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Chronicle AM: FL MedMJ Init Qualifies for Ballot, VT Gov Endorses Pot Legalization Bill, More... (1/28/16)

Busy, busy. State legislatures are in full swing, and the bills just keep coming. Meanwhile, Florida's medical marijuana initiative has qualified for the ballot, Vermont's governor endorses legalization, and more.

Heroin is on the agenda at statehouses this week. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Judge Throws Out Lawsuit Against Colorado's Legalization. A Colorado US District Court judge has rejected a lawsuit challenging the legality of marijuana legalization in the state. The lawsuit was filed by a Washington, DC-based anti-marijuana group, the Safe Streets Alliance, and asked the court to find the state and Pueblo County guilty of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The judge in the case rejected the claims, concluding that private parties have no standing to seek recourse for alleged violations of the Supremacy Clause, which makes federal law the supreme law of the land. Another lawsuit, filed by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma, is still being decided.

New Mexico Poll Finds Strong Support for Legalization. Three out five (61%) adult New Mexicans support legalizing and regulating marijuana, according to a new poll from Research & Polling. The poll comes as the legislature ponders two bills, one that would amend the state constitution to let voters decide the issue, and one that is a straightforward legalization bill. The bills are Senate Joint Resolution 5 and House Bill 75, respectively.

Vermont Governor Endorses Legalization Bill. Gov. Peter Shumlin has endorsed the Senate Judiciary Committee's legalization bill, Senate Bill 137. "The War on Drugs has failed when it comes to marijuana prohibition," Gov. Shumlin said. "Under the status quo, marijuana use is widespread, Vermonters have little difficulty procuring it for personal use, and the shadows of prohibition make it nearly impossible to address key issues like prevention, keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors, and dealing with those driving under the influence who are already on Vermont's roads. The system has failed. The question for us is how do we deal with that failure. Vermont can take a smarter approach that regulates marijuana in a thoughtful way, and this bill provides a framework for us to do that."

DC Poll Finds Residents Want District to Move Ahead With Regulation -- Despite Congress. A substantial majority of District residents believe Mayor Bowser should move forward with taxation and regulation of marijuana despite Congressional prohibition, according to a survey conducted over the weekend by Public Policy Polling (PPP) for the Drug Policy Alliance, DC Vote, DC Working Families and the Washington City Paper. Two-thirds (66%) of respondents believe the mayor should pursue a legal method (such as use of reserve funds) to implement taxation and regulation of marijuana in the District. In light of congressional interference attempting to prevent such regulation, 63% of residents view marijuana legalization as a statehood issue for the District.

Medical Marijuana

Americans for Safe Access Releases Report on State Medical Marijuana Programs. The patient advocacy group graded each state and graded harshly. No state earned an "A" and only 12 earned a "B." Read the report here.

California Bill to Halt Medical Marijuana Bans Heads to Governor's Desk. After passing the Senate earlier this week, Assembly Bill 21, has now passed the Assembly and awaits a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The bill lifts a March 1 deadline for localities to regulate medical marijuana or lose control to the state. The deadline has prompted more than a hundred localtities to enact bans on various sorts in a bid to retain local control.

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Qualifies for the November Ballot. The group behind the effort, United for Care, said Wednesday the Division of Elections has recorded 692,981 verified voter signatures, nearly 10,000 more than needed to qualify. A similar effort won 58% of the vote in 2014, but failed to pass because constitutional amendments require 60% of the vote to pass in Florida.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Injection Drug Use Driving Appalachian Hepatitis B Infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that acute Hepatitis B was up 114% in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia between 2009 and 2013. The report found that injection drug was tied to 75% of the new cases. Unlike Hep C, Hep B can be prevented with a vaccine, but vaccine coverage is low among adults nationwide.

Maine Governor Wants Gunowners to Shoot Drug Dealers. Just days after saying Maine should revive the guillotine to execute drug dealers, Gov. Paul LePage suggested just shooting them instead. "I tell ya, everybody in Maine, we have constitutional carry," LePage said in an on-camera interview in Lewiston. "Load up and get rid of the drug dealers. Because, folks, they're killing our kids," the governor said. He then denied that he was encouraging vigilantism.

New York Assembly Minority Task Force Releases Report on Heroin Addiction. The task force has come out with suggestions for combating heroin and opiate addiction. The recommendations include earlier drug education, involuntary "emergency medical" detention of addicts, and a felony "death by dealer" statute. Now, the task force must work with Assembly Democrats to create legislation.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Welfare Drug Testing Bill Killed in Committee. The Health and Human Services voted to kill a bill that would have required welfare applicants to undergo mandatory, suspicionless drug testing. Even the Republican governor had opposed the bill.

International

Producers of Prohibited Plants Issue Declaration Ahead of UNGASS. The Global Forum of Producers of Prohibited Plants (coca, opium, marijuana) is demanding that growers be heard at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in April. In a joint declaration from producers in 14 countries, the group urged an end to forced eradication of drug crops, the removal of the three plants from international drug control treaties, and sustainable rural economic development. Click the title link for a full list of participants and recommendations.

