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Chronicle AM -- January 27, 2014

Florida's medical marijuana initiative will go to the voters in November, the DEA administrator is being both jeered and cheered for her criticism of President Obama's remarks on marijuana, the Supreme Court makes it harder to punish drug dealers for deaths related to their wares, and much more. Let's get to it:

Drug War Chronicle takes no position on the game.
Marijuana Policy

DEA Head Criticizes Obama Marijuana Remarks, Faces Calls to be Ousted. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart last week got a standing ovation from a convention of sheriffs when she criticized President Obama's remarks on the relative safety of marijuana compared with alcohol. But now, drug reformers are calling for her head.

Colorado and Washington NORML in Superbowl "Bud Bowl" Challenge. The contenders in Sunday's NFL Superbowl game, the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, both come from states where marijuana is legal. In honor of their hometown teams and their respective states' legal marijuana status, NORML chapters in Washington and Colorado have engaged in a friendly wager. If the Denver Broncos win, WA NORML has agreed to dress in Bronco colors of blue and orange and sing Karaoke-style Colorado's (second) official state song "Rocky Mountain High" by John Denver. If the Seattle Seahawks win, CO NORML will do the same, but in Seahawk blue and green and singing "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix, a native son of Seattle. [Ed: StoptheDrugWar.org has no position on either the game or the wager.]

New Jersey State Senator Announces Plans to Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D) said late last week that he plans to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. The bill is not yet filed, but envisions language that would tax and regulate marijuana like alchohol.

Harris County (Houston) DA Says Decriminalize It. Responding to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) remarks last week in Davos that he supported decriminalization of marijuana possession, Harris County DA Devon Anderson said she agrees with his call for decriminalization.

Seattle City Attorney Wants More Marijuana Stores. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes last Thursday reiterated his request that the Washington State Liquor Control Board increase the number of marijuana retail stores allowed in the city. The board has set the number at 21, but Holmes has said that is not going to be enough.

Oregon Marijuana Legalization Referendum Bill Filed. State Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-District 4) and several cosponsors have introduced Senate Bill 1556, which would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana possession and commerce for adults. If passed by the legislature, the measure would then go before voters on the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Approves Medical Marijuana Initiative -- It's Going to the Voters! The Florida Supreme Court Monday removed the final obstacle to the state's medical marijuana initiative appearing on the November ballot. It rejected a challenge to the measure's language by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R). The initiative has already had enough signatures validated to qualify. Click on the link to read the opinion and the text of the initiative.

Guam Medical Marijuana Bill Now Calls for Referendum. Sen. Tina-Muna Barnes, sponsor of medical marijuana Bill 215, announced Monday that she has rewritten the bill "to allow for a referendum, thus placing the question before the People of Guam in the 2014 General Election." She made the change, she said, because "the overwhelming majority of senators from both parties felt that an issue of this importance should be decided by the people directly."

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licenses Set To Be Awarded In Massachusetts. The state Department of Public Health says it hopes to award up to 35 medical marijuana dispensary licenses this week. More than a hundred applications have been submitted. State law allows up to five dispensaries in each county in the state.

Drug Testing

Bangor (PA) School District Wants Random Drug Tests for Teachers. A policy that would make the Bangor Area School District the only one in the state to require random, suspicionless drug testing of teachers is part of negotiations for a new union contract. The contract being discussed wouldn't impose random drug testing, but would require teachers to put it to a vote. The issue came to the fore in the area after a teacher died of a heroin overdose in the apartment of a wrestling coach in 2009.

Illinois Welfare Drug Testing Bill Introduced. State Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) has introduced a bill that would require welfare applicants to undergo a drug test before becoming eligible to receive benefits. House Bill 4255 does not include an intermediary step of drug screening to determine which applicants are likely to be drug users, but goes straight to testing all applicants. The federal courts have found similar laws unconstitutional.

Sentencing

US Supreme Court Restricts Heroin Death Sentencing Enhancement. The US Supreme Court ruled Monday that a heroin dealer cannot be held liable for a customer's death if the heroin use was only a contributing factor and not necessarily the sole cause. Federal law imposes a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence when "death or serious injury results from the use" of an illegal drug, and prosecutors have used the statute to win the tough sentences, but the high court held Monday that prosecutors must prove that the drug was the specific cause of death, not just a contributing factor. The case is Burrage v. United States.

San Francisco Jail Population Dropping Because of Decrease in Drug Arrests. A report from the San Francisco board of supervisors' budget analysts says the jail population has dropped because of decreased drug arrests and city policies that promote alternatives to incarceration. The jail population is down 30% since 2008. The report comes as supervisors wrangle over whether the city needs a new jail and how big it should be.

Law Enforcement

DEA Busts Bitcoin Exchange CEO for Silk Road Money Laundering. Charlie Shrem, the CEO of BitInstant, a Bitcoin exchange, has been arrested by the DEA and is charged with money laundering for selling over $1 million in Bitcoins to users of the Silk Road dark web drug sales site, who used the currency to buy drugs there. Shrem faces federal money laundering charges. Shrem and an unnamed coconspirator were both charged. "Hiding behind their computers, both defendants are charged with knowingly contributing to and facilitating anonymous drug sales, earning substantial profits along the way," DEA agent James Hunt said in a release.

Virginia Bill to Criminalize "Secret Compartments" Filed. A bill introduced by state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) would make it a crime to knowingly have a secret compartment in a car -- even if there isn't anything in it. The bill, Senate Bill 234, makes having such a compartment a felony and defines a "false or secret compartment" as any enclosure that is integrated into or attached to a vehicle or vessel, the purpose of which is to conceal, hide, or prevent the discovery of a person, controlled substance, or other contraband.

International

Mexican President Invites Anti-Cartel Vigilantes to Join Security Forces. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said last Thursday that anti-cartel vigilantes or militias were a result of institutional weakness within national security forces and asked them to join those same security forces. He asked them to do "to do it by observing the principles and formalities of the law, fulfilling the requirements to become part of the security corps." The vigilantes are engaged in ongoing battles with the Knights Templar cartel in the state of Michoacan.

Dutch MP Calls on Government to Allow Marijuana Growing Pilot Projects. Labor MP Marith Rebel called last week for Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten to allow experiments with the legal production of marijuana. "Turning a blind eye to the fact the cafes are selling marijuana but not recognizing the fact they also have to buy it is helping criminals," Rebel said. Opstelten last month rejected calls from local councils to allow regulated grows, even though polls show majority support for the move.

