me is that there were 10,000 drug arrests per year in Chile in 2002 and 10 years later it's multiplying by eight, reaching 82,000. Chile needs to grow up," he said. Lagos was president of the country from 2000 to 2006.

In Historic Move, British Parliament to Debate Drug Policy. The House of Commons will debate Britain's drug policies for three hours this coming Thursday. It is the first time Parliament has taken up the topic since passage of the Misuse of Drugs Act -- the current law -- four decades ago. The debate comes as Britain's governing coalition has been sundered on the issue, with the junior partner Liberal Democrats coming out loudly for drug decriminalization and the senior partner Conservatives firmly holding the line against any reforms.

Australia's New South Wales Wants Random Drug Testing of Drivers. The New South Wales state government has introduced a bill that would allow police to randomly drug test drivers for the presence of marijuana, amphetamines, and ecstasy. The tests would be done with a saliva swab.

Chronicle AM: Pot Legalization Trifecta, CA Sentencing Reform Passes, FL MedMJ Fails, More (11/5/14)

Marijuana wins in Alaska, DC, and Oregon; medical marijuana barely loses in Florida, California defelonizes drug possession offenses, New Jersey reforms the bail system, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy        

Alaska Legalizes Marijuana. In a trifecta for marijuana legalization initiatives Tuesday, Alaska has joined Oregon and Washington, DC, in voting to free the weed. That makes it the fourth state to do so. It won with 52% of the vote. Measure 2 allows adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants (three mature). It also allows individual growers to possess the fruits of their harvest. It will set up a complete system of commercial marijuana cultivation, processing, and distribution under the purview of the Alcohol Control Board -- or, if the legislature chooses to create it, a Marijuana Control Board.

Oregon Legalizes Marijuana. Oregon has become the third state to legalize marijuana. Voters Tuesday approved Measure 91, which will legalize personal marijuana possession and cultivation and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. According to election results compiled by The Oregonian, with two-thirds of the votes counted, the initiative was winning with 53.7% of the vote. [Update: Measure 91 finished up with an even more impressive 55.9%.] Under Measure 91, adults 21 and over will be able to possess a half-pound of pot and grow up to four plants. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will be charged with drafting regulations and overseeing implementation of the will of the voters. It will act in consultation with the state Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Health Authority.

Washington, DC, Legalizes Marijuana. Voters in Washington, DC, today overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, which will make it legal for adults to possess and cultivate small amounts of marijuana in our nation’s capital. Partial election results from the DC Board of Elections Tuesday night had the initiative winning handily with around two-thirds of the vote. It was at 64.5% with 11% of precincts reporting at 10pm, the lowest figure of the day. [Update: Initiative 71 finished up with 64.7%.] That was enough for supporters to call the election. Because of District law, the initiative could address legal marijuana commerce. That is the purview of the DC city council, which has already demonstrated its friendliness to marijuana law reform by passing decriminalization earlier this year. The council is already considering a bill to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana commerce.

GOP Congressmen Threatens to Try to Block DC Legalization. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is saying he will try to block the legalization initiative just passed by DC voters. "Actions by those in DC will result in higher drug use among teens," Harris told The Washington Post. "I will consider using all resources available to a member of Congress to stop this action, so that drug use among teens does not increase." Earlier this year, Harris got the House Appropriations Committee to back a rider that would have blocked the DC city council's decision to decriminalize marijuana, but that rider didn't make it into the final DC appropriations bill.

South Portland, Maine, Votes to Legalize; Lewiston Does Not. Voters in South Portland voted 52% to 48% to approve a local legalization initiative, but voters in Lewiston did not. The measure there got only 45% of the vote. Portland, the state's largest city, passed a similar measure last year.

Massachusetts PPQs on Marijuana Legalization Pass. Non-binding public policy questions asking voters whether they approved telling their elected representatives they wanted to legalize marijuana passed in all 14 districts where they were on the ballot. Activists have been placing marijuana reform PPQs on the ballot each election since 2000, and they've never lost one. This year, most passed with more than 70% approval; the lowest passed with 54%.

Michigan Towns Split on Marijuana Initiatives. Marijuana legalization, decriminalization, or lowest law enforcement priority measures were on the ballot in 11 towns. They won in Saginaw, Berkeley, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Port Huron, and Mt. Pleasant. They lost in Lapeer, Harrison, Onaway, Frankfort, and Clare. The state's largest cities have already approved similar measures.

