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Jamaica is About to Decriminalize Ganja

This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet.

The island nation most closely associated with marijuana is about to decriminalize it. The Jamaican cabinet Monday approved a bill that would do just that, as well as allow for the creation of medical marijuana and hemp industries.

Rastaman has a reason to smile. (wikimedia.org)
The bill, the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act of 2015, goes to the Senate tomorrow and will be debated there next Friday.

It would decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of ganja; allow its use for religious, medical, scientific, and therapeutic purposes; prohibit smoking it in public places; and provide for the granting of licenses for the development of a legal hemp and medical marijuana industry.

While Jamaica is home to the Rastafarian religion, whose sacrament is marijuana, and has high usage rates (9.8% of the adult population, ranking it 10th worldwide, according to the UN), it has been slow to move forward on marijuana law reform.

It's been 14 years since a government-appointed National Commission on Ganja recommended decriminalization. At the time, Jamaican politicians were able to point to baleful threats coming from Washington as a reason not to move forward.

But things have changed. The United States is no longer wielding international drug control treaties as clubs with which to beat down reform efforts and, in fact, is moving unevenly toward marijuana legalization itself. Four states and the District of Columbia have already legalized it, and 14 more have decriminalized it.

The situation in the hemisphere is similar. Uruguay has already legalized it, while Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico have decriminalized the possession of small amounts. The land of the legendary Lamb's Bread pot strain and the home of ganja icon Bob Marley is in danger of being left behind when it comes to bringing marijuana laws into the 21st Century.

Groups such as the Ganja Law Reform Coalition, the Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association, and the Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research Task Force have been urging the government to loosen the island's pot laws not only for the sake of social justice, but also for fear that failure to act will hurt Jamaica's competitiveness in what is foreseen to be an emerging international legal marijuana market.

Now, while they're not getting full legalization, they are getting decriminalization and the opportunity to lay the groundwork for a legal marijuana industry.

"The development is long overdue and comes after years, and, in recent times, heavy pressure from what is now a diverse and broadening group of stakeholders on human rights, social, economic, scientific and medical grounds," cannabis taskforce director Delano Seiveright said in a statement.

For Justice Minister Michael Golding, it's less about social justice than economics. Marijuana law reform could boost the island's already significant tourist industry, he said.

"We need to position ourselves to take advantage of the significant economic opportunities offered by this emerging industry," Golding said.

Kingston
Jamaica

Chronicle AM: DEA Settles Facebook Suit, WY Decrim Bill Advances, More (1/21/15)

The DEA will pay for using a woman's identity (and photos) to make a fake Facebook page, a Wyoming decrim bill is moving, Virginia is seeing CBD and medical marijuana bills, there's a hemp bill in Florida, the Vera Institute releases a report on New York sentencing reforms, and more. Let's get to it:

A faked Facebook page will cost the DEA $134,000. (facebook.com)
Marijuana Policy

Wyoming Decriminalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Judiciary Committee has approved House Bill 29, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot. Fines would be $250 for less than a half ounce and $500 for more. The bill now awaits a House floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Kettle Falls Five Defendant Seeks Dismissal in Federal Medical Marijuana Case. The widely watched case out of Washington state has been proceeding despite passage of the "cromnibus" appropriations bill barring the use of federal funds to pursue medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal. Now, Larry Harvey, 71, has filed a motion to dismiss the charges, with his attorney arguing that "federal prosecutions take away Washington's authority to determine for itself whether someone is in compliance with its laws or not."

Hawaii Health Department Takes Charges of Medical Marijuana Program. A 2013 law transferring control of the state's medical marijuana program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health is now in effect. Although the program officially became part of the Health Department on January 1, it took until now for the transfer to be complete. For more detail on other program changes, as well as times for public hearings on new regulations, click on the link.

Virginia Legislature Sees CBD, Medical Marijuana Bills. There are at two new bills aiming to make the use of high-CBD, low-THC medical marijuana legal in the Old Dominion. Filed by Sen. David Marsden (D-Fairfax), Senate Bill 1235 would legalize CBD cannabis oil and THC-A oil. Delegate David Albo (R-Fairfax) has filed House Bill 1445, which would also legalize CDB cannabis oil. A third bill, House Bill 1605, filed by Delegate Kenneth Plum (D-Reston) would legalize marijuana.

Washington State Law Banning Medical Marijuana Advertising Unconstitutional, Court Rules. Pierce County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Martin has ruled unconstitutional a state law that prohibits the advertising of medical uses of marijuana. The law was both vague and overly broad, she ruled, concluding that it violated both the state and federal constitutions. The case is Havsy v. Department of Health.

