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From the Blog: Three Marijuana Reform Bills Filed in Louisiana

(Welcome back to our one-time intern Jimi Devine, who has graciously volunteered his time to support our blog. We are cross-posting this piece to the Chronicle because it is news-focused.)

The smell of marijuana reform is strong in the bayou air, with Louisiana now home to a big push for both medical marijuana and major sentencing reforms around marijuana convictions.

Today the Louisiana legislature's House Health and Welfare Committee will hear a medical marijuana bill brought forward by Republican State Senator Fred Mills, a man who formerly served as head of the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy. Mills spent the last year working with law enforcement to make it past a committee and organizations that had held it back in the past.

According to Northeast Louisiana media outlet The News Star, major revisions have been made with support from the Louisiana Sheriffs Association, including:

  • Prescribed marijuana would be taken in a form other than smoking it, perhaps in a pill.
  • The state Agriculture Department would be in charge of growing marijuana to be used for medical purposes.
  • Dispensing pharmacies -- ten, at this point -- would be required to meet certain conditions.
  • The bill would "sunset," or be reviewed on Jan. 1, 2020, giving lawmakers a deadline for determining whether the changes to state law were beneficial. If the bill proves ineffective, the law could be modified or allowed to expire.
  • The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy would adopt rules about dispensing medical marijuana.

This session the bill made it through the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, which had halted its progress in 2014, and then passed the full senate with two thirds in support. On when he takes it before the House, Mills noted, "I'm hoping for a repeat performance from the Senate."

While the bill is very restrictive, it would reinforce national trends on the medical use of marijuana by bringing a law involving more than CBD marijuana strains to the south, and hopefully would lead to a more inclusive medical marijuana law in the future.

The sentencing reform bills look to reduce the penalties associated with a marijuana conviction in the state. Currently a third marijuana possession conviction could lead to a baffling 20 year sentence.

According to NOLA.com, the bill authored by New Orleans State Senator J.P. Morrell "reduces the maximum penalty for possession from 20 years in prison to eight, raises the threshold for a felony-level possession charge, and adds a second-chance provision for first-time offenders."

Penalties would still be much more severe than their counterparts in other states, but first time offenders would have one opportunity to expunge their record after two years without a conviction. The bill would also reclassify a second offense from a felony to misdemeanor for quantities between fourteen grams and two and a half pounds.

The bill is projected to save Louisiana $17 million over the first five years. This would cover the $900,000 a year in wasteful spending on corrections highlighted by the Office of State Inspector General with $13 million to spare.

NOLA.com columnist Jarvis DaBerry noted, "Such a bill does two important things. First, it establishes that a person with a small amount of weed isn't a real threat to the public. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the bill would keep such a conviction from haunting a person forever."

The second bill, authored by Rep. Austin Badon, would push major reforms, but is not as big a shift as the one presented by Morrell. Badon's bill would see those committing a third offense jailed five years, as opposed to the two year sentence in Morell's bill. It also does not include the possibility of conviction being expunged for first time offenders.

While Louisiana debates the direction of their sentencing procedures, I'll leave you with another quote from Jarvis DeBerry on the subject: "Here's a prediction: Sooner or later, we're going to look back at what Louisiana has doing to folks caught with marijuana, and we're going to be just as shocked those sentences had our officials' blessing."

Chronicle AM: Pro-Legalization Majority in Pew Poll, DEA Chief on Hot Seat Over Sex Scandals, More (4/15/15)

Another poll has a national majority for legalization, the DEA head gets skewered over taxpayer-funded sex scandals, the Senate Judiciary Committee eyes civil asset forfeiture reform, and much, much more.

Marijuana Policy

New Pew Poll Has Support for Legalization Nationwide at 53%. Advocates for legalization are winning the battle for public opinion, according to this new poll. Not only does it have a majority for legalization, but the poll also finds that while a fifth of respondents (21%) have switched from opposing to favoring legalization, only 7% have gone from supporting to opposing legalization. The poll also had 78% saying federal marijuana laws should not be enforced in states where pot is legal.

Federal Judge Rejects Motion to Reschedule Marijuana. US District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller declined today to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. The move came in a marijuana cultivation case where defense attorneys challenged pot's placement on the schedules. Mueller said during a brief hearing that she was initially inclined to grant the motion, but decided "this was not the court and this was not the time." She said it was up to Congress to change the law if it so desires.

Chris Christie Says He Will "Not Permit" Legal Marijuana if Elected. New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate, said Tuesday that if elected he would "crack down" on states that have legalized the weed. "I will crack down and not permit it," he said. "States should not be permitted to sell and profit" from legalization, he added, citing "enormous addiction problems."

Alaska House Passes Bill to Create Marijuana Control Board. The House Tuesday approved legislation to create a five-member marijuana control board to regulate the state's looming legal marijuana industry. The board would craft regulations by November, with the first licenses to be issued in May 2016. The measure is House Bill 123.

District of Columbia City Council Approves Two Marijuana Bills. The first bill, B21-0025, bars employers from testing job applicants for marijuana since it is legal in the city. The second bill, B20-0678, increases the number of plants medical marijuana providers can grow from 95 to 1,000.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Bill to Allow Children Access to Medical Marijuana Filed. Reps. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) Tuesday filed the Compassionate Access Act, which would "allow the states to provide appropriate access to patients needing these legitimate, medical treatments under the supervision of their physician," the congressmen said in a statement. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

Hawaii Senate Approves Dispensary Bill. The Senate Tuesday approved a bill that would establish a system of medical dispensaries for the state's 13,000 medical marijuana patients. The measure is House Bill 321. The bill now has to go back to the House for reconciliation.

Iowa Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate voted today to approve Senate File 484, which allows the production and distribution of medical marijuana. The bill would allow for up to a dozen independent dispensaries. It now goes to the House.

Washington Legislature Approves Medical Marijuana Overhaul. A bill that seeks to end unregulated medical marijuana dispensary sales and fold medical marijuana into the recreational marijuana system is now headed for the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee (D). Senate Bill 5052 would create a database of patients (voluntary, but patients won't get tax-free medicine unless they sign up), allow patients to possess three times more marijuana than recreational users, and eliminate the current collective garden structure, replacing it with cooperatives limited to four patients.

