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DEA Ignores Science, Obstructs Research, New Report Finds [FEATURE]

[Full disclosure: I researched and wrote most of this report and was paid by DPA to do so.]

In a report released this week, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) reveal a decades-long pattern of the DEA ignoring scientific evidence and systematically obstructing medical research that could lead to the rescheduling of marijuana.

The report comes just days after the House issued a stinging rebuke to the DEA by approving a bipartisan measure that bars the use of federal taxpayer dollars for the DEA to undermine medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The House also approved measures stripping the DEA's ability to interfere with hemp production in states where it is legal.

While the report found that the DEA tends to move with excruciating slowness when confronted with evidence that confounds its ideological predispositions, the agency is able and willing to move at lightning speed to criminalize more drugs or schedule them more restrictively.

The report, The DEA: Four Decades of Impeding and Rejecting Science, uses a number of case studies to unveil DEA practices to maintain the existing, scientifically unsupported drug scheduling system. They include:

Failing to act in a timely fashion. The DEA took 16 years to issue a final decision rejecting the first marijuana rescheduling petition, five years for the second, and nine years for the third. In two of the three cases, it took multiple lawsuits to force the agency to act.

Overruling DEA Administrative Law Judges. DEA Administrative Law Judges are government officials charged with evaluating the evidence on rescheduling and other matters before the DEA and making recommendations based on that evidence to the DEA Administrator. In the cases of the scheduling of marijuana and MDMA, the judges determined that that they should be placed in Schedule II instead of Schedule I, where they would be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as prescription medicines, but still retain criminal sanctions for non-medical uses. However, agency administrators overruled their Administrative Law Judges' recommendations, substituting their own judgments and ignoring scientific evidence. The current DEA head, Michelle Leonhart, also rejected a DEA Administrative Law Judge ruling that the DEA end its unique and unjustifiable monopoly on the supply of research-grade marijuana available for federally approved research.

Creating a regulatory Catch-22. The DEA has argued for decades that there is not sufficient evidence to support rescheduling marijuana or the medical use of marijuana. At the same time, it has -- along with the National Institute on Drug Abuse -- acted in a manner intended to systematically impede scientific research. Through the use of such tactics, the DEA has repeatedly and consistently demonstrated that it is more interested in maintaining existing drug laws than in making important drug control decisions based on scientific evidence.

The report makes two central recommendations: 1) that the responsibility for determining drug classifications and other health determinations should be completely removed from DEA and transferred to another agency, perhaps even a non-governmental entity such as the National Academy of Sciences, and 2) that the DEA should be ordered to end the federal government's unjustifiable monopoly on the supply of research-grade marijuana available for federally approved research. No other drug is available from only a single governmental source for research purposes.

Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) (congress.gov)
"The DEA abuses its discretionary powers over scheduling, making it incredibly difficult for researchers to obtain marijuana for research purposes," said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann during a Wednesday teleconference to announce the report. "Our recommendations call for taking the power over drug scheduling away from the DEA. It is essentially a police and propaganda agency. This authority would be better handled by another government agency in the health realm, or a truly independent agency, like the National Academy of Sciences," he said.

"The DEA and Ms. [Michele] Leonhart have constantly been opposing any science that would change her mindset and opinion, which was apparently created around 1937," said Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN), referencing the year federal marijuana prohibition began. "She is totally against marijuana, she will not admit that it is not as harmful as heroin or cocaine, and she is on a war on drugs."

Cohen was the author of another successful amendment that spanked the DEA. His successful amendment redirected $5 million in DEA funding to instead be used to help reduce a back log of rape kits that need testing. He said he was happy to be part of the congressional effort to restrict the agency.

"I was thrilled to be part of that coalition," Cohen said. "Those amendments to the appropriations bill were a great victory. We've been voting on this since 2007, and we always had about 165 Democrats on board, and a few more this time. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) did a great job getting Republicans on board; he got some of the younger, more libertarian members and members who know people marijuana has helped."

"The DEA has opposed efforts to reform federal scheduling policy to acknowledge that marijuana has medical purposes," said Dr. Carl Hart, a Columbia University neuroscientist. "As someone who has studied marijuana, this concerns me. That the DEA has not rescheduled marijuana seems to go against all the scientific evidence and against a society that uses empirical evidence."

MAPS executive director Rick Doblin said his organization, acting as a non-profit pharmaceutical company, had been trying for 22 years to develop Schedule I drugs like marijuana into FDA-approved medications, but that the DEA and other federal agencies had made that impossible.

DEA Administrator Leonhart is on the hot seat. (usdoj.gov/dea)
"Twenty-two years later, I've been unable to start a single, privately-funded study, and the main reason is the DEA's refusal to open the door," he said. "The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a DEA-protected monopoly on the production of marijuana for research, and although we've had two protocols approved by the FDA and review boards, we have been unable to obtain marijuana. We tried for seven years to buy 10 grams of marijuana for vaporizer studies; we were unable to do that. We've been in litigation with the DEA for 12 years and lost on the grounds that NIDA had an adequate supply."

One study -- of marijuana's efficacy in treating PTSD -- has been approved, Doblin said, but even there, the process has been painfully slow.

