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Chronicle AM -- June 10, 2014

New York City residents are still getting arrested for marijuana at the rate of 80 a day, New York state residents face another year without medical marijuana passing, Philly heads for decriminalization of a sort, the Justice Department supports retroactivity for recent sentencing reforms, the Sinaloa cartel has apparently lost another key leader, and more. Let's get to it:

NYC marijuana arrests just keep on coming. (www.nyc.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Lawsuit Claims Marijuana Taxes Violate Fifth Amendment. Denver attorney Robert Corry Jr. has filed a lawsuit on behalf of an unnamed marijuana retailer arguing that paying pot taxes violates a citizen's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination since marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction to stop the state from collecting taxes and the return of all taxes collected. A similar lawsuit has been filed in Washington state by attorney Douglas Hiatt.

New York City Marijuana Arrests So Far This Year at Same Pace as Last Year. New Yorkers are still being arrested for small-time pot possession in high numbers under new Mayor Bill DeBlasio (D). According to the Marijuana Arrest Project, so far this year, NYPD is arresting an average of 80 people a day for pot possession, compared to 78 a day throughout 2013 under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R). Another constant is that blacks and Latinos continue to make up the vast majority of marijuana possession busts. They accounted for 87% of pot arrests last year and 86% so far this year. Click on the title link for more details.

Philadelphia City Council Committee Approves Decriminalization Measure. A city council committee yesterday approved a bill that would make possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana a code violation punishable by a $25 fine -- but would still give police officers the discretion to arrest. But Mayor Michael Nutter opposes the bill. His Public Safety Director, Mike Resnick, said the opposition stems the discretional arrest provision, which he said could create unfair situations. A final vote is likely next week.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina "March Against Fear" Aims to Generate Support for Medical Marijuana. North Carolinian Todd Stimson is leading a 259-mile "March Against Fear" from Asheville to Raleigh to help bring attention to a pending medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1161. The bill was filed last month and is now languishing in the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the title link to join up or get more info.

Key New York GOP Legislator Says He Will Not Allow Vote on Medical Marijuana. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco (R) said today he would not allow a vote on the Compassionate Care Act, sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino (D). "The Savino bill will not come out of my committee, the Finance Committee," he said. "You don't have any kind of reasonable research on the effects. You have people coming in here every day trying to ban e-cigarettes and use of tobacco in other ways." He said he and other Senate Republicans may be open to legislation that would not allow marijuana to be smoked. The session ends next Thursday.

Clark County, Nevada, Commissioners Approve 18 Dispensary Licenses. There will soon be 18 medical marijuana dispensaries operating in unincorporated parts of Clark County, the home of Las Vegas. County commissioners approved the licenses yesterday. Nevada approved medical marijuana in 2000, but only approved dispensaries last year.

Drug Testing

Repeated School Drug Tests of Pennsylvania 10-Year-Old Provoke Scorching Editorial. The editorial board at the Pennsylvania news website PennLive has penned a strong editorial condemning the drug testing policy at the Susquenita Middle School, which has resulted in a 10-year-old girl be tested three times so far. The editorial notes that state law requires that school districts actually show there is problem and show that drug testing helps, but that Susquenita has failed to do either. "Repeatedly drug testing a trouble-free 10-year-old student like Natalie Cassell shows how ridiculous this kind of random snooping is. Innocent students are treated like criminals, while drug-using students can dodge the tests simply by deciding not to join after-school activities," PennLive noted. "At a time when school districts across the state are pleading for more state funding, surely Susquenita schools can find a better uses of money than an unproven, highly invasive program that randomly tests innocent 10-year olds.

Sentencing

Justice Department Supports Making Drug Sentence Cuts Retroactive. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday that the Justice Department is formally supporting a US Sentencing Commission proposal to allow some nonviolent drug offenders currently doing time in federal prisons to seek sentence reductions. The proposal would extend sentencing reforms already approved by the commission by making them retroactive.

Smarter Sentencing Act Gains Four More Sponsors. The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013 picked up four more cosponsors Monday, three Democrats and one Republican. They are Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), Rep. Tony Cardenas (D), and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). The measure now has 37 cosponsors, 24 Democrats and 13 Republicans. It has been sitting in the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations since January.

