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Chronicle AM: Lebanon Ag Min Says Legalize Hash, NY MedMJ Regs, "Baby Bou Bou" Medical Bill, More (12/19/14)

New York officials have released draft medical marijuana regs, and advocates aren't too impressed, Lebanon's agriculture minister says it's time to legalize it, Bolivia's president criticizes Mexico's drug war, "Baby Bou Bou" has a million-dollar medical bill, and more. Let's get to it:

Bolivian President Evo Morales has some choice words about Mexico's "failed" drug policies. (www.wikimedia.org)

Marijuana Policy

Missouri KC NORML Legalization Petition Needs Editing to Get Official Approval. The KC NORML legalization initiative petition is in for a tune-up after the secretary of state's office rejected it for minor stylistic issues, including incorrect underling and brackets. Organizers say they will rework and resubmit shortly. There's also another Missouri legalization initiative in the works, courtesy of Show Me Cannabis, but the KC NORML initiative is less restrictive, and less restrictive than the legalization schemes in any of the states that have legalized it.

Medical Marijuana

New York State Issues Medical Marijuana Regulations; Advocates Not Too Impressed. The Department of Health released draft medical marijuana regulations today, but advocates say they are too tight. "New York will be one of the more restrictive programs in the country, which could inhibit patients from getting the relief they need," the Drug Policy Alliance complained. Click on the title link for details on the draft regs.

Asset Forfeiture

Public Hearing Set for Orange County, NY, Misdemeanor Asset Forfeiture Ordinance. The public will have one last chance to voice objections to a local asset forfeiture already approved on a party-line vote by the county legislature. The ordinance would allow the county to confiscate assets from those convicted of even misdemeanor drug crimes. The ordinance has been criticized by defense attorneys and others not only for the misdemeanor provision, but also because it would allow for civil asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction. A public hearing is set for December 29. Click on the link for meeting details.

Law Enforcement

Family of Infant Burned by Flash-Bang Grenade in Botched Drug Raid Faces A Million Dollar Medical Bill. It has cost a million dollars so far to undo the damage done to toddler Bounkham Phonesavanh when a Georgia SWAT team member tossed a flash-bang grenade into his crib during a drug raid in which the party sought wasn't even there. Habersham County officials have refused to pay the medical bills, and the family has no means of paying them.

International

Lebanese Agriculture Minister Calls for Legalization of Hash Farming. Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb called today for the legalization of marijuana so the state can benefit from hash export revenues. "We are conducting studies on [how to] organize this type of agriculture so that it becomes monitored by the state, and thus the state can buy the harvest and export it to the countries that need it," Chehayeb said in a morning interview with a local radio station. "Instead of prosecuting the farmers, let’s find other solutions for them," he said. "The planting of cannabis must be organized to benefit the state and the industrial sector, and it is one way of helping the farmers." Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt made a similar call earlier this week.

Peru Eradicates Record Amount of Coca. Peruvian officials announced today that they eradicated 77,000 acres of coca crops this year, the highest total since eradication programs began in 1983. But they didn't touch the country's largest coca producing area, the valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro rivers (VRAEM) in south-central Peru. The UNODC says Peru is the world's largest coca producer, and the DEA says it is the world's largest cocaine producer.

Bolivian President Criticizes Mexico's "Failed" Drug War Policies. President Evo Morales said Mexico's failed model for fighting the drug war, citing the recent incident where 43 teachers' college students were disappeared and are presumed dead at the hands of corrupt police working with drug gangs. "The market for cocaine is generally in industrialized and developing countries. But … look at what is happening in Colombia, and especially how it is in Mexico," said Morales. "The recent events [in Ayotzinapa-Mexico], I still think that [the forced disappearance of the students] is a failed model, a model of free market that is unfortunately subject to the US. empire. And now there are deep problems. "We do not want to have this kind of problem in Bolivia, of organized crime. It seems that crime groups are above the state. In some regions, not even with the presence of military bases can one fight drug trafficking," he said at a graduation ceremony for National Police cadets.

Check Those Pills! Harm Reduction and Club Drugs [FEATURE]

[This article was written in partnership with Alternet, and was originally published here.]

With the holiday break coming up soon, millions of young Americans will be looking to party. And tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of them will be looking to stimulant drugs, especially Ecstasy (MDMA), to help them dance to the throbbing beats far into the night. MDMA is a synthetic stimulant with a chemical structure related to both methamphetamine and mescaline. It's great at providing the energy for partying the night away with a psychedelic tinge. The new scene drug, Molly, is simply Ecstasy in powdered form.