Chronicle AM: DC MJ Club Ban Moving, Fed Lawmakers Want MedMJ Allowed for Vets, More... (1/27/16)

State legislators are getting busy, the DC city council resorts to sneakery to try to kill pot clubs, federal representatives ask the VA to let doctors recommend medical marijuana for veterans, and more.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) was among those calling on the VA to let doctors recommend medical marijuana for veterans.
Marijuana Policy

Arizonans Rally to Support Legalization Bill. Marijuana reform advocates rallied at the state capitol Wednesday to support a bill that would legalize marijuana. Carrying signs that red "Cannabis Reduces Opiate Overdose" and "Cannabis is a Natural Alternative to Harmful Pharma," the ralliers urged passage of House Bill 2006, introduced by Rep. Mark Cardenas (D).

Vermont Legalization Bill Sees Tussles Ahead of Vote Tomorrow. The powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dick Sears (D-Burlington) has said he won't vote for his own committee's legalization bill if it allows for home cultivation, and he's also asking the committee to make additional changes, including moving some of the tax proceeds to the general fund and increasing penalties for adults who sell pot to minors. The measure is Senate Bill 137.

Washington State Bill Would Allow Home Cultivation. A bill to allow for home cultivation of up to six plants has been introduced with bipartisan support in the legislature. Washington's version of legalization does not allow for home cultivation, but House Bill 2629 would change that, bringing Washington in line with other legalization states.

In Sneak Move, DC Council Moves to Ban Pot Social Clubs. With the public notified only moments before markup, the DC Council's Committee on the Judiciary voted today to permanently ban marijuana consumption in private clubs. A temporary ban was set to expire April 15, and advocates had hoped the Council would let it lapse. The bill approved by the committee bars entities from providing adults with private spaces other than a residence to consume marijuana, and requires the Mayor's office to revoke a business' license after only one instance of a patron consuming marijuana on the premises.

Medical Marijuana

Lawmakers Call on VA to Let Doctors Recommend Medical Marijuana. Twenty-one members of Congress have written to VA Secretary Robert McDonald urging him to allow VA doctors to discuss medical marijuana as a possible treatment in states where it is legal. A VA policy that does not allow doctors to recommend it expires at the end of this month, and the lawmakers are calling on McDonald to not extend it. "You are in a position to make this change when the current directive expires at the end of this month," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Steve Daines (D-MT), and others wrote Wednesday to McDonald. "We ask that you act to ensure that our veterans' access to care is not compromised and that doctors and patients are allowed to have honest discussions about treatment options."

Industrial Hemp

Hawaii Industrial Hemp Production Bill Filed. Reps. Kaniela Ing (D-South Maui) and Cynthia Thielen (R-Oahu) have introduced House Bill 2555, which would allow for industrial hemp production for research purposes. The bill is backed by the state Department of Agriculture.

Asset Forfeiture

Wisconsin Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Gets Committee Hearing. The Senate Committee on Labor and Government Reform Tuesday took up Senate Bill 521, which would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. Speaking in support were the Wisconsin ACLU and the Wisconsin Grandsons of Liberty; speaking against were -- you guessed it -- representatives of law enforcement. No vote was taken.

Drug Testing

Virginia Welfare Drug Testing Bills Killed. The Health, Welfare and Institutions Subcommittee #1 narrowly defeated a combined pair of bills, House Bill 468 and House Bill 86, that would have required welfare applicants to undergo drug tests before receiving benefits. "VIEW recipients are no more likely statistically to be drug users than any other group and to target them would be unfair," Del. Marcia Price (D-Newport News) said. "I am proud to have agreed with my colleagues across the aisle that there was a lack of evidence to warrant this practice. We would be better served, instead of this practice, to continue to invest money into the tangible obstacles to employment. Rightly, partisan politics did not stand in the way of doing what is right for our Commonwealth."

Sentencing

Maine Bill to More Harshly Punish Outsiders Bringing Drugs to State Gets Hearing. The legislature's Criminal Justice Committee heard conflicting testimony Monday on LD 1541, which creates the crime of "aggravated importation of scheduled drugs." The bill doesn't specify, but the measure is clearly aimed at heroin traffickers bringing the drug into the state. Not everyone was gung-ho, though: Tougher sentences are "just not the most effective tool against this scourge," said John Pelletier, a member of the Maine Criminal Advisory Commission. The measure would double prison sentences for importing heroin into the state from five to 10 years, and up to 30 years in some cases.

International

Mexico's National Marijuana Legalization Debate is Underway. Lawmakers met in Cancun Tuesday to open the first batch of debates on marijuana legalization. President Enrique Pena Nieto is opposed, but called for national debate after court rulings appeared to open cracks in the country's prohibition.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Legalization Debate Gets Underway, NH Gov Signs Heroin Bills, More... (1/25/16)

New Hampshire's governor signs a package of heroin and prescription opiate bills, a similar package goes to the desk of the Wisconsin governor, Illinois patients seek to add more qualifying conditions, South Dakota's GOP governor rejects a welfare drug testing bill, a key Mexican politician endorses pot legalization, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Student Marijuana Group Wins Free Speech Lawsuit Against Iowa State University. A federal judge last Friday ruled that ISU administrators violated the First Amendment rights of ISU NORML by barring the group from using ISU logos on its t-shirts. ISU NORML won a permanent injunction against the university preventing it from using its trademark policy to block the group from printing shirts depicting a marijuana leaf.