"We started trying to get that approved four years ago," he said. "We finally got approval from NIDA in March of this year, but they say they won't have the marijuana we need until January 2015."

For Doblin, it's all about ending NIDA's monopoly on marijuana for research purposes.

"DEA is protecting the NIDA monopoly, which should be ended," he said. "That's the action item we should be doing right now."

The DEA has been politically bulletproof since it was created by the Nixon White House in 1973. But that is changing, DPA national affairs director Bill Piper argued.

"When you look at Congress, with so many members driven by frustration that the DEA is blocking research and preventing medical marijuana from moving forward, that's a big reason the House voted for those amendments," he said. "The DEA has said that marijuana is not approved by the FDA, but Congress has figured out that DEA is blocking the necessary trials from moving forward. The more the DEA obstructs the research, the more support there is for changing federal law and cutting the DEA's authority. The days when the DEA can quietly block this stuff are over; they will pay a price if they stand in the way of reform."

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Congressional Democrats who voted wrong on medical marijuana catch some flak, California continues to struggle with regulating medical marijuana, while other states struggle to get bills passed. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, a medical marijuana advocacy group began airing TV ads targeting Democrats who voted against ending DEA interference in medical marijuana states. The group Americans for Safe Access is now running TV ads criticizing Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, and other Democrats as "out of touch" for voting against a measure to bar the DEA from interfering in medical marijuana states. Wasserman Schultz was one of only 18 Democrats who voted against it while 170 Democrats voted for it.

Arizona

Last Thursday, a state court judge ordered the state to allow medical marijuana for PTSD. A state court judge has ruled that "a preponderance of evidence shows medical marijuana provides palliative benefit to those suffering from PTSD" and given the state Health Department until July 9 to accept his decision or appeal it. The department has denied all previous petitions seeking to add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions.

California

Last Tuesday, Tulare County supervisors voted to ban all medical marijuana cultivation. The county had previously allowed cooperatives or individuals to grow up to 99 plants. The board rejected a chance to simply ban collective grows, but chose instead to ban all grows. This is just the initial vote.

Last Wednesday, the city of Riverside sued to block a medical marijuana ballot measure. The city has sued to block an initiative that would legalize and regulate a small number of dispensaries less than a month after organizers qualified it for the 2015 ballot. The initiative "goes beyond the legislative powers of the electorate" and is illegal because it would force the city to violate state and federal laws, including the federal Controlled Substances Act, the city argues.

On Tuesday, the San Jose city council approved tough restrictions on dispensaries and cultivation sites. The council's vote limits dispensaries to a handful of industrial areas making up less than 1% of the city. It also forces dispensaries to grow all their medicine in the county, limit their store hours, and bars them from selling edibles resembling candy. Medical marijuana backers say they have already collected enough signatures to put their own dispensary regulations on the ballot. It ain't over in San Jose.

Also on Tuesday, Sacramento County supervisors introduced an ordinance allowing limited indoor cultivation. Residents of unincorporated areas of the county would be able to grow up to nine plants indoors. Two months ago, the board backed a ban on all outdoor cultivation. The indoor cultivation ordinance comes up for a vote next week.

Also on Tuesday, Santa Cruz County supervisors okayed asking voters to approve a dispensary tax in November. The measure would allow dispensaries to be taxed at up to 10% of their gross sales. The county estimates it would raise about $900,000 a year, to be used to enforce marijuana dispensary and cultivation regulations.

District of Columbia

Last Thursday, the Department of Health added new qualifying conditions for patients. They are seizure disorders, Lou Gehrig's Disease, decompensated cirrhosis, cachexia or wasting syndrome, and Alzheimer's. Hospice patients will also be allowed to use marijuana. Previously, the DC program had been restricted to people suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and muscle spasticity.

Florida

On Wednesday, new polls showed strong support for medical marijuana among Florida voters. With medical marijuana on the ballot in November, a new poll shows 70% of likely voters support the constitutional amendment. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to pass. Another poll released this week has support at 66%. "Florida's medical marijuana amendment that will be on the ballot this fall continues to appear headed for easy passage," Public Policy Polling, which did the second poll, wrote in an analysis.

Also on Wednesday, conservative billionaire Sheldon Adelson kicked in $2.5 million to defeat the initiative. Billionaire casino magnate and major Republican political donor Sheldon Adelson has donated $2.5 million to the campaign to defeat the Florida medical marijuana initiative. A newly-formed group backed by Adelson, the Drug Free Florida Committee, was started by long-time GOP fundraiser Mel Sembler and his wife Betty. It has raised $2.7 million so far and its top donors have been primarily Republicans.

Massachusetts

Last Friday, the DEA was reportedly giving dispensary docs an ultimatum: quit the dispensaries or lose your license. The Boston Globe reported that DEA agents have been visiting Massachusetts doctors involved with medical marijuana dispensaries and telling them the DEA will jerk the licenses to prescribe drugs if they don't cut ties with the dispensaries. And it's working. At least two doctors have severed ties, while one gave up his DEA license, saying as a semi-retired surgeon, he didn't need it to do his job. The Globe reports this will likely slow the opening of some long-awaited dispensaries.