Prescription Opiates

Massachusetts Governor Unveils Plan to Fight Opiate Use. Gov. Deval Patrick (D) today released a $20 package of proposals to deal with "the opioid addiction epidemic" in his state. He is calling for a summit of regional governors, as well as streamlined access to treatment, better prevention measures, and "strengthening safe prescribing and dispensing practices" to "minimize diversion and misuse." That last bit is likely to raise concerns among people worried about adequate access to prescription opiates. But unlike some other state-level responses to rising levels of opiate use, Patrick's did not contain a law enforcement component. The link leads to the full press release.

International

Key Sinaloa Cartel Figure Reported Dead. Reports are emerging from Mexico that Juan Jose "El Azul" Esparragoza, a key figure in the Sinaloa cartel, has died of natural causes. After the capture of cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman by Mexican authorities earlier this year, Esparragoza and Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada were viewed as the effective leaders of the cartel.

Spanish Authorities Close Down Barcelona Cannabis Club for Selling… Cannabis. A Barcelona cannabis club has been closed after police spotted a man approaching tourists and taking them to the club to score. Under Spanish law, one can grow marijuana for personal use, but not sell it. The cannabis clubs have sprung up as a way for consumers to pool their growing resources. Members pay an annual membership fee for a chance to share in the proceeds of the collectively cultivated cannabis, but they're not supposed to sell it.

Chronicle AM -- January 31, 2014

The president makes some delphic comments on marijuana policy, some of his congressional critics get ready to go after him for such comments next week, Dutch cities want legal marijuana growing, the Welsh government funds a harm reduction drug testing program, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Don't know what's in your drugs? The Welsh government wants to help.
In CNN Interview, Obama Punts on Rescheduling, Hints Support for Decriminalization. In an interview with CNN released today, President Obama said rescheduling marijuana was a job for Congress [Editor's Note: The executive branch can also reschedule it, according to statute] and that he considered the criminalization of personal use his main concern, although he also worried about the impact of commercialization.

House Government Oversight Committee to Hold Hearing on Marijuana Policy Next Week. Rep. John Mica (R-FL), chairman of the committee, said he will hold a hearing next Tuesday to examine what he called the Obama administration's "schizophrenic" position on marijuana laws. "The purpose of the hearing is to try to sort out the increasingly schizophrenic federal policy we have, because the DEA administrator was overhead denouncing what the president said," Mica said Friday. "We have states that are enacting laws -- municipalities that are considering it -- that are in conflict with federal law." There could be more hearings to come after that, he added.

Baltimore Police Commissioner No Fan of Legalization. Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts in a radio interview on Thursday evening expressed doubt that marijuana should be legalized. "We already have a city with a high addiction -- what would that do to the city of Baltimore?" Batts said. He also linked marijuana to homicides in the city, although the killings he described were a function of black market drug sales. "When you're calling your weed dealer or drug dealer, and you show up with money and you get robbed and it turns into a shooting, that's what we're seeing."

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Names Recipients of Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licenses. The Department of Public Health Friday announced the names of the first 20 dispensary applicants who will be awarded licenses to to open dispensaries. An additional 15 will be forthcoming.

Drug Testing

Judge Reinstates Delaware Valley (PA) School District Drug Testing Program. A Pike County district judge has lifted a temporary injunction barring random, suspicionless drug testing for students who drive to school or participate in extracurricular activities. The parents of a 12-year-old female student who faced drug testing if she wanted to join the scrapbooking club and the ACLU had challenged the program in 2011 and won the injunction, but Judge Joseph Kameen ruled earlier this month that the policy was constitutional under state law. It is unclear if the ACLU of Pennsylvania is done with this case.

Harm Reduction

Opioid Overdose Prevention Bill Introduced in New York. State Sens. Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau) and Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx) this week filed a bill, Senate Bill 6744/Assembly Bill 8637, that would help prevent accidental opioid overdoses by expanding access to the opioid antidote naloxone. The legislation would dramatically increase the accessibility of the life-saving reversal tool by allowing authorized health care professionals to issue standing orders, or non-patient specific prescriptions, to certified training programs that would in turn train individuals on the signs of overdose and provide them with the naloxone kits. By expanding naloxone distribution, this legislation will help reduce the number of preventable deaths resulting from accidental drug overdoses.