Denver Social Pot Club Effort Gains New Life. A shelved ballot measure that aims at winning approval for marijuana use at some private businesses is being brought back to life by a newly formed NORML chapter. Denver NORML says it is going to take up where advocates left off. Advocates from the Vicente Sederberg law firm and the Marijuana Policy Project had begun such a ballot effort last year, but withdrew and is now seeking a potential compromise ordinance with city officials and other interested parties. But Denver NORML says it time to "get this done."

Medical Marijuana

Arizona GOP Rep Withdraws Bill to Cripple Medical Marijuana Program. State Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Fountain Hills) has withdrawn HCR 2019, which would have barred naturopaths and homeopaths from recommending medical marijuana. Nearly 90% of all recommendations in the state are written by those health care professionals. Lawrence said he withdrew his bill after his office "received so many calls" and he actually learned about how the program works.

Georgia Lawmaker Admits Breaking State Law to Help Families Obtain CBD Cannabis Oil. Rep. Alan Peake (R-Macon) admitted last week that he has been going to other states to obtain the medicine and bring it back for patients. Under a law he sponsored last year, CBD cannabis oil is legal for people for certain diseases, but there is no provision for in-state cultivation or sales. "We made sure that families properly registered with the state got access to medical cannabis, including delivering it to them if that's the only way we can make that happen," Peake said. "Maybe at some point there is a need for civil disobedience. It comes down to, 'What would I do if it were my child?'" Peake said.

Hawaii Bill Would Bar Patients From Growing Their Own. Now that dispensaries are set to open up in the state, Rep. Marcus Oshiro (D-Oahu) has filed a bill that would prohibit patients from growing their own, instead requiring them to use the dispensaries. The bill is House Bill 1680. Patient groups don't like it.

Illlinois Petition Seeks to Prod Governor to Expand Qualifying Medical Conditions. The state Medical Cannabis Advisory Board has recommended adding eight new qualifying conditions to the state's medical marijuana program. The petition is directed at Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) and the head of the state Department of Public Health, who will make the final decision. The petition currently has more than 19,000 and has been endorsed by Melissa Etheridge.

Ohio Attorney General Rejects Wording on Medical Marijuana Initiative. State Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) has rejected a third petition for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment. He said there were five discrepancies between the language of the proposal and its summary language.

Heroin

New Hampshire Governor Signs Heroin Bills. Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) has signed into law two bills, Senate Bill 447 and Senate Bill 576 that were part of a comprehensive proposal to deal with heroin and opiate addiction she put forth last fall. The former bill creates a study commission on using naloxone more broadly, while the second increases penalties for the sale of fentanyl, requires insurance companies to use similar evaluation criteria to streamline access to drug treatment, and strengthening the state's prescription monitoring program.

Wisconsin Legislature Approves Package of Prescription Monitoring Bills. The state Senate last week gave final approval to the package, which is aimed at reducing heroin use by requiring pharmacists to register prescriptions within 24 hours and requiring police to register prescription drugs found at the scene of an overdose. The package now goes to Gov. Scott Walker (R) for his signature.

New Psychoactive Substances

Massachusetts Bill Would Criminalize More Than a Dozen New Synthetic Drugs. State Rep. Tim Whelan (R-Brewster) has cosponsored a bill that would specifically target 19 new psychoactive substances listed as controlled substances by the DEA. The possession, manufacture, and distribution of the drugs would be criminalized under the bill.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Governor Rejects Welfare Drug Testing. Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) is not supporting a recently filed bill to require suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients. He said he had not been enthusiastic about similar bills in the past, that the effort was a waste of money, and it is "somewhat insulting."

International

Israeli Likudnik MK Filed Marijuana Decriminalization Bill. Member of the Knesset Sharren Haskel (Likud) has filed a bill to decriminalize pot possession. Such bills usually come from the left of the Israeli political spectrum. "More than a million Israelis occasionally consume cannabis, and the population that uses it is mostly not a criminal population," wrote Haskel. "These are normative people from all parts of society -- academics, public representatives, and others, who consume cannabis in their leisure time."

Key Mexican Lawmaker Calls for Marijuana Legalization, Medical Access. The president of Mexico's chamber of deputies, Jesus Zambrano, is calling for both medical and recreational marijuana use to be legalized. "The topic has its international component and efforts need to be combined, particularly between the United States and Mexico, to have common rules, laws that are essentially identical, though each with its own modalities, because we are distinct, but the United States must help our country apply, for instance, legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use," said Zambrano. His was the opening salvo in a national debate on the topic that began Sunday.

Medical Marijuana Update

A handful of dispensaries open in New York, dispensary applications are now available in Hawaii, it looks like Florida will get another chance to vote for medical marijuana, and more.

