Chronicle AM: MO Pot Lifer Wins Commutation, MD Gov Vetoes Drug Reform Bills, DEA Heroin Threat, More (5/26/15)
A second Arizona legalization initiative has been filed, a Missouri marijuana lifer gets a reprieve, Maryland's Republican governor vetoes drug reform bills, the DEA warns of the heroin threat, there's more violence in Latin American drug war zones, and more.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Second Arizona Legalization Initiative Filed. The Campaign to Legalize and Regulate Marijuana last week filed paperwork for a second legalization initiative in the state. The other initiative, filed by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is affiliated with the Marijuana Policy Project, handed in its paperwork last month. Both would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of pot and propose a 15% tax, but the new initiative would make possession of more than eight ounces a misdemeanor, while the first one would make it a felony.
Maryland Governor Vetoes Marijuana Reform Bill. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last Friday vetoed Senate Bill 517, which would have added some housekeeping measures to last year's decriminalization bill. The bill would have decriminalized public pot smoking and possession of pot paraphernalia. Hogan's explanation for the veto was that he is worried police won't be able to do anything about people smoking pot while driving.
Missouri Governor Commutes Sentence of Marijuana Lifer Jeff Mizanskey. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) last Friday commuted the life sentence meted out to 61-year-old Jeff Mizanskey, who had been the subject of a campaign led by Show-Me Cannabis to get him released. Nixon's action doesn't free Mizanskey, but does make him eligible for a parole hearing, after which he could be released.
Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Appears Blocked in House. A medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 3, has passed the Senate, but appears to be bottled up in the House after being assigned to the Health Committee, which is headed by medical marijuana foe Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga County). He told local media last week he didn't see the bill moving any time soon. Bill supporters are exploring their options, including moving the bill to a different committee, adding it as an amendment to other legislation, and including it in a budget measure.
DEA Says Heroin Deaths Highest in a Decade. The number of heroin overdose deaths more than tripled between 2007 and 2013, according to a National Heroin Threat Assessment released last Friday by the DEA. Deaths totaled more than 8,200 in 2013. Meanwhile, the number of heroin users doubled from 161,000 in 2007 to 289,000 in 2013. Still, heroin overdose deaths pale in comparison with those from prescription drugs, with more than 30,000 people dying of prescription drug overdoses in 2013. [Ed: One cause of increased heroin use is the crackdown on prescription drugs, which has led some users to take to the streets.]
Maryland Governor Vetoes Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last Friday vetoed Senate Bill 528, which would have required police to establish that a property owner knew the property was connected to a crime, set a minimum amount of $300 for triggering seizures, and forbid police from transferring asset forfeiture cases to the federal government (to get around state asset forfeiture laws). Hogan's given reason for the veto was… heroin. "Maryland is currently facing a heroin epidemic," he said in a veto statement. "The individuals involved in the manufacture and sale of drugs are profiting from the deaths and ruined lives they are creating. The asset forfeiture law helps to ensure that these criminals do not reap any economic benefits from their crimes."
FARC Calls Off Ceasefire After Colombian Military Kills 26 Rebels. Colombia's leftist rebels have ended their unilateral ceasefire during protracted peace negotiations with the government after a government air and ground offensive killed 26 FARC fighters last Thursday. But the FARC said it will continue with peace talks. The Colombian military offensive began after the FARC killed 11 soldiers on patrol last month, but the FARC claims the military has been harassing it throughout the peace talks.
Mexican Cops Kill 42 Drug Suspects in "Shoot Out." At least 42 suspected drug cartel members and one federal police officer died last Friday in what authorities described as a fierce, three-hour gunfight between police and drug gang gunmen. The killings took place in Jalisco state, home of the up-and-coming Jalisco New Generation cartel, although authorities did not name the group. While authorities reported a fierce fight, the one-sided death toll is raising eyebrows.
Paris City Council Announces Location of France's First Safe Injection Site. The city council announced Monday that the country's first "drug consumption room" will be located at the city's Lariboisiere Hospital. The site was chosen after the plan for the original site was derailed by neighborhood opposition.
