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Chronicle AM: NAACP & NOW Support DC Init, Pot Shop ATM Problems, Mexico Impunity, More (10/23/14):

Marijuana retailers face ATM problems, Seattle dispensaries get a heads up, the DC initiative wins a pair of endorsements, California's Prop 47 is drawing big bucks support, the Mexico missing student teacher story gets uglier, and more. Let's get to it:

You may need cash at your local marijuana retailer after a banking network pulled the plug. (Sonya Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Pew Poll: Latinos Are Even Split on Marijuana Legalization. A new Pew Research Center survey finds that Latino voters are slightly less likely than the population as a whole to favor marijuana legalization, but are almost evenly divided in their opinions. Some 49% said marijuana should be legal, while 48% said it shouldn't. A Pew poll earlier this year found support for marijuana legalization among the general population at 53%.

Banking Network Pulls the Plug on Pot Shop ATMs. Hundreds of recreational and medical marijuana retail outlets in Colorado and Washington have had their ATMs shut down after the South Dakota-based MetaBank pulled the plug on them. MetaBank had warned ATM providers in January that the presence of such machines in marijuana retail outlets violated federal rules, but shops had remained unaffected until this week. Other retail outlets using different bank networks were still able to process transactions.

DC Initiative Wins Endorsement from NAACP, NOW Branches. The DC marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative, Measure 71, has picked up the endorsements of the local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Organization for Women (NOW). "The NAACP DC Branch strongly advocates to end the war on drugs, which has caused significant damage in our communities. Endorsement of Initiative 71 does not mean that the NAACP is pro marijuana, however, we view Initiative 71 as a step towards ending discriminatory drug policies." said Akosua Ali, President of the NAACP DC Branch. "Criminalization of marijuana has played a major role in the racial disparities and injustice in the criminal justice system," said Susan Mottet, president of DC NOW. "DC NOW works to end all discrimination in DC and urges the voters to pass Initiative 71 to help put an end to this tool for discrimination."

Medical Marijuana

Seattle Warns Dispensaries They Will Need Licenses, But… The city of Seattle has sent letters to 330 dispensaries operating there that they will need to be licensed by the state. The only problem is there is no such license for medical marijuana businesses. The city council had placed the requirement on hold until the state legislature decides whether and how to license dispensaries, but the letter warns that as of January 1, 2015 (or January 1, 2016 if the legislature doesn't act before then), dispensaries must have state licenses or close their doors. Click on the title link to see the letter.

Sentencing

California Defelonization Initiative Picking Up Big Bucks Support. Proposition 47, he initiative that would defelonize drug possession and some other offenses is getting generous contributions from California-based technology mavens and other business figures, but those donations are being dwarfed by the ACLU, which has contributed more than $3 million. Some of the big names include Netflix CEO Reed Hastings ($246,000); Cari Tuna, the wife of Facebook billionaire Dustin Moskovitz ($150,000), Democratic Party funder Quinn Delaney ($100,000), Hyatt Development Corporation CEO Nick Pritzer ($250,000), and app maker Sean Parker ($100,000).

International

OAS Drug Commission Meets in Colombia. The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States (OAS) met in Cartagena, Colombia, yesterday and today, and addressed the consensus among countries that prison overcrowding in the Americas is a real problem, with more than 1.5 million people detained for drug offenses. The results of this initiative will be presented at the upcoming biannual meeting of CICAD that will take place in Guatemala during the third week of November.

Canadian House of Commons Report on Cannabis Harms. The Conservative-dominated House of Commons has issued a report on the harms of marijuana. It recommends raising "public awareness and knowledge of the risks and harms associated with marijuana use." Click on the link to read the report.

NACLA on Race, Class, and Cannabis in the Caribbean. The venerable North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) has published a thoughtful piece about marijuana reform in the Caribbean, The Other Side of Paradise. In in, author Kevin Edmonds cites Caribbean activists to the effect that the region must act effectively on reforms or risk losing its lucrative, but currently illicit, pot crops to imported marijuana from places where it's already legal. An interesting read.

Case of Missing Mexican Student Teachers Unveils Tight Ties Between Local Officials, Drug Gang. Mexico's top prosecutor said Wednesday that the mayor of Iguala and his wife ordered the attack on 43 radical student teachers who have been missing for a month now, and that the wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, was the "principal operator" of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, which is being blamed for disappearing the students. Jesus Murillo Karam said the mayoral couple ran the group's illegal activities out of Iguala's city hall. City hall was attacked again Wednesday by protestors demanding the return of the students, and thousands marched in Mexico City to demand justice in the case, which is turning into a national scandal epitomizing the breadth of corruption and impunity in the country. Several mass graves have been found in the area, but the bodies in them haven't been identified as those of the missing students. That raises another touchy question: Whose bodies are in the mass graves?

Medical Marijuana Update

There's a national "vote medical marijuana" campaign, Colorado won't ban edibles, the Florida initiative appears to be in trouble, Massachusetts patients can start registering, and more. Let's get to it:

National

On Sunday, Americans for Safe Access launched a "Vote Medical Marijuana" campaign. The medical marijuana defense and advocacy group aims to educate voters ahead of next month's elections with a new 30-second online TV advertisement that aired on Sunday cable news programs in Detroit, Philadelphia, South Florida, and Washington state. The campaign also includes an interactive online voters' guide at VoteMedicalMarijuana.org. Check it out at the links.

California

Last Friday,the bell tolled for San Jose dispensaries. There is about to be a dramatic decrease in access to medical marijuana in San Jose. The city had up to 80 dispensaries this summer, but only six have permits, which means that as of last Friday, the rest must shut down. Forty-seven more have filed for permits, but 20 have been denied and 20 more remain under review. The move comes after the city passed a strict new dispensary ordinance earlier this year. An effort to challenge it with an initiative came up short.

