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California Defelonization Initiative Appears Poised for Victory [FEATURE]

While the nation focuses on marijuana legalization initiatives in Alaska, the District of Columbia, and Oregon, a California initiative that would turn drug possession felonies into misdemeanors is quietly heading for a likely victory at the polls in November.

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, ranging from crime victims' groups to the Catholic Church and racial and social justice organizations.

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. (The others include shoplifting under $950, check forgery under $950, and petty theft or receipt of stolen property under $950.)

About 10,000 people are arrested on drug possession felonies each year in the state.

Passage of Prop 47 would also help the state get closer to meeting a looming deadline from the federal courts to shrink its prison population. A new study by the California Budget Project finds that Prop 47 would move in that direction by reducing the number of people sentenced to prison and by allowing those already serving time for such offenses to petition for resentencing in county jails.

In addition to reducing prison overcrowding, Prop 47 aims to reduce felony caseloads in the court system, thus freeing up criminal justice resources for more serious and violent crime. According to the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office, if the initiative passes, there would be "state and county criminal justice savings potentially in the high hundreds of millions of dollars annually."

Savings from a successful Prop 47 would be dedicated to investment in mental health and drug treatment (65%), K-12 school programs for at-risk youth (25%), and trauma recovery services for crime victims (10%). The impact could be substantial.

San Francisco's DA is a Prop 47 proponent. (wikimedia.org)
"This initiative is very important for California," said Anthony Thigpen, president of California Calls, an alliance of 31 community-based organizations across the state. "We need new safety priorities that stop wasting resources on over-incarceration and invest in treatment and prevention. It's better for state and local budgets, better for public safety and better for the health of all of our communities."

While mainly flying under the radar, Prop 47 has still managed to pick up popular support. A California Field Poll in June and July had the initiative winning with 57% of the vote. And just this week, the campaign got even better news. A Public Policy Institute of California poll released Tuesday had support for the initiative at 62%, with only 25% opposed.

It has also picked up financial support. According to the California secretary of state's office, Prop 47 campaign committees have taken in more than $3.4 million in donations (including more than $1.2 million from the Open Society Policy Center, $600,000 from the Atlantic Advocacy Fund, and several six-figure donations from individuals). And while the campaign has spent more than $2 million so far, it still has about $1.2 million in the bank right now, and will continue to fund raise to finance last-minute advertising.

If that is even necessary. Prop 47 has picked up organized opposition, in the form of the Californians Against Prop 47 campaign finance committee, but the committee, representing groups including the California Police Chiefs Association, the California Peace Officers Association, and the California Correctional Supervisors Association, has so far raised only $42,000. That doesn't buy a lot of TV ad time.

Opponents charge that Prop 47 would "release dangerous inmates," "tie judges' hands," and is "completely unnecessary" because the state's ongoing "realignment" is already shifting prisoners from the state to the county level. But the initiative's proponents rebut those charges, arguing that it "keeps dangerous criminals locked up," "prioritizes serious and violent crime," and "provides new funding for crime prevention and education."

California State Prison, Solano, and example of the state's voracious prison-industrial complex (cdcr.ca.gov)
"The reason I support this measure is simple: The more addiction and mental health services we provide to communities hardest hit by crime, the less likely another mom will find herself in my shoes. Having to tell your children that their daddy was shot and they will never see him again is something I wouldn't wish on anyone," said Dionne Wilson of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.

The group is a key part of the campaign and serves as a counterpoint to other crime survivors groups that oppose the initiative, such as Crime Victims United. That group has joined forces with law enforcement and the state district attorneys association to oppose Prop 47.

"When three out of four people go back to prison within three years -- and it's been that way for 30 years -- it's obvious that we need a new plan," Wilson continued. "This measure will save a ton of money that would be wasted on incarcerating nonviolent people for nonviolent crimes, which will then be reinvested into trauma care for victims, mental health services and drug treatment. I think that's what a sound public safety strategy looks like."

Prop 47 is also a response to the lack of action on the issue in Sacramento, or, more precisely, action thwarted in Sacramento. Last year, a defelonization bill sponsored by Sen. Jay Leno (D-San Francisco) passed the legislature, only to be vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

"Unable to get meaningful sentencing reform through Sacramento, this initiative is a tremendous opportunity to make responsible and significant fixes to our broken criminal justice system by allowing simple drug possession and other non-violent petty crimes to be treated appropriately as misdemeanors, avoiding the lifelong collateral consequences that go along with felony records and the unsustainable court and incarceration costs that accompany mass felonization in California," explained Lynne Lyman, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Prop 47 looks well-positioned to emerge victorious in November. But we're six weeks out now, and this is when initiative campaigns tend to heat up. The opposition is going to do its best to scare Californians into voting no, but it doesn't -- yet -- have enough money to make much of a media splash. At this point, it looks like California is on the verge of taking another big step toward addressing its chronic incarceration crisis.

CA
United States

Chronicle AM: MPP Files for 2016 in CA, Addiction Group Calls for FDA Head's Head, More (9/24/14)

MPP begins laying the groundwork for a 2016 legalization initiative in California, a new report examines the impact of pot law reforms, Pennsylvania Senate votes on medical marijuana today, anti-addiction activists target the FDA, and more. Let's get to it:

Chart from the CJCJ's report on the impact of marijuana law reforms.
Marijuana Policy

MPP Files Campaign Committee for 2016 California Initiative. And so it begins. The Marijuana Policy Project today filed with the California secretary of state to create a campaign committee to support a 2016 marijuana legalization ballot initiative. The group says the committee will be part of a broad coalition working to legalize marijuana in the nation's most populous state. That coalition will be working on an initiative draft in the coming months.

