In a move precipitated by the child immigration border crisis, but informed by the ongoing damage done to children on both sides of the border by law enforcement-heavy, militarized anti-drug policies, a broad coalition of more than 80 civil rights, immigration, criminal justice, racial justice, human rights, libertarian and religious organizations came together late last week to call for an end to the war on drugs in the name of protecting the kids.
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"The quality of a society can and should be measured by how its most vulnerable are treated, beginning with our children," said Asha Bandele of the Drug Policy Alliance, the organization that coordinated the letter. "Children have every right to expect that we will care for, love and nurture them into maturity. The drug war is among the policies that disrupts our responsibility to that calling."
The groups, as well as prominent individuals such as The New Jim Crow author Michelle Alexander, signed on to a letter of support for new policies aimed at ending the war on drugs.
"In recent weeks," the letter says, "the plight of the 52,000 unaccompanied children apprehended at the US border since last October, many of whom are fleeing drug war violence in Central America, has permeated our national consciousness. The devastating consequences of the drug war have not only been felt in Latin America, they are also having ravaging effects here at home. All too often, children are on the frontlines of this misguided war that knows no borders or color lines."
Organizations signing the letter include a broad range of groups representing different issues and interests, but all are united in seeing the war on drugs as an obstacle to improvement. They include the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Center for Constitutional Rights, the Institute of the Black World, Presente.org, Students for Liberty, United We Dream, the William C. Velasquez Institute, and the Working Families Organization. For a complete list of signatories, click here. [Disclosure: StoptheDrugwar.org, the organization publishing this article, is a signatory.]
In the past few months, more than 50,000 minors fleeing record levels of violence in the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have arrived at the US border seeking either to start a new life or to reconnect with family members already in the country. The causes of the violence in Central America are complex and historically-rooted, but one of them is clearly the US war on drugs, heavy-handedly exported to countries throughout the Western Hemisphere in the past several decades.
Those northern Central American countries -- the so-called Northern Triangle -- have been especially hard hit by drug prohibition-related violence since about 2008, when, after the US helped Mexico bulk up its war on the drug cartels via the $2.4 billion Plan Merida assistance package (President Obama wants another $115 million for it next year), the cartels began expanding their operations into the weaker Central American states. Already high crime levels went through the roof.
Honduras's second largest city, San Pedro Sula, now has the dubious distinction of boasting the world's highest murder rate, while the three national capitals, Guatemala City, San Salvador, and Tegucigalpa, are all in the top 10 deadliest cities worldwide. Many of the victims are minors, who are often targeted because of their membership in drug trade-affiliated street gangs (or because they refuse to join the gangs).
[image:2 align:right caption:true]The impact of the war on drugs on kids in the United States is less dramatic, but no less deleterious. Hundreds of thousands of American children have one or both parents behind bars for drug offenses, suffering not only the stigma and emotional trauma of being a prisoner's child, but also the collateral consequences of impoverishment and familial and community instability. Millions more face the prospect of navigating the mean streets of American cities where, despite some recent retreat from the drug war's most serious excesses, the war on drugs continues to make some neighborhoods extremely dangerous places.
"In the face of this spiraling tragedy that continues to disproportionately consume the lives and futures of black and brown children," the letter concludes, "it is imperative to end the nefarious militarization and mass incarceration occurring in the name of the war on drugs. So often, repressive drug policies are touted as measures to protect the welfare of our children, but in reality, they do little more than serve as one great big Child Endangerment Act. On behalf of the children, it is time to rethink the war on drugs."
Although the signatory groups represent diverse interests and constituencies, coming together around the common issue of protecting children could lay the groundwork for a more enduring coalition, said Jeronimo Saldana, a legislative and organizing coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.
"The idea was to get folks together to make a statement. Now, we have to figure out how to move forward. The letter was the first step," he said.
"The groups have been very positive," Saldana continued. "They're glad someone was speaking up and putting it all together. What's going on in Central American and Mexico is tied into what's happening in our own cities and communities. This crosses partisan lines; it's really obvious that the failed policies of the war on drugs affects people of all walks of life, and the images of the kids really brings it home. We hope to build on this to get some traction. We want folks to continue to make these connections."
Different signatories do have different missions, but a pair of California groups that signed the letter provide examples of how the drug war unites them.
[image:3 align:left caption:true]"We have a history of working on behalf of youth involved in the criminal justice system and their families," said Azadeh Zohrabi, national campaigner for the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. "We see desperate families trying to stay connected, strong, and healthy, but mass incarceration is really making that difficult. We work both with families whos kids are involved in the justice system and with families with one or both parents in prison or who have lost custody of their kids because of their involvement in the criminal justice system," she explained.
"We are working to combat this, and we think the war on drugs overall has had disastrous consequences for families, both here and abroad," Zohrabi continued. "The trillions poured into policing and militarization has just produced more misery. It's time for drugs to be dealt with as a public health issue, not a crime."
"We signed on because the letter is very clear in addressing an important component of the discussion that hasn't really been out there," said Arturo Carmona, executive director of the Latino social justice group Presente.org. "This crisis on the border is not the result of deferring actions against immigrant child arrivals, as many right-wing Republicans have been saying, but is the result of one of the most deadly peaks in crime and violence in the Northern Triangle in recent memory," he argued.
"The violence there is one of the main push factors, and when we talk about this in the US, it's critical that we acknowledge these push factors, many of which are connected to the war on drugs," Carmona continued. "You'll notice that the kids aren't coming from Nicaragua, where we haven't been supporting the war on drugs, but from countries that we've assisted and advised on the drug war, where we've provided weaponry. This is very well-documented."