On Tuesday, the Costa Mesa city clerk certified an initiative for the ballot. The Act to Restrict and Regulate the Operation of Medical Marijuana Businesses (ARRO) gathered well over the number of signatures necessary to make the ballot in a special election. That could be avoided if the city council approves the ARRO at its November 18 meeting. The initiative would allow up to eight dispensaries in the city.

Colorado

On Monday, the health department backed away from a proposal to ban most edibles. The Department of Public Health and Environment had told state regulators they should ban most edibles, but backed away from that idea after a firestorm of criticism.

Florida

Last Thursday, another poll had the Florida initiative coming up short. A new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/UF Bob Graham Center poll had the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative at 48% of the vote with 44% opposed and 7% undecided. Because the initiative is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to win. This is just the latest in a series of polls showing the initiative failing to reach that mark. Click on the link for more poll details.

Guam

On Monday,a judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking to block the vote on a medical marijuana initiative. A US district court judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging next month's vote on a legislative medical marijuana initiative. Attorney Howard Trapp had sued to block the vote last month on the grounds that a "legislative submission" was illegal under Guam law, but the judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying that Trapp didn't have legal standing to bring it.

Massachusetts

Last Friday, the health department announced that patients can now register for state ID cards. Patients need to get them by February 1; after that date, unregistered patients will have no legal protections.

Missouri

On Tuesday, the health department announce it is about to begin taking applications to grow low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana. People who want to grow high-CBD, low-THC marijuana for medical purposes under a new state law can begin submitting applications to the state Department of Health beginning November 3. The state will license two growers, and the window for applications is 30 days. The growers must operate as nonprofits and must produce marijuana that is less than 0.3% THC.

Oregon

Last Thursday, a circuit court judge ruled local governments can ban dispensaries. In a case brought by the town of Cave Junction, Judge Pat Wolke ruled that nothing in the state's dispensary law or another law enacted last year that let localities impose yearlong dispensary moratoriums bars them from instituting outright bans. State city and county associations had argued strenuously that local governments had that ability.

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

Putting the Statewide Marijuana Initiatives Over the Top [FEATURE]

It's now less than two weeks until Election Day, and statewide marijuana initiatives are on the ballot in four states. All have a shot at winning, and as the clock ticks down, all of them are seeking last minute help to get them over the top.

The Chronicle talked this week to people in the various campaigns, and all of them have concrete ideas on what people can do to help -- whether in-state or not -- in the final days. But before we get to what can be done, let's first review the initiatives, three that would legalize marijuana and one that would legalize medical marijuana:

Alaska Measure 2

The Measure 2 initiative allows adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce and up to six plants (three flowering). It also allows individual growers to possess the fruits of their harvest even in excess of one ounce, provided the marijuana stays on the premises where it was grown. The initiative also legalizes paraphernalia.

The initiative grants regulatory oversight to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, but gives the legislature the authority to create a new entity, the Marijuana Control Board. In either case, the regulatory authority will have nine months to create regulations, with applications for marijuana businesses to open one year after the initiative becomes effective.

A $50 an ounce excise tax on sales or transfers from growers to retailers or processors would be imposed.

The initiative does not alter either existing DUI laws or the ability of employers to penalize employees for testing positive for marijuana.

The initiative would not interfere with existing medical marijuana laws.

DC Measure 71

The Measure 71 initiative would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and six plants, three of which can be mature. Households could grow up to 12 plants, six of which can be mature. Growers can possess the fruits of their harvests. Plants could only be grown indoors.

Adults could transfer up to an ounce to other adults without remuneration. There are no provisions for taxing and regulating marijuana sales because District law forbids initiatives from taking up tax and revenue matters. A bill is pending before the DC city council that would do precisely that.

The initiative also legalizes the sale and possession of paraphernalia used for marijuana consumption. It does not change existing DUI law, nor does it "make unlawful" any conduct covered by the District's medical marijuana law.

Oregon Measure 91

The Measure 91 initiative allows adults 21 and over to possess up to eight ounces and four plants per household. Individuals can also possess up to 16 ounces of marijuana products or 72 ounces of liquid marijuana products. And individuals can also transfer up to an ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana products, or 72 ounces of liquid marijuana products to other adults for "non-commercial" purposes.

The initiative would designate the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to regulate marijuana commerce. The commission would license, audit, and inspect growers, suppliers, and retailers. The commission could set purchase amount limits, which are not specified in the initiative. The commission would have until January 4, 2016 to begin licensing growers, producers, and retailers.

Marijuana sales from producers to processors or retailers would be taxed at a rate of $35 per ounce, $10 per ounce of leaves, and $5 per immature plant. The commission can recommend to the legislature any changes in the tax structure, which would then have to act to enact them.

The initiative does not alter either existing DUI laws or the ability of employers to penalize employees for testing positive for marijuana.

The initiative would not interfere with existing medical marijuana laws.

Florida Amendment 2

The Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative makes legal the use of marijuana by a qualifying patient or caregiver. It would also make it legal for doctors to recommend medical marijuana and for "marijuana treatment centers" to distribute it.

Patients qualify by having a "debilitating medical condition" including, but not limited to, cancer, multiple sclerosis, hepatitis C, HIV, and Crohn's Disease. Doctors could also recommend marijuana for "other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient."

The Florida Department of Health would regulate medical marijuana and would issue patient and caregiver ID cards, develop rules and regulations for dispensaries, and define reasonable amounts of marijuana for medical use.

