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The US Is Deporting Hundreds of Thousands for Drug Offenses, Many Minor [FEATURE]

(This article was written in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.)

The US government wants to throw Marsha Austin out of the country. The 67-year-old grandmother came from Jamaica to New York as a lawful resident in 1985, and has lived here ever since with her husband, seven children (two more are in Jamaica), grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. All are legal residents or US citizens.

Marsha Austin and her family in the Bronx (hrw.org)
By her own admission, she had problems with drugs. "I live in a drug-infested area," she said of her neighborhood in the Bronx, and she succumbed to the lure of crack cocaine in the wake of her mother's death. Jones racked up several minor convictions before getting popped for making a $5 purchase for an undercover officer in 1995.

That was "attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree," to which she pleaded guilty on her public defender's advice. The attorney failed to tell her the conviction could lead to deportation.

Her convictions led to little or no jail time, but in 2010, as her husband's health faltered, she violated probation by drinking alcohol. She did 90 days in jail, but instead of walking out, she was seized by immigration authorities at the end of her sentence and spent the next 2 ½ years in immigration jail awaiting deportation.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) repeatedly opposed her release, claiming she was under mandatory detention for her drug offenses, but then released her unexpectedly in 2013. She's been in treatment since then and now proudly reports that she's been "clean as a whistle" for the past five years. Now, her husband's health is failing, as is the health of her daughter, who suffered a breakdown after her own daughter suffered a serious illness.

"My kids and my grandkids, that's what I'm living for now," she said.

But she remains in limbo. The US government still wants to send her back to Jamaica, arguing that she is subject to deportation for the "aggravated felony" of buying $5 worth of crack for a narc.

She's not alone. Beginning late in the George W. Bush years and continuing through the Obama administration, the US has been deporting and trying to deport immigrants for drug offenses at a record clip. According to a just released report from Human Rights Watch, more than 260,000 non-citizens -- legal residents and illegal immigrants alike -- were deported for drug offenses between 2007 and 2012. Shockingly, 34,000 people were deported for marijuana possession offenses alone.

The trend is upward. The number of people deported whose most serious offense was a drug crime was up 22% over that period, while the number of people deported whose most serious offense was a drug possession offense was up even more, at 43%.

Tens of thousands more have been or are being detained indefinitely in immigration jails fighting pending deportation orders. Such extended imprisonments wreak havoc on the families who husbands or fathers, wives or mothers, are caught up behind bars.

The sweeping action against non-citizens comes as part of the Obama administration's crackdown on "criminal aliens," but seems disproportionately harsh when applied to low-level drug offenders, especially people who have lived all or most of their lives here and have strong family and community roots in this country. It is also at odds with the trends toward drug decriminalization and even legalization now at play in the country.

The Human Rights Watch report, "A Price Too High: US Families Torn Apart by Deportations for Drug Offenses," documents how the US government is routinely breaking up families by initiating deportation proceedings for drug offenses, often ones decades old or so minor they resulted in little or no prison time. Researchers interviewed more than 130 affected immigrants, families, attorneys, and law enforcement officials, and incorporated new data obtained from ICE.

Here are some of the cases examined in the report:

"Raul Valdez, a permanent resident from Mexico who had grown up in the Chicago area from the age of one, was deported in 2014 because of a 2003 conviction for possession of cannabis with intent to deliver, for which he had been sentenced to 60 days in jail.

Ricardo Fuenzalida, a permanent resident from Chile now living in New Jersey, was held without bond for months fighting deportation in 2013 because of two marijuana possession convictions from 13 years earlier.

Jose Francisco Gonzalez, a permanent resident in Anaheim, California, was put into deportation proceedings and held without bond in 2014 because of a 2001 arrest for having two pot plants, despite having successfully completed a California diversion program that promised to erase his criminal record.

Abdulhakim Haji-Eda, a refugee from Ethiopia who came to the US at the age of 13, has been ordered deported as a drug trafficker for a teenage drug sale in Seattle. Now 26 years old, he has no other convictions, and is married to a US citizen with two US citizen children and another on the way.

"Antonio S.," who came to the US from Mexico when he was 12 and was eligible for a reprieve from deportation as a "DREAMer" under the executive program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was detained for over a year in Colorado and deported after a conviction for possession of marijuana, a municipal violation to which he pleaded guilty without an attorney.

"Alice M.," a 41-year-old graphic designer and Canadian citizen, [was barred] from living in the US with her US citizen fiancé because of a single 1992 conviction for cocaine possession she received in Canada in her last year of high school, a conviction that was pardoned long ago in Canada.