While Presente.org is very concerned with the immigration issue, said Carmona, there is no escaping the role of the war on drugs in making things worse -- not only in Central America and at the border, but inside the US as well.
"We're very concerned about the chickens coming home to roost for our failed war on drugs policy," he said. "The American public needs to be made very aware of this, and we are starting to see a greater understanding that this is a failed policy -- not only in the way we criminalize our young Latino and African-American kids here in the US, but also in the way this policy affects other countries in our neighborhood. As Nicaragua shows, our lack of involvement there has seen a lower crime rate. Our military involvement through the drug war is an abysmal failure, as the record deaths not only in Central America, but also in Mexico, shows."
The New York Times comes out for marijuana legalization, a Florida poll finds majority support for it, Rand Paul introduces a bill to wipe out the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
New York Times Editorial Board Calls for End to Federal Marijuana Prohibition. What is arguably the most influential and respected newspaper in the United States is ready to free the weed. In a Sunday editorial, the New York Times called forthrightly for the end of federal marijuana prohibition. "The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana," the newspaper proclaimed. "We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times's Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws."
Alaska Legalization Initiative Backers File Campaign Finance Complaint Against Foes. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska has filed a complaint with the Alaska Public Offices Commission charging that the "Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2" campaign deceived the public trust when its campaign spokesperson, Kristina Woolston, said her employer, Northwest Strategies is donating its time to the campaign. State law requires that donations be filed as campaign contributions.
Florida Poll Finds 55% for Marijuana Legalization. A majority (55%) of Floridians are ready to legalize marijuana, a new Quinnipiac University poll has found. It looks to be a generational thing; 72% of people under 30 support it, but only 36% of people 65 and older do. The poll also had 88% support for medical marijuana.
More Michigan Towns to Hand in Local Decriminalization Initiative Signatures Tomorrow. Initiative organizers in Port Huron, Lansing, and Portage are preparing to hand in signatures for local decriminalization initiatives tomorrow. The Safer Michigan Coalition says organizers have already handed in signatures in 14 other towns: Frankfort, Huntington Woods, Mt. Pleasant, Pleasant Ridge and Utica; in prior weeks, they did so in Berkley, Grosse Pointe Park, Harrison, Hazel Park, Lapeer, Montrose, Oak Park, Onaway and Saginaw.
Santa Fe, New Mexican, Decriminalization Initiatives Comes Up Short on Signatures. A campaign to put a municipal decriminalization on the Santa Fe ballot in November has hit a bump. Only 3,569 of the 7,000 signatures it handed in were valid; it needs 5,763 to qualify. But campaigners still have more time to gather more.
Bill to Allow Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Filed in US House. Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) today introduced a bill that would exempt low-THC, high-CBD marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. The Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act is not yet available on the congressional web site.
Staten Island Narcs Are NYPD's Most Sued. Seven of the 10 most sued NYPD officers work out of a Staten Island narcotics unit, according to an analysis by the New York Daily News. Those Staten Island narcs account for 21% of the more than 600 cases filed against NYPD officers in the past decade. Taxpayers have shelled out more than $6 million to settle suits against them. Most of the suits against them allege false arrests for charges that are later dropped. Detective Vincent Orsini, who has been sued 21 times since 2003, with payouts of nearly $1.1 million, is the most-sued cop on the Island.
Rand Paul Introduces Bill to Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) last Thursday filed the RESET (Reclassification to Ensure Smarter and Equal Treatment) Act to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reducing the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, but this bill would totally equalize the penalties. The bill would also reclassify some low-level federal drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. It is not yet up on the congressional web site.
Gun Battles Continue in Northeast Mexico Across from US Border. Fighting between various Mexican drug cartel factions in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas continues. Gun battles in Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, left six suspected cartel gun men dead, including at least one killed by Mexican marines.
The mass migration of tens of thousands of children and adolescents from Central America festered for months before exploding into a full-blown border refugee/immigration crisis in the last few weeks, as images of hundreds of children warehoused in temporary holding facilities competed with equally compelling images of crowds of angry Americans loudly protesting their presence.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]The finger-pointing is in full swing. Much of it centers on the need to "secure the border" and the Obama administration's alleged failure to do so. Other Republican critics blame the administration's alleged "softness" on child immigrants as a factor pulling the kids north. Democrats counter that the GOP's blockage of long-pending immigration reform is part of the problem.
A lot of the discussion centers around the "pull" factors -- those policies or social or economic realities that draw these immigrants toward the US, but equally at play are "push" factors -- those policies or social or economic factors that impel these emigrants to seek new, better lives outside their homelands.
And there is finger-pointing going on about that, too, with some loud and prominent voices placing a good share of the blame on prohibitionist US drug policies in Latin America -- their emphasis on law enforcement and military responses, their balloon effects, and their other unintended consequences.
The majority of the child immigrants are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America (the isthmus also includes Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama). Those Northern Triangle countries suffered not only devastating civil wars in the 1980s, with the US supporting conservative, often dictatorial governments against leftist popular guerrilla movements (or, in the case of Honduras, serving as a platform for counterinsurgency against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua), but also chronic poverty and income inequality.
They are also the countries feeling the brunt of the expansion of powerful Mexican drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- who, in response to increased pressure from the Mexican government (assisted by US aid under the Merida agreement) began pushing south into the region around 2008. And they are countries where transnational criminal gangs, such as the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) have taken on an increasingly high profile, bringing high levels of criminal violence with them. (San Pedro Sula, Honduras, bears the dubious distinction of having the highest murder rate in the world.)