International

Welsh Government Funds Program to Test Drugs for Public. Public Health Wales has set up the Wedinos Project (Welsh Emerging Drugs and Identification of Novel Substances Project) to identify what drugs are in circulation there and use that information for harm reduction purposes. Samples are sent to the Wedinos laboratory in Cardiff anonymously and the test results posted online, identified by a reference number. The service is open to the public. "It's essential intelligence for our health workers, for our substance misuse workers, for the police, for young people and their families. By providing timely and accurate information this service can save lives," explained Welsh Health Minister Mark Drakeford. This is the first government-funded program of its type in the United Kingdom.

Dutch Cities Call for Legal Marijuana Cultivation; Government Says No. Eight of the Netherlands' 10 largest cities, including Amsterdam and Rotterdam, signed a joint manifesto Friday calling for the creation of "a national system of certified and regulated cannabis cultivation." Another 25 municipal councils also signed on. While the Netherlands allows for the sale of marijuana through its famous cannabis coffee shops, growing marijuana remains illegal. "We want cannabis cultivation to be regulated so the national market is manageable and more transparent, and to decrease the influence of organized crime," said the manifesto. Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten rejected the proposals: "I really don't think this is the solution," the Liberal minister told Dutch public television. "Mayors just have to learn to live with it," he said.

Marijuana Growing Courses Underway in Uruguay. Uruguay's National Cannabis Federation has launched special training courses on cultivation of the popular plant, local media reported. Some 50 would-be growers are currently enrolled.

Chronicle AM -- January 14, 2014

Lots of activity on the marijuana and medical marijuana fronts today, and an academic study casts doubt on the utility of student drug testing. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Decriminalization Bill Gets Committee Vote Tomorrow. A bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana goes for a vote before the city council's Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Wednesday. It is expected to pass. The measure is also expected to get through a vote of the full council later.

Pennsylvania NAACP Backs Away from Legalization. The president of the Pennsylvania NAACP said Monday that even though one state branch supported marijuana legalization last year, that support was "illegal" and didn't reflect the state group's position. The Cheltenham branch had supported a legalization bill introduced by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County), but state NAACP head Jerome Mondesire said that was a no-no. "That can't be done locally," he said. "They've been asked to back away from it and they have."

Colorado Marijuana Possession Cases Dropped Big-Time After Legalization, But Didn't Disappear. Figures from the Colorado judiciary show that marijuana-related cases dropped 77% between 2012 and 2013, and the number of simple possession cases has dropped from 714 a month in the first part of 2012 to just 133 a month a year later. Possessing less than an ounce of marijuana only remains illegal for people under 21.

Wyoming Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed. Activists with Wyoming NORML last week filed a proposed initiative with state officials that would allow medical marijuana patients to grow 12 plants and let all Wyoming adults 21 and over possess marijuana for personal use. Organizers are aiming at the 2016 ballot. The proposed initiative would decriminalize recreational use and public displays of 3 ounces or less of marijuana.

Project SAM to Help Fight Legalization in Alaska. Project SAM, the anti-marijuana legalization group headed by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and former drug czar's office employee and media go-to guy Dr. Kevin Sabet, will assist local efforts to defeat a proposed marijuana legalization initiative. The initiative has handed in signatures and awaits signature verification. Sabet said Monday he had been asked by a "handful of leaders" to help fend off legalization. Sabet also repeated his favorite frightening refrain -- that legalization would not lead to regulated marijuana sales, but to "Big Marijuana," supposedly something akin to Big Pharma or Big Tobacco.

Medical Marijuana

San Jose Dispensary Initiative Filed. California's third largest city (sorry, San Francisco) could see a popular vote to block a ban on dispensaries after activists filed an initiative Monday with city officials. City officials have been moving to close them down, but initiative backers hope to get enough signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot. The city has been sending "cease and desist" letters to dispensaries and is set to vote on an ordinance that would effectively ban them in 99% of the city. The initiative would set a minimum of 50 dispensaries for the city. Organizers need 20,372 valid voter signatures by May 16 to qualify.