Asset Forfeiture

Sparks Fly at Senate Judiciary Committee Asset Forfeiture Hearing. Committee Chair Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) had a heated exchange with Fraternal Order of Police President Chuck Canterbury over civil asset forfeiture reform in a hearing today. Canterbury opposed ending civil asset forfeiture because doing so would deprive police of "hundreds of millions" of dollars to fight crime and terror, but Grassley dismissed that argument, saying such laws have created a "perverse incentive" for police to abuse them. Police opposition to reform "dismisses the need for real reform and demonstrates the absurdity of a system of justice in which some in law enforcement appear to value funding their own operations over protecting civil rights," Grassley said. The hearing is part of a broad push this year to reform federal civil asset forfeiture laws.

Virginia Senate Kills Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. The Senate today set aside efforts to enact civil asset forfeiture reform. The decision came during the legislature's annual reconvene session, when solons meet to consider responding to gubernatorial vetoes and amendments to bills passed during the session that ended last month. The legislature had passed a bill requiring only that police provide an inventory of property seized, and some legislators had hoped to get Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to add more substantial reforms, but they gave up on that effort today. Instead, they will leave it for the state crime commission to study.

Law Enforcement

DEA Head Gets Scalded in Hearing Over Agents' Sex Parties. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart was on the hot seat Tuesday as the House Oversight Committee took aim at revelations of taxpayer-funded sex parties involving DEA agents and prostitutes in Colombia. Members scoffed at her claims that she was unable to fire anyone involved and harshly questioned the agency's (lack of) response to the incidents. Click on the link for juicy details.

Sentencing

California Bill to Refelonize "Date Rape" Drugs Advances. A bill that would give prosecutors the option of charging possession of Rohypnol, ketamine, and GHB as a felony passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee today. Assembly Bill 46 is an attempt to partially roll back last year's voter-approved Proposition 47, which defelonized simple drug possession.

Connecticut Bill Would Dramatically Shrink "Drug Free" Zones. The legislature's Judiciary Committee voted last Friday to amend a bill aimed at reducing the number of drug prisoners in the state by shrinking the area of sentence-enhancing "drug free" zones to just schools and day care centers, eliminating the 1,500-foot zone around the buildings. The vote came as an amendment to Senate Bill 952, part of Gov. Dannel Malloy's (D) "Second Chance Society."

(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: MJ Decrim and Medical Bills Filed, Ramarley Graham Settlement, Jamaica Decrim Progess, More (2/2/15)

Decriminalization and medical marijuana bills are being filed left and right, Maine says pot patients can be unfit parents, Oregon says pot patients can't operate child care centers, New York City pays out big time for the killing of a black youth over weed, Jamaica's decrim bill advances, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Delaware Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington) and several cosponsors have filed House Bill 39, which would make possession of up to an ounce a civil infraction punishable only by a fine. Public use would remain subject to jail time, but for no more than five days.

Maryland Push for Legalization Underway. Supporters of legalization held a press conference last Friday to push the idea forward. State legislators, including Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore) were joined by a Colorado legislator and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. The press conference came as legalization supporters prepared to brief legislative committees on the topic. Maryland decriminalized it last year.

Minnesota Poll Finds More Want to Legalize It Than Don't. A new Public Policy Polling survey finds just short of a majority for legalizing pot there. Some 49% said they thought marijuana should be legal and regulated, while 44% thought it "should remain illegal." Support for medical marijuana, meanwhile, was at 76%.

New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Adam Schroadter (R-Newmarket) and seven cosponsors have introduced House Bill 618, which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. New Hampshire is the only New England state that has not decriminalized.

New Mexico Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Dona Ana County) has introduced Senate Bill 383, which would decriminalize the possession of up to four ounces and eliminate jail time for possession of up to eight ounces. Currently, possession of less than an ounce is a petty misdemeanor with possible jail time, while possession of between one and eight ounces is a misdemeanor with up to a year in jail.

Virginia Decriminalization Bill Dies in Senate Committee. A bill that would have decriminalized pot possession in the Old Dominion was killed last Wednesday in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. Senate Bill 686, introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) died in a 9-5 party line vote.

Philadelphia Pot Arrests Drop 88% After Decriminalization. Philadelphia police arrested only 63 people for marijuana possession between October 20 and year's end, marking a massive decline in marijuana arrests after decriminalization. Last year during the same time period, there were 559 possession arrests.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut State Commissioner Agrees to Expand Qualifying Ailments List. Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris said this morning that he will follow the recommendation of the program's Board of Physicians and is drafting new regulations to include sickle cell disease, post-surgical back pain with a condition called chronic radiculopathy, and severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis to the list of qualifying conditions. But that's not the end of it. Now, the proposal must be approved by the state attorney general and then by the General Assembly's Regulation Review Committee. A vote there could come by spring.

Maine High Court Rules Using Medical Marijuana Can Make Parents Unfit. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has ruled in a child custody case that even though medical marijuana is legal in the state, its use can make a person an unfit parent. "Determining what is in the best interest of the child necessarily involves considering whether a parent's ability to care for his or her child is impaired, including by his or her marijuana use. As with any medication or substance, the question of whether a parent's ingestion of marijuana is legal is only part of the equation. The more important question is whether that ingestion negatively affects, limits or impairs a parent's capacity to parent his or her child," Chief Justice Leigh Saufley wrote in the eight-page decision. The case is Daggett v. Sternick.

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. Deborah Dawkins (D-District 48) has filed Senate Bill 2318, which would allow patients with specified conditions to use medical marijuana. The bill doesn't envision dispensaries, but would allow patients to grow their own with a physician's recommendation.

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Rep. Pamela Anderson (D-Fargo) has introduced House Bill 1430, which would allow patients with qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana. But there is a big loophole. Patients could also qualify if they suffer "any persistent or chronic illness or condition that, in the opinion of a physician, substantially limits the ability of a person to conduct one or more major life activities; or may cause serious harm to the patient's safety or mental or physical health if not alleviated; if the illness or condition may be improved by the use of marijuana."

Oregon Bars Medical Marijuana Patients From Being Child Care Providers. The state Early Learning Council has voted to bar patients from being child care providers. The decision follows a six-month temporary rule that was issued last August and gave patients an ultimatum: your patient card or your child care business.