According to the 2013 National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health, some 17 million Americans have taken Ecstasy at least once, more than a half million reported taking it within the past month, and about three-quarters of a million reported taking it for the first time that year. Those monthly-use and first-use figures have been roughly stable for the past few years.

Some of those fun-seekers are going to take too much. And some of them are going to end up ingesting something they thought was Ecstasy, but wasn't. And one or two or three of them might die. Despite breathless media reports, people dying from Ecstasy or from what they thought was Ecstasy or what they thought was a drug like Ecstasy, is not that big a problem, especially compared with the 16,000 or so people who died last year from opiate overdoses. The number of Ecstasy-related deaths each year ranges from the single digits to the low dozens.

Still it is a problem. Any avoidable death is a problem, and those deaths are largely avoidable. They occur because of varying combinations of ignorance, greed and bad public policy. Some people are working to prevent those deaths, and the work extends from the club or rave or festival door to the halls of power in Washington.

The harm reduction group Dance Safe is among those doing that work. The small non-profit offers educational services, encourages people to submit their pills for testing ("drug checking"), and has informational booths at venues that will let them.

Where 20 years ago, the Ecstasy and party drug scene was largely limited to word-of-mouth raves, things have changed, said Dance Safe executive director Missi Wooldridge.

"We've seen a real explosion in the scene that has been transformed from an underground rave culture to a real mainstream electronic dance music culture," she said. "People are likely to experiment with drugs at raves and dances, as well as with friends at parties or night clubs."

They are also likely to be ingesting either adulterated Ecstasy or other new synthetic drugs misleadingly marketed as Ecstasy. That is reflected in reports on drug checking websites such as Pill Reports and Ecstasy Data, as well as drug discussion forums like Bluelight.

Pill Reports warns that Yellow Pacman tablets found earlier this month in Kansas and Texas contain not MDMA but the synthetic methylone, a methcathinone stimulant that is a chemical analog to MDMA, but is not MDMA. And at least two different pills currently being peddled in Canada as Ecstasy are actually methamphetamine.

"A lot of what we're seeing is the new psychoactive substances infiltrating the market and the scene," said Wooldridge. "People can purchase these substances online. I see a lot of positive results for methcathinone, MDPV, methylone, and the like. Similarly, people think they're taking LSD, but it's actual N-Bomb, or maybe ketamine. People operate under misconceptions about what they're taking, and that can be serious because there are lots of differences in things like onset, duration and potency."

Educated, sophisticated drug consumers may take advantage of drug checking services, as well as have advanced understandings of drug potency, duration and the like, but they are a minority. Most people just want to party, and they want to do it with Ecstasy.

"In contrast with some places in Europe, the market for people seeking out new synthetics is very small in the US," said Stefanie Jones, nightlife community engagement manager at the Drug Policy Alliance "But that doesn't mean they're not here. Many of the people buying them are after MDMA, but here in the US, the market is young people, and many are not that well-informed or familiar with notions like drug checking to see what's in that powder. It's largely an uninformed market, so there's a lot of adulteration."

Dance Safe's Wooldridge concurred.

Web sites like Pillreports.com will tell you whether your pills are bunk. Don't eat the Yellow Pacman! It's methylone.
"People are taking these substances unknowingly for the most part, rather than checking them out," the Denver-based activist said. "There is a relatively small segment that is into the experimentation and the understanding, but most users are not that sophisticated and are taking these drugs without really knowing what they are."

When people die, as two people did at New York's massive Electric Zoo festival last year, the pressure is on promoters and club owners to crack down on drugs, to increase security, even to decrease or do away with harm reduction measures out of fear of appearing to encourage drug use. In large part, that's because of the RAVE Act, a 2003 law sponsored by then Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) that threatens owners and promoters with possible criminal sanctions for encouraging drug use.

"The RAVE Act is the elephant in the room," said Wooldridge. "Its intent wasn't to harm or prosecute legitimate event producers, but to expand the crack house laws and go after people solely having events for drug use or sales. But there has been an unintended consequence. People in the industry fear that if they attempt to address drug use they'll be help legally liable for overdoses or other emergencies. Their legal teams and insurance companies say to stay clear, turn a blind eye, but that increases the risks. We need to educate the lawyers and insurers on this. Show me a case where an event producer has been prosecuted for doing harm reduction."