Alabama Medical Marijuana CBD Bill Filed. The Alabama legislative session begins today, and a medical marijuana bill awaits. The bill, House Bill 104, was pre-filed last week and is sponsored by Reps. Mike Ball (R-Madison), Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), and Allen Farley (R-McCalla). It would provide a medical necessity defense for people seeking to be treated with cannabidiol (CBD).

Minnesota Governor Not Ready for Medical Marijuana, But Open to Study. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) said Monday he is not ready to allow medical marijuana in the state, but would be open to a study on the issue. "I've said since I ran for office that law enforcement has enough to contend with, and I am not going to support something that has the adamant opposition of law enforcement in Minnesota, and that is still the case," he said. "I'd be supportive of funding for an independent, objective study of what other states have done, what have the results been," he said.

Key Supporter Says New York Medical Marijuana Bill Not Ready for Senate Vote. State Sen. Diane Savino (D) said Monday that a pending medical marijuana bill "isn't ready" for a Senate vote. Medical marijuana bills have repeatedly passed the Assembly, only to be blocked in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans and a handful of independent Democrats, including Savino. "We're not playing politics with this issue," Savino said. "There are patients whose lives are being affected by this issue. We're going to build support for this the way we build support for everything else. There is sufficient support in both conferences." But, she added, "...You can't force a bill to the floor until the bill is ready. The bill will be ready when I let you know it's ready."

Washington State Bill Would Protect Medical Marijuana Patients, Program. In the wake of legalized marijuana under I-502, medical marijuana supporters have filed a bill, House Bill 223, to keep some key medical marijuana provisions from being swept away in the legalization tide. The bill would provide a clear mechanism for licensing and regulating dispensaries and preserve patients' rights to grow their own medicine. I-502 legalized sales and possession of marijuana, but not home growing, and there have been some efforts within officialdom to wipe out or reduce personal cultivation for patients as well under its rubric. (The bill was not up on the legislative web site as of Tuesday.)

Drug Testing

Study Finds Student Drug Testing Ineffective; Positive School Environments Better. A study published in the January issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs has found that school drug tests don't deter kids from smoking marijuana, but that creating a positive school environment may be more effective. Researchers tracked students from schools with and without drug testing policies and found no significant differences in the likelihood that students would try marijuana. "Even though drug testing sounds good, based on the science, it's not working," said study author Daniel Romer, of the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center.

International

Kazakhstan MP Wants Marijuana Farms Leased to Pharmaceutical Companies. A Khazakh member of parliament -- who also just happens to be the president's daughter -- has suggested leasing broad swathes of land currently using for illicit marijuana farming to major pharmaceutical companies. MP Dariga Nazarbayeva suggested to parliament that "We review our attitude to cannabis." The interior minister, Kalmukhanbet Kasymov, appeared receptive, saying, "You can't just seal off 140,000 hectares of land. Cannabis is spreading across our country." Decades of eradication efforts in Kazakhstan have proven ineffective.

Schoolgirl Sues Pennsylvania District Over Drug Tests

An 11-year-old girl, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and the Philadelphia law firm Dechert LLP have filed suit against a Lancaster County school district over its policy requiring random drug tests of students engaging in extracurricular activities. The ACLU said the lawsuit was filed last Wednesday.

The suit was filed on behalf of the student, identified only by the initials "MM" and her parents, Mika and Christopher McDougall of Peach Bottom. The lawsuit says MM was barred from participating in orchestra and chorus at the beginning of the school year and cannot join any athletic or academic teams because she and her parents refused to consent to submitting her to drug tests.

"We refused to sign the forms, so on her first day of orchestra, she was on her way to rehearsal, she was told by the principal she was not allowed to be in the orchestra," Christopher McDougall said.

MM is described as an academically high-performing student who was also asked to join the school's math club, but is barred from that as well.

The US Supreme Court has held that the random drug testing of student athletes or students involved in extracurricular activities does not violate the US Constitution. But some state supreme courts, including Pennsylvania's, have found protections against random drug testing of students in their state constitutions.

The lawsuit charges that the Solanco School District's student drug testing policy violates a 2003 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision holding that random drug testing of students is unconstitutional unless the school districts can show that the group of students being tested had a high drug use rate. That case was Theodore v. Delaware Valley School District.

