Search and Seizure

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Chronicle AM: Bad Cops in CO, CT MedMJ, VA Pot Decrim Bill, WA Drug Defelonization Bill, More (11/26/14)

We have a couple of disturbing Colorado police stories, a pot decrim bill will be filed in Virginia, and a drug decrim one in Washington state, Connecticut patients seek to expand the list of conditions, Florida will try again on medical marijuana, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

New Idaho Group Forms to Fight for Pot Law Reform. A new group has formed to push for marijuana legalization in a most pot-unfriendly place: Idaho. Although it now borders two legal marijuana states—Oregon and Washington—Idaho continues its last-century approach to marijuana. Now, New Approach Idaho wants to change that with a new initiative effort. It has its work cut out for it: The last time activists tried to get an initiative on the ballot there, they were only able to come up with 11,000 of the necessary 60,000 voter signatures.

Virginia Legislator Will File Decriminalization Bill in January. State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) has said he will fill a bill to decriminalization the possession of small amounts for the next session of the legislature. "This is not going to legalize marijuana. It is going to make it no longer have a criminal penalty," he said. Under current law, a first possession offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Ebbin's bill would make possession a civil offense, with a maximum $100 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Doctors' Panel Hears Request to Add More Conditions. The state Medical Marijuana Program's Board of Physicians heard today from patients and advocates pleading with them to expand the state's medical marijuana law to include more medical conditions. The board has received petitions seeking to add severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis; sickle cell disease; Tourette's disorder; and post-laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy — chronic pain after back surgery — to the list of qualifying maladies. The program is accepting written submissions, petitions, and testimony from the public until December 12 and will deliberate on the issue in January. If it approves adding new conditions, that's just the first step. Click on the link for all the bureaucratic details.

Florida Advocates Announce Plans for a 2016 Initiative. United for Care, the group behind this year's medical marijuana initiative that came up just short, has announced it will try again in 2016. "We are swiftly mobilizing a new petition push to get medical marijuana'' on the 2016 ballot, United for Care director Ben Pollara told supporters this week in a fund raising announcement. This year's Measure 2 won 57% of the vote, but it needed 60% because it was a constitutional amendment. It looks like the group is going to go the constitutional amendment route again, despite the higher bar it creates.

Law Enforcement                                                                      

Citizen Video Captures Denver Police Beating Drug Suspect, Knocking Down Pregnant Wife; Cops Tried to Destroy Evidence. Denver resident Levi Frasier happened upon two police officers attacking a man on the ground and began recording with his tablet computer. Police were repeatedly punching the man in the head, and when his seven-month pregnant wife approached the scene, one of the officers swept her legs out from under her, dropping her to the ground. When police noticed Frasier recording the scene, they seized his tablet without his consent or a warrant and erased the video. But Frazier had software that automatically uploaded his videos to the cloud, and now he has made it available to a local TV station, which is raising many questions about the incident. Click on the link to see the video and the TV station's investigative report.

One Colorado Town's Horribly Out of Control Snitch-Driven Drug Busts. The Denver alternative weekly Westword has a lengthy investigative report on a series of drug busts in the town of Trinidad that repeatedly wrapped up innocent people based on the word of confidential informants who stood to benefit from snitching out others. Most of the cases have now been dismissed, but not without severe damage to the innocent. Local police and prosecutors seem not to care much. Click on the link to read the whole damning piece.

Sentencing

Drug Defelonization Bill to Be Filed in Washington State.  State Reps. Sherry Appleton (D-Bainbridge Island) and Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle) will reintroduce legislation to make drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The bill will be identical to House Bill 2116, which didn't pass this year. The effort is being supported by Sensible Washington.

International

Cannabis Cafe Quietly Operating in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A members-only marijuana consumption club, the High Life Social Club, has been open for business since early September. The club doesn’t allow pot smoking, just vaporizing, nor does it actually sell marijuana—it's a BYOB (bring your own buds) operation, and local police seem to be okay with it. The only requirement for membership is a payment of $5 and an ID showing you are over 18. 

Chronicle AM: US Agents on Mexico Drug Raids, New Federal Cash Seizure Guidance, New Pain Pill, More (11/24/14)

Some House Republicans still want to mess with DC legalization, a key Washington state solon is planning a bill that would fold medical marijuana into the legal regulation system, federal officials issue a new code of conduct for highway asset seizures, US Marshals are reportedly going on drug raids in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it

WA state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) is moving to fold medical marijuana into the legal pot regulatory system.
Marijuana Policy      

Some House Republicans Plan to Try to Block DC Legalization. While some GOP senators have no interest in blocking DC's legalization initiative, some GOP House members do.  Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) said he "absolutely" intends to block implementation, but that he probably wouldn't try to do so until next year. Earlier this year, he successfully attached an amendment to the DC appropriation bill to block decriminalization, and that amendment passed the House, but was never taken up by the Democratically-controlled Senate. Harris called legalization "crazy policy."

Washington State Senator Outlines Marijuana Regulation Bill. State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) said she plans to file a bill that would regulate both recreational and medical marijuana in a single system, slash marijuana taxes, and allow home cultivation of up to six plants for any adult—not just medical marijuana patients or caregivers. The bill would phase out collective gardens and generally fold the medical marijuana system into the state's regulated marijuana system. Kohl-Welles hasn't filed the bill yet and said she is consulting with stakeholders and legislators, but she said she would pre-file it next month.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Okays Fourth Dispensary. The state Health Department has issued a permit for a fourth dispensary to start growing medical marijuana ahead of a scheduling opening next spring. The Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center won approval last Friday.

South Dakotans to Try Legislature, But Hold 2016 Initiative in Reserve. Activists met over the weekend in Sioux Falls to plot how to move forward in a state that has twice rejected medical marijuana at the ballot box. A 2006 initiative lost by just four points, but a 2010 initiative lost by a whopping 32 points in the year of the Tea Party. Now, supporters will try to get a bill moving in the state legislature, but if that fails, they are pondering a 2016 ballot initiative.

Harm Reduction

Kentucky 911 Good Samaritan Bill Proposed. At a press conference last Friday, state Sen. Chris McDaniel said he wants to file a bill that would exempt drug overdose victims and people who seek help for them from being charged with drug possession offenses. "This should be another tool to keep people from dying, and that's what we're after," he said. But McDaniel also said such an exemption from prosecution could only be used once.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Officials Issue New Guidance for Highway Seizures. Officials with the White House's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program have issued new guidance for highway police in a bid to curb questionable civil asset forfeiture seizures of cash and property from drivers. The voluntary code of conduct reminds state and local police that the need to observe the Constitution and the civil rights of motorists. "Emphasize interdiction programs are NOT purposed for enhancing agency budgets," the code says. "Underscore forfeited ill-gotten proceeds be spent prudently in accordance with applicable statutes, sound policies and regulations." Asset forfeiture programs are currently under an intense spotlight in the wake of repeated revelations about abuses and aggressive enforcement by police.

Prescription Opiates

FDA Approves Second Hydrocodone-Only Pain Pill. The Food and Drug Administration has approved Purdue Pharma's extended-release Hydrocodone tablet Hysingla for use. The agency said Hysingla is designed to be difficult to abuse, but acknowledged it could still be. It is the fourth opioid to be granted abuse-deterrent status, after Purdue's reformulated Oxycontin, it's oxycodone-naloxone combo Targiniq, and Pfizer's morphine-naltrexone combo Embeda. And it is the second hydrocodone-only pill approved by the agency. FDA approved Zohydro in October 2013.

