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Chronicle AM: Reps Call for Better DEA Head, US Afghan Opium Boondoggle, Mexico Violence, More (5/1/15)

The House rejects medical marijuana for vets, Georgia's governor signs a CBD cannabis oil bill, Congressmembers call for a progressive DEA head, the US spent $8.4 billion to wipe out Afghan poppy crops and got squat, there's a new report on prohibition-related violence in Mexico, and more.

The US has spent $8.4 billion to wipe out Afghan poppies, but the crop is bigger than ever. (unodc.org)
Medical Marijuana

House Rejects Medical Marijuana Access for Vets by Three Votes. An amendment from Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) to allow Veterans Administration doctors to fill out state medical marijuana recommendation forms for veterans was defeated Thursday by a vote of 213-210. The amendment was to the spending bill to the Veterans Administration.

California Assembly Passes Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act. The Assembly approved Assembly Bill 258, filed by Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-San Rafael). The bill bars anyone in the organ transplant process from using a patient's use of medical marijuana to deny them a transplant, unless that use is clinically significant to the transplant process. The bill now heads to the state Senate.

Georgia Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) Thursday signed into law House Bill 1, the "Hailey's Hope Act." The law will allow qualifying patients to use CBD cannabis oils containing less than 5% THC. Click on the link to see the list of qualifying conditions.

Drug Policy

Congressmembers Call for a More Progressive DEA Head. Eight members of Congress have sent a letter to the White House urging it to replace disgraced outgoing DEA head Michele Leonhart with someone who will "reflect your administration's policies. Leonhart, they said, "leaves behind a legacy of strident opposition to efforts to reform our nation's drug policy." Click on either link for more.

International

Afghan Opium Production Jumps Despite $8.4 Billion US Effort. The US has dumped $8.4 billion into fighting opium production in Afghanistan since invading and occupying the country in late 2001, but has basically gotten squat for its efforts, according to the latest counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan, and the country is the global leader in illicit opium cultivation and production," the quarterly report concluded.

Italian Army Begins Growing Medical Marijuana. To address a shortage of medical marijuana in the country, the Italian Army has begun growing medical marijuana in a bunker inside a pharmaceutical plant in Florence. "The aim of this operation is to make available to a growing number of patients a medical product which isn't always readily available on the market, at a much better price for the user," Colonel Antonio Medica told Italian website Corriere della Sera. The operation is expected to produce about 220 pounds annually.

Mexico Drug Trafficking Violence Declines, But Still Deadly. An annual report from the University of San Diego's Justice in Mexico project finds that homicides have declined for the third year in a row and that cities such as Acapulco, Chihuahua, and Ciudad Juarez have seen dramatic reductions in violence, but that new areas of concern have emerged, including the states of Morelos and Jalisco. "Violence remains relatively high and the security situation remains problematic in certain parts of the country," said the report, Drug Violence in Mexico.

Mexican Gunmen Shoot Down Military Helicopter in Jalisco, Killing Three Soldiers. A military helicopter trailing carloads of suspected cartel gunmen was hit with gunfire from the convoy today, resulting in a crash landing that left three of the 11 troops on board dead. The attack came as violence roiled the state: More than a dozen trucks and buses were torched in Guadalajara, gunmen clashed with police in the town of Autlan, and five banks were torched in Ciudad Guzman. This is the turf of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which killed 20 police officers in the state in two ambushes in March and April.

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Nixes Roadside Waits for Drug Dogs, DEA Head to Resign, More (4/21/15)

The DEA head is on her way out, the Supreme Court rules on making motorists wait for drug dogs to arrive, Indiana's governor extends an emergency needle exchange, a new report on asset forfeiture abuses in California is out, and more.

The US Supreme Court rules that detaining motorists on the side of the road to wait for drug dogs is illegal. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Legal Pot Price Declines to $12 a Gram. Pot prices averaged nearly $30 a gram—well above black market prices—when the state's first marijuana retail outlets opened, but that has changed dramatically, according to the State Liquor Control Board. Now, the average retail price of a gram is about $12, as supply expands to meet demand. That's still $336 an ounce, though.

Medical Marijuana

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Getting Underway. Activists with Wyoming NORML submitted their initiative application with the secretary of state's office Monday. If and when the application is approved, organizers will have until next February to gather 25,673 valid voter signatures to place it on the 2016 general election ballot. A recent poll had support for marijuana at 72% in the Cowboy State.

Asset Forfeiture

New Report Details California Asset Forfeiture Abuses. The Drug Policy Alliance today released a new report, Above the Law: An Investigation of Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses in California, a multi-year, comprehensive look at asset forfeiture abuses in the state that reveals the troubling extent to which law enforcement agencies have violated state and federal law. The report finds that a handful of LA County cities lead the state in per capita seizures, that some departments rely on asset forfeiture for funding themselves, and that some departments were providing false or incomplete reports to the Justice Department.

Drug Testing

Indiana Welfare Drug Testing Bill Dead. The legislator who unexpectedly proposed adding a welfare drug testing proposal to a social services spending bill has withdrawn it after learning how few people would be tested and how little support there is for it. Rep. Terry Goodin (D-Crawfordsville) said today he would instead seek a study committee to examine how best to fight drug abuse.

