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Chronicle AM: Marijuana Policy in Senate Races, CA Fair Sentencing Act, Stanton Peele on Disease Model, More (9/29/14)

Marijuana politics is popping up in some US Senate races, pot arrests are still going up in some states, the Guam medical marijuana initiative faces a legal challenge, Stanton Peele takes on the disease model of addiction and liberals who love it, Jerry Brown signs the California Fair Sentencing Act, and more. Let's get to it:

Addiction psychologist Stanton Peele rips into liberals who embrace the disease model of addiction. (YouTube.com)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy in the Kentucky US Senate Race. Pot politics is playing a role in the Kentucky Senate race. Both incumbent Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Grimes agree that industrial hemp is a good thing, but Grimes said last Thursday she wants to have a discussion on legalizing marijuana, especially for medical purposes. McConnell retorted last Friday that he opposes legalizing marijuana for any reason because the state has a heroin problem and it would send the wrong message.

Nebraska Democratic US Senate Candidate Open to Legalization. The Democratic nominee for the US Senate from Nebraska is open to marijuana legalization. "I think we should give very serious consideration to legalization of marijuana," Dave Domina said Thursday. "If I were a philosopher king, we wouldn't have it, but I'm not and we need to spend our law enforcement dollars as intelligently as we can. That's not on marijuana enforcement. "What we should do is to make safe and dispense responsibly the drugs that are the most common, the least dangerous," he said. "I'm not saying they are desirable. I don’t think cigarettes are desirable, frankly. But nonetheless, I think that’s what we need to do. We need to methodically make marijuana available to people on a rational basis. It needs to be safely distributed and it needs to be taken away from crime as a profit center." The Republican nominee, Ben Sasse, didn't take a firm stand on the issue.

Marijuana Arrests Up in 17 States. Marijuana legalization may be inevitable, but some states haven't gotten the message. According to a new report from marijuana researcher Dr. Jon Gettman, even though national marijuana arrests peaked in 2007, marijuana arrests increased in 17 states between 2008 and 2012. Those states and their rates of annual increase are: South Carolina (11.6%), Washington, DC (7.7%) South Dakota (7.7%), North Dakota (5.5%), Utah (4.5%), Illinois (4.3%), Montana (3.5%), Idaho (3.2%), Virginia (2.6%), New York (2.4%), New Jersey (2.4%), Oregon (2.1%), Tennessee (1.7%), Wisconsin (1.2%), Vermont (1%), Michigan (1%), and West Virginia (1%). The report is Marijuana in the States 2012.

Overblown Analogy Department. The Polk County, Florida, Sheriff's Office is sounding the alarm over high-THC cannabis oil, popularly known as "wax" or "dabs," but its spokesperson is relying on an old bogeyman to get her message across. "This particular drug is to marijuana the way crack is to cocaine," Donna Wood said.

Medical Marijuana

Guam Attorney Seeks to Block Medical Marijuana Initiative. Voters in Guam are set to vote on a medical marijuana initiative submitted by the territorial legislature next month, but a Guam attorney has asked the US District Court there to block the vote. Howard Trapp argues that the legislature can't legally "pass the buck" to voters, even though the island's Supreme Court said it could in an August ruling. The election commission has until October 7 to respond to the filing.

First Illinois Patients Get Their Cards. Jim Champion, an Army vet who suffers from multiple sclerosis, is apparently the first Illinois patient to get his medical marijuana card. His came last week. He is the first of more than 2,000 Illinois residents who have applied under the state's new law.

New York Governor Asks Justice Department to Allow State to Acquire Medical Marijuana from Other States. Last Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General David Cole asking the Justice Department to extend a narrow, time-limited exception to federal law to allow the importation of certain strains of medical marijuana from other states for use by children in New York with severe forms of epilepsy. The letter follows a similar letter sent last month by the Cuomo administration to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Drug Policy

Dr. Stanton Peele on the Disease Theory of Addiction. Drug war critic and iconoclastic addiction psychologist Dr. Stanton Peele has penned a provocative screed critical of the disease theory of addiction and political liberals who embrace it. The article is "Why Liberals Love the Disease Theory of Addiction, by a Liberal Who Hates It."

Sentencing

California Fair Sentencing Act Signed Into Law. California Gov. Jerry Brown Sunday signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which will undo racial disparities in the sentencing of cocaine offenders under laws passed during the crack cocaine hysteria of the 1980s. Brown did not issue a signing statement. The law, Senate Bill 1010, eliminates sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses. It also eliminates related disparities in probation and asset forfeiture guidelines for those offenses.

International

Uruguay Presidential Candidate Says Pot Smoker Registry Could Be Used to Identify People Needing Drug Treatment. Former President Tabare Vazquez, who is running to return to the office, has proposed using the state's registry of marijuana users to expose them to drug treatment. He was attempting to frame the law as a rehabilitative measure, but critics say it could dissuade users from registering with the state. Vazquez's remarks also run afoul of provisions in the law that limit revealing such data "without the individual's express written consent."

