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A Possession Arrest Every 25 Seconds: The Cruel Folly of the War on Drugs [FEATURE]

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

Nearly a half century after Richard Nixon inaugurated the modern war on drugs, to criticize it as a failure as so common as to be banal. Yet even as marijuana prohibition falls in some states, the drug war rolls on, an assembly line of criminalization and incarceration, dealing devastating blows to the lives of its victims that linger far beyond the jail or prison cell.

More than 1.25 million arrests for simple drug possession last year. (Creative Commons)
And most of its victims are not capos or kingpins, but simple drug users. According to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), drug possession is the single offense for which the largest number of arrests are made in the US, totaling more than 1.25 million last year, and accounting for more than three-fourths of all drug arrests.

Based on analysis of national and state-level data, as well as more than 360 interviews with drug offenders, family members, past and present government officials, and activists conducted mostly in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and New York, the 196-page report, "Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States," finds that enforcement of drug possession laws causes extensive and unjustifiable harm to individuals and communities across the country.

The long-term consequences can separate families; exclude people from job opportunities, welfare assistance, public housing, and voting; and expose them to discrimination and stigma for a lifetime. While more people are arrested for simple drug possession in the US than for any other crime, mainstream discussions of criminal justice reform rarely question whether drug use should be criminalized at all.

"Every 25 seconds someone is funneled into the criminal justice system, accused of nothing more than possessing drugs for personal use," said Tess Borden, Aryeh Neier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the ACLU and the report's author. "These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence."

Among those interviewed was for the study was Corey, who is doing 17 years in Louisiana for possessing a half ounce of marijuana. His four-year-old daughter, who has never seen him outside prison, thinks she's visiting him at work.

The harmful consequences of a drug arrest extend far beyond prison walls (
Another is "Neal," whose name was changed to protect his privacy. Also in Louisiana, he's doing five years for possessing 0.2 grams of crack cocaine. He has a rare autoimmune disorder and said he cried the day he pleaded guilty because he knew he might not survive his sentence.

Then there's Nicole, held for months in the Harris County Jail in Houston and separated from her three young children until she pleaded guilty to a felony -- her first. The conviction meant she would lose her student financial aid, the food stamps she relied on to feed her kids, and the job opportunities she would need to survive. All for an empty baggie containing a tiny bit of heroin residue.

"While families, friends, and neighbors understandably want government to take action to prevent the potential harm caused by drug use, criminalization is not the answer," Borden said. "Locking people up for using drugs causes tremendous harm, while doing nothing to help those who need and want treatment."

The report also emphasized the now all-too-familiar racial disparities in drug law enforcement, noting that while blacks use drugs at similar or lower rates than whites, they're more than two-and-a-half times more likely to arrested for drug possession and more than four time more likely to be arrested for pot possession. It's even worse in some localities, such as Manhattan, where blacks are 11 times as likely to be busted for drug possession as whites. That amounts to "racial discrimination under international human rights law," the two groups said.

Aside from the vicious cruelty of imprisoning people for years or decades merely for possessing a substance, that drug conviction -- and drug possession, even of tiny amounts, is a felony in 42 states -- also haunts their futures. Drug convicts face the loss of access to social welfare benefits, the stigma of criminality, the disruption of family life, the financial burden of paying fines and fees, and the burden of trying to find work with a felony record. And that harms society at large as well as the criminalized drug users.

And despite tens of millions of drug arrests over the past few decades, with all their collateral damage, the war on drugs doesn't achieve its avowed goal: reducing drug use. There has to be a better way, and Human Rights Watch and the ACLU have something to say about that.

report launch at National Press Club, Washington, DC, 10/12/16
"State legislatures and the US Congress should decriminalize personal use and possession of all drugs. Federal and state governments should invest resources in programs to decrease the risks associated with drug use and provide and support voluntary treatment options for people struggling with drug dependence, along with other approaches," the two groups recommended.

"Until full decriminalization is achieved, officials at all levels of government should minimize and mitigate the harmful consequences of current laws and practices," they added, providing detailed recommendations to state legislatures, police, prosecutors, and other state and local government entities, as well as the federal government.

"Criminalizing personal drug use is a colossal waste of lives and resources," Borden said. "If governments are serious about addressing problematic drug use, they need to end the current revolving door of drug possession arrests, and focus on effective health strategies instead."