"If the law is making owners scared, we should change the law so they are explicitly protected," said Jones. "Put the focus on the health and safety of the patrons. Including harm reduction shouldn't be seen as encouraging drug activity, but as prioritizing health and safety. Changing the law at the federal level would send a message to the industry that harm reduction is valuable and you won't get in trouble, and that could change the landscape of festivals."

One woman is working to do just that. Dede Goldsmith didn't mean to become a reformer, but when her daughter, Shelley, a University of Virginia student, died after taking Ecstasy at Washington, DC electronic music show the same weekend at the Electonic Zoo last year, that's what happened.

She told Vox in an October interview that when one of Shelley's friends told her Shelley had taken Molly, her first response was, "Who is Molly?" In her search for answers, she came to the realization that Molly didn't kill her daughter; federal drug prohibition and policies that discourage education about safe drug use did.

On the anniversary of her daughter's death in August, Goldsmith launched the Amend the RAVE Act campaign. Its goal, Goldsmith says, is "to make EDM festivals and concerts safer for our young people. Specifically, I am asking for language to be added to the law to make it clear that event organizers and venue owners can implement safety measures to reduce the risk of medical emergencies, including those associated with drug use, without fear of prosecution by federal authorities. As the law currently stands, many owners believe that they will be accused of 'maintaining a drug involved premises' under the act if they institute such measures, opening themselves to criminal or civil prosecution."

Irony alert: Shelley Goldsmith meets RAVE Act author Joe Biden a year before she died on Ecstasy. (amendtheraveact.org)
"It's not that producers don't care, it’s that they're terrified," said Wooldridge. "Amending the RAVE Act can be a way to organize the community so people don't fear law enforcement if they're addressing drug use. What's more detrimental—a fatal overdose or having harm reduction teams and medical teams on site?"

"The campaign is just getting underway," said Jones. "They're collecting signatures, and Dede is just having first meetings with legislators to try to get them on board, to try to get some bipartisan support."

In the meantime, other steps can be taken.  

"One of the biggest things we can do is to educate with a true public health approach," Wooldridge said. "We need to have honest conversations and we need to implement drug testing; we have to have that opportunity to create an early warning system when these substances begin to appear."

"Education is really, really critical," said Jones. "We need to be able to get real drug education out to young people and meet them where they are. We need to be explicit about what the drugs are, what they look like, what the common dose it. Integrating harm reduction practices into the culture is also really important, and Dance Safe is great at that."

An effective means of tracking new and available drugs, such as a publicly funded, more comprehensive version of the drug checking websites would also be useful. But that requires someone willing to spend the money.

"We don't really have a surveillance system set up to track these new psychoactive substances," Wooldridge complained. "We don't have the public health monitoring. As a non-profit, we do some of that on a small scale, but we don't have the capacity or the resources to really do the job. What are the priorities and where is the funding to collect the data?"

"Changing policy to allow for drug checking is also an important avenue to pursue," said Jones. "If we're going to be in a world where drugs remain illegal, we will continue to have problems with imitations and new synthetics, with people not knowing what they're getting. That would be the least we can do."

There is one other obvious response.

"It's unrealistic to think we can keep drugs out of clubs and bars and festivals. Trying to do that causes more harm than good," Wooldridge said. "We need to be realistic and recognize drug use first and foremost as a health concern, not a criminal justice issue. These drugs are often being sold as something they're not, and that's because of prohibition and the black market," said Wooldridge. "One obvious option is legalization and regulation. Then you'd have quality control and you wouldn't need all this drug-checking."

But we're not there yet. Until we are, people are going to have to watch out for themselves and for each other. Check those drugs, kids!

Chronicle AM: NE, OK Seek to Undo CO Pot Legalization, Philly Backs Off on Home Seizures, More (12/18/14)

Colorado's conservative neighbors try to undo its marijuana legalization, Philadelphia drops a pair of high-profile asset forfeiture cases, Obama commutes sentences for eight drug offenders, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Nebraska, Oklahoma Ask Supreme Court to Undo Colorado Legalization. The attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit today with the US Supreme Court asking it to declare that Colorado's marijuana legalization violates the Constitution. "Federal law undisputedly prohibits the production and sale of marijuana," Nebraska Attorney General Bruning said. "Colorado has undermined the United States Constitution, and I hope the US Supreme Court will uphold our constitutional principles." But Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who got a courtesy call from Bruning, scoffed. "We believe this suit is without merit, and we will vigorously defend against it in the US Supreme Court," he said.