New Zealand Greens Will Push for Marijuana Decriminalization, But Not Too Hard. New Zealand's Green Party says it will push for decriminalization in any post-election negotiations with Labor, but that the issue will not be a deal breaker. "I would like to progress a vast amount of our policy, and that would be one," said party coleader Metiria Turei. "We believe a drug-free lifestyle is the healthiest, but we don't believe people should be convicted of a crime, adults, if they smoke cannabis. So we still consider decriminalization is the wisest policy." But she also said the party had no bottom lines as it ponders the prospect of a coalition government with Labor.

DEA Chief Criticizes Obama Marijuana Remarks, But Faces Backlash

Criticism is mounting over reported remarks last week of DEA chief Michele Leonhart in a speech to the Major Counties Sheriffs Association. Leonhart criticized her boss, President Obama, for acknowledging in a recent interview that marijuana is not more dangerous than alcohol and that the experiments with marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington were "important."

Precisely what Leonhart told the gathered sheriffs is unclear because no media were allowed in the room, but the anti-legalization sheriffs ate it up, according to the Boston Herald, which spoke with some of them.

"She's frustrated for the same reasons we are," Bristol County (MA) Sheriff Thomas Hodgson said. "She said she felt the administration didn't understand the science enough to make those statements. She was particularly frustrated with the fact that, according to her, the White House participated in a softball game with a pro-legalization group... But she said her lowest point in 33 years in the DEA was when she learned they'd flown a hemp flag over the Capitol on July 4. The sheriffs were all shocked. This is the first time in 28 years I've ever heard anyone in her position be this candid."

The hemp flag was flown at the request of Colorado Rep. Jared Polis (D), a strong marijuana reform supporter.

Kern County (CA) Sheriff Donny Youngblood, head of the sheriffs' group, said Leonhart criticized Obama for making what he described as "irresponsible" remarks that were "a big slap in the face" to police officers who lost their lives prosecuting the drug war.

"This is a woman who has spent 33 years of her life fighting drug abuse in the DEA, her entire life. To have the president of the United States publicly say marijuana was a bad habit like alcohol was appalling to everyone in that room," Youngblood said. "I think the way that she felt was that it was a betrayal of what she does for the American people in enforcing our drug laws... She got a standing ovation."

Hodgson said sheriffs see marijuana as "gateway drug" (Editor's Note: Despite the notion having been repeatedly debunked) and that political leaders should be preventing drug use, not playing down its dangers and providing kids with excuses.

"The last person we need saying this to kids is the president of the United States," Hodgson said.

While Leonhart's remarks played well with law enforcement officials with a vested interest in maintaining the prohibitionist status quo, they didn't sit nearly as well with drug reformers.

"Whether Ms. Leonhart is ignorant of the facts or intentionally disregarding them, she is clearly unfit for her current position," said Dan Riffle, Marijuana Policy Project director of federal policies. "By any objective measure, marijuana is less harmful than alcohol to the consumer and society. It is irresponsible and unacceptable for a government official charged with enforcing our drug laws to deny the facts surrounding the nation's two most popular recreational drugs.

The group has launched a Change.org petition calling on the president to fire Leonhart and replace her with someone who will base decisions on science and evidence instead of politics and ideology.

"The DEA administrator's continued refusal to recognize marijuana's relative safety compared to alcohol and other drugs flies in the face of the president's commitment to prioritizing science over ideology and politics," Riffle said. "She is neglecting the basic obligations of her job and fundamentally undermining her employer's mission. This would be grounds for termination in the private sector, and the consequences for Ms. Leonhart should be no different."

The petition calls for Leonhart to be replaced by "someone who will uphold [President Obama's] mandate that administration decisions be guided by science instead of ideology and politics."

Chronicle AM -- January 24, 2014

Bills are popping at state houses across the land, pot politics continues hot and heavy, world leaders have harsh words for prohibition at Davos, and much, much more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Texas Gov. Rick Perry Touts Decriminalization, States' Rights. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday, said he believes states should have the right to legalize marijuana and that he would move Texas toward decriminalization.

MPP Petitions Obama to Deschedule Marijuana. The Marijuana Policy Project Wednesday unveiled a Change.org petition asking the Obama administration to deschedule -- not reschedule -- marijuana The petition had nearly 36,000 signatures by Friday afternoon; it needs 50,000 to be addressed by the White House.

Hawaii House Majority Floor Leader Introduces Marijuana Export Bill. House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Rida Cabanilla Thursday introduced House Bill 2124, which would put the state's Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and Department of Agriculture in charge of a working group that would outline a plan to legalize the cultivation of marijuana in Hawaii for sale and export to foreign jurisdictions where marijuana is legal.

Rep. Jared Polis Invites Obama, Harry Reid to Check Out Legal Marijuana in Colorado. Colorado US Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) Thursday sent a letter to President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) inviting them to come see how Colorado is implementing marijuana legalization. In the letter, Polis wrote that he was"confident that when you see Colorado's work to implement the law while protecting children and raising revenue for our schools firsthand, we can begin to make similar efforts on a federal level."

Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Candidate Says Legalize Marijuana. Former state Department of Environmental Protection head John Hanger, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, called for marijuana legalization at a campaign forum Wednesday night at Lehigh University. "This issue is moving and Democrats better get on board or we'll lose this election to Tom Corbett because people will not come out and vote," Hanger said. "We must expand the voting population." None of the other five Democratic candidates took a stand on the issue.

DC Council to Vote on Decriminalization Bill February 4. The District of Columbia city council will vote on a bill to decriminalize marijuana during its February 4 meeting. It is expected to pass, but may see some amendments during consideration. A legalization bill is also pending before the council, and activists are also leading an effort to legalize through the initiative process.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Has Enough Valid Signatures to Qualify for Ballot. The Florida Department of Elections reported today that the Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions initiative has more than enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.The department reported more than 710,000 valid signatures; 683,000 were needed. The initiative campaign earlier said it had gathered more than 1.1 million raw signatures. It still must win approval by the state Supreme Court, which is expected to rule by April 1.

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Polling at 65%. A new Public Policy Polling survey has support for the Florida medical marijuana initiative at 65%, with only 23% opposed. The initiative will require the votes of 60% of voters to pass because it is a constitutional amendment, as opposed to a statutory initiative.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Delegate Mike Manypenny (D-Taylor) and nine cosponsors Thursday filed a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 4264. This is the fourth consecutive year Manypenny has filed such a bill.

Oregon Bill Would Let Localities Regulate, Ban Medical Marijuana Facilities. A bill that would allow local governments to regulate or ban dispensaries or grow ops will be heard by the legislature next month. Senate Bill 1531, sponsored by state Sens. Bill Hansell (R-Athena) and Rod Monroe (D-Portland), was filed at the request of the Association of Oregon Counties and the League of Oregon Cities. The bill is a response to legislation last year that created statewide dispensary regulation and left regulation in the hands of the state, not localities.