International

US Marshals Are Going on Drug Raids in Mexico. The Wall Street Journal has reported that members of the US Marshals Service have been taking part in drug raids disguised as Mexican Marines. Mexican officials flatly deny the charge, but the newspaper reported that the Marshals Service sends small teams several times a year to help hunt drug suspects, some of whom are not even wanted by the US. The Journal cited a July incident in which a US Marshal was shot and wounded while attached to Mexican Marines patrolling a field in Sinaloa. Six cartel members were killed in the ensuing shoot-out.

Australian MPs to Introduce Federal Medical Marijuana Bill. Members of parliament from the Labor, Liberal, and Green parties will this week file a bill that would allow medical marijuana to be grown under federal license. The bill would not require states to allow medical marijuana, but it would create a federal model and address how medical marijuana would be supplied. The MPs will brief colleagues on the plan Wednesday.

Australia's Tasmania Rejects Medical Marijuana. Tasmanian Health Minister Michael Ferguson has rejected an interim report calling for allowing the use of medical marijuana. He ruled out any changes to current laws, citing advice from the Tasmania Police. He said that Tasmania Police would not seek to criminally pursue terminally ill medical marijuana users. 

Chronicle AM: Carl Sagan Pot Papers Released, Supreme Court Takes Up Highway Drug Dog Detentions, More (10/8/14)

The Library of Congress unveils writings on marijuana and drug reform from astronomer Carl Sagan, pot pops up in the Oklahoma Senate race, the Supreme Court will take up the issue of how long police can detain someone on the side of the road waiting for a drug dog, the "Baby Bou Bou" SWAT raid case isn't over yet, and more. Let's get to it:

Carl Sagan
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy Pops Up in Oklahoma US Senate Race. Even in Oklahoma, though that is not really a big surprise, given that Democratic contender state Sen. Constance Johnson is a leading Sooner advocate for legalization. At a debate in Stillwater with Republican contender US Rep. James Lankford, Johnson surprised no one by standing by her well-known position on pot. And Lankford surprised no one by opposing it. Click on the link to get some flavor.

Carl Sagan's Writings on Marijuana, Drug Policy in New Library of Congress Exhibit. The Library of Congress in Washington, DC, has made available to the public a huge trove of astronomer and PBS "Cosmos" host Carl Sagan's papers relating to marijuana and drug policy. Sagan was a proponent of marijuana and drug reform, and Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority has penned a nice piece about the collection and its release. Click on the title link to read it.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Restrictive Medical Marijuana Bill Gets House Committee Assignment. The bill, Senate Bill 1182, passed the Senate last month, but is being slowed down by Republicans in the House. It was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, but Republican members said it would have to have at least two public hearings before going to a committee vote. With only four working days left in the legislative session, that isn't going to happen this year.

Law Enforcement

Supreme Court to Rule on Roadside Detention of Motorists While Cops Await Arrival of Drug Dogs. How long can police hold a driver on the side of the road while waiting for a drug dog to arrive to do a sniff (which the Supreme Court considers not a search)? The US Supreme Court agreed yesterday to take up a case that could decide that issue. In the case, a Nebraska man was stopped for an alleged traffic infraction and ticketed by the officer 21 minutes later. But he remained detained by the officer for another six minutes, until backup arrived. The officer then used the dog to sniff the car, the dog alerted, a search ensued, and methamphetamine was found. The man pleaded guilty, but appealed, saying his detention after the ticket was written amounted to an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Oral arguments will be presented early next year. The court opinion will likely be announced by June 2015.

Family of Toddler Burned in Georgia SWAT Drug Raid Seeks Federal Charges. After a Georgia grand jury declined to indict any police officers in the botched drug raid that left toddler Bounkham "Baby Bou Bou" severely injured when a SWAT officer through a flash-bang grenade in his play pen, his family is seeking a meeting this week with federal prosecutors in hopes of getting federal charges filed. While the local grand jury failed to indict, it was highly critical of law enforcement practices in the case. "There should be no such thing as an emergency narcotics investigation," the jurors wrote in their report. Georgia US Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said in a statement that her office is looking into it. "Federal authorities have been participating in the investigation of this terrible incident, and now that a state grand jury has declined to return an indictment. We will review the matter for possible federal charges," said Yates.

International

Bolivian Presidential Candidates on Drug Policy. The PanAm Post has a nice analysis of the drug policy positions of the various candidates in the Bolivian presidential elections set for Sunday. While sitting President Evo Morales has won kudos for his coca policies, he has not undertaken any broader reform initiatives, such as drug decriminalization or legalization. Neither have any of the other candidates. The candidates are united in their "prohibitionist insanity," the article notes. Morales is expected to be reelected.

El Chapo Guzman Indicted in New York for Murders. Mexico's imprisoned Sinaloa cartel leader, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, has been indicted for 12 murders in an indictment issued by a federal grand jury in Brooklyn. He and his successor, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, were also charged with money-laundering more than $14 billion in drug profits. But don't look for him to be heading for New York any time soon; he faces numerous charges in Mexico, as well.

Mexican Drug Gang Hit Men Linked to Mass Murder of Student Teachers in Guerrero. The attorney general for the state of Guerrero said Tuesday that some of the 44 rural teachers' college students who went missing last week after clashing with police in the city of Iguala were probably executed by drug traffickers working with crooked police. Two men who identified themselves as members of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang have supposedly confessed to killing at least 17 of them. Authorities have found a mass grave containing 27 bodies. The state attorney general said it appeared local police arrested the students, then handed them over to the hit men. The students were said to be political radicals and had been protesting against local officials. This sort of repressive political violence is nothing new in Guerrero, but the mass murder is one of the largest in recent Mexican history.

This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares 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.)

Will Supreme Court Cell Phone Search Ruling Apply Retroactively? [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by investigative reporter Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

On June 25, the US Supreme Court handed down a resounding landmark ruling in two separate high profile criminal cases, requiring police to first get a warrant to search a person's cell phone. The ruling is a major victory for the privacy rights of millions of cell phone users, with the Supreme Court working to update Fourth Amendment search and seizure law to keep pace with technological advances.

According to a January Pew survey, 90% of American adults have cell phones and 58% have smart phones.

Cell phones are "such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion. "Cell phones and smart phones with extensive memory can store millions of pages of personal texts, hundreds of photos and videos, which can form a revealing biography of a person's life, and that the Fourth Amendment must protect personal, private possessions. A cell phone search would typically expose to the government far more than the exhaustive search of a house."

In its unanimous decision, the court rejected the Obama administration's argument that "cell phones are no different from anything else a person may be carrying when arrested, and that cell phones are now critical to tools in the commission of a crime."

The decision came in two separate cases, US v. David Riley, a California man serving 15 years on charges of attempted murder and a gun charge, and US v. Brima Wurie, a Boston area man sentenced to federal pen for 22 1/2 years on drug related charges. The court consolidated the two cases in reaching its opinion.

The question now becomes whether the decision will be applied retroactively to thousands of similar prosecutions where defendants were convicted as result of warrantless evidence used against them that were taken from their cell phones or mobile devices. If retroactivity is granted, thousands of inmates could either go free, be granted a new trial, or face resentencing.

Attorney Orrin Kerr (gwu.edu)
Writing a commentary in the Washington Post, lawyer Orin Kerr, who serves as a professor at George Washington Law School, explained why the decision in the Wurie and Riley cases may not be made retroactive.