The initiative specifically does not allow use of medical marijuana by non-qualifying patients or the use of motor vehicle by patients under the influence. Nor does it require any accommodation for medical marijuana in schools or on the job or that health insurance companies cover medical marijuana expenses.

Because the initiative is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% of the votes to pass.

What Can You Do?

Even with less than two weeks left in the campaigns, people can still help. There are slightly different tasks and needs in the different states, but all the campaigns are eager for help.

In Alaska, the Measure 2 campaign is asking for people to go to its Talk It Up Alaska web page, where people can choose from a number of ways to help.

"On that page, there are tabs that let people send messages to friends and family -- basically a pre-written email -- as well as phone banking tool," said Chris Rempert, Alaska political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which is backing the campaign. "We have a limited phone bank list targeted toward people likely to support us, but less likely to get out and vote. People can go there, sign up, and start calling."

The campaign could also use some cash. Donations can be made online here.

"We've spent so much money on advertising, we're running low on funds for the final push," said Rempert. "We need money for yard signs, campaign literature, and the like."

And volunteers on the ground could help, too.

"Especially in Anchorage, we need help with getting signs up and phone banking," Rempert said. "We'll be doing door-to-door canvassing and volunteers would be welcome."

Don't forget engaging with local media.

"People who are in Alaska should be writing letters to the editor," he said. "The opposition has formed a grass-roots Facebook and letter-writing effort, so anyone who can write a letter will be appreciated."

In the nation's capital, the DC Cannabis Campaign is already in the early voting phase of the election. It is using social media, including a #YesOn71 Twitter hashtag, to get the word out.

It could, though, still use volunteers to go to the precincts and hand out information, as well as for phone banking. And it could use more money. To volunteer, go here; to donate, go here. You can even pay in bit coins, if you have them.

In Oregon, the Vote Yes on 91 campaign is urging people to contact their in-state friends and family members, do phone banking, and more.

"If you know any Oregonians, write them a short personal email about why passing Measure 91 is so important," said campaign spokesman Peter Zuckerman. "Reach out to your friends and family members and tell them to vote yes."

Volunteers can still help, too.

"Whether you're an Oregonian or not, you can volunteer," Zuckerman said. "We're working very hard to get out the vote, and we need help. Go to our web site, where we have mobile GOTV groups. If you can get at least six people to phone together at a house, we will send you materials to do it."

There's still more to come, too, Zuckerman said.

"We will be rolling out other ways to help soon, so stay tuned," he advised. "Voter turnout is going to be really important in this election. This is a tough campaign, and we have to fight for every vote. We know your readers are really committed to this issue. Please do everything you can to encourage your readers to help us out."

In Florida, the United For Care campaign is engaged in an uphill battle to hit that difficult 60% mark. As the election season enters its final days, the campaign is still looking for volunteers and still accepting donations. Florida would be the first state in the South to pass a full-blown medical marijuana initiative, and it could still use your help.

It's not too late to make a difference. Act now.

Chronicle AM: Holder on Pot, Big $$$ for OR Init, Cairo Student Drug Tests, More (10/21/14)

Holder talks pot, more big bucks flow to Oregon initiative, federal judge to ponder whether marijuana belongs in Schedule I, the right attacks Vanita Gupta, Canada's NDP calls for decriminalization, and more. Let's get to it:

US Attorney General Eric Holder (justice.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Holder "Cautiously Optimistic" on Marijuana Legalization. In a Monday interview with CNN, Attorney General Eric Holder said he is "cautiously optimistic" about marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington. He said that the Justice Department was focused on eight "priority areas" when it came to legal weed, including prevention of distribution to minors, drug trafficking across state lines, and drug-related violence. "What I've told the governors of those states is that if we're not satisfied with their regulatory scheme that we reserve the right to come in and to sue them. So we'll see," Holder said.

Oregon Initiative Reports More Big Bucks Donations. The campaign committee for Measure 91 has reported receiving $800,000 in a pair of high-denomination donations. The Drug Policy Action Network, the campaign and lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, kicked in half a million bucks, while the New Approach PAC, tied to the family of the late Progressive Insurance magnate Peter Lewis, gave $300,000. Over all, Drug Policy Action Network has contributed $1.85 million and the Lewis group has given $1.25 million. The initiative campaign has spent more than $1.1 million on TV and radio ads.

Federal Judge to Consider Whether Marijuana Should Be Schedule I. A US district court judge in Sacramento will hold a hearing next Monday on whether marijuana is appropriately classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. The hearing comes in the case of United States v. Pickard, et.al. Expert witnesses, including Columbia University psychology professor Dr. Carl Hart, will testify that classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug is not consistent with accepted scientific evidence. This is the first time in recent memory that a federal judge has granted a hearing on the issue.

Decriminalization Fails By One Vote in Columbia, MO, City Council. A move to decriminalize marijuana in Columbia failed on a 4-3 vote Monday night after hours of intense debate. City staff opposed the measure, saying it would put the city in conflict with state law, and local police also opposed it, saying it would put officers in an awkward position, especially when doing joint counter-drug operations with other state or local law enforcement agencies.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri to Begin Taking Applications for Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana. People who want to grow high-CBD, low-THC marijuana for medical purposes under a new state law can begin submitting applications to the state Department of Health beginning November 3. The state will license two growers, and the window for applications is 30 days. The growers must operate as nonprofits and must produce marijuana that is less than 0.3% THC.

Law Enforcement

Conservative Attacks on DOJ Civil Rights Nominee Gupta Get Underway. Heritage Foundation resident expert Cully Stimson has penned an opinion piece that lays out one line of attack on Vanita Gupta, the ACLU attorney just named acting head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights division and who is nominated to permanently fill the post. "The New Civil Rights Division Head Wants to Decriminalize Possession of All Drugs," is his headline -- and the gist of his argument. Click on the link to read his piece.