Chronicle AM: OK MedMJ Initiative Looking Iffy, PA Governor Calls for Pot Decrim, More... (8/29/16)

Cornhuskers look down the road on marijuana reforms, Pennsylvania's governor calls for marijuana decriminalization, the Oklahoma medical marijuana initiative looks like it won't actually make the ballot, and more.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) says decriminalize it. (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
Marijuana Policy

Nebraska 2018 Legalization Initiative Campaign Gets Underway. A group calling itself Legal Marijuana Now has begun a signature gathering drive for an initiative that would legalize possession of up to an ounce of pot for medical or recreational purposes. The group is aiming at 2018 and needs roughly 87,000 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Pennsylvania Governor Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said Monday the state needs to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of pot. While some localities have quit arresting small-time pot possessors, too many haven't. "I think we need to do that in a more systematic fashion," Wolf said. "There are too many people who are going to prison because of the use of very modest amounts or carry modest amounts of marijuana, and that is clogging up our prisons, it's destroying families and it's hurting our economy, so I think decriminalization is the first step."

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Initiative Unlikely to Appear on Ballot, Advocates Say. The group behind the initiative, State Question 788, said they will challenge the attorney general's rewording of the battle title, and that will begin a legal process that will delay the measure beyond the November 8 election date. State officials, on the other hand, said the initiative campaign waited too long to turn in signatures. "We are dealing with processes established in both federal and state election law for initiatives proposed by the people that require specific procedures to be followed," Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) said. "It's important for the people of Oklahoma to know -- regardless of the substance of the state question -- the signatures were not submitted with enough time to allow this process to be played out completely."


New Zealand Poll Finds Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. Another poll is signaling overwhelming support for medical marijuana among Kiwis. A new UMR poll has support at 76%, up four points from the same poll last year. The poll had only 12% opposed, with another 12% undecided. The poll also asked whether marijuana should be treated as a herbal remedy; 61% said yes.

Chronicle AM: At Least Four States Voting on MedMJ, Filipino Prez Could Face ICC, More... (8/25/16)

Michigan legalizers lose a court battle, Oklahoma medical marijuana advocates look to be heading for the ballot box, the 10th Circuit rules that having license plates from marijuana states is not sufficient reason for a stop and search, and more.

Medical marijuana will be on the ballot in at least four states. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Legalizers Lose Court Bid to Get on Ballot. The backers of the MI Legalize legalization initiative have struck out in court in their bid to get their measure on this year's ballot. The group had collected some 354,000 signatures, well above the 220,00 required, but more than 200,000 of the signatures were gathered outside a 180-day window that the State Board of Canvassers was the only time signatures could be considered. The campaign argued that the 180-day rule was unconstitutional and unfair, but the state Court of Claims ruled Wednesday that the Board of Canvassers was correct. The campaign says it will appeal to the state Supreme Court, but the election clock is ticking and time is running out.

Medical Marijuana

These Four States Will Definitely Be Voting on Medical Marijuana in November. Get a look at the details of and prospects for medical marijuana initiatives that have officially qualified for the November ballot in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota. There is also an Oklahoma initiative that may still qualify (see below), a second Arkansas initiative that may qualify, and a Montana anti-marijuana initiative that is appealing come up short on signatures.

Arkansas Prohibitionists Go to Court to Block Medical Marijuana Initiative. A group calling itself Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana Wednesday asked the state Supreme Court to block the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act from appearing on the November ballot. The measure has already qualified, but the group's lawsuit claims the wording of the proposal is misleading and omits key information.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Initiative Has Enough Signatures, But Is Not on the Ballot Yet. Secretary of State Chris Benge announced Tuesday that a medical marijuana initiative, State Question 788, has handed in 67,761 valid voter signatures. It only needs 65,987 to qualify for the November ballot, but there are still a couple more hurdles to overcome. The secretary of state's office must send a report on its findings to the state Supreme Court, which will then determine if the number of signatures is enough to put the initiative on the ballot.


Report Finds Women Increasingly Jailed for Drug Offenses. A new report from the Vera Institute for Justice finds that the arrest rate for drug possession for women tripled between 1980 and 2009 and that 29% of women in jails were there for drug offenses. Two-thirds of those women are black or Hispanic, and nearly 80% are mothers, largely single mothers. The report called for localities to adopt cite and release policies and/or decriminalizing drug possession.