"The culprit is the continued expansion of the good faith exception in Davis v. US, where the Supreme Court ruled that the exclusionary rule is not available if a search was authorized by binding appellant precedent at the time the search occurred," he argued. "Lower courts have interpreted Davis to apply broadly even when no binding appellate precedent authorized the search. Therefore, under these cases, relatively few defendants will get the benefits of the Riley-Wurie rule."

In an interview with the Chronicle, San Diego appellate attorney Charles Sevilla largely agreed.

"The court seldom states whether its rulings are retroactive," he told the Chronicle. "And even if the reversals in Wurie's and Riley's cell phone convictions were applied retroactively to cases not yet final on appeal, the defendants must face a 'good faith' argument to request a new trial. A 'good faith' argument can be made, for example, when a police officer, relying on a warrant, finds incriminating evidence during a search, but the search warrant is later found to be invalid. The 'good faith' doctrine allows the use of that evidence if it were unlawfully obtained because the officer was acting in 'good faith,'" he explained.

"Evidence should be suppressed only if it can be said that the law enforcement officer had knowledge a search was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment," Sevilla added, citing Herring v. US. "If the police, during prior cell phone searches, acted on case law allowing warrantless searches, then an officer's 'good faith' conduct will doom a suppression motion," Seville argued.

Of course, police usually deny knowingly conducting unlawful searches.

Sevilla also cited Davis v. US as another obstacle to retroactivity in cell phone search cases. In that case, Illinois police arrested Willie Gene Davis for providing a false name, then searched his car and found an illegal weapon. An appeals court refused to throw out the warrantless search of Davis's car because the police only searched the immediate area.

Meanwhile Brima Wurie is scheduled to be resentenced on the drug charge that took his case to the Supreme Court. Because of the court's ruling in his case, the drugs and weapon found in his home after police searched Wurie's cell phone will not be considered, but he's still facing serious time.

"As a repeat offender, Mr. Wurie will still face 20 years from the feds on the original drug case," Wurie's appellate public defender, Ian Gold, told the Chronicle. "So the reversal of Wurie's conviction is largely symbolic without much benefit."

The Supreme Court minced no words in separating such devices from other property a person might have on them when detained by police.

"Modern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet, or a purse," Chief Justice Roberts wrote. "The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizure."

The ruling will certainly apply to searches of tablets, laptop computers, and may even apply to digital information held by third parties like phone companies.

"The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hands does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought," Roberts wrote. "Our answers to the question of what police must do before searching a (cell phone seized incident to an arrest) is accordingly simple -- get a warrant."

"I believe the court got it right," said Lewis Rice, a retired DEA Special Agent in Charge of the agency's New York Office. "The court must balance our right of privacy against law enforcement's ability to aggressively investigate criminal organizations."

Attorney Charles Sevilla (charlessevilla.com)
Rice points out the vital fact that although law enforcement generally needs a warrant, the Supreme Court ruling does allow a warrantless search of a mobile device depending on the immediate situation.

"The court left open the option for law enforcement, under exigent circumstances, to search a cell phone without a warrant," he told the Chronicle.

Still, the decision in Wurie and Riley is already having an impact.

In Michigan, Kent County Circuit Court Judge Mark Trusock tossed felony drug charges against 29-year-old Matthew Macnaughton on July 16 after Macnaughton's attorney successfully brought up the Wurie and Riley decision.

Grand Rapids police had stopped Macnaughton for running a red light, and the officer decided to arrest him for driving without a license. While Macnaughton sat in the rear seat of the patrol car, the officer examined Macnaughton's smart phone just when a text message from a person came across the screen asking to buy drugs.

"What kind of phone is this?" the cop asked. "You must be a drug dealer."

Macnaughton's attorney, Chris Wirth, argued that per the Supreme Court decision, digital contents of a cell phone cannot be searched in the course of a routine arrest, and that there were no circumstances requiring immediate action. Prosecutor argued that Macnaughton's case didn't apply to the Wurie-Riley decision because Macnaughton's arrest ocurred in February -- prior to the high court handing down the cell phone decision -- but that didn't stop Judge Trusock from tossing the case.

Still, while Macnaughton may have beaten the drug rap, the state still got its pound of flesh. The prosecutor's office seized his 2005 Lincoln Aviator and over $3,000 dollars the police took off him during the arrest.

The DEA appears resigned to live with the Supreme Court ruling, a Justice Department spokeswoman's remarks seem to indicate.

"The Department will work with its law enforcement agencies to ensure full compliance with this Supreme Court decision," spokeswoman Ellen Canales told the Chronicle. "We will make use of whatever technology is available to preserve evidence on cell phones while seeking a warrant, and we will assist our agents in determining when exigent circumstances or another applicable exception to the warrant requirement will permit them to search the phone immediately without a warrant."

But while the DEA is looking forward, defendants and defense attorneys are looking back -- and wondering whether they decision won't bring some relief.

Chief Justice John Roberts (supremecourt.gov)
State and federal courts expect to review tons of motions for new trials from numerous lawyers representing defendants already convicted on crimes related to warrantless cell phone evidence, now that the Supreme Court has ruled the practice violates search and seizure law.

"There probably will be a good deal of litigation over whether this decision can be applied retroactively," San Francisco attorney Dennis Riordan told the Los Angeles Times.

Privacy advocates and civil libertarians are also hoping the Supreme Court ruling in Wurie and Riley will have a role in deciding controversial cases making their way through the lower courts, whether it's cell phone location data tracking or the Obama administration's NSA spy surveillance program.

"When it comes to the Fourth Amendment, we want courts to ensure this important legal protection survives the rapid technological changes of the 21st Century," Hanni Fakoury, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation told the Chronicle.

The cell phone rulings in the Wurie and Riley cases are only the latest landmark decisions to strike a balance between privacy protections and the evolving role. In Kyllo v. US, the high court ruled that police must obtain a warrant before using thermal imaging devices on homes, while in US v. Jones, the high court overturned the life-without-parole drug conspiracy conviction against Antoine Jones, in which FBI agents and Maryland narcotics officers placed a GPS tracking device on his vehicle for nearly a month without obtaining a search warrant.

Still, while Jones won the case, he didn't win his freedom. After three federal prosecution, including two hung juries and one with the conviction overturned, Jones chose to agree to a plea deal with federal prosecutors rather than face another chance at life in prison with yet another trial.

In a letter from prison, where he is working on a book about his experiences, Jones had something to say about the cell phone decisions.

"The courts are constantly sending a message to police that they're not willing to give them that much power and control. This is a good thing because the police need to be governed by the courts, and the courts should maintain the power to determine when a search warrant is necessary," he wrote. "The police are being either lazy, or they try to circumvent the law when courts rules in favor of protecting constitutional rights."

It is ironic indeed that, as the US government grapples with the NSA and Edward Snowden spying scandals, it took the case of two convicted felons to get the Supreme Court to protect the privacy of millions of Americans who use cell phones containing reams of data about their private lives. The irony is only deepened when we consider that Brima Wurie and David Riley won't benefit much from this historic ruling.

Washington, DC
United States

Cops Need Warrants to Search Cell Phones, Supreme Court Rules

In an unusual unanimous decision, the US Supreme Court Wednesday ruled that police in almost all cases must obtain a search warrant before searching cell phones or other mobile devices. The ruling brings the huge amounts of data Americans store on cellphones, smartphones, and other mobile devices under the umbrella of constitutional privacy protections.