Pennsylvania Nurses Endorse Medical Marijuana Bill. The Pennsylvania State Nurses Association Thursday became the first medical professional group in the state to publicly support a pending medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 1182. The bill gets a hearing before the Senate Law and Justice Committee Tuesday.

Vermont Bill Would Ease Limits on Dispensaries. A bill introduced earlier this month would ease the rules for dispensaries. Senate Bill 247 would remove the 1,000-patient cap on the number of patients dispensaries can see, remove the cap limiting dispensaries to four, allow patients to grow their own, and allow for delivery services. The bill is now before the Senate Committee on Government Operations.

Louisiana Gov. Jindal Says Medical Marijuana Okay if Tightly Regulated. Louisiana's Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, said Wednesday night that he supports making medical marijuana available if it is tightly controlled. "I continue to be opposed to legalization of marijuana," Jindal said as he fielded questions Wednesday during an event at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. "When it comes to medical marijuana… if there is a legitimate medical need, I'd certainly be open to making it available under very strict supervision for patients that would benefit from that."

Hemp

Virginia Hemp Advocates Meet, Look Ahead. The Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition met Thursday in Harrisonburg to watch a film and plan how to advance the cause in the Old Dominion. They said they are considering proposing a bill for the next general assembly session.

Heroin

Ohio Attorney General Creates Special Heroin Unit. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) announced Wednesday the creation of an investigative unit in his office to combat heroin trafficking and use. The Heroin Unit will include investigators, lawyers, and drug abuse awareness specialists, and will work with local leaders and law enforcement. DeWine is allocating $1 million for the unit. The move comes as the state's heroin overdose toll more than doubled between 2010 and 2012. [But will it accomplish its goal, better than other such programs have in the past? California's naloxone bill would be a better idea for Ohio, too.]

Drug Testing

Indiana Welfare Drug Testing Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would require welfare recipients to be screened for drug use and subjected to drug testing if they are likely drug users passed a House committee on an 8-4 vote Wednesday.

Harm Reduction

California Bill Would Expand Pharmacy Access to Overdose Reversal Drug. Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) has introduced Assembly Bill 1535, which would allow pharmacists to provide the overdose reversal drug naloxone to drug users, friends, and family members. "California's overdose crisis remains one of the state's most serious health problems," Bloom said. "Pharmacists are highly trained, highly trusted healthcare professionals. This bill makes it easier for them to help prevent a fatal drug overdose."

International

World Leaders Offer Harsh Assessment of Drug War at Davos. Global leaders gathered for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, called drug prohibition a failure and said world leaders need to consider alternatives. "It's been a disaster and has inflicted enormous harm," said former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. "My country has suffered probably the most from the war on drugs. We need to find more efficient ways to combat it," added Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia. "People are being given enormous prison terms just for use. There has got to be a better way than ruining so many people's lives," Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said.

Human Rights Watch Makes Case for Drug Reform in 2014 Annual Report. Human Rights Watch released its World Report 2014 and included in it a special essay (click on the title link) on a human rights approach to drug control. The group is calling for the decriminalization of drug possession, finding alternatives to the criminalization of drug markets, and the primacy of human rights considerations in drug treatment.

Dark Web Drug Buyers and Sellers Can Now Use DarkList. A dark web web site that reappeared Wednesday is designed to serve as a directory of underground drug dealers operating dark web drug marketplaces, such as Silk Road 2.0, Agora, The Marketplace, Blue Sky, and others. DarkList says it will help customers connect with preferred dealers. "Let's face it -- buying and selling anonymously on the Dark Web is currently in a volatile state," reads the tagline on the site's homepage. "We built this directory so that you can always have a way to stay in contact with those you love."

Bulgaria Moving Backward on Drug Policy, NGOs Warn. Bulgaria's draft penal code, which has already won initial cabinet approval, includes mandatory prison sentences for any drug possession offense, and that is drawing sharp criticism from drug policy and human rights groups. "With these new proposals, Bulgaria is traveling in the opposite direction to what most other countries are doing," said Ann Fordham, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC). "They are going backwards, while the rest of Europe is modernizing their drug laws and implementing health-based approaches to drugs -- policies that support, rather than punish, people who use drugs."

Bermuda Marijuana Policy Debate Continues to Roil. Activist and attorney Alan Gordon continues to successfully stir the pot in the island nation's marijuana policy debate. On Wednesday, he sent an open letter to Governor George Fergusson asking him to clarify whether Government House would seek to block marijuana legalization legislation. Click on the link to read the letter.

Holder Says Marijuana Banking Rules Coming Soon

Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that the Obama administration would soon announce regulations that would allow banks to business with legal marijuana businesses. Financial institutions have been scared away from such businesses by the threat of legal action for dealing in the profits of a commodity still illegal under federal law.

Attorney General Eric Holder (usdoj.gov)
The Obama administration had previously signaled it was working to address the issue, but it now appears action is imminent.

"You don't want just huge amounts of cash in these places. They want to be able to use the banking system," Holder said during an appearance at the University of Virginia's Miller Center. "There's a public safety component to this. Huge amounts of cash -- substantial amounts of cash just kind of lying around with no place for it to be appropriately deposited is something that would worry me, just from a law enforcement perspective," he explained.

"We're in the process now of working with our colleagues at the Treasury Department to come up with regulations that will deal with this issue," and the new rules are coming "very soon," Holder said. "It is an attempt to deal with a reality that exists in these states."

Holder did not specify whether his remarks were aimed solely at Colorado and Washington, which have legalized marijuana commerce, or were directed more generally at states that allow for legal medical marijuana.

A Justice Department spokesman later "clarified" Holder's remarks to say that instead of new regulations, Holder was speaking of issuing a "guidance" to prosecutors and federal law enforcement. Whether such a "guidance" without further guarantees from the federal government will be enough to assuage bankers' fears remains to be seen.

But marijuana industry advocates applauded the attorney general's remarks.

For the legal, regulated cannabis industry, this is very welcome news," said National Cannabis Industry Association executive director Aaron Smith. "We have been anxiously awaiting clarity on the banking issue from the Justice and Treasury Departments for many months. To hear that guidance will be issued 'very soon' is encouraging. It's critical that we fix this issue before February 20, when our Colorado members must pay their first round of state taxes, or the Colorado Department of Revenue may be forced to accept more than $1 million in cash payments."

Smith added that the NCIA was "grateful" to Holder and other federal officials who have been working on the issue, and that getting it resolved "cannot come soon enough."