Search and Seizure

Marijuana State License Plate is No Reason for Police Stops and Searches, Fed Court Rules. In a case involving a Colorado man pulled over in Kansas, the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that police violated his constitutional rights by stopping and searching him based primarily on the fact that he came from a state that was a "known drug source." Cops can't do that, the court ruled bluntly. To allow such a practice would justify searching drivers from the 25 states that allow medical or fully legal marijuana. "It is time to abandon the pretense that state citizenship is a permissible basis upon which to justify the detention and search of out-of-state motorists, and time to stop the practice of detention of motorists for nothing more than an out-of-state license plate," Circuit Judge Carlos Lucero wrote in the opinion. "Absent a demonstrated extraordinary circumstance, the continued use of state residency as a justification for the fact of or continuation of a stop is impermissible," he added.


Philippines President Could Face International Tribunal Over Drug War Killings, Senator Says. President Rodrigo Duterte could be charged with crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the wave of killings of alleged drug users and sellers since he took office two months ago, according to Sen. Leila de Lima. "There are some experts who are saying that… if this spate of killings go unabated and unchecked, it could reach that point that the ICC could send a prosecutor to our country and investigate all these for possible prosecution under the Rome Statute," she was quoted saying. "This is not a joke. The last thing we need right now is for our dear president to be subjected to an investigation by an international tribunal like the International Criminal Court. I am not threatening the president. I am just stating a fact," she added.

Chronicle AM: Duterte Lashes Out at UN, CA MJ Arrests Haven't Gone Away, More... (8/18/16)

Despite what's been called "de facto legalization," California has arrested a half million for pot in the last decade; Tennessee's Music City moves toward decriminalization, a Montana anti-medical marijuana initiative has come up short, and more.

Filipino President Rodrigo "The Punisher" Duterte (
Marijuana Policy

California Saw Half a Million Marijuana Arrests in the Last Decade. And you thought pot was virtually legal there already. A new report from the Drug Policy Alliance shows that far from "de facto legalization," tens of thousands of Californians are still getting arrested for marijuana offenses each year. Even though the state decriminalized pot possession in 2011, thousands are still arrested for marijuana misdemeanors each year, and the burden of arrests falls disproportionately on blacks, Latinos, and youth.

Report Finds West Virginia Could Make Millions By Legalizing Marijuana. The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy released a report Thursday saying that if the state legalized marijuana and taxed it at 25% of its wholesale price, the state could collect an estimated $45 million a year. And if just 10% of marijuana users living within 200 miles of the state came to buy legal weed there, the state could make $194 million a year. It would also save most of the $17 million a year it currently spends enforcing pot prohibition.

Nashville Moves Toward Marijuana Decriminalization. Tennessee's second largest city (less than a thousand people fewer than Memphis) is headed for decrim. The city council Tuesday gave its initial approval to a measure that would make possession of up to an ounce a civil infraction punishable by a $50 fine. It's not a done deal yet, though, and the police are grumbling. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

Possible Arizona Pot Legalization Spurs Rush for Medical Marijuana Licenses. More than 750 people or groups have submitted applications for 31 medical marijuana dispensary licenses to be awarded in October. Medical marijuana license holders will get first crack at new adult use licenses if the Prop 205 legalization initiative passes.

Montana Anti-Medical Marijuana Initiative Fails To Qualify for Ballot, But Challenges Signature Shortfall. An initiative seeking to repeal the state's medical marijuana law has failed to qualify for the November ballot after coming up short on valid signatures. The Safe Montana campaign claims the state improperly rejected or lost signatures and has filed suit to challenge the state's decision. Meanwhile, the I-182 initiative, which would rebuild the state's largely gutted medical marijuana program, has already qualified for the ballot.


Philippines President Duterte Slams "Stupid" UN Criticism of Drug War Killings.President Duterte, who has presided over hundreds of drug war killings since assuming office just weeks ago, has pushed back against criticism of his policies by the United Nations. ""Here comes the UN, easily swayed, and coming with a very stupid proposition,"Duterte said in a speech on Wednesday at an event for police officers also attended by foreign diplomats. "Why would the United Nations be so easily swayed into interfering in the affairs of this republic?" Duterte has ordered police not to hesitate to kill and even urged ordinary citizens and communist rebels to join in the war against drugs. Drug users are "not viable human beings," he said.

