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Chronicle AM: DEA Issues Carfentanil Warning, Malaysia to Hang Man for MJ Trafficking, More... (9/23/16)

The DEA issues a warning on a powerful emerging opioid, Michigan marijuana legalizers turn their eyes to 2018, Malaysia sentences a man to death for pot dealing, and more.

Marijuana Policy

This Year's Legalization and Medical Marijuana Initiatives Could Add $7.8 Billion to US Economy. A new report highlighting the rush of capital into the legal pot business estimates that expanding the legal marijuana market into the states that have initiatives on the ballot this year could add $7.8 billion to the nation's economy by 2020. The report is from New Frontier Data and Arcview Market Research. The report said legalization could generate a billion in taxes in California alone.

Undaunted Michigan Legalizers Lay Plans for 2018. After losing their battle in the courts to get all their signatures counted, the folks at MI Legalize are already gearing up for 2018. The group turned in 354,000 signatures for this year, but some were not counted because they were gathered outside a 180-day window. The group said is going to restructure itself in preparation for another petition drive.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Issues Carfentanil Warning to Police and Public. "DEA has issued a public warning to the public and law enforcement nationwide about the health and safety risks of carfentanil. Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid that is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which itself is 50 times more potent than heroin. DEA, local law enforcement and first responders have recently seen the presence of carfentanil, which has been linked to a significant number of overdose deaths in various parts of the country. Improper handling of carfentanil, as well as fentanyl and other fentanyl-related compounds, has deadly consequences," a DEA press release said.

Drug Policy

Sen. Leahy Files Bill to Fund Heroin and Methamphetamine Task Forces. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has filed S 3359, which would allocate $17 million a year in grants to state law enforcement to fund drug task forces aimed at heroin, prescription opioid, and methamphetamine trafficking.

International

Dutch Moving Toward Allowing Legal Marijuana Cultivation. Draft legislation that would regulate legal marijuana cultivation now appears to have backing from a majority of members of parliament. The bill had been pushed by the liberal D66 Party, with backing from Labor, Green Links, the Socialists, and an animal rights party. That was not quite enough. But now, two MPs who left the anti-Islamic PVV to form their own breakaway party say they will support the measure, and that should be enough to pass it. Stay tuned.

Malaysia Sentences Unemployed Man to Death for Marijuana Trafficking. The High Court in Kuala Lumpur Friday sentenced Ibrahim Musa Rifal, 32, to be hanged after he was convicted of trafficking about 20 pounds of marijuana. Under the country's 1952 Dangerous Drugs Act, such a charge carries a mandatory death sentence.

Chronicle AM: Good MJ Polls in CA/NV, Lynch Rejects Gateway Theory, MI MedMJ, More... (9/22/16)

New polls show marijuana legalization initiatives leading in California and Nevada, Michigan will soon see medical marijuana dispensaries, Missouri won't get to vote on medical marijuana this year, Attorney General Lynch rejects the gateway theory, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Latest California Poll Has Prop 64 Winning Handily. A new Public Policy Institute of California poll has the Prop 64 legalization initiative with 60% support and only 36% opposed. Support is at 65% in the Bay Area, 60% in San Diego and Orange County, 57% in Los Angeles, and even 55% in the conservative Inland Empire. This poll is in line with other recent polls, which all have the initiative winning in November.

Nevada Poll Has Question 2 Leading By 14 Points. A new KTNV-TV 13 Action News/Rasmussen poll has the Question 2 legalization initiative with 53% support, with 39% opposed. This is an increase in support of two points over the same poll in July.

New Jersey Assemblyman Filed Legalization Bill. Conservative Republican Assemblyman Michael Carroll has introduced Assembly Bill 4193, which "Legalizes marijuana and provides for records expungement for certain past marijuana offenses; treats marijuana products similar to tobacco products, including use of civil penalties for providing marijuana to persons under 19 years of age."

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Court Throws Out Challenge to Medical Marijuana Initiative. The state Supreme Court has rejected a bid to throw the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act (Question 7) off the November ballot. Foes had challenged the initiative's ballot language, but the high court said they had not proven it was insufficient. Two court challenges remain, one against Question 7 and one against the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment (Question 6), both of which have qualified for the ballot.

Colorado Legislative Panel Approves PTSD as Medical Marijuana Condition. An interim committee of the Legislative Council has backed a proposal to make PTSD a qualifying medical marijuana condition. If the measure is approved by the Council as a whole, it would then be favorably introduced at the start of the next legislative session.

Illinois Judge Orders State to Add Post-Operative Chronic Pain to List of Qualifying Conditions. A Cook County judge has ordered the director of the Department of Public Health to add the condition within the next 30 days. The judge has also set a hearing for November 3 "to ensure the Director's compliance with this order."

Michigan Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Package. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) Wednesday signed into law a package of bills that will clarify the state's medical marijuana law and explicitly allow for dispensaries to operate. The bills also set taxes on dispensaries, allow for the use of tinctures and lotions, and establish "seed to sale" tracking systems.