Hemp

Florida Hemp Bill Filed. Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasalinda (D-Tallahassee) has introduced a bill that would legalize hemp production in the state. The bill is House Bill 363. Activists with the Florida Cannabis Action Network (CAN) are seeking a Senate sponsor.

Sentencing

Vera Institute of Justice Report on New York Sentencing Reforms. The report examines 2009 reforms to the Rockefeller drug laws that removed mandatory minimums for some drug offenses and expanded eligibility for treatment instead of incarceration. The report found a 35% percent increase in the rate of diversion to treatment; lower rates of re-arrest in such cases; which was associated with lower rates of rearrest, and fewer defendants sentenced to jail, time served, or "split sentence" -- a combination of jail and probation. However, most drug arrests still did not lead to diversion, and implementation varied widely across boroughs.

Law Enforcement

DEA Will Pay $134,000 to Woman It Used in Fake Facebook Page. The Justice Department has settled a civil suit brought against the DEA by a Watertown, New York, woman whose identity and photos were used by a DEA agent to create a fake Facebook page in her name to catch drug fugitives. Sondra Arquiett's phone had by seized by the Agenty Tim Sinnigen during a 2010 drug arrest, and the agent posed as her on Facebook without her consent. "The photographs used by Sinnigen included revealing and/or suggestive photographs of (Arquiett), including photographs of (her) in her bra and panties. Sinnigen also posted photographs of (Arquiett's) minor child and her minor niece to the Facebook page." The Justice Department will pay $134,000 to make this go away.

International

Vietnam Sentences Eight to Death for Heroin Trafficking. Eight people have been sentenced to die for trafficking 416 pounds of heroin in Vietnam. The trial in People's Court in Ho Binh province ended Monday. Six other defendants were sentenced to life in prison, and 17 others jailed for terms ranging from six to 20 years. Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws.

Stratfor's Mexico Cartel Map. The private, Austin-based intelligence concern has released its latest map of Mexican cartel activity. Despite constant changes in the organized crime scene, Stratfor says, cartel activity remains based in three geographic locations: Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and the Tierra Caliente in Michoacan and Guerrero. Click on the link for more.

DC Councilmembers File Bill to Tax and Regulate Marijuana

In a pointed message to the Congress, DC councilmembers last week introduced a bill that would tax and regulate marijuana sales in the nation's capital. The move comes despite passage of a federal spending bill that included an amendment barring the District from spending local or federal funds to implement such a law.

Last November, District voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, which legalized the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not the regulated sale and taxation of it. That's because DC law forbids voter initiatives from addressing tax issues.

The city council, which already approved decriminalization last year, has been prepared all along to consider a taxation and regulation bill to turn Initiative 71 into full-blown legalization. And despite the move by some Republicans in Congress to try to erase November's District election results, the council is undeterred.

Councilmember David Grosso and three colleagues have introduced the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2015 (B21-0023), which would create a framework for a legal marijuana industry, complete with licensed cultivators, product manufacturers, retail stores, and testing labs.

An earlier version of the bill, the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2013, got as far as a public hearing in October, before the election. But it has now been superseded in part by Initiative 71 and by the new bill.

With Republicans now in control of both houses of Congress, efforts to quash the District's efforts to end pot prohibition are bound to continue -- even though even some Republicans are now leery of blocking the democratic expression of the will of District voters. But like the District's new mayor, Muriel Bowser, who is vowing to push ahead with Initiative 71, the DC council appears ready to take the fight wherever it leads.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: CA Tribe Will Grow Pot, Call for Asset Forfeiture Reform, KY Heroin Bill Moves, More (1/12/15)

A California tribe looks to be the first to grow marijuana, DC councilmembers move ahead with plans to tax and regulate pot, key congressional committee chairs call for asset forfeiture reform, an omnibus heroin bill is on the move in Kentucky, and more. Let's get to it:

Key congressmen went to end the Justice Department's asset forfeiture sharing program. (flickr.com)
Marijuana Policy

Milwaukee Aldermen Want to Make Pot Ticket A $5 Fine or Less. If you get caught with marijuana in Milwaukee right now, you face a fine of between $250 and $500 -- and a trip to jail if you don't pay the fine. Two Aldermen think that's too much. Nik Kovac and Ashanti Hamilton are proposing lowering the fine to $5 or less. "We are effectively trying to eliminate any of these tickets," Kovac said, citing racial disparities in marijuana arrests. Although the city's black and white populations are roughly equal, five times as many black people were arrested for possession of marijuana last year as white people.