New York Lawmakers Hold Hearing on Legalization. State Sens. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) and Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx) held a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would legalize marijuana in the Empire State. Krueger conceded the legislation was unlikely to pass during the coming legislative session, but said it was important to keep the conversation going.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Awards $8 Million for Marijuana Research. The Colorado Board of Health awarded more than $8 million for medical marijuana research Wednesday. The awards will allow researchers to investigate marijuana's medical potential, not its downsides, as is required for most federally-approved research on marijuana. Three of the eight studies will still require federal approval and marijuana from the US government. In the other five "observational" studies, subjects will be providing their own marijuana. Researchers will study marijuana's impact on PTSD, irritable bowel syndrome, pain relief for children with brain tumors, pediatric epileptic seizures, and compare it with oxycodone for pain relief.

American Academy of Neurology Calls for Rescheduling Marijuana. In a just-released position statement on the use of medical marijuana for neurological disorders, the academy said it could not yet recommend medical marijuana for those disorders "because further research is needed to determine the benefits and safety of such products." To that end, the academy "requests the reclassification of marijuana-based products from their current Schedule I status so as to improve access for study of marijuana or cannabinoids under IRB-approved research protocols." Click on the link to read the entire position statement.

Asset Forfeiture

Philadelphia Drops Two High Profile Asset Forfeiture Cases. Faced with an ongoing federal class-action lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice over its brazen asset forfeiture practices, the city of Philadelphia announced today that it is dropping efforts to seize the homes of two families. In one case, the city moved to seize a home after an adult son of the owners was busted for selling heroin; in the other, the city moved to seize a home after  the owner's estranged husband was caught selling small amounts of marijuana. Meanwhile, the federal lawsuit continues.

Pardons and Commutations

Obama Issues Commutations for Eight Drug Offenders. President Barack Obama Wednesday commuted the prison sentences of eight drug offenders and issued pardons for 12 other people who had already finished their sentences. The commutations were for people imprisoned for crack cocaine and methamphetamine offenses. No one is walking out of prison today, but all eight had their sentences reduced to lengths that will allow them to walk out at some point in the next year.Among those who got commutations is Sidney Earl Johnson of Mobile, Alabama, who has been serving a life sentence for crack cocaine offenses since 1994. Another is Larry Naylor of Memphis, who has been serving a life sentence for 50 grams of crack since 1997.

Opiates

Senators Send Letter to Officials, Health Groups Urging Stronger Response to Drug Overdoses. Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee this week urged government officials and health groups to come up with stronger responses to drug overdoses. The call came in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Governors' Association, the American Medical Association, and associations of state and local health officials. Click on the link to read the letter.

International

Eleven Dead in Mexico Vigilante Clashes. Mexican "self-defense" vigilante groups in the Western state of Michoacan turned their guns on each other Tuesday, leaving 11 dead. The vigilante groups emerged last year in rural communities to fight the Knights Templar cartel, and in May they accepted an offer to be folded into government security forces. And now they are fighting among themselves.

Bangkok Police Hassling Tourists With Searches, Drug Tests, On-the-Spot Fines. Since the military coup in May, foreign visitors to Thailand are increasingly complaining that police Bangkok are stopping and questioning them, searching their persons and belongings, demanding they submit to drug tests, and handing out on-the-spot fines that must be paid immediately in cash. Most of the harassment is taking place on the city's main thoroughfare, Sukhumvit Road. The British ambassador said last week he had raised the issue with local tourism authorities. 

Medical Marijuana Update

Big news out of Washington and, for a change, most of our medical marijuana news is out of the Midwest this week. Let's get to it:

National

Last Saturday, the Senate passed the omnibus spending bill with an amendment blocking federal medical marijuana enforcement. The amendment that will effectively end for now Justice Department interference in states where medical marijuana is legal by barring the department from using its funds to go after patients and providers there.

Indiana

On Wednesday, a lawmaker said she would introduce a medical marijuana bill. Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) said she plans to introduce a medical marijuana bill in the upcoming legislative session. She cited Congress's vote to bar the use of Justice Department funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. In previous sessions, Tallian has introduced pot decriminalization bills, but those have gone nowhere.