Chronicle AM: Thousands March in Berlin, Denver Could See "Cannabis Cafes," More... (8/15/16)

Look for marijuana legalization ads coming to Las Vegas, South Dakota continues to go after marijuana industry consultants, thousands march for pot legalization in Berlin, and more.

Berlin's 20th annual Hanfparade (Hemp parade) took place Saturday. (YouTube)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Legalization Campaign Prepares $800,000 Ad Buy. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada has reserved more than $800,000 worth of advertising time slots with major news stations in Las Vegas, where three-quarters of the state's population is. The campaign supports the Question 2 legalization initiative on the November ballot. The ads will run beginning in early October and go through Election Day.

Northern Marianas Legalization Initiative Won't Be on the Ballot. A bill that would have led to a popular vote on marijuana legalization has died in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) legislature. Senator Sixto Igi-somar wanted the legislature of the US territory to move on the bill for a popular referendum, but the legislature was "too busy," he said.

South Dakota Indian Tribe Marijuana Consultant Pleads Guilty to Pot Charge. A consultant who worked with the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe to establish a marijuana resort after the federal government said Indian tribes were free to do pleaded guilty Monday to a state marijuana charge for receiving marijuana seeds sent from Amsterdam to start the tribe's crop. The tribe tore down the crop over fears the federal government spoke with forked tongue and over threats from the state government, which followed through by indicting two consultants. Consultant Jonathan Hunt is the one who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate; consultant Eric Hagen pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer says there is no evidence he ever possessed "even a gram of marijuana."

Denver Cannabis Club Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. The Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Committee has turned in more than 10,000 signatures for a municipal initiative that would allow for cannabis clubs where people can consume on-site. They only need 4,726 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.


Thousand March for Marijuana Legalization in Berlin. An estimated 5,000 people took to the streets of the German capitol Saturday to call for freeing the weed. It was the 20th annual Hanfparade (hemp parade), and in this one, demonstrators marched under the banner "legalization is in the air." Marijuana is illegal in Germany though possession of small amounts is tolerated by police, and a few hundred people have been given allowances to use it for medical purposes.

New Zealand Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Reforms. A poll commissioned by the New Zealand Drug Foundation finds that nearly two-third of Kiwis want marijuana either decriminalized or legalized. One-third (33%) said legalize it, while 31% said decriminalize it. More than half (52%) said there should also be provisions for people to grow the plant themselves.

Cayman Islands Will Move Forward on Allowing CBD Cannabis Oils. Premier Alden McLaughlin said his government will push through laws to allow the importation and dispensing of CBD cannabis oils, but he warned there are no guarantees patients in the island nation will be able to obtain it. "There are still real and serious practical hurdles to obtaining and importing this drug because it remains illegal in many jurisdictions, including nearby Jamaica," he said.

Chronicle AM: NYC MJ Arrests Rising Again, Dark Web Drug Sales Up Dramatically, More... (8/9/16)

Marijuana arrest numbers are headed in the wrong direction in New York City, Ohio makes a first move toward implementing medical marijuana, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer declares war on new psychoactive substances, and more.

Chuck Schumer wants to play whack-a-mole with K2 and Spice. (LA Dept. of Health)
Marijuana Policy

New York City Marijuana Arrests on the Rise Again. After declining during the first two years of Mayor Bill de Blasio's (D) administration, pot arrests are on the rise again in the Big Apple. The 9,331 people arrested on possession charges in the first half of this year is a 30% increase over the same period last year. That's not good news, but it's still nowhere near as bad as it was under Michael Bloomberg. In 2010, more than 50,000 were arrested for pot; this year, if current trends keep up, it will still be under 20,000.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Takes First Step Toward Getting Medical Marijuana Up and Running. The state Medical Marijuana Control Program has unveiled a website with the first information on how it plans to implement the state's new medical marijuana law. Medical marijuana will not be available before September 2018, as the state works to develop rules and regulations.

South Dakota Judge Rejects Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign's Appeal. The state will not be voting on the issue this November after a state court judge denied a request from the campaign to overturn Secretary of State Shantel Krebs' finding that the group did not hand in enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. South Dakota has twice previously rejected medical marijuana at the polls -- the only state to do so.