"Mr. V.," a refugee and permanent resident from Vietnam, was ordered deported in 2008 for a 1999 conviction for possession of crack cocaine. Although he has since been granted a full and unconditional pardon from the state of South Carolina, Mr. V. remains under a deportation order and only remains in the US because of restrictions on the repatriation of certain Vietnamese nationals."

"Even as many US states are legalizing and decriminalizing some drugs, or reducing sentences for drug offenses, federal immigration policy too often imposes exile for the same offenses," said Grace Meng, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch and the author of the report. "Americans believe the punishment should fit the crime, but that is not what is happening to immigrants convicted of what are often relatively minor drug offenses."

The report notes that the Obama administration has been sensitive to the injustices of the war on drugs and urges it to be as sensitive to the harsh effects of its deportation policies related to drug offenses. But it is not just the federal government that can act to improve the situation. Here are the group's recommendations:

"To the United States Congress

Eliminate deportation based on convictions for simple possession of drugs.

Ensure that all non-citizens in deportation proceedings, including those with convictions for drug offenses, have access to an individualized hearing where the immigration judge can weigh evidence of rehabilitation, family ties, and other equities against a criminal conviction.

Ensure that refugees and asylum seekers with convictions for sale, distribution, or production of drugs are only considered to have been convicted of a "particularly serious crime" through case-by-case determination that takes into account the seriousness of the crime and whether the non-citizen is a threat to public safety.

Ensure that non-citizens who are barred from entering the US and/or gaining lawful resident status because of a criminal conviction, including for drug offenses, are eligible to apply for individualized consideration, i.e., a waiver of the bar, based on such factors as the above mentioned.

Eliminate mandatory detention and ensure all non-citizens are given an opportunity for an individualized bond hearing.

Redefine "conviction" in immigration law to exclude convictions that have been expunged, pardoned, vacated, or are otherwise not recognized by the jurisdiction in which the conviction occurred.

Decriminalize the personal use of drugs, as well as possession of drugs for personal use.

To the Department of Homeland Security

Provide clear guidance to immigration officials that a positive exercise of prosecutorial discretion may be appropriate even in cases involving non-citizens with criminal convictions, with particular consideration for lawful permanent residents and non-citizens whose most serious convictions are for nonviolent offenses, including drug convictions, that occurred five or more years ago.

Provide all non-citizens who have been in detention for six months or more with a bond hearing.

To State and Local Governments

Ensure drug courts and diversion programs do not require a guilty plea from defendants that would constitute a conviction that triggers deportation, mandatory detention, and other immigration consequences even upon successful completion of the program.

Remove barriers to post-conviction relief for non-citizens convicted of nonviolent drug offenses through legal error, including through guilty pleas obtained without adequate advice from defense counsel on the potential immigration consequences of the plea.

Decriminalize the personal use of drugs, as well as possession of drugs for personal use."

To be comprehensive and thorough, drug reform must encompass immigration law reform, too.

Chronicle AM: OH MJ Report, Colombia to Debate MJ Legalization, CDC Spice Warning, More (6/12/15)

There's a new report on the impact of marijuana legalization in Ohio, the CDC sounds the alarm on "Spice," a CBD cannabis oil for kids bill passes in Delaware, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Ohio Marijuana Policy Task Force Says Legalization Will Create 35,000 Jobs. A task force commissioned by ResponsibleOhio, which is leading a legalization initiative campaign, issued a 187-page report Thursday that estimated legalization would bring 35,000 jobs to the Buckeye State. Those jobs would provide wages of around $1.6 billion, the report said. The task force was led by Hamilton County (Cincinnati) Prosecutor Joe Deters.

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Legislature Approves Youth CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The state Senate Thursday unanimously approved Senate Bill 90, which would allow children with epilepsy to use CBC cannabis oil. The bill, also known as Rylie's Law after 9-year-old Rylie Maedler, who suffers from severe seizures, already passed the House and now heads to the governor's desk.

New Synthetic Drugs

CDC Sounds Alarm on Synthetic Cannabinoids. The number of phone calls to poison control centers and the number of deaths related to synthetic cannabinoids ("spice") has tripled this spring compared to last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday. The CDC reported that 15 people had died in the first five months of this year, up from five during the same period last year. For perspective, the CDC reported in April, that there were 44,000 drug overdose deaths in the US in 2013, more than half of them from prescription drugs.