(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.)

California Fair Sentencing Act Signed Into Law

California Gov. Jerry Brown Sunday signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which will undo racial disparities in the sentencing of cocaine offenders under laws passed during the crack cocaine hysteria of the 1980s. Brown did not issue a signing statement.

CA state Sen. Holly Mitchell's bill to eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity has been signed into law.
The law, Senate Bill 1010, eliminates sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses. It also eliminates related disparities in probation and asset forfeiture guidelines for those offenses.

"Whether sold as crack or powder, used on the street or in a corporate penthouse, the penalty for cocaine use should be the same for everybody," said Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), chair of California's Legislative Black Caucus. "My bill establishes fairness in sentencing. We must break the drug-driven cycle of arrest, lock-up, unemployability and re-arrest," Mitchell went on to say. "The law isn't supposed to be a pipeline that disproportionately channels the young, urban and unemployed into jail and joblessness."

Although crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug, legislation in the 1980s, driven by fear, misinformation, and political posturing, created much harsher penalties for crack cocaine offenses.

The racial impact of those laws was dramatic. In California, 77% of people imprisoned for crack offenses are black, 18% are Hispanic, and less than 2% are non-Hispanic whites. With blacks making up only 6.6% of the state's population, they are clearly being hit disproportionately by the crack sentencing disparity.

"The California Fair Sentencing Act takes a brick out of the wall of the failed 1980's drug war era laws that have devastated communities of color, especially Black and Latino men," said Lynne Lyman, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "We are actively dismantling institutional racism. I hope California's action gives momentum to the remaining 11 states that still retain this unjust and irrational racial disparity in their penal codes."

The bill was sponsored by a dozen civil rights, racial justice, and criminal justice reform groups. It also won the support of the district attorneys of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, and San Francisco counties.

Sacramento, CA
United States

Chronicle AM: AR Initiative Rejected, SWAT Lobby Gears Up, Israel Bans New Synthetics, More (8/22/14)

It's back to the drawing board for an Arkansas legalization initiative, we have a pair of Minnesota court cases, the Michael Brown killing starts bleeding into drug-policy related areas, Israel bans new synthetics, and more. Let's get to it:

history repeats itself (image is of and infamous 1914 NYT editorial)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Wording for Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has rejected the proposed wording for a prospective 2016 legalization initiative, the Cultivate Hemp and Regulate Marijuana Amendment. The name and ballot title are ambiguous and have "misleading tendencies," McDaniel wrote. Read the opinion here.

Fewer Than One in Five New Yorkers Oppose Marijuana Reform. According to a new Quinnipiac Poll, only 19% of New Yorkers oppose legalizing marijuana for personal or medical use, while 44% say it should be available for medical purposes and another 35% say it should be legal for personal use.

Asset Forfeiture

Minnesota Supreme Court Rules Evidence from Illegal Search Can't Be Used in Asset Forfeiture Proceedings. The state high court ruled Wednesday that evidence derived from a traffic stop that was determined to be unlawful cannot be used to seize someone's property. The court held that Fourth Amendment proscriptions against unlawful search and seizure apply to civil cases as well. The case is Daniel Garcia-Mendoza v. 2003 Chevy Tahoe.

Drug Testing

Minnesota Drug Testing Law's Worker Protections Don't Extend Outside State, Federal Court Rules. The state's Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace ACT (DATWA) doesn't apply to state residents working or applying to work outside the state, a federal court has ruled. DATWA provides employees with the right to challenge positive drug test results and to try to seek treatment before being fired, but in Olson v. Push, Inc, the court ruled that those protections did not apply to drug tests taken for employment outside Minnesota.

Law Enforcement

SWAT Lobby Gears Up to Keep Access to Surplus Military Equipment. In the wake of unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of Michael Brown, the practice of equipping local law enforcement with surplus military equipment has come under significant criticism. Now the "SWAT lobby," in the form of the National Tactical Officers Association, is moving to ensure that access to military hardware remains unimpeded. It sent a mass email to all congressional offices lamenting the situation in Ferguson, but the bottom line was that police need that surplus military equipment.

Race

The Return of the Drug Crazed Negro. Reason magazine's Jacob Sullum has penned a piece noting the revival of a century-old racist trope -- that of the drug-crazed black man -- in the wake of the police shooting of 18-year-old black man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Sullum notes that conservative commentators have been quick to speculate that he was hopped up on PCP or some other drug that made him crazy enough to attack a cop. Autopsy results say he had smoked marijuana.

International

Young Europeans Split on Marijuana Legalization. The European Union's polling arm Eurobarometer has found Europeans 15 to 24 divided on legalization. According to its poll of 13,000 respondents, 45% favored marijuana legalization, with 53% opposed. European youth was much more unified when it came to other drugs -- more than 90% said drugs like cocaine, ecstasy, and heroin should be illegal.