Half of Michiganders Support Marijuana Legalization. Michigan is evenly divided on marijuana legalization, with 50% saying they would support an initiative allowing possession by adults and taxable sales at state-regulated stores, and 46% saying they opposed such an idea. The figures come from a new poll conducted by EPIC-MRA of Lansing. A similar poll last year had support at 47%. The trend is upward, but the numbers aren't high enough to excite deep-pocketed potential initiative backers; the conventional wisdom is that initiatives should be polling at 60% or more when the campaign begins.

DC Councilmembers File Bill to Tax and Regulate Marijuana. In a pointed message to the Congress, DC councilmembers last week introduced a bill that would tax and regulate marijuana sales in the nation's capital. The move comes despite passage of a federal spending bill that included an amendment barring the District from spending local or federal funds to implement such a law. Councilmember David Grosso and three colleagues have introduced the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2015 (B21-0023), which would create a framework for a legal marijuana industry, complete with licensed cultivators, product manufacturers, retail stores, and testing labs.

Washington State Legislators Face Plethora of Pot Bills. Voting to legalize marijuana in 2012 was not the end for marijuana policy at the state legislature, but a new beginning. This week, at least seven marijuana-related bills have been filed as the session gets underway. A pair of bills seeks to resolve the problems with the fit between recreational and medical marijuana, another bill would raise the excise tax, yet another addresses organ transplant eligibility, while another would bar open containers in moving vehicles. Click on the link for more details and all the bill numbers.

A Second Ohio Legalization Initiative Campaign Emerges. Ohioans to End Prohibition has become the second group to plan a 2016 legalization initiative in the Buckeye State. The group is finalizing language for its Cannabis Control Amendment within the next few weeks. Already out of the gate is Responsible Ohio, whose End Ohio Cannabis Prohibition Act (EOCPA) would set up 10 authorized marijuana growing locations around the state.

Northern California Tribe Could Be First to Grow Pot. The Pinoleville Pomo Nation in Mendocino County, California, said last Thursday it had signed a contract to grow thousands of marijuana plants on its 99-acre rancheria (reservation) north of Ukiah. The Justice Department recently gave the okay for marijuana operations on tribal lands, and it looks like the Pomos are first off the blocks.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative is Back. Proponents of last year's failed medical marijuana initiative have filed a rewritten ballot measure aimed at 2016. "The language and the essence of the amendment is essentially the same," said John Morgan, the Orlando attorney who chairs People United for Medical Marijuana, and the chief financer of the legalization drive. "What I would say is that we have tweaked or clarified positions that were constantly brought up by our opposition to help us talk more freely about the real issue, which is the legalization of medical marijuana."

Poll Finds Georgians Back Allowing CBD Cannabis Oil. Some 84% of Georgians support the legalization of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils to treat medical conditions, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll. The poll also found that when it came to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, Georgians were split almost evenly, with 49% saying legalize it and 48% saying don't.

Heroin

Kentucky Omnibus Heroin Bill Passes Senate. A multi-pronged bill designed to address the state's heroin problem passed the Senate in three days. The measure would increase treatment, prevention, and overdose prevention measures, but would also increase penalties for some heroin offenses. Democrats in the House said they will pass a similar measure, but probably without the mandatory minimum prison sentences approved in the Senate version.

International

Geneva Wants to Legalize the Marijuana Business. A year after Switzerland decriminalized pot possession, the canton on Geneva is thinking about legalizing the pot trade in a bid to undermine the black market. The canton's multi-party Advisory Commission on Addiction has urged the regional government to seek federal government approval of a pilot legalization program. The commission is recommending something akin to the Spanish model, where home cultivation is tolerated and private cannabis clubs offer smoking space and weed for sale to members.

Brazil Justice Minister Says No Marijuana Legalization. Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo said Sunday that Brazil has no intention of following neighboring Uruguay down the path of pot legalization. "Legalization of drugs is not a part of the government's plans," he said. While reform advocates have cited prison overcrowding as a reason to legalize pot, Cardozo said the answer to overcrowding is not to stop arresting marijuana offenders, but to build more prisons.

Chile Authorizes Second Medical Marijuana Grow. Government officials have given the okay to a Chilean concern to grow a medical marijuana crop, the second time such a crop has been approved in the country. Agrofuturo will begin industrial production at its facility in the city of Los Angeles, south of Santiago. In September, the government granted approval to the Daya Foundation to grow the country's -- and the continent's -- first legal medical marijuana crop.