Tennessee Low-THC Cannabis Oil Bill Filed. State Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-District 11) today introduced House Bill 197, which would allow the use of cannabis oil with less than 0.9% THC for medical purposes.

Law Enforcement

Chicago Federal Prosecutors Drop "Stash House" Cases. The US attorney's office in Chicago has dropped dozens of serious drug conspiracy cases that were based on undercover stings where law enforcement agents enticed people into robbing non-existent drug stash houses. The law enforcement technique has come under strong criticism that it amounts to entrapment and is used disproportionately to target minorities. Clarence Walker has covered this issue for the Chronicle here and here.

New York City Pays to Settle Killing of Black Teenager Over Weed. The city has settled with the family of Ramarley Graham, an 18-year-old black teen who was shot dead in his own bathroom by an NYPD cop who had stormed into his apartment without a warrant after suspecting he had marijuana. The killer cop, Richard Haste, was indicted in the shooting in 2012, but a judge threw out that indictment and a second grand jury failed to indict. Police said they suspected he had a gun because of the way he moved his hands near his waist. No weapon was ever found. The city has now agreed to pay the Graham family $3.9 million.

National Sheriffs Association Wants Deputy Attorney General Nominee "Investigated" for Pro-Drug Reform Comments. The group is upset with Vanita Gupta, nominated to head the department's Civil Rights Division. She has called for the decriminalization of all drugs, and that "put her at odds with the goal of public safety," the sheriffs complain. How her publicly made remarks would be "investigated" remains to be seen.

International

Jamaica Senate Begins Debate on Decriminalization. The Senate last Friday began debating a bill that would decriminalize marijuana and establish a licensing authority for a marijuana industry on the island. The bill would also allow for Rastafarians to use ganja for religious purposes. Debate is expected to continue in the Senate in coming days before the bill is sent to the lower chamber. It is expected to pass, since the ruling party, which submitted it, controls both chambers and the opposition also supports its broad outlines.

Venezuela Shoots Down Suspected Drug Plane Off Aruba. The Venezuelan defense ministry confirmed last Friday that its fighter jets had shot down a civilian plane suspected of carrying drugs. The plane went down off Aruba. Aruban officials had reported a day earlier that a plane had come down in flames, and human remains and packages of drugs could be seen in the water. Venezuela has shot down a number of suspected drug planes in recent years.

Chronicle AM: Major Asset Forfeiture Reform Move, NCAA Drug Policy Review, Indonesia Executions, More (1/16/15)

Attorney General Holder announces a major civil asset forfeiture reform move, the NCAA will review its drug policies, a Vermont report on the impact of pot legalization has been released, and more. Let's get to it:

"Policing for profit" just took a big hit thanks to Attorney General Holder. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

No Marijuana Stores in Alaska's Capital Until October. The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly has approved a moratorium on marijuana-related businesses until October 19. City officials will not consider any land use or other permits until the moratorium expires, meaning pot businesses won't be able to grow crops or prepare for retail sales until then.

Report on Impact of Legalization in Vermont Released. Vermont could make tens of millions of dollars in marijuana revenues a year, according to a new comprehensive report released today. The report was commissioned by the state legislature and serves as a policy guide as the state considers legalization. It lays out various options for legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Dead. Rep. Allen Peake's House Bill 1, which would have allowed for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil to treat seizures in children, has died before even being introduced. The bill died after Gov. Nathan Deal (R) announced his support for another CBD bill, which is yet to be written.

Kansas Medical Marijuana Supporters Rally in Topeka. Several dozen medical marijuana supporters were joined by a pair of Democratic lawmakers at a statehouse rally today to call for legalizing the medicinal use of the herb. The two legislators, Rep. Gail Finney (D-Wichita) and Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City), filed medical marijuana bills prior to the start of this year's legislative session. Similar measures have been filed since 2009, but none of them have made it to the discussion stage in committee.

Asset Forfeiture

Attorney General Holder Blocks Federal Asset Forfeiture Sharing Program. In the boldest civil asset forfeiture reform move in years, Holder has barred federal agencies from participating in the Equitable Sharing asset forfeiture program, under which state and local police seeking to circumvent state asset forfeiture laws would let federal agencies "adopt" the seizures. Under the program, the police agency got up to 80% of the proceeds, while state laws typically require them to be deposited in designated accounts, such as the general fund or education funds. Click on the link for the full story.

Drug Policy

NCAA to Consider Revamping Its Drug Policy. In the wake of criticism for suspending a University of Oregon football player for pot smoking just before the collegiate national championship game, and after its Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports informally recommended it, the NCAA will examine proposed changes to its policies for testing both performance-enhancing and recreational drugs. The NCAA's standard for marijuana, for instance, it 10 times that used for airline pilots.

International

Stratfor Report on Mexican Drug Trafficking. The Austin-based private intelligence group has released a free, condensed version of its annual Mexican drug cartel report. Check it out at the link.

Indonesia Set to Execute Six Drug Convicts Sunday. New President Joko Widodo appears to be living up to his vow to not grant clemency to death row drug prisoners. The Indonesian Attorney General's Office announced Friday that it will execute six convicted drug traffickers Sunday. Widodo signed off on the executions last month.

Chronicle AM: Teen Pot Use Not Up, Federal Police Killings Bill Filed, Mexico Mayhem, More (12/16/14)

The Monitoring the Future teen drug use survey is out, the "CRomnibus" bill also killed highway drug use surveys, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) wants better information on police killings, a damning report is released in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

If Walid Jumblatt has his way, this Lebanese hash field could be legal. (cannabisculture.com)
Marijuana Policy

Drug Use Survey Finds Teen Marijuana Use Declining Even as States Legalize. The annual Monitoring the Future survey of teen habits is out today, and it finds that legalization has not sparked an increase in teen pot smoking. The survey found that 24% of eighth, 10th, and 12th graders reported past use marijuana last, down from 26% the year before. And among 12th graders, the number who reported daily use also declined from 6.5% last year to 5.8% this year. There's much more to the survey; click the survey link to see it.

Medical Marijuana

Iowans Organize to Push for More Effective Medical Marijuana Law. The legislature this year passed a bill allowing for the use of low-THC cannabis oil to treat people with epilepsy, but that's not good enough for a new group, Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis. The group today announced it had formed to push legislators to make it possible to produce and dispense medical marijuana.