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- January 17, 2014

Washington's attorney general has dealt a body blow to the statewide legalization of marijuana commerce there, medical marijuana continues to keep state legislatures busy, a New Mexico town and county pay out big time for a horrid anal search, heroin legislation is moving in Kentucky, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Washington Attorney General Rules Localities Can Ban Marijuana Businesses. In a formal opinion released Thursday, the Washington attorney general's office held that "Initiative 502 as drafted and presented to the voters does not prevent local governments from regulating or banning marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions." The ACLU of Washington said the attorney general's opinion is mistaken and it "will go to court if necessary" to see it overturned, while the state Liquor Control Board, which is charged with implementing I-502 said that the "opinion would be a disappointment to the majority of voters who approved the law."

Marijuana Reforms Will Be on the Legislative Agenda in Louisiana Again This Year. State Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans) has already introduced House Bill 14, which would dramatically lessen the state's draconian marijuana penalties, and further-reaching bills could be forthcoming. The Badon bill passed the House last year before dying in the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill to Get Hearing This Month. State Senate Law and Justice Committee Chairman Chuck McIlhinney (R) said Thursday he had scheduled a public hearing for January 28 on a medical marijuana bill introduced this week. The bill, Senate Bill 1182, is cosponsored by Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Mike Folmer (R).

Hawaii House Speaker Says State Needs Dispensaries. House Speaker Joe Souki said Wednesday that the lack of places for medical marijuana patients to obtain their medicine was "a gap in the law" that needs to be addressed. That patients can use medical marijuana but have no place to obtain it is "an anomaly," he said. Addressing dispensaries is a "humanitarian" issue, he added.

Utah Poll Finds Narrow Majority for Medical Marijuana. A new Salt Lake Tribune poll has 51% of Utahns supporting medical marijuana, but 67% opposing decriminalization or legalization.

Georgia Poll Finds Narrow Majority for Medical Marijuana. A new InsiderAdvantage poll has 51% of Georgians supporting medical marijuana "in very specific instances, such as in a liquid form to reduce seizures from young children." Some 27% were opposed, and 22% undecided. "The key here is that any legislation must be on a limited basis. That said, Republicans and Democrats both support this legislation by well over 50 percent, while independent voters are close to a majority as well," said Matt Towery, president of InsiderAdvantage and a former legislator.

Heroin

Kentucky Senate Approves Bill to Reduce Overdose Deaths, Increase Trafficking Penalties. The state Senate Thursday approved Senate Bill 5, which would create more treatment beds for heroin users and lengthen prison sentences for heroin and methamphetamine traffickers. A similar version of the bill passed the Republican-led Senate last year, but stalled in the Democratic-led House. The bill would require the state Medicaid program to cover several inpatient and outpatient treatment options for people addicted to opiates, including heroin and prescription painkillers. It also would divert some of the state's hoped-for savings from a 2011 prison sentencing reform package to expand treatment programs. But the bill would also stiffen penalties for people convicted of trafficking in larger quantities of heroin, methamphetamines or both, requiring them to serve at least half of their prison sentences before they are eligible for shock probation or parole.

Search and Seizure

New Mexico Town, County Pay Out Big Time for Forced Anal Searches of Drug Suspect. A Deming, New Mexico, man who was subjected to a hospital anal exam involving three enemas, a colonoscopy, and being forced to defecate in front of police and medical personnel in a fruitless search for drugs will get $1.6 million in damages in a settlement from Deming and Hidalgo County. David Eckert will most likely win additional damages from a local hospital where doctors agreed to perform the exam.

Sentencing

Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections Funded in Federal Spending Bill. The omnibus federal spending bill filed this week and expected to pass quickly includes $1 million to establish the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, an independent, bipartisan grouping that will examine a number of challenges facing the federal correctional system, including overcrowding and ways to minimize growth, violence behind bars, rehabilitation, and reentry. Colson was a Nixon administration official jailed in the Watergate scandal who became a prison reformer in the wake of that experience.

International

Spurred by Attorney, Bermuda's Medical Marijuana Debate Heats Up. Attorney Alan Gordon's online petition to have the Bermudan government allow emergency access to medical marijuana for cancer patients has spurred considerable notice on the island, with National Security Minister Michael Dunkley and Gordon publicly clashing over the law and whether Dunkley can act. Click on the link to see Dunkley's comments and Gordon's well-publicized written response.

Vietnam Sentences Three Drug Offenders to Death; Iran Executes Six. And the resort to the death penalty against drug offenders continues. According to the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain, three Vietnamese men charged with heroin trafficking got death sentences, while Iran, the world's leading drug offender execution, hung another six.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Supports Medical Marijuana

In a Thursday interview with the Las Vegas Sun, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said towns in his home state should not be blocking medical marijuana dispensaries, but should instead be embracing medical marijuana. The Nevada Democrat, while not going as far as embracing marijuana legalization, also had some harsh words about prohibition's current implementation in the US.

Harry Reid
"If you'd asked me this question a dozen years ago, it would have been easy to answer -- I would have said no, because (marijuana) leads to other stuff," Reid told the Sun. "But I can't say that anymore. I think we need to take a real close look at this," Reid went on. "I think that there's some medical reasons for marijuana."

Reid, a 74-year-old Mormon and former boxer and football player, is not known as a cutting edge drug reform type, but he said his opinion on marijuana had evolved over the years, and was informed by both hearing about people it had helped and by actually knowing some, including one young man suffering from severe kidney failure.

"He was so skinny and doing so poorly and somebody told him and his mom, you know, you should smoke some marijuana, because one of the side effects is… you get the munchies, you get extremely hungry," Reid said. "He tried it and sure enough, he was able to eat for the first time, he got hungry. So I thought, you know there might be some medical reasons for taking another look at this."

When the Sun asked Reid about whether Nevada should follow the path of Colorado and Washington and just legalize it, Reid demurred, although he did suggest that law enforcement had better things to do.

"I don't know about that. I just think that we need to look at the medical aspects of it. I guarantee you one thing," Reid said. "We waste a lot of time and law enforcement going after these guys that are smoking marijuana."

Reid's comments were music to the ears of the Drug Policy Alliance.

"Majority Leader Reid is right -- marijuana has medical value and too much time and law enforcement recourses are wasted arresting people for marijuana," said DPA national affairs director Bill Piper. "Twenty states have legalized marijuana for medical use and three-quarters of Americans support it. The 40 senators representing those states should follow Reid's lead and support marijuana law reform. It's time to change federal law to allow states to adopt their own marijuana policies without federal interference."

Chronicle AM -- January 16, 2014

Florida's medical marijuana initiative appears poised to qualify for the ballot (if it survives a challenge in the state Supreme Court), a new poll finds the country evenly split on marijuana legalization, Afghanistan was on the agenda in the Senate yesterday, and more. Let's get to it:

harvesting opium poppies in Afghanistan (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

ABC News/Washington Post Poll Has Americans Split on Marijuana. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll has support for marijuana legalization nationwide at 49%, with 48% opposed. The poll is in the same ballpark as other polls since the November 2012 elections, where support for legalization has ranged between 45% and 58%. Click on the link to see full poll results.