Chronicle AM: Seattle Pot Vapor Lounges, VA Pot Poll, Here Comes California, Iran Drug Executions, More (1/6/15)

Seattle's city attorney wants a place for marijuana users to congregate, California activists start moving toward 2016, Dr. David Nutt criticizes British Ecstasy policy, Iran starts the New Year with a bakers' dozen drug executions, and more. Let's get to it:

An execution in Iran. The Islamic Republic executed more than 300 drug offenders last year. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy

Seattle City Attorney Wants Marijuana Vapor Lounges. In a new memo on marijuana policy, City Attorney Peter Holmes is calling for the legalization of pot vapor lounges in the city. "Single family homeowners have a legal place to consume marijuana; others however, such as out-of-town visitors, the homeless, and renters and condominium owners whose buildings do not permit marijuana use, have fewer options," he noted in the memo. "You can enforce that law much better if you, at the same time, provide an outlet for that demand," Holmes said. The lounges would be open only to those 21 and over, require customers to bring their own weed, and would only allow vaping, not smoking. Such a move would require the approval of the city council and the city health department.

Virginia Poll Finds Majority Support for Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana. A Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project finds that 74% of respondents supported allowing medical marijuana and 60% supported decriminalization. The poll also had a near-majority for legalization, with 49% in favor and 44% opposed.

California Activists Set First Meeting for 2016 Initiative. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform will kick off the effort to legalize pot in the state in 2016 with a meeting in Oakland this Friday. The meeting will be a seminar examining lessons from the successful initiative efforts in Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the roll-out of marijuana commerce in Colorado. Click on the link for meeting details.  

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Pharmacy Board Votes to Reschedule CBD, But Not Marijuana. The state Board of Pharmacy voted Monday to move cannabidiol (CBD) from Schedule I to Schedule II, but not marijuana. The board was acting on a petition from long-time activist Carl Olsen, who sought to have the whole plant rescheduled. But the board wasn't ready to do that. Olsen says while it isn't what he was asking for, it is a step in the right direction.

Sentencing

Washington State Defelonization Bill to Get Hearing. A bill that would make simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony will get a public hearing in the House Public Safety Committee on January 16. The bill is House Bill 1024, introduced by Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo), and is estimated to save the state millions in incarceration costs each year if passed. Fourteen other states have defelonized drug possession, with California being the most recent. Voters there approved a defelonization initiative in November.

Law Enforcement

Rolling Stone Exposé on Crooked Texas Border Drug Task Force. Rolling Stone has published an in-depth look at a South Texas drug task force, the infamous "Panama Unit" of the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office and the Mission Police Department. The extent of the thievery and corruption is mind-blowing. Well worth the read.

International

"Illogical and Punitive Drug Policy" to Blame for British Ecstasy Deaths, Prominent Critic Says. Dr. David Nutt, the former head of the Advisory Commission on the Misuse of Drugs who was fired for failing to toe the government's hard line of drug policy, has blamed that hard-line policy for the drug overdose deaths of four men in the past few days. The men thought they were taking Ecstasy, but a British government crackdown on the drug has led to it being substituted by a more lethal substance, PMA. That's the "illogical and punitive drug policy," Nutt was referencing. "The emergence of the more toxic PMA following the so-called ‘success’ in reducing MDMA production is just one of many examples of how prohibition of one drug leads to greater harm from an alternative that is developed to overcome the block," he added.

Mexican Army Kills Nine Civilians in Cartel-Plagued Michoacan. Nine civilians have been killed by Mexican soldiers in the town of Apatzigan, Michoacan, after the army tried to take control of city hall, which had been held for days by armed civilians. It's not clear who exactly was involved, but the western Mexican state has been plagued for years by violent drug trafficking organizations, and more recently, by armed vigilantes fighting the cartels.

Iran Greets New Year By Hanging 13 Drug Offenders. New Year's Day saw 13 drug offenders hanged in Iranian prisons, including four women. All had been convicted of drug trafficking. Iran hanged hundreds of drug traffickers last year, and it looks like it's off to a quick start this year, too. 

Chronicle AM: AZ Pot Reform Bills, IL MedMJ Applications Delayed, Australia Festival Drug Busts, More (1/2/15)

Pot dollars are starting to roll in in Washington state, marijuana reform bills filed in Arizona, Illinois delays dispensary applications without explanation, Colorado wants to grow research marijuana at colleges, and more. Let's get to it:

You still can't go to the dispensary in Illinois, and more delays loom. (Sandra Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Did $64 Million in Pot Sales in Slow Roll-Out First Year. Legal marijuana commerce has been slow out of the gate in Washington, thanks to regulatory hurdles and supply shortages, but still rang up $64 million in sales by year's end. Some 99 retail outlets have been licensed (although that doesn't mean they are operating) out of the 331 envisioned by the state Liquor Control Board, which is in charge of legal marijuana. As legal pot settles in, looks for this year's numbers to be significantly greater.

