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Chronicle AM: DEA Heroin Threat Assessment, Billboard Urges Arizona to "Buy American," More... (6/28/16)

A billboard campaign in Arizona encourages voters to "Buy American" and support marijuana legalization, a New Hampshire Democratic candidate for governor calls for legalization, the DEA releases a heroin threat assessment, and more. 

Marijuana Policy 

Arizona Legalizers Launch "Buy American" Campaign. The Arizona Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, sponsors of the state's pending legalization initiative, today launched a campaign urging Arizonans to "Buy American" instead of supporting cartels by buying Mexican weed. The campaign features a billboard that says: "If Arizona regulates marijuana, adults could buy American." Doing so would lead to tax revenues that "support schools, not cartels."

New Hampshire Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Calls for Legalization. Democratic contender Steve Marchand is calling for marijuana legalization, setting him apart from both sitting Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) and her Democratic predecessors. Marchand, the former mayor Portsmouth is running againswt Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern and former state securities regulator Mark Connolly in the September 13 primary.

DC Health Department Recommends Taxing, Regulating Marijuana Sales. In a new report, the Department of Health now recommends taxing and regulating marijuana sales in the nation's capital.  DC residents voted to legalize limited pot possession and cultivation, but Congress has blocked full legalization through budget riders. 

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Releases 2016 National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary. The drug fighting agency reports that the number of heroin users nearly tripled between 2007 and 2014 (from 161,000 to 435,000) and that deaths involving heroin more than tripled between 2010 and 2014 (from 3,036 to 10,574). The report also rang alarm bells about fentanyl, noting that fentanyl-related deaths jumped 79% between 2013 and 2014.

International

China's War on Drugs Rolls On. In a statement released on global anti-drugs day, China's Supreme People's Protectorate announced that nearly 190,000 people were arrested on drug charges between January 2015 and May 2016. The report also said there were more than 217,000 prosecutions for drug offenses. The numbers are large, but pale beside those of the US, where more than 1.5 million people are arrested on drug offenses each year. 

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, the 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: Dems Adopt Marijuana Platform Plank, UN Says Still Plenty of Heroin, More... (6/27/16)

The Democratic Party adopts a marijuana reform plank, scientists complain about marijuana research obstacles, Myanmar moves to reform a punitive drug law, the UN reports plentiful heroin supplies despite a bad harvest in Afghanistan last year, and more.

Poppy production declined last year, but there's still plenty of heroin stockpiled, the UN says. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Democrats Approve Marijuana Reform -- But Not Outright Legalization -- Platform Plank. The Democratic National Committee panel drafting the party's 2016 platform has approved language supporting marijuana law reform, but failed to approve language calling for removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances act. The approved language is as follows: "We believe that the states should be laboratories for democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research to be done on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact, with arrest rates for marijuana possession among African-Americans far outstripping arrests among whites despite similar usage rates."

Scientists Claims US Government Still Limiting Marijuana Research. In a letter published in Science, a group of scientists say the US government is still holding back research into marijuana. "This has created a truly unique and an unnecessary paradox in modern medicine, in which physicians are authorizing treatments to patients, and patients are regularly using medication without a scientific basis of knowledge on patient outcomes, forced rather to rely only on scientifically invalid or anecdotal information," said lead signatories Sarah Stith and Jacob Vigil of the University of New Mexico. The letter comes as the DEA is considering whether to reschedule marijuana.

Maine Legalization Initiative Will Appear on Ballot as Question 1. The initiative from the Maine Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has been designated Question 1 on the November ballot by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. The final wording of the ballot question reads: "Do you want to allow the possession and use of marijuana under state law by persons who are at least 21 years of age, and allow the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?"

Massachusetts ACLU Endorses Legalization Initiative. The Bay State chapter of the ACLU has officially endorsed the initiative from the Massachusetts Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. The initiative is waiting for a second round of turned-in signatures to be counted before it is officially qualified for the ballot.

Medical Marijuana

US Supreme Court Won't Hear Montana Medical Marijuana Appeal. The nation's high court refused Monday to hear a challenge to a state law that limits medical marijuana providers to selling it to no more than three patients. In refusing to hear the case, the high court let stand a Montana Supreme Court decision upholding most of a state law that effectively overturned a 2004 voter-approved medical marijuana initiative. New restrictions are now set to go into effect on August 31.