The ACLU and Dechert LLC brought similar lawsuits against two other school districts last year. In both of those cases, state court have issued preliminary injunctions barring the school districts from conducting random drug tests of students.

"In the past year, judges have issued injunctions to stop similar policies in two other school districts. Unfortunately, the Solanco School District has not learned from other districts' mistakes," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Not only are these policies a violation of students' right to privacy, numerous studies have shown they do not reduce student drug use," he continued.

"We're surprised and disappointed that Solanco School District is not only ignoring the law, but also the example of other school districts which have rejected the same policy because they understand that spying on students without suspicion is against the Constitution," said the McDougalls. "These are young people who have done nothing wrong, not prisoners on parole. We've tried repeatedly to persuade the district to abide by the state Supreme Court's ruling, but it has refused. That's unfortunate, because the district's responsibility is to teach students to respect and understand the law, not sidestep it."

The school district has yet to comment.

Peach Bottom, PA
United States

Teens Rejecting Alcohol, Tobacco; Selecting Marijuana [FEATURE]

The annual Monitoring the Future survey of substance use by eighth, 10th, and 12th graders was released Wednesday, and it shows students are drinking and smoking tobacco at historically low levels, but marijuana use is on the rise. Teen use of other drugs also generally declined, except for a slight increase in use of prescription drugs reported by seniors.

About one-third of seniors reported smoking pot during the past year, up slightly from the previous year. That's well above the 20% who did so in 1991, the nadir for teen marijuana use, but well below the more than 50% who did so in 1979, the apex of teen marijuana use. The number of seniors reporting annual pot use has been creeping up slightly since about 2007.

Federal drug war bureaucrats bemoaned the uptick in teen pot smoking at a Washington, DC, press conference rolling out the research results, but marijuana law reform activists had a different take on the numbers and what they mean.

Daily tobacco smoking by teens was down by 50% compared to the mid-1990s, while adolescent binge drinking had declined by 25% since 1997. About 10% of high school seniors reported daily cigarette smoking and about 20% reported smoking within the last month, down 40% from 1997. At all three grade levels, more students smoked pot in the last month than smoked cigarettes.

"The decrease is very dramatic," said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "But despite the dramatic results, the prevalence of teen smoking and drinking is still high, so we can't become complacent. The troublesome news is that marijuana use has been trending upwards in the last few years. We've seen a significant decline in the perception that marijuana is risky. Fewer kids see smoking marijuana as having bad health effects."

While careful to point out that responsible marijuana reform activists do not encourage teen substance use, Mason Tvert, head of the activist group SAFER (Safe Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation) and coauthor of Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? dared to suggest that young people who do use drugs are making smarter choices about which drugs they choose to use.

"We're always concerned about young people using drugs, but it's clear that more young people are understanding that marijuana is a less harmful substance and making that choice," said Tvert. "While we certainly don't want to promote marijuana use among minors, this report suggests they are making the safer choice to use marijuana rather than alcohol."

Tvert attributed both the rise in teen use and the decline in their perceptions of marijuana's risks to their increasing exposure to knowledge about marijuana.

"Ultimately, people are hearing more and more about the facts surrounding marijuana, and as they continue to hear that marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol, that it doesn't contribute to violence, that there is no danger of a deadly overdose, they are increasingly more comfortable making that choice."

Drug czar Gil Kerlikowske used the Wednesday press conference to blame medical marijuana for the rise in teen pot smoking. 

"These last couple years, the amount of attention that's been given to medical marijuana has been huge," he said. "And when I've done focus groups with high school students in states where medical marijuana is legal, they say, 'Well, if it's called medicine and it's given to patients by caregivers, then that's really the wrong message for us as high school students.'"

While Volkow and Kerlikowske lauded the use of prevention campaigns in reducing teen smoking and drinking, they did not say why such a strategy was not appropriate for marijuana, nor did they break with the prevailing prohibitionist approach to marijuana.  That led to criticism from the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).

"This report, once again, clearly demonstrates that our nation's policymakers have their heads buried in the sand when it comes to addressing teen marijuana use," said Rob Kampia, MPP executive director. "Political leaders have for decades refused to regulate marijuana in order to keep it out of the hands of drug dealers who aren't required to check customer ID and have no qualms about selling marijuana to young people."

