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Chronicle AM: DEA "Fake Heroin" Ban, Canada Salvia Ban, London Laughing Gas Protest, More (8/03/15)

Rand Paul benefits from MPP's largesse, California tax officials eye a pot bank, medical marijuana is okayed for autistic kids in Michigan, Canada moves to ban salvia, Brits hold a laughing protest over a proposed legal highs ban, and more. 

Salvia divinorum--still not a controlled substance in the US, but about to be banned in Canada.
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy Project PAC Gives $15,000 to Rand Paul. MPP's PAC has given three $5,000 donations to groups supporting the Kentucky senator and Republican presidential contender's political ambitions, according to midyear Federal Election Commission filings. That makes some sense, given that Paul received the highest grade of any candidate of either party on marijuana policy issues in a recent MPP report. They gave him an A-.

California Tax Officials Want State-Run Pot Bank. With an eye toward looming legalization in the Golden State, the state Board of Equalization is signaling its interest in a state-run bank to allow marijuana industry operators to move away from an all-cash business. "We’re a big state, and we have very creative minds," said Democratic board member Fiona Ma said at a meeting on the topic she called Friday with fellow board member George Runner.  "We lead in many first-in-the-nation initiatives, and I believe we could create some sort of state depository that could handle cash deposits and also be available for the industry to make electronic transfers to make their payments."

Medical Marijuana                                                                 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley Stalls Medical Marijuana Bill. A bill that would reschedule marijuana and let states set their own medical marijuana policies has some congressional support, but with only two Republican cosponsors, Rand Paul (KY) and Dean Heller (NV), Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) said the bill was not exactly a priority. "I'm going to wait until I talk to other Republican members," he told Politico.

Florida Poll Has Two-Thirds Supporting Medical Marijuana. A new survey from St. Pete Polls has more than 68% of respondents saying they would vote for a new medical marijuana initiative if it makes the ballot. An effort last year got 58% of the vote, but failed because, as a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% to pass. These poll results strongly suggest it will pass next time around. Click on the link for more poll results.

Veterans With PTSD Line Up for Free Medical Marijuana in Denver Protest. Hundreds of Colorado veterans lined up to receive free medical marijuana products Saturday as part of a protest against the state health board's refusal to include PTSD among conditions treatable by medical marijuana. The protest was organized by Grow4Vets. "We’re tired of waiting around for the government to do something to help veterans," cofounder Richard Martin said. "We’re losing over 50 American heroes every single day as a result of prescription drug overdose or suicide, and the VA’s position up until this point has pretty much been let’s just keep them in a drug stupor."

Michigan Panel Okays Medical Marijuana for Autistic Kids. In a 4-2 vote last Friday, the state Medical Marijuana Review Panel okayed medical marijuana for kids with severe forms of autism. Its use must be approved by two doctors, and the kids wouldn't smoke it, but would use it in edible or concentrate form.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

In Emergency Move, DEA Makes "Fake Heroin" a Schedule I Controlled Substance. The DEA has responded to rising concern from both the medical and law enforcement communities over acetyl fentanyl by temporarily reassigning the substance as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. The compound is related to the prescription painkiller fentanyl and a small amount can produce a euphoric response in users that resembles a high from heroin or oxycodone, which led to it being dubbed "fake heroin."

International

Canada Moves to Ban Salvia Divinorum. The Ministry of Health last Saturday announced new regulatory amendments that would effectively ban salvia divinorum. Once the regulations are published on August 12, the sale or distribution—but not the possession—of salvia will be illegal. It will also be scheduled as a controlled substance.

London Laughing Gas Protest. Dozens of demonstrators against the British government's proposed ban on legal highs broke out in giggles last Saturday as they simultaneously inhaled nitrous oxide in laughing protest of the move.  "The whole drug laws need looking at," said one demonstrator. "If we are going to have legal tobacco and alcohol with all their side effects, why can’t we have legal highs?"

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

Chronicle AM: High Drama in Ohio, Congressmen Seek DOJ Investigation Into MedMJ Harassment, More (7/31/15)

It's the dog days of summer, and it looks like not much is going on except marijuana-related issues. Will ResponsibleOhio make the ballot, will the Justice Department ease up on medical marijuana where it's legal? Stay tuned.

Marijuana Policy

It's do or die today for ResponsibleOhio. They handed in more signatures, but will they be enough?
Federal Reserve Blocks Marijuana Credit Union. The Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City has denied an application for a "master account" from a Denver-based credit union created to serve the legal marijuana industry. The credit union is chartered in Colorado, but can't open its doors without the "master account." If the Fed had approved the account, it could have led to banking access for the state's marijuana industry. In response to the denial, the Fourth Corner Credit Union has now filed a lawsuit against the Fed and the National Credit Union Administration.

ResponsibleOhio Hands in Another 96,000 Signatures; Only 29,000 Valid Ones Needed. Late today, the controversial ResponsibleOhio monopoly marijuana legalization initiative campaign handed in 96,000 signatures to state officials in a bid to overcome a signature shortfall after the state threw out more than half of the nearly 700,000 signatures the group originally handed in. The deadline for handing in signatures is 11:59pm tonight. The group needs 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2015 ballot. According to state officials, it had about 275,000 valid ones before this latest and last batch was handed in.