Florida Governor Settles on State Employee Drug Testing. Gov. Rick Scott (R) has formally given up on his effort to subject state employees to random, suspicionless drug testing. He reached an agreement Monday with the employees' union that will only allow drug testing in a relative handful of safety-sensitive positions. Of the 1,400 job classifications Scott originally wanted covered, only 267 will be covered.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Governor Extends Emergency Needle Exchange Program. Gov. Mike Pence (R) Monday extended an emergency needle exchange program in Scott County for another 30 days in a bid to get a handle on an injection drug-related HIV outbreak there. The move comes as the legislature heard testimony supporting a bill that would allow similar exchanges elsewhere in the state.

Law Enforcement

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart Set to Resign. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart is expected to resign soon, a unnamed "senior administration official" told CBS News this morning. The embattled DEA head has been under fire for years over her leadership of the scandal-ridden agency, but it was her performance at a Capitol Hill hearing last week that sealed her fate. Click on the link to read our feature story on this.

Supreme Court Says Detaining Motorists to Wait for Drug Dogs to Arrive is Not OK. In a 6-3 decision today, the US Supreme Court held that detaining motorists on the side of the highway to await the arrival of a drug dog violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unlawful searches and seizures. Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that police may request drivers licenses, vehicle registrations, proof of insurance, and check for outstanding warrants because all those investigatory actions are aimed at enforcing traffic laws and ensuring that vehicles are operating safely—the ostensible reason for the stops. "A dog sniff, unlike those stock inquiries, lacks the same tie to roadway safety," she said. Prolonging the stop, even for a few minutes, to allow for the arrival of a drug dog was improper, Ginsburg wrote. "A traffic stop becomes unlawful if prolonged beyond the time in fact needed to complete all traffic-based inquiries," Ginsburg said. Click on the link to read our newsbrief and view the ruling itself.

International

Mexicans Capture Gulf Cartel Leader. Mexican authorities confirmed over the weekend that they had captured Jose Tiburcio Hernandez Fuentes, who they described as a Gulf Cartel leader responsible for much of the recent violence in the border city of Reynosa. He was caught despite a shootout between Mexican soldiers and police and around 60 cartel gunmen who tried to rescue him. The Mexicans caught a key Juarez Cartel leader just a day earlier. 

Head of Scandal-Plagued DEA to Resign [FEATURE]

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart is expected to resign soon, an unnamed "senior administration official" told CBS News this morning. The embattled DEA head has been under fire for years over her leadership of the scandal-ridden agency, but it was her performance at a Capitol Hill hearing last week that sealed her fate.

[It's now official: Attorney General Holder announced Leonhart's retirement in a statement late this afternoon.]

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart is on her way out the door. (justice.gov/dea)
Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee pronounced themselves agog over recent reports of DEA agents in Colombia partying with prostitutes, sometimes with taxpayer dollars, sometimes paid for by Colombian drug traffickers. Those revelations came in a Justice Department Office of the Inspector General report issued last month.

Members were infuriated by the DEA's handling of the case, in which 10 DEA agents were accused of wrongdoing. Only seven of them were disciplined, and the punishment was extremely light: they were suspended for periods of one to 10 days. Leonhart drew the wrath of committee members when she claimed she was unable to discipline the agents more severely.

"What would it take to get fired at the DEA?" asked Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who said he was "stunned" that no one had been fired in the wake of the revelations. "What the hell do you have to do?"

Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) told Leonhart that as agency head she carried much of the responsibility for what he called "a cultural problem" at the agency stretching back years.

"You get called before this committee and say 'Oh, it's terrible, it's awful,'" Chaffetz said at the conclusion of the hearing. "But you personally have been responsible for this for more than a decade and you didn't do anything about it."

Immediately after last Tuesday's hearing, 22 members of the committee signed a joint statement saying they had "no confidence" in Leonhart's continued leadership.

And now word leaks from the White House that Leonhart is about to become history.

It's been a long time coming. The veteran DEA administrator and her agency have been embroiled in scandal throughout her tenure. And she and the DEA have been increasingly out of step with an administration that has shown an interest in rolling back drug war excesses, from major sentencing reforms to largely (if belatedly) adopting a laissez-faire attitude toward medical marijuana and even marijuana legalization in the states.

  • The Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General currently has six open into numerous DEA scandals, including the massacre of civilians in Honduras, the use of NSA data to both spy on virtually all Americans and to systematically fabricate evidence, and controversial uses of confidential informants.
  • A series of recent investigations by USA Today found that the DEA has been tracking billions of U.S. phone calls without warrants or even suspicion of wrong-doing, an operation copied by the NSA and other agencies after 9/11. The DEA built the modern surveillance state.
  • DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart herself has been at the center of several scandals, including the House of Death scandal in which the DEA may have turned a blind eye to torture and murder, and the Andrew Chambers scandal, in which the DEA rehired a confidential informant with a history of lying.
  • DEA conflicts with Obama administration policy. Last year, Leonhart publicly rebuked President Obama for admitting that marijuana is as safe as alcohol, told members of Congress that the DEA will continue to go after marijuana even in states where it is legal despite DOJ guidance stating otherwise, and spoke out against bipartisan drug sentencing reform in Congress that the Obama administration is supporting.
  • Last May, The DEA created a political firestorm this week when it seized seeds bound for a Kentucky hemp research program that was approved by Congress. Then Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called the incident "an outrage" and the Kentucky Agriculture Department sued the DEA.
  • The DEA's refusal to acknowledge science. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart has on several occasions ignored science and overruled the DEA's own administrative law judges on medical issues relating to marijuana. In a bizarre 2012 debate with members of Congress Leonhart refused repeatedly to acknowledge that marijuana is safer than cocaine and heroin.