Pennsylvania Finishes Drafting Temporary Medical Marijuana Regulations. State health officials announced last Friday that they have completed drafting temporary regs that will allow child patients to use medical marijuana products from outside the state while the state's program is being set up. Applications should be available at the health department's website sometime next month.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

UN Says Still Plenty of Heroin Despite Opium Production Decline. In its World Drug Report 2016, released last Thursday, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that global opium production declined by 40% last year because of a poor harvest in Afghanistan, the world's leading producer, but that the harvest there in 2014 was among the largest on record, meaning that last year's decline was "unlikely" to lead to "major shortages" of heroin because traffickers have built up huge stockpiles in past years.

International

Danes Favor Marijuana Legalization, Even as Government Vows Crackdown. A Gallup poll has support for marijuana legalization at 45%, with 41% opposed. The poll comes days after the most recent crackdown on Pusher Street in Copenhagen's hippy enclave of Christiania, and the government says it doesn't care what the survey found. "I do not support legal cannabis and the Gallup figures don't change that," said Health Minister Sophie Lohde. "It's possible that some things would be easier if we let loose but I fear that legal cannabis would result in more people developing a substance abuse problem. And that particularly applies to young people."

Myanmar Government Moves to Reform Punitive Drug Laws. The government will push to delete provisions of the country's drug law that require drug users to register with the authorities on pain of imprisonment if they don't. Colonel Zaw Win Tun of the Myanmar Police Force said the provisions violate the country's human rights obligations under the UN Charter. "The existing law states drug users shall register and if not, they shall be imprisoned. Now we are trying to amend the law and remove the provision [requiring drug users to register]," he said. A bill to change the law was submitted to parliament earlier but has not been acted on. The government said it will now move on the bill.

Colombia, FARC Rebels Sign Ceasefire Agreement. Colombia's 50-year-long civil war is now winding down. Government officials and FARC representatives signed a ceasefire agreement last week in Havana and agreed to work together on coca crop substitution programs. The FARC also agreed to combat cocaine trafficking and the government has promised to engage in massive spending for alternative development. Will either actually happen? Read on.

Chronicle AM: House Blocks MJ Banking, No Prostitutes for DEA, Thai Meth Policy, More... (6/23/16)

House Republicans blocked an effort to open up banking for marijuana businesses, an Oregon worker fired for medical marijuana use wins his job back, DEA agents get new marching orders on hookers, the Thai government grapples with methamphetamine policy, and more.

Patronize a prostitute, lose your DEA badge.
Marijuana Policy

House Turns Back Effort to Give Pot Businesses Access to Banks. The Republican-led House Wednesday voted down an amendment to the FY 2017 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act that would have blocked federal regulators from punishing financial institutions for working with state-legal marijuana businesses. A similar amendment had passed the Senate last week.

Nevada Legalization Effort Has Raised Nearly $300,000 This Year. The Nevada Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has raised $285,000 so far this year, with more than half coming in a two-day period earlier this month when local marijuana companies made significant donations. The campaign's legalization initiative has qualified for the November ballot. Opposition groups made no reports of donations this reporting period.

Oregon Takes in Nearly $15 Million in Pot Taxes So Far This Year. As of May 30, the state Department of Revenue had processed $14.9 million in marijuana tax payments this year, the agency said Wednesday. Medical marijuana dispensaries authorized to sell to any adult 21 or over began collecting the tax in January.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Auditor Bemoans Delays in Processing ID Cards. The state auditor and the attorney general are investigating a backlog of medical marijuana ID card applications as requests for the cards surge. The state has 30 days to issue the issue the cards, but the Department of Health said it is taking 45-50 days, and the auditor's office said it had complaints of wait times of up to 90 days.

Oregon Worker Fired for Medical Marijuana Wins Jobs Back. An arbitrator has ordered Lane County to reinstate a worker it fired because he used medical marijuana to deal with the side effects of cancer treatment and it has ordered the county to give him nearly $22,000 in back pay. Michael Hirsh had been employed as a senior programmer for the county before he was fired in December after two employees reported smelling pot smoke on his clothing.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Governor Signs Heroin Bill Package. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Wednesday signed into law a package of bills aimed at the state's heroin and prescription opioid problems. The bills, which address prevention, treatment, and insurance coverage, should produce an additional 270 treatment beds and more than 2,000 slots for drug treatment programs. The bills also require insurance companies to wait 14 days before denying coverage to drug users deemed in need of drug treatment, and it limits initial prescriptions for opioids for severe pain to seven days.

Law Enforcement

No Prostitutes for DEA Agents. In the wake of scandalous behavior by DEA agents in Colombia during the 2012 Summit of the Americas, the DEA has instituted a one-strike policy for agents caught patronizing prostitutes. "Solicitation of prostitution on duty or off duty, whether you're in a jurisdiction where it is legal or illegal, first time offense -- removal," DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg told a Senate panel Wednesday.