International

Canada's NDP Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization and Study. The New Democratic Party (NDP) will this week officially call for immediate marijuana decriminalization, with monitoring of the health and social side effects. The call will come in a supplemental document published alongside a House of Commons health committee report, which is set to be issued today or tomorrow. While the NDP's stand is progressive, it is not as progressive as the position of the Liberals, who are calling for legalization.

Cairo University Begins Mandatory Drug Testing of Students. Any student who wants to reside in school housing at the University of Cairo must undergo mandatory, suspicionless drug testing under a new university policy. Some 4,000 students have already been tested, with 9,000 more waiting their turn. No objections to the policy have been heard.

Chronicle AM: OR Battle of the Moms, San Jose Dispensaries Gone, Four Pillars Revisited, More (10/17/14)

Oregon moms take stands on Measure 91, a new Delaware poll has healthy support for legalization, say goodbye to most of San Jose's dispensaries, there's an asset forfeiture reform bill in Virginia, and more. Let's get to it:

Highway traffic stops often result in asset forfeiture actions. Virginia is the latest state to see a reform bill. (flickr.com)
Marijuana Policy

Moms Rally For and Against Oregon Initiative. It was the battle of the moms today in Oregon as mothers for and against the Measure 91 legalization initiative held opposing rallies. The pro side met in Portland, while the anti side met in Lake Oswego. The moms for 91 included mothers who came from Colorado and Washington and spoke of the experiences there. Click the link for more detail.

Delaware Poll Has Healthy Majority for Legalization. A University of Delaware poll released Thursday has support for marijuana legalization at 56%, with only 39% opposed. Majorities in all three of the state's counties supported legalization. "I would say the numbers suggest solid support for fully legalizing marijuana in Delaware," said Paul Brewer, the political communications professor at the University of Delaware who supervised the poll. "The results also reflect what's going on in public opinion at the national level, where the trends show a growing majority favoring legalization." Click on the link for a broader discussion of pot politics in the state.

Medical Marijuana

The Bell Tolls for San Jose Dispensaries. There is about to be a dramatic decrease in access to medical marijuana in San Jose. The city had up to 80 dispensaries this summer, but only six have permits, which means that as of today, the rest must shut down. Forty-seven more have filed for permits, but 20 have been denied and 20 more remain under review. The move comes after the city passed a strict new dispensary ordinance earlier this year. An effort to challenge it with an initiative came up short.

Oregon Court Rules Local Governments Can Ban Dispensaries. In a Thursday ruling, a Josephine County Circuit Court judge has held that local governments can restrict or ban dispensaries. In a case brought by the town of Cave Junction, Judge Pat Wolke ruled that nothing in the state's dispensary law or another law enacted last year that let localities impose yearlong dispensary moratoriums bars them from instituting outright bans. State city and county associations had argued strenuously that local governments had that ability.

Asset Forfeiture

Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed in Virginia. Del. Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg) has filed a bill that would require a criminal conviction before authorities could seize property. Under current state law, a criminal conviction is not required for asset forfeiture to take place. "While I certainly do not want to make the job of our law enforcement officials harder, I believe we need to strengthen our property protections to avoid potential abuse or the taking of property from an innocent person," he said. The bill is HB 1287. It's strange bedfellow supporters include tea party groups and the ACLU.

International

Vancouver's Four Pillar Policy: Where Is It Now? It's been 13 years since Vancouver approved a groundbreaking, progressive drug policy that explicitly included controversial harm reduction provisions, as well as treatment, prevention, and law enforcement (thus, the four pillars). Now, a new series available via broadcast or podcast, examines where Four Pillars is today, what it has achieved, and whether it can last. Click on the link for more details and to find out where and how to watch.

Chronicle AM: ACLU Drug Reformer to Big DOJ Post, OR Init Leading, FL MMJ Init Trailing, More (10/16/14)

Polls have the Oregon initiative up, but the Florida initiative down; a marijuana march in New Jersey takes place on Saturday, Obama nominates a drug reformer to a key Justice Dept. position, a Dutch court sticks a thumb in the government's eye, and more. Let's get to it:

ACLU drug and sentencing reformer and racial justice fighter Vanita Gupta is nominated to lead the DOJ's Civil Rights Division.
Marijuana Policy

Latest Poll Has Oregon Legalization Initiative Up By Nine Points. An Oct. 8-11 survey taken for Oregon Public Broadcasting has the Measure 91 legalization initiative at 52% of the vote with 41% opposed. If these numbers hold true, even if all undecided ended up voting "no," the initiative would still pass.

NJ Weedman to Lead Legalization March Saturday in Trenton. New Jersey marijuana activist Ed Forchion, also known as the NJ Weedman, is leading a legalization march this Saturday in Trenton. Click on the link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Americans for Safe Access Launches "Vote Medical Marijuana" Campaign. The medical marijuana defense and advocacy group aims to educate voters ahead of next month's elections with a new 30-second online TV advertisement that will air on Sunday cable news programs in Detroit, Philadelphia, South Florida, and Washington state. The campaign also includes an interactive online voters' guide at VoteMedicalMarijuana.org. Check it out at the links.

Another Poll Has Florida Initiative Coming Up Short. A new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/UF Bob Graham Center poll has the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative at 48% of the vote with 44% opposed and 7% undecided. Because the initiative is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to win. This is just the latest in a series of polls showing the initiative failing to reach that mark. Click on the link for more poll details.