Drug reform groups, such as the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), both of which had been calling for Leonhart's head for some time, were elated, but urged the Obama administration to use this as an opportunity not to just put a new face in charge of DEA, but to change the agency's direction.

"Leonhart's DEA reflects an outdated, disastrous approach that President Obama claims he wants to leave behind,” said Bill Piper, DPA director of national affairs. "If she leaves, he has an opportunity to appoint someone who will overhaul the DEA and support drug policy reform. The DEA is a large, expensive, scandal-prone bureaucracy that has failed to reduce drug-related problems. Drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue; with states legalizing marijuana and adopting other drug policy reforms it is time to ask if the agency is even needed anymore," he said.

"Ms. Leonhart consistently and recklessly undermined President Obama's mandate that public policy be guided by science instead of ideology. Her resignation will allow the president to appoint an administrator who will rely on the facts rather than ignore them," said Dan Riffle, MPP director of federal policies.

"Most Americans, including President Obama, recognize the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. Yet, Ms. Leonhart was unwilling to even acknowledge that marijuana poses less potential harm than heroin and methamphetamine," Riffle continued. "While most of the country has been progressing in its views on marijuana policy, Ms. Leonhart has maintained a mindset straight out of the 1930s. Hopefully her resignation will mark the end of the ‘Reefer Madness’ era at the DEA."

Chronicle AM: Jamaica Decrim Now in Effect, First CA 2016 Legalization Init Filed, GA Gov Signs CBD Bill, More (4/16/15)

A Northern California attorney is first out of the gate with a 2016 legalization initiative, a CBD cannabis oil bill becomes law in Georgia, and another awaits the governor's signature in Oklahoma, congressmen say they have "no confidence" in DEA head Leonhart, decrim is now in effect in Jamaica, and more. 

This Rastaman has reason to smile. Decrim has come to Jamaica. (wikimedia.,org)
Marijuana Policy

First 2016 California Legalization Initiative Filed.  Sebastopol marijuana attorney Omar Figueroa and attorney Heather Burke have filed the California Craft Cannabis Initiative, the first of what are expected to be several measures seeking to legalize marijuana in the state next year. Proponents say it is an inclusive effort designed to protect the state's legacy of artisanal marijuana growers. To make the ballot, initiatives must see their language approved by the state Attorney General's office, and then they have 180 days to gather more than half a million valid voter signatures.

Frustrated Vermont Legislators Propose Treating Alcohol Like Marijuana. A pair of House members Wednesday filed a bill that would ban alcohol and treat it like marijuana. The move was a frustrated reaction to stalled efforts to legalize marijuana and treat it like alcohol.  The bill is House Bill 502, and lead sponsor Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington) said he doesn't really want to ban alcohol, but that the bill is a symbolic step "recognize recent scientific studies that demonstrate that alcohol use is significantly more dangerous than marijuana."

Medical Marijuana

2016 California Medical Marijuana Initiative Filed. A group of medical marijuana activists have filed the Compassionate and Sensible Access Act, which is designed to protect a doctor's right to recommend medical marijuana and limit officials' ability to regulate cultivation, distribution, and transportation of the plant. To make the ballot, the language must first be approved by state officials, then campaigners will have to gather more than half a million valid voter signatures within 180 days of starting.

Georgia Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) today signed into law House Bill 1, which allows for the use of CBD cannabis oil for a list of specified diseases and medical conditions. The bill allows patients to possess the oil, but has no provision for obtaining it in the state.

Oklahoma Legislature Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The Senate Wednesday unanimously approved House Bill 124, which would allow for the use of the oil to treat seizure disorders in children. The bill passed the House in February and now heads to the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin (R).

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa House Committee Hearing on Asset Forfeiture Reform Gets Heated. Law enforcement squared off against civil libertarians in a House Government Oversight Committee hearing Wednesday. No bill was on the agenda, but committee Chair Rep. Bobby Kaufman (R-Wilton) said after the hearing he planned to author reform legislation next year. Click on the link for more detail.

Drug Policy

Federal Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Bill Filed. Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) has reintroduced the bill, HR 1812. It's been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Law Enforcement

House Oversight Committee Has "No Confidence" in DEA Head Leonhart. Fed up with DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart over a long litany of scandals in the drug-fighting agency she heads, 22 members of the House Oversight and Government Reforms Committee issued a statement yesterday saying they had "no confidence" in her leadership. "After over a decade of serving in top leadership positions at DEA, Administrator Leonhart has been woefully unable to change or positively influence the pervasive 'good old boy' culture that exists throughout the agency," the statement said. "From her testimony, it is clear that she lacks the authority and will to make the tough decisions required to hold those accountable who compromise national security and bring disgrace to their position. Ms. Leonhart has lost the confidence of this Committee to initiate the necessary reforms to restore the reputation of a vital agency."

