Chronicle AM: Chicago Cops Still Target Blacks for Pot, VT Ibogaine Bill, TX Med MJ Bill, More (3/16/15)
Chicago is still arresting way more blacks than whites for pot possession, marijuana bills are moving in Missouri, Texas sees full-blown medical marijuana bills filed, an ibogaine bill gets filed in Vermont, MAPS wins DEA approval for an ecstasy study, and more.
Chicago Pot Arrests Continue to Target Blacks. While Mayor Rahm Emanuel says that police statistics show "progress" being made in racial disparities around marijuana arrests (he says roughly the same percentage of whites are being ticketed instead of arrested as blacks), the numbers show that blacks are getting arrested for at a rate 16 times that of whites. More than 8,000 blacks were arrested for pot possession, but only 500 whites were, even though whites are 60% of the city's population. Blacks were busted for pot possession at a rate of 977 per 100,000, while whites were arrested at a rate of 60 per 100,000.
Alaska Regulation Bill Still Pending. Senate Bill 30, which seeks to adjust state criminal laws to recognize the legality of marijuana, is getting messy. The Senate Finance Committee was to finish work on the bill Saturday, but that didn't happen. The committee is split over an amendment that passed Friday on a 4-3 vote. That amendment would ban concentrates, including edibles, after two years. In addition to unhappiness over that measure, advocates say the language of the amendment is so unclear it could even ban marijuana leaves. Stay tuned.
Missouri Marijuana Bills Move. Committees in the legislature advanced four different marijuana bills last week. The House Corrections Committee approved HB 978, which would free Jeff Mizanskey, who is serving life without parole for a non-violent cannabis offense; the House Emerging Issues Committee approved a medical marijuana bill, HB 800, although it added restrictions; the House Economic Development and Business Attraction and Retention Committee approved an industrial hemp bill, HB 830, and the Senate Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources Committee approved SB 386, which will expand the ailments for which CBD oil could be recommended, as well as increase the number of cultivators from two to 10 and dispensaries from six to 30.
New Mexico Senate Approves Decriminalization Bill. The Senate voted narrowly Saturday to approve marijuana decriminalization. Senate Bill 383 passed on a vote of 21-20. Under the bill, possession of an ounce of less would be a ticketable offense punishable by a $50 fine. The bill now goes to the House.
Florida's CBD Cannabis Oil Program Delayed Again. For the second time, the Department of Health has posted "final rules" for the program, and now, for the second time, it is being challenged by lawsuits. That pushes back the timeline for getting the program up and running by another 60 to 90 days. It was supposed to be running by January 1.
Idaho Limited CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Moves. The Senate State Affairs Committee has narrowly approved a CBD cannabis oil bill, Senate Bill 1146. It passed on a 5-4 vote after law enforcement objections scuttled an earlier bill. The new bill only allows for an affirmative defense; the old one would have explicitly made it legal for patients and providers to possess the oils.
Texas Medical Marijuana Bills Filed. Rep. Marissa Marquez (D-El Paso) Friday introduced HB 3785, a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, in the House, and Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) filed a companion bill in the Senate. The bills would allow qualifying patients to use and possess small amounts of marijuana and obtain it through regulated dispensaries.
Vermont Ibogaine Drug Treatment Pilot Program Bill Filed. Reps. Paul Dame (R-Essex Junction) and Rep. Joe Troiano (D-Stannard) have introduced HB 387, which would set up a pilot program to dispense the drug for substance abuse treatment. The bill goes to the House Committee on Human Services.
DEA Approves Study of MDMA for Anxiety in Terminal Illnesses. The DEA Friday approved a Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) study of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety associated with life-threatening illnesses. The study will take place in Marin County, California, and will be conducted by Dr. Phil Wolfson.
Idaho Legislature Approves Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug Bill. The measure, House Bill 108, passed the House last month and the Senate last Thursday. The bill would allow pharmacists to prescribe naloxone to friends and family members of people at risk of an opiate overdose. It now goes to the governor's desk.
SUNY New Paltz Students Protest Honoring Campus Cops for Drug Busts. Students and community activists gathered together Friday to protest a police union award ceremony congratulating campus cops for having the highest percentage of on-campus drug arrests nationwide in 2013. "Don't honor the police for disturbing the peace!" read one sign. Students said they didn't have an on-campus drug problem, but an over-policing problem SUNY New Paltz police arrested 105 people for drugs on campus in 2013.