Nevada

On Monday, Clark County commissioners approved 18 dispensary licenses. There will soon be 18 medical marijuana dispensaries operating in unincorporated parts of Clark County, the home of Las Vegas. Nevada approved medical marijuana in 2000, but only approved dispensaries last year.

New York

On Tuesday, a key GOP senator said he will not allow a vote on medical marijuana. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco (R) said today he would not allow a vote on the Compassionate Care Act, sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino (D). "The Savino bill will not come out of my committee, the Finance Committee," he said. "You don't have any kind of reasonable research on the effects. You have people coming in here every day trying to ban e-cigarettes and use of tobacco in other ways." He said he and other Senate Republicans may be open to legislation that would not allow marijuana to be smoked. The session ends next Thursday.

North Carolina

On Saturday, Todd Stimson began a "March Against Fear" to generate support for medical marijuana. He is leading the 259-mile "March Against Fear" from Asheville to Raleigh to help bring attention to a pending medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1161. The bill was filed last month and is now languishing in the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the title link to join up or get more info.

Pennsylvania

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill got a committee hearing and stays alive. Following a hearing on Senate Bill 1182, committee members said they had been assured the bill would get a vote in the Senate Law and Justice Committee, but it will be then up to Senate leaders to decide if they will allow a floor vote. If it gets and wins a floor vote, the House would still have to pass it, or pass its own version.

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

Chronicle AM -- June 11, 2014

There's money in marijuana, as Colorado keeps finding out, MPP is eyeing Massachusetts in 2016, opponents of Florida's medical marijuana initiative got a big bucks contribution from a major Republican funder, Customs and Border Patrol fires its internal affairs head, the US Embassy in Kabul can't explain what impact $7 billion in anti-drug aid there has had, and more. Let's get to it:

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow... (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Marijuana Revenues Keep Climbing. Recreational marijuana sales hit $22 million in April, with the state taking in more than $3.5 million in sales and excise taxes. With medical marijuana sales factored in, people bought more than $53 million worth of weed in Colorado in April.

MPP Opens Ballot Committee in Massachusetts, Eyes 2016. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) opened a ballot referendum committee in Massachusetts Tuesday, a preliminary step for a marijuana legalization campaign in 2016. The formation of the committee, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts, allows MPP to begin raising and spending money in the state.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Polls Have Strong Support for Medical Marijuana Among Likely Voters. With medical marijuana on the ballot in November, a new poll shows 70% of likely voters support the constitutional amendment. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to pass. Another poll released this week has support at 66%. "Florida's medical marijuana amendment that will be on the ballot this fall continues to appear headed for easy passage," Public Policy Polling, which did the second poll, wrote in an analysis.

Conservative Billionaire Sheldon Adelson Kicks In $2.5 Million to Defeat Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative. Billionaire casino magnate and major Republican political donor Sheldon Adelson has donated $2.5 million to the campaign to defeat the Florida medical marijuana initiative. A newly-formed group backed by Adelson, the Drug Free Florida Committee, was started by longtime GOP fundraiser Mel Sembler and his wife Betty. It has raised $2.7 million so far and its top donors have been primarily Republicans.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Still Alive. Following a Tuesday hearing on Senate Bill 1182 Tuesday, committee members said they had been assured the bill would get a vote in the Senate Law and Justice Committee, but it will be then up to Senate leaders to decide if they will allow a floor vote. If it gets and wins a floor vote, the House would still have to pass it, or pass its own version.

Methamphetamine

Michigan Bill to Restrict Meth Precursor Purchases Passes House. A bill that would require people with prior methamphetamine convictions to obtain a prescription to buy cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine has passed the House. The bill also creates a statewide database for pseudoephedrine purchases and would require buyers to show the drivers' licenses.

Opiates

New York Governor Announces Doubling of State Police Drug Team to Fight Heroin, Prescription Pill Use. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced this morning that he will add 100 investigators to the State Police Community Narcotics Enforcement Team, nearly doubling the unit's size. He also announced that the state would make the overdose reversal drug naloxone to all first responders. And he announced an education and prevention campaign involving SUNY campuses.

New England Governors to Meet Next Week on Confronting Rising Opiate Use. The six New England governors are set to meet next week at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, to forge a regional strategy in response to growing alarm over increased use of prescription opiates and heroin. Massachusetts has declared a public health emergency over opiates, and other states in the region are experiencing similar issues. [Ed: Whether any of the New England governors, or New York's governor and narcotics police, will bear in mind the needs of chronic pain patients, remains to be seen.]

Law Enforcement

Myles Ambrose, Nixon's First Drug Czar, Dies. Myles Ambrose has died at age 87. He was President Richard Nixon's first "drug czar," serving as head of the White House Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE), the precursor to the DEA, which was formed in 1973. He had come to Nixon's attention when, as head of Customs, he initiated Operation Intercept, which shut down the US-Mexico border in 1969. Ambrose appeared set to take over DEA, but was pushed aside, in part due to bureaucratic infighting and in part because of hints of scandal related to his visits to the home of a Texas banker investigated in a drug trafficking conspiracy.