Sordid Philadelphia Police Drug War Corruption Trial Underway. This one is a doozy! A trial now in its third week is ripping the lid off scandalously criminal behavior by the police department's dope squad. Stolen drug money, planted evidence, perjured testimony, beaten suspects, it's got it all. Click on the link for more detail.

International

Jah Herb is Now Decriminalized in Jamaica. Marijuana decriminalization went into effect Wednesday in the island nation. Anyone, including foreign tourists, can now possess up to two ounces of ganja and face only a $5 fine. And any household can now grow up to five plants. And adult Rastafarians can now use the herb for religious purposes. Irie.

Elite Texas Cops "Spied on Mexico," Report Says. Department of Public Safety documents show that an elite reconnaissance team formed by Gov. Rick Perry did aerial surveillance of Mexican drug cartel targets on the Mexican side of the border. Aircraft were used to track suspected Zeta cartel members and passed that information on to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which in turn worked with Mexican military forces to target them. 

Key Congressional Committee Has "No Confidence" in DEA Head Leonhart [FEATURE]

This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Fed up with DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart over a long litany of scandals in the drug-fighting agency she heads, 22 members of the House Oversight and Government Reforms Committee issued a statement yesterday saying they had "no confidence" in her leadership.

Update: Leonhart is retiring.

DEA Michele Leonhart is losing favor on Capitol Hill. (justice.gov)
"After over a decade of serving in top leadership positions at DEA, Administrator Leonhart has been woefully unable to change or positively influence the pervasive 'good old boy' culture that exists throughout the agency," the statement said. "From her testimony, it is clear that she lacks the authority and will to make the tough decisions required to hold those accountable who compromise national security and bring disgrace to their position. Ms. Leonhart has lost the confidence of this Committee to initiate the necessary reforms to restore the reputation of a vital agency."

The statement came in the immediate wake of a committee hearing yesterday over a Justice Department Office of the Inspector General report on sexual misconduct by department employees that found DEA agents in Colombia had been partying with prostitutes, with the tab being picked up by US taxpayers -- or sometimes by drug cartels.

At the hearing, Leonhart was excoriated by members over her failure to adequately discipline the agents involved -- the most serious punishments were short-term suspensions -- and her insistence that agency personnel rules tied her hands.

But committee members were having none of it.

"Do you think you're the right person for this job?" asked Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the top Democrat on the committee.

"You're protecting people who solicited prostitutes, who had 15 to 20 sex parties," said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA). "This is a very serious issue and you've done nothing... I actually feel your system is protecting these people."

If the representatives' frustration was palpable, it was because they have been down this path of scandal too many times before with Leonhart at the helm. Here's just a selection of the controversies surrounding the agency since she took over in 2008, or which involve her own long history with the agency:

  • The Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General currently has six open investigations into numerous DEA scandals, including the massacre of civilians in Honduras, the use of NSA data to both spy on virtually all Americans and to systematically fabricate evidence, and controversial uses of confidential informants.
  • Leonhart herself has been at the center of several scandals, including the House of Death scandal in which the DEA may have turned a blind eye to torture and murder, and the Andrew Chambers scandal, in which the DEA rehired a confidential informant with a history of lying.
  • DEA conflicts with Obama administration policy. Last year, Leonhart publicly rebuked President Obama for admitting that marijuana is as safe as alcohol, told members of Congress that the DEA will continue to go after marijuana even in states where it is legal despite DOJ guidance stating otherwise, and spoke out against bipartisan drug sentencing reform in Congress that the Obama administration is supporting.
  • Last May, the DEA created a political firestorm when it seized seeds bound for a Kentucky hemp research program that was approved by Congress. Then Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called the incident "an outrage" and the Kentucky Agriculture Department sued the DEA.
  • The DEA's refusal to acknowledge science. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart has on several occasions ignored science and overruled the DEA's own administrative law judges on medical issues relating to marijuana.

Cartagena, Colombia, a playground for sex-starved DEA agents. (wikimedia.org)
]Drug reformers, who have long criticized Leonhart's last-century attitudes and approach to drug policy, were calling for her head.

"This ought to be the final nail in the Leonhart coffin," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. "I cannot see how President Obama and AG Holder allow her to continue in her role. It's hard to think of a more incompetent and out of touch federal official than the current DEA chief. Her time is up. Leonhart has clashed with Republicans, Democrats, the White House, and civil society leaders. She reflects an outdated approach to the drug war that President Obama claims he wants to leave behind."

"There's simply no excuse for the outrageous behavior of the DEA's so-called leadership," said Major Neill Franklin (Ret'd.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a criminal justice group working to end the drug war. "Leonhart just helps us add to the list of reasons of why we need to rethink our entire approach to drug policy."

Will the scorching rebuke from Congress be enough to force Leonhart out the door or to convince her superiors to give her a nudge? Time will tell, but it appears her days are numbered.

Chronicle AM: Pro-Legalization Majority in Pew Poll, DEA Chief on Hot Seat Over Sex Scandals, More (4/15/15)

Another poll has a national majority for legalization, the DEA head gets skewered over taxpayer-funded sex scandals, the Senate Judiciary Committee eyes civil asset forfeiture reform, and much, much more.

Marijuana Policy

New Pew Poll Has Support for Legalization Nationwide at 53%. Advocates for legalization are winning the battle for public opinion, according to this new poll. Not only does it have a majority for legalization, but the poll also finds that while a fifth of respondents (21%) have switched from opposing to favoring legalization, only 7% have gone from supporting to opposing legalization. The poll also had 78% saying federal marijuana laws should not be enforced in states where pot is legal.