Missouri Medical Marijuana Initiative Will Not Make November Ballot. A Cole County circuit court judge has ruled against overturning petition signatures ruled invalid by local officials. New Approach Missouri came out just shy of valid signatures after local election officials denied about 10,700 signatures, leaving their initiative about 2,000 signatures short of qualifying.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Loretta Lynch Rejects Notion Marijuana is Gateway Drug. In an address as part of a week-long emphasis on heroin and opioid misuse and abuse, Lynch forthrightly dismissed the gateway theory that marijuana is a stepping stone to more serious drug use. "When we talk about heroin addiction, we usually, as we have mentioned, are talking about individuals that started out with a prescription drug problem, and then because they need more and more, they turn to heroin," Lynch said. "It isn't so much that marijuana is the step right before using prescription drugs or opioids -- it is true that if you tend to experiment with a lot of things in life, you may be inclined to experiment with drugs, as well. But it's not like we're seeing that marijuana is a specific gateway."

International

Vietnam Sentences Nine to Death for Heroin Trafficking. A court in northern Vietnam has sentenced nine people to death for trafficking nearly 1,400 pounds of heroin from Laos and Thailand over a four-year period. Another three people were sentenced to life in prison.

Seattle Aims to Open the First Safe Injection Sites in the US [FEATURE]

Seattle and surrounding King County are on a path to establish the country's first supervised drug consumption sites as part of a broader campaign to address heroin and prescription opioid misuse. A 99-page report released last week by the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force calls for setting up at least two of the sites, one in the city and one in the suburbs, as part of a pilot project.

The facilities, modeled on the Canadian government-funded InSite supervised injection site in Vancouver, just 140 miles to the north, would be places where users could legally inject their drugs while under medical supervision and be put in contact with treatment and other social services. There have been no fatal overdoses in the 13-year history of InSite.

Although such facilities, which also operate in various European countries and Australia, have been proven to reduce overdose deaths and drug use-related disease, improve local quality of life, and improve the lives of drug users, they remain controversial, with foes accusing them of "enabling" drug use. Thus, the report refers to them not as "safe injection sites," or even "supervised consumption sites," but as the anodyne "Community Health Engagement Locations" (CHELs).

"If it's a strategy that saves lives then regardless of the political discomfort, I think it is something we have to move forward," said County Executive Dow Constantine, discussing the plan at a news conference last week.

The safe sites will address the region's high levels of opioid and heroin use, or what the task force called "the region's growing and increasingly lethal heroin and opioid epidemic." As the task force noted, the number of fatal overdoses in the county has tripled in recent years, with the rate of death rising from roughly one a week (49) in 2009 to one very other day (156) in 2014. The current wave of opioid use appears centered on young people, with the number of people under 30 seeking treatment doubling between 2006 and 2014, and now, more young people are entering detox for heroin than for alcohol.

Outside Vancouver's InSite (vch.ca)
Overdose deaths actually dropped last year to 132, thanks to Good Samaritan laws that shield people who aid overdose victims from prosecution and to the wider use of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. But that's still 132 King County residents who needn't have died. Task force members said the CHELs would help reduce that number even further.

"The heroin epidemic has had a profound effect not just on our region, but across our country as a whole," said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. "It is critical that we not only move forward with meaningful solutions that support prevention and treatment, but that we remove the stigma surrounding addiction that often creates barriers to those seeking help.

Not only are key local elected officials on board, so is King County Sheriff John Urquhart. He said the safe site plan was workable.

"As long as there was strong, very strong, emphasis on education, services, and recovery, I would say that yes, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks," he said. "We will never make any headway in the war on drugs until we turn the war into a health issue."

The region may willing to embrace this ground-breaking harm reduction measure, but it is going to require some sort of federal dispensation to get around the Controlled Substances Act and the DEA. How that is going to happen remains to be seen, but Seattle is ready.

The task force wasn't just about CHELs. In fact, the safe sites are just a small, if key, component of a broad-based, far-ranging strategy to attack the problem. The task force report's recommendations come in three categories:

Inside Vancouver's InSite (vch.ca)
Primary Prevention

  • Increase public awareness of effects of opioid use, including overdose and opioid-use disorder.
  • Promote safe storage and disposal of medications.
  • Work with schools and health-care providers to improve the screening practices and better identify opioid use.

Treatment Expansion and Enhancement

  • Make buprenorphine more accessible for people who have opiate-use disorders.
  • Develop treatment on demand for all types of substance-use disorders.Increase treatment capacity so that it’s accessible when and where someone is ready to receive help.

Health and Harm Reduction

  • Continue to distribute more naloxone kits and making training available to homeless service providers, emergency responders and law enforcement officers.
  • Create a three-year pilot project that will include at least two locations where adults with substance-use disorders will have access to on-site services while safely consuming opioids or other substances under the supervision of trained healthcare providers.