Drug Testing

ACLU Sues Indiana Town Over Mandatory, Suspicionless Drug Tests for Public Assistance. The ACLU of Indiana has filed a lawsuit against the town of Black Township on behalf of a woman who was denied public assistance because she failed to take a drug test. It's not that she failed a drug test; the woman suffers from physical disabilities and was unable to physically urinate into a specimen cup. She sought an alternative means of doing the drug test, but the town refused to allow it. While the ACLU is suing under the Americans with Disabilities Act on that count, it also asserts that the town's policy of mandatory, suspicionless drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment, a position in line with federal court decisions.

International

Colombian Senator Will Push for Full Legalization During Looming Medical Marijuana Debate. Senator Roy Barreras of the coalition U Party said Thursday that he will attempt to amend a proposal to allow medical marijuana to turn it into a full legalization bill. That debate is set to take place next month. Barreras cited security issues, saying it is not drugs but "prohibition that is generating the mafias."

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Nixes Deportation for Pills, Texas Gov Signs CBD Bill, More (6/2/15)

Massachusetts politicians start to figure out that marijuana is going to be legalized, Congress is set to take up measures to protect legal marijuana states, Texas becomes the 15th CBD cannabis oil state, the Supreme Court nixes deportation of an immigrant for drug paraphernalia, and more.

This article contains a correction, in the Minnesota subsection.

The US Supreme Court rejects deportation of immigrant who had pills in a sock. (supremecourt.gov)
Marijuana Policy

House Getting Ready to Vote on Measures to Protect State Marijuana Laws. The US House is set to vote this week -- perhaps as early as tonight -- on a series of amendments to the Justice Department appropriations bill that would limit federal government interference in states that have legalized marijuana production and consumption. Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) are sponsoring an amendment that would halt the federal prosecution of people involved in marijuana-related activities legal under state law. Last year, the Congress passed a similar measure barring the Justice Department from prosecuting people in medical marijuana states, but this year's amendment covers both legal and recreational states.

Massachusetts Senate President Floats Notion of 2016 Nonbinding Legalization Question. State Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) said Monday that lawmakers should consider putting a nonbinding question about marijuana legalization on the 2016 ballot. He said that would give lawmakers the political cover to craft their own legalization bill. But they may not get the chance: two separate groups are planning legalization initiatives for 2016, and if either makes the ballot and passes, Massachusetts will have legal weed without the legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota's Cannabis Oil Program Now Taking Registrants. As of Monday, patients can sign up for the state's cannabis oil program, which will go into effect July 1. The state estimates that some 5,000 people will sign up. [Ed: The initial version of this article initially described the Minnesota program erroneously as involving "CBD cannabis oil." While the program has limits including not allowing smoked or edible marijuana, it does not specify THC vs. CBD content.]

Texas Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) Monday signed into law the CBD cannabis oil bill, Senate Bill 339, which allows the use of the oil for treating severe forms of epilepsy. Texas is now the 15th state to allow the use of CBD cannabis oils.

Law Enforcement

US Supreme Court Rejects Deportation for Drug Paraphernalia. The Supreme Court ruled Monday that an immigrant could not be deported for possession of drug paraphernalia -- in this case, a sock that was used to hold Adderall pills. The immigrant in question was convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia and served a probated sentence, but was then targeted for deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Board of Immigration appeals upheld his deportation, ruling that his paraphernalia possession triggered deportation even though the drug his paraphernalia (the sock) contained was not federally scheduled. The Supreme Court found this untenable: "The incongruous upshot is that an alien is not removable for possessing a substance controlled only under Kansas law, but he is removable for using a sock to contain that substance. Because it makes scant sense, the BIA's interpretation, we hold, is owed no deference…" The case is Mellouli v. Lynch, Attorney General.

Chronicle AM: IL Senate Approves Decrim, MedMJ Extension; Ex-Cincy Police Chief Endorses Pot Init, More (5/22/15)

Midwest marijuana news dominates today, with the Illinois Senate approving decriminalization and medical marijuana extension bills, a prominent Ohio law enforcement figure endorsing a legalization initiative and the state attorney general rejecting another one, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Illinois Senate Passes Decriminalization Bill. The state Senate Thursday approved House Bill 218, which would decriminalize the possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana, replacing the possibility of jail time and a criminal record with a maximum $125 fine and no criminal record. The bill has already cleared the House, but will not go to the governor's desk until sponsors get some additional cleanup language approved.