Driving

Omnibus Spending Bill Cut Funds for NHTSA Roadside Drug Use Surveys. The $1.1 trillion spending bill that has gotten so much attention over its marijuana provisions also bars the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from using funds to complete its "National Roadside Survey." It was a voluntary survey that only collected data from people willing to participate, but came under congressional criticism after a Texas TV station aired a program about a Fort Worth checkpoint where police ordered motorists off the road at random to collect samples.

Law Enforcement

Federal Bill Filed to Increase Reporting of Deadly Force by Police. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) has filed HR 5866, which would "require the Attorney General to issue rules pertaining to the collection and compilation of data on the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers." The bill next was not available at press time. The bill has five cosponsors -- all Democrats -- and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Drug Testing

WorkForce West Virginia Drug Testing Doesn't Find Many Dopers. In its annual report to the legislature, WorkForce West Virginia, the state's employment services program, reported that it had subjected 1,205 people to drug testing upon their seeking tuition reimbursement for employment training programs. Only 1% of them failed. No word on the cost of drug testing all those people.

International

Mexican Federal Police Accused of Collaborating With Local Cops in Case of Missing Student Teachers. In an article published over the weekend, the respected Mexican political weekly Proceso reported that federal police worked together with Iguala police in the September attack on teachers' college students that left 43 missing and presumed dead and which has sparked protests across the country. Proceso also reported that federal police likely tortured key witnesses whose testimony was critical in the federal attorney general's investigation of the case. "We have information that proves the federal government knew what was happening in the moment it was happening, and participated in it," Anabel Hernández, the lead reporter for the Proceso piece, said in an interview. "The government has tried to hide this information." There's much more at the link.

Armed Civilians Block Western Mexico Highways Seeking Crackdown on Cartels, But… Hundreds of armed men blocked highways around nine cities in the Western state of Michoacan over the weekend as a means of pressuring the government to crack down on the Knights Templar cartel. They unfurled banners calling for the arrest of cartel leaders. But at least some of the armed men were identified as members of Los Viagras, a group of gunmen who had once served as the Knights Templar's armed wing and who are now trying to displace them from the drug trade in the state.

Canadian Federal Government Loses Again in Bid to Block Home Medical Marijuana Cultivation. Health Canada earlier this year issued new medical marijuana rules that prohibited home growing and shifted production to commercial operations, but it has so far been blocked by the courts from implementing them, and now it has been blocked again. Patients won an injunction earlier this year to allow them to continue growing their own. Health Canada appealed that decision, but the Federal Court of Appeal has now upheld the injunction.

Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt Calls Again for Legal Hash in Lebanon. Veteran Lebanese power-broker Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Druze community, has renewed his call for legal hash production. "It's time to allow hash to be grown and to overturn arrest warrants against people sought for doing so," wrote in Arabic on his Twitter feed. He expanded his comments in an interview with Al-Jadeed TV. "Never in my life have I smoked marijuana, but I support growing cannabis for medical use and to improve the living conditions of farmers in north Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley. Let's legalize cannabis and regulate its cultivation."

Chronicle AM: INCB Head Frets Over Pot, MS Welfare Drug Test Fiasco, SWAT Fights Back, More (12/5/14)

Global anti-drug bureaucrats are grumbling about marijuana legalization in America, one New York county decides to do asset forfeiture for misdemeanor drug offenses, Mississippi's food stamp drug testing program comes up snake-eyes, the SWAT boys fight to keep their military toys, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Missouri Legalization Initiative Petition Open for Public Comment. A legalization initiative petition sponsored by Show-Me Cannabis has been submitted to the secretary of state's office, and Missouri residents now have 30 days to comment on the initiative petition. They can do so here (it's Petition 2016-009). This is essentially the same petition submitted a month ago, but has been resubmitted with grammatical fixes.

INCB Head Complains About Legalization in US States. Lochan Naidoo, president of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is concerned about the implications of marijuana legalization in US states. "Legalization for recreational use is definitely not the right way to go," he told Reuters in an interview. "We do know about the damage that cannabis does to the brain," the South African physician said. "I'm not sure how well people are going to be able to protect their children." Naidoo added that the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs requires countries to comply with its provisions banning marijuana, and the US should do so in "all its territories."

Asset Forfeiture

New York County Approves Asset Forfeiture for Misdemeanor Drug Cases. Legislators in Orange County Thursday approved a law that allows authorities to seize cash and cars from defendants in misdemeanor drug cases, but only after they have been convicted. The measure passed on a party-line vote with Republicans voting for it and Democrats against despite fierce opposition from sitting Democrats and audience members. DA David Hoovler has portrayed the measure as means of keeping seized assets in the county instead of sending the money to the general fund in Albany, as required under the state's asset forfeiture law.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Welfare Drug Testing Program Has Only Two People Testing Positive. The state law that went into effect in August has so far resulted in 3,656 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, the food stamp program) applicants being screened for drug use, 38 being selected for drug testing, and a grand total of two testing positive for drugs. It's not clear how much the state has spent implementing the program, but Cassandra Welchin, policy director of the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative, said the result was clear. "It's just a waste of money," she said. "Poor working families don't need a barrier to services and this is just another barrier."

Law Enforcement

SWAT Lobby Fights Back Against Policing Reforms in Wake of Ferguson. The National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA), which represents more than 1,500 SWAT teams across the country, has mobilized to protect the federal program that provided military surplus equipment to local law enforcement. NTOA sent emails to all 535 members of Congress urging them not to end or tighten up the Pentagon's 1033 program, which transfers equipment including armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and bayonets to local departments. NTOA executive director Mark Lomax has also been busy, reaching out to congressional offices and testifying before both the House and Senate Homeland Security committees. And it looks like it worked -- Congress will take no action on the program as this year's session winds down. Click on the link for much more.