Honduran President Juan Fernandez is one of the prominent voices placing the blame for the crisis squarely on the war on drugs.
"Honduras has been living in an emergency for a decade," Hernandez told Mexican daily newspaper Excelsior. "The root cause is that the United States and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs. Then Mexico did it. This is creating a serious problem for us that sparked this migration. A good part of (migration) has to do with the lack of opportunities in Central America, which has its origin in the climate of violence, and this violence, almost 85% of it, is related to the issue of drug trafficking," he said.
Former Clinton administration labor secretary Robert Reich has been another prominent voice pointing to the role of the drug war -- and earlier militaristic US interventions in the region. He let loose in a Facebook post last weekend.
[image:2 align:right]"I've been watching media coverage of angry Americans at our southern border waiving signs and yelling slogans, insisting that the children -- most of whom are refugees of the drug war we've created -- 'go home' to the violence and death that war has created, and I wonder who these angry Americans are," he wrote. The "United States is not a detached, innocent bystander" when it came to the refugee crisis, he explained.
"For decades, US governments supported unspeakably brutal regimes and poured billions into maintaining them ($5 billion in El Salvador alone). Implacable opposition to communism -- often defined as virtually any reformer -- gave these regimes a blank check," Reich continued. "The result is a legacy of dealing with opponents through extreme violence and a culture of impunity. Judicial systems remain weak, corrupt, and often completely dysfunctional. After the cold war ended, the United States lost interest in these countries. What was left was destruction, tens of thousands dead, and massive population displacement. The percentage of people living below the poverty line is 54 % for Guatemala, 36 % for El Salvador, and 60 % for Honduras. More recently gangs, organized crime, and drug cartels feeding the US market have become part of this unholy mix."
While the president of Honduras and Democrats like Reich could have political incentives in what is an increasingly ugly and partisan debate over the crisis, a number of experts on the region -- though not all of them -- agree that US drug policies in the region are playing a major role in the affair.
"Although there are many factors, clearly the drug war is one of them," said John Walsh, senior associate for drug policy for the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). "There can't be any doubt that drug trafficking and efforts to repress it are part of the criminality and violence in Central America," he told the Chronicle.
"It's not the only explanation, of course," he added. "There are decades of weak institutions and long histories of violence in the area. But if you take into account the shifting trafficking patterns resulting from the US helping other governments in the region put pressure on the industry and shift routes through Central America, it has certainly added to the problems."
"We've been engaged in a drug war for 40 years, and everywhere we put pressure, it bulges out somewhere else," said Nathan Jones, fellow in drug policy at Rice University's Baker Institute in Houston. "In the Miami Vice era, we put pressure on the Caribbean, and the trade moved to Mexico. We dismantled the Cali and Medellin cartels in the early 1990s, and in hindsight, we know that also empowered the Mexican cartels."
The pattern keeps repeating, Jones said.
"Through the Merida Initiative, we put more pressure on the Mexican cartels -- and for very good reasons -- but that resulted in their dispersal into Central America. The Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel established alliances and began carving out chunks of Central America. They shifted to two-state and multi-stage trafficking operations and tried to minimize their risk by having their loads stop in various countries."
[image:3 align:left caption:true]At the same time the Mexican cartels were pushing (and being pushed) into Central America, Central American gangs were rearing their tattooed heads. Ironically enough, gangs like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) had their origins in another US war in the region: the Reagan-era effort to thwart the rise to power of popular leftist guerrillas.
"Deportation got us into this mess in the first place," said Jones. "We had immigrants coming from Central America during the wars of the 1980s. Some of them formed their own gangs after being rejected by Mexican street gangs in places like Los Angeles, and when they showed up in the criminal justice system, we deported them back to their home countries. We transnationalized those gangs in the process, and now the violence from those very gangs is resulting in another mass migration flow. And now we are proposing the same solution of deportation. This doesn't deal with root causes."
"I'm not a big proponent of the drug war as an explanation for everything," countered Eric Olson, associate director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. "We need to stop thinking about the violence in Central America as a drug problem. It's a factor in the violence but not really a primary factor. Community based criminal networks involved in extortion, kidnapping, and other forms of criminal activity -- including retail drug markets -- are more of a factor," he told the Chronicle.
"There is virtually no state presence in most of the areas of highest violence so it's a little hard to blame the drug war," Olson continued. "Where the drug war has been the biggest problem has been when there are mass operations and mass detentions, but even those arrests have less and less to do with drugs and more and more to do with the criminalization of gang membership, extortion, and other things. We've got to stop seeing everything through the drug war lens."
"Criminal groups have diversified their business models," WOLA's Walsh conceded. "Drug trafficking is only one aspect, but the revenues are so huge that there is more money to buy weapons and corrupt officials, so it contributes to crime and impunity. There is no doubt this is part of the problem."
"This is a very complicated issue, with lots of causal factors, and blaming it solely on US policy has lots of shortcomings," said Alicia Magdalena Duda, a researcher with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA). "But the drug war and the violence is a big issue."
Assigning blame for the status quo is a backwards looking exercise, but what is to be done moving forward? There are divergences of opinion there, too.
"We have to recognize that just equipping these countries to chase drugs around in the interest of interdicting them for our purposes isn't contributing much to reducing violence and increasing public safety," said Walsh. "Drug enforcement as measured by how much they're interdicting has no impact at best, and probably makes things worse. Rather than foster the illusion that we can eradicate the drug trade, we need to steer law enforcement there to reduce violence by going after the worst, most violent actors rather than measuring success in tons seized."