International

UN Releases Annual Global Drug Report -- 250 Million Adults Used a Drug Last Year. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime has released the World Drug Report 2016, and notes that 5% of the adult population has used at least one drug in the past year. The UN also reported that the number of people classified as suffering from a dependency disorder climbed to more than 29 million, up from 27 million the previous year.

Thailand Won't Legalize Meth, But Will Remove it From List of Dangerous Drugs. Thai Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya has walked back talk about legalizing the amphetamine, but now says the country will work to reform its drug laws by removing meth from its list of hard drugs like heroin and recognizing a distinction between traffickers and users, workers, and addicts.

Medical Marijuana Update

A bipartisan federal effort to open up research on medical marijuana is underway, it looks likely that Arkansas will be voting on medical marijuana in November, a New Jersey PTSD bill advances, and more.

National

On Monday, congressional marijuana reform fans and foes said they were working together on a new research bill. Legalization opponent Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is joining forces with Congress's "top legal pot advocate," Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) to file a bill to overhaul federal policies on marijuana research. The bill would make it easier for scientists to conduct research on the medical use of marijuana. It hasn't been filed yet, but is expected this week.

On Wednesday, versions of the research bill were filed in the House and Senate. The bills announced earlier this week have been filed and given bill numbers. The House version, sponsored by Reps. Andy Harris (R-MD) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is HR 5549, while the Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) is S 3077.

Arkansas

On Monday, a medical marijuana initiative campaign handed in signatures. Supporters of the Arkansans for Compassionate Care medical marijuana initiative handed in more than 110,000 raw signatures to state officials in Little Rock Monday. The initiative only needs some 67,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. If as many as 30% of the signatures are found invalid, organizers would still have enough signatures to qualify.

California

As of Tuesday, a Northern California cannabis oil company was back in business after a misbegotten raid. Sonoma County's Care By Design (CBD) is already back in business after a massive raid including a hundred police officers and DEA agents last week. Business operator Dennis Franklin Hunter was released without charges after initially being held on a $5 million bond. Police raided the business thinking it was using a dangerous and illegal butane extraction process to make cannabis oil, but it was actually using a non-flammable CO2 extraction process. CBD is blaming the botched raid on a disgruntled former employee involved in a competing business.

New Jersey

Last Thursday, the Assembly passed a PTSD bill. The Assembly approved the bill, and a Senate committee approved a similar measure the same day. The bills would allow patients suffering from PTSD to use medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

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

Chronicle AM: MA Init Hands in Signatures, Uruguay's First Legal MJ Harvest, More... (6/22/16)

Marijuana legalization efforts advance in California and Massachusetts, Iowa Democrats blow minds with a platform plank, Michigan's welfare drug testing pilot program scores a big fat zero, and more.

It could be high times in Boston come November. (regulatemass.org)
Marijuana Policy

Gavin Newsom Warns California Pot People That Legalization Isn't a Done Deal. The state's pro-legalization lieutenant governor told attendees at the National Cannabis Industry Association conference in Oakland Tuesday that they need to get involved in passing the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) this November. "It's not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination," he said. "We need your help on the campaign." Newsom added that while tech billionaire Sean Parker is helping, "He's not going to fund the whole thing. If it is defeated, it will set back this movement in California… and nationally for years and years."

Massachusetts Legalization Backers Hand in Final Signatures. The Massachusetts Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Wednesday handed in some 25,000 raw signatures as the campaign moved toward the final step in placing its legalization initiative on the November ballot. The campaign only needs 10,792 valid voter signatures in this second round of signature gathering after the legislature failed to act when the campaign turned in more than 60,000 signatures last year.

Medical Marijuana

Congressional Medical Marijuana Research Bills Filed. The bills announced earlier this week have been filed and given bill numbers. The House version, sponsored by Reps. Andy Harris (R-MD) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), is HR 5549, while the Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), is S 3077.

Drug Policy

Iowa Democrats' Platform Includes "Legalize All Drugs" Plank. Hawkeye Democrats included the five-word item ("We support legalizing all drugs") as plank No. 293 in their platform, and that's raising eyebrows. But activists involved in the debate said that was shorthand for a policy that aims to treat and mitigate drug addiction instead of criminalizing it. "The brevity of the document doesn't encompass the true meaning,"said Shelly Van Winkle, a registered nurse from Muscatine and newly elected member of the party's state central committee who was active in the platform debate. Another delegate described it as a "divestment strategy in the drug war."