Arizona Lawmaker Files Legalization Bill. Rep. Mark Cardenas (D-Phoenix) has filed a bill that would legalization the possession of up to an ounce of weed and allow for it to be sold through state-regulated retail outlets. The bill is House Bill 2007. Cardenas admits passage is unlikely, so he has a back-up plan: His House Bill 2006 would simply decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Misses Deadline on Issuing Medical Marijuana Licenses. State officials admitted Wednesday afternoon that they had missed their self-imposed deadline to begin issuing dispensary and cultivation licenses before the end of 2014. But they didn't say why or when they would be ready. Here is the statement from the Department of Health: "We are strongly committed to bringing relief to thousands of people across the state and ensuring Illinois is the national model for implementing medical cannabis. We are working hard to make sure this is done right. We are conducting a comprehensive review of every cultivation center and dispensary applicant to ensure that only the most qualified are approved for this important program. We will announce the recipients when this important review is finished."

Colorado Seeking Federal Okay for State Colleges to Grow Marijuana.In a letter sent last month, the state attorney general's office asked federal health and education officials to allow state institutions of higher learning to "obtain marijuana from non-federal government sources." The letter was sent under a law passed last year requiring state officials to ask the federal government to allow colleges and universities "to cultivate marijuana and its component parts." "Current research is riddled with bias or insufficiencies and often conflict with one another," reads the letter, written by deputy attorney general David Blake. "It is critical that we be allowed to fill the void of scientific research, and this may only be done with your assistance and cooperation." Don't hold your breath, though.

Drug Treatment and Recovery

Text Available for Federal Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. The full text of the act, HR 5845, is now available online. The bill, sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), would authorize the awarding of grants for prevention and education, treatment alternatives to incarceration, expansion of law enforcement use of the overdose reversal drug naloxone, as well as "evidence-based opioid and heroin treatment and interventions demonstrations" and "criminal justice medication-assisted treatment and intervention demonstrations." The bill currently has six cosponsors—three Republicans and three Democrats—and has been assigned to the House Judiciary, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Workforce committees. Click on the link to read the bill. 

International

Australian Cops Using Drug Dogs Bust 214 People at New Year's Dance Festival. Who let the dogs out? New South Wales police did, that's who. They reported arresting 214 people at the "Fuzzy Field Day 2015" electronic music festival in Sydney yesterday after drug dogs alerted on them. Three other people were arrested on drug trafficking charges. 

Chronicle AM: Deadly Tampa Snitch Culture; Columbia, MO, SWAT Raid Hack Attack; More (12/29/14)

The Tampa Bay Tribune has an explosive expose of the police-snitch culture there, a revenge hack attack on Columbia, Missouri; Michigan's governor signs a welfare drug test bill, and more. Let's get to it:

Mephedrone is marking a mark in India, where it is legal. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Wichita Decriminalizers Say They Have Enough Signatures to Make Ballot. A group that wants to put a marijuana reform initiative on the April 7 municipal ballot in Wichita says that it now has more than enough signatures to qualify. Kansas for Change said it will hand in signatures next week. The group had tried last summer to make the ballot, but came up 36 signatures short after a high number of signatures were disqualified.

Pot on the Agenda for Maine's Legislature. At least four marijuana bills will be before legislators when they return next month. Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) will reintroduce her perennial legalization bill, the state Department of Public Safety is proposing a marijuana DUI bill, and there will be legislation seeking to expand the state's medical marijuana program.

Medical Marijuana

More Medical Marijuana Bills Coming in South Carolina. State Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), author of a successful high-CBD medical marijuana bill this year, says he will be back with three more bills next year. One would create laws for growing high-CBD, low-THC marijuana, another would clean up language in the state's hemp laws, and the third is a full-fledged medical marijuana bill.

Drug Testing

Michigan Governor Signs Welfare Drug Testing Law. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) last Friday signed a pair of bills that will mandate drug screening of adult welfare recipients and drug testing of those suspected of using drugs. The bills, House Bill 4118 and Senate Bill 275, would create a pilot program in three as yet unnamed counties. People who refuse to take a drug test would lose benefits for six months, while those who test positive would be referred to treatment -- and more drug testing. Benefits would be restored after the person passes a drug test.