Israel Bans 10 New Synthetic Drugs. Health officials in Israel have banned 10 new synthetic drugs, or "kiosk drugs," as they are known there. They include synthetic cannabinoids, stimulants, and hallucinogens.

Chronicle AM: OR Dems Just Say Yes, DEA Tightens Screws on Vicodin, CT's First Dispensary Opens, Peru Coca Eradication, Venezuela Plane Shootdowns (8/21/14)

Oregon Dems just say yes, Connecticut's first dispensary opens, the DEA tightens the screws on Vicodin, guess who's more likely to get busted for pot in Ferguson, Missouri, and more. Let's get to it:

coca plants (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Democratic Party Endorses Legalization Initiative. Oregon's Democratic Party has endorsed Measure 91, the New Approach Oregon marijuana legalization initiative. "A majority of Americans and large majority of Democrats now support state regulation of legal marijuana use," the party said. "Measure 91 is the right approach to legalization in Oregon, strictly regulating use while funding law enforcement and schools. Vote Yes on 91."

No Decriminalization Vote in Toledo in November. Even though Northwest Ohio NORML turned in sufficient signatures to qualify a decriminalization initiative for the local ballot earlier this month, voters will not have a chance to get their say in November because the city council failed to act by today. The council doesn't have another meeting set until last week. It's unclear if the initiative is now dead, or if it will go on the ballot at a later date.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Gets First Medical Marijuana Dispensary. The first dispensary in the state opened Wednesday night in South Windsor. Prime Wellness of Connecticut is the first of six dispensaries approved for licenses by the Department of Consumer Protection. The rest will be opening in coming weeks or months.

Prescription Opiates

DEA Tightens Rules on Popular Pain Relievers. It is about to get more difficult to obtain popular pain medications based on hydrocodone, including widely prescribed drugs such as Vicodin. The DEA announced today that it is moving hydrocodone combination drugs from Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to Schedule II. Drugs containing only hydrocodone were already placed on Schedule II, but drug combinations containing hydrocodone plus other substances, such as aspirin or acetaminophen, have been Schedule III since the CSA was passed in 1970.The DEA will publish the final rule establishing the change in the Federal Register tomorrow. It will go into effect in 45 days.

Law Enforcement

Blacks in Ferguson, Missouri, More Than Three Times More Likely Than Whites to Be Arrested for Marijuana Possession. In its podcast this week, Missouri drug reform group Show-Me Cannabis points to the drug war connection in the tensions between police and residents in the predominantly black St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, plagued by more than 10 days of unrest since the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. Show-Me's John Payne points out that black residents of Ferguson are 3.25 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. Click on the title link to listen to the podcast.

International

West Africa Drugs Commission Head Says Region Must Step Up, Deal With Political Weakness. Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who also heads the West Africa Commission on Drugs, said countries in the region must confront their political and institutional weaknesses if they are to get a handle on the drug trade. "West Africa is no longer only a transit zone of drugs but an attractive destination where pushers take advantage of the weak political system to perpetuate their trade," he said during a meeting with Ghana's President John Mahama."We believe that we should confront openly the political and governance weaknesses which the traffickers exploit," Obasanjo said. "Drug barons can buy, they can do, and they can undo -- buy officials in the military, security and pervert justice." The commission has called on West Africa to decriminalize drug use and treat the issue as a public health problem.

Peru Aims to Eradicate 75,000 Acres of Coca Plants This Year. Peru's anti-drug agency, DEVIDA, says it has already eradicated 30,000 acres of coca plants this year and plans to eradicate another 45,000 acres by years' end. The eradication is being done manually and in tandem with $90 million crop substitution program. About 125,000 acres are under cultivation for coca. Peru is arguably the world's largest coca producer (vying with Colombia), and 90% of the crop is estimated to be destined for the illicit cocaine trade.

Venezuela Has Shot Down at Least Three Suspected Drug Planes in Last Year. At least three planes flying out of Mexico and suspected of carrying drugs have been shot down over Venezuela since last November. This Vice News report goes into detail on the search for one of the missing pilots.

Comedian Randy Credico's Deadly Serious Quest to Run New York [FEATURE]

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is widely expected to cruise to an easy victory in the Democratic primary on September 9, despite festering influence-peddling scandals, despite his embrace of corporate benefactors, and despite his lackluster support for the ever-popular medical marijuana. He faces only one traditional challenger, Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout.

Credico campaign ad in The Nation magazine
But he also faces the insurgent candidacy of comedian, satirist, political gadfly, and perennial candidate Randy Credico, who bills himself as "the most progressive candidate since FDR" and who is running on an anti-corporate and pro-drug reform platform. That's nothing new for Credico, who has long been active in the Rockefeller drug law repeal movement, the prison reform movement, and other progressive social movements.

"Cuomo's father built 37 prisons, Teachout's father [a judge] sends people to prison, my father went to prison -- I know what it does to families," Credico said, beginning to sketch out not only the policy differences but the life experiences that sets him apart from the other contenders.