Chronicle AM: TX Marijuana, TN Asset Forfeiture Reformer, LA DA MedMJ Delivery App Lawsuit, More (12/314)

Houston's police chief criticizes marijuana prohibition, marijuana reform will be before the Texas legislature, LA's DA sues to block a medical marijuana delivery app, a Massachusetts activist pushes boundaries, a Tennessee DA vows to end civil asset forfeiture, and more. Let's get to it:

Will the Lone Star State become the Lone Leaf State?
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Reform Bills Coming in Next Texas Legislature. There will be at least two bills seeking to reform the Lone Star State's marijuana laws when the legislative session begins next month. Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) has pre-filed HB 00414I, which would move simple possession from a more serious to a less serious misdemeanor, but would leave intact the possibility of arrest, as well as impose a stiff $500 fine. The Marijuana Policy Project says the bill doesn't go far enough and that it is working with Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) to introduce a full-blown decriminalization bill, with no arrest and a maximum $100 fine.

Houston Police Chief Says Marijuana Prohibition Failed Policy, Feds Need to Step Up. In an in-depth interview with Dean Becker of the Drug Truth Network, Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland described marijuana prohibition as a failed policy and said the federal government needed to address it. "Most police chiefs understand that when it comes to marijuana use, we cannot (continue) to criminalize such a large population of society that engage in casual marijuana use," McLellan said. "We can't, you just can't continue to do that, we understand that." Click on the links to hear the full interview.

Medical Marijuana

Head of Epilepsy Foundation Wants CBD Cannabis Oil Available Nationwide. Warren Lammert, chairman of the board of the Epilepsy Foundation, and father of an epileptic child, has said he wants CBD cannabis oil used to treat seizures made available nationwide. The Epilepsy Foundation has determined that "an end to seizures should not be determined by one's zip code," and that more research is essential.

Massachusetts Activists Pushes Boundaries With Allston CBD Shop. Veteran Bay State marijuana reform activist Bill Downing has opened a shop called CBD Please in Allston. He claims that his operation is legal because the products he offers are made from high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oils. And he's not too concerned about any reaction from authorities. "The state can do anything they want. They can throw me in jail. They can do whatever they want," said Downing. "But I know I'm doing the right thing and I'm doing it for the right reasons. I'm doing it for the patients here in the state and I really don't care about the bureaucracies trying to stop me because they're immoral. And because the public does not support them." When asked if what he was doing was legal, Downing replied: "I don't know, and I don't care."

LA City Attorney Sues to Block Medical Marijuana Delivery App.The LA city attorney's office Tuesday filed a lawsuit to close down a mobile phone app that sets up home deliveries of medical marijuana. The lawsuit alleges that Nestdrop is a "flagrant attempt" to get around restrictions imposed by voters last year. The city argues that its medical marijuana ordinance only allows patients or caregivers to pick up the medicines themselves and does not allow delivery services. Nestdrop isn't the only the only app offering deliveries in Southern California, but it's the only one that's been targeted.

Asset Forfeiture

Tennessee DA to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. Ray Crouch, DA for the 23rd Judicial District, has announced that his office will no longer pursue civil asset forfeiture cases. The state's civil asset forfeiture has come under repeated criticism for abuses, and Crouch is responding. "I will sit here and guarantee you do not have to be afraid of our office, of the Drug Task Force seizing your property if you're not committing a criminal act," Crouch said. "We're not going to be using civil forfeiture to take anybody's money. If we do, it will be in criminal court because you will be charged with a crime." Click for more detail on the policy changes under Crouch.

Drug Treatment

Federal Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act Gets New Sponsor. The measure, S 2839, is a wide-ranging effort to deal with rising levels of opiate addiction and addresses prevention, naloxone access and training, alternatives to incarceration, "criminal justice medication-assisted treatment and interventions," and more. It has seven cosponsors -- five Democrats and two Republicans. The latest is Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The bill is before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Reentry/Rehabilitation

Federal Second Chance Reauthorization Act Gets New Sponsor. The measure, HR 3465 (companion legislation is S 1690) would extend and expand grants for drug treatment, "offender reentry substance abuse and criminal justice collaboration," and other grants under the 1968 omnibus crime control act. It has 46 cosponsors -- 37 Democrats and nine Republicans. The latest is Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA). It is currently before the Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee.

Did Miami Police Wrongfully Execute Four, Including Their Informant? [FEATURE]

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

Part II of his series on ATF Fake Drug Stings Across America.

During the 1980s, Miami was a rich, glittering, southern city, awash in cocaine, and all sorts of other illegal drugs. The drug scene was so heavy and dangerous, its real-life drama inspired the popular Miami Vice TV series and the classic movie Scarface, as well as the more recent Cocaine Cowboy, an award-winning documentary based on the city's cocaine trafficking scene.

Today, Miami is no longer in the spotlight, but the drug business is still booming. And now there's a new twist: Law enforcement has made the dangerous world of the illicit drug trade even more dangerous by creating schemes to deceive would-be players into robbing drug trafficking stash houses that don't exist, setting up confrontations between robbers and police or robbers and homeowners over crimes cooked up by law enforcement itself.

The "fake robbery sting" is the brainchild of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF), and the pro-active tactic has proven wildly popular, with state and local law enforcement agencies across the country engaging in the stings, particularly in the inner cities. In Miami, the results have included the mass killings of suspects by police SWAT teams under highly questionable circumstances.

A 2011 "fake robbery sting" that left four people dead -- including a police informant -- gunned down by a Miami-Dade SWAT team, has brought the program into harsh relief. Tricked by an informant into believing the residence was loaded with marijuana and large amounts of cash, the four men showed up armed and wearing ski masks.

SWAT officers shot and killed all four of them, including informant Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia, 39, an ex-con who helped police set up the sting. Also killed by police were Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr., age 52, Jorge Lemus, 39, and Antonio Andrew, 36.

A fifth suspect Gonzalez-Valdez Jr., the son of Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr., was the only survivor. Police arrested him at the scene in the getaway vehicle, an Cadillac Escalade located outside the targeted residence. Gonzalez- Valdez Jr. later pled guilty to a litany of brutal home invasion robberies and got 27 years in federal prison.

The dead informant, Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia (Dade County)
Prosecutors investigated the killings, but got little cooperation from the SWAT team. Of the 11 officers involved in the mass killing, only four -- one from each fatal scene -- agreed to give statements to investigators, and only as long as no prosecutors were present. The other seven officers refused to give statements.