Federal Judge Rejects Motion to Reschedule Marijuana. US District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller declined today to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. The move came in a marijuana cultivation case where defense attorneys challenged pot's placement on the schedules. Mueller said during a brief hearing that she was initially inclined to grant the motion, but decided "this was not the court and this was not the time." She said it was up to Congress to change the law if it so desires.

Chris Christie Says He Will "Not Permit" Legal Marijuana if Elected. New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate, said Tuesday that if elected he would "crack down" on states that have legalized the weed. "I will crack down and not permit it," he said. "States should not be permitted to sell and profit" from legalization, he added, citing "enormous addiction problems."

Alaska House Passes Bill to Create Marijuana Control Board. The House Tuesday approved legislation to create a five-member marijuana control board to regulate the state's looming legal marijuana industry. The board would craft regulations by November, with the first licenses to be issued in May 2016. The measure is House Bill 123.

District of Columbia City Council Approves Two Marijuana Bills. The first bill, B21-0025, bars employers from testing job applicants for marijuana since it is legal in the city. The second bill, B20-0678, increases the number of plants medical marijuana providers can grow from 95 to 1,000.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Bill to Allow Children Access to Medical Marijuana Filed. Reps. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) Tuesday filed the Compassionate Access Act, which would "allow the states to provide appropriate access to patients needing these legitimate, medical treatments under the supervision of their physician," the congressmen said in a statement. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

Hawaii Senate Approves Dispensary Bill. The Senate Tuesday approved a bill that would establish a system of medical dispensaries for the state's 13,000 medical marijuana patients. The measure is House Bill 321. The bill now has to go back to the House for reconciliation.

Iowa Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate voted today to approve Senate File 484, which allows the production and distribution of medical marijuana. The bill would allow for up to a dozen independent dispensaries. It now goes to the House.

Washington Legislature Approves Medical Marijuana Overhaul. A bill that seeks to end unregulated medical marijuana dispensary sales and fold medical marijuana into the recreational marijuana system is now headed for the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee (D). Senate Bill 5052 would create a database of patients (voluntary, but patients won't get tax-free medicine unless they sign up), allow patients to possess three times more marijuana than recreational users, and eliminate the current collective garden structure, replacing it with cooperatives limited to four patients.

Asset Forfeiture

Sparks Fly at Senate Judiciary Committee Asset Forfeiture Hearing. Committee Chair Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) had a heated exchange with Fraternal Order of Police President Chuck Canterbury over civil asset forfeiture reform in a hearing today. Canterbury opposed ending civil asset forfeiture because doing so would deprive police of "hundreds of millions" of dollars to fight crime and terror, but Grassley dismissed that argument, saying such laws have created a "perverse incentive" for police to abuse them. Police opposition to reform "dismisses the need for real reform and demonstrates the absurdity of a system of justice in which some in law enforcement appear to value funding their own operations over protecting civil rights," Grassley said. The hearing is part of a broad push this year to reform federal civil asset forfeiture laws.

Virginia Senate Kills Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. The Senate today set aside efforts to enact civil asset forfeiture reform. The decision came during the legislature's annual reconvene session, when solons meet to consider responding to gubernatorial vetoes and amendments to bills passed during the session that ended last month. The legislature had passed a bill requiring only that police provide an inventory of property seized, and some legislators had hoped to get Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to add more substantial reforms, but they gave up on that effort today. Instead, they will leave it for the state crime commission to study.

Law Enforcement

DEA Head Gets Scalded in Hearing Over Agents' Sex Parties. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart was on the hot seat Tuesday as the House Oversight Committee took aim at revelations of taxpayer-funded sex parties involving DEA agents and prostitutes in Colombia. Members scoffed at her claims that she was unable to fire anyone involved and harshly questioned the agency's (lack of) response to the incidents. Click on the link for juicy details.

Sentencing

California Bill to Refelonize "Date Rape" Drugs Advances. A bill that would give prosecutors the option of charging possession of Rohypnol, ketamine, and GHB as a felony passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee today. Assembly Bill 46 is an attempt to partially roll back last year's voter-approved Proposition 47, which defelonized simple drug possession.

Connecticut Bill Would Dramatically Shrink "Drug Free" Zones. The legislature's Judiciary Committee voted last Friday to amend a bill aimed at reducing the number of drug prisoners in the state by shrinking the area of sentence-enhancing "drug free" zones to just schools and day care centers, eliminating the 1,500-foot zone around the buildings. The vote came as an amendment to Senate Bill 952, part of Gov. Dannel Malloy's (D) "Second Chance Society."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Drug-related law enforcement thievery from lowly police cadets to high-placed DEA and Secret Service agents is the them this week. Let's get to it:

In Baltimore, a DEA agent and a Secret Service agent were charged last Monday with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bitcoins from the Silk Road dark web drug sales website they were investigating. DEA Agent Carl Force, 46, is accused of extorting Silk Road operator Ross Ulbricht out of $250,000 in bitcoins by threatening to turn him in if he didn't pay up, as well as other bitcoin-related charges. He deposited $757,000 in personal bank accounts during a year when his salary was $150,000. He is charged with money laundering, wire fraud, and conflict of interest. Secret Service Agent Shaun Bridges, 32, allegedly ripped off Silk Road accounts by using password information obtained from a Silk Road customer service agent arrested in a drug sting. He allegedly stole $800,000. He is charged with wire fraud and money laundering.