The decision came in two cases, one involving a drug bust and the other a weapons charge. The two cases were consolidated in the court's opinion in Riley v. California.

In ruling in favor of Americans' privacy, the high court rejected law enforcement arguments that cell phone searches did not require a warrant under an exception that allows police to search the contents of arrested people's pockets to ensure that they are not armed or do not destroy evidence. While that may be convenient for law enforcement, the court held, constitutional rights trump convenience.

The court was clearly aware that modern hand-held devices contain both the quality and quantity of information deserving protection as much as that afforded to people's personal property and effects in their homes.

"Modern cellphones aren't a technological convenience," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the unanimous opinion "With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans 'the privacies of life,'" he wrote.

As for law enforcement concerns that the court's ruling would prove an obstacle to some police investigations, Roberts had a pithy retort: "Privacy comes at a cost," he wrote.

And if police have reason to believe such devices may contain relevant evidence, they have recourse, Roberts wrote.

"Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cellphone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple -- get a warrant."

Of course, that means police must convince a magistrate they have probable cause to seek a search warrant.

The American Civil Liberties Union liked what it saw in the decision.

"By recognizing that the digital revolution has transformed our expectations of privacy, today's decision is itself revolutionary and will help to protect the privacy rights of all Americans," said ACLU legal director Steven R. Shapiro in a Wednesday statement. "We have entered a new world but, as the court today recognized, our old values still apply and limit the government's ability to rummage through the intimate details of our private lives."

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- May 29, 2014

Minnesota becomes the 22nd medical marijuana state, the California Senate passes a medical marijuana regulation bill and a bill equalizing crack and powder cocaine offenses, a new study reports on who current heroin users are, there are a series of votes set for today to rein in the DEA, a Canadian court allows heroin-assisted treatment trials to move forward, and more. Let's get to it:

Cocaine is cocaine, whether rock or powder, and the California Senate has voted to treat it like that. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Support for Legalization at 42%. A Detroit News/WDIV-TV poll released today has support for marijuana legalization at 42%, with 52% opposed. The poll conducted by the Glengariff Group of Chicago surveyed 600 voters. It has a margin of error of +/ -4%. "There is a sharp difference in attitudes on marijuana legalization among voters under and over the age of 40," said pollster Richard Czuba. "And while Democratic voters support legalization of marijuana, independents and Republican voters strongly oppose legalization." Click the link for more demographic details.

Washington, DC, Initiative is Sweating the Signature-Gathering. Organizers of the DC initiative to legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana -- but not the legalization and regulation of marijuana sales -- are "a little nervous" about the progress of their signature-gathering campaign. They have until July 7 to collect 22,373 valid voter signatures. They had collected some 19,000 raw signatures by Monday, but of the 16,734 that have been processed, only 5,360 have been found to be valid.

Delaware Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington) today introduced a decriminalization bill, House Bill 371. It would make possession of up to an ounce a civil offense with a maximum $100 fine for people 21 and over. Currently, possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) today signed into law the medical marijuana bill approved earlier this month by the legislature. It allows for eight distribution centers across the state to by supplied by two medical marijuana manufacturers. The bill does not allow for the smoking of medical marijuana; but it can be vaped or eaten. Some medical marijuana groups are calling the law "overly restrictive."

California Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill. The state Senate yesterday approved Senate Bill 1262, sponsored by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Anaheim). It is supported by cities and law enforcement, and would impose tighter controls on dispensaries, cultivation, and recommending. A competing bill, Assembly Bill 1894, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) was expected to be voted on today. If both pass their respective houses, look for a compromise.

Drug Policy

Congress Set to Vote Today on Four Amendments to Reign in DEA. Congress is set to vote today on at least four amendments aimed at reigning in the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). One would prohibit DEA from interfering in states that allow medical marijuana; another would prohibit it from blocking hemp seed imports in states that have approved hemp research; a third would prohibit it from undermining state laws that allow for hemp cultivation; and a fourth would reject a proposed $35 million increase in the DEA's FY 2015 budget.

Heroin

Today's Heroin Users Are Mainly Young, White and Not in the Big City, New Study Finds. A new research article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that, unlike the heroin boom of the 1960s, most heroin users today are young white men whose opiate habits overwhelmingly started with prescription pain pills. "Our data show that the demographic composition of heroin users entering treatment has shifted over the last 50 years such that heroin use has changed from an inner-city, minority-centered problem to one that has a more widespread geographical distribution, involving primarily white men and women in their late 20s living outside of large urban areas," the authors concluded.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Prosecutor "Sending a Message" Charges Five Teens With Murder in Teen Girl's Overdose Death. Washington County Attorney Pete Orput has charged five local teenagers with murder in the January death of a 17-year-old girl who died after taking a new synthetic hallucinogen. "We think there's a moral obligation to keep kids free of drugs," said Orput. "We're sending a message that suppliers will be held fully to account." Those charged include a 19-year-old, an 18-year-old, and three 17-year-olds. Orput said the three minors will be charged as adults. The 19-year-old is accused of being the dealer; the others bought some of the drug and shared it among themselves and the dead girl.

Customs to Curtail Searches of General Aviation Aircraft Not Crossing Borders. After loud complaints from private pilots that their domestic flights were being searched for drugs by Customs agents, the Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) has announced it will curtail the searches. An official told National Public Radio yesterday that "his agency has heard pilots' grievances and the program is being altered so as not to needlessly affront law-abiding pilots." The Airline Operators and Pilots Association has been raising a stink about the issue for the past year, saying it has received more than 50 reports from members who recounted their encounters with law enforcement at airports.

Georgia SWAT Team Throws Flash-Bang Grenade, Burns Toddler in Drug Raid. A 2-year-old child was burned when members of the Habersham County Special Response Team deployed a "distraction device" as they executed a drug search warrant early yesterday morning. The raid came a day after a snitch made a drug buy at the home and reported no children present. The raiders got themselves a no-knock warrant and breached the door of the home. "What had happened was there was a playpen -- a Pack N Play -- that was pushed up against the door, and when they breached the door it wouldn't open up because of the Pack N Play," Sheriff Joey Terrell said. "It was just wide enough to toss the flash bang in, then they had to physically push it [Pack N Play] on out of the way to get in. That's when the team medics saw the child, stopped at the child, took the child out and began first aid. "The door that we entered was the door that we bought dope out of -- that's why entered at that door," Terrell said. "Our team went by the book. Given the same scenario, we'll do the same thing again. I stand behind what our team did," he maintained. He blames the target of the warrant. Read the whole story at the link.

Sentencing

California Senate Approves Bill to Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. The state Senate Wednesday approved a bill that would equalize the penalties for crack and powder cocaine sales and make it easier to get probation for either. The measure is Senate Bill 1010, introduced by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). It now goes to the Assembly.

International

Peru Names Former Defense Minister as New Drug Czar. President Ollanta Humala has named former Defense Minister Luis Otorala as the new head of the Peruvian anti-drug agency, DEVIDA. He replaces Carman Masias. Otarola said that while eradication of coca crops will continue, greater emphasis will be placed on economic alternatives for farmers. Hardline critics said the move and the new emphasis "showed a weakening in the resolve of the government" to confront the drug trade. Peru is once again the world's leading coca and cocaine producer.

Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced in Philippines. Rep. Rodolfo Albano III has filed a medical marijuana bill in the Philippine legislature. House Bill 4477, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Bill, is intended "to provide accessible, affordable, safe medical cannabis to qualifying patients."

British Columbia Supreme Court Grants Injunction for Heroin Treatment Study to Continue. Canada's BC Supreme Court today granted an injunction for an exemption from federal drug laws for participants in the SALOME study (The Study to Assess Long-term Opioid Maintenance Effectiveness). The injunction will allow doctors in the study to continue prescribing heroin to patients for whom other treatment options have been ineffective.

Chronicle AM -- April 30, 2014

There was marijuana talk on Capitol Hill yesterday, a Vermont dispensary bill passes the Senate, Georgia's governor signs a welfare drug testing bill, a California drugged driving bill dies, and -- oh, yeah, we spent $7.5 billion to reduce Afghan opium production and got squat. And more. Let's get to it:

The US spent $7.5 billion to reduce Afghan opium cultivation. Now Afghanistan produces more than ever. Go figger. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

NIH Head Tells Congress Marijuana is a Gateway Drug. Dr. Nora Volkow, the director from the National Institutes of Health warned House lawmakers Tuesday against legalizing marijuana use, saying it could act as a gateway drug. Volkow told the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations subpanel studies show that changes to brain chemistry after alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana use can prime users for harder drugs. Despite Volkow's claims, the gateway theory is widely discredited.

Treasury Secretary Defends Marijuana Banking Guidelines.Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Tuesday defended the Obama administration's guidelines to banks conducting transactions with legal marijuana sellers as congressional Republicans questioned whether the guidance amounts to tacit federal approval of a drug illegal in most states. Lew's comments came at hearing of the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on financial services, where Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) accused the administration of providing a "rubber stamp" to drug dealers. Lew disagreed: "Without any guidance, there would be a proliferation of cash-only businesses, and that would make it impossible to see when there are actions going on that violate both federal and state law and that... would be a real concern," Lew said. "We thought that the clarity, bringing it into daylight, was a better solution." Congress should write a law to establish a policy, he added.

New York City Conference Today and Tomorrow Marks 70th Anniversary of LaGuardia Commission Report. A major one-and-a-half day conference at the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) to discuss marijuana and broader drug policy reform gets underway today. The conference commemorates the 70th anniversary of one of the nation's first systematic studies to address many of the myths about marijuana, The La Guardia Committee Report: The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York, published in 1944. The NYAM published report concluded that "the sociological, psychological, and medical ills commonly attributed to marihuana have been found to be exaggerated," but marijuana prohibition has stood largely intact for seventy years -- until now. Click on the link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Vermont Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Dispensary Improvement Bill. The Vermont Senate gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that will expand access to medical marijuana for qualified patients. It will now be sent to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has expressed support for the measure. Senate Bill 247, sponsored by Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), will eliminate the cap on the number of patients who are allowed to access medical marijuana dispensaries. Currently, only 1,000 total patients are able to access dispensaries. The measure will also increase possession limits for dispensaries, allow them to deliver medical marijuana to patients, and permit naturopaths to certify patients for the program. The bill was amended by the House to initiate two studies: one to explore the possibility of adding post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a qualifying condition for the state's medical marijuana program, and one to evaluate the potential impact of making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it similarly to alcohol.

Louisiana Medical Marijuana Bill Excites Law Enforcement Opposition. Law enforcement agencies from across the state spoke out against a proposed bill to legalize medical marijuana at the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association today. "As the current bill stands in Louisiana, this still does not correct the fact that it is illegal in the United States of America to possess or use marijuana," president of the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association Sheriff Tony Mancuso said. The bill, Senate Bill 541, proposed by Louisiana State Senator Fred Mills (D-St. Martin Parish), will be heard by the Committee on Health and Welfare today.

Virginia Congressman Introduces Federal Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) has filed House Resolution 4498, the Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marijuana Act. This bill would prohibit the federal government from preventing the prescription, possession, transportation, and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes in compliance with applicable state law. The bill would also reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug.

Drug Testing

Georgia Governor Signs Bill to Drug Test Some Welfare Recipients. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed legislation on Tuesday requiring some applicants for food stamps and welfare benefits to undergo a drug test. Under the measure, House Bill 772, testing could be required if authorities have a "reasonable suspicion" of drug use. A person failing the test would temporarily lose benefits, although their children could receive assistance through another adult. Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, called the legislation "shameful" and said it violated the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches.

Drugged Driving

California "Per Se" Drugged Driving Bill Dies in Committee. A bill that would have made the presence of tiny amounts of marijuana metabolites per se evidence of impaired driving was killed in the Assembly Public Safety Committee Tuesday. Assembly Bill 2500, sponsored by Assemblyman Jim Frazier (D-Antioch), was opposed by California NORML, whose head, Dale Gieringer, called it "a solution in search of a problem."

Law Enforcement

Bogus Highway Drug Search Yields $100,000 Settlement for Star Trek Fan. A Star Trek fan returning home from a convention on I-70 Illinois when he was stopped and searched by a Collinsville, Illinois, police officer has settled a lawsuit against the department for $100,000. Terrance Huff, who is also a documentary filmmaker, sued over the stop. After the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals refused to throw out the lawsuit, Collinsville settled. Click on the link for the whole juicy, sleazy story.

Colorado Bills That Would Have Removed Kids from Parents Suspected of Drug Use Die. The state Senate approved, but then rejected two bills that attempted to expand the definition of child abuse to include even attempts at drug use and/or possession. The bills were Senate Bill 177 and Senate Bill 178. They were opposed by a coalition of groups including the Drug Policy Alliance, the ACLU of Colorado, and National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

Prescription Opiates

FDA Defends Approval of Zohydro. FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, defended the agency's approval of the powerful opioid Zohydro ER (hydrocodone bitartrate) extended-release capsules, explaining that its highest dose is no more potent than the highest strengths of the opioid OxyContin ER (oxycodone) extended-release and extended-release morphine, in an FDA blog posted yesterday. Dr. Hamburg explained that with the drug approval, it is unlikely that opioid prescribing will change significantly or use by patients with pain. Zohydro ER is approved for the management of pain severe enough to require daily, around-the-clock, long-term opioid treatment and for which alternative treatment options are inadequate. "Addressing the opioid crisis by focusing on a single opioid drug will simply not be effective," she stated. "Instead we must focus our collective attention and energy on the key drivers of the problem, which include excessive prescribing, illegal activity by a small number of providers, improper disposal of unused medications, and insufficient prescriber and patient education."

Sentencing

California Fair Sentencing Act to Eliminate the Disparities Between Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentencing Passes its First Committee. The California Fair Sentencing Act (Senate Bill 1010), authored by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), passed its first hurdle in the Senate Committee on Public Safety by a 4-2 vote. The bill will correct the disparity in sentencing, probation and asset forfeiture guidelines for possession of crack cocaine for sale versus the same crime involving powder cocaine that has resulted in a pattern of racial discrimination in sentencing and incarceration in California. SB 1010 now moves on to the Appropriations Committee.

Bill to Up Meth Trafficking Penalties Passes New York Senate. The state Senate Monday passed legislation, cosponsored by Senator David J. Valesky (D-Oneida), that would increase the penalties for manufacturing methamphetamine. The measure, Senate Bill 3639, increases sentences by moving various meth manufacture and distribution offenses up one notch on the state's felony crime sentencing scheme.