Prosecutors decided not to prosecute any of the police involved, making it clear as they did that they were frustrated by their inability to bring charges and that they believed serious police misconduct was involved. Especially damning to police was the State Attorney's Office (SAO) memorandum on the resolution of the case. The SAO report found one killing justified, but barely minced words about the rest of the lethal operation and police cooperation with investigators:

"Due to a number of unusual, counter-intuitive, suspicious and/or disturbing factors present in the other three shootings, we cannot state definitively that those shootings were legally justified. Nevertheless, because we do not have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to disprove the version of events given by the three officers and are thus compelled to accept their testimony as truthful [bolding and italics in original],… there is insufficient evidence to prove an unlawful killing of Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia, Antonio Andrew, or Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. by any of the other 10 officers involved in the events of June 30, 2011."

That claim of legal compulsion drew a scoffing rebuke from Jeanne Baker, an attorney for the ACLU of Florida. "There's no rule of law that says that the prosecutors when evaluating a case are compelled to accept as truthful the testimony of the subject of the investigation," she told Miami NBC 6 News.

The SAO report further accused the officers of lying to investigators, moving dead bodies, and possibly planting evidence. The shootings were so disturbing that the State Attorneys went so far as to say "the officers weren't necessarily innocent."

The prosecutors' outrage was palpable, but what really lit up the city was the release by NBC 6 News of a video tape from a police helicopter's infrared camera that showed a replay of the men shot multiple times, although it appeared the men had not fired a shot at the officers and actually had surrendered.

Confronted with the now public video evidence, Miami police officials went on the offensive, expressing resentment that NBC Channel 6 got access to the secret police helicopter surveillance video. Miami-Dade Police Director J.D. Patterson asked the State Attorney's Office to investigate how the video tape showing the shootings fell into the hands of reporters.

A police spokesman said the informant, Rosendo Betancourt, defied officers' orders not to go onto the property, and that the officers, hidden in the dark, said it appeared the would-be robbers were trying to reach for weapons.

But consider the case of Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. The one weapon -- fully loaded -- that was allegedly his was located a few yards from where his body was found. Police had shot him 40 times as cowered against a tree in the fetal position. Police did not explain how Gonzalez-Valdez was threatening them with a weapon yards away from him.

Police officials also complained about the release of information in a State Attorney's Office report revealing that Betancourt, had been wearing a well-disguised audio wrist watch to record conversations. Betancourt could be seen wearing the watch during a surveillance video recorded earlier on June 30, 2011, the day of the killings.

Betancourt had been given code words to signal to police that he was their informant, and the audio surveillance from his watch would have showed whether or not he did so. But the audio wrist watch somehow went missing.

"That would've been a critical piece of evidence," said Jose Arrojo, a Chief Assistant at the State's Attorney Office.

Although police managed to thwart any attempt to prosecute them, the taxpayers of Miami-Dade have not been so fortunate. In July, the city agreed to pay $600,000 to the families of three of the men to settle a deadly force lawsuit. Betancourt's family didn't settle, and their lawsuit against the city remains pending.

The Redland sting -- named after the neighborhood where it went down -- remains one of the bloodiest episodes in a city that has seen its share of questionable police killings. And it raises serious questions about police misconduct and impunity.

"Are there questions marks? Of course. There are too many questions marks," State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle admitted in an interview with Miami's NBC Channel 6.

Fernandez-Rundle said it was reasonable to conclude that based on the evidence that the officers acted with negligence and may have violated proper police procedures by shooting the men, particularly when an analysis of audio recording of the shooting proved "definitely" that six of the officers did not hear a gunshot from one of the dead men, nor did anyone find a rifle belonging to any of the men, as reported by an officer who said Jorge Lemus had a rifle.

Fernandez-Rundle also cited as another factor in her decision not to file charges a Florida appeals court decision that, she said, held "that any violation of police procedures and training is not admissible as evidence in criminal cases."

"The cops violated his civil rights," Jesse Dean-Kluger, an attorney involved in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Antonio Andrew, told the Miami New Times in 2012. Dean-Kluger argued the cops led the men into a scheme to expect an armed confrontation with drug dealers.

Deadly Operation: An Informant Comes Forward

So where did everything began in the first place? While most people snitch to avoid going to prison or for the easy money, police said Betancourt walked into a Miami-Dade robbery detail in June 2011 out of a sense of moral duty. He told a harrowing tale about being "sick and tired" of extreme violence inflicted on victims by a group of brutal home-invasion robbers.

Betancourt said the violence carried out by the men he knew personally included savage beatings, the cutting of one man's scrotum, using a hammer to pound the toes and fingers of the victims, cutting off fingers, and issuing threats to cut off childrens' fingers to force parents to reveal hidden valuables and money.

Police investigators questioned Betancourt as to how he knew so much about the crimes, Betancourt explained the men regularly sold him the stolen goods that were taken during the robberies. He identified Roger Gonzalez Valdez Sr., Jorge Lemus, Antoinio Lewis and Gonzalo-Valdez Jr. -- as the men responsible for the violent robberies Miami-Dade cops were already investigating.

Police developed a scheme to Betancourt as an informant to lure the men into a plot to rob a drug dealer's marijuana stash house in Redland, a suburb of Miami.

Attorney Matthew Leto is representing the Betancourt-Garcia family. (hlhlawfirm.com)
Between 8:00pm and 8:30pm on June 30, 2011, the men arrived at the "fake drug house" located at 18930-216th Street SW in Redland. Once the men agreed on an entry plan, they cut through a fence to reach the house -- and as they trudged closer; suddenly, police snipers, hidden among the shadows, armed with Colt M4 Commando assault rifles, stormed out from different directions in the dark to pursue the men who, now aware they'd been set up, scattered throughout the property. It is unclear if the officers commanded the men to "halt," but officers fired upon each suspect.

The first suspect killed, an armed Jorge Lemus, was shot to death while crouching down behind a vehicle. Informant Rosendo Betancourt died next in a hail of bullets. An overhead police helicopter infrared camera captured Betancourt surrendering to police with his hands up in the air. Next, police ordered Betancourt to lie on the ground, and crawl towards the officers. Betancourt complied.

The SAO report stated Sergeant Manuel Malgor then ordered Betancourt to turn over, and at this point, according to Malgor, this is when the informant got blasted 23 times -- just as it appeared to Malgor that Betancourt reached for his gun. Indeed a weapon was found in Betancourt's waistband but the lawyers representing Betancourt's family suspected the police planted the gun.