Law Enforcement

Tampa Bay Times Blows the Lid Off Sleazy Informant Culture That Got a Pot Smoker Killed. Wow. The confidential informant who pointed Tampa police toward Jason Westcott, 29, who was shot and killed by a police SWAT team as it raided his home, has come clean to The Tampa Bay Times in a lengthy piece in which he admits lying to his police handlers about drug buys, telling them about drug buys that never actually occurred, expresses sorrow for the role his snitching played in Westcott's killing, and says police let him get away with his exploits because they wanted to make drug busts. Westcott was killed in May by SWAT team members who had entered his home while he was sleeping, then shot and killed him when he woke up and grabbed a weapon to fend off intruders. Westcott had sole miniscule amounts of pot to the informant on several occasions; when police raided his home, they found 0.2 grams of weed. The entire piece is worth the read -- if you can stomach it. Click on the link to do so.

Columbia, MO, Municipal Web Site Hacked Over 2010 SWAT Raid that Killed Dog. The municipal web site, gocolumbiamo.com, was offline from last Thursday night until noon Saturday after an anonymous hacker dubbing himself "Bitcoin Baron" unleashed a DDOS attack on it. The hacker posted a video of a February 2010 SWAT drug raid that terrorized a local family and resulted in the shooting death of their pet. Bitcoin Baron said he wanted to expose how SWAT teams work: "They're on a rampage and kill what they want and get away with it and know it too because they hide behind a badge/uniform," he wrote. "Yes, I am aware that it happened four years ago, but I wanted to let everyone know what the SWAT teams are like." Bitcoin Baron also took down the web site of local media outlet KOMU 8 News after it credited the DDOS attack against the city to Anonymous instead of him.

International

Mexican Priest Killed After Accusing Guerrero Drug Gang of Murder. Father Gregorio Lopez Gorostieta, kidnapped a week ago today from his seminary, was found murdered Christmas day near Ciudad Altamirano. The priest had earlier this year accused the Guerreros Unidos drug gang of kidnapping killing 43 teachers' college students earlier this year. His body was found by police searching for the missing students.

Mephedrone on the March in India. The use of the synthetic stimulant drug mephedrone is spreading in India. It first became popular among drug users in Mumbai and Bangalore, and is now gaining popularity in Indore. The drug is unregulated and not illegal in India, and is available at about one-twentieth of the cost of cocaine.

The Year's Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories [FEATURE]

Whew, what a year! Two more states legalize it -- and DC, too -- decriminalization spreads, and more. But it wasn't all good news. Here's our Top 10:

1. Marijuana Legalization Wins at the Polls in Alaska, Oregon, and DC. In an Election Day clean sweep, voters in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, delivered a marijuana legalization trifecta. Legalization won with 53% of the vote in Alaska, 55% in Oregon, and a whopping 69% in Washington, DC, the highest percentage vote for legalization ever recorded. With victory in Oregon this year, every state that has had the chance to vote for legalization since 2012 has now done so.

2. The Sky Hasn't Fallen in Colorado and Washington. It's now been two years since the first two states to legalize marijuana did so, and the predicted horrible consequences have not materialized. While possession became legal almost immediately, legal sales commenced in January in Colorado and in July in Washington. Teen pot smoking declined this year, according to the annual Monitoring the Future survey, and Colorado teens in particular were consuming less weed, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment. Neither have traffic fatalities increased, according to The Washington Post. Nor has crime increased. What has increased is state revenues from the taxation of marijuana, from zero before legalization to tens of millions of dollars annually now.

3. Big Eastern Cities Decriminalize Pot Possession. The city councils in Philadelphia and Washington, DC, this year approved the decriminalization of small-time pot possession. Although New York state decriminalized in 1978, New York City had been the marijuana arrest capital of the world, thanks to NYPD's habit of stopping people, telling them to empty their pockets, and then charging them with the misdemeanor office of public possession instead of the civil infraction. Now, thanks to Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York cops can't do that anymore. And let's not forget Baltimore; the state of Maryland decriminalized this year, too.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death by heroin overdose crystallized concerns over abuse of opiates. (wikimedia.org)
4. The Death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman Crystallizes Rising Concerns About Heroin and Prescription Opiates. The February overdose death of the acclaimed actor turned a glaring spotlight on the issues of heroin and prescription pain pill addiction and overdoses. Ever since, government at the federal, state, and local level has been moved by the urge to "Do something!" And it has -- with responses covering the gamut from harm reduction measures like 911 Good Samaritan laws and increased access to overdose reversal drugs to calls for more drug treatment to more-of-the-same drug war approaches and calls for more money for law enforcement.

5. California Defelonizes Drug Possession. With one fell swoop, California voters struck a big blow against mass incarceration when they approved Proposition 47 in November. The initiative makes drug possession and five other low-level, nonviolent offenses misdemeanors instead of felonies. It becomes the 14th state to do so, and by far the largest.