Medical Marijuana

Congressmen Want DOJ Inspector General to Look Into Harassment of Medical Marijuana Providers in Wake of Vote Barring Same. Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) Thursday sent a letter to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz asking him to clarify whether continued prosecutions against medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal violate a successful budget rider that prevents the department from spending money to interfere in those states. "Cases such as the Kettle Falls Five case in Washington, asset forfeiture actions against dispensaries in the San Francisco Bay area, or the Lynch case now pending in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, are all instances of DOJ expending dollars it does not have the legal authority to spend," Rohrabacher and Farr write. "Consequently, we believe there is sufficient cause for your office to investigate potential violations of the Anti-Deficiency Act by the Department with regard to its prosecution and other enforcement actions against persons and businesses conducting legitimate medical marijuana activities under state law." That act makes it a crime to use federal funds for purposes not approved by Congress.

Nevada's First Dispensary Opens Today. Silver State Relief was set to open its doors today in the Reno suburb of Sparks. It's the first to open in the state, and one of two approved by city fathers.

New York Awards Five Medical Marijuana Licenses. The Department of Health today announced the names of five groups that will be allowed to sell medical marijuana in the state. Each group can open up to four dispensaries across the state. They are required to be open for business within six months, meaning patients may be able to buy it before year's end. Click on the link to see who the groups are.

Medical Marijuana Update

There's a CDC warning on "potential danger" from edibles, a Northern California US attorney who went after dispensaries steps down, Washington state medical marijuana enters a new, uncomfortable era, and more.

National

Last Friday, the CDC warned of "potential danger" from edibles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report citing the case of a Wyoming college student who fell to his death after eating edibles in Colorado to warn of the "potential danger" with the products. "Although the decedent in this case was advised against eating multiple servings at one time," the CDC article says, "he reportedly consumed all five of the remaining servings of the THC-infused cookie within 30-60 minutes after the first serving." The CDC noted that the coroner in the case listed "marijuana intoxication" as a contributing factor in the death, which was classified as an accident.

California

On Tuesday, Humboldt County supervisors delayed discussions on repealing the county's ban on new dispensaries. No dispensaries have been allowed to open in the county since December 2011, when supervisors enacted a moratorium on them. Prospective dispensary operators who have been waiting for more than four years will have to wait a little longer. Supervisors said they would discuss the issue at their August 18 meeting.

On Wednesday, US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag said she is stepping down. Haag earned the antipathy of medical marijuana advocates for her crackdown on Northern California dispensaries, which she accused of being fronts for illegal dealers. Advocates harshly criticized her for attempting to shut down the Harborside dispensary in Oakland, the nation's largest. It's still open for business as the legal wrangle continues.

Michigan

Last Friday, the state Supreme Court ruled that a medical marijuana card doesn't grant sweeping immunity, but... In a pair of cases regarding medical marijuana caregivers, the state's high court has ruled that the medical marijuana law does not grant sweeping immunity to cardholders, but sent the cases back to lower courts to determine whether the defendants are entitled to immunity. The court seems to be getting tired of medical marijuana. It has addressed the issue nine times in the past seven years. "The many inconsistencies in the law have caused confusion for medical marijuana caregivers and patients, law enforcement, attorneys, and judges, and have consumed valuable public and private resources to interpret and apply it," wrote Justice Bryan Zahra.

Minnesota

Last Thursday, the second dispensary in the state opened for business. The state's first medical marijuana dispensary outside of the Twin Cities, Minnesota Medical Solutions in Rochester opened its doors. A Minneapolis-area dispensary opened earlier this year.

Ohio

On Wednesday, the attorney general rejected the wording of a medical marijuana petition. Attorney General Mike DeWine announced today that he had rejected a petition for the Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment, saying he had found several defects in the language. Now, the group will have to address those defects, gather another 1,000 initial signatures, and try again.

Washington

Last Friday, changes to the state's medical marijuana program went into effect. Recently passed legislation designed to bring the program in line with the state's legalization system are now active. The Liquor Control Board is now the Liquor and Cannabis Control Board, PTSD and traumatic brain injury are now considered qualifying conditions, a voluntary patient database (which patients must join if they want the tax breaks for medical marijuana) is now in effect, the number of plants in a household is limited to 15 no matter how many patients live there, and doctors who write more than one medical marijuana authorization a day must report their totals to the Department of Health.

Also last Friday, a member of the Kettle Falls Five got 16 months in federal prison. They grew medical marijuana in a state where it is legal -- heck, even recreational is legal in Washington -- but were prosecuted by zealous federal prosecutors operating out of Spokane. Now, after pleading guilty and testifying for the federal government against fellow members of the five, Jason Lee Zucker has been rewarded with 16 months in federal prison. Assistant US Attorney Caitlin Baunsgard said last Friday Zucker's testimony was "integral" to obtaining convictions against his co-defendants and urged the lighter sentence. He could have been sent to federal prison for five years. Three of the other Kettle Falls Five face sentencing in October after being found guilty and are looking at up to 20 years. The fifth member, family patriarch Larry Harvey, saw charges against him dropped after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

On Tuesday, King County said it will force unlicensed dispensaries to close. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said that dispensaries operating illegally in unincorporated areas of the county will have to shut down soon. He said that he would be serving up lawsuits against 15 collectives in coming days. "Their days as marijuana sellers where they never had a license, and they never paid taxes, those days are over," he said. He added that the businesses had a couple of months to shut down before he goes after them in court.