In Houston, a Houston Police officer was arrested Tuesday after being caught escorting a cartel drug load across state lines. Noe Juarez was arrested on a DEA warrant out of New Orleans. The precise charges will not be revealed until he makes a first court appearance.

In Towson, Maryland, a former Baltimore County police cadet was sentenced last Wednesday to four years in prison for stealing drugs from the department evidence room. Nicholas Ishmael, 21, had pleaded guilty in January to felony theft and possession of oxycodone with the intent to deliver. He had been arrested last June after an investigation into missing drugs pointed toward him. He was carrying $40,000 in cash when arrested.

In Frankfort, Kentucky, a former Franklin County narcotics officer was sentenced Monday to 16 months in prison for stealing cash, jewelry, and gift cards from drug dealers. Matthew Christian Brown, 32, was the county sheriff's lead narc until December 2012 and enriched himself during drug busts. In one August 2012 case, he confiscated guns, drugs, and $32,000 in cash, but only logged the guns, drugs, and $18,000 into evidence, keeping the other $14,000. In another case, he stole an $11,000 ring and $3,000 watch from a drug dealer. He kept the ring, but sold the watch back to the dealer for $800 and kept the cash. He was charged with embezzlement, illegally distributing anabolic steroids, wire fraud, and lying to the FBI.

In Titusville, Florida, a former Titusville police officer was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in federal prison for participating in a drug deal. Richard Irizarry, 46, went down after befriending a DEA snitch and telling him he wanted to get into the drug business. Irizarry also helped the informant avoid detection by DEA officers. He was charged with attempting to aid and abet the distribution of cocaine and was found guilty in January.

Chronicle AM: CA Poll Has 55% for Legalization, GA MedMJ CBD Bill Passes, DEA Sex Parties, More (3/26/15)

Marijuana and medical marijuana remain hot items at the statehouse, a new report says DEA agents partied with prostitutes paid for by drug traffickers, Indiana's governor okays emergency needle exchanges, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Alaska Marijuana Bill Would Still Treat Pot as Controlled Substance. The state Senate is preparing to vote Friday on the bill to deal with marijuana post-legalization, but it will vote on a version of Senate Bill 30 that keeps marijuana listed as a controlled substance. A Judiciary Committee draft removed marijuana from the list, but the Senate voted as a whole to adopt instead language from the Finance committee that keeps it on the list.

New California Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55%. A new Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll has 55% of Californians supporting marijuana legalization. "Support for legalization is at its highest point since PPIC began asking the question in May 2010," the group noted.

California Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy Releases Policy Road Map Today. A group of experts led by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is today unveiling a "progress report" that outlines issues that should be addressed in any legalization initiative going before voters next year. The commission also includes the ACLU, leading academics, law enforcement officials, and activists.

Massachusetts Prosecutors Reject Legalization. State DAs showed little interest in legalizing marijuana at a statehouse hearing Wednesday. "We ought to turn ourselves into Denver, Colorado, where gummy bears are littering the streets that are made of marijuana?" asked Cape and Islands DA Michael O'Keefe in a typical comment from prosecutors. If the legislature doesn't legalize pot this year or next, the state is extremely likely to see one or more initiatives to do so next year.

New Jersey Governor Says Marijuana Tax Revenue is "Blood Money." Gov. Chris Christie (R) used the occasion of the ribbon-cutting event at a drug treatment facility to reiterate his opposition to marijuana legalization. Christie said marijuana is a "gateway drug" and that tax revenues from its sale would amount to "blood money."

ResponsibleOhio Begins Signature Gathering. Signature gathering started Wednesday for the group's marijuana legalization initiative, which is unique and controversial because of its scheme to essentially create a commercial marijuana monopoly with only 10 registered commercial growers. The group needs some 300,000 signatures by July to qualify for this year's ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Federal CBD Bill Filed. Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) has filed HR 1635, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude cannabidiol (CDB) and CBD-rich marijuana plants from the definition of marijuana under the act.

Georgia CBD Passes Legislature, Governor Will Sign. The House Wednesday gave final approval to House Bill 1, which would allow patients with eight specified diseases to use CBD cannabis oil. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said today he will sign the bill.

Hawaii Dispensary Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Public Health and Public Safety committees have approved House Bill 321, which would create dispensaries and production centers in each county in the state. They also amended the bill to speed up the opening of dispensaries, which would now be set for next year.

Iowa Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Ways and Means Committee Wednesday approved Senate Study Bill 1243, which would allow patients with a number of specified medical conditions to use medical marijuana -- but not to smoke it.

North Carolina House Committee Kills Medical Marijuana Bill. After an intense hour-long hearing, the House Judiciary Committee voted to kill a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 78. Some supporters of the bill vowed to move to other states, while one Republican foe of the bill, Rep. Dan Arp, complained he was struck in the back by an angry supporter. The man was detained by police, but later released without charges.