Drug Testing

Michigan Welfare Drug Test Program Generates Zero Positives. The state of Michigan has ordered 303 people seeking welfare benefits to undergo drug testing under a pilot program, and not a single one of them has tested positive for illicit drugs. Gov. Rick Snyder (R), who signed the program into law, declined to comment. Similar programs in other states have produced similar results, although not as dramatic as Michigan's In Tennessee, 65 out of 40,000 applicants tested positive; in Mississippi, two out of 3,656. In Michigan, the people tested were flagged as likely to be using drugs during an initial screening.

International

First Legal Pot Crop Being Harvested in Uruguay. Two companies responsible for marijuana production have begun their first legal harvest, and their product should be hitting the country's pharmacies "soon," said Juan Andres Roballo, head of the National Drug Board, which has oversight over the fledgling industry. By August, Uruguayans should be able to buy weed in five- or 10-gram packets, with the price set at $1.20 per gram.

Chronicle AM: Supremes Open Door to More Lawless Searches, CA Dems Endorse AUMA, More... (6/20/16)

The Supreme Court hands down a pair of rulings supporting law enforcement powers, the California and Arizona marijuana legalization efforts gain powerful endorsements, the feds give up on trying to bust Fedex for shipping prescription pills, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Congressman Endorses Legalization Initiative. US Congressman Ruben Gallegos (D-Phoenix) announced Monday that he is endorsing the legalization initiative from the Arizona Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "Forcing sales of this plant into the underground market has resulted in billions of dollars flowing into the hands of drug cartels and other criminals," Rep. Gallegos said. "We will be far better off if we shift the production and sale of marijuana to taxpaying Arizona businesses subject to strict regulations. It will also allow the state to direct law enforcement resources toward reducing violence and other more serious crimes."

California Democratic Party Endorses Legalization Initiative. Meeting in Long Beach over the weekend, the executive committee of the state Democratic Party voted to endorse the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). The initiative would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of weed, allow limited personal cultivation, and allow regulated commercial cultivation and sales.

Colorado Health Department Reports No Increase in Youth Use. Marijuana use among high school students in the state has not increased since legalization, the Health Department reported Monday. The report was based on a statewide student survey. It found that 21% of students had reported using marijuana, in line with earlier figures from the state and below the national average of nearly 22%.

Medical Marijuana

Congressional Pot Fans, Foes Work Together on New Research Bill. Legalization opponent Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is joining forces with Congress's "top legal pot advocate," Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) to file a bill to overhaul federal policies on marijuana research. The bill would make it easier for scientists to conduct research on the medical use of marijuana. It hasn't been filed yet, but is expected this week.

Arkansas Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. Supporters of the Arkansans for Compassionate Care medical marijuana initiative handed in more than 110,000 raw signatures to state officials in Little Rock Monday. The initiative only needs some 67,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. If as many as 30% of the signatures are found invalid, organizers would still have enough signatures to qualify.

Asset Forfeiture

Oklahoma Governor Delays Using Card Readers to Seize Money. In the wake of a furious outcry over the Highway Patrol's recent use of ERAD card-reading devices to seize money from debit and credit cards, Gov. Mary Fallin (R) last Friday directed the secretary of safety and secure to delay using the the card-readers until the state can develop a clear policy for their use.

Law Enforcement

Supreme Court Opens Door to More Lawless Police Searches. In a pair of decisions released Monday, the US Supreme Court again demonstrated its deference to law enforcement priorities, in one case by expanding an exception to the long-standing ruling requiring that unlawfully gathered evidence be discarded and in another by holding that drug dealers, even those engaged only in street-corner sales, are engaged in interstate commerce.The two decisions expand the ability of local police to skirt the law without effective punishment on the one hand, and allow prosecutors to use the weight of the federal criminal justice system to come down on small-time criminals whose cases would normally be the purview of local authorities on the other. Taken together, the decisions show a high court that once again give great deference to the demands of law enforcement.

Feds Drop Drug Trafficking Case Against Fedex. Federal prosecutors in San Francisco last Friday suddenly moved to drop all criminal charges against the delivery service, which they had accused of knowingly delivering illegal prescription drugs. In court, presiding Judge Charley Breyer said the company was "factually innocent" and that the DEA had failed to provide it with the names of customers who were shipping illegal drugs. "The dismissal is an act, in the court's view, entirely consistent with the government's overarching obligation to seek justice even at the expense of some embarrassment," Breyr said, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Supreme Court Opens Door for More Lawless Police Searches [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

In a pair of decisions released Monday, the US Supreme Court again demonstrated its deference to law enforcement priorities, in one case by expanding an exception to the long-standing ruling requiring that unlawfully gathered evidence be discarded and in another by holding that drug dealers, even those engaged only in street-corner sales, are engaged in interstate commerce.