DEA Operations Chief Bemoans Marijuana Legalization Trend. DEA operations chief James Capra told a Senate committee Wednesday that marijuana legalization at the state level was "reckless and irresponsible" and could lead to dire consequences. "It scares us," Capra said, responding to a question. "Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again." [Editor's Note: No country had legalized marijuana until Uruguay did late last year, and that hasn't gone into effect yet. If Capra is referring to Amsterdam, where sales are tolerated, if not technically legal, cannabis coffee shops are now in their fourth decade of existence, and the problems associated with them are relatively trivial.] "There are more dispensaries in Denver than there are Starbucks," he continued. "The idea somehow people in our country have that this is somehow good for us as a nation is wrong. It's a bad thing. This is a bad experiment. It's going to cost us in terms of social costs."

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Petitions Approved for Circulation. Secretary of State Jason Kander announced Wednesday that 13 marijuana legalization initiatives had been approved for signature-gathering. The bakers' dozen initiatives are all variations on a theme: legalize and regulate marijuana in Missouri. They were submitted by Columbia defense attorney Dan Viets, the chairman of the activist group Show-Me Cannabis. To make the November 2014 ballot, organizers must gather 157,778 valid voter signatures for at least one of them by May 4.

Maryland Coalition to Legalize Marijuana Launched. Maryland legislators Thursday launched an effort to get a marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Control Act of 2014, passed this year. They were joined at a press conference by members of the newly formed Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland, which includes the ACLU of Maryland, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Maryland League of Women Voters, the Marijuana Policy Project, and the Maryland NAACP.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Campaign Has Gathered 1.1 Million Signatures. The folks behind the Florida medical marijuana initiative, United For Care/Patients United for Freedom, announced Wednesday night that they had gathered 1.1 million signatures, nearly half a million more than needed to qualify for the ballot. While all the signatures haven't been validated yet, organizers are now confident they will pass that hurdle. Now, they have to wait and see if the state Supreme Court is going to allow the effort to move ahead.

Washington Patients, Advocates Speak Out Against Bill That Would Gut Medical Marijuana System. The House Health Committee got an earful from medical marijuana advocates at a hearing Wednesday on House Bill 2149, which would eliminate cultivation cooperatives (and thus, dispensaries) by 2020 and reduce the amount of marijuana patients could possess and the number of plants they could grow. The bill mirrors many of the recommendations of the state Liquor Control Board, which is charged with implementing I-502 marijuana legalization.

Hemp

Indiana Hemp Bill Introduced. State Sen. Richard Young (D-Milltown) has introduced Senate Bill 357, which would allow the Department of Agriculture to license industrial hemp growing and production. The bill requires the department to get necessary approvals from the federal government, which has yet to approve any such production anywhere in the US.

Illinois Hemp Bill Seeks New Life in 2014. State Rep. Kenneth Dunkin (D-Chicago) introduced a hemp bill, House Bill 2668, last year, but it has languished in committee despite picking up some bipartisan support. He said Wednesday that he was cautiously optimistic that opposition may be softening, and the bill could move this year.

Heroin

Maine Heroin Deaths Up Fourfold from 2011 to 2012. The number of heroin overdose deaths in Maine quadrupled between 2011 and 2012, according to numbers released by state officials Wednesday. Officials said the increase was due to tightening restrictions on the use of prescription opiates, a cheap heroin supply, and, possibly, cuts in MaineCare. But while the increase was dramatic, the 28 heroin overdose deaths reported in 2012 is well below the 2005 peak of 43. In the years between 2005 and 2011, heroin deaths declined steadily.

Heroin Prevention Bill Package Passes Wisconsin Assembly. The State Assembly Wednesday passed the HOPE (Heroin Opiate Prevention and Education) package of four bills designed to reduce the number of overdose deaths in the state. Sponsored by Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), one bill would allow anyone to use naloxone to reverse overdoses, another would grant legal immunity to drug users who call for help in an overdose emergency, a third would allow communities to establish prescription drug drop-off points, and the fourth would require people to show ID when picking up prescription drugs. The naloxone and legal immunity bills are Assembly Bill 446 and Assembly Bill 447. The package now moves to the Senate.

Kratom

Oklahoma Wants to Ban Kratom, But Meets Resistance. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics wants to ban the Southeast Asian herb kratom, which it calls "the legal form of heroin," but kratom fans are responding with dismay and disputing the narcs' assessment. Kratom is not a controlled substance under federal law, but narc Mark Woodward said he planned to ban it until it is federally proven to have medical benefits. Kratom users have started a petition to challenge efforts to ban Kratom.

Drug Courts

Study Finds Drug Courts Ignore Science When it Comes to Opiate Substitution Therapies. A small study of drug courts in New York state finds that their skeptical approach to opiate substitution therapies (OST), such as methadone and buprenorphine, can be a barrier to successful treatment. "Many courts do not respect medical consensus on scientifically sound treatment standards. Some courts included OST as part of court-mandated treatment options, while others allowed OST for a court-defined period of time as a bridge to abstinence. Still others showed intolerance and even disdain for anything having to do with methadone and buprenorphine, or -- as with the drug court in Albany County -- refused outright to admit people on methadone or buprenorphine treatment," the authors wrote. "Ordering people who are dependent on opioids to get off their prescribed methadone or buprenorphine medicines can force patients to seek out and become dependent on other opioids like prescription analgesics. Addiction to prescription opioids has been recognized as a priority problem by U.S. policy-makers, but drug courts may be exacerbating it."

Search and Seizure

ACLU Sues Border Patrol Over Interior Border Check Point Searches. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed suit against the Border Patrol, claiming its agent routinely violate the constitutional rights of local residents by stopping and searching them at interior checkpoints on highways near the border. In a 1976 ruling, the US Supreme Court ruled that immigration checkpoints were permissible if the stops were brief, involved "a limited enquiry into residence status," and a visual inspection of the exterior of the vehicle. "But that's not what's happening here," said ACLU attorney James Duff Lyall in Tucson. He said the cases mentioned in the lawsuit provide strong indications that the Border Patrol is using the checkpoints for general crime control, "which the courts have said is not acceptable for a checkpoint. The same thing is happening over and over again to many border residents," Lyall said. "They're going on fishing expeditions where there's no reasonable suspicion."

International

Afghan Drug Situation "Dire," Federal Auditor Tells Senators."The situation in Afghanistan is dire with little prospect for improvement in 2014 or beyond," Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko told the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Wednesday. Poppy cultivation is at record levels and the drug trade now accounts for 15% of Afghan GDP, Sopko said.