Former Cincinnati Police Chief Endorses Ohio Legalization Initiative. Former Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher has come out in favor of the controversial ResponsibleOhio pot legalization initiative. "Our state spends over $120 million per year to enforce marijuana prohibition, even though we all know these laws do not work," Streicher said. "Law enforcement should instead be able to spend their time and their resources cracking down on the real criminals." ResponsibleOhio is the midst of a signature-gathering campaign to qualify for the November 2015 ballot. It needs more than 300,000 approved voter signatures to qualify, but says it has 320,000 raw signatures right now and aims to gather 800,000 by the July deadline.

Ohio Attorney General Rejects Language for Third Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Mike DeWine Thursday rejected the ballot summary language for a third statewide legalization initiative, the Ohio Cannabis Control Amendment from Ohioans to End Prohibition. Two other initiatives, from ResponsibleOhio and Better for Ohio, have already been approved and are in the signature-gathering phase. Now, Ohioans for Prohibition will have to gather another 1,000 signatures and resubmit modified language if it wants to move forward.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Senate Approves Extension of Medical Marijuana Program. The state Senate voted 33-16 Thursday to approve House Bill 3299, which would extend the program by two more years. The measure has already passed the House and is headed for the desk of Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), but it's unclear if he will sign it. He has said he didn't think the program should be extended until it's been fully evaluated -- but it hasn't even really started.

Nebraska Legislature Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Study Bill. The state Senate Thursday gave final approval to Legislative Bill 390, under which the University of Nebraska Medical Center would study the effectiveness of CBD in treating epileptic seizures. Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) now has five days to act on the bill.

Washington Supreme Court Upholds Local Collective Garden Bans. The state Supreme Court ruled 8-1 Thursday that the city of Kent can ban medical marijuana collective gardens. The decision upheld lower court rulings allowing cities to impose bans via zoning regulations. The case was Cannabis Action Council v. City of Kent.

Drug Testing

Maine Committee Rejects Governor's Food Stamp Drug Testing Bill. The legislature's Health and Human Services Committee voted 6-5 on party lines to reject LD 1407, Gov. Paul LePage's (R) bid to impose drug testing on food stamp recipients. That doesn't mean the bill is dead, though; it is still likely to be debated in the House, and the question will be whether the Democrats can hold their caucus together in opposition.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Jail Becomes First in South to Offer Naloxone to Released Inmates. The Durham County Detention Facility last month began distributing overdose reversal kits to inmates being released in a bid to cut the overdose rate among the newly freed whose tolerance to opiate drugs has been reduced by the jail stays. The formerly incarcerated are more than a hundred times more likely to die of drug overdoses in the first two weeks after their release than the general population.

International

Iceland Support for Marijuana Legalization Doubles, But Still Low. Nearly one quarter (24.3%) of Icelanders now support marijuana legalization, up from 12.7% in 2011, a new survey finds. Men were more supportive than women (31% v. 16%), and the youth were more supportive than older cohorts, but even among people under 30, support was only at 43%.

Chronicle AM: Bernie Sanders on Marijuana Policy, LA Reform Bill Advances, New DEA Head Nominated, More (5/21/15)

Marijuana continues to dominate the drug policy news, plus public benefits drug testing bills move in Maine and Wisconsin, the NYPD decides not to bust middle-aged dopers, and more.

Bernie Sanders (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Mellow on Marijuana. The Vermont senator seeking the Democratic presidential nomination hinted at support for marijuana legalization during a Reddit question and answer session Tuesday, although he did not explicitly call for it. "I can tell you very few people were arrested for smoking marijuana [when I was mayor]," Sanders said. "Our police had more important things to do." He said he supported decriminalization in Vermont and was watching Colorado closely. "Colorado has led the effort toward legalizing marijuana and I'm going to watch very closely to see the pluses and minuses of what they have done,"Sanders said. "I will have more to say about this issue within the coming months."

Louisiana Marijuana Sentencing Reform Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a bill that would reduce the state's draconian marijuana possession sentencing. The measure is Senate Bill 241.

Maine Legalization Bills Get Hearing. The Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday heard testimony on a pair of marijuana legalization bills. Sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland), LD 1380 and its companion bill in the Senate would craft a regulatory structure for pot commerce and then put it before voters. If the legislature fails to act, the state could see two legalization initiatives next year.

Second Ohio Pot Legalization Initiative Certified for Signature-Gathering. The secretary of state's office has certified a legalization initiative from Better for Ohio, which means the group can now commence trying to gather the 306,000 signatures needed to qualify for this year's November ballot. Another group, ResponsibleOhio, is already in the signature-gathering phase.