Credico's father did 10 years in Ohio for a nonviolent offense, the candidate explained.

Credico lays out his platform on the home page of his campaign web site, and it is the stuff of a populist backlash to both overweening corporate control and the state's alive-and-kicking prison/law enforcement industrial complex.

Keeping to the FDR comparison, he calls for "A New Deal for New York" to "Tax Wall Street, Not Main Street," bring "Benefits for the average person," "Clean up City Hall and policing," and "Build infrastructure to create jobs." The platform calls for taxes on the sales of stocks, bonds, and derivatives, income-based real estate taxes, and a more progressive income tax, as well as raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, lowering subway fares and other transit tolls, and providing Medicare for all.

But his drug policy platform is also something to behold, and goes well beyond the baby steps taken by even the most progressive mainstream politicians. His criminal justice planks include:

  • legalize marijuana;
  • close Attica prison;
  • ban racial profiling and end stop and frisk;
  • end the Rockefeller drug laws; and
  • direct election of all criminal judges.

The Candidate (credico2014.com)
"I'm for decriminalizing all drugs and legalizing marijuana," Credico told the Chronicle Monday. "I'm not sure if the state is ready for legalizing cocaine and heroin, but I can't believe methadone is better than heroin. We ought to be transforming Rikers Island from a penal colony to a center for job training, education, and treatment. When Attica exploded, there were only 10,000 people in the state prison system; now there are 10,000 on Rikers alone."

[Editor's Note: The 1971 Attica state prison riot left 43 people dead, including 10 guards, and was a spark for the prisoners' rights movement of the 1970s.]

Although the draconian Rockefeller drug laws have been reformed in recent years and the prison population has declined somewhat -- from an all-time high of 95,000 at the end of 2006 to just over 81,000 at the end of June -- there are still more than 10,000 people serving prison time for drug offenses, or, as Credico notes, more than there were people in prison for anything 40 years ago.

"This is happening under the purview of Democrats," he said. "Attorney General Eric Schneiderman walked with us against the Rockefeller laws, but he's been captured by the powers that be and has ignored any calls for further reform, not just of the drug laws, but also of odious prison conditions."

Once upon a time, political candidates had to deny ever having smoked marijuana. Then, one famously denied ever having inhaled. Now, they admit to having used, but brush it off as a youthful indiscretion from their wild school days. Not Credico.

"I've admitted being a pot smoker," he said. "Not every day, but it's been good for me. I smoked and I inhaled, and I believe marijuana is better for you than e-cigs. People should have access to it. It's better than drinking or doing blow," he added.

But Credico even argues that he should have the right to do blow, if that's what he wants to do.

"I can eat Ritalin, I can gobble down all those pharmaceuticals, but if somebody shows up with some pure Bolivian, I want to try that. That's against the law? Who is responsible for that, and who is enforcing it? Nobody gives a shit if I smoke a joint or do a line," he declared.

At a forum at the New York Society for Ethical Culture (credico2014.com)
Of course, that could be because Credico is a middle-aged white guy. But New York City, Credico's home, is infamous for its arrests of tens of thousands of young black and brown city residents each year on marijuana charges, and Credico, of course, is aware of that.

"All the kids I see getting arrested are black. It's against the law to smoke pot -- if you're black," he scoffed.

"They arrest 50,000 kids for smoking pot, but I smoked it at the state capitol, and they wouldn't arrest me," he said. "We have 55,000 homeless people in this city, 20,000 homeless kids. Just think what we could do if marijuana was legal and taxed and we used it to rebuild the infrastructure and create low cost housing. Instead, he keep arresting brown and black kids."

Credico's campaign is low-budget, but he's using tactics honed by years of activism to get his message out. He travels to events throughout the city and state and works crowds -- many of whom already know him from his years of activism around prison issues.

"I'm focusing on the projects; that's where I'm getting my support," he said. "People are tired of the marijuana arrests, the abuse by police. We need a state law banning racial profiling. We're supposed to be the guiding light of the nation, and we don't have a racial profiling law."

Credico is using social media to the best advantage he can. He's produced an award-winning documentary, Sixty Spins Around the Sun, to explain how he's gotten to the point where he's spending his 60th year trying to unseat a powerful incumbent governor, and he's got a Facebook campaign page.

Over the weekend, he penned a piece for the Huffington Post, "Is New York Ready for a Governor Who's Ready to Inhale?", but when it comes to mainstream media attention, he feels like the Rodney Dangerfield of New York politics.

"I don't get no respect," he intoned. "I'm running against two people from the ruling class."

But at least he was on his way to do an interview with NY 1, one of the city's 24-hour cable news channels. And the campaign continues.

(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.)