Heroin and Opiates

Kentucky Legislature Passes Compromise Heroin Bill. After more than three years of negotiations, the legislature has passed a bill that will allow for needle exchange programs, but also increase sentences for some heroin dealing offenses. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is expected to sign the bill.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Governor Authorizes Limited Needle Exchange Program to Fight HIV Outbreak. Gov. Mike Pence (R) has declared a public health emergency in Scott County, which has seen 79 new HIV cases since December, all tied to needle sharing among drug users. The move allows him to institute a short-term needle exchange program to attempt to slow the outbreak.

Drug Testing

Arkansas Welfare Drug Testing Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor has approved House Bill 1924, which would establish a pilot program to require welfare applicants to undergo screening for drug use and submit to drug tests if deemed "suspicious." The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

Law Enforcement

DEA Agents in Colombia Enjoyed "Sex Parties" Paid for By Drug Traffickers. A new report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General finds that foreign drug trafficking organizations paid for "sex parties" attended by DEA agents, including at least one DEA Supervisory Agent. At least seven overseas agents admitting attending parties with prostitutes, and they were hit with penalties of suspensions ranging from two to10 days. The DEA wasn't especially helpful in preparing the report, the OIG noted.

International

New Zealand Prime Minister Rejects Marijuana Decriminalization. Prime Minister John Key said while campaigning Thursday that he did not support marijuana decriminalization. When accused by a listener of wanting to lock people up, he said, "It's not so much that, I just don't agree with drugs." That prompted Northland candidate Maki Herbert to retort that Key was sending mixed messages. "On the one hand he wants cannabis to remain a crime but he denies wanting to lock people in jail for that crime," she said. "Mr. Key should remember that alcohol is also a drug, one which he admits to using regularly."

Chronicle AM: DEA "Cold Consent" Searches, NYC Calls for Pot Legalization, KY Heroin Bills Collide, More (3/20/15)

An Ohio legalization initiative heads for signature-gathering, the NYC city council calls for decrim and legalization, the DEA's "cold consent" searches get critiqued, Kentucky pols can't agree on how to deal with heroin, and more.

A Justice Department OIG report criticizes the DEA's "cold consent" seaches. (justice.gov)
Marijuana

Louisiana Legalization Bill Pre-Filed. State Rep. Dalton Honore (D-Baton Rouge) has pre-filed a marijuana legalization bill. He submitted House Bill 117 yesterday. To go into effect, it would have to both pass the legislature and be approved by the electorate in the November 2016 election. Louisiana has some of the country's harshest marijuana laws.

Ohio Ballot Board Clears ResponsibleOhio Legalization Initiative. Backers of the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative have cleared the final hurdle before beginning signature-gathering. The state Ballot Board agreed that the proposal amounts to a single constitutional amendment, so it's good to go. Backers will now need to gather more than 300,000 signatures by July to qualify for the ballot. The amendment would allow only 10 growing sites already promised to investors.

NYC City Council Calls for Decriminalizing and Legalizing Marijuana. This week, the New York City Council called for the state to pass legislation to both decriminalize and to tax and regulate marijuana. As part of the Council's State Budget and Legislative Agenda for the 2015-2016 legislative session, the council urged the state legislature to pass two marijuana policy reforms -- the Fairness and Equity Act and the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA). The Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito had previously announced her support for marijuana legalization in November, but this marks the first time that decriminalization and legalization have been part of the Council's official legislative agenda.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved House Bill 1 yesterday. The measure has passed the House and now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Methamphetamine

New York Senate Approves Bill to Increase Meth Penalties. The Senate has passed Senate Bill 1150, which would increase penalties for meth possession and sale. Meth would be treated similarly to heroin and cocaine under the bill. The bill is now in the Assembly Codes Committee as Assembly Bill 5577.

Opiates

Kentucky Legislators Still Can't Agree on Heroin Bills. House and Senate negotiators met yesterday to try to reach a compromise on competing bills that address heroin use in the state, but mainly agreed to disagree. There are differences over increasing penalties for heroin dealers, whether to allow needle exchanges, and on how to protect people who report overdoses. There is now a chance legislators could agree on a compromise that simply omits the sentencing and overdose reporting provisions.

Asset Forfeiture

Sen. Chuck Grassley Investigating Asset Forfeiture Abuses in US Marshals Service. The Iowa Republican sent a letter Wednesday to the agency demanding documents after he received whistleblower allegations that the service's Asset Forfeiture Division had used asset forfeiture monies "to purchase extravagant office decorations such as custom wall paper and window treatments." He is also looking into allegations of favoritism in hiring at the agency.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Report Criticizes DEA's "Cold Consent" Searches. In a new report, the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General details how the DEA's use of "cold consent" searches, where agents confront travelers at airports, bus, and rail stations and "ask" for consent to search them, may be racially profiling passengers and unjustly seizing their money. Click on the title link or read the report for lots more detail.

Reentry and Rehabilitation

Ex-Felon Federal Voting Rights Bills Filed. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) has filed S 772 to secure the federal voting rights of people who have served their time. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has filed a companion bill, HR 1459, in the House.

Sentencing

Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up More Cosponsors. The Senate version, S 502, now has nine cosponsors, with the latest being Sen. John Isaakson (R-GA). The House version, HR 920, now has 22 cosponsors, with six signing on in the past week. The bills would retroactively apply provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act and would reduce mandatory minimum sentences.