New Psychoactive Substances

Sen. Schumer Responds to New Drugs With Old Prohibitionist "Whack-A-Mole" Strategy. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) announced today that he is filing a new bill that would criminalize the chemicals used to make new psychoactive substances such as synthetic cannabinoids ("Spice," "K2"), synthetic stimulants ("bath salts"), and synthetic opioids. "We need a federal hammer to nail these toxic concoctions of synthetic drugs to reverse this troubling trend… This federal legislation will ban 22 synthetic drugs, including powerful forms of fentanyl, crippling the unlawful chemists cooking up these drugs and the cartels that push them to our local stores and streets. Banning these drugs quickly will help the feds step up their game of whack-a-mole so that we can help stem the tide of synthetic drug use here in New York State and across the country."


Dark Web Drug Sales Triple Since End of Silk Road. It's been three years since federal authorities shut down the Silk Road dark web drug sales website, but online illicit drug sales have never been higher. Drug sales have tripled since then to somewhere between $12 million and $20 million a month, while revenues have doubled, according to a study published by Rand Corporation Europe. While dark web drugs sales make up only a small fraction of all illicit drug sales, many of the transactions are for more than $1,000, suggesting that drugs are being purchased online for resale on the streets.

Chronicle AM: IL Gov Signs Decrim Bill, Marijuana Foes Pony Up to Fight Reform, More... (8/1/16)

Your correspondent was on vacation last week, but drug policy and the drug war weren't. Illinois has decriminalized marijuana possession, Republicans are shifting on marijuana prohibition, Minnesotans with chronic pain now qualify for medical marijuana, Floridians can now get naloxone without an individualized prescription, and more.

It's official: Massachusetts will vote on marijuana legalization this fall. (
Marijuana Policy

Poll: Even Republicans Now Favor Marijuana Legalization. For the first time, a plurality if not a majority of people who identify as Republicans say they support marijuana legalization. A new YouGov poll has 45% of Republicans in favor, with 42% opposed. Only eight months ago, Republicans opposed legalization in the same poll, by a margin of 50% to 36%.

Pot Prohibitionists Put Up $2 Million to Fight Legalization. The political arm of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana has raised more than $2 million to fight legalization initiatives in five states this year, including California, where Prop 64 is on the November ballot. The bulk of the money will go to California. The group is led by former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-Rhode Island) and former drug czar's office official Kevin Sabet.

Illinois Decriminalizes Marijuana. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 2228, which decriminalizes the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana and creates a maximum fine of $200. The law goes into effect immediately, making Illinois the 21st state to have decriminalized small-time pot possession.

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative is Officially on the November Ballot. State officials last month quietly certified that the initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has overcome the final hurdle to going before the voters in November. Advocates had to hand in a small number of signatures this summer when the legislature refused to act after the campaign handed in tens of thousands of signatures earlier this year. The initiative will be Question 4 on the November ballot.

Northern Marianas Could Vote on Legalization in November. A lawmaker in the US territory has pre-filed a bill that would let residents vote on legalization in November. Senator Sixto Igisomar is the man behind the move. The legislature must approve it by August 10 for it to make the ballot this year.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment Initiative Gets More Time to Gather Signatures. Arkansans United for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment initiative, had come up short of the 82,000 valid voter signatures required to qualify for the November ballot, but it handed in 72,000 valid signatures, qualifying it for additional time to gather enough signatures to make the ballot. Another medical marijuana initiative, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act, has already qualified for the ballot.

Minnesota Chronic Pain Patients Now Qualify for Medical Marijuana. As of today, the state's medical marijuana program includes people suffering from chronic pain that is not eased by traditional drugs or therapies.

Harm Reduction

Florida Makes Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug Available Without Prescription. The overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) is now available through a "standing order" from a doctor, meaning drugs users, friends, and family members no longer need an individual prescription to obtain the antidote. Additionally, the pharmacy chain CVS will begin stocking naloxone in all its pharmacies in the state beginning this month.


Italian Parliament Begins Debate on Marijuana Legalization.Last week, parliament began discussing whether to approve a marijuana legalization bill. The bill would allow for the possession of up to 15 grams at home and 5 grams on the street and let people grow up to five plants. It would also allow growing collectives of up to 50 growers. Rightist opponents of the measure have already filed more than 1,300 proposed amendments aimed at snuffing it. Debate on the bill will resume in September.

Indonesia Executes Four Drug Prisoners. Ignoring a growing global clamor against the practice, Indonesian authorities executed four convicted drug offenders last Friday. Ten others set to be executed at the same time won a temporary reprieve when a storm hit the island where the executions were taking place, but officials said they would be put to death later.