International

Israel to Make Medical Marijuana Available By Prescription, Will Be Sold in Pharmacies. Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman said Monday that medical marijuana will be available in pharmacies and more doctors will be allowed to prescribe it. "There are already pharmacies that dispense all sorts of other drugs, such as morphine. There is order with that, and there will be order with this," Litzman said. "There will be registration, and we'll supervise it, but it will be according to a standard, like a drug. Right now, we're in a case at the High Court of Justice because of the growers, and we'll issue a tender for the growers. I hope we get approval from the High Court of Justice. We'll fight aggressively to allow this to get out," Litzman emphasized. "The growers will also be stronger. As soon as there is a tender, it shifts to selling a drug by prescription, and I'm sure it will be accepted. We have a lot more work and much more to do, but this is my headline."

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

Chronicle AM: Chris Christie Picks Fight With Weed, New DEA Head Concedes Pot Might Not Be as Bad as Heroin, More (7/29/15)

Chris Christie is beating up on marijuana again, Ohio officials continue to play hardball with ResponsibleOhio, DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg takes a tiny step forward, Colombian peasants are grumbling at a rumored renewal of aerial crop eradication, and more.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stands firm against marijuana legalization. (nj.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Chris Christie Vows to Roll Back Legalization in the States if Elected. New Jersey governor and Republican presidential contender Chris Christie said Tuesday marijuana users in legal states should enjoy their highs while they have the chance because if he's elected, he will enforce federal prohibition. "If you're getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it," said Christie at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire. "As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws. If you want to change the marijuana laws, go ahead and change the national marijuana laws," he added. Christie is currently struggling to break out of the bottom of a crowded field of GOP contenders.

Ohio Secretary of State to Investigate Legalization Petitions for Possible Fraud. Secretary of State Jon Husted said today he had named a special investigator to look into "discrepancies" in petitions from the controversial legalization group ResponsibleOhio. He said the review would look into "significant disparities" between the number of petitions the group claimed to have gathered and the number actually turned in. If the discrepancies constitute fraud, they could lead to criminal charges, he said. ResponsibleOhio, on the other hand, has accused state election officials of losing some 40,000 signatures and wrongfully invalidating others and is threatening to go to the state Supreme Court over the issue. The group had handed in nearly 700,000 signatures and needed only 305,000 valid ones to qualify for the 2015 ballot, but state officials last week said they were about 30,000 short. ResponsibleOhio has until midnight tomorrow to try to make up for the signature shortfall.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Attorney General Rejects Medical Marijuana Petition Wording. Attorney General Mike DeWine announced today that he had rejected a petition for the Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment, saying he had found several defects in the language. Now, the group will have to address those defects, gather another 1,000 initial signatures, and try again.

Washington's King County Will Force Unlicensed Dispensaries to Close. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said Tuesday that dispensaries operating illegally in unincorporated areas of the county will have to shut down soon. He said that he would be serving up lawsuits against 15 collectives in coming days. "Their days as marijuana sellers where they never had a license, and they never paid taxes, those days are over," he said. He added that the businesses had a couple of months to shut down before he goes after them in court.

Drug Policy

New DEA Head Concedes Marijuana Might Not Be As Dangerous as Heroin. DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg Tuesday conceded during a conference call that heroin is probably more dangerous than marijuana, but that he was no expert. "If you want me to say that marijuana's not dangerous, I'm not going to say that because I think it is," Rosenberg said. "Do I think it's as dangerous as heroin? Probably not. I'm not an expert." Coming from anyone other than a DEA head, the statement would be considered mealy-mouthed, but it actually marks a break with Rosenberg's hardline predecessor, Michele Leonhart, whose refusal to make the distinction helped contribute to her being forced from the position.

International

Irish Officials Say They Have a "Wide Consensus" for Drug Decriminalization. After a "think tank" on drug problems in Dublin today, Minister of State of the National Drugs Strategy Aodhan O'Riordain said there was a "wide consensus within the room for decriminalization," but there were also "some question marks and some discussion points as to how to get wider society on board with the idea. People in the sector may be convinced, but the terminology and the language is going to be important."

Colombia Coca Farmers Threaten Protests Over Reports Government Might Resume Aerial Spraying. Amid rumors that authorities plan to restart efforts to eradicate coca crops by spraying them with glyphosate, farmers in the north are vowing to fight such plans. "The moment they begin the fumigation, the peasant strike will begin," said a spokesman for the Campesino Association of Catatumbo. With US backing and encouragement, the Colombian government sprayed the herbicide on coca crops for years despite peasant protests that it was causing illness and damaging other crops and livestock. Earlier this year, the government halted the practice after the World Health Organization declared glyphosate a carcinogen. Nearly 2,500 police are being sent to the region in anticipation of protests, even though the interior minister denied any plans to begin spraying anew, saying it was only under discussion.