Iowa

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

Oklahoma

Last Friday, a cannabis oil medical marijuana bill was filed. Rep. John Echols (R-Oklahoma City) has said he planned to file a low-THC cannabis oil bill. The bill would only allow for use my children suffering from epilepsy. The news comes as the director of the state's drug agency says he now backs a study that would make the medicine available to sick children.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Obama Commutes Sentences for Eight Drug Offenders

President Barack Obama today commuted the prison sentences of eight drug offenders and issued pardons for 12 other people who had already finished their sentences. The commutations were for people imprisoned for crack cocaine and methamphetamine offenses.

President Obama exercises his clemency powers. (whitehouse.gov)
No one is walking out of prison today, but all eight had their sentences reduced to lengths that will allow them to walk out at some point in the next year.

Among those who got commutations is Sidney Earl Johnson of Mobile, Alabama, who has been serving a life sentence for crack cocaine offenses since 1994. Another is Larry Naylor of Memphis, who has been serving a life sentence for 50 grams of crack since 1997.

Obama pardoned another 12 people who had already served their time for offenses -- sometimes decades in the past. Four of those pardoned were also drug offenders.

Obama had not been particularly prolific with his exercise of the commutation power -- he had only commuted 10 sentences in his first six years in office -- but earlier this year, the administration announced new, more expansive clemency guidelinesb in a bid to decrease the number of people imprisoned under draconian drug war statutes.

At the time, the White House said the new rules could result in "hundreds, perhaps thousands" of people being granted clemency. This is a start.

See the complete list of pardons and commutations here.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: A Century of Drug War, Yet Another Drug War Bill, Iran Drug Executions Slammed, More (12/17/14)

It's the 100th anniversary of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, a GOP senator chides Obama for "pro-marijuana" messages, human rights groups urge the UNODC to quit funding Iranian drug enforcement because of its resort to the death penalty, and more. Let's get to it:

An execution in Iran. The Islamic Republic has executed more than 300 drug offenders this year. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy

Republican Senator Says Obama Administration's "Pro-Marijuana" Messages Promote Teen Drug Use. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) suggested Tuesday that the Obama administration's failure to block marijuana legalization had sent kids the message that drug use is okay. "When kids receive the message that marijuana use is acceptable and even welcome, it's no wonder that the perception of harm from marijuana goes down," Grassley said in a statement. "By offering pro-marijuana messages, the president and his top appointees are working at cross purposes with the federal government experts who are trying to stop drug use among teenagers." Grassley was complaining that the annual Monitoring the Future survey of teen drug use showed that kids didn't think pot was as dangerous as they used to. But he seems to have missed the part that showed that teen marijuana is not increasing.

Anchorage City Council Kills Move to Ban Pot Sales. A proposal from Anchorage Assembly member and mayoral candidate Amy Demboski to ban recreational marijuana sales in Alaska's largest city went down in ignominious defeat Tuesday night. After four hours of public testimony -- almost unanimously against the measure -- and debate, the measure was killed on a vote of 9-2.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Lawmaker Will Introduce Medical Marijuana Bill. Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) said today she plans to introduce a medical marijuana bill in the upcoming legislative session. She cited Congress's vote to bar the use of Justice Department funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. In previous sessions, Tallian has introduced pot decriminalization bills, but those have gone nowhere.

Drug Policy

A Hundred Years of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act. Today is the 100th anniversary of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, generally considered to mark the beginning of America's 20th Century war on drugs. While the act was not directly prohibitionist -- it was a regulatory and taxation measure -- it led almost immediately to the criminalization of both drug-addicted people and the doctors who sought to treat them with maintenance doses of opiates. A hundred years later, we're still mired in the drug war.

Senate Approves Yet Another Drug War Bill. The Senate Monday approved Senate Bill 706, the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act, which would give the Justice Department the authority to prosecute people in other countries who manufacture drugs or precursors that they have "reasonable cause to believe… will be unlawfully imported into the United States." It also increases penalties for trafficking in counterfeit drugs. The bill was cosponsored by Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA). An identical bill, HR 2214, is in the House, but has not moved since May.

International

Citing Death Penalty, Human Rights Groups Urge UN to Quit Funding Counter-Drug Operations in Iran. Six human rights organizations today called on the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to quit funding anti-drug operations in Iran until the Islamic Republic ends the death penalty for drug offenses. The call came in a letter sent to UNODC head Yuri Fedotov. The groups said more than 300 drug traffickers had been executed in Iran so far this year. Signatories to the letter included Human Rights Watch, Reprieve, Iran Human Rights, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Harm Reduction International and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation.