National

Last Friday, a federal court okayed firing an employee for medical marijuana use. A federal district court in New Mexico has held that an employer is not obligated to accommodate an employee's use of medical marijuana, even when the drug had been supplied to the employee by a state-legal medical marijuana program. The ruling came in the case of an AIDS patient whose job offer was yanked after he tested positive for marijuana metabolites during a pre-employment drug test. The court noted that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Arizona

As of Wednesday, Arizona GOP legislators are trying to chip away at medical marijuana access. Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) has filed House Bill 2061, which would bar pregnant women from qualifying for the medical marijuana program, and Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Scottsdale) has filed House Concurrent Resolution 2019, which removes homeopaths and naturopaths from the list doctors who can issue medical marijuana recommendations.

California

As of Wednesday, a fix was in the works for the state's medical marijuana regulation deadline. Legislators are working to fix a provision of the medical marijuana regulation law that requires localities to pass their own rules by March 1 or face loss of regulatory control to the state. The provision has caused a stampede of cities and counties seeking to get measures in place by that date, with most of them resorting to simple bans. The Senate Finance Committee last week passed a bill to remove the date.

Florida

Last Monday, the medical marijuana initiative campaign handed in signatures. United for Care, the group leading the campaign, handed in more than one million raw signatures to state officials. The group needs only 683,149 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. In 2014, United for Care's initiative failed even though it won 58% of the vote. Because it was a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% to pass.

Hawaii

Last Tuesday, dispensary applications became available online. Applications must be submitted online and will only be accepted during the application period of Jan. 12, 2016, 8:00am Hawaii Standard Time (HST) to Jan. 29, 2016, 4:30pm HST. Get the online application here. There's a $5,000 application fee. Read about dispensary license requirements here.

Missouri

On January 7, a medical marijuana initiative was approved for signature gathering. An initiative from New Approach Missouri has been approved for circulation by the secretary of state's office. The group is seeking 250,000 raw signatures to ensure it meets the requirement of 160,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. The campaign estimates it will cost $800,000 for paid signature gathering and is trying to raise funds now.

New Hampshire

Last Friday, the state approved its first medical marijuana production facility. The Department of Health and Human Services said last Friday that it has approved the first of three locations to grow medical marijuana and started mailing out ID cards. Some 176 Granite Staters have qualified to use medical marijuana so far.

New York

On January 7, the state's first dispensaries opened for business. Eight dispensaries opened in the state, a slow start to a medical marijuana program in a state with nearly 20 million people. The state has authorized another 12 to open later this month.

Last Monday, the state failed to approve PTSD and other health conditions for medical marijuana use. The state Health Commissioner determined there is not yet enough evidence of effectiveness to approve the use of medical marijuana to treat PTSD, Alzheimer's disease, muscular dystrophy, dystonia, and rheumatoid arthritis. The commissioner can, however, add qualifying conditions at any time and will be meeting with specialists to evaluate new scientific evidence as it becomes available.

Ohio

Last Thursday, lawmakers formed a medical marijuana task force. Ohio House Republicans unveiled details on a new task force on medical marijuana. In November, voters rejected Issue 3, which would have included medical marijuana in a broader legalization initiative, but there is broad popular support for medical marijuana in the state. Recent public opinion polls show 85% support medical marijuana.

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

Why Is the Administration Sending Refugees Back to Narco War Nightmare US Helped Create? [FEATURE]

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

With the New Year, the Obama administration has unleashed a new campaign of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids targeting Central American women and children who fled to the US in 2014 to escape violence in their home countries. Some 17,000 are at immediate risk of being dragged from their homes and families and being detained and deported.

Salvadoran refugee walking toward the US border. (unhcr.org)
"Our borders are not open to illegal migration; if you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values," Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement announcing the action.

Some 121 people were arrested in raids last weekend, Johnson said, with many of them housed in euphemistically named "family residential centers" before their imminent deportation. The raids took place in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas.

Johnson's statement noted that back in November, the administration had broadened its deportation actions beyond "criminals and threats to public safety" (including at least 250,000 people deported for drug offenses) to include those who threaten "border security" by having arrived uninvited after January 1, 2014.

The administration signaled last week that the raids will continue despite a growing outcry from some Democrats, progressives and immigrant rights groups.

Democratic presidential contenders Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley both railed against the raids, with Sanders saying that while he is an ally of the president, "I don't agree with him on this," and O'Malley decrying them, saying "Jesus himself was a refugee child."

Protestors gathered in Boston Friday for an event organized by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coaltion (MIRA) echoed complaints being heard around the nation.

"I came to this country fleeing the terror of the Pinochet military dictatorship in Chile," said the Unitarian Universalist Rev. Maria Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa. "I know what it's like to be 12 years old and to live in fear that at any moment, an unmarked car will stop at your house and take your family away one by one. I know what it's like to fear that you will be the next one to disappear. My grandmother, my mother, and I were fortunate to find refuge here and build a life. Today, as a US citizen I denounce the massive deportations and raids as a violation of human rights."

"The home raids that terrorize the community, separate families, and wake up sleeping children must stop. Arresting, detaining, and deporting them is not the answer," said MIRA executive director Eva Millona. "Such crisis requires compassion and humane solutions."

ICE swears in agents for the family detention program. (ice.gov)
Those would include letting them stay in the country under Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure. The latter is the program that allowed Obama to regain some favor with the immigrant community when he used it to ensure that some five million young people whose parents brought them into the country illegally -- the Dreamers -- would be allowed to stay.