International

Canada Supreme Court Takes Up Medical Marijuana Edibles. The high court is hearing a case where plaintiffs charge that Health Canada violated medical marijuana patients' constitutional rights to life, liberty, and safety by barring any form of marijuana except dried plants. The government has lost at every step of the legal process so far, but continues to argue the case.

Zambia Opposition Party Joins Green Call for Marijuana Legalization. Zambia's second largest opposition party, the United Party for National Development, has joined the Greens in calling for the legalization of marijuana cultivation. "There is nothing wrong with cannabis. Just like you and me 'dear reader' Cannabis Sativa, the plant, was also created by God," wrote party vice-president for political affairs Canisius Banda. "Cannabis is a resource. Cannabis must be decriminalized the world over. Nonetheless, regulation, albeit wise, just as it exists for many other things ought to remain. Just like Zambia boasts of Copper, California boasts of Cannabis, the biggest cash crop, responsible for US$14 billion a year in sales. Zambia would do well, under decriminalized but controlled conditions, to start growing Cannabis, and at least, for now until we are a bit more civilized, only for export to countries that have made it legal."

Chronicle AM: Good New Pot Polls, State Dept. Drug Report Released, UN Iran Drug Aid Criticized, More (3/19/15)

A new national pot poll has good numbers and so does a Vermont poll, a Washington state home grow bill is filed, a Missouri hemp bill moves, the DEA warns on fentanyl, critics pounce on the UNODC over aid to Iran, and more.

UNODC is preparing a new drug aid package for Iran despite the country's resort to the death penalty. (handsoffcain.info)
Marijuana

Benenson Strategy Group Poll Has Support for Legalization at 61% Nationwide. The poll, which has a 3.5 +/- margin of error, also has 72% for decriminalization. A General Social Survey poll, the "gold standard" of polls, last week had support at 52%. Other recent polls have also found support above the 50% mark. In this week's BSG poll, Republicans were practically split, but 59% of GOP voters under age 50 supported legalization.

Massachusetts Initiative Group Warns Legislators on Excessive Taxation. The group Bay State Repeal, which intends to run a legalization initiative campaign next year, has released a statement saying it welcomed legislative efforts to legalize it, but cautioned against excessive taxation and fees. "A major aim of legalization is to limit access to minors by driving out the black market," the group said in its statement. "But inevitably, unlicensed producers will continue to supply consumers at the black market if legal marijuana is more expensive."

Vermont Poll Has Support for Legalization at 54%. A new Castleton Polling Institute survey has a majority for legalization, with 70% of respondents under 45 in favor and 61% of respondents over 65 opposed. The poll comes as the legislature considers a legalization bill, but signs are the bill will not move this year.

Washington State Bill Would Allow Home Grows. Washington is the only legalization state that does not allow home cultivation (except for medical), but a pair of bills introduced today would change that. Senate Bill 6083, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, and House Bill 2196, sponsored by Rep. Brian Blake, would let adults 21 and over grow up to six plants and possess up to eight ounces of their harvest.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolinians Rally for New Medical Marijuana Bill in Raleigh. More than a hundred people rallied at the state capitol today in support of House Bill 317, which would allow for medical marijuana use by terminally ill patients. Rep. Kelly Alexander formally introduced it today.

Tennessee GOP Senator Says He Will File Medical Marijuana Bill. State Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) said today he is working on a bill that would allow for medical marijuana. He said he expected to have final details by Monday. A Democratic bill in the House has yet to make it out of committee.

Hemp

Missouri Hemp Bill Heads for House Floor Vote -- Maybe. An industrial hemp bill, H.B. 830 has passed its final House committee hurdle and awaits a House floor vote. But it is unclear whether House Majority Leader Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) will give it time for a debate and a vote.

Opiates

DEA Warns on Fentanyl. Fentanyl is increasingly showing up in heroin, the DEA warned yesterday. The opioid is up to 50 times stronger than heroin, and dealers are using it to increase the potency of their products, but the result can be accidental overdoses. "Drug incidents and overdoses related to fentanyl are occurring at an alarming rate throughout the United States and represent a significant threat to public health and safety," said DEA administrator Michele Leonhart.

International

State Department Releases Annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. "The two-volume report offers a comprehensive assessment of the efforts of foreign governments to reduce illicit narcotics production, trafficking and use, in keeping with their international obligations under UN treaties, while also presenting information on governments' efforts to counter money laundering and terrorist financing," State says. Click on the link to read the report.

UNODC Preparing New Iran Aid Deal Despite Drug Executions. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is planning a new five-year financial assistance deal with Iran, one of the world's leading executioners for drug crimes. Iran executed at least 350 drug offenders last year and about two a day so far this year. That has critics very unhappy. "Iran has hanged more than a hundred so-called drug offenders this year, and the UN has responded by praising the efficiency of the Iranian drug police and lining them up a generous five-year funding deal," said Maya Foa, strategic director of the death penalty team for Reprieve, a British advocacy group.

Israeli Marijuana Party Fails to Reach Threshold to Enter Knesset. Aleh Yarok, the Israeli political party pushing for marijuana legalization, failed to gain the 3.25% of the popular vote needed to give it representation in the Knesset. Aleh Yarok garnered only 38,000 votes, or 0.97% of the vote. The party may have lost some votes to Meretz, which appealed to youth voters by also embracing marijuana reforms.

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