US to Help Afghanistan With Drug Problem, State Department Official Tells Senators. At the same hearing mentioned in the story above, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs") William Brownfield vowed the US would remain committed to helping Afghanistan fight drug production and trafficking even after US and NATO troops pull out at the end of this year. "We will continue to ensure our counternarcotics programs are well integrated with broader US efforts, including assistance programs aimed at supporting a vibrant legal economy," he testified Wednesday. "The expanding cultivation and trafficking of drugs is one of the most significant factors putting the entire US and international donor investment in the reconstruction of Afghanistan at risk," he said.

Chronicle AM -- January 10, 2014

The marijuana issue continues hot and heavy, one of our favorite authors is nominated for an award, harm reduction bills move in Wisconsin, and the US Sentencing Commission wants to cut drug sentences. And more. Let's get to it:

Dr. Carl Hart, nominated for an NAACP Image Award for "High Price" (columbia.edu)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Legal Marijuana Sales Hit $5 Million in First Week. Sales of legal marijuana in Colorado since January 1 are estimated to have exceeded $5 million, with some 100,000 people lining up to buy it, according to industry insiders.

Colorado Republicans File Bill to Ban Food Stamps in Marijuana Shops. File under: solutions in search of problems. There is no evidence that anyone has ever used a food stamp EBT card to purchase marijuana products, but that hasn't stopped a handful of GOP state legislators to file a bill to outlaw it. "We need this bill, if for nothing else, as a statement," said Rep. Jared Wright (R-Grand Junction). "We shouldn't be enabling anyone to buy a substance that is banned under federal law. It's not a good use of taxpayer money," he said. The bill is Senate Bill 37.

New Hampshire House Didn't Vote on Marijuana Legalization. The House was set to vote Wednesday on a bill to legalize marijuana, but it didn't happen. The vote has instead been pushed back for a week as legislators dealt first with attempts to override vetoes on bills passed last year. The bill is House Bill 492.

No Marijuana Legalization Bill for Ohio This Year. The only Ohio legislator to push for marijuana legalization last year won't try it again this year. Rep. Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown) said he had no plans to introduce a measure this year after last year's effort to pass a resolution to let residents vote on the issue was sidelined.

Washington Congressman Urges Feds to Act Quickly on Marijuana Banking. Rep. Denny Heck (D-Washington) Friday called on federal regulators to move swiftly to resolve the issue of financial institutions being able to do business with legal marijuana businesses. In a statement, the coauthor of pending federal legislation that would do just that said that "it is urgent federal regulators come to a resolution on this issue as soon as possible."

Powerful Maryland Pol Comes Out for Marijuana Legalization. Delegate Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore) has joined the list of powerful state legislators calling for marijuana legalization. She said legalization is one of "the biggest, most important issues" facing the General Assembly this year. She joins Senate President Thomas Miller (D) and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur in supporting legalization, but Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and House Speaker Michael Busch (D) both oppose it.

Steny Hoyer Opposes Marijuana Legalization in Maryland. US House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said Thursday he opposes legalizing pot in the state. "I'm not a proponent of legalizing marijuana," he said. "As I talked to people who deal with drug abuse issues, with rehabilitation issues, I became convinced that marijuana was, in fact, a threshold drug and it would lead to the use of harder, very harmful drugs," he added.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky House Panel Holds Medical Marijuana Hearing. The House Health and Welfare Committee held a hearing Thursday to discuss medical marijuana. No specific bill was under discussion, but one legislator, Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) filed a bill this week, Senate Bill 43, which would legalize medical marijuana.

Florida House Committee Chair Will Propose Bill to Legalize High CBD Strains for Seizures. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar), chair of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, said Thursday he would introduce a bill to allow for the medical use of marijuana strains that are high in CBDs. The vow came after a heart-wrenching hearing from parents of children who suffer seizure disorders, who called on the legislature to legalize strains such as "Charlotte's Web."

Asset Forfeiture

Utah Attorney General Sees Asset Forfeiture as Tool against Drug Legalizing Attorneys. After changes to undo asset forfeiture reforms approved by voters in 2000 snuck through the state legislature last year came under this week, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes issued a brief defending the new law. But a bullet point justifying a new cap on attorneys' fees for people who successfully defend their property is setting off alarms among First Amendment advocates. "By setting a limit on attorney's fees it will take away the incentive for attorneys who actively promote the legalization of drugs in the state of Utah from soliciting clients who are engaged in criminal activity," the attorney general's brief said. Click on the link for a lengthier critique.

Drug Testing

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Coming Back in Indiana. House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) said Thursday that while welfare drug testing legislation is not part of the House Republican agenda, a pending bill to do just that is "one we're going to enthusiastically endorse and move forward on." The bill, which passed the House, but not the Senate, last year, would require drug testing of welfare recipients based on some form of reasonable suspicion.

Harm Reduction

Push On to End Needle Exchange Ban in Federal Funding Bill. Harm reduction and public health advocates are urging lawmakers to lift the prohibition on the use of federal funds to pay for needle exchange programs. The battlefield is the conference committee that will reconcile House and Senate budget bills. The Senate version had language that included funding for needle exchanges, but the GOP-led House is expected to oppose it.

Wisconsin Overdose 911, Naloxone Bills Pass Assembly Committee. A bill to provide limited legal immunity to people who notify authorities of an overdose passed the Assembly Criminal Justice Committee Thursday. So did a bill that would allow first responders to carry and use the overdose reversal drug naloxone. Both now goes to the full Assembly, which should vote on them Tuesday. The bills have the backing of Attorney General JB Van Hollen (R) and are expected to sail through the Senate as well.

Honors

Carl Hart Wins NAACP Image Award Nomination for "High Price." Neuroscientist and Drug Policy Alliance board member Carl Hart's "High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self Discovery That Changes Everything You Know About Drugs and Society" has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category of literary nonfiction. The awards ceremony takes place on February 22.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Suggests Lowering Drug Guideline Sentences. The US Sentencing Commission voted Thursday to publish proposed federal drug sentencing guideline amendments that would include lowering guideline sentences for drug trafficking offenses. The amendments would reduce drug trafficking sentences by about 11 months, leading to a reduction in the federal prison population of more than 6,000 prisoners five years after taking effect. The commission is now seeking public comment on the proposal.

International

Jamaica Marijuana Growers to Organize. Jamaican legalization activists and marijuana growers will form a Cannabis Future Growers and Producers Association as part of a major conference next week. The "Going Forward -- Legalize It" conference is organized by the Ganja Law Reform Coalition, the Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research Task Force, and the National Alliance for the Legalization of Ganja, and hopes to help lay the groundwork for a legal marijuana industry on the island.