French Health Minister Wants to Ban Pot Vaporizers. Health Minister Marisol Touraine said Tuesday she would seek to ban a new e-cigarette than contains marijuana. The move came on the same day a French-Czech company called Kanavape announced its vaporizers were going on sale in France. "I am opposed to such a product being commercialized in France," Touraine said. Such as product would "incite the consumption of cannabis," she added. Kanavape argues its product is legal because its oil contains no THC.

Most Dutch-Grown Pot is Exported, Government Report Says. A report from the Dutch government's Research and Documentation Center (WODC) estimates that between 78% and 91% of marijuana grown in the Netherlands is exported. The report is expected to support moves by the Dutch government to crack down on marijuana cultivation instead of moving to regulate it.

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Driving

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

Law Enforcement

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

Drug Testing

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

International

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: TX Pot Bill Filed, Another MO Legalization Initiative, KY Heroin Bill, More (12/15/14)

Texas begins heading down the path of marijuana reform, a Missouri legalization initiative seeks to really free the weed, Rep. Andy Harris isn't very welcome in DC these days, Kentucky tries to deal with heroin again this year, and more. Let's get to it:

The Kentucky legislature will try to deal with heroin again this year. The bill has good and bad elements. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Bill to Reduce Pot Penalties Filed. State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) today introduced a bill that would remove the threat of arrest, jail, and a criminal record for small-time marijuana possession. The measure is House Bill 507. "Our current marijuana policy in Texas just isn't working," Rep. Moody said at an Austin press conference. "We need a new approach that allows us to more effectively utilize our limited criminal justice resources. This legislation is a much-needed step in the right direction." The legislation is being backed by Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, a coalition that includes the Marijuana Policy Project, the ACLU of Texas, and Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition.

Another, Looser Missouri Legalization Initiative Effort is Underway. Show Me Cannabis has some competition. The marijuana reform group has a legalization initiative pending, but now, there's another, less restrictive initiative also in the works. A team from KC NORML last week submitted a petition to put its own measure on the ballot. The Missouri Cannabis Restoration and Protection Act would remove marijuana from the state's list of controlled substances, free anyone imprisoned for marijuana-only convictions, bar police from charging drivers with DUI if the only drug they test positive for is marijuana, and put no limitation on the number of plants people can grow. Once approved by state officials, the initiative will need 160,000 valid voter signatures -- 8% of registered voters in at least six of the state's eight legislative districts -- to qualify for the ballot.

DC Businesses Tell Maryland Congressman Who Tried to Block Legalization to Stay Away. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is not very welcome in the District these days. He has been the primary mover behind Republican efforts to block voter-approved legalization in DC. While his rider blocking legalization was included in the recent omnibus spending bill, whether it will actually stop DC legalization remains to be seen. Now, there is a Blacklist Andy Harris movement, and at least one business, has put up a sign displaying his face along with prominent text reading "Not Welcome."

Heroin

Kentucky Omnibus Heroin Bill Increases Sentences, Has Harm Reduction Provisions. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Chris McDaniel has pre-filed a bill, Senate Bill 29, that attempts a broad response to the state's issues with heroin. The bill would allow for increased access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, create a 911 Good Samaritan provision to try to reduce overdose deaths, and fund drug treatment. It would also increase sentences for some heroin dealing offenses. A similar bill failed to get through the legislature last year.

International

Uruguay Sees First Marijuana Expo. Uruguay is the first country to legalize marijuana commerce, and now it's had its first marijuana trade show. Expocannabis opened in Montevideo over the weekend.

On Marijuana, Congress Giveth and Congress Taketh Away [FEATURE]

[This article was written in partnership with Alternet, and was originally published here.]

With final approval by the Senate Saturday night, the Congress has successfully approved a massive, $1.1 trillion dollar omnibus spending bill, and the president has signaled he will sign it. The bill includes two provisions that illustrate Congress's currently schizophrenic approach to loosening marijuana laws.

On the one hand, the bill contains an amendment that will effectively end federal interference in states where medical marijuana is legal by barring the Justice Department from using its funds to go after patients and providers there. On the other hand, it also contains a rider that seeks to undo the will of the voters of the nation's capital by blocking the District of Columbia from enacting the recently approved Measure 71 marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative.