"How to end the violence is a long-term issue," said COHA's Duda. "Those countries are facing extreme violence and poverty. To address this immigration crisis, we have to actively engage with them, and not just with monetary packages. One of the contributors to poverty is corruption, and corruption is rampant there. Ignoring that and just continuing with the present approach is not effective, either," she said.
Duda even broached a very controversial response, one that has also been heard in regard to Mexico and the prohibition-related violence there.
"Maybe they have to engage in peace talks with the gangs and cartels," she suggested.
"One of the great frustrations about Central America is that we supported those right-wing regimes during the Cold War, but we didn't deal with any of the underlying conditions, the grievances, the extreme income inequality, the crushing, grinding poverty," said Jones. "We need a sustained engagement with Central America, but we also have to leverage those host governments to do the right thing. We can't have a situation where wealthy elites are not paying their fair shares of taxes. We have societies fundamentally structured along wrong principles. It will take decades to turn things around, but it needs to happen."
"Our focus should be on reducing violence and addressing the factors that are actually driving the violence," said Olson. "This should include targeted law enforcement, but also prevention programs as well as gang intervention and reintegration programs. Only by reducing violence and the stranglehold criminal networks have on communities will people consider staying in place."
This is a complicated problem with no easy solutions and a lot of different suggestions. Whether prohibition and US drug policies have played a key role or only a supporting one, it does seem clear that, at best, they have not helped. At worst, our drug policies in the region have increased violence and corruption in the region, enriching the worst -- on both sides of the law.
Happy Bastille Day! And speaking of which, the US Sentencing Commission is reporting heavy public response to its proposal to make some sentencing reforms retroactive. Meanwhile, marijuana remains on the move, the good burghers of New York will pay for another drug war killing, millennials loosen up on drugs, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Washington State Earns $150,000 in Excise Taxes From First Three Days of Limited Legal Marijuana Sales. Legal pot sales in Washington started last Tuesday with only a handful of shops open across the state, but by last Friday, the Washington Liquor Control Board reported that the sales had generated almost $150,000 in excise taxes alone. The excise tax is 25% imposed on producers when they sell to retailers and another 25% imposed on consumers when they buy retail. The figure doesn't include state and local sales taxes.
Colorado Recreational Marijuana Sales Declined for First Time in May. Retail pot shops sold $21 million worth of marijuana in May, down 5% from the $22 million sold in April. The combined 4/20 celebrations and High Times Cannabis Cup that same weekend may have had something to do with the high April figures. Also, tax-free medical marijuana sales remain strong and still exceeded recreational sales in April, coming in at $32 million.
Nevada 2016 Legalization Initiative Campaign Kicks Off With Innovative Bathroom Ads. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has begun its campaign to get a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot with "bathroom-themed ads, which are scheduled to appear in restrooms at more than two dozen restaurants and bars across Las Vegas throughout July and August." The ads highlight the costs of marijuana prohibition.
South Portland, Maine, Activists Hand in Signature for Municipal Legalization Referendum. Citizens for Safer Maine, a Marijuana Policy Project affiliate, today handed in 1,521 signatures to place a legalization initiative on the municipal this November. The group needs 959 valid voter signatures to qualify. Similar efforts are underway in York and Lewiston; Portland passed a similar measure last year.
Berkeley City Council Gives Initial Approval for Free Medical Marijuana for the Poor and Homeless. The Berkeley city council last week gave initial approval for an ordinance that would require dispensaries in the city to set aside 2% of their medical marijuana to be given away free to poor and homeless residents who are patients. A second reading is set for next month.
South Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Law Not Working. South Carolina's new law allowing for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil is stymied because no one in South Carolina is making it and federal law prohibits it being shipped across state lines. The new law does create a study committee to determine how to grow the plants and manufacture the oil in state, but it looks like that is years down the road.
North Carolina Medical Marijuana Supporters Protest at Trial of Grower. Protestors gathered in Hendersonville this morning to protest the trial of a man they say is a medical marijuana grower. Todd Stimson is charged with numerous marijuana cultivation and related offenses. His trial starts this afternoon.
Poll of Millennials Finds Majority for Marijuana Legalization, One in Five for Cocaine Legalization. A new Reason-Rupe survey finds that 57% of millennials support legalizing marijuana and a surprising 22% support legalizing the use of cocaine. Majorities of millennials said people should not be jailed or imprisoned for using marijuana (83%), ecstasy (68%), cocaine (63%), or heroin (61%). Click on the link above for more top lines, cross tabs, and methodological details.
Florida Governor Gives Up on Testing Some State Workers, But Not All. Gov. Rick Scott's (R) dream of imposing drug testing on all state workers has faded further after attorneys representing the state last month filed court documents conceding that nearly a thousand job classes are ineligible for drug testing. But Scott has yet to concede that his plan to force state workers to undergo mandatory suspicionless drug testing is unconstitutional, despite lower court rulings against him. He's vowing to go to the US Supreme Court.
New York City Pays $2 Million for Undercover Narc's Killing of Unarmed Man on His Mother's Doorstep. Shem Walker, 59, was shot and killed when he attempted to run off shady characters loitering on his mother's apartment building doorstep. The shady characters were undercover NYPD narcotics detectives. Walker punched one of the plain clothes narcs, who responded by shooting him three times and killing him. Now, the good burghers of New York will pay out $2.25 million to settle the family's lawsuit against the city. No criminal charges were filed against the officer.