International

OAS Drug Commission Meeting Underway. The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States (OAS) yesterday inaugurated its 55th Regular Session where it discussed, among other issues, policies related to micro-trafficking and the agenda of the Special General Assembly the hemispheric institution will hold in September in Guatemala, which will be dedicated exclusively to the Global Drug Problem in the Americas. The agenda of the CICAD meeting also includes discussions on alternatives to incarceration for drug dependent offenders and others in conflict with the law for reasons related to drugs, and the challenges and impacts surrounding the regulation of cannabis, with special attention to initiatives of this type in some States of the United States, as well as Uruguay. The meeting takes place between today and Thursday, May 1 at OAS headquarters in Washington, DC, and is being chaired by Colombia. Click on the link for more details.

Singapore Bans New Synthetic Drugs Effective Tomorrow. Synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of controlled drugs like methamphetamine and heroin, will become illegal and attract the same penalties beginning May 1. While it is now legal to possess these drugs, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) has the power to seize them to restrict their circulation. There are currently 11 types of compounds under the Fifth Schedule of the Misuse of Drugs Act, with over a hundred specific examples listed. Beginning in May, drugs listed under the Fifth Schedule will then be re-classified as Class A controlled drugs. This means that those convicted of abusing them may be jailed up to 10 years and fined up to S$20,000. Those found guilty of trafficking such substances will face a minimum of five years' jail and five strokes of the cane.

US Spent $7.5 Billion to Stop Afghan Opium, Got Squat, New Report Says. A new report from Washington's Afghanistan war watchdog has found that the US spent $7.5 billion in efforts to reduce Afghan opium cultivation, but that opium cultivation there is at an all-time high. The report is the latest quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstuction. Opium-poppy cultivation takes up 209,000 hectares (516,230 acres) of land in Afghanistan, a 36% increase since 2012. Afghanistan is by far the world's largest opium producer.

Chronicle AM -- April 23, 2014

There's news on the marijuana legalization initiative front, decrim dies in New Hampshire, pot sentencing reform dies in Alabama, Illinois patients can keep their guns, drugged driving and reproductive rights make news, too. And more. Let's get to it:

Former drug offenders will have their voting rights restored in Virginia, thanks to Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Legalization Vote Pushed Back to November. A ballot initiative that could make Alaska the third US state to legalize recreational marijuana will go before voters in a general election in November rather than in August as previously scheduled, officials said on Monday. Alaska ballot initiatives typically go before voters in primary elections. But a lengthier-than-normal state legislative session this year forced the change because, under state rules, initiatives must go to voters no less than 120 days after the end of a session.

New Approach Oregon Legalization Initiative Gets Another Big Bucks Donation. The Drug Policy Action Network, the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, has given $100,000 to the New Approach Oregon legalization initiative campaign. That's the second $100,000 in a week for the initiative, which has just commenced its signature-gathering phase.

Total Marijuana Ban Initiative Proposed in Montana. A Billings businessman has proposed an initiative for the November 2014 ballot that effectively would ban the possession, use, cultivation, trafficking and transportation of marijuana in Montana. Steve Zabawa submitted the measure last week. If approved, it would change state law to say that any drug listed on Schedule 1 of the Federal Controlled Substances Act "may not be legally possessed, received, transferred, manufactured, cultivated, trafficked, transported or used in Montana."

No Decriminalization for New Hampshire This Year. Criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana will not change, after the Senate refused to consider a House-passed bill. Under House Bill 1625, the penalty for having an ounce or less of marijuana or hashish would have been the same as a traffic ticket, and it would have lowered the penalties for growing less than six marijuana plants. The bill passed the House by a better than two-to-one margin, but the Senate refused to accept the bill. It had killed a nearly identical bill last session.

Louisiana to Retain Harsh Marijuana Penalties. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to kill a bill that would reduce the state's marijuana penalties, some of the harshest in the country. Senate Bill 323 would have made simple possession a misdemeanor punishable by no more than six months in jail. Under current law, repeat pot possession offenders can be jailed for up to 20 years. The measure failed on a 4-3 vote.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Wins House Committee Vote. A bill to allow patients suffering from seizures or severe pain to use high CBD cannabis oil has passed the House Judiciary Committee. House Bill 843 passed the committee 15-3 and now heads for a House floor vote.

Wisconsin Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Scott Walker (R) last week signed into law Assembly Bill 726, which allows the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat severe seizures in children.

Illinois Medical Marijuana Patients Can Keep Their Guns. Illinois regulators finalizing the state's conditions for medical marijuana have removed a proposed rule that would have barred legal gun owners from becoming cannabis-using patients. Some patients had said they would rather continue to use marijuana illegally rather than give up their firearms owners ID cards. The wording drew numerous complaints in public comments from gun owners who hoped to apply for medical cannabis cards. Many said their rights were being trampled.

Drugged Driving

Arizona Supreme Court Rules Presence of Marijuana Metabolite Not Sufficient to Prove Impaired Driving. The state's high court ruled Tuesday that motorists with a secondary marijuana metabolite in their system cannot be charged with a DUI on that basis alone, indicating the court was unconvinced the mere presence of the metabolite proves impairment. The state had argued that even the presence of metabolites in the urine of users was sufficient for a conviction, but the high court said "this interpretation would criminalize otherwise legal conduct" and "leads to absurd results." The case is Arizona v. Shilgevorkyan.

Michigan Bill Would Allow Police to Saliva Test for Drugs During Traffic Stops. The House Judiciary Committee is considering a package of bills related to drugged driving, including one, House Bill 5385, that would allow police to include saliva testing through a mouth swab. The measure is opposed by medical marijuana advocates, who raised concerns about the accuracy of the tests. The committee will continue taking testimony on the bills, which would also allow for police officers to confiscate driving licenses and issue temporary permits for drugged drivers as they do for suspected drunk drivers now.

Reproductive Rights

Tennessee Legislature Passes Bill Criminalizing Pregnant Women for Drug-Related Harm to Fetuses. A bill that holds women criminally accountable for illegal drug use during pregnancy, with punishments of up to 15 years in prison, passed the legislature last week. Senate Bill 1391 punished drug-using women if their babies are stillborn or born addicted or otherwise harmed. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) has 10 days to decide whether to sign it into law.

Alabama Supreme Court Rules That Women Can Be Charged With Chemical Endangerment if They Become Pregnant and Use a Controlled Substance. The state Supreme Court last Friday upheld the conviction of a woman who gave birth to a baby that tested positive for cocaine, even though the infant was healthy. In so doing, the court upheld the state's 2006 chemical endangerment law and held that the word "child" in the law includes fertilized eggs. The case is Ex Parte Sara Jane Hicks. Alabama and South Carolina are the only states that authorize the prosecution of pregnant women for drug use, although as we see above, Tennessee could soon join them.

Prescription Drugs

Oklahoma Senate Approves Bill Adding Prescription Drugs to Drug Trafficking Law. The Senate Monday approved a bill adding four additional drugs to the state's Trafficking in Illegal Drugs Act. The measure, House Bill 2589, adds morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and benzodiazepine to the list of controlled substances in the act. Individuals convicted under the act would receive a minimum of 10 years, which is twice the prison term for possession of these substances. The bill is supported by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. It has been amended and will return to the House of Representatives for reconsideration.