Drug Policy

Obama Nominates ACLU Attorney with Strong Drug Reform Record to Head Justice Department Civil Rights Division. The Obama administration has nominated ACLU attorney Vanita Gupta to head the Justice Department's civil rights division. Gupta has been a stalwart drug reformer, working to obtain justice for the victims of racially biased drug enforcement in Tulia, Texas, currently leading the ACLU's National Campaign to End Mass Incarceration, and speaking out frequently about drug war injustices and against mandatory minimum sentencing. "The war on drugs has been a war on communities of color," she wrote in 2011. She is also a strong supporter of marijuana law reform, including legalization.

International

Unprecedented Swarm of Overdoses at Vancouver Safe Injection Site -- But No One Died. Vancouver's InSite safe injection site has seen 31 overdoses in two days, a record for the facility. The ODs came on Sunday and Monday, and speculation is that a particularly strong batch of heroin, perhaps laced with fentanyl, is responsible. It's worth noting that no one died in the InSite overdoses, where medical attention is at hand. In fact, no one has ever died of an overdose at InSite. The batch of heroin has claimed at least one life, though -- a 20-something woman who died in a hostel on the Downtown East Side. There was no medical attention on hand for her. "Heroin overdoses don't need to be fatal," said Gavin Wilson of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, which runs InSite. "They're reversible if caught in time."

Guatemala Weighing Softer Drug Punishments. President Otto Perez Molina has told Reuters that the country is considering reducing drug sentences for small-time offenses as part of its push to liberalize its drug policy. "We have 17,000 prisoners in our jails. Many of them are linked to drug trafficking. Some of them are indeed criminals. And there are some who are in for minimal amounts of consumption or possession," Perez said. "So I think there are steps we could take time to analyze," he added, when asked about the possibility of easing sentences to lighten the strain on Guatemala's overstretched penal system. The government received an interim report from a commission studying possible drug policy changes last month, and Perez said final recommendations would be ready sometime in the first half of next year. He also said that his government is considering regulating medical marijuana and opium poppy production for medical purposes.

Dutch Court Refuses to Punish Marijuana Growers. A court in Groningen has found two people guilty of growing marijuana, but refused to punish them, instead criticizing the government's policy that criminalizes pot growing but allows its sale in the country's famous cannabis coffee shops. "The court finds the suspects guilty, but no punishment will be applied," the court said in its ruling. "Given that the sale of soft drugs in coffee shops is tolerated, this means that these coffee shops must supply themselves and so cultivation must be done to satisfy these demands. The law does not state how this supply should be done," the court said. The Groningen growers had been open about their activities, and the court found they had acted within the spirit of the marijuana laws, acting "in the interests of public health and so as to not disturb the public order."

Chronicle AM: State Dept. Okay With Legalization Elsewhere, Bolivia's Morales Reelected, More (10/14/14)

The State Department's point man on international drug affairs signals a new flexibility in US policy, Bolivia's coca farmer President Evo Morales wins reelection, the DC initiative wins more endorsements, the Florida medical marijuana initiative is in danger, and more.

Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement William Brownfield says some surprising things.
Marijuana Policy

DC Initiative Picks Up Labor, Working Families Endorsements. DC's Measure 71 marijuana cultivation and possession legalization initiative has been endorsed by two labor unions and a District-based activist group. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the United Commercial Food Workers (UCFW) have come on board, citing the elimination of racially discriminatory enforcement and the removal of barriers to job opportunities. So has DC Working Families, a progressive social justice activist group.

Northern California Marijuana Summit Being Planned in Advance of 2016 Effort. Aware that a well-connected California marijuana legalization initiative is coming in 2016, some Northern California counties are laying the groundwork for a regional summit on the issue. Mendocino County CEO Carmel Angelo told county supervisors last week that the impending legalization initiative had led her to have discussion with other county CEOs about forming a Northern California Cannabis Summit next year. The proposed meeting would discuss possible economic, regulatory, taxation and policy implications to prepare for 2016 legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Latest Poll Has Florida Initiative at 52% -- It Needs 60% to Win. A new poll with a large sample and small margin of error has the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative coming up short. According to the SaintPetersBlog poll, a slim majority (52%) supports the initiative, but that's not enough because, as a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% of the vote to pass. The poll sample consisted of 3,128 Florida registered voters who said they were planning to vote in the election and has a margin of error of +/- 1.8%. The poll is roughly in line with other recent surveys that have shown Amendment 2 polling in the 50s.

Drug Policy

State Department's Drugs Point Man Signals US Flexibility on Drug Reform. In a speech last week at the United Nations, Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield, the head of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs"), made it clear that the US is willing to embrace flexibility, up to and including drug legalization in other countries, in the face of rising calls for international drug reform. Brownfield succinctly laid out the US approach: "First,... respect the integrity of the existing UN Drug Control Conventions. Second, accept flexible interpretation of those conventions. The first of them was drafted and enacted in 1961. Things have changed since 1961. We must have enough flexibility to allow us to incorporate those changes into our policies. Third, to tolerate different national drug policies, to accept the fact that some countries will have very strict drug approaches; other countries will legalize entire categories of drugs. All these countries must work together in the international community. We must have some tolerance for those differing policies. And our fourth pillar is agreement and consensus that whatever our approach and policy may be on legalization, decriminalization, de-penalization, we all agree to combat and resist the criminal organizations -- not those who buy, consume, but those who market and traffic the product for economic gain. Respect the conventions; flexible interpretation; tolerance for national polices; criminal organizations -- that is our mantra." Click on the link to read the entirety of his remarks.