The two decisions expand the ability of local police to skirt the law without effective punishment on the one hand, and allow prosecutors to use the weight of the federal criminal justice system to come down on small-time criminals whose cases would normally be the purview of local authorities on the other. Taken together, the decisions show a high court that once again give great deference to the demands of law enforcement.

In the first case, Utah v. Strieff, the Supreme Court held that evidence obtained from the illegal stop of Strieff should not be thrown out under the exclusionary rule, which requires that illegally seized be suppressed as "fruit of the poisonous tree." The exclusionary rule, which dates back to 1920 and values the rule of law even at the expense of seeing a guilty suspect go free, has long been a bane of judicial conservatives, who have been trying to chip away at it since at least the 1980s.

In Strieff, a Salt Lake City police officer investigating possible drug activity at a residence stopped Strieff without "reasonable cause" after he exited the home. During his encounter with Strieff, the police officer found that he was wanted on a traffic warrant, arrested him, then searched him subsequent to arrest. The police officer found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia, then charged him with drug and paraphernalia possession.

Strieff argued to suppress the evidence, arguing that it was derived from an unlawful investigatory stop. He lost at the trial and appeals court levels, but the Utah Supreme Court overturned his conviction, holding that an exception to the exclusionary rule known as the "attenuation doctrine" did not apply. The US Supreme Court disagreed.

The attenuation doctrine holds that unlawfully obtained evidence may be used even if "the fruit of the search is tainted by the initial, unlawful detention…if the taint is dissipated by an intervening circumstance," as the Utah Supreme Court described it. In other words, if police acting in good faith violate the law and don't do it flagrantly, they should be able to use any evidence found as a result of that violation in court.

The Supreme Court divided 5-3 on the case, with Chief Justice Roberts joining justices Alito, Breyer, and Kennedy joined Justice Clarence Thomas in his majority opinion. Thomas held that the police misconduct was not bad enough to warrant suppression of the evidence and, besides, police probably aren't going to abuse their powers to do mass searches.

"[The officer's] purpose was not to conduct a suspicionless fishing expedition but was to gather information about activity inside a house whose occupants were legitimately suspected of dealing drugs," Thomas wrote. "Strieff conflates the standard for an illegal stop with the standard for flagrancy, which requires more than the mere absence of proper cause. Second, it is unlikely that the prevalence of outstanding warrants will lead to dragnet searches by police."

Even if someone is unlawfully detained, evidence obtained from them can be used in court, the high court ruled. (wikimedia.org)
The Supreme Court's liberal minority was not nearly as sanguine. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with Justice Ginsberg concurring, cut right to the heart of the matter:

"The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer's violation of your Fourth Amendment rights," she wrote in her dissent. "Do not be soothed by the opinion's technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants -- even if you are doing nothing wrong. If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant. Because the Fourth Amendment should prohibit, not permit, such misconduct, I dissent."

In the second case, Taylor v. United States, the high court upheld the ability of federal prosecutors to use federal law to prosecute people who rob drug dealers, even if the dealers are dealing only in locally-grown marijuana with no evidence of interstate sales. That 7-1 decision is in just the latest in a long line of cases upholding the ability of the federal government to regulate interstate commerce under the Constitution's "commerce clause" and to protect it from robbery or extortion under the 1951 Hobbs Act.

It was the "commerce clause" line of cases that led to the 2005 Gonzales v. Raich decision in which the Supreme Court upheld the ability of the federal government to move against marijuana cultivation and sales even in states where it is legal. In that case, the high court ruled that California medical marijuana patient Angel Raich's cultivation of marijuana plants at her home in California for her use in California implicated interstate commerce and was therefore liable to federal jurisdiction.

Even marijuana grown and sold locally implicates the Constitution's commerce clause, the court has ruled. (flickr.com)
In Taylor, Taylor was part of a Virginia gang known as the "Southwest Goonz" who targeted and robbed marijuana growers and dealers. He was charged under the Hobbs Act with two counts of "affecting commerce or attempting to do so through robbery." In his first trial, which resulted in a hung jury, Taylor offered evidence that the dealers targeted only trafficked in locally-grown marijuana. In his second trial, prosecutors convinced the court to exclude that evidence, and Taylor was convicted on both counts. The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that conviction, "holding that, given the aggregate effect of drug dealing on interstate commerce, the Government needed only to prove that Taylor robbed or attempted to rob a drug dealer of drugs or drug proceeds to satisfy the commerce element."