New Mexico Non-Binding Decriminalization Initiatives Pass Big in Bernalillo, Santa Fe Counties. Non-binding, county level decriminalization initiatives won big in the state's largest and third-largest counties. Bernalillo County (Albuquerque) voted 59% in favor, while Santa Fe County (Santa Fe) produced an impressive 73% in favor.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Wins Majority, But Not Enough to Pass. Florida's Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative was defeated in today's election, even though it won a majority of votes. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the initiative needed 60% of the vote to be approved. According to the Florida Division of Elections, with 96% of precincts reporting Tuesday night, Amendment 2 had 57.52% of the vote.

Mixed Bag for California Local Initiatives. Local measures to tax marijuana businesses passed in two Riverside County towns, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs, as well as in Santa Cruz city and county and Shasta Lake City. But measures to loosen restrictions on cultivation failed in Butte, Lake, Nevada, and Shasta Counties, and measures to allow dispensaries were rejected in Blythe, La Mesa, and Encinitas. The town of Weed approved dispensaries, but also approved an outdoor cultivation ban.

Drug Testing

California Initiative to Drug Test Doctors Fails. Proposition 46, was drafted and backed by trial lawyers and was actually primarily about increasing the caps on medical malpractice liability payments. Drug testing doctors was added on after it proved popular in focus groups. Not surprisingly, Prop 46 was opposed by a powerful and deep-pocketed set of medical interests in what was one of the most expensive initiative campaigns in state history. It ended up with only 32% of the vote. [Update: With the rest of the votes counted, Prop 47 won with 58.7%, and Prop 46 lost with 32.8%.]

Sentencing Policy

California Initiative to Turn Drug Possession Felonies Into Misdemeanors Passes. Proposition 47, will change drug possession (and some other low-level non-violent offenses) from felonies to misdemeanors. It is viewed as a significant step in reducing mass incarceration and a retreat from the war on drugs. The popular vote in favor of Prop 47 comes just two years after voters approved another sentencing reform initiative, that one reforming the state's notorious "three strikes" law. Prop 47 got 57% of the vote.

New Jersey Bail Reform Initiative Passes. New Jersey voters have approved Public Question No. 1 to reform New Jersey’s bail system.  The narrowly-worded question allows judges to deny bail to dangerous individuals, but it ushers in broader bail reform because it is linked to comprehensive legislation, already signed by the governor, that overhauls the state’s broken bail system. The legislation implements wide-ranging reforms including non-monetary release options for low-risk individuals; a system under which pretrial release decisions are based on risk rather than resources; the use of risk assessments for suspects enabling courts to make individualized determinations of what conditions of release are appropriate; establishment of a pretrial services unit within the court system that will provide appropriate levels of monitoring and counseling for those awaiting trial.

Law Enforcement

NYPD Ordered to Quit Doing Marijuana "Buy Busts." The NYPD has been ordered by the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) to quit doing penny ante pot "buy and bust" operations. The head of each borough's dope squad was summoned to NYPD headquarters last week and told to knock it off.  Police were told to focus on more dangerous drugs. The New York Post published the story, replete with unnamed law enforcement sources complaining about the move. 

California Voters OK Drug Defelonization, Reject Doctor Drug Testing

Voters in California enthusiastically approved an important sentencing reform initiative Tuesday, but overwhelmingly rejected an initiative that would have imposed drug testing on doctors in the state.

The sentencing initiative, Proposition 47, will change drug possession (and some other low-level non-violent offenses) from felonies to misdemeanors. It is viewed as a significant step in reducing mass incarceration and a retreat from the war on drugs. The popular vote in favor of Prop 47 comes just two years after voters approved another sentencing reform initiative, that one reforming the state's notorious "three strikes" law.

The failed initiative that would have imposed drug testing on doctors, Proposition 46, was drafted and backed by trial lawyers and was actually primarily about increasing the caps on medical malpractice liability payments. Drug testing doctors was added on after it proved popular in focus groups. Not surprisingly, Prop 46 was opposed by a powerful and deep-pocketed set of medical interests in what was one of the most expensive initiative campaigns in state history.

According to election figures from the California Secretary of State, with 45% of the vote counted just before midnight Tuesday, Prop 47 was winning with 56.6% of the vote, while Prop 46 was getting trounced with only 32.3%. [Update: With the rest of the votes counted, Prop 47 won with 58.7%, and Prop 46 lost with 32.8%.]

The Drug Policy Alliance, whose lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, contributed to the smartly named Californians for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools "yes on Prop 47" campaign, pronounced itself pleased with the results.

"The overwhelming support for this reform sends a powerful message nationally, demonstrating that voters are not just ready but eager to reduce prison populations in ways that can enhance public safety," said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann.