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

Chronicle AM: OR Gov Signs Marijuana Sales Bill, More British Cops Turning Blind Eye to Marijuana, More (7/28/15)

Any adult will be able to buy marijuana at Oregon dispensaries beginning October 1, some British police are moving toward de facto decriminalization, dirty Philly cops beat a corruption rap and are now suing city officials, and more.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) has signed a bill allowing recreational marijuana sales at dispensaries beginning October 1. (or.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Governor Signs Bill Allowing Recreational Marijuana Sales to Begin October 1. Gov. Kate Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 460, which will allow medical marijuana dispensaries to begin selling marijuana to all adults on October 1. Pot shops other than existing dispensaries won't come on line until next year.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Supreme Court Says Medical Marijuana Card Doesn't Grant Sweeping Immunity, But… In a pair of cases regarding medical marijuana caregivers, the state's high court has ruled that the medical marijuana law does not grant sweeping immunity to cardholders, but sent the cases back to lower courts to determine whether the defendants are entitled to immunity. The court seems to be getting tired of medical marijuana. It has addressed the issue nine times in the past seven years. "The many inconsistencies in the law have caused confusion for medical marijuana caregivers and patients, law enforcement, attorneys, and judges, and have consumed valuable public and private resources to interpret and apply it," wrote Justice Bryan Zahra.

Law Enforcement

Acquitted Philly Cops Sue City Officials for Defamation. Five members of a notorious Philadelphia Police dope squad who managed to avoid federal corruption convictions and who have won the right to return to work are now suing the district attorney, the mayor, and the police commissioner. They say they were unfairly maligned and fired. After numerous reports of corrupt activities, DA Seth Williams began refusing their cases in 2012 and that "started a gigantic, destructive avalanche of severe and permanent wrongs, damages and injustices" that continues to affect the officers today," their attorney wrote. They had been accused of routinely beating drug suspects, stealing money, and lying on police reports. One member of the squad pleaded guilty and testified against the others, but the jury did not convict.

International

Three More British Police Forces Will Basically Ignore Small Pot Grows. Police in Derbyshire, Dorset, and Surrey are joining police in Durham in quietly turning a blind eye to small-scale marijuana cultivation and use. While the Conservative government continues to have a hard-line stance on marijuana, the cops say they have better things to do. "On the list of priorities cannabis moves a long way down the chain," one police official explained.

Chronicle AM: Reuters on West African Meth, Brit Pot Petition Goes Viral, Mexico Ibogaine Conference, More (7/27/15)

Lot's of international news today, plus Minnesota gets a second dispensary, Vermont seeks to prohibit more new synthetics, New Hampshire is worried about heroin, and more.

Iboga, the African herb from which ibogaine is derived (ibogaineconference.org)
Medical Marijuana

Kettle Falls Five Member Gets 16 Months in Federal Prison. They grew medical marijuana in a state where it is legal -- heck, even recreational is legal in Washington -- but were prosecuted by zealous federal prosecutors operating out of Spokane. Now, after pleading guilty and testifying for the federal government against fellow members of the five, Jason Lee Zucker has been rewarded with 16 months in federal prison. Assistant US Attorney Caitlin Baunsgard said last Friday Zucker's testimony was "integral" to obtaining convictions against his co-defendants and urged the lighter sentence. He could have been sent to federal prison for five years. Three of the other Kettle Falls Five face sentencing in October after being found guilty and are looking at up to 20 years. The fifth member, family patriarch Larry Harvey, saw charges against him dropped after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Second Minnesota Dispensary Opens for Business. The state's first medical marijuana dispensary outside of the Twin Cities, Minnesota Medical Solutions in Rochester, opened last Thursday. A Minneapolis-area dispensary opened earlier this year.

Ibogaine

Global Ibogaine Conference to Be Held in Mexico in March 2016. The conference will take place in the charming hipster town of Tepoztlan, about an hour south of Mexico City, and will feature speakers including Claudio Naranjo, Stanton Peele, and Andrew Tatarsky. Click on the link for all the conference and registration information.

New Synthetic Drugs

Vermont to Add 75 New Synthetic Drugs to Controlled Substances List. State officials are set to outlaw 75 new synthetic drugs after earlier moves against synthetics resulted in new ones being produced. "The people who design and create what people think of designer drugs are very creative chemists," said State Toxicologist Sarah Vose. "And they can change molecules very easily to avoid being regulated," Vose said. "So the updates to this list are an attempt to keep ahead of that trend in designer-drug creation." The new list of regulated compounds includes stimulants, depressants and hallucinogens. Among the soon-to-be-illegal compounds is acetyl-fentanyl, a derivative of a powerful opiate. The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules will convene a hearing on the regulated drug rule proposal next week.