Customs and Border Protection Fires Its Own Head of Internal Affairs. The US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has let go James Tomsheck, head of internal affairs for the agency, after claims he failed to investigate hundreds of allegations of abuse. More than 800 complaints of abuse by agents had been made during his tenure since 2006, but only 13 resulted in disciplinary actions. Tomsheck's firing by CBP head Gil Kerlikowske is part of an attempt by Kerlikowske to address widespread allegations of abuse by American border agencies. Last week, Kerlikowske set out new rules for the use of deadly force, only to be followed hours later by a Border Patrol agent shooting and killing a fleeing drug trafficker. At least 22 people have been killed by Border Patrol agents since January 2010 and many more injured.

Sentencing

New Jersey Bail Reform Bill Gets Committee Vote Today. The Assembly Judiciary is set to consider Assembly Bill 1910, which would implement widely supported reforms to the state's bail system. Under the proposed legislation, arrestees would be assessed for risk and pretrial release decisions would be based on their measured risk, not their ability to pay money bail. Companion legislation in the state Senate, Senate Bill 946, was approved by the Budget and Appropriations Committee last week.

International

Rising Afghan Opium Production Threatens Reconstruction, US Official Says. Afghanistan's record-level opium production is stoking corruption, spilling into the financial sector, and aiding the Taliban and criminal networks, all of which threaten national reconstruction, John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction, told a House subcommittee Tuesday. The US has spent $7 billion on anti-opium efforts since it invaded Afghanistan in late 2001, but "On my trips to Afghanistan in 2013 and earlier this year, no one at the Embassy could convincingly explain to me how the US government counter-narcotics efforts are making a meaningful impact on the narcotics trade or how they will have a significant impact after" the US-led combat mission ends in December," Sopko said.

Finland Greens Call for Marijuana Legalization, Drug Policy Shift From Punishment to Harm Reduction. The Finnish Green League has adopted a new manifesto on drugs that says "the focus of drug policy should be shifted from punishments to reducing adverse effects" and that "the criminal sanctions for the use of cannabis as well as the possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use should be abolished." The Greens hold 10 seats in Finland's 198-seat parliament and are part of the ruling six-party "rainbow coalition" government.

Chronicle AM -- June 10, 2014

New York City residents are still getting arrested for marijuana at the rate of 80 a day, New York state residents face another year without medical marijuana passing, Philly heads for decriminalization of a sort, the Justice Department supports retroactivity for recent sentencing reforms, the Sinaloa cartel has apparently lost another key leader, and more. Let's get to it:

NYC marijuana arrests just keep on coming. (www.nyc.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Lawsuit Claims Marijuana Taxes Violate Fifth Amendment. Denver attorney Robert Corry Jr. has filed a lawsuit on behalf of an unnamed marijuana retailer arguing that paying pot taxes violates a citizen's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination since marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction to stop the state from collecting taxes and the return of all taxes collected. A similar lawsuit has been filed in Washington state by attorney Douglas Hiatt.

New York City Marijuana Arrests So Far This Year at Same Pace as Last Year. New Yorkers are still being arrested for small-time pot possession in high numbers under new Mayor Bill DeBlasio (D). According to the Marijuana Arrest Project, so far this year, NYPD is arresting an average of 80 people a day for pot possession, compared to 78 a day throughout 2013 under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R). Another constant is that blacks and Latinos continue to make up the vast majority of marijuana possession busts. They accounted for 87% of pot arrests last year and 86% so far this year. Click on the title link for more details.

Philadelphia City Council Committee Approves Decriminalization Measure. A city council committee yesterday approved a bill that would make possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana a code violation punishable by a $25 fine -- but would still give police officers the discretion to arrest. But Mayor Michael Nutter opposes the bill. His Public Safety Director, Mike Resnick, said the opposition stems the discretional arrest provision, which he said could create unfair situations. A final vote is likely next week.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina "March Against Fear" Aims to Generate Support for Medical Marijuana. North Carolinian Todd Stimson is leading a 259-mile "March Against Fear" from Asheville to Raleigh to help bring attention to a pending medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1161. The bill was filed last month and is now languishing in the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the title link to join up or get more info.

Key New York GOP Legislator Says He Will Not Allow Vote on Medical Marijuana. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco (R) said today he would not allow a vote on the Compassionate Care Act, sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino (D). "The Savino bill will not come out of my committee, the Finance Committee," he said. "You don't have any kind of reasonable research on the effects. You have people coming in here every day trying to ban e-cigarettes and use of tobacco in other ways." He said he and other Senate Republicans may be open to legislation that would not allow marijuana to be smoked. The session ends next Thursday.

Clark County, Nevada, Commissioners Approve 18 Dispensary Licenses. There will soon be 18 medical marijuana dispensaries operating in unincorporated parts of Clark County, the home of Las Vegas. County commissioners approved the licenses yesterday. Nevada approved medical marijuana in 2000, but only approved dispensaries last year.