Under Prop 47, up to 20,000 people doing state prison time for simple drug possession will be eligible to seek sentence cuts, and new prison admissions should drop by between 40,000 and 60,000 a year. And hundreds of thousands of Californians with drug possession felony records will be eligible to have those records automatically expunged, removing barriers to employment, housing, public benefits, and educational opportunities.

The state's county jails, which are chafing under the state's corrections "realignment," will also see reductions in prisoners, with somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 jail beds freed up by Prop 47. Counties look to save somewhere around half a billion dollars a year, according to a brief by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

"We’ve been trying to get simple drug possession reclassified as a misdemeanor through Sacramento for years, facing first an unwillingness from the legislature and then last year’s veto by Governor Brown," said DPA state director Lynne Lyman. "With Prop 47, California voters took the issue of smart justice into their own hands. If the people lead, the leaders will follow."

CA
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Chronicle AM: Drug Issues on the Ballot, Guam Approves MedMJ, UK Drug Policy Row Continues, More (11/4/2014)

We're waiting for election results--except for Guam, where medical marijuana has already won--Britain's governing coalition continues to implode on drug policy, Paraguay tries to crack down, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy        

It's Election Day! Marijuana Policy Reform is on the Ballot in Three States, DC, and in Various Local Elections. Voters in Alaska, Oregon, and DC are voting on marijuana legalization, while voters in Florida are voting on medical marijuana. Click on the title link for details on the various state-level initiatives. Local marijuana-related ballot issues are on the ballot in five states. Stay tuned to the Chronicle; we'll be posting election results as they come in through the evening.

Medical Marijuana

Guam Voters Approve Medical Marijuana. In the first election results of the day, voters in Guam have approved a medical marijuana initiative. With all precincts counted, the Joaquin Conception II Compassionate Use Act of 2013 passed with 56% of the vote. The legislatively-sponsored referendum overcame both political inertia and legal challenges to make it to the ballot this year. Guam now becomes the first US territory to approve medical marijuana.

Iowa Board of Pharmacy to Hold Hearing on Medical Marijuana. The board, which has already said the state should be moving toward allowing medical marijuana, is considering whether to make new recommendations to legislators. A board committee will meet November 17 to hear testimony. Among those addressing the committee will be long-time Iowa medical marijuana activist Carl Olsen, whose petition to the board started the ball rolling. Click on the link for meeting details.

Drug Testing

It's Election Day! Drug Testing Doctors is on the Ballot in California. In California, an initiative designed to increase the caps on medical malpractice awards is catching the attention not only of powerful legal and medical interests, but also drug reformers. That's because, in what opponents call a cynical ploy, the malpractice initiative leads with a provision to impose drug testing on doctors. Proposition 46, whose controversial ballot title is "Drug and Alcohol Testing of Doctors, Medical Negligence Lawsuits. Initiative Statute," would, if passed, make California the first state in the nation to impose drug testing on doctors. Click on the title link to read our feature story on the initiative.

Sentencing Policy

It's Election Day! Defelonization of Drug Possession (and Other Offenses) is on the Ballot in California. Proposition 47, the smartly named Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, is sponsored by two prominent California law enforcement figures, former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne and current San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, and the campaign is being led by Californians for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools. It has lined up an impressive array of supporters. The initiative would attempt to address the state's chronic over-incarceration problems by moving six low-level, nonviolent crimes from felony/wobblers to misdemeanors. A "wobbler" is an offense that can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor. Among the included offenses is simple drug possession. About 10,000 people are arrested on drug possession felonies each year in the state. Click on the link to read our feature story about the initiative.

International

Paraguay Moves to Crack Down on Drug Trafficking and Corruption. Members of the government's legislative, executive, and judicial branches met Monday and agreed on measures to thwart drug trafficking and to prevent people with links to the traffic from seeking public office. The move comes after the murder of a reporter covering the drug trade two weeks ago. In addition to barring political participation, the government agreed to move all drug trafficking trials to the capital, Asuncion. Meeting participants also discussed asset forfeiture measures, but didn't act on them. Paraguay is South America's largest marijuana producer.

British Lib Dem Minister Resigns Over Drug Policy Differences With Tories. Differences over drug policy continue to roil Britain's governing coalition. Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker has resigned as Home Office minister after coalition senior partners, the Conservatives, rejected plans to liberalize the country's drug laws. Baker said support for a "rational, evidence-based policy" was nonexistent at the Home Office and that working with Home Secretary Theresa May on the issue was like "walking through mud." The Lib Dems have been called for drug decrimilization; the Tories aren't interested. 