The people being targeted now are part of the 100,000 or so children and parents who fled gang violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras during the immigration "crisis" of 2014, when the specter of masses of Central Americans coming to the border and turning themselves in to seek asylum temporarily focused the nation's attention -- and the Republicans' ire -- on the issue.

Amid predictable calls for more walls, more border agents, and immediate deportation, many of the asylum-seekers were placed in "family detention centers," but others were released, often with GPS ankle bracelets. The vast majority were processed without legal counsel and without any real understanding of the legal proceedings that would determine their futures. The people being targeted now are those whose asylum applications were rejected or those who, for one reason or another, failed to show up at immigration hearings.

The cruel irony of the situation is that it is US policy to deport these people back to countries wracked by poverty and violence that is due at least in part to other US policies -- the imposition of US-style drug war on the region, and even earlier, Ronald Reagan's anti-communist crusade to thwart the region's leftist revolutionary movements in the 1980s. US policy helped to push these people out of Central America, and now US policy is to push them back in.

The US can't be blamed for all the woes of Central America, of course, but it has certainly been a contributing factor. The violent gangs that have helped turn the region into one of the deadliest on the planet, such as Mara Salvatrucha, Barrio 18, evolved in Salvadoran immigrant communities in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, DC, after hundreds of thousands fled the violent civil war in which Ronald Reagan and US taxpayers spent $4 billion to ensure that leftist revolution was neutered. Some 75,000 people died in that conflict.

After the young Central American immigrants learned the fine art of gang-banging up north, deported gang members brought those skills back with them to the old country, laying the groundwork for the emergence of increasingly powerful and deadly street gangs, particularly in El Salvador and Honduras.

And, thanks to the "success" of the Reagan administration in shutting down Caribbean cocaine smuggling routes into Miami in the early 1980s, the new deportees came home to countries increasingly awash in cocaine as Colombian smugglers began using the region as a trampoline, a transshipment point for drugs headed on to Mexico before reaching their ultimate destination in the US.

Central Americans didn't try to sneak into the country; they sought asylum. (wikipedia.org)
"Drug prohibition makes drug transshipment very lucrative for organized crime," said Adam Isacson, a drug policy analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America. (WOLA). "US efforts to interdict aerial and maritime drug shipments in the Caribbean in the 1980s and 1990s caused more and more cocaine to pass through Central America, a region recovering from civil war."

Another drug war "success" also had ramifications for the region, Isacson said.

"The mid-90s takedown of the big Colombian cartels -- the Medellin and Cali cartels -- gave more market share to the Mexican organizations, which relied more heavily on Central American territory," he explained.

"The groups transshipped drugs through Central America further corrupted and undermined already weak security and judicial institutions," Isacson continued. "And that made those institutions less able to protect their citizens."

And more vulnerable to hyper-violent Mexican drug trafficking organizations, such as El Chapo Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas, who began expanding their presence in Central America as they came under pressure from Mexican authorities, bolstered by US anti-drug assistance, at home.

Now, Central America is one of the most violent regions in the world, and El Salvador has the highest murder rate the world has seen in 20 years, taking the dubious title of world's murder capital from neighboring Honduras, which claims an official decline in murders this year. Some observers are skeptical.

Jeannette Aguilar, director of Institute of Public Opinion at the Central American University in El Salvador, told USA Today the apparent reduction could be artificial because the cartels have learned that too many bodies is bad publicity and have become adept at disposing of them.

"Because of the evolution of dismembering bodies, decomposing them, incinerating them, it's difficult to know if homicides have really fallen," she said.

The American policy response to violence, much of it drug trade-related, and social decomposition has historically been heavy on assistance to the military and police forces, like the Central American Regional Security Initiative, but that looks like it is finally beginning to change this year. Just last month, Congress approved $750 million in aid for the region that shifts the focus away from security initiatives and instead targets structural issues that have crippled the region.

The bill stipulates that 75% of the funds can only be spent after government take on issues of corruption, transparency, immunity, and criminality. Equally important, it calls on regional governments to "support programs to reduce poverty, create jobs, and promote equitable economic growth in areas contributing to large numbers of migrants."

It will be up to the governments of those countries to try to make progress in alleviating the conditions causing so many to flee, but as our policy-makers decide the fates of the people who have already sought refuge here, they would be remiss to ignore our own role in helping this crisis to happen.

Chronicle AM: Wichita "Decrim" Thrown Out, Argentina Will Shoot Down Drug Planes, More... (1/22/16)

The Kansas Supreme Court throws out Wichita's voter-approved "decrim" ordinance on a technicality, GOP committee chairs quash medical marijuana bills in Indiana, the DEA partnered with a TSA screener in a bid to seize cash from travelers, the Argentines want to shoot down drug planes, and more.

The DEA schemed to pay a TSA screener a cut for any cash he found in travelers' luggage. (tsa.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Key Vermont Politico Says No To Home Growing Marijuana. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Sears (D-Bennington) said today he would advance a marijuana legalization bill if it has majority support in his committee, but that he does not support home cultivation.