Opiate Pain Relievers

FDA Panel Recommends Against Approving Dual Opioid Medication. An advisory panel of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) voted Tuesday against approving a combination morphine-oxycodone painkiller. The drug, Moxduo, would be the first medication to combine both opioids in one capsule. Moxduo's manufacturer, QRxPharma, says the drug is intended to provide faster relief from moderate to severe pain, with fewer side effects than currently available opioids. The panel voted unanimously against approving it, concluding that QRxPharma had not proved the drug is less likely to cause potentially life-threatening respiratory suppression, compared with taking oxycodone or morphine alone.

Search and Seizure

US Supreme Court Upholds Vehicle Stops Based on Anonymous Tip. An unusually divided Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that an anonymous 911 phone call reporting a reckless driver justified a traffic stop that led to a marijuana. The 5-4 decision saw Justice Antonin Scalia side with the court's liberal minority, but Justice Stephen Breyer's vote gave the conservative majority the win. The case is Navarette v. California. The ruling means police need not corroborate anonymous reckless driving tips before stopping a vehicle.

Voting Rights

Virginia Governor to Restore Voting Rights for Drug Offenders. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced Friday that he will immediately restore voting rights to anyone who has completed their sentence for a drug offense, and reduce the waiting period for other violent felonies from five years to three. Virginia is one of four states that ban all ex-felons from voting for life unless they receive clemency from the governor. But governors in these states can take executive action to alter the policies on these felons.

International

Sinaloa Cartel Losing Ground in Ciudad Juarez, Stratfor Analyst Says. The Carrillo Fuentes drug-trafficking organization, with its enforcement arm La Línea, is moving to regain the El Paso-Juárez corridor from the Sinaloa cartel, whose power in Juarez is eroding quickly, according to a terrorism and security analyst from the Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. Click on the link for more details.

Chronicle AM -- April 15, 2014

The Obama administration punts on marijuana rescheduling, Maryland's decrim excludes paraphernalia (for now), sneaky DEA tactics are being challenged in Arizona, fears of more cartel violence in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

Under Maryland's new decrim law, the pot won't get you busted, but the pipe could. (wikimedia/erik fenderson)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Holder Signals Administration Won't Reschedule On Its Own, Wants to Work With Congress. In an interview with The Huffington Post last Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Obama administration would not act unilaterally to reschedule marijuana. "I think that given what we have done in dealing with the whole Smart on Crime initiative and the executive actions that we have taken, that when it comes to rescheduling, I think this is something that should come from Congress," Holder said. "We'd be willing to work with Congress if there is a desire on the part of Congress to think about rescheduling. But I think I'd want to hear, get a sense from them about where they'd like to be."

Maryland Decriminalization Doesn't Include Paraphernalia. The decriminalization bill signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) yesterday does not decriminalize the possession of pipes, papers, and other marijuana-smoking paraphernalia. Bill sponsor Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) said he intentionally left intact the criminal penalties for having marijuana accessories. He said it could help ensure that if police see marijuana accessories in someone's car, they still have legal grounds to search the car for items like guns and heroin. But he also said the legislature would consider eliminating the paraphernalia penalties next year. In the meantime, prosecutors are trying to figure out how to proceed.

Rhode Island House Committee to Hold Hearing on Bill That Would Regulate and Tax Marijuana Like Alcohol. The House Committee on Judiciary is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol. House Bill 7506, sponsored by Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Providence), would allow adults to possess up to one once and grow one plant, as well as establishing a system of legal marijuana commerce. A press conference will precede the committee hearing. Click on the link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) has signed into law Senate Bill 174, also known as Carly's Law. The measure creates an affirmative defense for patients suffering from debilitating epileptic conditions -- or their caregivers -- for the possession and use of marijuana extracts that are high in CBD. But it doesn't do anything for other medical marijuana patients.

Minnesota Poll Has Support for Medical Marijuana at 68%. A new KSTP-TV/SurveyUSA poll finds that 68% of registered voters surveyed think marijuana should be legal when used for medical purposes. The poll comes as legislators struggle to push through a bill in St. Paul.

More Than 70 Oregon Cities Have Dispensary Moratoriums. At least 71 Oregon cities have moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries, and more than 40 others are considering bans, according to the League of Oregon Cities and the Association of Oregon Counties. The legislature last year passed a dispensary regulation bill, but some localities don't want dispensaries. The new law, however, only allows the moratoriums to stay in place for one year. The state has 242 incorporated cities and 36 counties.

Law Enforcement

Arizona "Whisper Stop" Highway Drug Busts Set Up Constitutional Clash. Defense attorneys in Arizona are challenging "whisper stop" highway drug busts, in which the DEA wants to arrest someone they suspect of trafficking drugs, but don't want to alert possible co-conspirators. In such cases, the DEA alerts local and state police to make the stop, but police and prosecutors have been remiss in failing to inform defendants and their attorneys about the reason for the stop, violating the Brady rule, which requires full disclosure of evidence that might help defendants by prosecutors. "We're about to have a big clash on this," said a Flagstaff defense attorney challenging the conduct. Click on the link for more details.

International

DC Event on "Politics of Crime in Mexico" Tomorrow. The Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and the Inter-American Dialogue are hosting an event tomorrow to present the new book "The Politics of Crime in Mexico: Democratic Governance in a Security Trap," by John Bailey. Click on the link for more details and to RSVP.

Mexican Cartel Conflict Expected to Heat Up in Tamaulipas. At least 30 people have been killed in recent days in fighting pitting factions of the Gulf Cartel against each other in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas. Most of those killing took place around Tampico, in the far south of the state, but in Mexican border towns like Nuevo Laredo, the Zetas are being blamed for an uptick in kidnappings and extortion. Now, there are fears the Zetas could make moves to try to eliminate the Gulf Cartel once and for all, when it is doubly weakened: by the infighting following the arrest of a major Gulf Cartel leader, and by the February arrest of Sinaloa Cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who was aiding the Gulf Cartel against the Zetas.

Bermuda Medical Cannabis Activist Asks Jamaica Health Minister for Legal Shipment of Medical Ganja Oil. Bermuda medical marijuana advocate Alan Gordon has sent an open letter to Jamaica's health minister asking for a permit to export enough cannabis oil extract to supply some 300 Bermuda cancer patients with a 2-3 month supply. Gordon said that Bermuda's Cabinet has previously approved import permits from elsewhere on a per-patient basis, but were experiencing trouble with availability, price and quality which Jamaica seems well suited to alleviate. Gordon has also specified that the oil must be grown organically by Rastafarians, as a matter of social justice and "fair trade" principles. Gordon says he is not a Rastafarian but says that after the gravely ill patients, first consideration must be given to Rastafarians as a way of expressing society's remorse for oppression of Rastafarians under the old laws. No response yet from Jamaica.

Chronicle AM -- March 17, 2014

Alaska state agencies complain that legalization will cost money (and they want some of it), Vermont cops complain the governor is soft on pot, federal prosecutors complain about reforming mandatory minimums, and more. Let's get to it:

What will keep this Rasta smiling? Jamaican ganja farmers have some ideas. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Cannabis Hemp Initiative Dead for 2014. The number of active marijuana legalization initiatives in California has dropped to one after the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative failed to qualify for the ballot by its signature-gathering deadline. That leaves only the Marijuana Control, Legalization & Revenue Act, which, barring a miracle, isn't going to make the ballot, either. It needs 504,000 valid voter signatures by April 18, but only has 10,000. The big money is waiting for 2016 in California.