Will Seattle and King County be able to actual implement the CHELs? Will the federal government act as obstacle or facilitator? That remains to be seen, but harm reductionists, policymakers, and drug users in cities such as Portland, San Francisco, and New York will be watching closely. There have been murmurs about getting such sites up and running there, too.

Chronicle AM: LA Times Endorses Prop 64, Urgent Action Time on Kratom, More... (9/19/16)

Donations are starting to flow for and against reform initiatives, California's largest newspaper endorses marijuana legalization, so do Italian cops, a new study suggests medical marijuana may reduce opioid-related auto fatalities, it's time to act to keep kratom off Schedule I, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Dr. Bronner's Kicks In $660,000 for Legalization Initiatives. The magic soap and organic products maker -- and longtime drug reform supporter -- Dr. Bronner's had pledged to contribute at least $660,000 to the initiatives in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. "The expected sweep of these states will exert enormous pressure on federal lawmakers to end the racist outdated policy of cannabis prohibition, that shreds productive citizens' lives and families for no good reason, and focus law enforcement resources instead on actual crime," officials for Dr. Bronner's said in an announcement released Monday.

Los Angeles Times Endorses Prop 64. California's largest newspaper has hopped on board the legalization bandwagon with an editorial endorsing the Prop 64 initiative. Saying that "the federal government has effectively ceded its role and left it to the states to create a new national marijuana policy," the Times editorial board asks if it is time "to treat marijuana less like heroin and more like alcohol" and answers its own question in the affirmative. "On balance, the proposition deserves a 'yes' vote. It is ultimately better for public health, for law and order and for society if marijuana is a legal, regulated and controlled product for adults. Proposition 64 -- while not perfect -- offers a logical, pragmatic approach to legalization that also would give lawmakers and regulators the flexibility to change the law to address the inevitable unintended consequences."

Massachusetts Legalization Supporters Celebrate With Big Freedom Rally Turnout. Thousands of people turned out for the annual Boston Freedom Rally this weekend, jazzed by the prospect of being able to vote "yes" on the Question 4 legalization initiative in November.

Mississippi Legalization Initiative Campaign Gearing Up. A measure known as Initiative 60, which would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over, has been approved for signature gathering in Mississippi. To make it to the 2018 ballot, organizers will need roughly 86,000 valid voter signatures, with at least 17,000 from each of the state's five congressional districts. They have one year for signature-gathering.

Medical Marijuana

Study of Fatal Car Crashes Suggests Medical Marijuana May Curb Opioid Use. A study conducted at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health has found that fewer drivers killed in car crashes tested positive for opioids in medical marijuana states than before those laws went into effect. The findings will be published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

Florida Medical Marijuana Foes Get a Million Dollars From Sheldon Adelson.Las Vegas casino magnate and conservative philanthropist Sheldon Adelson is again attempting to sway Florida voters away from approving medical marijuana. In 2012, Adelson spent $5.5 million to help defeat the initiative; this year, he has recently kicked in another one million.

Nine out of Ten Montana Medical Marijuana Patients Have No Legal Provider. With the GOP-led legislature's 2011 gutting of the state's medical marijuana program now in effect, 93% of the state's more than 12,000 registered patients have no registered provider. That means unless they can grow it themselves, they are out of luck. An initiative that would restore the state's medical marijuana program, I-182, is on the November ballot.

Kratom

It's Urgent Action Time to Fight DEA's Proposed Kratom Ban. The American Kratom Association is asking supporters to urge their congressional representatives to sign onto a bipartisan "Dear Colleague" letter asking the DEA to slow down the process of placing the herb on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. The group is urging supporters to call or email their reps BEFORE 5:00 PM ET TUESDAY.

Sentencing Reform

Federal Sentencing Reform Dead for the Year. Efforts to further reform federal drug sentencing in this congressional session are dead, congressional leaders said late last week. While the consensus legislation appeared set to pass earlier this year, opposition from some Republican lawmakers has killed it. Some Republicans opposed cuts in mandatory minimums, others were angry at President Obama for freeing so many federal drug prisoners, and the "law and order" campaign of Donald Trump seems to have been the final nail in the coffin.

International

Italy's Largest Police Union Calls for Marijuana Legalization. The SIULP, Italy's primary police union, has now come out in support of legalization. A bill to do just that is currently before the Italian parliament, with growing support.

Governor of Mexico's Guerrero State Again Calls for Legalization of Opium Production. Guerrero Gov. Hector Astudillo has again called for the legalization of poppy production for medicinal purposes. "We must look for other paths that bring about less tension, less conflict, and less violence," he said as he reiterated a call first made in March. Guerrero is one of the centers of opium production in Mexico, and production is increasing as local farmers switch from coffee to poppy due to low coffee prices.

Chronicle AM: AK Marijuana Social Club Battle, Oregonians Like Legalization, More... (9/16/15)

Oregonians have no regrets about legalizing weed, a new Cato report studies the impact of state-level legalization so far, the Alaska battle over marijuana social clubs gets heated, and more.