6. Congress Tells the Justice Department to Butt Out of Medical Marijuana States. In passing the omnibus spending bill last week, Congress approved an historic amendment barring the Justice Department from spending taxpayer funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Passage does not promise an end to all federal interference -- it doesn't address taxing issues, for instance -- and it is only for this fiscal year, but this is still a landmark vote.

Attorney General Holder has striven to reduce overincarceration of drug offenders. (usdoj.gov)
7. Floridians Vote for Medical Marijuana, But It Still Loses. Florida should have been the first Southern state to approve medical marijuana, and 57% of Florida voters agreed in November. But because the Florida initiative was a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% of the vote to pass. Even with that high bar, the initiative still could have passed, if not for some campaign gaffes. Some $5 million worth of contributions to the "no" side by conservative casino magnate Sheldon Adelson didn't help, either.

8. Medical Marijuana Lite. Maryland passed a medical marijuana law and Minnesota and New York passed limited medical marijuana laws, but this was the year of low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana laws. Such measures passed in a number of states where full-blown medical marijuana hasn't, including Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Utah. They typically provide access to high-CBD cannabis oils to a limited number of patients.

9. The Obama Administration Moves to Reduce the Federal Drug War Prison Population. It didn't do it all by itself -- the US Sentencing Commission deserves recognition for proposing sentencing reforms -- but the president and Attorney General Eric Holder spoke our vigorously and repeatedly against mandatory minimums and over-incarceration. It wasn't just talk; the Justice Department instructed US Attorneys to find ways to reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentencing, and exhorted federal drug prisoners to seek clemency.

10. But The Drug War Juggernaut Continues to Roll. Despite all the good news this year, the reality is that we are still nibbling around the edges. While marijuana arrests the previous year were down to just under 700,000 (the historic high was 872,000 in 2008) and overall drug arrests declined by about 50,000, there were still 1.5 million people arrested on drug charges. And the number of people arrested for drugs other than marijuana actually increased.

Chronicle AM: USVI Decriminalizes, NJ Methadone Pregnancy Ruling, A Good Year for Hemp, More (12/23/14)

Decrim comes to the US Virgin Islands, Anchorage starts planning for pot, California starts looking toward 2016, it was a good year for hemp, the New Jersey Supreme Court rejects criminalizing a pregnant woman for using prescribed methadone, and more. Let's get to it:

California prepares for 2016. (CCPR)
Marijuana Policy

US Virgin Islands Lawmakers Override Veto to Enact Decriminalization. Lawmakers voted Friday to override a line-item veto of a decriminalization provision in the territory's FY 2015 budget. That means the territory has now decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.

Anchorage Forms Committee to Handle Legalization. Last week, the city council shot down a plan to ban pot sales in the state's largest city. This week, it has formed a committee to handle local implementation of legalization. The first meeting is today. Click on the link for more details.

Oakland Meeting Next Month to Look at Lessons of Successful Legalization Campaigns. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform and its grassroots organizing arm, ReformCA, will be hosting a "debriefing" with leaders of the successful initiative campaigns in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, next month. The meeting is set for January 9 in Oakland. Click on the link for more details and to RSVP. Seating is limited.

Hemp

A Good Year for Hemp. The industry lobbying group Vote Hemp reports that, largely inspired by passage of American Agricultural Act's provision allowing for hemp research, 10 states legalized hemp production this year. They are Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Tennessee, and Utah. Two other states, Connecticut and New Hampshire, passed hemp study bills.

Harm Reduction

Drug Policy Alliance Issues New Guide for Tackling Drug Use at Music Events. The guide, Managing Drug Use at Your Event, is aimed at event producers and focused on improving the health and safety of festival attendees. It is designed to give event producers a harm reduction-based alternative to a police and enforcement-heavy approach. The guide is part of DPA's Music Fan campaign aimed at stimulating discussion about drug use in club and festival setting and promoting policy reforms to improve clubber health and safety.

Pregnancy

New Jersey Supreme Court Rejects Child Abuse Charge Against Pregnant Mom Over Prescribed Methadone Use. The court ruled unanimously Monday that a woman dependent on opioid pain relievers could not be charged with child abuse and neglect for using prescribed methadone during her pregnancy. Her healthy infant was treated for neonatal abstinence syndrome after birth, and the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency used that diagnosis as the basis for charging her with child abuse. The case is Division of Child Protection and Permanency v. Y.N.