Canada's SensibleBC Sees 2014 as a Building Year. After an effort to put marijuana reform on the provincial ballot via an initiative faltered last year, Sensible BC leader Dana Larsen said this year would be a year of building momentum, training canvassers, and spreading the message of marijuana legalization. Larsen will also be touring the province this spring and summer to build support.

The Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2013 [FEATURE]

Last year is receding in the rear view mirror, but before looking forward to the battles of 2014, let us take a moment to savor what was, overall, a pretty big year for drug reform on the domestic front. Unsurprisingly, marijuana makes up a lot of the news, but there were also signs that America's decades-long incarceration fever is breaking, and even though the impulse to scapegoat the downtrodden through public benefits drug testing remains strong, it doesn't really seem to be picking up much traction, and the year ended with suspicionless public benefits drug testing slapped down by a federal judge. Here are the highlights of 2013:

October Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on state marijuana legalization
#1 The Obama Administration Doesn't Try to Block State Marijuana Legalization

While the truly historic moments in US marijuana legalization -- the November 2012 election victories in Colorado and Washington and the commencement of legal marijuana sales in Colorado on Wednesday -- neatly bracketed 2013, history was being made by the Obama administration as well. The first presidency to deal with states voting to legalize marijuana for adults in direct contravention of federal law did so in a remarkably reasonable fashion: by largely getting out of the way. In August, Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a three-page memorandum affirming that the US Justice Department would allow the two states to move forward with statewide efforts to license and regulate the adult marijuana market. Cole later reaffirmed the agency's position in testimony before the US Senate, stating, "We will not … seek to preempt state ballot initiatives."

#2 State Officials Don't Try to Block Marijuana Legalization Where Voters Approved It

Kudos are also due to legislators, elected officials, and functionaries in Colorado and Washington, who accepted the voters' choice to legalize marijuana with apparent good faith. The Washington state Liquor Control Board and Colorado legislators both came up with workable ways of implementing the will of the voters, while being careful to also heed the concerns of those worried about problems legalization could bring with it. Colorado's system rolled out this week and Washington's will come in a matter of months.

#3 Public Support for Marijuana Legalization in the US Reaches All-Time Highs

If 2012 was the year public opinion in favor of marijuana legalization reaching the tipping point, 2013 was the year it went over it. An October Gallup Poll had support for legalization a record-breaking 58% nationwide. That was in line with a number of other polls since the 2012 elections that showed support either above or just below 50%, depending on the pollster. The on-going sea change in public opinion has also been apparent in polls showing majority support not just where it might be expected, like California, but also where it isn't, like Louisiana and Texas, both of which reported late year majorities for legalization.

Capital City Care medical marijuana dispensary, Washington, DC
#4 The Advance of Medical Marijuana Continues

Bills legalizing medical marijuana passed in Illinois and New Hampshire, bringing the number of states that allow it to 20, along with the District of Columbia. Dispensaries opened for the first time in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. And bills that will allow dispensaries to open this year passed in Nevada and Oregon. About two dozen states saw medical marijuana legislation filed last year; expect a similar level of activity this year.

#5 The Number of State, But Not Federal, Prisoners in America Keeps On Declining

For the third year in a row, the number of people in prison in the US declined, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in July. (The figures are actually for year's end 2012, but the report came out in 2013, so here we are.). The figures do not include jail inmates. At the end of 2012, there were 1,571,013 prisoners in America, down 1.7% (or 27,770 inmates) from the previous year. Breaking down the numbers, that means that somewhere north of 330,000 people were serving time for drug crimes in US prisons at the end of last year, down from a record high of nearly half a million at the beginning of the century. The decline is because of shifts in sentencing policies in the states; the federal prison population kept expanding, although at a lower rate than over the past decade.

#6 Momentum for Sentencing Reform Grows in Washington

The clamor to do something about drug sentencing reverberated throughout the nation's capital in 2013. In August, Attorney General Holder announced an administration package of sentencing reforms, some of which could be enacted administratively, such as prosecutors not routinely resorting to mandatory minimum charging decisions, but others of which require congressional action. And while Congress didn't actually pass anything, it laid the groundwork for action next year. Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), an increasingly loud critic of mandatory minimums, allied himself with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to introduce the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, and similar legislation has been introduced in the House. In another sign of interest in sentencing reform, 10 members of the House Judiciary Committee formed an "over-criminalization" task force in May. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on mandatory minimum sentencing in September to whip up support for their legislation and other sentencing reform bills, and the committee held a mark-up session on the bills in December. The stage appears set for real movement this year.

#7 "Defelonization" Emerges as a Sentencing Policy Option for States

Although, over the years, 13 states and the District of Columbia have moved to reduce incarceration burdens by treating simple drug possession offenses as misdemeanors instead felonies -- defelonization -- the idea got renewed impetus in 2013, especially on the West Coast. In California, a bill that would have allowed prosecutors the option of charging felony possession cases passed the legislature, and in Washington state, legislators and activists announced late last year that they would try to move a similar bill there this year. Unfortunately, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed the defelonization bill, but as a result of that veto, the San Francisco DA and the San Diego police chief have filed a defelonization initiative. While 2013 was a building year for defelonization efforts, they could well bear fruit this year.

#8 A Tough Year for Public Benefits Drug Testing Bills

Legislation seeking to make public benefits beneficiaries pass drug tests continued to popular in Republican-dominated state legislatures in 2013, with bills introduced in at least 30 states, but by year's end, only a handful had actually passed, and all of those were "reasonable suspicion" bills instead of bills requiring mandatory, suspicionless drug testing. Drug testing bills passed in Kansas (welfare, unemployment), North Carolina (welfare, passed over the Republican governor's veto), Michigan (unemployment), and Texas (unemployment). But as the year went on, there was rising criticism of the cost of enforcing such legislation and the small number of actual drug users found in states that had previously passed similar bills, including Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Utah. And the last day of 2013 saw a federal judge throw out Florida's suspicionless welfare drug testing law as unconstitutional. The up side is that that ought to drive a stake through the heart of any more suspicionless drug testing bills; the down side is that legislators elsewhere have already figured that out, which is why all of the 2013 bills that passed were "reasonable suspicion" bills.

#9 Historic Firsts for Hemp

Not only were industrial hemp bills filed in both houses of Congress last year, but for the first time ever, the House passed a hemp production measure. The measure was an amendment to the farm bill, but unfortunately, the entire bill was defeated after Republicans attempted to attach drug testing provisions for food stamp recipients. A later version of the bill passed without the hemp amendment. Still, there is hope that the hemp amendment, which also had Republican support, will reemerge whenever the Senate and House meet in conference committee. Meanwhile, more states took up hemp legislation, with a bill passing Kentucky and another one passing in Colorado (as part of the implementation of Amendment 64). Hemp bills were also filed in California (approved in the state Senate), Missouri, New Jersey, and Vermont (as part of a broader legalization bill). And in November, a Colorado farmer oversaw the first hemp crop harvest since World War II., even though it remains illegal under federal law.