Houston Mayor Calls for "Complete Rethinking" of Nation's Drug Laws. Ten minutes into an interview with Dean Becker of the Drug Truth Network Annise Parker (D) unloaded on drug prohibition: "I agree with you that we need a complete rethinking of the nation's drug laws," she told Becker. "We have seen over and over again that outright prohibition doesn't work. We saw that in the '20s when the prohibition in this country fueled the rise of organized crime. At the same time we don't want in any way to send a message that illegal drugs are approved or appropriate, but we need to figure out a way to go to managing these drugs rather than simply saying, 'Don't do it or we are going to treat all illegal drugs the same.'" There is more; click on the title link to hear the whole thing.

International

Bolivia's Coca Farmer President Cruises to Easy Reelection. Coca farmer union leader Evo Morales has easily won reelection to an unprecedented third term as Bolivia's president. He won 59.5% of the vote, more than doubling the vote total of his nearest challenger in a five-man field and obviating the need for a runoff election. Although it remains one of the hemisphere's poorest countries, Bolivia's economy has flourished under the rule of Morales and his Movement to Socialism (MAS). The US has criticized Bolivia over its coca policies, but that didn't seem to be much of an issue in the elections.

California Malpractice Initiative Would Drug Test Doctors [FEATURE]

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.

Prop 46 would require the suspicionless drug testing of doctors. (wikimedia.org)
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. According to a Ballotpedia summary, it would:

  • Increase the state's cap on non-economic damages that can be assessed in medical negligence lawsuits to over $1 million, from the current cap of $250,000.
  • Require drug and alcohol testing of doctors and reporting of positive tests to the California Medical Board.
  • Require the California Medical Board to suspend doctors pending investigation of positive tests and take disciplinary action if the doctor was found impaired while on duty.
  • Require health care practitioners to report any doctor suspected of drug or alcohol impairment or medical negligence.
  • Require health care practitioners to consult the state prescription drug history database before prescribing certain controlled substances.

The fight over Prop 46 is shaping up to be the most expensive initiative campaign ever, with rival groups having already raised nearly $70 million. The vast majority of that funding is coming from opponents of the initiative, primarily the very well-heeled state medical community. The No on 46 campaign committee alone has raised nearly $57 million to kill it.

The stakes are huge. Portrayed by supporters -- mainly trial lawyers -- as a boon to patients harmed by medical misconduct and hamstrung by state laws limiting malpractice awards, state analysts estimate that it could cost state health care programs "tens of millions to several hundred million dollars annually," while a legion of hospitals, health clinics, medical practices, and other health care professionals warn that Prop 46 would drive up health care costs across the board while primarily benefiting the bottom line of malpractice lawyers.

Law firms and attorneys' groups are the biggest backers of Prop 46, but they aren't the only ones. The advocacy group Consumer Watchdog is also backing it to the tune of more than $2 million, and has laid out some arguments in favor of it.

"According to a study published in the Journal of Patient Safety, medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the country behind only heart disease and cancer. As many as 440,000 people die each year from preventable medical negligence. That's like a 747 crashing every 10 hours," the group said in a March flyer. "The California Medical Board estimates that almost one-in-five doctors (18%) suffer from drug and/or alcohol abuse at some point during their careers -- and leading medical safety experts have called for random drug testing to curb substance abuse and ensure patient safety."

In that same flyer, Consumer Watchdog also warned that "doctors are the biggest suppliers for chronic prescription drug abusers" and that "drug prescribed by doctors caused or contributed to nearly half of recent prescription drug overdose deaths in California." But such scary claims beg the question of who else would be expected to supply prescription drugs.

While lawyers and some consumer advocates are lining up to support Prop 46, it is also generating a huge and powerful group of opponents, including hundreds of medical groups, health care providers, hospitals, insurance companies, and clinics and private practices worried about rising malpractice insurance costs. It is also opposed by dozens of county medical associations, the state Chamber of Commerce and many local affiliates, along with more than a dozen labor unions.

The strange bedfellow opposition extends even further, with the state Republican Party, the state American Civil Liberties Union (and its local affiliates), and the California NAACP all among groups coming out against Prop 46. Also among its foes are most of the major newspapers in the state, which have thoroughly condemned it.

"If doctors are drug-addled, other doctors and nurses have a duty to report them," the Sacramento Bee editorialized. "If doctors make horrible mistakes during surgery, there might be cause for testing. But Proposition 46 would impose the insulting requirement of random testing on all doctors who have hospital privileges, and require that the Medical Board of California discipline any doctors whose tests are dirty. In its propaganda, Consumer Watchdog jokes about privacy concerns in a lowest-common-denominator video showing that other professionals must provide urine samples. Simply because laws allow for testing of some workers doesn't mean physicians' privacy should be trampled."

The conservative San Diego Tribune was similarly irked by the use of doctor drug testing as a come-on designed to induce voters to favor the initiative, calling it "a pathetic scam" in the title of its editorial.

"Plainly, the doctor drug-testing provision is 'the ultimate sweetener' designed to make this foul brew go down better. It wasn't a critic who used that term," the newspaper noted. "It was Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, in an interview with The Los Angeles Times. Such an openly cynical attempt to manipulate voters shouldn't be rewarded. Vote no on Proposition 46."

The drug testing provision has also provoked opposition from the state's largest marijuana consumer organization, CA NORML, and the Drug Policy Forum of California, which urged supporters to vote no on Prop 46 in its 2014 Election Guide.

Anti-Prop 46 campaign poster (caphq.org)
"Drug testing is about marijuana," explained CA NORML head Dale Gieringer. "More than half the drug test positives out there are marijuana. This initiative deceitfully claims to be about alcohol and prescription drug abuse by doctors, but drug testing is almost useless with alcohol -- unless you're actually drunk at the time, I suppose -- and if you closely read the text of the initiative, you see that prescription drugs are perfectly excusable as long as the doctor has a prescription. So, there's a medical excuse for the prescription drugs mentioned in the ads, but not for medical marijuana, since the initiative only allows exemptions for prescribed controlled substances."