Kansas Supreme Court Throws Out Wichita "Decrim" on a Technicality. The state's high court ruled that the initiative was invalid because it was improperly filed with the city clerk, but did not address arguments by the state that the ordinance conflicted with state marijuana laws. The Wichita ordinance lessened penalties for first offense possession to a $50 fine, but was not true decriminalization because that first offense would still be a criminal infraction.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Medical Marijuana Bills Pronounced Dead. State Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) said Thursday that medical marijuana bills in the state legislature would not got a hearing this year. "They are all dead," she said. "There just isn't the appetite in the Senate for approving any kind of medical marijuana, not with the current makeup of the (50-member) Senate. You need 26 votes, and they're just not there." Parents of children suffering from epilepsy had pleaded with lawmakers to act, to no avail.

Utah Governor Signals Support for Medical Marijuana. Gov. Bob Herbert (R) said Thursday that he is not familiar with two medical marijuana bills filed this session and that he doesn't want a "Dr. Feelgood" situation, but "if there's a medicine out there that will alleviate pain and conditions and health concerns for people, if there's a medicine out there that can do that, we ought to see if we can embrace it." He added that he would prefer that Congress legalize it federally rather than leaving it up to the states to act.

Law Enforcement

DEA Hired TSA Informant to Help Steal Money From Travelers' Luggage. The agency recruited a TSA security screener to alert agents to cash in luggage that the DEA could confiscate, an arrangement that "violated DEA policy," according to the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General. The agency planned to pay the screener a cut of the cash he seized, but the Inspector General found that the screener never actually provided any actionable intelligence for seizures. Still, the DEA scheme "could have violated individuals' protection against unreasonable searches and seizures if it led to a subsequent DEA enforcement action," the OIG noted.

International

Argentina Approves Shooting Down Suspected Drug Planes. The new government of President Mauricio Macri continues to burnish its drug warrior credentials by announcing plans to begin shooting down suspected drug trafficking planes, a move the opposition called "the death penalty without trial." Macri has already decreed a "public security emergency" for a year to fight drug trafficking, which he said had led to "situation of collective danger."

Chronicle AM: Top Cops Call for Sentencing Reform, GOP Senators Split On Reform, More... (1/20/16)

GOP legislators are busy filing retrograde drug bills across the land, from chipping away at medical marijuana in Arizona to public benefits drug testing bills in several states. Meanwhile, a battle looms over federal sentencing reform.

The fight is heating up over a federal sentencing reform bill. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Legislators Face Plethora of Marijuana Bills. The legislative session has barely started, but lawmakers in Jefferson City have already filed nearly 20 bills aiming at reforming marijuana policy. The bills range from legalization and medical marijuana to barring asset forfeiture in pot cases and expunging the record of nonviolent offenses, including marijuana offenses. Click on the link to see the whole list.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona GOP Legislators Try to Chip Away at Medical Marijuana Access. Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) has filed House Bill 2061, which would bar pregnant women from qualifying for the medical marijuana program, and Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Scottsdale) has filed House Concurrent Resolution 2019, which removes homeopaths and naturopaths from the list of doctors who can issue medical marijuana recommendations.

Fix in the Works for California's Medical Marijuana Local Regulation Deadline. Legislators are working to fix a provision of the medical marijuana regulation law that requires localities to pass their own rules by March 1 or face loss of regulatory control to the state. The provision has caused a stampede of cities and counties seeking to get measures in place by that date, with most of them resorting to simple bans. The Senate Finance Committee last week passed a bill to remove the date.

Drug Testing

Indiana Unemployment Benefits Drug Testing Bill Filed. State Sen. Jon Ford (R-Terre Haute) has filed Senate Bill 245, which would require people applying for unemployment benefits to undergo drug testing if they were fired for drug use or if they work in an occupation the federal Bureau of Labor has determined is one where drug testing is common. The bill had a hearing set for today.

West Virginia Food Stamp Drug Testing Bill Advances. A bill that would require drug testing of food stamp recipients passed the Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources Tuesday and now heads to the Senate Finance Committee. The bill would only require testing of those for whom state officials had a "reasonable suspicion" were drug users. The measure is Senate Bill 6.

Sentencing

Police Chiefs, Prosecutors Urge Congress to Pass Criminal Justice Reform. More than 70 top police chiefs and prosecutors organized as Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration today called on Congress to pass sentencing reform. They are urging support for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (Senate Bill 2123). The letter comes on the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a major hearing on criminal justice reform. "Today, law enforcement leaders from across the nation join together to let our lawmakers know that reforming federal mandatory minimum sentences will help keep down crime and unnecessary incarceration. As police chiefs and prosecutors, our first priority is public safety. But we know first-hand from our experience that our country's high levels of incarceration are not making us safer," said the letter they sent out today.

GOP Split on Mandatory Minimums Threatens Sentencing Reform Bill. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is keeping mum about how he plans to proceed on the bill, which is cosponsored by several Republicans. GOP hardliners are balking, threatening passage of the measure. "I don't think it’s a healthy thing to do," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a fervent opponent of the justice bill. "If we lay off drug prosecutions, we're going to see even more murders and crimes, deaths and destruction. I think we need to slow down, be careful about this." The bill had appeared to be one of the few areas where bipartisan support could ensure passage, but now GOP support looks to be eroding.