No Decriminalization Initiative for Nashville. An effort by TN-NORML to put a marijuana decriminalization on the municipal ballot this year has apparently fallen short. Monday was the deadline day for handing in signatures, and TN-NORML didn't hand any in. Earlier, the group said it had only 4,000 signatures; it needed nearly 7,000 to qualify.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Governor Signs Bill Limiting Medical Marijuana Growers. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) Monday signed into law a bill that will limit medical marijuana caregivers to growing no more than 99 plants. The bill is Senate Bill 15-014. The bill also allows parents to have someone other than themselves grow medical marijuana for child patients and allows school districts to consider allowing medical marijuana use on campus.

Drug Policy

Obama Nominates Chuck Rosenberg to Head DEA. FBI senior official and former US Attorney Chuck Rosenberg has been nominated to replace Michelle Leonhart as head of the DEA. For the last 18 months, Rosenberg has served as chief of staff to FBI Director James Comey. He previously served as US Attorney for Southern Texas and US Attorney for Eastern Virginia and has won support from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Public Benefits Drug Testing Bill Advances. A bill that would require applicants for welfare benefits, unemployment benefits, job training programs, and health coverage through the state-sponsored program to be assessed for drug use passed the Senate Budget Committee Wednesday. People whose assessments suggest they may be using drugs would have to take and pass a drug test to win benefits. A provision to include food stamp recipients was stripped out because it would likely be challenged by the federal government. The measure is Assembly Bill 192.

Maine Bill to Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients Gets Hearing. The Health and Human Services Committee heard Monday from the administration of Gov. Paul LePage (R) about its bill that would require people on the food stamp program to take a written screening test to see if they are using drugs. If the assessment suggested they may be using drugs, they would have to submit to a drug test. People who tested positive could keep their benefits as long as they sought and completed drug treatment. The bill would also bar people with drug felonies from getting food stamps.

Law Enforcement

NYPD To Not Bust Middle-Aged Drug Offenders. The NYPD last week issued a memo instructing its narcs not to bust drug offenders over age 40 and instead concentrate on younger dealers. The department considers younger drug suspects to be more dangerous.

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

Chronicle AM: TX MJ Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote !); Decrim Advances in DE, IL, More (5/7/15)

Holy Cow! A marijuana legalization bill wins a committee vote in Texas! Also, decrim bills are moving in Delaware and Illinois, welfare drug testing gets shot down by Democrats in Iowa, but advances thanks to Republicans in Wisconsin, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Fourth California Legalization Initiative Filed. Busy, busy. Jason Porter and Lara Marie Collinsworth have filed the 2016 California Bipartisan Decriminalization of Cannabis Act. That's the fourth so far this year, and we're still waiting for the big one to drop. This one would legalize up to five pounds for personal possession and allow a 500 square foot garden. It would also force medical marijuana into a pharmacy system. There is a handy spreadsheet on the various proposals here.

Delaware Decriminalization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. A bill to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot has passed the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee after its sponsor, Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington), said she would revise to address law enforcement concerns. It now includes language making public pot smoking or smoking in a vehicle a misdemeanor with a maximum $200 fine. The cops still oppose it, though. The bill is House Bill 39.

Illinois Decriminalization Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. A bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to 15 grams of pot passed the Senate Criminal Law Committee Wednesday. House Bill 218 has already passed the House and now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Texas House Committee Approves Legalization Bill. In a surprise move, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee approved an outright legalization bill on a 5-2 vote. The bill, House Bill 2165 now awaits a chance at a House floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Extension Heads for Senate Floor Vote. A bill to extend the state's long-delayed medical marijuana pilot program is now headed for a final Senate vote. House Bill 3299 passed the House last month. It would extend the program for four years after the first dispensary opens.

Texas Senate Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The Senate today approved Senate Bill 339, the "Texas Compassionate Use Act," which would allow people with severe epileptic conditions to use CBD cannabis oil. The bill now goes to the House. The House is considering a companion bill, but it has not had a floor vote yet.

New Synthetic Drugs

New Hampshire House Approves Synthetic Drug Bill. The House voted Wednesday to restrict synthetic drugs. The bill, Senate Bill 106, would impose fines on persons who sell synthetic drugs and fines and other penalties on businesses that sold them, but would not penalize personal possession of the substances. The bill has already passed the Senate, but was amended in the House, so it needs to go bac for a final Senate vote.