In an opinion authored by Justice Alito, the Supreme Court agreed.

"[T]he Government met its burden by introducing evidence that Taylor's gang intentionally targeted drug dealers to obtain drugs and drug proceeds," he wrote. "That evidence included information that the gang members targeted the victims because of their drug dealing activities, as well as explicit statements made during the course of the robberies that revealed their belief that drugs and money were present. Such proof is sufficient to meet the Hobbs Act's commerce element."

Only Justice Thomas dissented, arguing that the whole line of "commerce clause" cases granted too much power to the federal government.

"The Hobbs Act makes it a federal crime to commit a robbery that 'affects' 'commerce over which the United States has jurisdiction," Thomas wrote. "Under the Court's decision today, the Government can obtain a Hobbs Act conviction without proving that the defendant's robbery in fact affected interstate commerce -- or any commerce. The Court's holding creates serious constitutional problems and extends our already expansive, flawed commerce-power precedents. I would construe the Hobbs Act in accordance with constitutional limits and hold that the Act punishes a robbery only when the Government proves that the robbery itself affected interstate commerce."

Two cases, two distinct lines of legal precedent, one outcome: Drug cases continue to provide a basis for the expansion of state law enforcement power.

Washington, DC
United States

One Out of Four US Senators Is a Marijuana Prohibitionist -- Is Yours One of Them?

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Marijuana legalization now consistently scores majorities in national public opinion polls, marijuana is already legal in four states and the District of Columbia and likely to be legal in a handful more, including California, before year's end, and the Obama administration has effectively thrown federal pot prohibition to the wind in the legal (and medical marijuana) states, yet Congress remains to a large degree stuck in the last century when it comes to marijuana policy.

Granted, there are some small signs of progress, some nibbling around the edges of pot prohibition, through bills and spending amendments that seek to stop the feds from interfering in legal and medical marijuana states, but Bernie Sanders' bill to end federal marijuana prohibition doesn't sport even a single cosponsor. When it comes to fixing marijuana policy, Congress is going to have to be dragged crying and screaming into the 21st Century.

One reason is a sizeable contingent of senatorial prohibitionists. According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which just released its 2016 Congressional Scorecard, more than a quarter of US senators received a failing grade when it comes to supporting progressive marijuana policy reforms. A failing grade indicates "that this member expresses significant and vocal opposition to marijuana law reform."

The marijuana consumers' lobbying group arrived at the grades based on the member's 2015 voting records on three amendments to appropriations bills: the Daines/Merkley amendment (would have allowed VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana in states where it is legal), the Mikulski amendment (would block the Justice Department from interfering in state medical marijuana programs), and the Merkley amendment (would have blocked the Treasury Department from punishing banks providing services to legal marijuana businesses).

NORML also weighed whether the member has sponsored or cosponsored federal marijuana reform bills, and his or her public statements or testimony. Legislators were assigned letter grades ranging from "A" to "F."

Before going on to NORML's hall of shame, it's worth taking a moment to salute the class valedictorians: Only two senators got "A" grades -- Sanders and Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, author or co-author of two of the amendments, who also supported the successful 2014 Oregon legalization initiative and has sponsored and cosponsored other progressive marijuana reform bills.

Merkley is the only one of the eight senators representing states where the electorate has already voted to legalize marijuana to earn an "A" grade. The other legalization state senators at least mostly earned "B" grades ("this member has publicly declared his/her support for the ability of a state to move forward with cannabis law reform policies free from federal interference"), demonstrating that they are at least that in tune with their publics.

The good news is that with two senators winning "A" grades, 28 earning a "B," and 28 managing a "C" (supports medical marijuana or decriminalization), there seems to be a senatorial majority in favor of some pot reform legislation, even if not full legalization.

But there is still a sizeable and obstinate anti-marijuana minority, with 20 senators saddled with a "D" grade ("no support for any significant marijuana law reform"), and 26 ingloriously awarded the big "F."

Not surprisingly, 22 of them are Republicans, mostly from that great, L-shaped mass of red states that runs from North Dakota down to Texas and then across the South. But four of them are Democrats.