A newly filed federal bill would study and recommend outreach for dealing with new psychoactive substances. (LA Dept. of Health)
Cato Report on Impact of State-Level Marijuana Legalization. The libertarian-leaning Cato Institute has released a report on the impact of legalization in the four states that have gone that route so far. Here's the bottom line: "Our conclusion is that state marijuana legalizations have had minimal effect on marijuana use and related outcomes. We cannot rule out small effects of legalization, and insufficient time has elapsed since the four initial legalizations to allow strong inference. On the basis of available data, however, we find little support for the stronger claims made by either opponents or advocates of legalization. The absence of significant adverse consequences is especially striking given the sometimes dire predictions made by legalization opponents."

Alaska AG Faces Heat Over Ruling That Pot Social Clubs Are Illegal. Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth authored an opinion two weeks ago that marijuana social clubs were illegal, but legislators Wednesday took her to task, saying she was making an unnecessarily broad interpretation of initiative language that banned marijuana use "in public." Several businesses have opened as clubs, saying that because they require membership, they are not public. But Linesmuth was undeterred: "The initiative bars public consumption, and if you're joining others that you don't know in a club, that's a public place," Lindemuth said. But House Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Anchorage) demurred: "There are lots of definitions of what a public place may be for different purposes," she said. "I think when most people voted on the initiative, to the extent that they were looking at public places, they figured that just meant you can't have people smoking joints while walking down the street. I think that's what the definition of public meant to most people." Given Lindemuth's stance, a legislative fix may be the only solution.

Poll: Oregonians Happy With Marijuana Legalization. A new DHM Research poll finds that 61% of Oregon voters think legalization has had a positive impact on the state. That's five points higher than the 56% who voted for it in 2014. "Big picture, I think Oregonians are relatively satisfied," pollster John Horvick said. "I don't think a lot of minds have changed, but the general acceptance of marijuana continues apace. There hasn't been a backlash."

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Governor Signs Bill Allowing Medical Marijuana Use at School. Gov. Jack Markell (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 181, which allows registered medical marijuana patients to use their medicine while on school grounds. The law allows for cannabis-based medicines such as tinctures and oils to be used. Delaware is now the third state to enact such a law, following Colorado and New Jersey. The new law takes effect immediately.

New Psychoactive Substances

New York US House Member Files Bill to Study and Educate About New Synthetic Drugs. Rep. Nydia Velasquez (D-NY) Thursday filed the "Synthetic Drug Overdose Prevention and Education Act," which would authorize the Centers for Disease Control to complete a study or studies on how to combat the use of new synthetic drugs and help treat users, as well as require other government agencies including the National Institutes of Health and Drug Abuse and the Drug Enforcement Agency to come up with a national outreach campaign to reach out to community leaders about the drug's risk. The bill has not yet been assigned a number.

Chronicle AM: DOD Could Become More Flexible on Marijuana, MI MedMJ Regs Pass, More... (9/15/16)

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter seems pretty mellow about marijuana, more workers are testing positive for illegal drugs, medical marijuana advances in Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Jersey, and more.

Employee drug use is on the rise, a major lab reports. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Defense Secretary Hints Pentagon Could Relax When It Comes to Hiring Marijuana Users. Responding to a hypothetical question at TechCrunch's Disrupt SF event on Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said the military should be more flexible when it comes to hiring people who have used marijuana or other illicit drugs. When asked if he would be willing to hire someone who "[partook] in some goodies" at Burning Man when looking for engineers, Carter replied: "It depends on what the goodies are. It's a very good question and we are changing that, in recognition of the fact that times change and generations change and by the way, laws change as respect to marijuana. In that and many other ways, we need to, while protecting ourselves and doing the appropriate things to make sure that it's safe to entrust information with people, we need to understand  -- and we do -- the way people [and] lives have changed, not hold against them things that they've done when they were younger. It's an important question and the answer is yes, we can be flexible in that regard, and we need to," he concluded.

Nebraska Marijuana Activists Begin Working on 2018. Two separate initiative campaigns, one aimed at decriminalization and one aimed at legalization, are getting underway with an eye toward making the 2018 ballot. The decriminalization proposal started signature gathering last month; the legalization campaign is awaiting approval from the secretary of state's office to begin signature gathering.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Moves to Ease Medical Marijuana Access. State regulators Wednesday released draft rules that would make it easier for patients to gain access to medical marijuana. The rules would allow nurse practitioners to certify patients for medical marijuana, allow dispensaries to post prices on their websites, and allow dispensaries to deliver to patients in nursing homes, hospices, and other health care facilities. "Our goal is safety, transparency, and access for patients who need this," said Dr. Monica Bharel, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which oversees the state's medical marijuana program. "This is an evolving process," Bharel said, "both in Massachusetts and nationally." The proposed rules were presented to the Public Health Council, which will give final approval, but not before a public hearing expected this fall.