International

Indian Has a Booming Industry Manufacturing New Psychoactive Substances. Recent raids by drug police have uncovered a domestic party drug manufacturing industry cranking out drugs by the ton. Police busted more than 1,200 pounds of mephedrone in one bust, 750 pounds in another, and more than 2500 pounds of ketamine in yet another. The drug makers are behaving like legitimate drug manufacturers, finding factories, chemists, and workers, then obtaining licenses to manufacture legitimate drugs, then cranking out party drugs.

Costa Rica Court Clears Activist of Marijuana Cultivation Charges. In a case that could be a step down the path to decriminalization, a court refused to convict Cerdas Salazar on drug trafficking charges for growing his own marijuana. Police contended he grew for sale, but provided no evidence of that. "Yes, marijuana cultivation is illegal; nonetheless, it is not a crime if it is not utilized for sale," the judge hearing the case, Carolina Leitón, said.

Chronicle AM: Seattle Shrinks MJ Buffer Zones, 2nd Chance Reauth Heads for House Floor, More... (1/14/16)

Seattle moves to ease zoning restrictions on pot businesses, Ohio GOP lawmakers form medical marijuana task force, Mexico creates marijuana debate website, and more.

Will there be justice for Troy Goode? (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Lawmakers Propose Tweaks to Legal Marijuana Market. The joint committee on marijuana implementation has rolled out its "base bill" containing a number of modifications they hope to get passed during the 35-day short session that starts February 1. One change would end the requirement that would-be pot entrepreneurs prove they lived in the state for the past two years; another would reduce sentences for many marijuana-related offenses. The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Seattle Dramatically Reduces MJ Business Buffer Zones.The city council Monday night agreed to reduce the minimum distance between marijuana businesses and sensitive areas, such as schools, public parks, and day care centers, from 1000 feet to 500 feet in most areas, and down to 250 feet in the downtown core. The new city rules could mean up to 21 more pot shops for the city.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Lawmakers to Form Medical Marijuana Task Force. Ohio House Republicans will later today unveil details on a new task force on medical marijuana. In November, voters rejected Issue 3, which would have included medical marijuana in a broader legalization initiative, but there is broad popular support for medical marijuana in the state. Recent public opinion polls show 85% support medical marijuana.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Lawmakers File Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. Members of the House Judiciary Committee have filed a bill that would require a criminal conviction before assets could be seized, effectively ending civil asset forfeiture in the state. The measure, House Bill 14, is sponsored by Reps. Mark Baker (R-Rock Springs) and Sen. Dave Kinskey (R-Sheridan). Republican Gov. Matt Mead vetoed similar legislation last year.

Drug Testing

South Carolina Lawmaker Wants to Drug Test Food Stamp Beneficiaries. Rep. Chris Corley (R-Graniteville) has filed four bills designed to tighten the screws on food stamp recipients, including one that would require them to submit to drug testing. The measure is House Bill 4412.

Law Enforcement

Family of Memphis Man Killed By Police Hogtie After Freaking Out on LSD Files Lawsuit. The family of Troy Goode has filed a class action lawsuit against the city of Southhaven, Mississippi, and the Southhaven Police Department over his death after being hogtied by police when he freaked out after ingesting LSD before a Widespread Panic concert. The official autopsy report blamed his death on "LSD toxicity" (Ed: a fictional notion at least in this context), but an independent autopsy ordered by his family found that his death was caused by being hogtied, which led to breathing problems that sent his heart into cardiac arrest.

Sentencing

Second Chance Reauthorization Act Heads for House Floor. The bill was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday and now awaits a House floor vote. Its companion measure, Senate Bill 1513 awaits a floor vote in the Senate.

International

Jodie Emery Calls for Moratorium on Marijuana Arrests in Canada. There is no reason for Canadians to any longer face arrest for pot crimes, said Vancouver-based activist Jodie Emery, the wife of Canada's "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery. "Our movement is asking the Liberals to stop all marijuana arrests. We need a moratorium on marijuana arrests because money is being wasted going after people for pot and the longer we wait to really move forward on this file, the more lives will be negatively impacted."

Mexican Government Unveils Marijuana Website Ahead of National Debate. The government has launched a new Marijuana Debate web site as it prepares for a national conversation on marijuana policy later this month. The site seeks to promote "a broad and inclusive" discussion and will include links to information about marijuana legislation in 14 countries and three US states, as well as academic research and articles on all aspects of marijuana policy. The first debate will be in Cancun this month, to be followed by forums each month through April.

Chronicle AM: Drug Policy in Obama's SOTU Speech, New England Legalization Bills Heard, More... (1/13/16)

As New England states ponder marijuana legalization, Colorado is raking in the revenues. Plus, the president touches on drug policy in his SOTU speech, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Colorado Will Have Taken in More Than $100 Million in Adult Marijuana Taxes and Fees Last Year. Based on official figures through the end of October, the state will have collected more than $100 million on pot taxes and fees through the end of 2015. The state had already collected more than $109 million by the end of October, but some $17 million of that was for medical marijuana. Still, with the last two months of the year yet to be accounted for, and with tax revenues at $9 million for the lowest month in 2015, the state will certainly top the $100 million mark by the time everything is counted.