NY
United States

Chronicle AM -- August 11, 2014

Germans march for marijuana, Washington state takes in a million in taxes from the first month of pot sales, New Mexico local decriminalization initiatives struggle to make the ballot, Central Florida cops make a bunch of small-time drug busts, a new poll has some old results on the success of the drug war, and more. Let's get to it:

Poster for last Saturday's Hemp Parade (Hanfparade) in Berlin.
Marijuana Policy

$3.8 Million in Marijuana Sales in Washington's First Month. The Washington State Liquor Control Board reported last Friday that the first month of legal marijuana retailing generated $3.8 million in gross sales. The state expects to collect about $1 million in tax revenues from the sales. That's about half of what Colorado did in its first month, but Washington is off to a slower start, with only 18 stores selling weed in July.

Gavin Newsom Says He Will Support Marijuana Legalization on 2016 California Ballot. California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) says he will support whatever marijuana legalization initiative makes the ballot in 2016. That will probably be the one he is working on as part of a California ACLU task force studying legalization. The task force hopes to release a report on the issues around legalization by year's end.

Santa Fe Decriminalization Initiative Hands in More Signatures. After coming up short after their first signature hand-in, ProgressNow New Mexico and Drug Policy Action, the campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, the sponsors of the Santa Fe decriminalization initiative, handed in additional signatures last Friday. The ballot initiative calls for making the penalty for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana and possession of marijuana-associated paraphernalia a civil infraction punishable by a fine of no more than $25.

Albuquerque Decriminalization Initiative Comes Up Short on Signatures. Sponsors of an Albuquerque decriminalization initiative -- the same folks involved in the Santa Fe initiative -- came up with only 9,172 valid voter signatures, short of the 14,218 needed to qualify for the ballot. The city had originally said they needed only 11,000 signatures, and there was talk of legal action if sponsors met the original goal, but they didn't even manage to do that.

Medical Marijuana

Northern Arizona University Rejects Dr. Sue Sisley Medical Marijuana Research Proposal. Dr. Sue Sisley, who was fired by the University of Arizona over what she says is her support medical marijuana, has lost a bid to do her study at the University of Northern Arizona. She had received FDA approval and a $1 million grant from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies to study its effects on PTSD in veterans, but that study is now in limbo until she finds a new home for it.

Guam to Vote on Medical Marijuana Initiative in November. The Guam Electoral Commission last Thursday approved putting the Joaquin "KC" Concepcion II Compassionate Cannabis Use Act of 2013 on the November ballot. The act would allow for the creation of medical marijuana dispensaries, with regulations and rules to be developed later by a government commission. The commission had balked at the move, but a Guam Supreme Court decision earlier last week said the legislature has the right to put measures before the voters. Under Guam law, the referendum must get more than 50% of the voters of all voters who vote in the general election, not just a simple majority.

Clock Ticking on Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Initiative. Oklahomans for Health, the group behind the state's effort to get a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot, is running out of time. The group has until Friday to turn in 150,000 valid voter signatures, but it has so far gathered only 120,000 raw signatures. With a typical disqualification rate of 20-30%, the group would likely need more than 200,000 raw signatures to make the ballot.

Illinois Medical Marijuana Licensing Starts Next Month. Patients and caregivers wanting to enroll in the state's medical marijuana program can begin applying for licenses on September 2, state officials said last Friday. Application materials are available at the web site for the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program.

Utah Issues First Registration Cards for High-CBD Cannabis Oil Treatment. The Department of Health has issued registration cards to 11 patients for its new program allowing people with severe epilepsy to use high-CBD cannabis oil. People with the cards can legally possess high-CBD cannabis oil, but they will have to get it out of state. The main producer of the extract, next door in Colorado, has a lengthy waiting list.

Drug Policy

Rasmussen Poll: 84% Say War on Drugs is Being Lost. A new Rasmussen Poll finds that 84% believe the nation is losing the war on drugs. Only 3% though it was winning. Americans are split on financing the drug war, with one third saying we're spending too much, 29% saying not enough, 17% saying spending levels are about right, and 22% unsure. The poll also has Americans split down the middle on marijuana legalization, with 43% for and 43% against. Click on the link for more details.

Law Enforcement

Polk County, Florida, Narcs Make String of Petty Drug Busts. The Polk County Sheriff's Department narcotics unit, the joint state-federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Task Force, and Haines City Police combined to make a string of drug busts last week, arresting 17 people. But a perusal of the charges shows that they were primarily low-level. Twelve of the charges involved simple drug possession, most of them for marijuana, and many of them with the additional charge of being within 1,000 feet of a church. Most of the other charges were for small-time marijuana sales, again within 1,000 feet of a church. A handful of the arrests also involved other drugs, usually for possession or small-time sales. The arrests appeared to target the local African-American community.

International

Thousands March for Marijuana in Germany. Thousands of people calling for marijuana legalization marched through Berlin on Saturday for the city's annual Hemp Parade (Hanfparade). This year's slogan was "Green Light for Legalization," with marchers hoping legalization in Uruguay and two US states will lead to the same in Germany.