Michigan House Gives Final Approval to Medical Marijuana Regulation Package. The House voted Wednesday in concurrence with last week's Senate vote approving a series of bills that would create a regulatory framework for medical marijuana that explicitly allows for dispensaries to operate. It also creates a licensing system for patients, growers, and dispensaries and establishes a 3% tax on retail sales. The package of bills now goes to the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder (R), who is expected to sign it into law.

New Jersey Governor Signs Bill Adding PTSD as Qualifying Condition. Gov. Chris Christie (R) Wednesday signed into law Assembly Bill 457, which will allow people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to use medical marijuana. The bill passed the legislature overwhelmingly a month and a half ago.

Drug Testing

Quest Diagnostics, one of the country's largest drug testing laboratories, reports that the percentage of workers testing positive for illegal drugs has been increasing for the past three years after decades of decline. Some 4% of all 11 million drug tests came back positive. Positive tests results for marijuana have increased 26% since 2011 and account for almost half (45%) of all positives. But heroin positives jumped 146% in the same period.

Chronicle AM: CA&MA Polls, Kratom Proponents Mobilize, Canada OKs Prescription Heroin; More... (9/14/16)

The polling is looking good in Massachusetts and better in California, there will be no initiative for Michigan this year, kratom proponents fight a proposed DEA ban, Canada gives the go-ahead for expanded heroin prescribing, and more.

The Canadian government has cleared the way for limited heroin prescribing for hard-core users. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Could Be a $50 Billion a Year Industry Within a Decade. A new report from financial analysts Cowen & Company says the legal weed industry could grow to a $50 billion a year business by 2026. The report notes that legalizing pot in California alone could triple the size of the industry, currently around $6 billion a year.

California: LA Times Poll Has Prop 64 at 58%. The Prop 64 legalization initiative is supported by 58% of voters, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. Only 34% said they would vote against the measure, with 8% undecided. "It's very clear that Californians' attitudes have changed dramatically on this issue over the last several years," said Dan Schnur, director of the poll and of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "The opposition is going to have to identify a fairly sizable source of campaign funding if this initiative is to be close," he added.

California: Eyewitness News/Southern California Newsgroup Poll Has Prop 64 at 52%. The Prop 64 legalization initiative has 52% in a new poll from Eyewitness News/Southern California Newsgroup. Some 40% said they would vote no, with 8% undecided.

Massachusetts Poll Has Legalization Initiative Up By Five Points. A new poll from WBUR TV has support for the Question 4 legalization initiative at 50%, with 45% opposed. "There's some big demographic splits, particularly along age lines," pollster Steve Koczela said. "Younger people are very much in favor of legalization, and it declines steadily as you move up the age brackets to where you get to voters who are 60-plus, and they're opposed to it by a 17-point margin."

Federal Judge Puts Final Nail in Coffin of Michigan Legalization Initiative. A federal court judge rejected a last chance effort by MI Legalize to get its legalization initiative on the November ballot. Judge Linda Parker Tuesday denied a motion from the group to stop the printing of election ballots, saying there was not enough time to stop the election process. MI Legalize gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but some of them came outside a 180-day mandated by state law. MI Legalize challenged rulings by state officials that knocked those signatures off the tally, but lost in the state courts -- and now, in federal court.

Kratom

Kratom Supporters Fight Proposed DEA Ban. Proponents of the Southeast Asian plant with mild opium-like qualities have mobilized to block the DEA proposed emergency move to place the substance on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Hundreds marched in front of the White House Tuesday and more than 120,000 have signed a Change.org petition opposing the ban, meaning the White House will have to publicly address the issue.

International

Canada Has Approved Prescription Heroin. The Canadian government last week quietly approved new regulations that will allow doctors to prescribe diacetylmorphine (heroin) to long-term users who have not responded to more conventional approaches to weaning them from the drug. The Crosstown clinic in Vancouver is currently the only place in the country with a heroin maintenance program, but that should now not be the case for long.

British MPs Call for Medical Marijuana. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform has called for medical marijuana to be legalized in the United Kingdom. The call comes on the heels of a report by neurologist Dr. Mike Barnes urging that marijuana be moved from Schedule I to Schedule IV on the British drugs classification scheme. "Many hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are already taking cannabis for primarily medical reasons," said MP Caroline Lucas, who co-chairs the group. "It is totally unacceptable that they should face the added stress of having to break the law to access their medicine."

Chronicle AM: House GOP Wants Unemployment Drug Tests, MI Senate OKs Dispensaries, More... (9/9/16)

House Republicans unleash another drug testing for benefits campaign, marijuana legalization foes start making moves, Michigan has moved a big step closer to explicitly allowing dispensaries, and more.

House Republicans want laid off workers to have to urinate in a cup before receiving benefits. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Approves First Permit for Retail Pot Shop. The state's Marijuana Control Board Thursday approved the first permit for a retail marijuana store. The permit went to Frozen Budz in Fairbanks. Co-owner Destiny Neade said she hoped to be open by October 1. "Now all I need is some herb," she said. The board was also considering 16 other permit applications.