Drug Testing

Repeated School Drug Tests of Pennsylvania 10-Year-Old Provoke Scorching Editorial. The editorial board at the Pennsylvania news website PennLive has penned a strong editorial condemning the drug testing policy at the Susquenita Middle School, which has resulted in a 10-year-old girl be tested three times so far. The editorial notes that state law requires that school districts actually show there is problem and show that drug testing helps, but that Susquenita has failed to do either. "Repeatedly drug testing a trouble-free 10-year-old student like Natalie Cassell shows how ridiculous this kind of random snooping is. Innocent students are treated like criminals, while drug-using students can dodge the tests simply by deciding not to join after-school activities," PennLive noted. "At a time when school districts across the state are pleading for more state funding, surely Susquenita schools can find a better uses of money than an unproven, highly invasive program that randomly tests innocent 10-year olds.

Sentencing

Justice Department Supports Making Drug Sentence Cuts Retroactive. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday that the Justice Department is formally supporting a US Sentencing Commission proposal to allow some nonviolent drug offenders currently doing time in federal prisons to seek sentence reductions. The proposal would extend sentencing reforms already approved by the commission by making them retroactive.

Smarter Sentencing Act Gains Four More Sponsors. The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013 picked up four more cosponsors Monday, three Democrats and one Republican. They are Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), Rep. Tony Cardenas (D), and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). The measure now has 37 cosponsors, 24 Democrats and 13 Republicans. It has been sitting in the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations since January.

Prescription Opiates

Massachusetts Governor Unveils Plan to Fight Opiate Use. Gov. Deval Patrick (D) today released a $20 package of proposals to deal with "the opioid addiction epidemic" in his state. He is calling for a summit of regional governors, as well as streamlined access to treatment, better prevention measures, and "strengthening safe prescribing and dispensing practices" to "minimize diversion and misuse." That last bit is likely to raise concerns among people worried about adequate access to prescription opiates. But unlike some other state-level responses to rising levels of opiate use, Patrick's did not contain a law enforcement component. The link leads to the full press release.

International

Key Sinaloa Cartel Figure Reported Dead. Reports are emerging from Mexico that Juan Jose "El Azul" Esparragoza, a key figure in the Sinaloa cartel, has died of natural causes. After the capture of cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman by Mexican authorities earlier this year, Esparragoza and Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada were viewed as the effective leaders of the cartel.

Spanish Authorities Close Down Barcelona Cannabis Club for Selling… Cannabis. A Barcelona cannabis club has been closed after police spotted a man approaching tourists and taking them to the club to score. Under Spanish law, one can grow marijuana for personal use, but not sell it. The cannabis clubs have sprung up as a way for consumers to pool their growing resources. Members pay an annual membership fee for a chance to share in the proceeds of the collectively cultivated cannabis, but they're not supposed to sell it.

AG Holder Supports Making Federal Drug Sentence Reductions Retroactive

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday that the Justice Department is formally supporting a US Sentencing Commission proposal to allow some nonviolent drug offenders currently doing time in federal prisons to seek sentence reductions. The proposal would extend sentencing reforms already approved by the commission by making them retroactive.

Attorney General Holder keeps pushing on sentencing reform (justice.gov)
Earlier this year, the Sentencing Commission approved sentencing reforms that adjust sentencing guidelines by lowering the base offense levels associated with various quantities of drugs. The change is expected to cut many federal drug sentences by an average of nearly two years. The commission will be voting on whether to make the cuts retroactive next month.

The Justice Department is supporting retroactivity, but only for prisoners "who lack significant criminal histories and whose offenses did not include aggravating factors, such as the possession of a dangerous weapon or the use of violence."

"Under the department's proposal, if your offense was nonviolent, did not involve a weapon, and you do not have a significant criminal history, then you would be eligible to apply for a reduced sentence in accordance with the new rules approved by the Commission in April," Holder said in a statement. "Not everyone in prison for a drug-related offense would be eligible. Nor would everyone who is eligible be guaranteed a reduced sentence. But this proposal strikes the best balance between protecting public safety and addressing the overcrowding of our prison system that has been exacerbated by unnecessarily long sentences."

Holder's stance was reiterated by Sally Yates, the US Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, and Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels during a formal hearing of the Commission.

"We believe that the federal drug sentencing structure in place before the amendment resulted in unnecessarily long sentences for some offenders that has resulted in significant prison overcrowding, and that imprisonment terms for those sentenced pursuant to the old guideline should be moderated to the extent possible consistent with other policy considerations," Yates said.

As of late April, there were 100,888 people serving federal time for drug offenses, according the federal Bureau of Prisons. They account for 49.9% of all federal prisoners.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- June 9, 2014

In California, all eyes now turn toward 2016 for marijuana legalization, Washington state's first retail marijuana store will open soon, Mexico's president is willing to debate marijuana legalization, British activists are planting the seeds of change, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Last California 2014 Legalization Initiative is Dead. The last remaining campaign to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the 2014 ballot is dead. The secretary of state's office announced last Friday that the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act of 2014, sponsored by San Jose interests had failed to gather enough signatures by its cutoff date. That means all eyes turn to 2016. See the next item.

California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform Launches Grassroots Campaign for Marijuana Legalization. The Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (CCPR) announced today it was launching a grassroots campaign to legalize marijuana in the Golden State. CCPR already has the backing of most national drug reform organizations, as well as the ACLU, the California NAACP, and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). A new Reform CA web site and Facebook page are now up, and CCPR says they have 120,000 people on their list so far.