"The continued decline in teen tobacco and alcohol use is proof that sensible regulations, coupled with honest, and science-based public education can be effective in keeping substances away from young people," Kampia continued. "It's time we acknowledge that our current marijuana laws have utterly failed to accomplish one of their primary objectives -- to keep marijuana away from young people -- and do the right thing by regulating marijuana, bringing its sale under the rule of law, and working to reduce the easy access to marijuana that our irrational system gives teenagers."

"The decline in cigarette smoking is great news -- not just because it's the most deadly drug but also because it reveals that legal regulation and honest education are more effective than prohibition and criminalization," said DPA publications manager Jag Davies. "It's absurd, though, that the survey doesn't also include the fiscal, health and human costs of arresting more than 1.6 million Americans each year on drug charges, including more than 750,000 for marijuana possession alone."

"Rather than measuring success based on slight fluctuations in drug use, the primary measure of the effectiveness of our nation's drug policies should be the reduction of drug-related harm," Davies continued. "A rational drug policy would prioritize reducing the problems associated with drug misuse itself -- such as overdose, addiction and disease transmission -- and the problems associated with drug prohibition, such as mass incarceration, erosion of civil liberties, and egregious racial disparities in enforcement, prosecution and sentencing. Looking at use rates in a vacuum is missing the forest for the trees."

"Arresting people for marijuana simply does not stop young people from using it, and it never will," said Kampia. "It is time for a more sensible approach."

Washington, DC
United States

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/wanted1.jpg
US Embassy in Mexico cartel wanted poster
Thursday, August 25

In Monterrey, 52 people were killed when suspected Zetas ignited gasoline at the entrance to the Casino Royale. As of August 31, twelve people are in custody for the attack. Many of those killed died of smoke inhalation after fleeing to offices and bathrooms in the interior of the casino.

Although the exact motive is yet unknown, police are investigating the possibility that the casino was attacked after having refused to pay protection money to the Zetas. Another possibility that has been floated in the Mexican press is that the casino was used to launder money for a rival cartel.

In Las Cruces, New Mexico, the former police chief of the town of Columbus pleaded guilty to conspiracy, smuggling, and public corruption charges. Angela Vega was arrested in March along with the town's mayor and 13 others. The group is known to have trafficked at least 200 weapons to La Linea, the military wing of the Juarez Cartel.

Friday, August 26

In Michoacan, wanted posters were put up by the Knights Templar Organization. The banners, which show the mugshots of five men the names of six men said to now be working for the Zetas, offered rewards of between $100,000 and $500,000 as well as a phone number to call.

Sunday, August 28

In Almoya de Juarez, near Mexico City, authorities discovered the decomposed bodies of five individuals buried in a corn field. The discovery was made after a family member of a missing man received a phone call from an unidentified man who said that 23 people were buried in the field. The other 18 remain unaccounted for.

Monday, August 29

In Acapulco, at least 140 local schools were closed after teachers refused to go to work because of extortion threats. School had just begun one week prior. Teachers indicated that at least four teachers had been kidnapped in the past eight days, and cars full of armed men were seen cruising past at least one school.

In Tamaulipas, authorities announced that a top Gulf Cartel commander was among several cartel members captured in the town of Camargo over the weekend. Abiel Gonzalez Briones, "R-2," 28, was captured after an aerial patrol spotted a group of armed men, at least seven of whom were captured. Gonzalez Briones is thought to have been a main financial operator of the Gulf Cartel and the area chief for the Miguel Aleman area.

In the mountain town of Guachochi, Chihuahua, seven bodies were discovered by the army. They had all been missing since August 13. Of the dead, six were strangulated to death, and the seventh, a woman, was shot. Additionally, near Ciudad Juarez, five human skulls thought to be several years old were discovered.

Tuesday, August 30

In Utah, authorities announced the dismantling of a Sinaloa Cartel cell. At least 30 people have so far been taken into custody after an 18th month investigation, which led to the discovery of several high-level men described as being "command and control" for the the cartel in Utah. At least 30 pounds of meth, 2.5 of heroin were taken into custody, as well as cash and high-powered weapons.