California Anti-Legalization Effort Gets Big Gift from Pennsylvania Millionaire. Pennsylvania millionaire Julie Schauer has donated $1.3 million to the anti-legalization Smart Approaches to Marijuana/No on 64 campaign committee. Most of the money will be used to try to defeat the Prop 64 legalization initiative, but some will go to fight legalization campaigns in other states, too. Schauer's money made up most of the $64,000 that has gone to a separate committee opposing Prop 64. That committee has only raised $300,000, while committees supporting Prop 64 have raised more than $6 million.

Maine Police Chiefs Oppose Legalization Initiative. The Maine Chiefs of Police Association Friday formally announced its opposition to the Question 1 legalization initiative. "We're concerned about the effect (legalization) may have on the communities and the youth after looking at what's happened in Colorado," said Falmouth Police Chief Edward Tolan, incoming president of the association. "That's what prompted us to take this position as police chiefs."

Michigan Legalizers Ask Federal Court to Intervene in Signature Dispute. A day after being turned away by the state Supreme Court, the MI Legalize campaign has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block the printing of state election ballots until disputed petition signatures are counted. The group handed in enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but some of them were gathered outside a 180-day period and not counted, keeping the measure off the ballot. MI Legalize has gotten nowhere in the state courts. Ballots were supposed to be printed today.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Senate Passes Industry Regulation Bill Allowing Dispensaries. The state Senate Thursday passed a bill that would tax and regulate medical marijuana businesses and explicitly allow for dispensaries. The bill would set a 3% tax on dispensaries' gross retail income, require licensing to grow, process, transport, and sell medical marijuana, and explicitly allow for forms of medical marijuana that include infused, non-smokable forms of the herb. The House approved much of this package almost a year ago. Now, it goes to the desk of Gov. Ricky Snyder (R).

Drug Testing

House Republicans in New Push to Drug Test Unemployment Applicants. House Republicans are pushing a new bill that would give states the option of forcing drug tests on applicants for unemployment benefits. They say the bill is needed because a Labor Department rule bars states from using a 2012 law to do so. The measure is HR 5945, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX).

International

Canada Wants US to End Travel Ban on Residents Who Smoke Pot. The case of a Canadian man barred from entering the US because he admitted to recreational marijuana use has provoked the Canadian government to seek a re-set of US border policy. "We obviously need to intensify our discussions with our border authorities in the United States, including the Department of Homeland Security," the public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, said in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp late on Thursday. "This does seem to be a ludicrous situation," he said, noting that marijuana is legal in Washington state as well as "three or four other jurisdictions in the United States." First, though, Canada might want to work on its own border policy; it bars US pot smokers from entering the country.

Chronicle AM: Denver Pot Social Use Init Makes Ballot, Kratom Fight Gathers Steam, More... (9/6/16)

Big city Texas prosecutors are increasingly dropping small-time pot cases, a Denver social use marijuana initiative qualifies for the ballot, kratom proponents move to block the DEA effort to place it on Schedule I, and more, including lots of international items.

Denver skyline (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Big City Prosecutors Are Dismissing Small-Time Marijuana Cases. Prosecutors in the state's five most populous counties -- Bexar (San Antonio), Dallas, Harris (Houston), Tarrant (Ft. Worth), and Travis (Austin) -- are increasingly dismissing small-time pot possession charges. In Ft. Worth, the number of cases dropped rose from 9% in 2011 to 25% last year. In Dallas, the number dropped rose from 18% to 41% in the same period. Travis County prosecutors Dan Hamre explained. "Jurors would look at us like we are crazy," he said. "'You are spending your time, our time and the court's time on a small amount of personal marijuana?'"

Washington State Campaign to End Marijuana Possession Felonies Underway. Under marijuana legalization via I-502, the stat legalized the possession of up to 28 grams of pot, but possession of 40 grams or more remains a felony. A Change.org petition calling on state lawmakers to fix the law is now underway. It has more than a thousand signatures in ten days, but could always use more.

Denver Marijuana Social Club Initiative Qualifies for Ballot. An initiative from the Denver Social Use Campaign has qualified for the November ballot. It would allow for the creation of "designated consumption areas" for marijuana use. Permits would be open to a broad range of businesses, and could cover a single event or be good for up to a year. Patrons would have to bring their own buds, though, since sales would not be allowed.

Medical Marijuana

Second Arkansas Lawsuit Challenges Medical Marijuana Initiative. A Little Rock attorney who is a member of NORML's National Legal Committee has filed a lawsuit seeking to knock the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act off the November ballot. In the lawsuit, attorney Kara Benca asked the court to invalidate some 15,000 voter signatures, which would disqualify the initiative. A second initiative, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, has also qualified for the ballot. If both pass, the won with the most votes wins.