Texas Senate Approves Synthetic Drug Bill. The Senate Wednesday passed Senate Bill 1582, which would allow the state health department to designate new synthetics as "hazardous controlled substances" until the legislature has time to ban them. The bill now goes to the House.

Asset Forfeiture

Oklahoma Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) today filed Senate Bill 838, the "Personal Asset Protection Act." The bill would require a criminal conviction before asset forfeiture can be undertaken. Although the bill is being filed late in the session, Loveless said it was an important issue and that he would hold an interim study to examine the issue.

Drug Testing

Iowa Welfare Drug Testing Defeated. Senate Democrats stood firm to defeat a welfare drug testing amendment proposed as part of a health and human services budget bill Wednesday. The amendment was defeated on a party-line vote, 26-23. The Senate also rejected an amendment that would have required drug testing for lawmakers.

Wisconsin Welfare Drug Testing Bill Moves. A bill that would require some public benefits recipients to undergo drug testing was approved by the Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform Wednesday. The Republican-backed measure is Assembly Bill 192

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Drug Testing

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

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

Harm Reduction

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

Law Enforcement

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

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

International

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

Chronicle AM: IA & VA Pot Polls; Ecuador Reform Bill, New Federal Cosponsors, More (4/14/15)

Congress is back and reform bills are picking up new cosponsors, new polls have Iowa dead even on pot legalization and Virginia favoring it, a major medical marijuana conference is coming, Ecuador begins debating a groundbreaking drug reform bill, and more.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on civil asset forfeiture reform tomorrow. (judiciary.senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Prohibition Repeal Bill Picks Up New Cosponsor. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) is the latest sponsor of HR 1013, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act. The bill now has 14 cosponsors -- 13 Democrats and one Republican. Click the link to for more bill information.

Iowa Poll Has State Split on Legalization, Strong Support for Medical. A new Quinnipiac University poll has Iowans split 47% to 47% on legalizing pot, but overwhelmingly in favor of medical marijuana, with 86% saying they support it.

Virginia Poll Has Majority for Legalization.A new Quinnipiac University poll has Virginians backing marijuana legalization, with 54% in favor and only 41% opposed. The poll also had support for medical marijuana above 80%.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Medical Marijuana Bill Picks Up New Cosponsors. The CARERS Act, HR 1538, which would end federal interference in states with medical marijuana laws, has picked up new sponsors over the recess. The latest are Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Donald Beyer (D-VA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Joseph Heck (R-NV). The bill now has 12 cosponsors, evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans. Click the link for more bill information.

Federal CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Picks Up New Cosponsors. The Charlotte's Web Medical Access Act, HR 1635, which would remove cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD-rich marijuana plants from the Controlled Substances Act, has picked up new cosponsors. The latest are Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Mick Mulvaney (R-SC). The bill now has 20 cosponsors, evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans. Click on the link for more bill information.

9th Annual Clinical Cannabis Conference Next Month in Florida. The medical marijuana advocacy group Patients Out of Time is hosting this premier event. Click on the link for all the details and registration information.

Tennessee Lawmakers Approve CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Both the House and the Senate unanimously approved a bill to allow the use of CBD cannabis oil for the treatment of seizures in children Monday night. House Bill 197 now awaits the signatures of Gov. Bill Haslam (R).

Hemp

Federal Hemp Bill Picks Up New Cosponsor. The Industrial Hemp Farming Act, HR 525, which would remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, has picked up a new cosponsor. The latest is Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO). The bill now has 55 cosponsors -- 36 Democrats and 19 Republicans. Click on the link for more bill information.

Asset Forfeiture

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Tomorrow. The committee will hear from an asset forfeiture abuse victim and an attorney for the Institute for Justice, which has been fighting to rein in such abuses, as well as a representative of the Fraternal Order of Police. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) will also address the panel.

Drug Testing

Indiana Welfare Drug Testing Bill Filed. Rep. Terry Goodin (D-Crothersville) today filed an amendment to Senate Bill 465 that would require welfare recipients to undergo screening for drug use and require those identified as high-risk to undergo drug testing.

Sentencing

House Version of Federal Sentencing Reform Bill Picks Up New Cosponsors. The House version of the Smarter Sentencing Act, HR 920, has picked up new cosponsors. The latest are Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR). The bill now has 26 cosponsors -- 20 Democrats and six Republicans. Click on the link for more bill information.