The drug testing regime proposed by the initiative is antiquated, too, Gieringer said.

"This thing is using urinalysis drug testing standards promulgated by the feds a generation ago," he pointed out. "The list of illegal drugs includes PCP -- yeah, that's a major problem, all those docs on PCP -- but doesn't include the new synthetics. And the list specifically includes marijuana metabolites, but not THC. That's because they're relying on urinalysis, which can't detect active THC, so only the inactive metabolite is being considered under this insidious proposition."

In other words, the drug tests wouldn't catch doctors with alcohol problems unless they were literally drinking on the job, would excuse the presence of prescription drugs if the doctor had a prescription, and wouldn't find doctors who were actually high on pot, but would find those who had used the substance days or weeks earlier. But it sounded good in focus groups.

"As we know, the drug testing provision was an afterthought," Gieringer said. "This is being done by trial lawyers, and the basic purpose is to heighten the limits on malpractice liability. But those focus groups showed everybody liked the idea of drug testing doctors."

The drug testing provision may indeed have been a sweetener designed to improve Prop 46's chances at the polls next month. But the well-funded and broad-based opposition campaign is taking its toll.

Although it polled well in a June Field poll, coming in with 58% support, support has declined since then. An August Field poll saw support plummet, with only 34% in favor, 37% opposed, and 29% undecided. But it isn't over until it's over. The number of undecideds less than a month out is big enough to swing the results either way.

The airwaves across California are already filled with Prop 46 campaign ads. We can only expect them to increase in the next few weeks as the deep-pocketed contenders throw everything they've got at the voters in the final days of campaigning.

CA
United States

Chronicle AM: VT Pot Poll, OH College Student Athlete Drug Test Bill, Drugs and Pregnancy, More (10/10/14)

The legalization initiatives in DC and Oregon pick up endorsements, Colorado legal marijuana sales keep on increasing, a Vermont poll has a plurality for legalization, drug use among pregnant women is in the news, Mexico busts another cartel leader, and more. Let's get to it:

Gary Johnson's Our America Initiative endorses the DC legalization initiative. (ouramericainitiative.com)
Marijuana Policy

Gary Johnson Group Endorses DC Legalization Initiative. The Our America Initiative, a non-partisan group headed by former Republican New Mexico and Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, has endorsed the Measure 71 marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative. The Our America Initiative includes ending marijuana prohibition in its list of national projects, along with ending warrantless NSA spying, abolishing the IRS, and requiring presidential debates to include all viable candidates.

Oregon Social Workers Endorse Legalization Initiative. The Oregon chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has endorsed the Measure 91 legalization initiative. "We conclude that the measure's approach to marijuana use as a public health issue is more consistent with the social work profession's mandate, than Oregon's current treatment of non-medical marijuana use," the group said in a statement. Click on the title link for more.

Vermont Poll Finds Narrow Plurality of Voters Favoring Legalization. A WCAX TV poll found that 49% of respondents support marijuana legalization, with 43% opposed. The issue has polled better in previous polls, but those were polls of the general population -- not voters. Support is strongest among youthful respondents at 59%, but that is the age group least likely to vote.

Colorado Legal Marijuana Sales Up 10% in August. The state Department of Revenue reported Thursday that marijuana retailers sold $33 million in recreational weed last month, up 10% over the previous month. So far this year, marijuana sales (recreational and medical) have generated $45.2 in tax revenues.

Drug Testing

Ohio Bill Would Make College Athletes Take Mandatory Drug Tests. A bill filed Wednesday, House Bill 633, would make Ohio the first state in the nation to require mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of student athletes at public colleges and universities. The bill would require all athletes to be drug tested during an annual physical and before any championship games. Colleges and universities would also have to adopt policies to punish athletes caught using substances banned by the NCAA, including marijuana, but not alcohol. Rep. Peter Beck (R-Macon) said he doesn't believe there is a drug problem among college athletes, but he wants any using drugs to be found and placed in drug treatment. The state legislative session ends in December.

Pregnancy

Call for Justice Department to Renounce the Criminalization of Pregnancy. Some 48 reproductive justice, drug reform, women's rights, and civil liberties groups led by National Advocates for Pregnant Women have sent a letter to the Justice Department calling on Attorney General Holder to move away from policies that enhance criminal sentences for crimes committed while pregnant. The letter was inspired by the case of Tennessee woman Lucy Weld, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture meth and was hit with an additional six years in prison because she was pregnant when she committed the offense. The federal prosecutor in the case, US Attorney William Killian, used the case to "send a message" that he would seek sentencing enhancements in similar cases.

Growing Calls for Drug Testing of Pregnant Women. Faced with a growing number of infants born exposed to drugs while still in the womb, medical and other groups are increasingly calling for universal drug screening and/or drug testing of pregnant women. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials are calling for verbal drug screening followed by a drug test if necessary and agreed upon. The American Medical Association also endorses universal screening. But pregnant rights advocates argue that screening for drug use is more likely to lead to punishment or loss of custody rather than drug treatment. "Instead, what we see over and over again is that screening is used as a tool for reporting mothers to child welfare services and police enforcement," said Kylee Sunderlin of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "So even if the screening is universal, the reporting is not, which means that low-income women and women of color will continue to be vastly over-represented in punitive child welfare interventions and, in some states, arrests." Click the link for more details.