CJCJ Report Examines Impact of Marijuana Law Reforms, Supports Legalization Over Decriminalization. In a report released today, the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice examines the impact of pot law reforms in states that have either decriminalized or legalized the herb and calls legalization the best policy choice. The report is Reforming Marijuana Laws: Which Approach Best Reduces the Harms of Criminalization? A Five-State Analysis.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Headed for Senate Vote Today. The bill, which was amended yesterday in the Appropriations Committee to ban the use of vaporizers and to greatly narrow the list of allowed conditions for using medical marijuana, is set for a Senate floor vote today.

Heroin and Opiates

Pennsylvania Report Says Heroin Cheaper Than Beer. The Center for Rural Pennsylvania (an agency of the state legislature) has issued a report on opiate addiction in the Keystone State that finds that heroin is cheaper than beer and is sold through sophisticated retail networks. The report, Heroin: Combating this Growing Epidemic in Pennsylvania, recommends a variety of legislative actions, including passage of bills creating a statewide prescription drug database, "Good Samaritan" laws, and making the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone more available.

Anti-Addiction Activists Call on FDA Head to Resign. A group calling itself FED UP: A Coalition to End the Opioid Epidemic today released a letter calling for the resignation of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg because of "the FDA's continued approval of new, dangerous, high-dose opioid analgesics that are fueling high rates of addiction and overdose deaths." The group takes issue with the FDA's approval last year of the new opioid pain reliever Zohydro, but it also criticized the agency for approving new drugs that are actually designed to be harder to misuse, such as Targiniq, which combines oxycodone with naloxone. FDA spokeswoman Erica Jefferson defended Dr. Hamburg, saying she had to balance concerns about abuse and public safety with those about adequate access to pain medications. "Preventing prescription opioid abuse and ensuring that patients have access to appropriate treatments for pain are both top public health priorities for the FDA," Jefferson said in a statement.

Sentencing

California Defelonization Initiative Has Healthy Lead in New Poll. A poll released yesterday by the Public Policy Institute of California has the state's defelonization initiative, Proposition 47, winning with support at 62%. The initiative would turn drug possession felonies and some other low-level nonviolent offenses into misdemeanors.

International

Bermuda Activist Sues Premier Over Medical Marijuana. Attorney Alan Gordon has sued Premier Michael Dunkley as part of his campaign to ease access to medical marijuana on the island. Gordon accuses the government of creating a double standard by not arresting him for openly cultivating medical marijuana while prosecuting atheists and Rastafarians for the same offense.

Serbian Health Minister Supports Medical Marijuana. Serbian Health Minister Zlatibor Loncar has said marijuana provides "good results in medicine" and announced he will open a public debate on the issue. "The ministry would not prevent the introduction in medicine of anything that gives results for treatment, including marijuana. There are results showing that cannabis gives good results in medicine. We do not want to make decisions for one day, though. We want to meet people with all the details," he said.

Chronicle AM: Rahm Says Defelonize, Mex Prez Says Don't Legalize, Florida MedMJ Poll, More (9/23/14)

Thar's gold in them thar marijuana legalization laws, Seattle's prosecutor throws out pot possession tickets, Massachusetts medical marijuana advocates chastise the slow-moving state government, Rahm Emanuel wants to defelonize drug possession, and more. Let's get to it:

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel calls for the defelonization of drug possession. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Legal Marijuana Sales in DC Could Net Nearly $9 Million in Tax Revenues. A report from NerdWallet estimates that the District of Columbia could net nearly $9 million a year from taxes on the sales of marijuana -- if taxation and regulation is approved in the District. The DC marijuana initiative, Measure 71, does not include provisions for taxation and regulation because DC law precludes it from doing so, but a tax and regulate legalization bill is already before the city council. The NerdWallet report also includes marijuana tax revenue projections for all 50 states.

DC Council Advances Effort to Seal Marijuana Possession Records. The DC Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety voted unanimously last week to approve B20-467, a bill that would allow people to file motions to seal records for offenses that have since been legalized or decriminalized. DC decriminalized marijuana possession earlier this year and could legalize it in November if Measure 71 passes, which means many DC residents would be able to take advantage of the law if it passes.

Seattle Prosecutor Will Drop All Pot Possession Charges. City Attorney Pete Holmes said Monday will dismiss about a hundred pot possession tickets issued by the Seattle Police Department in the first half of this year -- because most of them were written by a single police officer who disagrees with the state's marijuana legalization law. That officer, Randy Jokela, has been temporarily reassigned.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Advocates Press State Leaders on Slow Implementation. Patients and advocates rallied Monday at the state house to put pressure on the Department of Health to speed up access to medical marijuana under the state's nearly two-year-old law. The rally was sponsored by the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, whose leader, Matthew Allen, told reporters that Gov. Deval Patrick (D) had not lived up to his responsibility to implement the will of the voters.

Florida Campaign Internal Poll Has Initiative at 69%. The United for Care campaign, the people behind the Measure 2 medical marijuana initiative, released an internal poll Monday that showed support for the initiative at 69%. Because the initiative is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to pass. The internal poll release came after several recent polls showed the initiative hovering at the edge of defeat.

Harm Reduction

Drug Czar to Open Next Month's National Harm Reduction Conference. Michael Botticelli, the acting director of the White House's Office on National Drug Control Policy, better known as the drug czar's office, will provide the opening remarks for the 10th National Harm Reduction Conference set for Baltimore a month from now. Click on the title link or the conference link to learn more.