International

Ecuador Debates Bill That Would Regulate, Not Prohibit, Controlled Substances. Last Thursday, legislators in Quito began debating a new Organic Law on Comprehensive Drug Prevention. The bill, supported by the ruling PAIS Alliance, would "control" more than a hundred substances, including alcohol and tobacco and calls for a Technical Secretariat of Drugs to "regulate and control the activities related to the import, export, cultivation, production, marketing, distribution, transportation, and use" of those substances. Under current Ecuadorian law, cultivation or sale of banned substances garners prison sentences of 12 to 16 years; under the new law, that would be replaced by fines and seizures of the substances. Debate on the bill is expected to happen intermittently over the next few months.

Chronicle AM: France Okays Safe Injection Sites, Wichita Decriminalizes, Egypt Hash Debate, More (4/8/15)

A Louisiana poll shows rising support for marijuana legalization; if Massachusetts want to legalize, it will be up to the voters; Wichita votes to decriminalize it, a CBD cannabis bill dies in Indiana, France okays safe injection sites, and more.

A proposal to legalize hash in Egypt has stoked debate. (justice.gov/dea)
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana Poll Sees Rising Support for Legalization, But Still No Majority. The 2015 Louisiana Survey, released Tuesday, shows support for marijuana legalization at 45%, up from 42% two years ago. Opposition was at 52%, down from 56% two years ago. Support was twice as high in southwest Louisiana (57%) than northeast Louisiana (28%). The state has some of the harshest pot laws in the country, but the legislature appears little inclined to do anything about them.

Massachusetts Lawmakers to Punt on Legalization. There is "no appetite" among lawmakers to address marijuana legalization, leaving the field open for ballot initiatives next year, said Senate President Stanley Rosenberg. "There's been conversations and there seems to be no appetite in the Legislature to take up... recreational marijuana, so you should expect to see it on the ballot in 2016," Rosenberg (D-Amherst) told the Boston Herald's internet radio station on Tuesday.

Wichita Votes to Decriminalize. Voters in Wichita voted 54% to 45% to approve a local initiative to decriminalize small-time marijuana possession. The measure would make first-time possession an infraction with a $50 fine. But state law says it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, and state Attorney General Derek Schmidt (R) has vowed to sue the city if it passes. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Killed. A bill to allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat children with epilepsy sailed through the House earlier this session, but was killed by a Senate committee vote Tuesday after prosecutors opposed it, saying it was similar to legalizing medical marijuana.

Massachusetts Revamps Application Process for Registered Dispensaries. The state Department of Public Health (DPH) today announced significant changes to the Commonwealth's Medical Marijuana Dispensary program first authorized in 2012. The revised process will license Registered Marijuana Dispensaries (RMD) in a format similar to other healthcare facilities, such as pharmacies, which DPH also administers. This process will phase out the current use of state procurement policies to register a dispensary. Click on the link for more details.

Drug Testing

Kentucky GOP Gubernatorial Hopeful Proposes Drug Testing Welfare Recipients. Would-be Republican gubernatorial nominee Hal Heiner is seeking to win support from the base by pushing a scheme to drug test welfare recipients. He made the call in a series of TV ads that began appearing yesterday. "I am simply asking welfare recipients to do what many employees in Kentucky are already required to do," Heiner said in a statement. "If working Kentuckians can be required to take drug tests, it is certainly reasonable to expect those who are benefiting from their tax dollars to do so as well."

International

France Approves Safe Injection Sites. The National Assembly Tuesday adopted a draft health law that will allow for safe injection sites for injection drug users. Opposition deputies denounced the move as "a first step toward legalizing drugs," for creating "no-go zones," and for sending "incomprehensible messages to our youth," but they did not prevail. Pilot sites will open in Paris, Bordeaux, and Strasbourg, and the law will prevent users from being arrested for drug possession within safe injection sites. Safe injection sites already operate in around 10 countries, including Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain.

Call for Hash Legalization in Egypt Sparks Lively Debate. Just a few days ago, Cairo tobacco traders called for hash legalization as a revenue measure and submitted a proposal to that effect to the cabinet, and that has sparked strong reactions. The Ministry of Social Solidarity's Drug Control and Addiction Treatment Fund warned that hash is a serious threat to Egypt, which is "safe by nature." The fund claimed hash is a major factor in road accidents because it causes "lack of awareness of one's surroundings." The fund also claimed that a survey it conducted found that 86% of rapists and 23% of murderers were hash users. But hash users cited in the story disagreed. Click on the link for more.