A bipartisan trio of senators today introduced historic legislation to legalize medical marijuana at the federal level. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rand Paul (R-KY) filed the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act, which would end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana and allow states to set their own policies.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]"We need policies that empower states to legalize medical marijuana if they so choose-recognizing that there are Americans who can realize real medical benefits if this treatment option is brought out of the shadows," said Sen. Booker. "Doctors and patients deserve federal laws that are fair and compassionate, and states should be able to set their own medical marijuana policies without federal interference. I am thankful to Senators Gillibrand and Paul as well as the Drug Policy Alliance for their hard work on this common-sense bill to make medical marijuana accessible to the millions of Americans who could benefit from it."
The bill would reclassify marijuana for medical use, allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, overhaul banking laws to allow licensed medical marijuana businesses to use financial services, and open up more research possibilities for medical marijuana.
In addition to the Drug Policy Alliance, the senators also consulted with the Marijuana Policy Project, Americans for Safe Access, and other voices for patients in drafting the bill. Although nearly half the states have passed medical marijuana laws (and a dozen more have passed limited CBD cannabis oil laws), marijuana remains illegal under federal law. That means patients and providers in medical marijuana states are still at risk of federal prosecution and families and patients in non-medical marijuana states must relocate or travel long distances to get treatment, facing the risk of prosecution in non-medical marijuana states along the way.
"I am so happy to support this bill. As the mother of a child with a severe seizure disorder, anxiously waiting to get access to a medication that is already helping thousands of others is unbearable," said Kate Hintz, a New York resident who has advocated for CBD to treat her daughter and others to treat epilepsy and seizures. "After persistent advocacy in my home state of New York, we finally saw a medical marijuana law passed last summer. Yet individual state's laws, including New York's, will not succeed until we lift the current federal restrictions surrounding this plant," she added.
"I applaud Sens. Gillibrand, Booker and Paul for taking this bold step forward and insisting the federal government take action. Let's end the fear and stigma associated with marijuana, and instead allow this bill to provide research, medicine, and long needed relief to so many. It cannot come fast enough, especially for my daughter," Hintz concluded.
[image:2 align:right caption:true]"For far too long, the government has enforced unnecessary laws that have restricted the ability of the medical community to determine the medicinal value of marijuana and have prohibited Americans from receiving essential care that would alleviate their chronic pain and suffering. I am proud today to stand with Sens. Gillibrand and Booker to introduce a bill that will fundamentally change our nation's drug policies and have a positive impact on the lives of our Veterans and children," said Sen. Paul.
While the Obama administration has, in recent years, largely taken a laissez-faire approach to medical marijuana in states that have approved it, that approach is both uneven and dependent on the whim of the administration in power. Just last week, federal prosecutors in Washington state took a family of five medical marijuana patients--the Kettle Falls Five--to trial, threatening them with lengthy, mandatory minimum prison sentences for growing medical marijuana legally under state law (in a state where even recreational marijuana is legal!).
Fortunately for the Kettle Falls Five, a federal jury acquitted them of most charges, including the most serious ones. But under the current state of federal marijuana prohibition, such prosecutions could continue.
Similarly, the Obama administration's recent restraint on medical marijuana is derived from Justice Department guidance to federal prosecutors about which cases raise the level of federal concern high enough to warrant prosecution. That guidance was crafted by a deputy attorney general answerable to Attorney General Holder and the president. Absent protections provided by this bill or similar legislation, a new administration could easily return to the bad old days of DEA raids and patients and providers being hauled off to federal prison.
[image:3 align:left caption:true]"As the parents of severely ill children who could be helped by medical cannabis, we are dedicated to advancing safe, legal and viable access," said Maria De Gregorio, a parent leader of the Kentucky-based Parents Coalition for Rescheduling Medical Cannabis. "Rescheduling efforts must also guarantee access to whole plant extracts that have proven therapeutic benefits. We feel it is crucial to support state rights in all current and future medical marijuana programs. Thus, we strongly endorse this bill as it is written."
"Almost half the states have legalized marijuana for medical use; it's long past time to end the federal ban," said Michael Collins, Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "This bipartisan legislation allows states to set their own medical marijuana policies and ends the criminalization of patients, their families, and the caregivers and dispensary owners and employees who provide them their medicine."
"With studies showing that medical cannabis access decreases suicide and addiction rates, the CARERS Act is absolutely necessary to help fix a broken healthcare system for veterans, which deals with suicides and addiction at catastrophic rates," said TJ Thompson, a retired U.S. Navy Third Class Petty Officer. "Now, I'm considered a criminal because of the medication that helps me. I take it illegally to treat my PTSD."