Sentencing

Chicago Mayor Calls for Statewide Defelonization of Drug Possession Offenses. Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) today proposed before a General Assembly panel in Chicago that possession of up to a gram of any controlled substance be treated as a misdemeanor, not a felony, as is currently the case. Emanuel also proposed decriminalizing marijuana possession statewide. "It doesn't make sense that one arrest for a very small amount of a controlled substance can lead to a lifetime of struggles," Emanuel said. "It is time to put our sentencing policies in line with our values, reduce penalties for nonviolent, misdemeanor drug offenses so we don't put people in prison who need drug treatment."

International

Mexican President Opposes Marijuana Legalization. In an interview with Bloomberg News, President Enrique Pena Nieto said he opposes legalizing marijuana because that would be "opening the door to a large intrusion of drugs that is very damaging to the population." But he added that he was open to discussion on the issue. "I'm in agreement that we need to have a large debate in the hemisphere about the policies for this area, whether it's to tolerate or to legalize or to simply take a hemispherical definition," Pena Nieto said.

Peru Dynamiting Cocaine Plane Landing Strips, To No Avail. The Peruvian armed forces have been dynamiting clandestine airstrips in the world's number one coca growing region, the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM). But even though soldiers "cratered" 54 airstrips, Peru's counternarcotics chief, Gen. Vicente Romero, said that they were quickly repaired, with traffickers paying villagers up to $100 each to fill in the holes. Sometimes, he said, they get fixed overnight.

Iran Hangs 13 on Drug Charges. Iran has executed 13 people for drug crimes in the past week, including eight hanged in Shahab Prison in Kerman on September 18 and five, including two Pakistani women, hanged in Central Prison in Zahedan. Along with China and Saudi Arabia, Iran is one of the world's most prolific drug war executioners.

Chronicle AM: DC Pot Poll, NM Pot Poll, Molly Fry Petition, EU Sides with Bolivia on Coca, More (9/19/14)

A pair of marijuana polls have good news for DC, but not so good for New Mexico, there's a move on to get Dr. Molly Fry out of federal prison, Ohio employers are pushing drug testing for students, the EU sides with Bolivia -- not the US -- on that country's coca policy, and more. Let's get to it:

Dr. Molly Fry's supporters have started a petition drive seeking a pardon for the medical marijuana practitioner. (change.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Poll Has DC Initiative at 65%. A new Washington Post/NBC News/Marist poll has the DC marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative Measure 71 winning easily with the support of nearly two-thirds of likely voters. That's the highest number ever polled for an actual legalization initiative. Click on the poll link for more information.

New Poll Has Legalization Coming Up Short in New Mexico. An Albuquerque Journal poll suggests it may be a good thing New Mexicans aren't voting on legalization this year. The poll asked whether respondents supported legalizing marijuana for adults with a tax and regulation scheme similar to Colorado. Only 44% were in favor, with 50% opposed. Click on the title link for more information.

Medical Marijuana

Change.org Petition to Free Dr. Mollie Fry. California medical marijuana advocate Dr. Mollie Fry is sitting in federal prison for providing the drug to sick patients. Supporters have organized a Change.org petition seeking a pardon for her. As of this writing, there are only 27 signatures. You can add yours by clicking on the title link.

Drug Testing

Ohio Industry Groups Urge Schools to Drug Test Vocational Education Students. The Mahoning Valley Manufacturer's Coalition and the Youngstown/Warren Chamber of Commerce have sent a letter to schools in Columbiana, Mahoning, and Trumbull counties urging them to drug test students who enroll in vocational training programs. While somewhere between 20% and 30% of school districts nationwide subject some students to drug testing, this is the first time we've heard of employers directly lobbying schools to do so.

International

European Union Agrees With Morales, Not Obama, on Bolivia's Coca Policy. The Obama administration this week certified that Bolivia had "failed demonstrably" to live up to US drug policy mandates, but the European Union has joined Bolivian President Evo Morales in strongly disagreeing. "In my opinion, the work we have achieved has been successful, the results as well are visible in the successful and sustained reduction of the coca production in the country, and successes as well related with the prohibition," said Timothy Torlot, head of an EU delegation in Bolivia. "My experience here, working with the Bolivians, is one of a government that seriously executes its work, that has proved its results, no need to talk with the US government about that," he added.

Non-Binding Referendum on Marijuana in Mexican State of Jalisco. The state of Jalisco, home to Guadalajara, the country's second largest city, has begun voting on a non-binding referendum on marijuana policy. The referendum asks whether medical marijuana should be legalized and whether personal possession limits should be increased. Voting takes place through Sunday. So far, medical marijuana is winning approval, but increasing possession limits is not. After the referendum, PRD legislator Enrique Velazquez will present a bill in the state congress.

Luxembourg Justice Minister Says It Is Time to Rethink Drug Policy, But Rules Out Marijuana Legalization. Justice Minister Felix Braz told the newspaper Luxemburger Wort that the country needs to rethink its drug policy, saying that criminalization and repression have not had the desired results. Braz pointed to increasing drug problems in the country. "I am convinced that we cannot help these people only through criminal justice measures," the Justice Minister said. "The fact that drug consumption increases steadily, leads us to the conclusion that we need to rethink our drugs policy. With an open spirit, we need to search for alternative solutions to get the problem under control," he added. But Braz also said that the coalition government of which he is a member is not going to legalize marijuana. Marijuana is effectively decriminalized in Luxembourg.