Chronicle AM: Congress Passes Opioid Bill, RI Gov Signs PTSD Bill, MT Init Qualifies, More... (7/14/16)

Governors use their bill-signing pens in Rhode Island and North Carolina, a new poll has surprisingly strong support for marijuana legalization in Wisconsin, Montanans will vote on medical marijuana in November, and more.

People with PTSD will now be able to use medical marijuana in Rhode Island. (
Marijuana Policy

Wisconsin Poll Has Strong Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A Marquette Law School poll released Wednesday has a whopping 59% support for freeing the weed in the Badger State. The poll question asked whether pot should be "fully legalized and treated like alcohol." The level of support is up dramatically from September 2014, when voters asked a similar (but not identical) question about legalization only gave it 46% support.

Medical Marijuana

Montana Medical Marijuana Initiative Qualifies for the Ballot. An initiative aimed at reestablishing the state's medical marijuana system has qualified for the November ballot, state officials said Wednesday. The I-182 initiative would reverse restrictions imposed by the legislature in 2011 and, after lengthy court challenges, set to go into effect on August 31. Voters had approved the state's medical marijuana system in 2004.

Rhode Island Governor Signs Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana for PTSD. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) Wednesday signed into law a bill that will allow medical marijuana to be recommended for the treatment of PTSD symptoms.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Congress Passes Major Heroin and Opioids Bill, But Doesn't Adequately Fund It. The Senate voted Wednesday to send opioid legislation known as the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) to President Obama for his signature. The House voted last week 407-5 to approve CARA. The bill advances a large number of treatment and prevention measures intended to reduce prescription opioid and heroin misuse, including evidence-based interventions for the treatment of opioid and heroin addiction and prevention of overdose deaths. This bill, however, does not provide federal funding. Republican leadership have maintained that opioid funding must be appropriated through regular order and have repeatedly pledged to fund the programs authorized in CARA this year. Advocates urge Congress to deliver on this promise.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Governor Signs Bill to Allow Needle Exchanges. Gov. Mike McCrory (R) Monday signed into law House Bill 972, which authorizes the operation of needle exchange programs by local governments.


Indian MP Calls for Legalization of Recreational Drugs. MP Dr. Dharamvira Ghandi said Wednesday he is crafting an amendment to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act to legalize recreational drugs. Gandhi has been working with Delhi-based lawyers and professionals on a draft of the bill. He says drug prohibition has failed. "Punitive measures to combat the supply of drugs failed miserably, as demand for drugs had exhibited an exponential growth, leading to creation of drug mafias that provided continuous supplies, regardless of the harshest provisions for punishment," he said. "It has dawned upon countries worldwide that by decriminalizing certain substances that pose minimal health risks, and by following harm reduction policies, the demand for harmful and killing medical drugs had dropped drastically, along with the offences committed. Certain Indian states are currently facing a massive drug problem, with citizens between 15-40 years of age abusing drugs, and this has caused considerable harm to society in general, and the youth in particular."

Chronicle AM: GOP Rejects MedMJ, Colombia & FARC Collaborate on Coca Substitution, More... (7/12/16)

Medical marijuana is getting some attention on Capitol Hill, Arizona legalization foes go to court to try to block the initiative, Maine rejects medical marijuana for opiate addiction, Colombia and the FARC rebels partner on a coca crop substitution pilot program, and more.

Colombian coca farmer (DEA Museum)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Prohibitionists File Lawsuit to Block Legalization Initiative. Legalization opponents Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy have joined two county attorneys in filing a lawsuit to block the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol's legalization initiative from going before voters in November. The lawsuit claims the initiative is "misleading" and is not accurately summarized by its title and text. Legalization opponents in Massachusetts tried a similar tactic earlier this year. They failed.

Michigan Asks Judge to Throw Out Legalization Group's Ballot Access Challenge. The state is asking the Court of Claims to dismiss a lawsuit from MI Legalize, which is seeking to place its legalization initiative on the November ballot. The group gathered more than 350,000 signatures and only needed some 252,000 to qualify, but some of those signatures were obtained outside a 180-day window generally mandated by state law. In seeking dismissal, the state argues that there isn't enough time to get the measure on the ballot now, the lawsuit fails to identify constitutional claims and contradicts earlier state Supreme Court rulings.