Without any further ado, here's the list of the Senate's most intransigent and recalcitrant pot prohibitionists (click on the scorecard for the individual particulars):

  • Sen. Jeff Sessions
  • Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)
  • Sen. John Boozman (R-AR)
  • Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR)
  • Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE)
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
  • Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID)
  • Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL)
  • Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN)
  • Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
  • Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA)
  • Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
  • Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)
  • Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE)
  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
  • Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)
  • Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK)
  • Sen. James Lankford (R-OK)
  • Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA)
  • Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)
  • Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD)
  • Sen. John Thune (R-SD)
  • Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)
  • Sen. Jon Cornyn (R-TX)
  • Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)
  • Sen. John Barasso (R-WY)

Chronicle AM: UK Public Health Groups Call for Decrim, MPP Endorses Gary Johnson, More... (6/16/16)

Busy, busy: There's movement on marijuana banking, Gary Johnson picks up MPP's endorsement, a leading California cannabis oil producer gets busted, the AMA casts on leery eye on patient pain reports, a congresswoman wants to drug test the rich, British public health groups call for decrim, the Thai government wants to end the war on meth, and more.

Libertarian Gary Johnson has won the endorsement of the Marijuana Policy Project because of his pro-legalization stance.
Marijuana Policy

Senate Committee Approves Measure to Ease Pot Businesses' Access to Financial Services. The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted 16-14 to approve an amendment that would bar the Treasury Department from punishing banks that do business with state-legal marijuana businesses. The amendment is part of the FY 2017 Financial And General Government Services Appropriations Act, which now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Marijuana Policy Project Endorses Libertarian Gary Johnson for President. MPP has formally endorsed Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson for president, saying he was the obvious choice as the most pro-marijuana legalization candidate on the ballot. The group said its endorsement was based solely on his marijuana policies.

New York Assembly Passes Bill to Seal Records for Misdemeanor Marijuana Convictions. The Assembly has passed Assembly Bill 10092, which will seal the conviction records of people charged with misdemeanor offenses. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the move was in response to New York City police charging people with misdemeanors for possession of marijuana in public. Simple possession is decriminalized in the state.

Medical Marijuana

Leading California Medical Marijuana Oil Maker Busted.Police, including DEA agents, raided five properties associated with a well-known medical marijuana products manufacturer in Northern California's Sonoma County Wednesday morning, detaining at least nine people and arresting one on suspicion of felony drug manufacture for his role in cannabis oil production.The operation raided was Care By Design (CBD Guild), which produces CBD-rich cannabis oils for use in sprays, gels, and cannabis oil cartridges for vaporizers. The company offers products with five different ratios of CBD to THC so "patients can adjust their cannabis medicine to suit their specific conditions and personal preferences." Police accused the operation of using dangerous and illegal butane extraction for their oils, but Care By Design says that is not the case.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

AMA Resolutions Aim to Curb Opioid Abuse, Will Ignore Patients' Pain Reports. At its annual meeting in Chicago, the American Medical Association (AMA) approved a number of resolutions aimed at curbing the misuse of prescription opioids. One called for removing any barriers to non-opioid pain therapies, one calls for promoting increased access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan), but "the group also voted in favor of efforts to remove pain as a vital sign in professional standards, as well as disconnecting patient satisfaction scores from questions related to the evaluation and management of pain," a move that may not bode well for chronic pain patients.

Asset Forfeiture

Company Now Offers Asset Forfeiture Insurance to Cannabusinesses. CBZ Insurance Services is now offering coverage to protect state-legal marijuana businesses from the threat of seizure and asset forfeiture. The company's "search and confiscation" coverage applies only to entities that are state-legal and are found innocent of any raid-related charges. "A legally operating cannabis business has unique challenges other types of businesses don't have," said CBZ's Jeffrey Rosen. "One challenge is the threat of being shut down at any time by law enforcement. Whether you're a grower, distributor or manufacturer, search and seizure coverage is the best protection for a company's assets."

Drug Testing

Congresswoman Wants to Drug Test the Rich Before Approving Tax Deductions. US Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) has called for requiring wealthy Americans to undergo a drug test before approving their tax deductions. Moore said she will file the bill because she is "sick and tired, and sick and tired of being sick and tired, of the criminalization of poverty," referring to efforts pushed by Republican governors and legislators to impose drug testing requirements on people seeking public benefits. "We're not going to get rid of the federal deficit by cutting poor people off SNAP. But if we are going to drug-test people to reduce the deficit, let's start on the other end of the income spectrum."

International

British Public Health Bodies Call for Drug Decriminalization. Two leading public health bodies say drug use is a health issue, not a criminal one, and have called for drug decriminalization. The Royal Society for Public Health and the Faculty of Public Health said that criminalizing drug use has not deterred people from using drugs, and that those harmed by drug use are harmed again by punishment. "We have taken the view that it is time for endorsing a different approach," said Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society. "We have gone to our stakeholders and asked the public and tried to gain some consensus from our community and the public, because that is very important." The society has detailed in its new line in the aptly named report Taking a New Line on Drugs.