DC Marijuana Initiative Makes November Ballot

The DC Board of Elections today officially certified for the November ballot an initiative that will legalize the cultivation and possession of small amounts of  marijuana. DC now joins Alaska and Oregon in voting on marijuana legalization this fall.

The board certified Ballot Initiative 71, sponsored by the DC Cannabis Campaign. The campaign needed some 23,800 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. It had turned in more than twice that number of raw signatures.

The initiative will allow adults 21 and older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants -- with no more than three being mature -- in their private residences. Adults will also be allowed to give away up to an ounce of marijuana, but any sales would still be criminal. The initiative will also remove penalties for using and selling marijuana paraphernalia.

Because DC law forbids taxation through the initiative process, the initiative does not create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales. If the initiative passes, it will be up to the DC city council to take the final steps toward full-blown legal marijuana commerce in the nation's capital.

"It is clear from the number of signatures the campaign was able to submit that the citizens of the district would like to have a say in reforming the marijuana laws of the District," said Dr. Malik Burnett, vice-chair of the DC Cannabis Campaign and the DC Policy Manager for Drug Policy Action, the lobbying and campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The policies of prohibition in the District have been borne on the backs of black and brown men for decades, by voting YES on 71, District residents can put an end to this failed policy."

"This initiative comes at a great time and in a great place," said Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "The District has one of the country's highest rates of racial disparities in arrest and is right at Congress's doorstep, where more and more political leaders from both sides of the aisle are beginning to follow their constituents in recognizing that drug policy reform is one of the most effective ways to address the problems of our current criminal justice system."

According to an ACLU report released last year, Washington, DC has the highest arrest rate for marijuana possession in the country, with blacks more than eight times as likely as white to be arrested, despite similar rates of use.

Led by longtime DC political activist Adam Eidinger, the DC Cannabis Campaign counted on support of local citizens, Drug Policy Action, and Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps to come up with the money to make the ballot. Now, it's on to winning in November.

Washington, DC
United States

End the Drug War "For the Kids" Coalition Forms [FEATURE]

In a move precipitated by the child immigration border crisis, but informed by the ongoing damage done to children on both sides of the border by law enforcement-heavy, militarized anti-drug policies, a broad coalition of more than 80 civil rights, immigration, criminal justice, racial justice, human rights, libertarian and religious organizations came together late last week to call for an end to the war on drugs in the name of protecting the kids.

The failures of the war on drugs transcend borders. (wikimedia.org)

"The quality of a society can and should be measured by how its most vulnerable are treated, beginning with our children," said Asha Bandele of the Drug Policy Alliance, the organization that coordinated the letter. "Children have every right to expect that we will care for, love and nurture them into maturity. The drug war is among the policies that disrupts our responsibility to that calling."

The groups, as well as prominent individuals such as The New Jim Crow author Michelle Alexander, signed on to a letter of support for new policies aimed at ending the war on drugs.

"In recent weeks," the letter says, "the plight of the 52,000 unaccompanied children apprehended at the US border since last October, many of whom are fleeing drug war violence in Central America, has permeated our national consciousness. The devastating consequences of the drug war have not only been felt in Latin America, they are also having ravaging effects here at home. All too often, children are on the frontlines of this misguided war that knows no borders or color lines."

Organizations signing the letter include a broad range of groups representing different issues and interests, but all are united in seeing the war on drugs as an obstacle to improvement. They include the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Center for Constitutional Rights, the Institute of the Black World, Presente.org, Students for Liberty, United We Dream, the William C. Velasquez Institute, and the Working Families Organization. For a complete list of signatories, click here. [Disclosure: StoptheDrugwar.org, the organization publishing this article, is a signatory.]

In the past few months, more than 50,000 minors fleeing record levels of violence in the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have arrived at the US border seeking either to start a new life or to reconnect with family members already in the country. The causes of the violence in Central America are complex and historically-rooted, but one of them is clearly the US war on drugs, heavy-handedly exported to countries throughout the Western Hemisphere in the past several decades.

Those northern Central American countries -- the so-called Northern Triangle -- have been especially hard hit by drug prohibition-related violence since about 2008, when, after the US helped Mexico bulk up its war on the drug cartels via the $2.4 billion Plan Merida assistance package (President Obama wants another $115 million for it next year), the cartels began expanding their operations into the weaker Central American states. Already high crime levels went through the roof.

Honduras's second largest city, San Pedro Sula, now has the dubious distinction of boasting the world's highest murder rate, while the three national capitals, Guatemala City, San Salvador, and Tegucigalpa, are all in the top 10 deadliest cities worldwide. Many of the victims are minors, who are often targeted because of their membership in drug trade-affiliated street gangs (or because they refuse to join the gangs).

Protesting for schools, not prisons in California (Ella Baker Center)
The impact of the war on drugs on kids in the United States is less dramatic, but no less deleterious. Hundreds of thousands of American children have one or both parents behind bars for drug offenses, suffering not only the stigma and emotional trauma of being a prisoner's child, but also the collateral consequences of impoverishment and familial and community instability. Millions more face the prospect of navigating the mean streets of American cities where, despite some recent retreat from the drug war's most serious excesses, the war on drugs continues to make some neighborhoods extremely dangerous places.