Sponsored by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), and 10 others, the medical marijuana amendment is blunt. After listing all the medical marijuana states, it says: "None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used… to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana." (The bill also includes similar language barring the use of Justice Department funds to interfere with hemp research authorized under the already approved Agricultural Act of 2014.)

The amendment is also important. In the past three years alone, the Justice Department has threatened elected officials, dispensary operators, and their landlords with legal action over medical marijuana. Those threats have delayed or stopped implementation of medical marijuana laws in at least six states. Similarly, threats of criminal prosecution and/or asset forfeiture aimed at landlords in California and Colorado have resulted in the closure of at least 600 state law-abiding medical marijuana businesses.

And DEA teams have aggressively raided and US Attorneys have prosecuted medical marijuana patients and providers. One stark example is the case of the Kettle Falls Five, a family of patients who were growing medical marijuana for their own personal use in accordance with Washington state law. In a state where marijuana is legal, federal prosecutors are seeking to send a pair of elderly patients and their children to prison. That prosecution is now in doubt.

"This is truly a long-fought victory for medical marijuana patients who have lived in fear of being caught in the crossfire of conflicting state and federal laws for nearly two decades," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which has lobbied for years for passage of the measure. "But this is also a victory for taxpayers because of the hundreds of millions of dollars saved on unnecessary and harmful enforcement."

Last year, ASA issued a report showing the Obama administration had spent $80 million a year on medical marijuana enforcement. That may be chump change in a trillion-dollar spending bill, but it's still $80 million that could be better used each year.

"Congress has finally initiated a drawdown in the federal government's war on medical marijuana," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "This legislation makes it clear that the DEA has no business interfering in states' medical marijuana laws. Taxpayer money should not be used to punish seriously ill people who use medical marijuana and the caregivers who provide it to them."

"For the first time, Congress is letting states set their own medical marijuana and hemp policies, a huge step forward for sensible drug policy," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "States will continue to reform their marijuana laws and Congress will be forced to accommodate them. It's not a question of if, but when, federal marijuana prohibition will be repealed."

But if federal marijuana prohibition will someday be repealed, no one has told congressional Republicans, and congressional Democrats didn't seem to care much, either. The second part of Congress's schizoid pot policy two-step was a slap in the face to both marijuana legalization and the will of the voters of the District of Columbia.

Maryland Rep. Andy Harris (R) authored a rider to the bill that says that the District cannot "enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative."

Republican House committee heads got it inserted into the House version of the bill, and Senate Democrats didn't consider it important enough to fight to remove.

Marijuana reform proponents (and believers in democratic rule for the residents of DC) were livid, and they are not ready to roll over in the face of congressional attempts to quash legalization in the District.

"In light of recent events in Ferguson and New York, it would be particularly disturbing if Congress has chosen to overturn the will of the voters in a majority black city," said Dr. Malik Burnett, DPA policy manager and vice-chair of the DC Cannabis Coalition, the group that got Measure 71 passed. "DC voters chose to reform their marijuana laws, which have a direct impact on how communities of color interact with police. Congress should not undermine that."

Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), author of the rider to block DC marijuana legalization. (house.gov)
"By prohibiting the regulation of marijuana in the District, they are ensuring authorities have no control over it," Tvert said. "If drug cartels and gangs had lobbyists on the Hill, preventing marijuana regulation would be their top legislative priority. If the District can regulate and tax alcohol sales, it should be allowed to do the same with a less harmful substance like marijuana."

The District city council has been advancing a bill that would tax and regulate marijuana sales, but the Harris rider effectively kills that. Less certain, however, is whether it can really block Measure 71 from taking effect.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; Rep. Eleanor Holmes Horton, the Congressional Delegate from DC.; Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the ranking member on the House appropriations subcommittee that funds DC; Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee; and others have said that the DC rider allows Initiative 71 to stand. The DC government is blocked from enacting any new marijuana law reforms but it is free to implement and carry out reforms that have already been enacted.

The congressional Republicans who pushed the measure naturally disagree. They argue that Measure 71 has not been enacted because the DC council has not yet sent it to Congress and that the rider thus blocks it from being implemented.

While the question is likely to end up being settled in the courts, the next move is up to the District city council. It can go ahead and send the measure to Congress despite what the budget bill rider says. Advocates are urging the council to do just that.