"This comprehensive proposal would effectively end the war on medical marijuana and let states compassionately provide care for seriously ill people without the federal government standing in the way," said Tom Angell, director of Marijuana Majority. "The fact that two young Democrats with likely long political futures have teamed up with a probable 2016 Republican presidential candidate shows how medical marijuana is a nonpartisan, noncontroversial issue that draws support from across the spectrum. With polls showing an overwhelming majority of American voters backing marijuana reform, you’d think taking up this proposal would be a no-brainer for legislative leaders who want to show that Congress can still get things done."
We shall see. The bill text is not yet available on the congressional website, and it has not yet been assigned to a committee. That's the next step in a long process.
Chronicle AM: WA GOP Bill to Combine MedMJ, Recreational Pot Moves, KY Heroin Bill Passes House, More (2/16/15)
Colorado gets more time to defend its marijuana law, a possession legalization bill gets filed in Tennessee, a bill to combine medical and recreational markets in Washington passes the Senate over patient objections, the Russian drug czar could be losing his gig, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Colorado Gets Extension to Respond to Nebraska, Oklahoma Lawsuit. The US Supreme Court has given the state an extra month to respond to a lawsuit that claims it is exporting pot problems to its neighbors. A response to the suit had been due today, but the court pushed that back to March 27. The lawsuit seeks to overturn Colorado's legal marijuana law.
Tennessee Possession Legalization Bills Filed. Companion bills that would legalize the possession and casual exchange of up to a half ounce of weed have been introduced in Nashville. The bills would also make possession and distribution of an ounce or more a misdemeanor punishable by only a $100 fine. Rep. Harold Love (D-Nashville) introduced HB 0873, while Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) introduced SB 1211.
New Mexico Medical Marijuana Program Revisions Proposed. The Health Department's hearing officer charged with making recommendations for changes in the state's medical marijuana program issued her report last Thursday. She is recommending increasing the allowable concentrations of THC in marijuana products from 60% to 70% and scrapping a rule requiring patients to submit biometric information when applying for registry cards. The department is now "in the process of reviewing" the recommendations. Click on the link for more detail and more recommendations.
Washington Senate Passes Republican Bill to Combine Recreational and Medical Marijuana. The state Senate has passed Senate Bill 5052, sponsored by Sen. Ann Rivers (R-La Center). It would combine medical and recreational in a single market, require medical marijuana users to enter their names on a state registry, reduce the number of plants patients could grow from 15 to six, and allow cultivation co-ops only if they are at least 15 miles from a retail store and everyone is on the registry. The bill was opposed by patient advocates. Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) had offered a competing bill, Senate Bill 5519, but that has not been voted on, and all of her amendments to the Republican bill were voted down.
Connecticut Governor to Propose Comprehensive Legislation on Prescription Drug, Heroin Use. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) will later this month propose legislation that would increase utilization of prescription drug monitoring programs, increase education of doctors prescribing opiates, and increase access to overdose reversal drugs, such as naloxone. Click on the link for more detail.
Kentucky House Passes Heroin Bill; Competing Bill Already Passed Senate. The Republican-led Senate has already passed omnibus heroin legislation, and now the Democratic-led House has passed its own vision of how to combat heroin. The Democratic bill, House Bill 213, would increase both treatment and some punishments, but unlike the Republican bill, would allow for needle exchange. Now, the two bills must be reconciled.
Indiana Bill Would Require a Prescription for Sudafed. A bill that started out as a measure to bar people with meth convictions from purchasing pseudoephedrine products used as precursors in home meth cooking has now morphed into a bill that would require a doctor's prescription for anyone to purchase such products, which are common in cold medications. Senate Bill 536 is the measure.
Russian Anti-Drug Agency to Fall Prey to Budget Crisis. The Federal Drug Control Service is likely to be disbanded because of the country's economic crisis, according to official documents. The agency will shut down on March 1, and its functions will be redistributed among the Health and Interior ministries.
State legislatures are keeping us busy with lots of drug-related bills, New York's attorney general gets a deal on naloxone pricing, the feds will crack down on drug courts that don't allow opiate maintenance, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
New Mexico Legalization Bill Killed. The House Agriculture and Wildlife Committee voted 7-1 to table House Bill 160, which would have legalized marijuana and allowed for regulated and taxed sales. Opponents said it would lead to more drug use on the job and impair public safety.
Virginia CBD Bill Passes Senate. The Senate voted Thursday to approve Senate Bill 1235, which would allow patients with epilepsy to use CBD cannabis oil to control their seizures. The measure passed 37-1. A similar bill has already passed out of committee in the House and awaits a floor vote.
Federal Industrial Hemp Act Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill, HR 525, would remove hemp from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. The bill now has 52 cosponsors -- 34 Democrats and 18 Republicans. The newest are Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC).