Massachusetts Legislative Committee Holding Hearing on Legalization Bill. The Joint Committee on the Judiciary is holding a hearing today on House Bill 1561, filed by Rep. David Rogers (D-Cambridge). The bill would regulate marijuana like alcohol in the state.

Vermont Senate Committee Hears Legalization Bills. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony for and against two legalization bills, Senate Bill 95, introduced last session by Sen. David Zuckerman (P/D-Chittenden) and Senate Bill 241, from Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham). If the committee decides to approve one or both bills, it must do so by January 29. In Tuesday's testimony, representatives from law enforcement expressed strong opposition to legalization, especially citing fears of stoned driving.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Hands in Signatures. It looks like Floridians will get a second chance to approve medical marijuana. United for Care, the group leading the campaign, handed in more than one million raw signatures to state officials Monday. The group needs only 683,149 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. In 2014, United for Care's initiative failed even though it won 58% of the vote. Because it was a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% to pass.

Drug Policy

President Obama Touches on Drug Policy in State of the Union Speech. The president's State of the Union speech included a call to imprison fewer people. "I hope we can work together this year on bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform, and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse," the president said. Obama also mentioned people who have reentered society after being imprisoned: "I see it in the American who served his time, and dreams of starting over -- and the business owner who gives him that second chance. The protester determined to prove that justice matters, and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe."

Chronicle AM: CA Init Cleared for Petitioning, Gets Donations, VT Gov Says Legalize, More... (1/7/16)

It's another one of those all-marijuana news days -- the California initiative hits the ground running, New Hampshire legalization bills get filed, Canadian MPs get a pot package, and more.

Dana Larsen's gift to all 184 Liberal MPs in Canada (Twitter/Dana Larson)
Marijuana Policy

California Adult Use of Marijuana Act Initiative Can Start Signature Gathering. The AUMA is now the most viable shot at legalizing weed in California this year. It has the backing of tech billionaire Sean Parker, as well other marijuana mavens and reform movement donors. It needs 365,000 valid voter signatures by June to make the November ballot.

Contributions Start Coming in for California's AUMA Legalization Initiative. The AUMA has picked up $1.25 million in donations, including $250,000 from the Marijuana Policy Project, a matching $250,000 from Sean Parker, $250,000 from the New Approach PAC, $250,000 from Drug Policy Action (the lobbying and campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance), and $250,000 from the Californians for Sensible Reform committee (Weedmaps). That should cover the cost of signature gathering for the initiative.

Nebraska, Oklahoma Accuse Colorado of Acting Like Drug Cartel. Attorneys for the two states urged the US Supreme Court to let them sue their neighbor over its legal marijuana production and distribution system, accusing Colorado of creating "a massive criminal enterprise whose sole purpose is to authorize and facilitate the manufacture, distribution, sale and use of marijuana… "If this entity were based south of our border, the federal government would prosecute it as a drug cartel." The Obama administration has urged the high court to refuse to hear the case.

Trio of New Hampshire Legalization Bills Filed. Granite State lawmakers have filed not one, not two, but three bills to legalize marijuana. House Bill 1675 would legalize possession of up to 2.2 pounds of marijuana for personal consumption by adults 18 and older, and would also legalize cultivation of up to six pot plants at home. It was also allow the sale and taxation of marijuana. House Bill 1610 would legalize marijuana possession of up to two ounces for personal use by adults 21 and older, and would legalize cultivation of up to six plants at home -- limited to three mature plants at any one time. It would not allow retail sales, but would allow adults to gift up to an ounce to other adults. House Bill 1694 would legalize marijuana possession of up to one ounce by adults 21 and older, and would permit home cultivation of up to six pot plants, with a limit of three mature plants at one time. The bill would allow the sale and taxation of marijuana.

Vermont Governor Calls for Legalizing Marijuana in State of the State Address. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin called on lawmakers to pass legislation legalizing and regulating marijuana in his final State of the State address today. He also declared the drug war a failure and expressed desire to continue emphasizing a health-based approach to drug policy by expanding treatment and overdose prevention programs, as well as by removing the stigma associated with drug use and addiction. With Shumlin entering his last year in office, this is a strong signal that he intends to make marijuana legalization a priority in the upcoming legislative session. "The outdated war on drugs has also failed," said Shumlin, "and there is no greater example than our nation's marijuana laws." Earlier this week, top legislative leaders downplayed the likelihood of legalization this year.

Drug Policy

Legalization Advocate Gary Johnson Announced Libertarian Presidential Bid. The former Republican New Mexico governor, who championed a discussion of drug legalization while in office, announced Wednesday that he is seeking the Libertarian Party presidential nomination. He resigned from his position as president and CEO of Cannabis Sativa Inc. to do so.

Medical Marijuana

First New York Dispensaries Opened Today. Eight dispensaries opened in the state today, a slow start to a medical marijuana program in a state with nearly 20 million people. The state has authorized another 12 to open later this month.

International

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