And the council seems to be in a mood to stick up for the initiative -- and for democratic rights for the District. DC Council Chair Phil Mendelson told The Washington Post even before the final Senate vote that he plans to ignore the rider. He said he will instead follow normal procedure for voter-approved initiatives in a city that exists under the congressional thumb. He will sent a bill implementing the initiative to Congress next month for a 30-day review in which lawmakers can vote it up or down.

And if that doesn't work, there's still the courts.

"If the question is whether I'd be open to legal action, the answer is yes," Mendelson told Politico after the House vote.

Whether Congress has successfully blocked marijuana legalization in DC clearly remains to be seen. What is not in dispute, though, is that Congress has taken a major step toward clearing the way for medical marijuana, and that's a big deal.

Washington, DC
United States

What Does Congress's Medical Marijuana Legislation Actually Mean?

Earlier this year we noted here that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives had enacted two pro-medical marijuana amendments. One of them, the long-fought for Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, bars the US Dept. of Justice (parent agency of the DEA) from using taxpayer funds from interfering with state medical marijuana laws. The other allows banks to accept deposits from marijuana businesses in states where it is legal (any type of state legality, not just medical).

Last night, both chambers of Congress passed the controversial "CRomnibus" bill to continue funding the federal government through September 30, 2015, the end of the current fiscal year. As we've noted the past week or so, the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment was included in the negotiated language for the bill. With President Obama having backed the CRomnibus before its passage and being expected to sign it, that means that medical marijuana will take a large step toward full legality in the United States at any time.

What will this mean on the ground? It should mean that DEA and other branches of the Dept. of Justice can no longer threaten medical marijuana providers (or more theoretically, patients) with arrest or prosecution, and that landlords should no longer face the threat of asset forfeiture for property being rented to medical marijuana businesses. But the precise language, which focuses on states' implementating medical marijuana systems, could be argued as applying more narrowly, giving reassurance to state officials about their participation but not going further. Another concern is that a prosecutor could argue, for example, that a given marijuana business is not operating in strict accordance with a state's law. Our perspective in the movement is that that determination should be up to state authorities, not federal, but that's not necessarily the perspective of federal law enforcement. Those are some reasons why it remains to be seen just how thoroughly and reliably the protections that the new law provides will turn out to be, and these questions are being debated right now.

Where there's the most pessimism is about whether the new law will halt medical marijuana prosecutions that are already underway, but we'll see. In the past the administration has allowed such prosecutions to continue, but the administration's stance on marijuana policy, criminal justice in general, and their willingness to take concrete actions, has markedly increased during the last two years, so perhaps there is hope.

The CRomnibus also includes language barring the District of Columbia from enacting marijuana reform legislation. On its face that would seem to block Initiative 71 from going into effect, the measure passed by nearly 70% of voters that legalizes possession and home growing of marijuana in the District. But that also isn't clear. Advocates have pointed out that the language doesn't explicitly block Initiative 71, which normally is the action that Congress is required to take if it doesn't want DC legislation to go forward. Because DC has already enacted the measure, and because it only removes penalties and doesn't have a regulatory component (which DC initiatives can't have), that will hopefully mean that the law can change in January after the Congressional review period expires, assuming Congress doesn't take another vote to explicitly block it. One question may be whether transmitting the measure to Congress, as the process requires, would count as an expenditure of funds as defined in the language (though I haven't seen anyone else bring that up yet). According to several Democratic representatives including minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Congress's legislative intent was to allow the initiative to become law, but only to block a bill advanced by a committee of the DC City Council last month to establish a regulatory and taxation system with marijuana stores in the District.

Along with that gray lining, it should be noted that the banking issue, which as far as I can tell is unaddressed by the CRomnibus, is a really huge problem for the marijuana industry. Some consider it an even bigger problem than prosecutions. An attempt by the administration in February to establish safe harbor procedures for banks to take marijuana money has elicited only extremely slight movement on the part of banks, who mostly want to see clarity in federal statutes, not just a policy. So there is a pressing need to pass that second of the House's pro-medical marijuana amendments too.

Still, we have seen an amazing and historic victory this weekend. Whatever the legislation does or doesn't achieve in concrete help for medical marijuana defendants, businesses and patients right now, it clearly eases the way for further legislative progress on the issue. Mostly I think it will depend on whether the new Congress is able to do business at all. If they can, I will not be surprised to see even the Republican-controlled House and Senate to pass banking. And I expect to see bills to fully move medical marijuana into the realm of legality to see substantially increased support from both sides of the aisle.

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