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 6,700

Chronicle Book Review: BONG HiTS 4 JESUS

BONG HiTS 4 JESUS: A Perfect Constitutional Storm in Alaska's Capital by James Foster (2011, University of Alaska Press, 373 pp., $29.95 PB)

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/bonghits4jesusbook.jpg
In January 2002, as Olympic torchbearers making their way to the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City jogged through the streets of Juneau, Alaska, past the local high school, a troublemaking prankster of a high school student and some of his friends held up a 14-foot banner reading "BONG HiTS 4 JESUS." The school principal, Deborah Morse, rushed over to the students, tore down the banner, and subsequently suspended the prankster, Joseph Frederick. Little did anyone imagine at the time that the far-off brouhaha would roil the community for years and that the controversy would end up at the US Supreme Court.

Oregon State University professor and student of judicial politics James Foster tells the tale of a case that has helped shape First Amendment jurisprudence in the exceptionally sticky milieu of student free speech rights and schools' rights to accomplish their educational missions. And while there is a plenty of fine-toothed examination of the high court's legal reasoning in Morse v. Frederick, as the case came to be known, as well as related cases, there is a lot more to BONG HiTS 4 JESUS than dry textual analysis.

When, on the first page of the first chapter of the book, the author references Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa's classic 1950 film Rashomon, the reader begins to get an inkling that this is going to be something of a ride. And so it is.

Foster sets up a story of conflicting narratives in a conflicted town in a conflicted time. Juneau, Alaska's capital city, is an isolated town in an isolated state, a liberal island of blue in a sea of red, a small town where the protagonists in local conflicts are likely to run into each other at the grocery store. That social and political context, and the hostilities it engendered, helped turn what began as a local imbroglio into a problem that could only be decided by the Supreme Court.

If Joseph Frederick had been less of an authority-challenged troublemaker, or if Principal Morse had had a better administrative style, the whole affair could have been handled as little more than a tempest in a teapot. Foster excels at explaining why that wasn't to be and how a disciplinary interaction between an educator and a student ends up as constitutional question before the highest court in the land.

Aside from the interpersonal and community context of the conflict and the case, Foster also excels at explaining the legal context, discussing at some length a line of cases about student rights running back to the seminal 1969 case, Tinker v. Des Moines School Board, in which the court famously held, in Justice Abe Fortas' words, that "Students… do not leave their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the school house gate." That case involved students wearing black arm bands to protest the Vietnam War.

But, as Foster makes abundantly clear, Fortas' stirring -- and oft-cited -- proclamation was actually stronger than the court's own ruling in Tinker, where it held that political ("symbolic") speech could not be constrained as long as it did not interfere with the educational mission of the school. And as his examination of the handful of key post-Tinker cases relating to student rights demonstrates, the bright and shining rule of Fortas' formulation has been quickly and relentlessly chipped away at by less friendly Supreme Courts.

Some of those cases were not First Amendment cases, but Fourth Amendment ones. The elements they had in common with Morse were the scope of students' rights and adults' fears about drugs. In those two cases, conservative courts approved the use of warrantless, suspicionless random drug testing, first of athletes and then of any students involved in extracurricular activities. As in other realms of law, the Supreme Court in those cases created a drug war-based exception to the Fourth Amendment when it comes to students, or, as Foster puts it, a "Fourth Amendment-Lite."

Through close examination of oral arguments and the different written opinions in Morse, Foster shows that the same concerns about student drug use weighed heavily on the minds of the justices, so much so that they were moved to decide against Frederick's free speech rights. The Roberts court was more afraid of a nonsense message that could -- with some contortions -- be construed as "pro-drug," than it was of eroding the freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment.

BONG HiTS 4 JESUS is not a book about drug policy, but it is one more demonstration of the way our totalizing, all-encompassing war on drugs has deleterious effects far beyond those of which one commonly thinks. Really? We're going to trash the First Amendment because some kid wrote "bong hits" on a sign? Apparently, we are. We did.

There are some dense thickets of legal exegesis in BONG HiTS 4 JESUS, and the book is likely to be of interest mainly to legal scholars, but Foster brings much more to bear here than mere eye-watering analysis. For those concerned with the way the war on drugs warps our lives and our laws, this book has much to offer.