US Sentencing Commission Got 65,000 Letters Regarding Sentencing Retroactivity. The US Sentencing Commission reports that it had received some 65,000 letters regarding its plans to make the changes to drug sentencing guidelines that reduce many drug sentences retroactive. The Commission will hold a public meeting on the issue on Friday. Click on the link for more details and to read the letters.
Honduras President Blames US Drug Policy for Refugee Crisis. In an interview published today, President Juan Hernandez blamed US drug policy for creating violence in Central American countries and thus propelling a surge of migration toward the US. He said US anti-drug policies for generating prohibition-related violence first in Colombia and Mexico and now in Central America. "Honduras has been living in an emergency for a decade," Hernandez told Mexican daily newspaper Excelsior. "The root cause is that the United States and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs. Then Mexico did it. This is creating a serious problem for us that sparked this migration."
Forget Amazon's promised drone deliveries; the Mexican cartels have beat them to it. Also, Massachusetts cops will need to do more than just smell weed to search you or your vehicle, Arizona PTSD patients are okayed to use medical marijuana, Uruguay delays the roll-out of its legal marijuana sales, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Massachusetts Supreme Court Rules That Smell of Unburnt Marijuana Not Justification for Police Searches. Because Massachusetts has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, police cannot use the odor of raw marijuana to justify searches of vehicles or persons, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled Wednesday. The ruling came in a pair of decisions: Commonwealth v. Obermeyer and Commonwealth v. Craan. The court had already ruled that the odor of smoked marijuana was not sufficient cause for a search; now it has included the odor of unburnt marijuana as well.
Missouri Marijuana Lifer in Campaign for Clemency. Sixty-one-year-old Jeff Mizanskey is now in his 21st year of a life-without-parole sentence for non-violent marijuana charges. He wants out, and a campaign to free him as generated nearly half a million signatures on a petition to Gov. Jay Nixon (R). But that hasn't been enough so far. Now, he is asking supporters to write Nixon a letter. Mizanskey has been helped in his campaign by the energetic folks at Show-Me Cannabis, the Missouri-based marijuana reform group.
Montana Initiative to Overturn Medical Marijuana, Block Marijuana Reforms Won't Make Ballot. An initiative that sought to change state law so that no Schedule I drug can be "legally possessed, received, transferred, manufactured, cultivated, trafficked, transported or used in Montana" isn't going to qualify for the ballot, it's proponent conceded Wednesday. Petitioners only managed to gather 12% of the signatures needed to qualify. But Billings car dealer Steve Zabawa isn't giving up; he says he will ask the legislature to pass a referendum next year to put the measure on the 2016 ballot.
Terminally Ill Iowa Cancer Patient Convicted of Growing Own Medicine. A state court jury in Davenport that never heard Benton Mackenzie's medical marijuana defense has convicted the terminally ill cancer patient on four felony drug charges related to growing marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of his disease. The 48-year-old angiosarcoma sufferer now faces a possible mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence, although prosecutors could seek probation.
Arizona Okays Medical Marijuana for PTSD. The Department of Health Services announced Wednesday that it is authorizing the use of marijuana for patients suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Its use is not approved for treatment of the condition itself, but only for palliative care of PTSD symptoms.
New Mexico US Attorney Says He Won't Prosecute Medical Marijuana Patients Busted at Border Checkpoints, But Feds Will Still Take Their Medicine. New Mexico US Attorney Damon Martinez has assured New Mexico politicians that he will not prosecute patients caught with medical marijuana at US Customs and Border Patrol checkpoints. Martinez made the vow in a letter Monday to Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Mesilla Park), who had sought assurances. But Customs and Border Patrol officers would still seize the medicine, he warned.
Uruguay Delays Marijuana Sales until Next Year. President Jose Mujica said Wednesday that legal marijuana sales are being pushed back to next year because of "practical difficulties" in implementing the new law, and he took a jab at legalization in the US as he did so. "If we want to do this sloppily, it is not hard to do that. That's what the United States is doing," the president said. "But if we want to get this right... we are going to have to do it slowly. We are not just going to say, 'hands off and let the market take care of it,' because if the market is in charge, it is going to seek to sell the greatest possible amount," he said.
DEA Says Mexican Cartels Using Drones to Deliver Drugs Across the Border. The DEA says Mexican drug cartels are using drones to transport drugs and have been doing so since at least 2011. The agency reported that at least 150 drone flights carrying drugs crossed the border in 2012, and that the cartels have recently intensified efforts to recruit skilled workers to manufacture and operate them.
USAID Allots $60 Million for Alternative Development as Part of Fight Against Coca. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has earmarked $60 million to support farmers planting cocoa and coffee instead of coca. The funds will go to alternative development programs and reforestation projects.
European Union Court Rules Synthetic Cannabinoids Not Medicine. The European Court of Justice ruled today that herbal mixtures containing syntheric cannabinoids aren't medicinal products under European law. The court was responding to a request for clarification from Germany's federal court, which is currently considering two cases involving such products.
The White House issues its annual drug control strategy, the Brooklyn DA announces an end to most small-time marijuana possession arrests, a suburban Maryland county adopts a marijuana reform resolution, the first medical cannabis oil permits are issued in Utah, Lebanese hash farmers vow to fight to protect their crops, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Obama Offered a Hit of Weed in Denver; Responds With a Smile. During a visit to a Denver bar last night, President Obama was offered some of the state's legal marijuana. "Do you want to hit this?" came a voice from the crowd. The president did not respond to the offer, except to flash his trademark smile. On route to the event, the president was also confronted by apparently pro-marijuana protestors, including one holding a sign saying "Free Weed for Obama." We won't even mention the guy in a horse head mask who shook the president's hand.