Chronicle AM: NFL Relaxes Marijuana Policy, Bolivia Rejects US Criticism, Aussie PM Supports MedMj, More (9/18/14)

MPP fights to get a third local Maine initiative on the ballot, Florida CBD cannabis oil growers fight for better rules, the NFL relaxes its marijuana policy, Bolivia's president rejects US claims on drugs, Australia's prime minister supports medical marijuana, and more. Let's get to it:

Bolivian President Evo Morales shrugs off US criticism of his country's drug policies. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

MPP Files Complaint to Get York, Maine, Initiative on Ballot. The Marijuana Policy Project filed a complaint yesterday in York County Superior Court seeking a temporary injunction to force the town Board of Selectmen to put a possession legalization question on the November ballot. The board has twice refused to put the matter to voters, despite petitioners gathering enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot. The complaint seeks a hearing by tomorrow. Similar initiatives are already set for Lewiston and South Portland; Portland voted to legalize it last year.

Medical Marijuana

Florida CBD Cannabis Oil Program Delayed After Growers Complain About Proposed Rules. The Department of Health's issuance of proposed rules on who could qualify for one of five licenses to grow low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana under a new state law have run into stiff opposition from potential growers. The growers have filed challenges to the rules, and now an administrative judge must deal with those challenges. He has up to 60 days to do so.

Drug Policy

NFL, Players Agree on New Drug Policy, League Eases Up on Marijuana. The league's new drug policy allows for immediate testing for the presence of human growth hormone (HGH). It also raises the acceptable level of THC found in a player's system from 15 nanograms per millileter to 35 nanograms. The change in policy will allow several suspended players to return immediately; others will see the lengths of their suspensions reduced.

Opiates

Senator Whitehouse Files Bill to Address Prescription Opiate, Heroin Use. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) yesterday introduced SB 2389, "a bill to authorize the Attorney General to award grants to address the national epidemics of prescription opioid abuse and heroin use." The next of the bill is not yet available online. The bill heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

North Carolina Conference on Heroin Set for February. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, legislators, medical professionals, law enforcement, and heroin users and people impacted by its use will hold a conference in February to discuss legislative solutions to heroin use and heroin-related drug overdoses. Click on the link for more information.

International

Irish Review Calls for Easing Drug Laws. A government study of sentencing policy has called for an easing of mandatory minimum sentences for serious drug dealing offenses, which currently stand at 10 years. The Strategic Review of Penal Policy also recommends increasing the monetary threshold that triggers serious drug dealing charges, which is currently at about $20,000. And it calls for increasing "good time" for good behavior in prison from 25% to 33%.

Bolivia Rejects US Claim It Hasn't Done Enough to Curtail Drug Production. Bolivian President Evo Morales, a coca growers' union leader, rejected the White House's designation last week of Bolivia as one of three countries (along with Burma and Venezuela) that had failed to comply with US drug policy mandates. "Whatever they do and whatever they say, or yell from the United States, the people won't be confused by this type of information," Morales said Wednesday in a speech. Although the US complains that "illegal cultivation for drug production remains high," the UNODC said in June that coca leaf production in Bolivia last year had declined 9% and was at the lowest level since 2002.

Mexico Orders 18 Black Hawk Helicopters for More Better Drug War. The Pentagon announced this week that it has awarded a $203 million contract to Sikorsky to build 18 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters for the Mexican Air Force. That contract doesn't include the cost of engine and mission systems; the total cost for supplying the choppers will be about $680 million. Mexico will use the choppers "to enhance its counter-narcotics capabilities."

Australia Prime Minister Backs Medical Marijuana. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has written in a letter to a radio host saying he is prepared to support legalizing medical marijuana. "I have no problem with the medical use of cannabis, just as I have no problem with the medical use of opiates," Abbott wrote. "If a drug is needed for a valid medicinal purpose though and is being administered safely there should be no question of its legality. And if a drug that is proven to be safe abroad is needed here, it should be available. I agree that the regulation of medicines is a thicket of complexity, bureaucracy and corporate and institutional self interest. My basic contention is that something that has been found to be safe in a reliable jurisdiction shouldn't need to be tested again here."

South Africa Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Support of Christian Democrats. The Medical Innovation Bill, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana, has gained the support of the African Christian Democratic Party. The bill was reintroduced by an Inkatha Party member last week, and the governing African National Congress Party approved letting it move forward.

Chronicle AM: Obama Names Drug Producing Countries, CDC Overdose Report, CA Narcan Law, More (9/16/14)

Congress is back and bills are picking up cosponsors, Guam will vote on medical marijuana, Wyoming moves toward ending civil asset forfeiture reform, the president names drug producing and transit countries (again), and more. Let's get to it:

The rate of increase in opiate OD deaths is slowing. (CDC/NCHS)
Marijuana Policy

Preserving Welfare for Needs Not Weed Act Picks Up New Sponsor. The bill, HR 4137, would "prohibit assistance provided under the program of block grants to States for temporary assistance for needy families from being accessed through the use of an electronic benefit transfer card at any store that offers marijuana for sale." Introduced in March by Rep. David Weichert (R-WA), the bill now has 16 cosponsors, all Republicans. The latest is Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX). The House Speaker has indicated the bill could see action this week.

Medical Marijuana

Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act of 2014 Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill, HR 5526, would exclude low-THC, cannabidiol-based medicines from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. The latest cosponsors are Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Tom McClintock (R-CA). The bill now has 24 cosponsors -- 14 Democrats and 10 Republicans.

Guam Medical Marijuana Legislative Initiative Published, Pro and Con Arguments Sought. The Guam Election Commission has released the text for Proposal 14A, the legislatively-initiated medical marijuana measure that will go before voters in November. The election commission is urging opponents and proponents of the measure to submit written arguments not exceeding 500 words by this Friday.