Texas GOP Spurns Marijuana Reform. Meeting at its state convention in Fort Worth over the weekend, the Texas Republican Party quickly rejected adding support for medical marijuana to its platform and even more quickly rejected a legalization plank.

Colorado Governor Signs Marijuana Banking Bill. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) last Friday signed into law legislation designed to allow marijuana businesses to use a series of cooperatives a means of accessing basic banking services. The move is aimed at allowing those businesses to move away from cash-only operations, but still needs approval from the Federal Reserve.

Washington State's First Marijuana Retail Store Will Open July 1. The first legal non-medical marijuana retail shop will open in Spokane on July 1. Kouchlock Productions says it will be open, but will set quantity limits until more supply is available. Koucklock is also a licensed producer, but has only been growing its first crop for two months. More retail outlets should open in coming weeks; the state says 334 will be allowed.

Drug Policy

DPA, MAPS Release Report on DEA Obstructionism and Rejection of Science. The Drug Policy Alliance and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies today released a new report highlighting DEA obstructionism and the rejection of science, primarily around medical marijuana, but also including examinations of how the DEA can move with lightning speed when it comes to prohibiting drugs, as opposed to its lethargy regarding a series of medical marijuana rescheduling petitions. The report calls for responsibility for drug scheduling to be removed from the DEA and for an end to the government's monopoly on research-grade marijuana. DPA and MAPS will also hold a teleconference Wednesday with Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Steven Cohen (D-TN) and Dr. Carl Hart.

Law Enforcement

$10 Million Federal Grant for Vermont Anti-Heroin Drug Task Forces Wins Senate Committee Vote. A proposal from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to fund a $10 million competitive grant for state law enforcement drug task forces was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee last Thursday. The grant is an innovative way for Vermont to get around restrictions in the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants program, which are based on formulas that assess size and need. Instead, this competitive grant would prioritize locales that have high per capita treatment admissions for opiates. But it is still a 100% law enforcement approach.

International

Mexico's President Says Marijuana Legalization Should Be Debated. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said Sunday that while he doesn't personally support marijuana legalization, he favors debating the issue, and that Mexico could follow the lead of US states that have legalized it. Marijuana prohibition is "a failed policy," he said. "It needs to be reviewed. I repeat, I'm not in favor of legalization, this is a personal conviction. But we can't continue on this road of inconsistency between the legalization we've had in some places, particularly in the most important consumer market, the United States, and in Mexico where we continue to criminalize production of marijuana," he added.

Guatemala President Calls Costa Rica President "Strategic Partner" in Drug Reform Debate. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said last Friday that Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis is "a strategic partner" in the search for alternatives to the militarized prohibitionist drug policies currently in effect. "We feel that Costa Rica is a partner that brings an important vision in this battle to change the drug policy that is today based on prohibition," Perez Molina said. Solis does not support drug legalization, but he has expressed interest in further decriminalizing drug use in Costa Rica.

British Activists Planting Marijuana Seeds at Well-Known Landmarks. Marijuana seeds aren't illegal in Britain, and the Feed the Birds campaign sponsored by the London Cannabis Club is taking advantage of that to plant them at well-known landmarks around the country, including London's Tower Bridge and Big Ben. The project is aimed at decriminalizing marijuana and supporting medical marijuana users, and the seeds they are planting are from a strain with good medicinal properties, organizers said. "We've been doing this for years under a media blackout and we've grown everywhere you can imagine," said founder Finn Hemingway. "This isn't original, it's a return to the days before prohibition and we don't take much notice of whether it's legal or not. By helping medical users, we can get them away from low quality cannabis and dealers and make them self-sufficient." Police said it would be difficult to prosecute the seed-planters.

Chronicle AM -- June 6, 2014

Another marijuana-heavy news day today -- at least it's coming from all corners of the country. The DEA is giving ultimatums to doctors in Massachusetts, the California GOP attorney general candidate wants to legalize it, and, Down Under, the Melbourne city council has a report calling for a debate on drug legalization. Let's get to it:

Another image from the Drug Policy Alliance's series of photos normalizing marijuana use. (Sonya Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Marijuana Advocates Regroup, Call for Discussion of Legalization. Montana marijuana advocates, who have seen their once wide-open medical marijuana system dramatically scaled back, are ready to go on the offensive again. A new group has formed to further the cause. The Montana Project for Innovative Policy is eyeing a legalization initiative for 2016.

Louisiana Marijuana Supporters to Rally at State Capitol Saturday. After a legislative session in which marijuana reform bills went nowhere, reform advocates will rally at the state capitol in Baton Rouge Saturday. The event is organized by Legalize Louisiana, which apparently still exists despite having officially dissolved in March. Click on the Legalize Louisiana link for event details.

Lewiston, Maine, Legalization Initiative Signature-Gathering to Begin Monday. Marijuana legalization supporters in Maine's second largest city will launch the signature-gathering campaign for their municipal legalization initiative Monday. The measure would legalize the possession of up to 2 ½ ounces. A similar measure passed in Portland last year, and South Portland voters will also vote on one this year.