Drug Policy

Petition Drive to Undo Making Kratom Schedule I is Underway. In response to the DEA's announcement it was moving to make kratom's active ingredients Schedule I, fans of the opioid substitute have begun a Change.org petition asking the White House to intervene. The White House must respond if the petition hits 100,000 signatures by month's end. So far, it has nearly 70,000. The American Kratom Association also says it is pondering a lawsuit to block the move.

International

Australia Will Legalize Medical Marijuana in November. The Therapeutic Goods Administration has made it official. The agency has now formally announced it will move medical marijuana from Schedule 9 (prohibited substances) to Schedule 8 (controlled drugs). The change will go into effect in November.

Bolivian Government Proposes Prison Time for Illegal Coca Cultivation. Vice Minister for Social Defense Felipe Caceres announced Friday that the government is proposing a bill that would make illegal coca production a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. Under current law, illegal cultivators face no prison time, only the destruction of their crops.

Colombia Attorney General Calls for Renewed Aerial Eradication of Coca Crops. Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez has released a report calling for a resumption of aerial spraying of coca groups with herbicides. The government ended that policy las year, citing health risks, as well as a desire to emphasize public health and human rights in its drug policies. But an expansion of coca production has the government signaling it may change its tune.

Denmark's Christiania Residents Tear Down Hash Stalls After Police Shot and Wounded. Christiania has long been the go-to place to score hash in Copenhagen, but after a known drug seller opened fire on police last week, wounding two, residents of the hippie enclave began tearing down dealers' stalls, saying they feared organized crime was moving in. "If they start building up the booths again tonight, then well, we're here tonight as well. The plan is to continue tearing them down until it works," Christiania resident Helene Schou said. "I'm not saying hash should disappear completely from Christiania, but we needed a kiosk and what we had was a supermarket."

Philippines Will Make Drug Tests Mandatory for College Students. In the latest move in President Rodrigo Duterte's murderous war on drugs, his administration has announced it will seek to make students entering college undergo drug tests beginning next year. More than 2,400 people accused of being drug users or sellers have been killed in Duterte's two months in office, and his administration has instituted broad drug testing of police and politicians, among others.

A Long Hot Summer of Drug War Deaths [FEATURE]

The killing of a young, black, unarmed Tampa man by a SWAT team that raided his home in an operation that turned up two grams of marijuana has sparked angry protests last week, including demonstrations last Thursday where people damaged vehicles, lit fires, and threw trash at police, leaving five people arrested and a community outraged.

Levonia Riggins. Unarmed, killed in his bedroom in a raid that netted two grams of weed. (family photo)
Levonia Riggins was shot and killed in his bedroom by Deputy Caleb Johnson of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office as the SWAT team executed a search warrant based on purchases of marijuana from Riggins by undercover officers earlier this summer. Police said they used the SWAT team because they had found guns in the house a year earlier.

When deputies arrived, they broke through a window and found Riggins in bed. "Mr. Riggins then jumped up and moved his hands toward his waistband," a police spokesman explained. Johnson then fired, killing Riggins in what police called "a split-second decision." The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office is now investigating the killing, as is a sheriff's internal team.

Riggins was only the last person to be killed in drug law enforcement operations this summer that left 10 other people dead in separate incidents, including a Tennessee police officer. According to the Drug War Chronicle, which has been tracking such deaths since 2011, the year's drug war death toll now stands at 33.

That's a rate of about one a week, a rate that has held constant throughout the five years the Chronicle has been counting. Also consistent is the ratio of civilians killed to police officers killed. It has been running at about 10:1 over the five-year period, and with three officers killed so far this year, that ratio is being maintained.

Here are the rest of the summer's drug war victims and the circumstances of their deaths:

On August 18, in Apache Junction, Arizona, a Maricopa County sheriff's SWAT Team member shot and killed Larry Eugene Kurtley, Jr., 53, as the SWAT team attempted to take him into custody on drugs, drug paraphernalia, and weapons charges. A woman who left the residence as police arrived told them he could be armed, and the SWAT team then began to negotiate his surrender, police said. But Kurtley refused to come out, so police fired tear gas into the home. When he emerged from the house, he was armed, police said, and one of the SWAT deputies opened fire, killing him. Kurtley had served multiple prison sentences dating back to the 1990s. The Pinal County Attorney's Office and the sheriff's office professional standards bureau are investigating.

On August 16, just outside Augusta, West Virginia, a sheriff's deputy shot and killed John O'Handley, 55, of Yellow Springs as he reportedly grabbed the deputy's gun while being transported to jail after being arrested on methamphetamine and other charges. Deputies had originally gone to O'Handley's residence in search of a stolen motorcycle, but discovered an active meth lab in the home, as well as homemade bombs and stolen property. O'Handley allegedly reached between the front seats of the police car and grabbed the arresting deputy's gun. "A struggle then ensued," and the deputy fired one shot, striking O'Handley in the head and killing him. The shooting is being investigated by the West Virginia State Police.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent De'Greaun Frazier. Killled during an undercover drug buy. (tn.gov/tbi)
On August 9, in Jackson, Tennessee, a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent was shot and killed while conducting an undercover drug buy. Special Agent De'Greaun Frazier, 35,was assisting Jackson Metro Narcotics and was in the front seat of a vehicle when the man he was supposed to buy drugs from instead tried to rob him, shooting him from the back seat. That man, Brendan Burns, has now been charged with murder in his death. Frazier had earlier served on a DEA task force while working at the Millington Police Department.