Thailand Government Proposes Ending War on Meth and Regulating It Instead. Thai Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya has suggested removing meth from the country's dangerous illicit drug list and putting it in the same category as medicinal drugs, with controls -- not bans -- on distribution, sale, and use of the drug. Current measures to suppress the drug have not worked, he said. Paiboon's comments came in a discussion of the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), which met in April. "The world has now surrendered to drugs, and has come to think of how to live with drugs. It is like a man suffering from cancer and having no cure and he has to live a happy life with the cancer," Gen Paiboon said. The government has drawn up a bill that would do that, he said.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, the 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.)

Leading California Medical Marijuana Oil Maker Busted

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Police, including DEA agents, raided five properties associated with a well-known medical marijuana products manufacturer in Northern California's Sonoma County Wednesday morning, detaining at least nine people and arresting one on suspicion of felony drug manufacture for his role in cannabis oil production.

The Care By Design product line includes these sublingual sprays. (Care By Design)
Although medical marijuana has been legal in the state since voters approved it two decades ago, it was only last year that the legislature moved to bring state-wide regulation to the rapidly growing industry, and that won't actually happen until 2018. In the meantime, medical marijuana businesses are operating in a sphere of unsettled legality where, as California NORML put it in an email alert about the raids, "there's plenty of gray area to generate busts between now and then."

The operation raided was Care By Design (CBD Guild), which produces CBD-rich cannabis oils for use in sprays, gels, and cannabis oil cartridges for vaporizers. The company offers products with five different ratios of CBD to THC so "patients can adjust their cannabis medicine to suit their specific conditions and personal preferences."

CBD (cannabidiol) is more sought after for medicinal purposes; THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the cannabinoid that gets you high.

Santa Rosa Police spokesman Lt. Mike Lazzarini told the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat that a hundred Santa Rosa police, Sonoma County sheriff's deputies, and DEA agents raided the operations because they were using illegal and hazardous production methods -- producing the oil with the use of butane, which is a fire and explosion hazard, and which is forbidden under state law.

"From a law enforcement standpoint this is not a legal process when it involves processes that are dangerous," Lazzarini said.

The police spokesman also said that Care By Design's facilities were in violation of Santa Rosa municipal codes and not properly permitted.

Care By Design, which is organized as a non-profit collective under the rubric of the CBD Guild, flatly rejected law enforcement assertions that it was illegally using butane to make the cannabis oil.

"Contrary to initial press reports, none of the Care By Design facilities are involved in the production of hash; nor is butane used in the company's extraction process," it said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "Care By Design utilizes a non-volatile supercritical CO2 extraction method, and does not produce any hash, rosin, wax, shatter or similar products that are popular amongst recreational users."

And it was not pleased with the raids, in which police seized equipment, computers, product, payroll, and financial paperwork.

"This law enforcement action is unprecedented, unfortunate, and has the potential to deprive thousands of profoundly sick patients of much needed medicine," said collective spokesman Nick Caston. "We will cooperate fully with law enforcement in an effort to resolve this as quickly as possible, and hope to have our several dozen employees in Sonoma County back to work this week."

Later Wednesday, CBD Guild attorney Joe Rogoway, a veteran Santa Rosa marijuana attorney, reiterated the charge that police were mischaracterizing the business, which he said was above board and operating lawfully.

"They weren't using butane, they use a process that includes CO2 which is a flame retardant; CO2 is what's in fire extinguishers," Rogoway told the Press-Democrat. "It's not criminalized in California law."

The Guild suspects a disgruntled former employee provoked the raids by making false claims to law enforcement, Rogoway said.

Police attempted to play up the criminal element in their description of the man jailed in the sole major arrest during the raids. They described operations manager Dennis Franklin Hunter as a criminal with a history of evading arrest, justifying the $5 million dollar bail on which he is being held.

But what he had been busted for was -- wait for it -- growing marijuana in Humboldt County in 1998. But the feds couldn't find him until 2002, when he was sentenced to 5 ½ years in federal prison. On a second occasion, Hunter was the subject of a manhunt in Arkansas after US Homeland Security asked Little Rock authorities to detain him because they suspected he had drugs on his plane. But he took off after refueling as deputies approached and only later met with authorities.

Caston said Hunter's history was one of being a pioneer in California's marijuana industry.

"They're the folks that have been leading the way, breaking down the stigma, breaking down the misconceptions," he said. "He's really a visionary, along with the other folks in our company, trying to bring practices that are safe. This (law enforcement) action is very surprising."

And while this all gets sorted out, thousands of patients in dispensaries across the state who rely on Care By Design's products will just have to tough it out.

Santa Rosa, CA
United States

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