Drug Policy

Poll Finds Drug Abuse Second Most Pressing Problem in New Hampshire. Concerns about drug abuse were second only to concerns about the economy for New Hampshire residents surveyed in a WMUR Granite State Poll released last Thursday. Some 25% of respondents said the economy was the main concern, while 14% said drug abuse. Pollster Andy Smith said it was the most concern he's heard about drugs in the 15 years he's conducted the survey. But respondents were divided on what to do about it, with 42% saying the government should spend more to address heroin use, 20% saying the government is spending enough, and 38% saying they didn't know enough to respond.

International

Reuters Does In-Depth Report on Meth in West Africa. The press agency has produced a fairly comprehensive look at the rise of meth, meth trafficking, and meth production in the region. Click on the link to read the whole thing.

Israel to Make Medical Marijuana Available By Prescription, Will Be Sold in Pharmacies. Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman said Monday that medical marijuana will be available in pharmacies and more doctors will be allowed to prescribe it. "There are already pharmacies that dispense all sorts of other drugs, such as morphine. There is order with that, and there will be order with this," Litzman said. "There will be registration, and we'll supervise it, but it will be according to a standard, like a drug. Right now, we're in a case at the High Court of Justice because of the growers, and we'll issue a tender for the growers. I hope we get approval from the High Court of Justice. We'll fight aggressively to allow this to get out," Litzman emphasized. "The growers will also be stronger. As soon as there is a tender, it shifts to selling a drug by prescription, and I'm sure it will be accepted. We have a lot more work and much more to do, but this is my headline."

More Than One Quarter of Italian Parliamentarians Support Marijuana Legalization Proposal. Some 250 of Italy's 945 members of parliament have endorsed a bill that would legalize marijuana. The proposal would allow anyone 18 or older to grow up to five plants at home or to join a "cannabis social club" with a joint garden of up to 50 people and 250 plants. Marijuana produced by home gardeners or social clubs could not be sold, but marijuana stores would make pot available at retail, with people allowed to possess up to 15 grams at home and to carry up to five grams with them. The proposal has support across Italy's political spectrum, but it remains to be seen if it can pass.

Online Petition Calling for Marijuana Legalization Will Force UK Parliament to Respond. More than 150,000 Britons have signed a government-authorized online petition calling for the total legalization of marijuana. Like the change.gov petition process in the US, policymakers must respond if a certain signature level -- in this case, 100,000 -- is reached. The signatures have come in just five days. The petition now goes to the House of Commons petition committee, which has the power to press for action from the government or the parliament -- or not. But at least the petition committee will have to formally address it.

Chronicle AM: ResponsibleOhio Fights On, GA Cop Indicted in Baby Boo-Boo SWAT Raid, More (7/23/15)

ResponsibleOhio has about a week to come up with 40,000 more signatures, more Americans than ever admit smoking pot, e-sports is about to begin drug testing, a Georgia cop gets indicted for lying about probable cause in the Baby Boo Boo SWAT raid case, and more.

The question right now isn't should it or shouldn't it make the ballot, but will it or won't it?
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Legalization Initiative Still Fighting to Get on Ballot. The ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative campaign, which state officials say came up 35,000 signatures short in its effort to get its measure on the November ballot, says it is sure it had enough valid signatures and will go to the state Supreme Court to contest the results. "There are over 21,000 voters who were incorrectly identified as invalid. We want to make sure they have their signatures count. We also see that there are 40,000 signatures that weren't reviewed," spokesman Ian James said. The group is also gathering more signatures -- it has a 10-day window to try to make up any shortfall.

Gallup Poll Finds Largest Number Yet of Americans Admitting to Having Smoked Weed. Some 44% of Americans admit to having smoked marijuana, the largest number ever record by the pollsters. When Gallup first asked the question back in 1969, only 4% admitted to having tried it. By 1985, the figure was at 33%. Gallup wasn't sure if the rising numbers reflected more people actually using marijuana or more people being comfortable admitting to it. "The changes over time may reflect either an increase in the percentage who have tried the drug, or an increased willingness to admit to having done so in the past," Gallup explained.

Medical Marijuana

Senate Appropriations Committee Approves DC Pot Shops, Marijuana Banking Bill. The committee today approved a bill today allowing the nation's capital to establish regulated marijuana stores and let banks provide financial services to state-legalized marijuana dispensaries. The votes came on the financial services spending bill, which includes language removing a federal ban on regulated marijuana commerce in the District, which legalized possession and cultivation last year. The committee also approved an amendment allowing banks to provide services to marijuana businesses where they are legal.

Marijuana Policy Project Report Criticizes New Hampshire Medical Marijuana Program. In a report marking the two year anniversary of the signing into law of the state's medical marijuana program, the activist group is harshly critical of the state's failures in implementing the law. The report title pretty much says it all: Confusion, Delays, and Continued Arrests: A Two-Year Retrospective on New Hampshire's "Therapeutic Use of Cannabis" Law. Click either link to read the report.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona ACLU Files Lawsuit Claiming State's Asset Forfeiture Laws Are Unconstitutional. The ACLU of Arizona today filed a federal lawsuit in Phoenix arguing that the laws "have created a lucrative system in which police and prosecutors are heavily incentivized to seize and forfeit property." The group says the law allows "law enforcement [agencies to] supplement their budgets without any legislative oversight." The ACLU is representing a Sun Tan Valley woman whose pick-up truck was seized after her son borrowed it and was arrested for allegedly stealing a hood ornament and putting it on the truck.