International

Mexico Nabs Another Cartel Capo. Mexican federal police Thursday arrested Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, reputed head of the Juarez cartel, in a "routine traffic stop" in Torreon. Carillo Fuentes is the brother of Amado Carillo Fuentes, who picked up the sobriquet "Lord of the Skies" for using jet liners to fly drug loads from South America to Mexico before his death in a botched cosmetic surgery operation in 1997. Vicente Carillo Fuentes is just the latest cartel leader busted or killed during the Pena Nieto presidency. Hector Beltran Leyva was captured just last week; Sinaloa cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was captured in February, Zetas leader Miguel Angel Trevino was captured in July 2013, and Gulf cartel head Jorge Eduardo Costilla was caught in September 2012.

Chronicle AM: Alaska Poll Battle, NE Anti-Heroin Campaign, NYC Psychedelic Conference, More (10/9/14)

Polls continue to split on the Alaska initiative, Illinoisans are lining up for medical marijuana, four Northeastern states unite to fight heroin, Canada's largest addiction center calls for marijuana legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

heroin (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Polls Split on Alaska Initiative. The fate of Alaska's Measure 2 legalization initiative remains up in the air. Polls this week commissioned by the opposing sides had differing results. A Dittman Research poll sponsored by the "Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2" campaign has the measure losing 44% to 53%. But the Alaska Survey poll, in which the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol paid for a marijuana policy question to be asked, had the initiative winning 57% to 39%. Both polls claimed a +/- 4% margin of error, but even so, both of them can't be right. The split in polls has been evident throughout the campaign. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

More Than 6,000 Illinoisans Have Applied for Medical Marijuana Cards. The Department of Health reported Wednesday that some 6,300 state residents have applied for permission to use medical marijuana, with cancer, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injuries being the most common health conditions mentioned. But the department also noted that the vast majority of applications were incomplete; only 800 have submitted complete applications, which include a doctor certification form and background check information. People whose applications are incomplete will be notified and then will have 21 days to complete them.

Guam Election Commission Seeks to End Legal Challenge to Medical Marijuana Initiative Vote. The commission has asked the US District Court on the island territory to dismiss the petition for a writ blocking the vote filed by local attorney Howard Trapp. Trapp has argued that the legislature cannot send an initiative to the voters, but the Election Commission and the Guam Supreme Court have already rejected his claim.

Drug Policy

Drug Czar Claims Marijuana Legalization Undermines Fight Against Opiates. In a speech yesterday in Maine, acting head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Michael Botticelli argued that the trend toward marijuana legalization is making the fight against more serious drug problems, such as the abuse of prescription opioids, more difficult. He said that early use of marijuana increases the likelihood that users will develop dependency on other drugs. "It's hard to say at one level that we want to think about prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse without looking at how to prevent kids from starting to use other substances from an early age," he said.

Heroin

Four Northeastern States Create Anti-Heroin Task Force. Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania officials Wednesday announced the formation of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Heroin Task Force (NEMA-HTF) in "an unprecedented law-enforcement collaboration to combat the growing problem of heroin distribution and abuse in communities throughout the region." Attorneys General from the four states will work together to try to repress the heroin trade. "For too long, drug organizations have tried to outmaneuver law-enforcement agencies by crossing state lines. This task force will ensure that our borders do not become our boundaries," said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. "By joining together, we can prevent defendants from using state borders as a shield from law-enforcement and allow us to shut down the pipelines and cut off the heroin supply."

Why Are We Freaking Out About Heroin? Wonkblog Asks. The Washington Post's Wonkblog has an insightful piece about the level of heroin use in the country and the public policy response it has engendered. The piece notes that "hardly anyone uses heroin" and is full of crunchy numbers and thoughtful commentary. "Overall, it's important for the public -- and particularly the media -- to keep some perspective when it comes to the numbers on heroin," the piece concludes. "It doesn't make a lot of sense to speak of 'epidemics' when use rates continue to hover somewhere between 0.1 and 0.5% of the total population. And kneejerk legislating will only make the problem worse." Click on the link for the full piece.

Psychedelics

New York City Conference on Psychedelics This Weekend. The eighth annual Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics conference will be held at Judson Memorial Church and The New School in Greenwich Village on October 11 and 12. Horizons focuses on contemporary research into the applications of psychedelics, providing an invaluable forum for experts to share ideas, insights, and to rethink the future of these drugs in science, medicine, culture, and history. This year, professors, researchers, writers and practitioners from the United States, England and Switzerland will be presenting findings and insights in the fields of neuroscience, terminal anxiety disorder, depression, hard drugs addiction, sexual orientation and identity, and more. Click on the links for more information.

International

Canada's Largest Addiction Center Calls for Marijuana Legalization. In a report issued today, Canada's largest addiction center calls for marijuana legalization with a strict regulatory approach. The recommendation is based in harm reduction principles. The Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto made the call for legalization in its report CAMH's Cannabis Policy Framework. It comes after an in-depth analysis of the health, social, and legal implications of marijuana use, as well as an examination of comparative marijuana policy, by CAMH scientists and policy experts. "Canada's current system of cannabis control is failing to prevent or reduce the harms associated with cannabis use," said Dr. Jürgen Rehm, Director of the Social and Epidemiological Research Department at CAMH. "Based on a thorough review of the evidence, we believe that legalization combined with strict regulation of cannabis is the most effective means of reducing the harms associated with its use."

Myanmar Moving Toward Reducing Drug Penalties. Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Brigadier General Kyaw Kyaw Tun has told members of parliament that the government is preparing to review sentences for drug use, which currently range from five to 15 years in prison. "Officials from the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control, the Union Attorney-General's Office and the Union Supreme Court are drawing up an amendment law," the deputy minister said. The Myanmar government has been moving to shift drug penalties since 2012.

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