Kansas City Marijuana Advocates Launch Decriminalization Initiative Campaign. The Kansas City, Missouri, NORML branch is collecting signatures to get a decriminalization initiative on the November ballot. The proposal would decriminalize up to 35 grams of pot, with a maximum fine of $25. The group needs 1,708 valid voter signatures by August 25, but says it plans to gather hundreds more than that and has 800 already.

Medical Marijuana

GOP Rejects Medical Marijuana Platform Plank. Republican delegates meeting Monday in Cleveland ahead of the party's national convention voted against endorsing medical marijuana in their party platform. The vote came after contentious debate, with some delegates making claims about marijuana reminiscent of Reefer Madness. One delegate claimed people who commit mass murders are "young boys from divorced families, and they're all smoking pot," another compared medical marijuana to physically addictive and potentially lethal prescription opiates. Still, it took two voice votes for the measure to be voted down.

Senate Subcommittee Hearing on Medical Marijuana Research Today. The US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism is scheduled to hold a hearing today on "Researching the Potential Medical Benefits and Risks of Marijuana." Testimony will be heard from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), who are original co-sponsors of medical marijuana legislation introduced last year in the Senate known as the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act (S 683). Other scheduled witnesses include officials from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), among others.

Senators Feinstein and Grassley Call for Expedited Evaluation of Medical Uses of CBDs. The two Senate octogenarians have asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Health and Human Services Director Sylvia Burwell for the two agencies to work together to remove barriers to the scientific and medical evaluation of cannabidiol (CBD). The pair, who are, respectively, the co-chair and chair of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, made their request in a letter to the two agency heads.

Maine Rejects Including Opiate Addiction as Qualifying Condition for Medical Marijuana. The administration of Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage (R) has rejected a petition seeking to include opiate addiction on the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. State officials said the case for inclusion was "compelling," but they also said human studies hadn't been done and more research was needed.


Colombia and FARC Rebels Begin Coca Substitution Pilot Program. The government and the guerrillas Sunday began a pilot project to wean farmers off coca by offering them alternative crops. The move comes as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that coca production is booming in what farmers see as a last opportunity to cash in before peace allows for a serious crop substitution effort. Some 500 small farmers are voluntarily participating in the program, which will be used as a model for the rest of the country after the FARC and the government reach final peace agreements.

In Surprise Reversal, Democrats Call for "Pathway" to Marijuana Legalization

Meeting in Orlando Saturday ahead of the Democratic National Convention later this month, the party's platform drafting committee dropped a moderate marijuana plank it had adopted only days earlier and replaced it with language calling for rescheduling pot and creating "a reasoned pathway to future legalization."

Bernie Sanders supporters had pushed earlier for firm legalization language, but had been turned back last week and didn't have any new language going into this weekend's platform committee meeting. But on Saturday afternoon, the committee addressed an amendment that would have removed marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, as Sanders supporters had earlier sought in vain, with Tennessee Sanders delegate David King arguing that pot was put in the same schedule as heroin during a political "craze" to go after "hippies and blacks."

That amendment was on the verge of being defeated, with some committee members worrying that it went "too far" and that it would somehow undermine state-level legalization efforts, but then committee members proposed merely rescheduling -- not descheduling -- marijuana and added the undefined "pathway" language.

The amendment was then adopted on an 81-80 vote, leading to a period of contention and confusion as former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, the committee co-chair, entered a complaint that at least one member may not have been able to vote. That led to arguments between committee members and between members and non-voting observers, most of whom were Sanders supporters. The Washington Post reported that one Clinton delegate complained loudly that Sanders delegates "wanted 100% of everything."

But the new language prevailed when former Arkansas US senator Mark Pryor, a Clinton delegate, announced that while opponents of the language were unhappy that the earlier compromise language had been replaced, they weren't going to fight it.

"We withdraw the objection," Pryor said.

The marijuana amendment adopted by the platform committee reads:

"Because of conflicting laws concerning marijuana, both on the federal and state levels, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from its list as a Class 1 Federal Controlled Substance, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization."

The earlier language had cited disparate racial enforcement of marijuana laws and urged support for state level "marijuana decriminalization," but only stated support for "policies that will allow more research to be done on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty."

Bernie Sanders supporters didn't get the descheduling language they wanted, but they did get a commitment to rescheduling and they got the word "legalization" in there, even if the phrase "a reasoned pathway for future legalization" is a bit mealy-mouthed.

And the Democratic Party now has marijuana legalization as part of its platform.

Orlando, FL
United States

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