Brooklyn DA Announces No More Prosecutions for First-Time Marijuana Offenders, Except… Brooklyn, New York, District Attorney Kenneth Thompson announced Tuesday that his office will no longer prosecute first-time offenders for small-time marijuana possession charges. "This new policy is a reasonable response to the thousands of low-level marijuana arrests that weigh down the criminal justice system, require significant resources that could be redirected to more serious crimes and take an unnecessary toll on offenders. Pursuant to this policy, we will use our prosecutorial discretion to decline to prosecute, and dismiss upfront, certain low-level marijuana possession cases based on criteria concerning the particular individual and the circumstances of the case. For example, cases will be dismissed prior to arraignment for those with little or no criminal record, but we will continue to prosecute marijuana cases which most clearly raise public health and safety concerns." But Thompson added that he would still pursue charges for public pot smoking, if the defendant is a teen (he will be directed to juvenile court and a diversion program), or if the defendant has a criminal record suggesting he may act violently under the influence of marijuana.
Montgomery County, Maryland, Adopts Marijuana Policy Reform Resolution. The Montgomery County council Tuesday unanimously adopted a resolution calling for making marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority and for revising the state's yet-to-go-into-effect decriminalization law to include pot-smoking paraphernalia. Under the law as written, people could not be arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana, but they can still be arresting for possessing the pipe to smoke it in.
Utah Issues First Permits to Use High CBD, Low THC Cannabis Oil. Utah officials Tuesday issued the first permits to use high CBD cannabis oil for the treatment of epilepsy in children under a law passed earlier this year. That law okays the use of cannabis oils containing at least 15% CBD and less than 0.3% THC. But while initial permits have been issued, families are likely to have to wait until September to acquire the cannabis oil because the Colorado nonprofit that produces it has a long waiting list and a crop that won't be ready until the fall.
California Medical Marijuana Citizens' Lobby Day Will Be August 4. The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access has announced that its annual citizens' lobby day in Sacramento will be held this year on August 4. The group is supporting the statewide regulation bill, Senate Bill 1262, but wants some changes, too. Click on the title link for more details.
White House Releases 2014 National Drug Control Strategy. The White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) today released its annual drug control strategy. In the big picture it doesn't appear to be a whole lot different from last year's, or the year before that or the year before that or… But there are some good things to be found. Check back here later today for a feature article on it. In the meantime, click on the link to take a look yourself.
Mexico Anti-Cartel Vigilantism Spreads Close to US Border. Vigilante groups targeting criminal drug trafficking organizations first sprung up last year in the west-central Mexican state of Michoacan, where they battled the Knights Templar cartel before eventually being folded into the Mexican police apparatus. Now, they are appearing in Tamaulipas state, just across the Rio Grande River from Texas. A group known as the Pedro Mendez Column is operating in the city of Hidalgo, where it does nightly patrols to defend the city from the Zetas cartel. It also claims to have killed several Zetas. And the Zetas claim to have killed several people it accuses of being linked to the vigilantes. The Zetas also accuse the rival Gulf cartel of arming the vigilantes.
Lebanese Marijuana Farmers Vow to Fight Back Against Eradication Campaign. The Lebanese government has announced it will begin destroying marijuana farms in the Bekaa Valley tomorrow, but farmers there are vowing to defend their crops with their lives. Ali Nasri Shammas, a major grower and spokesman for the illicit industry, said growers would do what it takes to defend their crops, whether by protesting, blocking roads, or more violent means. "We will also use arms to face the security forces, who will damage the crops, even if it leads to bloodshed. Destroying the crops is forbidden no matter the results," Shammas warned. Given the ongoing Syrian civil war next door, it remains to be seen whether the government will be able to actually eradicate much of the marijuana crop.
Russians Say They Lose 100,000 People a Year to Drug Overdoses. Russia's Federal Drug Control Service reports that nearly 100,000 people died of drug overdoses last year and that the rate of drug-related deaths in Russian urban areas was 28.7 per 100,000. That rate is 2.7 times higher than the previous year. By contrast, in the US, some 41,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
July 1 sees new drug-related laws and regulations going into effect in various places, a University of Arizona researcher falls victim to anti-medical marijuana politics, Massachusetts is cracking down on caregivers, Ohio activists give up on a medical marijuana (and hemp) initiative this year, and more. Let's get to it:
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Colorado Marijuana Legalization Enters New, Expansive Phase. As of today, any state resident can apply to open a marijuana retail outlet in Colorado. Until now, only owners of already existing medical marijuana dispensaries could apply. It is expected that this new phase of the state's marijuana legalization experience will add hundreds of new marijuana-related businesses in the state.
Berkley, Michigan, Decriminalization Petitioners Hand in Signatures Today. Campaigners for a municipal decriminalization initiative in Berkley plan to turn in 700 signatures today. Berkley is one of about 20 Michigan towns where Safer Michigan is working to get similar initiatives on the ballot for either the August or November elections. Local ordinances that ease penalties for possessing marijuna already are on the books in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Ferndale, Flint, Grand Rapids, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Lansing and Ypsilanti.
University of Arizona Fires Medical Marijuana Researcher. The University of Arizona has abruptly fired Dr. Suzanne Sisley, who months earlier had received approval from the federal government to study the effects of medical marijuana on people suffering from PTSD. Now, her research is in jeopardy, and she is blaming state legislators who threatened university funding after her research plans made the news. "This is a clear political retaliation for the advocacy and education I have been providing the public and lawmakers," Sisley said. "I pulled all my evaluations and this is not about my job performance."