International

Uruguay Has Registered 1,200 Marijuana Growers. The head of the National Drugs Board, Julio Calzada, said Monday that there are 1,200 registered marijuana growers. "It is encouraging to have 1,200 growers after three or four months since the law came into effect," Calzada told reporters. He added that about 500 cannabis clubs have registered. Each club can have up to 45 members and grow up to 99 plants.

Chronicle AM: Cuomo Just Says No, Christie Talks Mandatory Treatment, Lebanese Hash Boom, More (12/22/14)

Cuomo rejects legalization, Christie talks treatment instead of prison, New Hampshire takes a step toward getting dispensaries going, Lebanon's hash trade is booming, and more. Let's get to it:

In Lebanon, the hash crop grows unimpeded. (cannabisculture.com)
Marijuana Policy

New York Governor Rejects Legalizing Pot, Cites Myth. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Sunday reiterated his opposition to freeing the weed. "I do not favor legalized marijuana," he said in a radio interview. "I do believe it can be a gateway drug." The "gateway theory" is widely considered to be a myth.

South Carolina Decriminalization Bill Pre-Filed. Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens) has pre-filed a bill that would decriminalize marijuana in the Palmetto State. Under the bill, possession of less than an ounce would be a civil infraction with a fine of between $100 and $200 for a first offense. Fines increase with subsequent offenses. The bill is H 3117.

Medical Marijuana

California Appeals Court Rules Concentrates Qualify as Medical Marijuana. The 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled last week that "concentrated cannabis" qualifies as marijuana for purposes of medical use. The ruling came in People v. Mulcrevy, in which medical marijuana patients and probationer Sean Patrick Mulcrevy was accused of violating his probation because he was caught in possession of cannabis oil. Concentrated cannabis "is covered by the Compassionate Use Act, and there is insufficient evidence Mulcrevy violated his probation in light of that conclusion," the appeals court held unanimously.

New Hampshire Now Taking Dispensary Applications. The Department of Health and Human Services Friday released its request for applications for people who want a shot at operating one of the four "alternative treatment centers" contemplated under the state's medical marijuana laws. The state is divided into four geographic areas; each will be allowed one dispensary.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Christ Christie: Drug War Has Failed, Treat Addiction as an Illness, Mandatory Treatment Needed. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has spoken out again on drug policy, saying the state needs to embrace a dramatically different approach to drug use and addiction. "I think what we've seen over the last 30 years is it just hasn't worked," he said. "And there are some people who make one bad choice to try drugs one time and their particular chemistry leads them to be an addict from the minute they try it. So we need to treat it as a disease. And not having mandatory incarceration for non-violent offenders but having mandatory treatment is something that's going to yield a much greater result for society in general and for those individuals in particular." There's much more at the link.

International

Lebanese Hash Trade Booming in Shadow of Syrian Civil War. Distracted by the civil war next door in Syria, Lebanese security forces have for the past two years refrained from their annual hash eradication campaigns, and now, well-armed leaders of the trade are confident enough to tell troops to stay away if they don't want trouble. "We are selling hashish, and if anyone from the government tries to come close to it, we'll kill them," said Ali Shamas, a spokesman for growers and sellers. "This year we had a good year." Because of oversupply due to lack of eradication, prices have dropped dramatically, but the trade is still lucrative, Shamas said. "All of my main growers made at least half a million dollars this year," he told The Daily Telegraph. Much more at the link.

Brazil Will Study Legalizing High CBD Medical Marijuana. The Brazilian Health Surveillance Agency said Friday it is going to start discussing whether to reclassify the marijuana derivative cannabidiol (CBD). The announcement came one day after several dozen people protested in Brazilia to demand its reclassification and less than a month after the Federal Medical Council authorized neurologists and psychiatrists to prescribe CBD to epileptic children and teens who haven't responded to other treatments.

First Medical Marijuana Trials Get Underway in New South Wales. The state government announced Sunday that it has authorized clinical trials for medical marijuana. Those will be the first ever in Australia. NSW Premier Mike Baird said he expected hundreds of people to take part in the trial, and if it is successful at relieving pain and suffering, the government would consider importing marijuana or allowing it to be grown in the state.

New South Wales Bar Association Law Committee Calls for "Radical Rethink" of Drug Policy. The bar association's Criminal Law Committee is calling for a drug summit that will "radically rethink" Australia's approaches to drug use and the drug trade. The committee said that marijuana decriminalization is a start, but that "this would not remove the black market in drugs or respond to what we had found with respect to other illicit drugs." Instead, the best way to reduce drug- and prohibition-related harms would be "to replace the black market for drugs with a form of legal availability under a highly regulated system."

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