Drug Testing

Drug Testing Comes to E-Sports. The Electronic Sports League, the largest online gaming organization, has announced that it will adopt policies to keep drugs out of virtual sports. The move comes in the wake of ongoing controversy about the use of Adderall by e-sports players. A high-ranked e-sports player, Kory Friesen, ignited the commotion by not only admitting to use of the drug, but claiming it was prevalent. "We were all on Adderall," he said in a widely-copied interview.

Law Enforcement

Georgia Cop Indicted Over Baby Boo-Boo SWAT Raid. A Habersham County sheriff's deputy has been indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with the May 2014 raid that left a toddler severely injured by a flash-bang grenade. Nikki Autry, a special agent of the Mountain Judicial Circuit Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team (NCIS), has been indicted for lying in a search warrant affidavit and providing the same false information to obtain an arrest warrant in the case. Autry is accused of claiming that one of his informants made a meth buy at the address when the alleged meth purchase was made by someone else and lying about whether it was a "true and honorable informant." Nor had Autry confirmed there was heavy traffic in and out of the house, as he claimed. His alleged lies were the basis for a judge signing off on the "no knock" warrant that resulted in the bad raid.

International

Marijuana Cultivation on the Upsurge in Sweden. Swedish media are reporting an increasing number of marijuana cultivation busts. There were 904 pot farms reported to police last year, up fourfold from 2011, and police said they were on track for similar numbers this year.

Chronicle AM: CA Blue Ribbon Marijuana Report is Out, DEA Criticized for Blocking Snitch Probe, More (7/22/15)

A long-awaited (and overdue) report on California marijuana policy reforms is out, an Arizona appeals court rules that the odor of marijuana in a medical marijuana state is not sufficient grounds for a search warrant, the DEA gets criticized over its snitch program, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Blue Ribbon Panel on Marijuana Releases Report, Calls for Strict Controls. The panel, led by pro-legalization Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), issued its Pathways Report: Policy Options for Regulating Marijuana in California today, and called for a regulatory system that prevents childhood use and warns that "this industry should not be the next California Gold Rush." The 93-report is a comprehensive look at the range of policy options facing the state. Read it.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

New Hampshire "Drug Czar" Releases Recommendations for Fighting Opiate Abuse. John Wozmak, senior director for Substance Misuse and Behavioral Health, Tuesday released a list of 22 recommendations for fighting opiate abuse, including making naloxone more widely available and strengthening the state's prescription drug monitoring program. Click on the link to see the full list.

Law Enforcement

Arizona Appeals Court Rules Smell of Weed Alone is Not Grounds for Search Warrant. The legalization of medical marijuana in the state means that the odor of weed by itself is not probable cause for obtaining a search warrant. "Medical marijuana use pursuant to AMMA is lawful under Arizona law," he wrote. "Therefore its scent alone does not disclose whether a crime has occurred." Instead, police must now rely on an "odor-plus" standard where additional evidence is needed to justify a warrant.

Justice Department Inspector Report Criticizes DEA on Informants. DEA agents wrote their own rules for a secret snitch program and then tried to block the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) from conducting its probe into the program, the just released OIG report says. "Our audit work thus far has been seriously delayed by numerous instances of uncooperativeness from the DEA," the inspector general wrote. Although the OIG set out to review the confidential informant program in February 2014, the OIG has had only "limited" success, it said. But the OIG's audit isn't yet completed. Stay tuned.

Chronicle AM: The Case of the Dead ND Student Snitch, Brit Police Force De Facto Decriminalizes, More (7/21/15)

There will be an open container law for weed in Washington state, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) files a bill to expunge some federal marijuana offense records, cops in one British county effectively decriminalize small-time marijuana offenses, there's a mystery surrounding a dead North Dakota student informant, and more.

British police in Durham have decided they have better things to do than go after small-time pot offenders. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Congressman Introduces Federal Clean Slate for Marijuana Offenses Act. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) today introduced a bill designed to expunge federal marijuana offenses that are no longer illegal in a number of states. The Clean Slate for Marijuana Offenses Act of 2015 would clear the records of those federally charged with state-legal marijuana activity and those federally charged with possession of less than an ounce. It's not yet up on the congressional web site. Activists said its effects would be mainly symbolic.

Marijuana Legalization Money Being Raised in Maine. There are two competing legalization campaigns in the state, and both are fundraising. The Marijuana Policy Project-affiliated Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has raised $104,166 so far this year, with $50,000 coming from MPP in June, while Legalize Maine has raised $55,575.

Washington State Has Open Container Law for Marijuana. Effective September 26, drivers will be required to store their weed in the trunks of their vehicles in an unopened container, or in a part of the passenger compartment "not normally occupied or directly accessible by" the driver or passengers. That's a provision of House Bill 1276, which Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed into law on June 30. Medical Marijuana 

Michigan Panel Defers Decision on Medical Marijuana for Autism. The Michigan Medical Marijuana Review Panel postponed action on recommending whether or not autism should be a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. The panel said it wanted more time to review the evidence.