At Harrisburg Rally, Top Pennsylvania House Republican Says He Supports Medical Marijuana Bill. State Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) told a rally on the capitol steps Monday that he now supports pending medical marijuana legislation. This could be a sign that Republican opposition to Senate Bill 770 in the House is softening. The bill has some bipartisan support in the Senate, but the session only has a month left.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Legislative Committee Votes to Sponsor Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. The legislature's Joint Judiciary Interim Committee voted last Thursday to sponsor a draft bill for next year's legislative session that would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. The draft bill is 15LSO-009. Under the bill, defendants would have to be convicted of a crime before property could be seized, they would have to be told what property is being considered for seizure, and, if they are convicted of a crime, they could challenge the forfeiture and request a hearing.

Drug Policy

In Annual Determination, White House Names 22 Countries as Major Drug Producers or Transit Countries. The White House has named the following countries as "major drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries:" Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. Among that group, the determination singles out Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela as "having failed demonstrably" to undertake drug war policies to Washington's liking. But it also says Washington will keep supplying aid to Burma and Venezuela because it is "vital to the national security interests of the United States."

Harm Reduction

California Governor Signs Naloxone Access Expansion Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Monday signed into law Assembly Bill 1535, which allows pharmacists to furnish the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) without a prescription. Previously, the drug was only available with a prescription or through a handful of programs throughout the state.

Prescription Pills

CDC Finds Slowing Rate of Increase in Prescription Opiate Overdose Deaths. Opioid pain relievers were involved in about 11,700 drug overdose deaths in 2011, up about four-fold over 1999, but the rate of increase in such deaths has leveled off since 2006, according to a report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. But while ODs from opiates alone seem to be stabilizing, ODs from a combination of opiates and benzodiazepines were on the increase, with benzos involved in 31% of opiate ODs in 2011, up from 13% in 1999.

Sentencing

Second Chance Reauthorization Act Gets New Sponsor. The bill, HR 3465, would amend the Second Chance Act of 2007 to allow continued authority for grants for drug treatment in prisoner reentry programs. The bill has 41 cosponsors -- 33 Democrats and eight Republicans -- with the latest being Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL).

House Smarter Sentencing Act Gets New Sponsor. The bill, HR 3382, would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, allow for applications for resentencing for some crack offenders, and allow judges to sentence beneath mandatory minimums in some cases. The bill has 50 cosponsors -- 36 Democrats and 14 Republicans -- with the latest being Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA).

CBO Says Senate Smarter Sentencing Act Would Save $3 Billion Over Next Decade. The bill, SB 1410, would reduce Justice Department corrections spending by about $4 billion, but would also result in about $1 billion in costs related to ex-offenders receiving federal benefits earlier than they otherwise would have, the Congressional Budget Office reported. The bill would see about 250,000 prisoners released earlier than they would have been over the next decade.

International

Australia's Victoria State to See Government-Sponsored Medical Marijuana Bill. Victoria Health Minister David Davis said a bill to make it easier to conduct medical marijuana clinical trials will be introduced today.

Chronicle AM: Mexican Coca, Saudis Behead Another Trafficker, Feds Raid LA Fashion District, More (9/11/14)

A federal CBD medical marijuana bill picks up more sponsors, so does a federal asset forfeiture reform bill, Georgia advocates want whole whole plant medical marijuana, Mexico's first coca patch is busted, Saudi Arabia beheads another drug offender, and more. Let's get to it:

Coca plant. Mexico has found its first plantation. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

York, Maine, Selectmen Refuse to Put Legalization Initiative on Ballot, But… Town selectmen voted against putting the initiative from Citizens for a Safer Maine on the November ballot, but since petitioners have already gathered sufficient signatures to force the issue, they can get their petition notarized to be placed on the ballot. York will join Lewiston and South Portland in voting on initiatives this year; Portland approved one last year.

Medical Marijuana

Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act Picks Up More Sponsors. The Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act (HR 5226), which would exclude cannabidiol (CBD) from the definition of marijuana, has gained new sponsors. It now has 19 cosponsors -- 11 Democrats and eight Republicans. The latest are Reps. Ann Wagner (R-MO), Matthew Cartwright (D-PA), and Chris Stewart (R-UT).

Georgia Advocates Call for Whole Plant Medical Marijuana, Not Just CBD Oil. As legislative hearings in Macon continue to examine the use of CBD oil, medical marijuana advocates are calling for whole plant medical marijuana. "The cannabis plant contains many compounds that have proven to be effective in treating a variety of conditions," said Georgia C.A.R.E director James Bell. "We should not be determining who can and cannot benefit from this healing plant."

Asset Forfeiture

Civil Asset Forfeiture Act Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill, HR 5212, now has five cosponsors. The latest are Reps. Stevan Pearce (R-NM), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and Reid Ribble (R-WI). All cosponsors so far are Republicans. The bill, filed by Rep. Tim Wahlberg (R-MI), would increase citizen protections against federal asset forfeiture actions.

Law Enforcement

Feds Raid LA Fashion District in Cartel Money Laundering Probe. More than a thousand law enforcement officers spread out across LA's fashion district Wednesday, raiding more than 60 warehouses, storefronts, and residences, arresting nine people and seizing $65 million in cash that they said was being laundered for Mexican drug trafficking organizations. The feds called the mass bust Operation Fashion Police.