"In the face of this spiraling tragedy that continues to disproportionately consume the lives and futures of black and brown children," the letter concludes, "it is imperative to end the nefarious militarization and mass incarceration occurring in the name of the war on drugs. So often, repressive drug policies are touted as measures to protect the welfare of our children, but in reality, they do little more than serve as one great big Child Endangerment Act. On behalf of the children, it is time to rethink the war on drugs."

Although the signatory groups represent diverse interests and constituencies, coming together around the common issue of protecting children could lay the groundwork for a more enduring coalition, said Jeronimo Saldana, a legislative and organizing coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.

"The idea was to get folks together to make a statement. Now, we have to figure out how to move forward. The letter was the first step," he said.

"The groups have been very positive," Saldana continued. "They're glad someone was speaking up and putting it all together. What's going on in Central American and Mexico is tied into what's happening in our own cities and communities. This crosses partisan lines; it's really obvious that the failed policies of the war on drugs affects people of all walks of life, and the images of the kids really brings it home. We hope to build on this to get some traction. We want folks to continue to make these connections."

Different signatories do have different missions, but a pair of California groups that signed the letter provide examples of how the drug war unites them.

Child refugee in a US border detention facility (presente.org)
"We have a history of working on behalf of youth involved in the criminal justice system and their families," said Azadeh Zohrabi, national campaigner for the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. "We see desperate families trying to stay connected, strong, and healthy, but mass incarceration is really making that difficult. We work both with families whos kids are involved in the justice system and with families with one or both parents in prison or who have lost custody of their kids because of their involvement in the criminal justice system," she explained.

"We are working to combat this, and we think the war on drugs overall has had disastrous consequences for families, both here and abroad," Zohrabi continued. "The trillions poured into policing and militarization has just produced more misery. It's time for drugs to be dealt with as a public health issue, not a crime."

"We signed on because the letter is very clear in addressing an important component of the discussion that hasn't really been out there," said Arturo Carmona, executive director of the Latino social justice group Presente.org. "This crisis on the border is not the result of deferring actions against immigrant child arrivals, as many right-wing Republicans have been saying, but is the result of one of the most deadly peaks in crime and violence in the Northern Triangle in recent memory," he argued.

"The violence there is one of the main push factors, and when we talk about this in the US, it's critical that we acknowledge these push factors, many of which are connected to the war on drugs," Carmona continued. "You'll notice that the kids aren't coming from Nicaragua, where we haven't been supporting the war on drugs, but from countries that we've assisted and advised on the drug war, where we've provided weaponry. This is very well-documented."

While Presente.org is very concerned with the immigration issue, said Carmona, there is no escaping the role of the war on drugs in making things worse -- not only in Central America and at the border, but inside the US as well.

"We're very concerned about the chickens coming home to roost for our failed war on drugs policy," he said. "The American public needs to be made very aware of this, and we are starting to see a greater understanding that this is a failed policy -- not only in the way we criminalize our young Latino and African-American kids here in the US, but also in the way this policy affects other countries in our neighborhood. As Nicaragua shows, our lack of involvement there has seen a lower crime rate. Our military involvement through the drug war is an abysmal failure, as the record deaths not only in Central America, but also in Mexico, shows."

Rand Paul Files Crack Sentencing Reform Bill

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) last Thursday filed Senate Bill 2657 the RESET (Reclassification to Ensure Smarter and Equal Treatment) Act to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The potential 2016 GOP presidential contender unveiled the bill publicly the following day as he pitched his criminal justice reforms before an African-American audience at the National Urban League.

Rand Paul (congress.gov)
The bill would also reclassify some low-level federal drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. And it seeks to address the issue of drug weights in food items by clarifying that only the weight of the drug itself -- not the weight of the food containing it -- can be used in charging decisions, thus resulting in lesser charges for defendants.

As of early Tuesday morning, the text of the bill is not yet up on the congressional web site, but can be viewed here.

The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, but this bill would totally equalize the penalties by removing the sentencing enhancements for crack.

It's been a busy month for Paul when it comes to criminal justice matters. In addition to the RESET Act, he has also introduced an asset forfeiture reform bill and a medical marijuana amendment explicitly allowing states to set their own laws. And he also cosponsored, along with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), another sentencing reform bill.

Washington, DC
United States

Sentencing Commission Cuts Up to 46,000 Drug War Prisoners' Sentences [FEATURE]

In a much anticipated move, the US Sentencing Commission last Friday voted unanimously to retroactively apply previously approved reductions in federal sentencing guidelines to federal drug war prisoners already serving their sentences. The move means more than 46,000 federal prisoners will be able to apply for sentence reductions.

"This amendment received unanimous support from Commissioners because it is a measured approach," said Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission. "It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety."