Sentencing

Federal Prosecutors Really Want Their Mandatory Minimums. Although only a tiny fraction of federal drug crimes involve violence, federal prosecutors are demanding that their mandatory minimum sentences be left unchanged. National Association of Assistant US Attorneys head Steve Cook warns that it would be "a huge mistake" to change federal sentencing laws. "The federal criminal justice system is not broken," he added, claiming that "drug trafficking is inherently violent." Oddly enough, only 142 of more than 20,000 federal drug offenses prosecuted last year involved violence or threats of violence. Cook also wants more prisons, calling them "a good investment."

Law Enforcement

Did a North Dakota Student Get Killed After Campus Cops Turned Him Into a Snitch? The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a lengthy piece on the case of Andew Sadek, who went missing two weeks before graduation last year. His body was later found in the Red River with a bullet wound to the head and a backpack full of rocks. He had been busted for small-time marijuana sales on campus and agreed to become an informant for campus police. No one has been charged in his death, and police aren't even certain if it was a homicide or a suicide. Read the whole thing.

International

British Police Force Quits Trying to Find Small Pot Grows. The police in County Durham and Darlington are giving up on proactively tracking down small marijuana grows in a de facto move toward decriminalization. Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg said police there will also offer people caught with small amounts of weed to avoid criminal prosecution by entering a program aimed at ending low-level offending. "By and large we are saying it is not the top of our list to go out and try to pick up people smoking joints on street corners but if it's blatant or we get complaints, officers will act," Hogg said. "It's about keeping people out of the criminal justice system and reducing costs, it's about being more productive with the way we approach things. It's also about seeking to prevent future use by keeping people out of prison."

Santa Muerte Goes to Court: The Curious Case of the Narco Saint's Prayer [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Houston-based investigative journalist Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Does praying to a "narco saint" constitute evidence that someone is a drug trafficker? In an unusual case out of the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the court said "no." In overturning the conviction of the woman doing the praying, the court both acted to protect First Amendment freedoms and opened a window into Santa Muerte, the unofficial Saint Death venerated by hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of poor Mexicans, some of whom are members of the criminal underworld.

Santa Muerte shrine, Nuevo Laredo (wikipedia/not home)
The case,US v. Medina-Copete and Goxcon-Chagal, unfolded on June 28 2011, when New Mexico State Police Sergeant Arsenio Chavez pulled over a truck with Nevada plates on I-40 in Albuquerque for failing to maintain adequate distance from the vehicle ahead of it. According to court testimony, Chavez felt suspicious when he noticed the occupants appeared nervous, and the woman riding on the passenger side could be heard reciting a handwritten prayer she held in her hands.

In the truck were Tulsa residents Rafael Goxcon-Chagal and Maria Medina-Copete. Also in the truck, stashed in a secret compartment, were two pounds of 90% pure methamphetamine. The couple, who had borrowed the truck, denied any knowledge of the drugs, but they were nonetheless charged with trafficking meth. They were convicted in August 2012 for conspiracy to distribute more than 50 pounds of meth and firearms possession. They were sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.

The prayer the woman was reciting was to Santa Muerte, and the fact the she directed her adorations toward the Mexican "narco saint" helped convict her of drug trafficking.

Who is Santa Muerte?

For years, religious experts and law enforcement authorities have called Santa Muerte a "narco saint," worshipped by drug traffickers and who believe she has the power to protect them from their enemies -- who range from other traffickers to the police.

Santa Muerte is typically portrayed as a skeletal woman, wearing robes or a bridal gown, and holding a scythe -- a sort of Grim Reaper figure. For the millions that venerate her, she is a figure of compassion, protection, and unconditional love who will protect her devotees from evil. She is the saint of the marginalized, as well as the criminal.

For the Catholic Church, worship of Santa Muerte is blasphemy. Still, her popularity continues to grow, and each November, thousands of worshippers gather at her main shrine, in the rough and tumble Tepito district of Mexico City to get her blessings and bestow gifts -- both humbly modest and gaudily golden -- on her statue.

She is estimated to have 10 to 12 million devotees, not just in Mexico, but, increasingly, in the US and other Latin American counties as well.

Muerte, the Skeleton Saint."

While it began among the lumpenproletariat of Mexico City and has always been associated with criminals and narcos, the experts concede that Santa Muerte is worshipped by many who are simply poor and on society's fringes.

"Santa Muerte has been used as evidence and used as probable cause in some cases," Chesnut explained. "But she is not just a narco-saint, and many of her devotees aren't involved in criminal behavior. Some drug traffickers pray to Saint Jude, a recognized Catholic Saint, but that deity is rarely brought up in criminal cases," he pointed out.

Chesnut called the appeals court's ruling in the case "a landmark decision," adding that it marked the first time to his knowledge "that a conviction has been overturned because a folk saint was used in trial."