Mexican Cartel Attack Kills 15 Cops in Jalisco. An ambush of a police convoy by presumed drug cartel gunmen on the highway between Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara left 15 policemen dead and five wounded. It was the deadliest attack on Mexican police since 12 federal police were killed in neighboring Michoacan state in 2010. Fingers are being pointed at the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which has grown to be one of the country's most powerful. The state has seen a spate of violence in recent weeks, including a March 19 ambush of federal police that killed five, a March 23 shootout in which police killed a gang boss, an unsuccessful March 30 attempt to assassinate the state security commissioner, and the killing Monday of the police chief in the town of Zacoalco de Torres. The security commissioner said the recent attacks were revenge for the killing of the gang leader.

(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.)

Chronicle AM: AK Pot Bill Advances, Obama Commutes Drug Sentences, Brit Drug Spat, More (3/31/15)

There will still be marijuana felonies under a bill moving in Alaska, North Dakota has a new hemp law, an Arkansas welfare drug test bill heads to the governor's desk, Obama commutes sentences, and more.

Are there hemp fields on the horizon in North Dakota? (votehemp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Senate Passes Marijuana Bill -- Without Ban on Concentrates. The Senate voted Monday night to approve SB 30, the bill designed to update the state's criminal code to reflect marijuana's legalized status. The bill was approved 17-3 after an amendment to make concentrates illegal in two years was defeated. It continues to list pot as a controlled substance and has provisions making it a felony to possess more than a pound or to grow more than 25 plants. It also bans pot businesses in unorganized boroughs.

Another Maine Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Mark Dion (D-Portland) has filed a bill to allow adults 21 and over to use marijuana, regulate commercial sales, and tax them at 15%. The bill is still being drafted and is not yet available on the legislative web site. Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) has also filed a legalization bill, but its language isn't completed yet, either. There are also two separate legalization initiative campaigns brewing the in the state.

Hemp

North Dakota Governor Signs Hemp Bill Telling Feds to Butt Out. Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) last Friday signed House Bill 1436, which allows farmers to apply to grow the crop for either research or commercial purposes. The bill says that "license required by this section is not conditioned on or subject to review or approval by the United States drug enforcement agency," a direct jab at the DEA. Instead, licensing will be up to the state agriculture department.

Drug Testing

Arkansas Legislature Passes "Suspicion Based" Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The House Monday approved Senate Bill 600, which would set up a two-year pilot program for "suspicion based" drug screening and testing of public benefits applicants. The Senate, which had already approved it, gave it a final approval today, and the bill now heads to the governor's desk.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Needle Exchange Bill Wins House Committee Vote. The House Public Health Committee Monday approved a bill to allow needle exchanges in the 23 counties in the state with the highest rates of hepatitis C infections. The bill actually addresses an HIV outbreak in southeastern Scott County, where Gov. Mike Pence (R) days ago issued an executive order allowing for emergency needle exchanges. The bill now goes to the House floor.

Law Enforcement

Maine Governor Slams Foes As "Weak on Drugs." Faced with legislative skepticism over his proposals to beef up the state's drug enforcement apparatus, Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage has come out swinging. "They are weak on drugs," LePage told reporters, describing the legislators. "They simply don't want to deal with the problem. Frankly, they shouldn't be in this hall, they shouldn't be in this building if they can't take care of our children. And the gloves are off now."

Sentencing

Obama Commutes Sentences of 22 Drug Offenders. The president today doubled the number of drug sentence commutations he has issued in one fell swoop by cutting sentences for 22 drug offenders, mostly crack cocaine offenders and mostly doing sentences of 20 years or more. Eight were doing life sentences for drug offenses, including one doing life for growing pot plants.

International

Spanish Cannabis Club Wins Acquittal. The provincial court in Vizcaya has acquitted five people accused of violating Spanish law by forming a club to grow and consume marijuana. The members of the Pannagh collective were charged with drug trafficking and "criminal organization," but in a victory for cannabis advocates, the court held that Pannagh acted within the limits of the concept of "collective cultivation."

British Labor Party Attacks Lib Dems as "Soft on Crime, Drugs, and Thugs." Labor has put out a leaflet attacking the Liberal Democrats on drug and crime policy ahead of looming parliamentary elections, but Labor is taking lots of flak for its efforts. One critic called the Labor approach "medieval," another accused it of underestimating the intelligence of the electorate, and yet another accused Labor of "turning their back on progressive, sensible, evidence-based reform."

Drug War Issues

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