FBI Refuses to Do Washington State Marijuana Industry Background Checks. The FBI is refusing to do criminal history background checks on people applying for legal marijuana licenses in Washington state, even though it has done such checks in Colorado. The agency has balked for the past year at requests from state officials, and refused to tell the Associated Press why. The state has issued three licenses so far; for those, they relied on background checks by the Washington State Patrol, which would catch in-state criminal convictions, but might miss out-of-state ones.

Alaska Agencies Claim Legalization Will Cost Millions. In a new report, Alaska state agencies said that if the marijuana legalization initiative passes there, it will cost the state between $3.7 million and $7 million to implement and enforce the new law. Included in that figure are law enforcement requests for "at least three additional Alaska State Trooper positions to target the illegal diversion and exportation of marijuana lawfully cultivated in Alaska" and nearly $1.5 million for a media campaign to warn of stoned driving and training for troopers to recognize when a driver is high. The report doesn't address increased tax revenues from legalization.

Vermont Cops Accuse Governor of Being Soft on Pot. The Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police, Vermont Sheriffs Association and the Vermont Police Association said in a press release Friday that they are united against efforts for marijuana legalization and that, while they have previously expressed concern about Gov. Peter Shumlin's (D) "tolerance of marijuana," their concerns had been ignored. They also called marijuana "a gateway drug."

Washington Legislature Approves Sale of Hash and Hash Oil. The state legislature has approved a bill that would legalize the sale of hashish and hash oil at state-licensed marijuana retail outlets.House Bill 2304 now goes to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee (D).

Medical Marijuana

HHS Gives Go-Ahead for MAPS PTSD Research Study. The federal Department of Health and Human Services granted permission Thursday for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to purchase research-grade marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for its planned study of marijuana for symptoms of PTSD. MAPS notes that this is the first time in the 22 years it has been trying to start marijuana drug research that it has actually won permission to purchase marijuana from NIDA. It's not quite a done deal yet, though; the DEA still as to approve. MAPS said it was "optimistic" DEA would do so.

Florida Poll Shows Strong Support for Initiative. A University of North Florida poll released Monday has the state's medical marijuana amendment initiative well-positioned to win in November. The initiative has already qualified for the ballot. The poll had 74% of registered voters planning to vote for it. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it will need 60% approval to pass.

Iowa Poll Has Support for Medical Marijuana at 81%. In a new Quinnipiac Poll, 81% of Iowa voters said they would support "allowing adults in Iowa to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it." Even among Republicans, 68% agreed. That's in sharp contrast to a recent Iowa Poll that had only 59% supporting "legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes."

Michigan Chamber of Commerce Wants No Jobless Benefits for Fired Medical Marijuana Users. Michigan's leading business group is urging the state appeals court to rule out jobless benefits for people who are fired for using medical marijuana. The move comes as the court weighs the cases of people who sought benefits after being fired for using medical marijuana. Lower court judges have ruled in favor of the workers, who argued that they shouldn't be denied benefits after losing their jobs for using marijuana legally under state law.

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Initiative Has 15% of Necessary Signatures. A signature-gathering campaign to put medical marijuana on the November ballot has collected about 15% of the signatures needed to qualify, Arkansans for Compassionate Care said on Thursday. The initiative is one of two gathering signatures this year. It has until July 7 to hand in 62,000 qualified signatures, and has about 10,000 so far.

Nevada Board of Health Approves Dispensary Regulations. The Board of Health gave its approval Friday to rules to regulate new dispensaries. The next and final step is approval by a legislative commission on March 28. A 2013 law allowing dispensaries goes into effect April 1. But even then, there will be a 45-day notice announcing the date applications will be accepted. Once the application period opens, there will only be a 10-day window for accepting them. After the application period closes, the state must make a decision on each application within 90 days of receiving it. And then dispensaries have to grow their supply. Maybe by year's end…

Drug Policy

House Passes Bill to Force President to Enforce Federal Drug Laws. The Republican-controlled US House last week passed the Enforce the Law Act (House Resolution 4138), which would allow Congress to sue the president for failing to execute federal laws. While the bill is a broad attack on the Obama administration, one key supporter, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), singled out the "selective non-enforcement" of part of the Controlled Substance Act in medical marijuana and legal marijuana states as a major concern. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the bill was "dead on arrival" in the Senate.

Law Enforcement

Nevada County Settles Up in Interstate-80 Cash Seizure Cases. Humboldt County, Nevada, where sheriff's deputies developed a habit of stopping travelers on I-80 and seizing their cash through threats of arrest or impoundment even though no drugs were found, has settled a lawsuit over the practice. Two men from whom thousands of dollars were taken sued and have won their money back and attorneys' fees. The county District Attorney's Office also said Friday it had launched an internal review of the county's "forfeiture program," but that it had seen no evidence of illegal stops or other wrongdoing on the part of Sheriff Ed Kilgore or his deputies. The lawsuits claimed the cash seizures were part of a pattern of stopping drivers for speeding as a pretext for drug busts in violation of the Constitution.

Illinois Bill to Ban Kratom Filed. Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst) has filed a bill to outlaw kratom, a Southeast Asian herb with psychoactive properties. The plant is not banned federally, although the DEA has it on its list of "drugs of concern." Indiana is the only state so far to have criminalized it, designating its active ingredients as controlled substances. The Illinois bill is House Bill 5526.

Sentencing

Some Federal Prosecutors Oppose Eliminating Mandatory Minimums. Attorney General Holder's move to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for most drug offenders is running into flak from some prosecutors, The Washington Post reported Thursday. They complained that "tough sentencing policies provide a critical tool to dismantle drug networks by getting cooperation from lower-level defendants and building cases that move up the criminal chain of command." The prosecutors spoke out at a hearing of the US Sentencing Commission where Holder endorsed changing federal sentencing guidelines to reduce drug sentences in most cases.

International

NGOs to Address Inter-American Human Rights Commission on Drug Policy and Human Rights. For the first time, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission has granted an audience to hemispheric civil society groups to address the impact of the war on drugs on human rights in the Americas. The audience will take place in Washington, DC, on March 25. Click on the link to see the impressive list of organizations that will participate.

Jamaican Rastas Want Legal Marijuana Monopoly. The newly formed Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers Association said licenses to grow and sell marijuana upon legalization should be limited to Rastafarians and other poor people, who have been victimized for decades for cultivating the herb. "We will not stand by and watch anybody outside of Rastafari and grassroots people take over this product. And we make no apology," association President Ras Iyah V declared during his address at the launch of the organisation at the MXIII Lawn in Negril on Sunday night. "We are saying this loud and clear to the Government, we are saying it to society, and we are saying it to the international community. Otherwise, we will take to the streets and turn Jamaica upside down -- and we make no apology. Because we not going take baton lick and brutality and all of a sudden now when the legalization aspect come, a some rich people come tek it ova -- people who used to scoff and scorn at the very mention of the herb name ganja," he added. "The WHGFA's objectives are to make sure that those who have paid the price -- who have been going to jail, going to prison, getting the baton licks, who have been planting the herb and it get cut down by police and soldiers, and yet have been persistent with this product -- that the rights of these individuals are protected."

Mexico Moves to Rein In Anti-Cartel Vigilantes. Leery of having created a Frankenstein monster, Mexican authorities moved last week to put anti-cartel vigilante groups on notice that their illegal tactics will no longer be tolerated. Locals who saw the vigilantes as saviors from cartel extortion and threats now complain of similar behavior from the vigilantes, and the government says it now no longer needs them. Several vigilante leaders have been arrested on murder and other charges.

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