New Hampshire Bill to Ban Synthetic Drugs Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 106, which would restrict the sale and possession of all synthetic drugs. The bill would give the Department of Health and Human Services the ability to "add, delete, or otherwise revise" the list of substances included in the law and set a $500 fine for businesses caught distributing the drugs.
House Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on Federal Asset Forfeiture Next Week. The House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations will hold a hearing on federal asset forfeiture uses and reforms. The hearing is set for next Wednesday at 10:00am.
Colorado Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Vote Stalled. A bill that would require a criminal conviction before asset forfeiture could take place has been stalled. Senate Bill 6 was supposed to have a committee hearing this week, but the hearing has been delayed, with no make-up date announced.
New York Attorney General Gets Deal to Reduce Price of Overdose Reversal Drug. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reached an agreement with Amphastar Pharmaceuticals that will result in cheaper prices for the company's formulation of naloxone, which can reverse opiate overdoses. The company nearly doubled the price of the drug last fall as demand rose, giving rise to a chorus of complaints. The deal would give New York state naloxone buyers a $6 per dose rebate. But the company had increased the price of the drug by about $20 per dose.
Wisconsin Governor Narrows Public Benefits Drug Testing Proposal. Gov. Scott Walker (R) no longer plans to require drug screening and possible drug testing for all public benefits recipients; instead, now only childless adults will face the screening.
Feds to Crack Down on Drug Courts That Don't Allow Opiate Maintenance. Acting drug czar Michael Botticelli said during confirmation hearings Thursday that drug courts receiving federal funds will no longer be allowed to deny opiate addicts access to opiate maintenance treatments such as suboxone. Click on the link for more details.
New Cartel Violence in Matamoros Sends Newspaper Editor Fleeing to Texas. At least 15 people have been killed in the past week in confrontations between drug trafficking factions in Tamaulipas state, across the border from South Texas. And a newspaper editor from Matamoros has fled to Texas after being threatened upon publishing reports of a shootout that left nine people dead. Enrique Juarez Torres, editor of El Manana, said he had been kidnapped, beaten, and threatened with death for his reporting. The Thursday edition of the newspaper carried no news of his kidnapping or any other reports on cartel activity.
Laos Vows Crackdown on Drugs; Will Target Addicts as Well as Traffickers. Laotian security officials say they will be going after important drug rings and street dealers, but also drug users. "We're targeting the buyers, sellers, and consumers," a security official said. Laos has already ratcheted up drug law enforcement, with drug arrests up five-fold in 2014 over 2013. The moves come as opium production continues in the country and next door in Myanmar.
This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]President Obama released his Fiscal Year 2016 budget proposal today, and when it comes to the drug war budget, it's largely more of the same old same old. Despite the growing realization that the war on drugs is failed policy and despite the wave of marijuana legalization beginning to sweep through the states, there is no sign of anything new here.
Budget documents describe the drug war spending as "a 21st Century approach to drug policy that outlines innovative policies and programs and recognizes that substance use disorders are not just a criminal justice issue, but also a major public health concern" and calls for "an evidence-based plan for real drug policy reform, spanning the spectrum of prevention, early intervention, treatment, recovery support, criminal justice reform, effective law enforcement, and international cooperation."
But the rhetoric doesn't match up with the spending proposals. Instead, the decades old, roughly 60:40 split in favor of law enforcement over prevention and treatment continues. While the Department of Health and Human Services would get more than $10 billion for treatment and prevention programs (more than $6 billion of it for Medicaid and Medicare), drug law enforcement spending in the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice, as well as the drug czar's office would total more than $14.5 billion.
Justice Department drug war spending would increase from $7.79 billion this fiscal year to $8.14 billion next year under the president's proposal. That includes nearly $3.7 billion for the Bureau of Prisons (up $187 million), $2.46 billion for the DEA (up $90 million), $519 million for the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (up $12 million), and $293 million for the Office of Justice Programs (up $50 million).
That last line item -- the Office of Justice Programs -- is where the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, which typically fund multi-jurisdictional drug task forces, are found. It would see a rather substantial 20% funding increase despite congressional efforts in recent years to cut it back. That means more drug task forces, more drug busts, and more back-end costs associated with them (see the Bureau of Prisons line item).
While the overall federal drug budget is up to $27.57 billion (from $26.34 billion last year), there are decreases in some line items. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) would be cut from $375 million this year to $307 million next year, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program would be cut from $245 million to $193 million, and Defense Department drug war spending would be cut from $1.307 billion to $1.267 billion.
There are no huge increases in the drug war budget, but neither are there significant decreases. This is very much a drug war budget on cruise control. And this is, of course, only the president's proposed budget. What the Congress will do with it remains to be seen.
If everyone agrees the drug war is a failure, someone forgot to tell the president.