International

OAS Head Claims Regional Consensus on Drug Reform. Speaking in front of the Inter-American Dialog in Washington, DC, Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza said Wednesday that regional leaders have reached consensus on four drug policy reform issues: to emphasize a public health approach, to seek out alternatives to incarceration, to stay strong against organized crime, and to work on strengthening regional institutions. Insulza's remarks come ahead of an OAS Special General Assembly to be held in Guatemala next week.

Mexico's First Coca Plantation Discovered in Chiapas. Mexican soldiers have seized more than 1,600 coca plants being cultivated in southern Chiapas state, near the Guatemalan border. Mexican military and UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) officials said it was the first time coca planting had been discovered in the country. "It's a pretty troubling discovery," said UNODC Mexico representative Antonio Mazzitelli. It could amount to "a small-scale experiment to see if there is a possibility of replicating" coca production in Mexico. Coca is currently grown only in the Andes, although there is nothing stopping it from being cultivated elsewhere.

Saudi Arabia Beheads Another Drug Offender. Authorities in Saudi Arabia Tuesday beheaded a Pakistani national convicted of smuggling "a large quantity of heroin." They have executed at least seven other drug traffickers in recent weeks, and 49 people overall so far this year. It's unclear how many of the 49 were drug offenders.

World Leaders Call for Regulatory Alternatives to Drug Prohibition [FEATURE]

In a report released last night and in a New York City press conference this morning, a number of global leaders, including former heads of state, called for drug decriminalization and the regulation of psychoactive drug markets. Those same global leaders are meeting this afternoon with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and his deputy, Jan Eliasson.

These world leaders are members of the Global Commission on Drugs and their new report is Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work. The commission's members include former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Virgin Airlines founder Richard Branson, and more.

The report's executive summary lists a number of policy prescriptions, some of them quite breathtakingly bold:

  • Putting health and community safety first requires a fundamental reorientation of policy priorities and resources, from failed punitive enforcement to proven health and social interventions.
  • Focus on reducing the power of criminal organizations as well as the violence and insecurity that result from their competition with both one another and the state.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity presented by the upcoming UNGASS in 2016 to reform the global drug policy regime.
  • Rely on alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent, low-level participants in illicit drug markets such as farmers, couriers and others involved in the production, transport and sale of illicit drugs.
  • Stop criminalizing people for drug use and possession -- and stop imposing "compulsory treatment" on people whose only offense is drug use or possession.
  • Allow and encourage diverse experiments in legally regulating markets in currently illicit drugs, beginning with but not limited to cannabis, coca leaf and certain novel psychoactive substances.
  • Ensure equitable access to essential medicines, in particular opiate-based medications for pain.

In other words, decriminalize drug possession, legalize and regulate drug markets, and end the failed decades-long embrace of prohibitionism. This is a policy advance from the Commission's initial 2011 report, which, while breaking new ground in advancing the debate of drug prohibition, did not go as far as calling for efforts to regulate and legalize drugs.

Global Commission meeting in Warsaw last year, with four former presidents present. (globalcommissionondrugs.org)
"Ultimately, the global drug control regime must be reformed to permit legal regulation," said Cardoso. "Let's start by treating drug addiction as a health issue -- rather than as a crime -- and by reducing drug demand through proven educational initiatives. But let's also allow and encourage countries to carefully test models of responsible legal regulation as a means to undermine the power of organized crime, which thrives on illicit drug trafficking."

"Health-based approaches to drug policy routinely prove much less expensive and more effective than criminalization and incarceration," said former Mexican President Zedillo. "Decriminalization of drug consumption is certainly crucial but not sufficient. Significant legal and institutional reforms, both at the national and international levels, are needed to allow governments and societies to put in place policies to regulate the supply of drugs with rigorous medical criteria, if the engines of organized crime profiting from drug traffic are to be truly dismantled."

The Commission's report today is only the latest evidence of growing global momentum for fundamental drug policy reforms. After the Commission's 2011 report, sitting Latin American heads of state, including Presidents Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia, Otto Perez Molina in Guatemala, and José Mujica in Uruguay, as well as then-President Felipe Calderón in Mexico, for the first time made drug reform a major topic at the Summit of the Americas in April 2012 in Cartagena, Colombia.

That was followed 13 months later by an Organization of American States report, commissioned by the heads of state of the region, calling for consideration of drug legalization along with other possible scenarios as a potential policy alternative. And late last year, Uruguay broke new ground, becoming the first country in the world to legalize and regulate marijuana commerce.

All of this has created a big push for a new look at global drug prohibition during the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs set for 2016. The last UNGASS, in 1998, was dominated by rhetorical calls for a "drug-free world" and ended with unrealistic goals of suppressing illicit drug production (which, of course, have not been met), but the Commission and the global political leaders whose voices it echoes are working to use the next UNGASS to advance a frankly and radically reformist alternative.

Celebrity Commission member Richard Branson (Wikimedia/David Shankbone)
"We can't go on pretending the war on drugs is working," said Richard Branson. "We need our leaders to look at alternative, fact-based approaches. Much can be learned from successes and failures in regulating alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceutical drugs. The risks associated with drug use increase, sometimes dramatically, when they are produced, sold and consumed in an unregulated criminal environment. The most effective way to advance the goals of public health and safety is to get drugs under control through responsible legal regulation."

American drug reformers liked what they were hearing.

"When the Commission released its initial report just three years ago, few expected its recommendations to be embraced anytime soon by current presidents," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But that's exactly what happened, with Colombian President Santos and Guatemala President Perez-Molina speaking out boldly, former Mexican President Calderon calling on the United Nations to reassess the prohibitionist approach to drugs, and Uruguayan President Mujica approving the first national law to legally regulate cannabis. Meanwhile, one Commission member, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, has opened up the drug policy debate in West Africa, recruiting some of the region's most distinguished figures," he noted.