Chronicle AM: OR Measure 91 Looking Good, FL Amendment 2 in Trouble, Iran Drug Executions, More (11/3/14)

It's looking good in Oregon, not so good in Florida; Guam's archbishop comes out against medical marijuana, a conservative PAC funded by the Koch brothers is seeking to peel off "stoner" votes from Democrats, there's cannabis club news from Barcelona and Uruguay, Iran drug executions are in the news, and more. Let's get to it:

Execution by hanging in Iran. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy        

Oregon Measure 91 At 52% in Latest Poll. It looks like Oregon will be the next state to legalize marijuana. The latest SurveyUSA poll, released last week, has the Measure 91 legalization initiate winning with 52% of the vote. Only 41% said they were voting against it. That is generally in line with other recent polls. Late in September, SurveyUSA had Measure 91 under 50%, but leading by four points, with 16% undecided. In mid-October, an Oregon Public Broadcasting poll had the measure winning with 52%, again with 41% opposed. Only one recent poll, an Oregonian poll last week, had Measure 91 trailing. In that survey, 44% were in favor and 46% opposed, with 9% undecided. But the results were well within the poll's +/-5% margin of error, and it was also weighted toward older voters.

Medical Marijuana

Another Bad News Poll for Florida's Amendment 2. Yet another poll is out showing the medical marijuana initiative, Amendment 2, failing to achieve the 60% of the vote necessary to win.  A new SEA Polling and Strategic Design poll has support for the initiative at 55%. The initiative needs 60% because it is a constitutional amendment. Other recent polls have also shown the initiative coming up short.

On Eve of Election, Guam Archbishop Urges "No" Vote on Medical Marijuana. Guam Catholic Archbishop Anthony Apuron called over the weekend for his flock to vote against the US territory's legislatively-sponsored medical marijuana initiative. Apuron cited Pope Francis's concerns that marijuana is a drug and its effects on users. The island is about 85% Catholic.

Illinois Begins Second Round of Patient Registrations. The Illinois Department of Public Health has begun a second round of patient registrations for the state's medical marijuana program. As of last Saturday, people whose last names begin with M through Z can apply for a patient card. Patients whose last names begin with the letters A through L have been able to registers for several weeks already.

Drug Policy

Conservative PAC Courts "Stoner" Vote in Bid to Peel Votes from Democrats. In what The Nation's John Nichols calls "the most cynical ploy" of this year's election season, a Koch brothers-supported group, the American Future Fund (AFF), is using social media campaigns hailing marijuana legalization, "our progressive values," and third-party candidates to attack Democratic candidates and try to peel away Democratic votes in key races. In North Carolina, an AFF ad targets Democratic US Senate candidate Kay Hagan: "Don’t even think about voting for Kay Hagan," the ad says. "She doesn’t share our values. You want legalization of marijuana, she’s against it. You want to stop sending our troops overseas, she voted for it. Vote Sean Haugh: He shares our progressive values: pro-legalization, pro-environment, more weed, less war." Haugh is the Libertarian candidate and could be the spoiler in this close race. Click on the link to read the whole piece; it's a real eye-opener.

International

Iran, Saudi Arabia Execute More Drug Offenders. Saudi Arabia beheaded two people for drug smuggling last week. Pakistani national Mohammed Gul Rahma was executed for heroin smuggling, while Saudi national Mohammed bin Noun bin Nasser Al Dhufairi was executed for smuggling amphetamine pills. Meanwhile in Iran, authorities last week hanged five people convicted of drug smuggling. They were identified only by their initials.

Iran Says Nearly All Executions are for Drug Trafficking. Responding to criticism from the United Nations over its routine resort to the death penalty, Iranian officials explained that almost all executions in the country were for drug offenses. The UN cited at least 852 executions between July 2013 and June 2014. According to Iran Human Rights Council President Javad Larijani, 93% of them were for illegal drug smuggling.

Barcelona to Bar Under-21s from Cannabis Clubs. The Catalonia parliamentary health commission is set to raise the minimum age for membership in cannabis clubs from 18 to 21 when it meets on Thursday. It is also expected to bar new clubs from opening near schools and day care centers. The new rules come after months of discussions between health officials, parliament, and club representatives in the wake of an August crackdown that saw 49 of the clubs closed. The remaining 300 clubs will now have to be licensed and will also have to wait 15 days before supplying marijuana to new members.

Registration Begins for Uruguay Cannabis Growers' Clubs. Registration has begun for marijuana growing clubs under the country's marijuana legalization law. Licensed clubs with up to 45 members will be able to grow 99 plants each year. People can already individually grow up to six plants at home. Under the law, each club member can produce a little over a pound (480 grams) a year.