Decrim advances in Illinois, an Ohio legalization initiative is rolling along, asset forfeiture reform passes in Montana and is now under consideration in Michigan, Vancouver will regulate its dispensaries, and more.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Illinois House Passes Decriminalization Bill. The House Thursday approved House Bill 218, sponsored by Rep. Kathy Cassidy (D-Chicago). The bill would make possession of 15 grams or less an infraction punishable only by a fine of no more than $125. Under current law, people face up to a year in jail for simple possession. The bill now goes to the state Senate.
Ohio Legalization Initiative Making Progress on Signature-Gathering. The Responsible Ohio legalization initiative campaign has gathered more than 180,000 signatures in its effort to put its initiative before voters in November. Buckeye State initiatives need 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot, so the group probably needs to gather something like 400,000 signatures to ensure that disqualifications don't knock it off the ballot. Responsible Ohio says it is aiming even higher -- for 700,000 signatures. They have until July to gather them. A second legalization initiative, aiming at 2016, Ohioans To End Prohibition, is just in the initial phase of its campaign, while a third effort, led by the Ohio Rights Group, says it will not manage to qualify this year and has filed Election Commission complaints claiming that people associated with Responsible Ohio have interfered with its efforts.
Heroin Use Up Sharply in Past Decade, SAMSHA Says. The number of heroin users in the country was stable at around 400,000 between 2002 and 2007, but began increasing in 2008 and reached 681,000 by 2013, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA). But that's still less than one-third of 1% of the population. Another 11 million people, or 4% of the population, used prescription pills for off-label reasons.
Michigan Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Package Filed. A bipartisan package of eight asset forfeiture reform bills was filed Wednesday with support from the legislature's Republican leadership. One bill would create uniform, mandatory reporting requirements and raise the standard of evidence needed for a seizure from "a preponderance" to "clear and convincing." Another bill would bar seizures of vehicles used by someone buying an ounce of pot or less. The package doesn't include a bill to ban civil asset forfeiture outright, but it's a start.
Montana Legislature Passes Bill Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bill that would end civil asset forfeiture passed the House Thursday. House Bill 463 had already passed the Senate and now heads for the governor's desk. New Mexico and Wyoming have both passed similar laws this year; the New Mexico governor signed hers, but the Wyoming governor vetoed his.
Florida ACLU Targets Police Field Drug Tests. The ACLU of Florida is investigating the presumptive field test kits police use to make drug arrests. The move comes just a day after Hillsborough County Public Defender called them "faulty" and "inaccurate." Scientists have reported that kits like the Nark 2 are unreliable, but thousands of people have been arrested on the basis of their field test results.
Louisiana Bill Would Let Employers Drug Test Hair. The House Health Committee Wednesday approved House Bill 379, which would allow employers to use hair drug tests on potential hires. Hair drug tests can detect use going back as far as three months. The bill now heads for a House floor vote.
Seattle Doing Mass Arrests to Clean Up Downtown Drug Dealing Police in Seattle have arrested more than a hundred people in two days in a push to clean up open-air drug dealing downtown. The arrests involved undercover officers making marijuana, heroin, meth, and cocaine buys. Prosecutors said they would seek judicial orders barring those people from returning to the area, but that they would seek diversion programs in other cases.
Vancouver Moves to Regulate Marijuana Stores; Ottawa Not Happy. Vancouver has announced plans to regulate the more than 80 unlicensed medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the city, making it the first city in Canada to do so. But the federal Health Minister is warning the city not to do it, saying it would "normalize" marijuana sales.
Drug Cartel Violence Flares in Mexican Border State. Gun battles and arson attacks flared for the second time in a week in Tamaulipas, just across the Rio Grande River from Texas border towns such as Harlingen and Brownsville. The brouhaha broke out after police captured four alleged Gulf Cartel members and included blockades in the town of Altamira. At least two people were killed. Earlier this month, major violence broke out in Reynosa after the arrest of a Gulf Cartel leader. More than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed in prohibition-related violence since 2006.