#10 Obama Exercises Clemency Power, Commutes Sentences of Clarence Aaron, Seven Others

Just before year's end, President Obama granted clemency to eight crack cocaine offenders, bringing an early Christmas present to poster boy for drug war sentencing excess Clarence Aaron and seven other crack cocaine offenders. Aaron has served more than 20 years for his peripheral role in a cocaine conspiracy, and the others were serving equally onerous sentences. The commutations were a departure for the Obama administration, which has been the stingiest in recent presidential history when it comes to the pardon power. Before the pre-Christmas commutations, Obama had issued only one commutation, where someone currently serving a sentence is actually released from prison, and 39 pardons of people who had already been released, some of them decades ago.

Chronicle AM -- January 2, 2014

The New Year starts off with a whole bunch of marijuana news, the DEA Cartagena prostitution scandal gets an update, another Republican governor calls for welfare drug testing, and a South Korean comedian gets hammered for toking up. And more. Let's get to it:

South Korean comedian and actress Song In Hwa gets sent to jail for smoking pot. (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Marijuana Stores Open for Business; Sky Doesn't Fall, But Crowds Form. Crowds of would-be customers braved long lines in frigid, snow-blown conditions Wednesday to be able to participate in the historic first day of legal retail marijuana sales to adults in Colorado. The biggest apparent problem was feared supply shortages, leading some retailers to either limit purchases to a quarter-ounce (state law allows purchases of up to an ounce for residents) or raise prices, or both.

Washington State Marijuana Business Applications Top 5,000. As of year's end, state officials have processed more than 5,000 marijuana business applications, the state Liquor Control Board, which is in charge of the process, said Tuesday. There were 1,312 applications for retail outlets, but the state plans to cap their number at 324, so there will be competition. There were also 2,113 applications for cultivation licenses and 1,512 for processing facilities. And there will be more. Although the application window closed December 20, officials are still processing backlogged applications.

New Hampshire House to Vote This Month on Legalizing Marijuana. The New Hampshire House will vote later this month on a bill that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults 21 and over. But even if it passes the House, it faces an uphill battle. Last year, the Senate rejected a bill to decriminalize a quarter-ounce, and Gov. Margaret Hassan (D) opposed even decrim.

Vermont Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced. State Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden) has introduced a bill to tax, regulate, and legalize the production, sale, and use of marijuana, but he said he doubted it would pass this year. The state decriminalized possession last year, and Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has said legalization isn't a priority this year. The Marijuana Policy Project said it would use this year to build a consensus for legalization, with an eye on 2015.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Coming Back in Hawaii. Marijuana decriminalization got through the state Senate last year, but got stuck in the House. Proponents will try again this year, Pam Lichty of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii told local media.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Law Goes Into Effect. Illinois' medical marijuana law went into effect on New Year's Day. Sort of. Patients aren't protected until they have signed up with a state registry, which will not be open until the spring at the earliest, and regulatory agencies are going to spend the next four months establishing rules and regulations for cultivation and distribution. Cultivation applications might be accepted by the fall. In the meantime, the state has created the Medical Marijuana Pilot Program web site, which will have updates and information on the state's progress.

Washington State Wants Medical Marijuana Businesses to Pay Taxes. The state Department of Revenue said Tuesday it will send letters to several hundred medical marijuana businesses informing them that they need to be registered and paying taxes. The department is giving the businesses until January 24 to comply. Some medical marijuana businesses already pay taxes, but others don't, arguing that medical marijuana should be treated like prescription drugs, which are untaxed.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Governor to Push for Welfare Drug Testing. In an interview with the Associated Press, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) said he wants to require drug tests for recipients of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Bryant's comments came just hours after a federal judge threw out Florida's suspicionless welfare drug testing law as unconstitutional and as "reasonable suspicion" welfare drug testing laws in states like Utah and Minnesota have come under fire as costly and unnecessary.

Law Enforcement

Sleazy Details of DEA Cartagena Prostitution Scandal Emerge. A FOIA request from Foreign Policy has resulted in the release of a Justice Department Office of the Inspector General report on the scandal surrounding Secret Service and DEA agents who accompanied President Obama to the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, in April 2012. The report is full of juicy, sleazy detail on agents making dozens of calls to prostitutes on their government-issued cell phones, searching for dates with transvestite prostitutes, and seeking to redefine "sex" as not including paying hookers to masturbate them and "prostitution" as not what they had engaged in by paying hookers for sex acts. The OIG said that latter claim defied "common sense and legal definitions." Click on the link for more.

International

South Korean Comedian Gets Six Months in Jail for Smoking Pot. South Korean comedian Song In Hwa was sentenced to six months in prison last Saturday after she was found guilty of using marijuana on two separate occasions, one of them in a Las Vegas hotel room, the other one with her older sister in an unspecified location. The older sister got hit even harder, getting two years in prison. Both sisters also received additional years of jail time with the remainder of the sentences suspended. "Marijuana use by a celebrity is not a light crime given its bad influence on society, but considering the defense's recognition of the crime, her reflection, and the fact that it was only two times, we gave her a suspended sentence," the court said.

Peru Will Seek to Increase Coca Eradication This Year. Peru has set a target of eradicating 75,000 acres of coca this year, the head of the country's anti-drug agency, DEVIDA, said Wednesday. That's up from about 58,000 acres actually eradicated last year. Peru has surpassed Colombia as the world's number one coca and cocaine producer, and the government of President Ollanta Humala has taken an increasingly hard line against illicit coca-growing. Eradication efforts will target the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro river valleys (VRAEM). The government also plans alternative development and crop substitution schemes for some 75,000 coca-growing families.

TNI Issues Report on Corruption and Drug-Related Violence in Rosario, Argentina. The Transnational Institute has released the first report in its new Briefing Series on Drug Markets and Violence, focusing on the interior Argentine city of Rosario. Illicit drug trafficking and associated violence and corruption went unremarked there until the killing on New Year's Day 2012 of three community activists sparked attention. Click on the link for the full report

Dutch Crackdown on Marijuana Grow Leads to Increased German Cultivation. German police said Thursday that they have seen a large increase in marijuana grows in empty buildings in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania. They blame a Dutch crackdown on marijuana growers that has been in place since 2011. Since then, German cops in the state have busted 50 big grows, up from one or two a year before then.

Swansea University Global Drug Policy Observatory Up and Running. The recently created Global Drug Policy Observatory at Britain's Swansea University, whose goal is "promoting evidence and human rights based drug policy through the comprehensive and rigorous reporting, monitoring and analysis of policy developments at national and international levels," is open for business. Check out its new web site by clicking on the link above.

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