PA School Districts Sued Over Student Drug Testing

The ACLU and a Philadelphia law firm are suing two Pennsylvania school districts for maintaining random drug and alcohol testing of students who participate in extracurricular activities or who drive cars to school. The separate lawsuits were filed last week.

Some educators require remedial litigation to ensure they understand their students' privacy rights. (Image courtesy DVSD)
The US Supreme Court has held that the random drug testing of student athletes or students involved in extracurricular activities does not violate the US Constitution. But some state supreme courts, including Pennsylvania's, have found protections against random drug testing of students in their state constitutions.

The lawsuits filed by the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the law firm Dechert LLP charge that the school districts have maintained student drug testing policies that violate a 2003 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision holding that random drug testing of students is unconstitutional unless the school districts can show that the group of students being tested had a high drug use rate. That case was Theodore v. Delaware Valley School District.

Delaware Valley is one of the districts named in the law suit. The other is the Panther Valley School District. Read the respective complaints here and here.

Delaware Valley, the defendant in the 2003 case, has never changed its policy, the complaint said. Instead, the district has "essentially ignored that ruling and continued to enforce the drug testing policy." The district has never attempted "to compile data that would support or refute a need for the policy" even though the Supreme Court held that any such policy "must be born out of a true and documented need for random testing of the student population affected."

The plaintiffs in the Delaware Valley lawsuit are Glenn and Kathy Kiederer and their two daughters, identified only by their initials. The Kiederers complain that when their daughters refused to sign drug testing consent forms, they were excluded from participating in athletics and extracurricular activities, ironically including joining the school's Junior Students Against Drug Abuse.

"We are very frustrated that the Delaware Valley School District has ignored the State Supreme Court's guidelines and has refused to change the drug testing policy to comply with the court opinion. We feel that the proper education for our children is to teach them to defend their constitutional rights, especially in the present times we are living in," said the Kiederers.

The Panther Valley suit was filed on behalf of high school senior Jeremy Thomas and his ninth-grade sister, identified only by her initials. According to the complaint, Thomas, an Eagle Scout and Junior ROTC member, was thrown off the school golf team after refusing to sign a consent form. He was also barred from attending the senior prom. Thomas's parents, Morgan and Donna, said in the lawsuit they refused to sign the consent form because they believe the drug testing program violates their son's right to privacy.

"These policies teach young people to accept extreme invasions of their privacy when they've done nothing wrong," said Mary Catherine Roper, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania and one of the attorneys representing the students and their parents. "Random drug testing is also counterproductive, as studies have shown that extracurricular activities help students avoid drug use. Schools should not be putting up barriers to students' participation in after-school activities," she continued.

Neither school district has yet responded publicly to the lawsuits.

PA
United States

Medical Marijuana Using High School Student Back in Class After Apology from School District's Lawyer

Location: 
Colorado Springs, CO
United States
A high school student kept off campus for using medical marijuana has received an apology from the district's lawyer and is back in school. The student has a rare disease called Myoclonus Diaphragmatic Flutter, and it causes him to have seizure such as spasms in his diaphram. At the beginning of every attack, he takes a 10 mg medical marijuana throat lozenge. The student's family wants to take legal action and are in talks with an attorney from Denver to make it legal for nurses to administer medical marijuana on campus.
Publication/Source: 
KXRM (CO)
URL: 
http://www.coloradoconnection.com/news/story.aspx?id=585138

Teen's Medical Marijuana Fight Escalates As School Says He Cannot Come Back to Class After Going Home for Medicine, Father Appeals to Legislators for Help

Location: 
Colorado Springs, CO
United States
The saga of a Colorado Springs, Colorado teenager struggling with a rare neurological condition best controlled with medical marijuana lozenges became a little more surreal when school officials informed the student’s father that the child cannot return to school on any day that he consumes medical marijuana. The child missed most of the last school year when he was diagnosed with diaphragmatic and axial myoclonus, which causes seizures that can last for 24 hours or more. He spent extensive periods of time hospitalized and used morphine and other narcotics to control the seizures until doctors discovered that THC works better than any other medication.
Publication/Source: 
The Colorado Independent (DC)
URL: 
http://coloradoindependent.com/74138/teens-medical-marijuana-fight-escalates-as-school-says-he-cannot-come-back-to-class-after-going-home-for-medicine

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