They had other questions, too. Why didn't Betancourt utter the code word assigned by police: "I'm heading to Disney World -- or help!" And what happened to the missing audio watch that Betancourt was wearing to record conversations between himself, the police and the robbers, a watch that could be clearly seen that he was wearing during the "real time" surveillance -- only a few hours before he was killed.

Aerial video footage did not actually capture Sgt. Malgor and fellow officers shooting Betancourt, thus, the prosecutors said, they "could not disprove the Sergeant's story," but they seriously questioned why the officer did not handcuff Betancourt as he laid on his stomach.

"The police let him down," a family member lamented.

Antonio Andrew was shot a dozen times while lying on the ground. Again, the officers claimed Andrew reached for a gun, although State prosecutors determined the officers gave contradictory orders.

For example, one officer hollered at Andrew, "Don't move your hands, and let me see your hands underneath your waistband." When Andrew obeyed the second command, an officer said Andrew made a quick movement towards his waist area. And this is when officers fired a dozen shots, killing Andrew instantly.

When a NBC Channel 6 reporter asked Assistant State Attorney Don Horn how someone can make a simultaneous move for his waistband -- when an officer said Andrew's hands were already in his waistband, Horn replied in disgust, "I don't know. It made no sense to me."

Even more disturbing, Horn wasn't able to question the officer (why) he gave obvious conflicting commands or ask the officer any other question because the officers, as mentioned earlier, would only speak to investigators if no prosecutor was present.

Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. either dropped or discarded his gun as he tried to flee the scene. Police eventually found Gonzalez cowering at the base of a tree. The officer seen on the released video behind the tree with Gonzalez's "back" to him said in his statement that Gonzalez made a quick move into his waistband, a move that allegedly forced the officers to open fire, striking Gonzalez 40 times out of 50 shots fired.

But prosecutors question whether the officer had a good view of Gonzalez near the tree, as the officer claimed. "Our repeated reviews of the video caused us to question whether the officer... was even in a position to see what he saw," the attorneys wrote.

State prosecutors also said the evidence showed that officers moved Gonzalez-Valdez's body after they shot him dead. Here's why prosecutors suspected this: a black hand-held police radio was found in Gonzalez's hand.

"We have a system of justice that require apprehension, prosecution, conviction and sentencing," said attorney Justin Leto of Miami, who handled the wrongful death lawsuit for Jorge Lemus and Antoinio Andrew. "I don't see any evidence indicating these people needed to be shot on sight," Leto said.

Justin Leto's brother Matthew is representing the Betancourt family in its pending federal lawsuit.

"The police did not take care of Mr. Betancourt like they promised," said Matthew Leto.

That lawsuit appears to be the end of the story. Four men are dead -- gunned down by police in an operation more reminiscent of an elite military anti-terror raid than of what we traditionally think of as civilian law enforcement -- and there is no legal accountability. Impunity is something we criticize in heavy-handed Latin American or Middle Eastern governments, but perhaps we need to look in the mirror.

Miami, FL
United States

California Defelonization Initiative Appears Poised for Victory [FEATURE]

While the nation focuses on marijuana legalization initiatives in Alaska, the District of Columbia, and Oregon, a California initiative that would turn drug possession felonies into misdemeanors is quietly heading for a likely victory at the polls in November.

Proposition 47, the smartly named Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, is sponsored by two prominent California law enforcement figures, former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne and current San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, and the campaign is being led by Californians for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools. It has lined up an impressive array of supporters, ranging from crime victims' groups to the Catholic Church and racial and social justice organizations.

The initiative would attempt to address the state's chronic over-incarceration problems by moving six low-level, nonviolent crimes from felony/wobblers to misdemeanors. A "wobbler" is an offense that can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor. Among the included offenses is simple drug possession. (The others include shoplifting under $950, check forgery under $950, and petty theft or receipt of stolen property under $950.)

About 10,000 people are arrested on drug possession felonies each year in the state.

Passage of Prop 47 would also help the state get closer to meeting a looming deadline from the federal courts to shrink its prison population. A new study by the California Budget Project finds that Prop 47 would move in that direction by reducing the number of people sentenced to prison and by allowing those already serving time for such offenses to petition for resentencing in county jails.

In addition to reducing prison overcrowding, Prop 47 aims to reduce felony caseloads in the court system, thus freeing up criminal justice resources for more serious and violent crime. According to the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office, if the initiative passes, there would be "state and county criminal justice savings potentially in the high hundreds of millions of dollars annually."

Savings from a successful Prop 47 would be dedicated to investment in mental health and drug treatment (65%), K-12 school programs for at-risk youth (25%), and trauma recovery services for crime victims (10%). The impact could be substantial.

San Francisco's DA is a Prop 47 proponent. (wikimedia.org)
"This initiative is very important for California," said Anthony Thigpen, president of California Calls, an alliance of 31 community-based organizations across the state. "We need new safety priorities that stop wasting resources on over-incarceration and invest in treatment and prevention. It's better for state and local budgets, better for public safety and better for the health of all of our communities."

While mainly flying under the radar, Prop 47 has still managed to pick up popular support. A California Field Poll in June and July had the initiative winning with 57% of the vote. And just this week, the campaign got even better news. A Public Policy Institute of California poll released Tuesday had support for the initiative at 62%, with only 25% opposed.

It has also picked up financial support. According to the California secretary of state's office, Prop 47 campaign committees have taken in more than $3.4 million in donations (including more than $1.2 million from the Open Society Policy Center, $600,000 from the Atlantic Advocacy Fund, and several six-figure donations from individuals). And while the campaign has spent more than $2 million so far, it still has about $1.2 million in the bank right now, and will continue to fund raise to finance last-minute advertising.

If that is even necessary. Prop 47 has picked up organized opposition, in the form of the Californians Against Prop 47 campaign finance committee, but the committee, representing groups including the California Police Chiefs Association, the California Peace Officers Association, and the California Correctional Supervisors Association, has so far raised only $42,000. That doesn't buy a lot of TV ad time.

Opponents charge that Prop 47 would "release dangerous inmates," "tie judges' hands," and is "completely unnecessary" because the state's ongoing "realignment" is already shifting prisoners from the state to the county level. But the initiative's proponents rebut those charges, arguing that it "keeps dangerous criminals locked up," "prioritizes serious and violent crime," and "provides new funding for crime prevention and education."