Massachusetts Crackdown on Caregivers. The state Department of Public Health has sent letters to more than 1,300 patients and 17 caregivers warning that state regulations bar caregivers from selling marijuana to more than one patient. Caregivers are the only legal avenue for patients to buy medical marijuana until dispensaries open, and that won't happen until November at the earliest. The move has forced Bill Downing, the operator of Yankee Care Givers, which supplies an estimated 1,000 patients to quit selling medical marijuana. He is urging patients to join him in a lawsuit challenging the state's interpretation of the law. "DPH is more concerned with their regulations than they are with the well-being of the citizens of Massachusetts," Downing said.
Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Laws Go into Effect in Iowa, Utah. At least two of the states that passed limited, low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana laws this year see those laws go into effect today. Those states are Iowa and Utah. It is unclear what impact those laws will have or how many people they will help.
Vermont Medical Marijuana Improvements Go into Effect Today. A medical marijuana improvement bill, Senate Bill 247, goes into effect today. The new law eliminates the cap of 1,000 patients who may access dispensaries, allows naturopaths to certify patients, and allows dispensaries to deliver marijuana to patients. It also authorizes a study of whether PTSD should be added as a qualifying condition.
Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative Gives Up on 2014. Medical marijuana won't be on the ballot in the Buckeye State this year. The campaign by the Ohio Rights Group needed 385,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot this year, but had only 100,000. The good news is that those gathered signatures are still good in future years and can supply a starting point for a new campaign down the road. The initiative would also have legalized hemp production.
Tennessee Food Stamp Drug Testing Law Goes into Effect. A law passed in 2012 that mandates drug testing for food stamp applicants if state workers have reason to believe they are using drugs goes into effect today. The ACLU of Tennessee is not happy: "This law singles out limited-income people and requires them to submit to humiliating and intrusive searches of their bodily fluids because they need temporary help making ends meet," said Hedy Weinberg, state director for the ACLU. "Research indicates that TANF recipients are no more likely to use illicit drugs than farmers, veterans, and students, who also receive government support. ACLU-TN wants to hear from any potential TANF recipients who do not want to submit to the required drug testing." The ACLU of Tennessee also has a web page for those who need help dealing with the law.
Rep. Keith Ellison is Latest Cosponsor of Smarter Sentencing Act. The Smarter Sentencing Act (House Resolution 3382) has picked up another cosponsor, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN). The measure now has 42 cosponsors -- 28 Democrats and 14 Republicans. The bill remains stuck in the House Judiciary Committee, where it has been sitting since October.
Mexican Soldiers Kill 22 Cartel Members in Michoacan Confrontation. The Mexican Army reported that it killed 22 members of the La Familia Michoacana cartel after soldiers on patrol in Tlatlaya, Michoacan, came under fire from cartel gunmen.
Another Mexican Town Tries to Ban Narcocorridos. Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, in northwest Mexico has banned the playing or performing of narcocorridos, the border ballads that glorify drug traffickers and recount their adventures. The ban follows the killing in the city of a narcocorrido singer from Phoenix, Tomas Tovar Rascon. But more than a year ago, the Mexican Supreme Court overturned a similar ban in the state of Sinaloa, so it is unlikely this ban could withstand a legal challenge -- if anyone brings one.
Things are looking good after legalization in Colorado, a medical marijuana bill moves in Pennsylvania, food stamp drug testing is on hold in Mississippi, hash battles break out in Libya, and more. Let's get to it:
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DPA Issues Report on Six Months of Legal Marijuana Sales in Colorado. Crime is down, tax revenues are up, and the marijuana industry is generating thousands of new jobs in Colorado, according to a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance. The report is Status Report: Marijuana Regulation in Colorado After Six Months of Retail Sales and 18 Months of Decriminalization.
Pennsylvania Senate Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Law and Justice Committee voted unanimously yesterday to approve Senate Bill 1182, which would allow qualified patients to obtain marijuana through dispensaries, but not grow their own. Neither could patients smoke their medicine, but they could use edibles or vaporize it. Now, the bill is on to the Appropriations Committee and, if it passes there, a Senate floor vote. Companion legislation in the House has yet to move.
Tulsa Medical Marijuana Petitioners Say Tulsa Cops Backed Off After They Went Public. Signature-gatherers for the Oklahomans for Health medical marijuana initiative report they are no longer being harassed by Tulsa Police after they went public with their complaints. Police had, on several occasions, stopped and investigated petitioners, at least twice after purportedly receiving complaints they were selling or smoking marijuana. The group hasn't had any formal response from Tulsa Police or city officials, but they are no longer being harassed, they said.
Mississippi Food Stamp Drug Testing Implementation Delayed. A Mississippi law approved this year that would require food stamp applicants to be subject to drug testing is being delayed. It was supposed to go into effect July 1, but will be held up pending a public hearing set for July 22. The delay comes thanks to ACLU of Mississippi and the Mississippi Center for Justice, which challenged the start-up on grounds that it violated the state's administrative procedures law.
Michigan Governor Signs Package of Meth Bills. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) Thursday signed into law three bills increasing the criminalization of methamphetamine users and producers. One makes it a crime to purchase pseudoephedrine knowing it will be used to make meth, another makes it a crime to solicit someone else to do so, and the third specifies that the second mandates a 10-year prison sentence. Click on the link for more bill details.