California GOP Attorney General Candidate Says Legalize It. Ron Gold, the presumptive Republican challenger to Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris, wants to legalize and tax marijuana, he told the Sacramento Bee. "I just think that police resources are so few, and we have so much to do, that going after someone who is having a joint in West Hollywood is about as useful as having another Carter's Little Liver Pill," Gold said. "An adult is an adult," he added. "If you use those things - and you're stupid - we can't bar stupidity." Harris, who is an odds-on favorite to win, hasn't endorsed legalization. "Basically, I am to the left of Harris on an issue that's always been very popular and critical in California," Gold said. "I view it as a matter of principle."

Medical Marijuana

DEA Giving Massachusetts Doctors Ultimatum: Quit Dispensaries or Lose Your License. The Boston Globe reported today that DEA agents have been visiting Massachusetts doctors involved with medical marijuana dispensaries and telling them the DEA will jerk the licenses to prescribe drugs if they don't cut ties with the dispensaries. And it's working. At least two doctors have severed ties, while one gave up his DEA license, saying as a semi-retired surgeon, he didn't need it to do his job. The Globe reports this will likely slow the opening of some long-awaited dispensaries.

Arizona Judge Orders State to Allow Medical Marijuana for PTSD. A state court judge has ruled that "a preponderance of evidence shows medical marijuana provides palliative benefit to those suffering from PTSD" and given the state Health Department until July 9 to accept his decision or appeal it. The department has denied all previous petitions seeking to add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions.

DC Council to Hold Hearing Next Week on Expanding Qualifying Conditions List, Easing Cultivation Restrictions. The DC council will hear two bills related to medical marijuana next Tuesday. Bill 20-766, cosponsored by every member of the council, would repeal the qualifying conditions list and allow physicians to recommend marijuana to any patient they think marijuana would benefit. Bill 20-678, will increase the number of plants a cultivation center could possess from 95 to 500, better ensuring that patient need is met. Click on the title link for hearing details.

International

Melbourne, Australia, City Council Releases Report Recommending Debate on Legalizing Drugs. The city council in Melbourne, Australia's second largest city, Thursday released a report calling for a debate on the "challenges and opportunities" of legalizing and regulating currently illicit substances. But some council members are now distancing themselves from that aspect of the report, which deals more broadly with how to reduce crime and violence in the city.

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

DEA Leaning On Massachusetts Docs with Dispensaries Ties

The Boston Globe is reporting today that the DEA has been visiting Massachusetts doctors involved with yet-to-open medical marijuana dispensaries and giving them an ultimatum: Cut your ties with the dispensary or lose your DEA-issued license to prescribe drugs.

The heavy-handed tactic from the prohibition enforcers is working.  The Globe interviewed two physicians who promptly severed their ties with dispensaries and a third who instead surrendered his license to prescribe (he said that as part-time surgeon, he didn't need it, although he'd had it for 40 years).

That could have an impact on the opening of some dispensaries, and that could have an impact on Massachusetts patients, who've already been waiting nearly a year-and-a-half for them to open since voters approved medical marijuana there in November 2012.

The DEA's actions to screw around with medical marijuana in Massachusetts come even as, in a historic vote, the House just a week ago voted to bar the DEA from interfering with medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Stories like this one from the Globe are only going to add pressure for the Senate to go along.

The DEA doesn't get it. It has already lost this war. It's time for the agency to get out of the way, or better yet, go the way of the dinosaurs.  But while the DEA and the prohibition regime it enforces may be dying dinosaurs, those final twitches of the tail still have the power to inflict injury. Better to put the beast out its misery.

Location: 
Boston, MA
United States

Chronicle AM -- June 5, 2014

An Arkansas marijuana legalization initiative can start signature-gathering, DC's medical marijuana program now includes more eligible conditions, Tennessee's governor unveils his prescription drug plan, Canada's mandatory minimum sentencing law is being challenged, and more. Let's get to it:

DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz gets scolded by the medical marijuana movement.
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature-Gathering. State Attorney General Dustin McDaniel yesterday approved the popular name and ballot title for a constitutional amendment initiative that would legalize marijuana. Supporters of the Arkansas Hemp and Cannabis Amendment now have just over one month -- until July 7 -- to submit more than 78,000 valid voter signatures in order to qualify for the November ballot. A medical marijuana initiative sponsored by Arkansans for Compassionate Care is already in the signature-gathering phase.

Medical Marijuana

Group Targets DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz for Not Voting to End DEA Interference in Medical Marijuana States. The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access is now running TV ads criticizing Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee as "out of touch" for voting against a measure to bar the DEA from interfering in medical marijuana states. Wasserman Schultz was one of only 18 Democrats who voted against it while 170 Democrats voted for it. The ads are running on MSNBC in South Florida, where her district is.

DC Medical Marijuana Program Adds New Qualifying Conditions. The DC Department of Health has approved new conditions for which patients will be able to use marijuana. They are seizure disorders, Lou Gehrig's Disease, decompensated cirrhosis, cachexia or wasting syndrome, and Alzheimer's. Hospice patients will also be allowed to use marijuana. Previously, the DC program had been restricted to people suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and muscle spasticity.