California State Prison, Solano, and example of the state's voracious prison-industrial complex (cdcr.ca.gov)
"The reason I support this measure is simple: The more addiction and mental health services we provide to communities hardest hit by crime, the less likely another mom will find herself in my shoes. Having to tell your children that their daddy was shot and they will never see him again is something I wouldn't wish on anyone," said Dionne Wilson of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.

The group is a key part of the campaign and serves as a counterpoint to other crime survivors groups that oppose the initiative, such as Crime Victims United. That group has joined forces with law enforcement and the state district attorneys association to oppose Prop 47.

"When three out of four people go back to prison within three years -- and it's been that way for 30 years -- it's obvious that we need a new plan," Wilson continued. "This measure will save a ton of money that would be wasted on incarcerating nonviolent people for nonviolent crimes, which will then be reinvested into trauma care for victims, mental health services and drug treatment. I think that's what a sound public safety strategy looks like."

Prop 47 is also a response to the lack of action on the issue in Sacramento, or, more precisely, action thwarted in Sacramento. Last year, a defelonization bill sponsored by Sen. Jay Leno (D-San Francisco) passed the legislature, only to be vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

"Unable to get meaningful sentencing reform through Sacramento, this initiative is a tremendous opportunity to make responsible and significant fixes to our broken criminal justice system by allowing simple drug possession and other non-violent petty crimes to be treated appropriately as misdemeanors, avoiding the lifelong collateral consequences that go along with felony records and the unsustainable court and incarceration costs that accompany mass felonization in California," explained Lynne Lyman, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Prop 47 looks well-positioned to emerge victorious in November. But we're six weeks out now, and this is when initiative campaigns tend to heat up. The opposition is going to do its best to scare Californians into voting no, but it doesn't -- yet -- have enough money to make much of a media splash. At this point, it looks like California is on the verge of taking another big step toward addressing its chronic incarceration crisis.

CA
United States

Chronicle AM: Joe McNamara Passes, Rand Paul Speech, OAS Drug Resolution, More (9/22/14)

Oregon's Measure 91 picks up a nice endorsement, a marijuana legalization vote in York, Maine, is snuffed out, decrim advances in the US Virgin Islands, Rand Paul tells the GOP to reach out on drug policy, Joe McNamara dies, the OAS passes a drug policy resolution, and more. Let's get to it:

Joseph McNamara in his days as San Jose Police Chief. (SJPD)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Legalization Initiative Endorsed By Former US Attorney. Former Oregon US Attorney Kris Olson today endorsed Measure 91, the Oregon marijuana legalization initiative. "I enforced our marijuana laws, and they don't work," she said. "Filling our courts and jails has failed to reduce marijuana use, and drug cartels are pocketing all the profits." Olson was US Attorney for Oregon from 1994 to 2001. Meanwhile, the Oregon State Sheriff's Association has made a $100,000 donation to the No on 91 campaign.

York, Maine, Effort to Get Marijuana Vote on Ballot Thwarted. A state court judge last Friday rejected an effort to put a local marijuana possession legalization on the ballot in York. York County Superior Court Judge Paul Fritzsche sided with town councilmen, who had rejected two citizen petitions seeking the vote. Fritzsche ruled that York cannot regulate marijuana because it is governed by state and federal law. Two other Maine towns, Lewiston and South Portland, will vote in November. The state's largest city, Portland, approved a similar initiative last year.

US Virgin Islands Decriminalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana was approved by the Virgin Islands Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Public Safety, and Justice last Thursday. The measure is Bill 30-0018. It would make possession of an ounce or less of weed a civil offense punishable by a fine of between $100 and $200, with the possible forfeiture of the contraband.

Medical Marijuana

Today is Deadline Day for Illinois Medical Marijuana Business Applicants. People who want to operate medical marijuana businesses have until 3 pm CDT to hand in their applications to state agencies. The Illinois Medical Marijuana Pilot Program has more information.

Drug Policy

Rand Paul Calls on Republicans to Embrace Drug Reform, Other Non-Traditional GOP Planks. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) used a speech Saturday to the California GOP convention to call on the party to reach beyond its base by embracing issues such as drug reform, privacy in personal communications, voting rights, and an anti-interventionist foreign policy. Republicans need to "show compassion for people," especially young black and brown people disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. "If you look at surveys, it's not that they're using drugs more than your kids are using drugs, it's because they're getting caught because they live in an urban environment with more patrols, they have less good attorneys, they don't have the resources, and some of the laws are still frankly wrong," he said.

Law Enforcement

Pentagon Surplus Arms Program Let Military Weapons Go to Police Forces That Abused Civil Rights. The Pentagon's program to distribute surplus military equipment to US civilian police forces allows even agencies that have been censured by the Justice Department for civil rights violations to receive lethal weaponry. The Defense and Justice Departments have apparently not been coordinating on the program, the Associated Press reports.

Obituaries

Drug Reforming Police Chief Joe McNamara Dies at 79. One of the earliest law enforcement voices for drug reform is no longer with us. Former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara died last Friday at his home in Monterey, California. He is credited with bringing progressive reforms to the San Jose Police Department in the 1970s. After retiring as police chief in 1992, he went to work at the Hoover Institution, where he continued and sharpened his criticism of the war on drugs. "He was the police chief who became the most deeply involved in the drug policy reform movement," said Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, who had worked with McNamara on issues for the past 25 years. "He was convinced the drug war was a total disaster and he needed to speak out about that."

International

OAS Issues Resolution on Drug Policy. At its 46th Special Session in Guatemala City last Friday, the Organization of American States passed a resolution calling for states to "regularly review the drug policies adopted, ensure that they are comprehensive and focused on the well-being of the individual, in order to address their national challenges and assess their impact and effectiveness." The resolution also called on states to develop drug policies "that prevent social costs or contribute to their reduction; and, when appropriate, reviewing traditional approaches and considering the development of new approaches, based on scientific evidence and knowledge." And it calls for states to develop comprehensive approaches that examine "the structural causes, triggers, and the multiple factors that contribute to violence and crime" with a view to taking them into account when drafting the 2016-2020 Hemispheric Plan of Action on Drugs. Click on the link to read the OAS press release.

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