"The import of the Commission's report lies in both the distinction of its members and the boldness of their recommendations," Nadelmann continued. "The former presidents and other Commission members pull no punches in insisting that national and global drug control policies reject the failed prohibitionist policies of the 20th century in favor of new policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. There's no question now that the genie of reform has escaped the prohibitionist bottle. I'm grateful to the Commission for the pivotal role it has played in taking drug policy reform from the fringes of international politics to the mainstream."

"With polling having shown consistent majority voter support for legalizing marijuana in the US for several years now, it's been clear that this is a mainstream issue in this country," said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority. "Now this group of world leaders has not only put marijuana legalization on the table for serious consideration on the global stage, but has gone even further by suggesting that ending the prohibition of other drugs should be considered as a way to better protect public health and safety. The hope now is that these forward-thinking recommendations by so many respected former heads of state will encourage current officials to modernize their nations' policies."

The Global Commission on Drugs is showing the path forward to more enlightened drug policies. Now it's up to citizens to push for reform from the bottom up, and it's up to national and international leaders to start making those changes at the national and international level.

New York, NY
United States

Chronicle AM: Illinois Taking Medical Marijuana Applications, WaPo Forfeiture Series, NYT on SWAT, More (9/8/14)

Two majors newspapers have special reports on law enforcement related to the drug war, a staunch Kansas Republican says marijuana should be decided by the states -- not the feds -- Illinois is now taking medical marijuana business applications, Britain's Lib Dems are ready to consider drug decrim and marijuana legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Republican US Senator Pat Roberts Says Legalization Should Be Up to the States." [Marijuana is] not a federal issue. That's a state issue. If you want to get a Rocky Mountain high, go west. That should be for the Kansas legislature and the governor to decide, not federally," Roberts said during a campaign debate last Saturday. Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell was inspired to respond: "When a conservative Republican senator from Kansas tells the feds to let states legalize marijuana in the middle of a tight race for reelection, it's pretty clear that the days when politicians thought they needed to be as 'tough' on drugs as possible in order to get elected are over. But Sen. Roberts needs to do more than just talk about change. At the very least he should team up with Sens. Cory Booker & Rand Paul on their effort to stop federal interference with state medical marijuana laws."

York, Maine, to Vote on Possession Legalization Initiative. York will be the third Maine community to vote on marijuana reform this year. Organizers for an initiative removing penalties for simple pot possession have handed in enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. York joins Lewiston and South Portland in voting on the issue this year. Portland, the state's largest city, approved a similar initiative last year.

Los Angeles Event to Mark 100th Anniversary of First "Marihuana" Raid. Cal NORML and the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform will host a press conference marking the 100th anniversary of the nation's first "marihuana" raid in LA's Mexican Sonoratown neighborhood on Thursday, September 11 at 10 am on the steps of LA City Hall. And LA NORML will be hosting an "End the 100 Year War on Pot" party on Saturday, September 13. State and local political officials and advocates will address the failed marijuana policy that has cost California billions of dollars in arrest, prosecution and prison expenses; fueled an illegal black market and lined the pockets of violent narcotrafficantes; promoted environmentally damaging trespass grows on public and private lands; and blocked access to useful medicine, all while failing to stem drug abuse in the state and depriving it of billions in tax dollars from a legitimate industry. Click on the title link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Accepting Applications for Medical Marijuana Businesses. The state Agriculture Department is now taking applications from people who want to open dispensaries or cultivation centers. There are 22 licenses available for growers and 60 for dispensaries.

Asset Forfeiture

Washington Post Takes on Asset Forfeiture, In an ongoing series of articles, The Washington Post is taking a cold-eyed look at asset forfeiture practices and the law enforcement culture that has grown around them. The article linked to above examines a private intelligence network used by cops across the country to trade information on motorists and help them decide whom to subject to pretextual traffic stops in order to look for loot to seize. There's a lot of dirt in here, and there's more to come as the series continues.

Drug Policy

NFL, Players Union in Drug Policy Talks.The NFL and its players' union are meeting today to try to thrash out new drug policies. Marijuana use is a key topic. The league has been criticized recently for treating pot-smoking offenses by players more seriously than domestic abuse.

Prescription Drugs

Obama Administration Announces Expanded Prescription Drug Takeback Plan. The White House announced today that hospitals, pharmacies and other medical facilities will be authorized to collect unused prescription drugs, a move designed to keep the drugs out of the hands of people who may attempt to abuse or sell them. "We know if we remove unused painkillers from the home, we can prevent misuse and dependence from ever taking hold," said Michael Botticelli, the acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "These regulations will create new avenues for addictive prescription drugs to leave the house and be disposed of in a safe, environmentally friendly way."

DEA Sets Production Limits for Pain Relievers, With Big Increases for Some. In a Federal Register notice posted last Friday, the DEA released a list of dozens of Schedule I and II substances subject to production quotas next year. Twenty-two of the 63 substances will see increases in production quotas next year, including cocaine, codeine, dihydrocodeine, hydromorphone, and ephedrine. The DEA says the changes are based on public comments that quota amounts were "insufficient to provide for the estimated medical, scientific, research and industrial needs of the US." Among substances seeing quota decreases are amphetamine, methamphetamine, and methadone.

Law Enforcement

New York Times Video "Retro Report" Takes on History of SWAT. As part of a video documentary series presented by the Times called Retro Report, the nation's newspaper of record examines the rise of SWAT-style policing, tracing its roots to the turmoil and tumult of the 1960s. Once rare, SWAT teams now appear ubiquitous, whether in big cities or sleepy small towns. They are now under greater scrutiny in the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri, protests, making this report quite timely.