Are the Latin American Drug Cartels on the Wane? Council on Hemispheric Affairs analyst Claudia Barrett has penned a provocative analysis suggesting the era of the cartels may be coming to an end. The piece is The Breakdown of Cartel Culture -- An Analysis.
Reductions in Coca Cultivation Don't Necessarily Mean Less Cocaine. The Global Post has a think piece on the reported decline in coca production and why it doesn't necessarily mean cocaine supplies are decreasing. Click on the link to read it.
Libya Hash Bust Sparks Deadly Battle. A hash bust in Benghazi last Saturday erupted into a pitched battle when armed gunmen attacked government forces who were destroying a major stash of hash seized from a cargo ship. At least seven people were reported killed. Government officials accused Al Qaeda of being involved.
Tunisia Will Reform Its Drug Laws. Tunisia is going to revamp its drug laws, a vestige of the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali dictatorship. The North African country has some 25,000 people in prison for drug offenses. Current laws don't differentiate between hard and soft drugs and require mandatory minimum prison sentences for any drug offense. A commission is expected to submit to parliament this summer an amended law that does away with the mandatory sentences of one-to-five years for drug possession.
New Zealand Poll Has Majority for Marijuana Reform. A majority of New Zealanders polled in a recent survey support reforming the country's marijuana laws. The New Zealand Herald-DigiPoll had 32% supported decriminalization and another 22% wanting it completely legalized, while 45% were opposed to any reform. Even among members of the ruling National Party, which opposes reform, 45% supported decrim or legalization.
It's UN anti-drug day, and protests to mark it are going on in at least 80 cities around the world, House Republicans move to block DC decrim, the Oregon legalization initiative looks set to make the ballot, the ACLU has a strong new report out on SWAT teams, and more. Let's get to it:
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Cannabis Business Summit Draws Big Crowd in Denver. More than 1,200 people attended the Cannabis Business Summit sponsored by the National Cannabis Industry Association in Denver this week. Look for a Chronicle report on it in coming days.
Oregon Legalization Initiative to Hand in Signatures Today. It looks like Oregonians will vote on marijuana legalization this November. The New Approach Oregon initiative campaign will hand in 145,000 signatures to state officials today; they only need some 87,000 valid ones to qualify for the ballot.
House Committee Votes to Block Decriminalization in DC. The House Appropriations Committee yesterday passed an amendment to the 2015 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill intended to prevent the District of Columbia from implementing its recently passed law decriminalizing the possession of marijuana. It also has the potential to end the District's medical marijuana program. The amendment, offered by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), passed by a vote of 28-21. Reform advocates will seek a floor vote to remove this amendment from the bill when it proceeds to the House floor.
No Vote on Legalization in the Rhode Island Legislature. The 2014 legislative session has ended without the Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act never coming up for a vote. Maybe next year.
Oakland Shuts Down a Trio of Measure Z Speakeasies. For the past decade, recreational marijuana retail outlets have quietly operated in Oakland, protected by Measure Z, which makes the private use of marijuana by adults law enforcement's lowest priority. But in recent weeks, Oakland police have raided and shut down three of the speakeasies. The police say their enforcement actions are driven by complaints.
Two More Cosponsors for the Smarter Sentencing Act. The Smarter Sentencing Act has picked up two more cosponsors, bringing the total to 41, 27 Democrats and 14 Republicans. The latest cosponsors are Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH) and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA).
Senate State and Foreign Operations Funding Bill to Include Sentencing Reform Language. Advocates working with Senate Judiciary Chair Pat Leahy's (D-VT) office report that the Senate committee report on the issue will include language making sentencing reform part of US foreign policy and an issue the State Department promotes when working on police training and judicial reform in other countries. Click the link to read the language.
ACLU Issues Report on Militarization of American Policing. The American Civil Liberties Union has released a new report on the excessive militarization of American policing, War Comes Home. The report concentrates on the use of SWAT teams, and fnds that 80% of SWAT deployments were not hostage rescue or other dangerous missions, but to serve search warrants, mainly for drugs. The report also examines the abuses associated with SWAT teams. This is strong stuff.
Global Demonstrations Against Drug War Today Mark UN Anti-Drug Day. Protestors in at least 80 cities around the world are taking the opportunity of UN anti-drug day to call not for more drug war, but for less. Click on the link for more details.
British Khat Ban Now in Effect. The British ban on the East African herbal stimulant plant khat has now gone into effect. There are fears the Somali community will be targeted and that a black market will now emerge.
British Doctors Reject Marijuana Legalization, Urge Cigarette Ban for Those Born After 2000. Meeting at their annual conference, members of the British Medical Association rejected a proposal to call for legalizing marijuana, but voted in favor of a ban on cigarettes for people born after 2000. The BMA's rejection of legalization was "both unscientific and unethical," said Steve Rolles of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation.
Uruguay's First Grower's Club Begins Registration Process. The Association of Cannabis Studies of Uruguay has registered to become the first officially recognized marijuana growing club in the country. The club headed by Laura Blanco will have 40 members. Joining a club and enjoying the fruits of collective grows is one of three ways to legally obtain marijuana under Uruguay's new law. The other options are registering to buy it from pharmacies or growing your own individually.
Mexico Wants More Black Hawk Choppers for Anti-Drug Activities. Mexico has formally requested to purchase five UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters for it war on drugs. The choppers are to be equipped with GPS/inertial navigation systems, forward-looking radar systems, and 10 7.62mm machine guns each. The proposed deal would be worth an estimated $225 million