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.)

Federal Sentencing Reforms Go Into Effect Today [FEATURE]

Federal drug sentencing reforms adopted earlier this year by the US Sentencing Commission went into effect today. They should result in tens of thousands of federal prisoners seeing their sentences cut and being released early, as well as ensuring that future offenders are not sentenced so harshly.

The Sentencing Commission, an independent body in the judicial branch which is charged with setting federal sentencing guidelines, voted unanimously in April to reduce the guidelines for most drug sentences. Then, in July, it voted—again unanimously—to make those sentencing reductions retroactive, meaning they will be applied to current federal drug prisoners.

Congress had an opportunity to disapprove of the sentencing reductions, but failed to act, so the changes are now in effect.

As of today, current federal drug prisoners can begin petitioning courts for sentence cuts based on what the new guidelines call for. If the courts determine they are eligible for the sentence cuts and a reduction is appropriate, the sentences will be reduced. That will result in some federal prisoners getting out early, but none will be released until a year from today.

The sentence cuts will not, though, reduce mandatory minimum sentences, which are set by Congress. Prisoners serving sentences longer than the mandatory minimum may win sentencing reductions, but not below the mandatory minimum.

(The federal sentencing reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums provides an overview page on the move and what it means, as well as FAQ page for prisoners and their families.)

For the past two decades, the Sentencing Commission has attempted to rein in the harshly punitive impulses in Congress that led it to impose lengthy prison sentences for even low-level drug offenses in the 1980s. The federal prison population has increased more than three-fold since 1980, driven largely by the war on drugs. According to the Bureau of Prisons, the 98,482 federal drug prisoners make up 48.8% of all federal prisoners.

The federal prison at Butner, NC. Will there be room at the inn? (bop.gov)
"The reduction in drug guidelines that becomes effective tomorrow represents a significant step toward the goal the Commission has prioritized of reducing federal prison costs and overcrowding without endangering public safety," Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission, said in a statement. "Commissioners worked together to develop an approach that advances the causes of fairness, justice, fiscal responsibility, and public safety, and I am very pleased that we were able to agree unanimously on this reasonable solution. I am also gratified that Congress permitted this important reform to go forward."

According to the Commission, more than 46,000 current drug prisoners will be eligible for sentence reductions through retroactive application of the revised sentencing guidelines. The Commission estimates that the sentence cuts will reduce the federal prison population by 6,500 within five years and more significantly as time goes on.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) applauded the sentencing reductions, and especially the Commission's move to apply them to current prisoners.

"It makes little sense, of course, to reform harsh sentencing laws proactively but not retroactively," said Ethan Nadelmann, DPA executive director. "But that’s what politicians do when they’re scared of allowing people out of prison early. The Sentencing Commission really had no choice but to rectify the moral absurdity of keeping people locked up based on sentences that are no longer the law. What they did was right and just."

"This is an important step toward undoing some of the worst harms of the drug war by allowing people to be reunited with their families," added DPA media relations manager Tony Papa, who served 12 years in prison for a nonviolent drug offense.

The US Sentencing Commission considers retroactivity at a meeting in May. (uscourts.gov)
While the Sentencing Commission has been working for years to address prison overcrowding and unduly harsh sentencing, recent years have also seen some advances in Congress. In 2010 Congress unanimously passed legislation reducing the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Bipartisan legislation reforming mandatory minimum sentencing, the Smarter Sentencing Act (S 1410), has already passed out of committee this year and is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate. Attorney General Eric Holder has made numerous changes this year, including directing U.S. Attorneys to charge certain drug offenders in a way that ensures they won’t be subject to punitive mandatory minimum sentencing.

Sentencing Commission Chair Judge Parris said Congress still needs to get around to passing comprehensive reforms.

"Only Congress can act to fully solve the crisis in federal prison budgets and populations and address the many systemic problems the Commission has found resulting from mandatory minimum penalties," she said. "I hope that Congress will act promptly to pass comprehensive sentencing reform legislation."

Maybe then we can actually reverse the decades-long trend of sustained growth in the federal prison population. Actually, thanks to reforms already passed by Congress, we may see the first decrease in the federal prison population announced next month, when the Bureau of Justice Statistics issues its annual prison population report. The preliminary numbers suggest that the population may have peaked in 2012.

This move by the Sentencing Commission will only accelerate that (presumed) trend, but will only result in sentence reductions for about half of incarcerated federal drug offenders. There is still more work to be done. 

Washington, DC
United States

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