International

British Liberal Democrats to Consider Drug Decriminalization, Legal Marijuana Sales. Britain's Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in a governing coalition with the Conservatives, will consider drug decriminalization and marijuana legalization at their party conference next month. The announcement comes after a party policy paper to be debated at the conference called on the party to "adopt the model used in Portugal, where those who possess drugs will be diverted into other services." The paper also said the party "welcomes the establishment of a regulated cannabis market in Uruguay, Colorado and Washington state. These innovative approaches are still in their infancy and the data that would allow us to examine their impact are not yet available. We will establish a review to examine the impact of these schemes in relation to public health," it said.

Australia's Tasmania Reverses Course, Will Allow Medical Marijuana Trials. Tasmania's governing Liberals will support medical marijuana trials, the health minister told a parliamentary inquiry. The minister, Michael Ferguson, had rejected a bid for trials in the state just weeks ago in July. But now he has changed his tune. "We support appropriately conducted clinical trials, feeding into the existing national medicines regulatory framework," he said. "We will objectively consider any proposal regarding a trial of medicinal cannabis on a case-by-case basis."

Amnesty International Report Says Torture in Mexico Out of Control. Reported cases of torture and mistreatment by police and armed forces in Mexico have increased six-fold in the past decade, according to a new report issued by Amnesty International. The report says much of the increase was driven by the Mexican government's aggressive effort to repress drug trafficking organizations.

Top Albanian Christian Democrat Calls for Marijuana Legalization. The head of Albania's Christian Democratic Party, Zef Bushati, has called for the legalization of marijuana on his Facebook page. "Countries are okay with that," he wrote. "First USA, France and now Italy. It's business. It increases the economic level. I never knew or even imagined that cannabis was cultivated all over Albania. When I knew that I started thinking about those families that needed to feed with this kind of job." Christian Democrats have only one member in the Albanian parliament.

Chronicle AM: Massive Marijuana Poll, Saudis Behead Four for Drugs, CA Defelonization Init, More (9/4/2014)

Massive marijuana poll has good news, Cornhuskers ponder legalization "problems," another Florida medical marijuana poll is out, a California defelonization initiative quietly advances, another drug war death, Saudis behead four people for drug trafficking, and more. Let's get to it:

Another poll suggests marijuana is becoming normalized. (Sandra Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Massive Online Polling Survey Finds 58% Support for Legalization. The online polling data company CivicScience has released the results of a massive, two-year online poll that asked more than 450,000 US adults whether they would "support or oppose a law in your state that would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana like alcohol." Some 39% said they strongly supported, and another 19% said they somewhat supported the idea. That's 58% for legalization. Support is even higher in the last three months, with 61% of recent respondents saying they favored legalization. The results are music to the ears of Marijuana Majority head Tom Angell. "This huge poll is yet another indication that marijuana legalization is officially a mainstream issue. With ending prohibition polling better with voters than most elected officials do these days, it'll be really interesting to see which 2016 contenders realize that supporting marijuana reform is good politics and which still don't get it," he said.

Nebraska Legislature to Consider "Problems" of Colorado Marijuana Legalization. Next Monday, the legislature's Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on LR 520, a resolution "to gather information about the developing problems that law enforcement is encountering since the State of Colorado legalized the sale and recreational use of marijuana." The Marijuana Policy Project is encouraging legislators to examine all the results of legalization in Colorado, not just the "problems."

Medical Marijuana

New Florida Poll Has Medical Marijuana Initiative Coming Up Just Short. A new Florida Decides poll has a majority in favor of the Measure 2 medical marijuana initiative, but not the supermajority needed to pass a constitutional amendment. The poll had support at 57%, but 60% is needed. But the poll also had 17% undecided, and if only a fraction of the undecided break in favor of the initiative, it could win. Another poll earlier this week had support at 64%.

Law Enforcement

Ohio Man Kills Himself During Marijuana Garden Raid Stand-Off. An Ashville, Ohio, man shot and killed himself after a two-hour stand-off at a property where he was growing marijuana Tuesday evening. Timothy Sturgis, 42, becomes the 32nd person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Sentencing

California Defelonization Initiative Quietly Awaits Opposition. An initiative that would reduce petty drug (and other) offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, Proposition 47, is qualified for the November ballot and is now quietly waiting for a backlash to emerge. It polled at 57% in June and has $3 million in the bank. Opponents have raised only $8,000. But there are still two months left.

International

Saudi Arabia Beheads Four Foreigners for Drug Trafficking. Three Syrians and an Iranian were executed by beheading for drug trafficking offenses, the Saudi Interior Ministry said. The three Syrians were executed for smuggling "a large quantity of banned amphetamine pills" into the kingdom, and the Iranian was beheading for smuggling "a large quantity of hashish." That makes 45 executions in Saudi Arabia so far this year. It's not clear how many were for drug offenses, but the Saudis also executed four people for hash offenses last month.

Guyana Rastafaris Call for National Marijuana Commission. The Guyana Rastafari Council has called for the creation of a National Marijuana Commission. "Among the resolutions passed at the Council's last General Meeting held at the F.E. Pollard Primary School on August 24, was a call on the Government of Guyana to immediately implement the mandate of the last CARICOM Heads of Government meeting, that each CARICOM member state sets up a National Marijuana Commission to complement the Regional Marijuana Commission to look at decriminalizing marijuana for medical, religious and recreational purposes," the council said.

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