It's not going to be a flood of inmates suddenly walking out of federal prisons. Prisoners will not be able to seek sentence cuts until November 1 and none will be released before November 1, 2015. Those cuts will average about two years, turning what are currently average 11-year sentences to average nine-year sentences.

It is not quite a done deal. Congress has until November 1 this year to move to block it, but there appears to be little sign of any significant effort underway to do so.

The move is the latest in an effort by the Sentencing Commission to reduce the excesses of drug sentencing resulting from harsh laws passed mostly in the 1980s. It comes as the federal prison population continues to expand, even as state prison populations have begun to shrink following the enactment of sentencing reforms at the state level.

Before the Commission acted, it opened the issue to public comment, and the response indicated intense interest in making the move. The Commission received some 65,000 letters during the comment period, the vast majority endorsing the proposed change. Commenters included nearly a dozen US senators and representatives, including members of both the House and the Senate judiciary committees, all of them in support of the move, as well as federal judges, civil liberties, civil rights, and sentencing and drug reform groups.

According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, there are 100,549 people serving federal time for drug offenses, accounting for nearly half (49.7%) of all federal prisoners. The next two biggest categories are weapons offenses (15.7%) and immigration offenses (10.4%).

Sentencing Commission Chair Judge Patti Saris (uscourts.gov)
The federal prison population has tripled since 1991, largely driven by harsh drug war sentences, the Sentencing Commission found, and the federal prison budget is now eating up $6 billion a year, or one quarter of the entire Justice Department budget. The federal prison system is currently 32% over capacity, with that figure rising to 52% over capacity in maximum security prisons.

The Sentencing Commission acted in April to redress harsh prison sentences by reducing the base offense levels in drug quantity tables in the federal sentencing guidelines so that drug offenses are scored lower in the federal sentencing grid. That reduces the length of possible sentences for a given offense under the guidelines.

"The Commission has the statutory duty to ensure that the guidelines minimize the likelihood that the federal prison population will exceed capacity," Judge Saris explained. "Reducing the federal prison population has become urgent, with that population almost three times where it was in 1991" and high prison costs "are reducing the resources available for federal prosecutors and law enforcement, aid to state and local law enforcement, crime victim services, and crime prevention programs -- all of which promote public safety," she added.

"Many of the same factors which led us to vote in April to reduce drug guidelines support making those reductions retroactive," Saris continued. "The same changes in the guidelines and laws I mentioned earlier that made the lower guideline levels more appropriate prospectively also make lower guideline levels appropriate for those offenders already in prison, most of whom were convicted after many of these statutory and guideline changes were already in place. In addition, retroactive application of the amendment would have a significant impact on reducing prison costs and overcapacity, which was an important purpose of the amendment, and the impact would come much more quickly than from a prospective change alone."

The Sentencing Commission's action was greeted with cheers from the drug reform and sentencing reform communities.

The Sentencing Commission during a May public hearing. (uscourts.gov)
"We did it!" exclaimed Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) president and founder Julie Stewart. "We got full retroactivity of the drug guideline amendment! Because of your help, 46,000 federal drug offenders sentenced before November 1, 2014, will now be eligible to file a motion in federal court asking for a shorter sentence. I am thrilled with this outcome, especially because we did it together," she said. "More than two dozen FAMM supporters were present with me in the hearing room when the Commission voted in favor of full retroactivity. All of us were overjoyed at the result."

"The Sentencing Commission has promoted fundamental fairness by making its amendment retroactive, ensuring that sentence dates do not determine sentence lengths," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. "This vote reflects an historic shift in the decades-long war on drugs, which has filled half of federal prison cells with people convicted of drug offenses. That war has come at a ruinous cost for all Americans, but particularly for communities of color. Not only has there been an enormous financial cost to the public, but there is little evidence to suggest that excessively punitive federal drug policies have improved public safety," he said.

"Retroactive application of the drug guidelines amendment is an important step toward addressing the unjust racial disparities produced through federal sentencing policies as well," Mauer added. "Because drug law enforcement has disproportionately affected African Americans and Latinos, reduced drug penalties will help to mitigate the effect of harsh sentencing policies on communities of color."

"It makes little sense, of course, to reform harsh sentencing laws proactively but not retroactively," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But that's what politicians do when they're scared of allowing people out of prison early. The Sentencing Commission really had no choice but to rectify the moral absurdity of keeping people locked up based on sentences that are no longer the law. What they did today was right and just."

The Sentencing Project's Mauer told the Chronicle Tuesday he thought it unlikely that Congress would attempt to block the reform.

"I have not heard of any significant opposition that is developing," he said. "My guess is that since it was a unanimous recommendation from the commission and that this is an election year and members have that on their minds, I'm optimistic there won't be any serious threat of this not going through."

Still, prisoners, their friends, families, and supporters will be waiting for that November deadline for congressional action to pass before they exhale. But it does look as if the federal government has taken a rather significant step in reversing some of the worst excesses of the drug war.

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