Challenging the "Expert Testimony"

Goxcon-Chagal andMedina-Copete appealed their convictions, with their attorneys arguing that federal prosecutors and the district court judge had subjected them to harmful error by allowing an expert on religious iconography to testify that Santa Muerte was so intimately connected to drug trafficking that Medina-Copete's invocation was evidence the pair knew illegal drugs were secreted in their vehicle.

The expert was US Marshal Robert Almonte, producer of the documentary, Patron Saints of the Mexican Drug Underworld. Almonte is also the author of two books, "Evolution of Narcotic Investigation" and "Managing Covert Operations."

The appellate attorneys also argued that Almonte's testimony about Santa Muerte 's association with narcotics severely undermined the defendants' defense that they had no knowledge of the drugs because the truck had been borrowed from one of Goxcon-Chagal's friend. They argued that the admission of Almonte's testimony violated federal rules of evidence.

Federal prosecutors retorted that the testimony was admissible under rules about evidence relating to "tools of the trade" of the drug business.

The 10th Circuit disagreed. In their ruling last year, the court found that prosecutors had indeed violated the rules of evidence by using Almonte's testimony, which the panel likened to "psychobabble."

The district court had erred in allowing the testimony because "it applied our 'tool of the trade' jurisprudence to Almonte's purported area of expertise without considering whether a prayer could qualify as a 'tool of the drug trade,' " wrote Judge Carlos Lucero for the majority. He is the first Hispanic judge to sit on the circuit.

US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Carlos Lucero (law.pace.edu)
The lower court also erred because 'it allowed Almonte to testify as an expert based on his experience without considering the relevance or breadth of that experience, thereby eliding the 'facts or data' requirements found under [the rules of evidence], " Lucero continued.

It was a double whammy: The prosecution did not show Almonte knew what he was talking about, and the lower court misinterpreted the rules of evidence to allow religious beliefs to be considered tools of the drug trade.

As a result, Judge Lucero noted, "Almonte's expert testimony characterizing the mere presence of the prayer as a very good indicator of possible criminal activity influenced the outcome of the trial in a prejudicial manner."

Lucero didn't hold back with what he thought of Almonte's testimony, either.

"He essentially painted the defendants in this case as heretics, holding beliefs not recognized by the Catholic Church either in Mexico or the United States. A criminal trial is not a place for a theological disputation on sainthood and the power of prayer. We urge the government to be cautious about appearing to take sides in theological debates," he wrote.

Out of the Frying Pan

While the 10th Circuit's decision reversed Goxcon-Chagel and Medina-Copete's convictions, it didn't free them. Instead they were transferred from federal prison to a federal detention center for retrial.

Things didn't look good for the pair. They had, after all, been caught with the meth, and the appeals court allowed to stand trial testimony from a DEA agent about the unlikelihood of drug traffickers sending loads of drugs with unknowing couriers.

Defense attorneys explored both the circumstances of the traffic stop and any investigations that might have preceded it, but were unable to find wriggle room there.

"Part of the problem is the standard permitting 'pretext stops,'" Goxcon-Chagel attorney Katherine Converse told the Chronicle. "Another problem is the difficulty of learning whether there was any NSA involvement in the stop," she added, referring to recent revelations of NSA intelligence being fed to DEA officers and on to local law enforcement agencies to launch drug investigations against potential suspects.

After lengthy negotiations with federal prosecutors, and without much in the way of a defense to the drug charges, Converse and Media-Copete's attorney advised their clients to take a plea. In February, Goxcon-Chagel copped to the charges and got 7 ½ years; Medina-Cotete, the praying woman, got four. Because of time already served, she's already been released.

And she probably sent a prayer of thanks to Santa Muerte.

Here is the complete hand-written prayer to Santa Muerte recited by and recovered from Maria Medina-Copete:

For protection during a trip
Holy Spirit of Death, I invoke your Holy Name to ask you to help me in this venture.
Make my way over the mountains valleys and paths an easy one,
never stop bestowing upon me your good fortune
weave the destiny so that bad instincts vanish before me because of your powerful protection.
Prevent, Santa Muerte, problems from growing and embracing my heart, my
Lady, keep any illness from embracing my wings (Illegible)
Glorious Santa Muerte be my protector and light my path. Be my
advocate before the redeemer. Be my truth in times of darkness
Grant me the strength and faith to invoke your name
and to thank you now
and forever for all your favors
Amen
Oh miraculous Santa Muerte, Niña Blanca of my heart and right arm of god
our lord. Today I come to you with infinite devotion to implore you for
health, fortune and luck
Remove from my path (illegible) that hurts me, envy and misfortune; don't
allow my enemy's slander reach and harm my spirit
may no one prevent me from receiving the prosperity that I am asking of you today
my powerful lady bless the money that will reach my hands and multiply it
so that my family lacks for nothing
and I can outreach my hand to the needy that crosses my path
keep tragedy pain and shortage away from me
this votive candle I will light so that the radiance of your eyes forms an
invisible wall around me
grant me prudence and patience holy lady, Santa Reina de las Tinieblas
("Holy Queen of Darkness") strength, power and wisdom tell the elements
not to unleash their fury wherever they cross paths with me take care of my
happy surroundings and that I want to adorn decorate
in my Santa Muerte
amen

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