On August 9, in Los Angeles, LAPD officers in Boyle Heights shot and killed Jesse Romero, 14, as he fled from them while they investigated a report of possible "gang writings" and drug activity. According to the LAPD account, Romero and another youth split up and took off running when police arrived, and a witness saw Romero shoot a handgun toward pursuing officers. One officer returned fire, striking and killing Romero. But another witness said she saw Romero pull a gun from his basketball shorts as he ran, then toss it toward a fence. The gun fired when it fell to the ground after hitting the fence, startling Romero. "He didn't shoot," she said. Police recovered an old revolver, but it is unclear how near it was to Romero's body. The officers involved were wearing body cameras, but under LAPD policy that footage is only released to the officers involved before they make an initial statement -- not to the public. The ACLU of Southern California released a statement saying it was "particularly concerned" about Romero's death and criticizing LAPD's body camera policies.

On July 7, in Clovis, California, Clovis Police serving an arrest warrant on narcotics and related charges shot and killed Adam Smith, 33, as he attempted to flee in his vehicle. Police and his girlfriend's family lured him to the family residence, but he and his girlfriend tried to escape, jumping in his van in an alley. According to police, when they confronted the pair in the alley, the girlfriend jumped out of the van, Smith slammed it into reverse, nearly hitting her, then accelerated his vehicle toward the officers. Two of the three offices opened fire, fatally wounding Smith. He was not named in initial reports, but was later identified. In another report, an acquaintance said Smith was on heroin and had repeatedly said they he would die in a "suicide by cop," especially when he was on heroin.

Street meorial for 14-year-old Jesse Romero. (scpr.org)
On June 30, in Douglas, Wyoming, a US marshal shot and killed Jasen Scott Ramirez, 44, in the parking lot of a Catholic Church as he was leaving his father's funeral. The federal agents were seeking Ramirez to serve an arrest warrant on methamphetamine and weapons charges. Local police called to the scene after the shooting discovered 3.5 ounces of meth and two pistols in the vehicle he was driving, but it's unclear to whom the car, the guns, or the drugs belonged. It's also unclear whether Ramirez was brandishing or reaching for a weapon when he was shot and killed. The US Marshals Service has issued only a one-paragraph statement, short on details, including the name of the marshal who pulled the trigger. The agency said it would not be saying more until all investigations into the incident are concluded, including one by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation. After the killing, an unconfirmed death threat was made against law enforcement, prompting authorities to temporarily lock down the county courthouse, city hall, and the hospital where Ramirez died.

On June 16, in Westminster, Colorado, a Westminster police officer shot and killed Nicholas Damon, 30, after Damon allegedly dragged the officer and ran over him with his car. Police were attempting to arrest Damon on outstanding drug and assault warrants when he hopped into his car and attempted to flee the scene. The officer involved was briefly hospitalized with "non-life threatening injuries." The killing is being reviewed by an Adams County special investigatory team.

On June 14, in Chula Vista, California, an undercover ICE agent shot and killed Fernando Geovanni Llanez, 22, as agents met with a half-dozen suspected marijuana traffickers in an apparent buy-bust deal at an Eastlake-area strip mall. The agent was part of the Homeland Security Investigations Operation Alliance drug task force, and the agency said Llanez attacked him in what could have been a robbery attempt. The agent fired several times, fatally wounding Llanez. His five companions fled, but were all chased down and arrested on charges of possession of marijuana for sale, conspiracy, and suspicion of robbery. Chula Vista police declined to confirm that it was an undercover operation and would not say if any cash or drugs were seized. There was no mention of any weapon.

On June 8, in Kansas City, Missouri, members of a DEA task force executing a search warrant shot and killed Carlos Garcia, 43, after he fired at officers from inside the house and then refused to exit, leading to an hours-long standoff. Finally, after police shot tear gas into the house, Garcia ran out the back door of the residence aiming his rifle at officers, police said. Task force members then opened fire on Garcia, killing him in the back yard.

On June 7, in Turlock, California, two Modesto police officers who were members of the Stanislaus County Drug Enforcement Agency "involved in a narcotics investigation" shot and killed Omar Villagomez after the vehicle he was driving collided with unmarked police vehicles as they attempted to arrest him. The passenger in the vehicle was not shot, but was injured by debris from the collision. He was charged with suspicion of meth possession with intent to sell, transportation of meth, possession of a controlled substance while armed, and possession of a loaded and concealed firearm.

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