Heroin

Ohio Democratic Candidates Call for Tougher Action Against Heroin. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald and Democratic attorney general candidate David Pepper are calling for tougher action against heroin. FitzGerald said he wants tougher enforcement on dealers and that rising heroin use should be treated as a public health emergency. And Pepper called for heroin overdose deaths to be treated like murder. FitzGerald added that not enough dealers are going to prison, especially after a sentencing reform bill passed. The Ohio Republican Party responded calling the Democrats "tone deaf" and "ghoulish," saying that Gov. John Kasich (R) has been a strong advocate on the issue, and besides, Attorney General Mike DeWine's (R) office had just indicted two heroin dealers last week.

Prescription Drugs

Tennessee Governor Rolls Out Prescription Drug Plan. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) Tuesday unveiled his seven-point program to battle problems associated with prescription drug use. "Prescription for Success: Statewide Strategies to Prevent and Treat the Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic in Tennessee" calls for reducing the prescribing of prescription opiates, reducing overdose deaths (including through enactment of a 911 Good Samaritan law), increasing prevention, early intervention, and treatment, and increased cooperation among state agencies and between the state and other entities. While it has a law enforcement component, that doesn't seem to be emphasized. [Ed: There are some good provisions in this document, but reducing the prescribing of pain medications needs to be handled with great care. Although more people are getting opiates now, not all of the people who need them are, and it could easily get even worse for pain patients.]

Drug Testing

California Initiative to Drug Test Doctors Qualifies for Ballot. An initiative that requires random, suspicionless drug and alcohol testing of doctors has qualified for the November 2014 ballot, according to the Secretary of State's office. It also requires doctors to report any other doctor they suspect of being impaired by drugs or alcohol. It also increases the cap on pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, which may the initiative's main goal. Legislative analysts estimate it could cost the state "at least in the low tens of millions of dollars annually" in higher malpractice costs and up to "hundreds of millions of dollars annually" because of changes in the amount and type of health care services provided.

Law Enforcement

In Massive Heroin Sweep, New Jersey Police Arrest Seven Users for Every Dealer. New Jersey cops arrested 325 people during an eight-week heroin sting, but only 40 of them are accused of selling heroin. The rest are alleged heroin users. Authorities said all were arrested on relatively low-level charges and all would have a chance to go through treatment programs, but the head of the state's drug court program said she wasn't sure the system could accommodate all of them.

International

New Zealand Workers Win Drug Testing Case. Workers at a mill who were subjected to mandatory drug tests after two marijuana plants were found growing on the site were treated unfairly and must be compensated, the Employment Relations Authority has ruled. The mill owner had argued that the discovery of pot plants was "reasonable cause" to drug test everybody, but the authority disagreed. "This is a victory for our members, and a victory for common decency and respect," says Ron Angel, a union organizer for timber workers. "Drug testing has to be about proving actual impairment at work - not treating workers as guilty until proven innocent."

Canada Battle over Mandatory Minimum Sentences Heads to BC Appeals Court. A case that could eventually overturn the Conservative government's mandatory minimum sentence scheme for drug offenses is being heard in the BC Court of Appeals today. Earlier this year, a BC provincial court judge ruled unconstitutional an automatic one-year prison term for a person repeatedly convicted of drugs. Lawyers for the government appealed; thus today's hearing. The case is that of Vancouver Downtown Eastside resident Joseph Lloyd, a long-time drug user with 21 previous convictions who was convicted last fall of trafficking small amounts of heroin, cocaine, and meth. The provincial court judge held that mandatory minimum sentences amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Bolivian Village to Bake Coca Birthday Cake for UN Head Ban Ki-Moon. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will be in Bolivia when his birthday rolls around on June 15, and the mayor of Cobija, Ana Lucia Reis, says they are going to bake him a coca birthday cake. "The idea is that Ban tries the coca and realizes that coca is part of our culture and is not cocaine," she said.

Smuggler Shooting Immediately Tests Border Patrol's New Force Policy

Last Friday, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske announced new policies designed to reduce the use of deadly force by Border Patrol agents. Hours later, a Border Patrol agent shot and killed marijuana smuggler Luis Arambula, 31, as he fled on foot through an Arizona golf course. Arambula becomes the 20th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

The killing is bound to put CBP's new use of deadly force policies to the test. According to the CBP's new handbook, the use of deadly force is authorized only when there is imminent danger of death or serious injury to the agent or someone else. Deadly force is not to be used "solely to prevent the escape of a fleeing subject," but can only be justified when the person "has inflicted or threatened to inflict serious physical injury or death" and the person's escape poses an imminent threat of serious injury or death to the agent or others.

But that doesn't appear to be the case with Luis Arambula. Border Patrol Agent Daniel Marquez shot him nine times as he ran through a golf course after his vehicle got stuck as he fled from agents. Agents had tried to pull him over on Interstate 19, but he didn't stop, instead getting off the highway, onto an access road and then a surface street into the golf course.

Two agents chased him on foot for a quarter mile, then Marquez opened fire. Agents claimed that Arambula made "punching out" motions with his arms, as if he were aiming a gun at that in a two-handed stance, but Pima County sheriff's deputies investigating the incident said Arambula was unarmed.

The Pima County Sheriff's Office is investigating the killing. We shall see how CBP handles this first challenge to its new deadly force policy.

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