Busy, busy on the marijuana policy front today, and there is also medical marijuana news, a new report on coerced federal plea bargains, a call for call-ins to the Senate on mandatory minimums next week, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right]Marijuana Policy
Possession Legal in Portland, Maine, As of Tomorrow, But... The voter-approved ordinance legalizing the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana by people 21 and over goes into effect Friday. But tokers beware: The police chief says he is going to continue to enforce state law, which is stricter. Maine is a decriminalization state, so getting caught with a small amount of pot will still get you a fine.
Legalization Initiative Filed in Missouri. The Missouri marijuana reform group Show-Me Cannabis Regulation has filed an initiative that would amend the state constitution to legalize marijuana. Petitioners will have to collect signatures from about 320,000 registered voters by May 4 to qualify for the November 2014 ballot.
Washington State Marijuana Business Applications Surpass 1,300. Lots of people want to get into the legal marijuana business in Washington state. Regulators there are reviewing over 1,300 applications and there are still two weeks left for people to apply. More than 600 have applied for commercial growing licenses, more than 450 to produce edibles, and 230 have applied to open retail outlets. Regulators will license up to 334 pot shops, and there is no limit to the number of growers or producers, although the state wants to limit production to two million square feet.
Seattle City Attorney Wants More Marijuana Stores. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said Wednesday that he has asked the State Liquor Control Board to allow at least 50 marijuana retail sales licenses to be issued in the city. The Board has proposed allowing only 21, but Holmes said that will not be enough to meet demand in the city.
Legalization Referendum Proposed for Dane County (Madison), Wisconsin. Dane County voters could vote on whether the state should legalize marijuana after a member of the county Board of Supervisors said he planned to introduce a measure that would ask them just that. The proposal has to pass the board, and if it does, voters would vote on a non-binding advisory referendum on the spring 2014 ballot.
Action on Medical Marijuana Bills Delayed in Michigan. The Associated Press reported Thursday that votes on pending medical marijuana bills are unlikely until next year, although it didn't say why. Still, hundreds of people jammed legislative committee rooms to voice their opinions on improving the state's medical marijuana law.
Hearing Today on Medical Marijuana in Buffalo. Legislators in New York held a public hearing to gain support for medical marijuana legislation in Buffalo Thursday. More than two dozen speakers were invited to testify about the proposed legislation. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), chair of the Assembly Health Committee, chaired the meeting.
Call Your Senators on Mandatory Minimum Reform Next Tuesday. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing next Thursday on mandatory minimum sentencing reform and the Smarter Sentencing Act, S. 1410. If passed, that bill would benefit thousands of nonviolent federal offenders facing mandatory minimum sentences (including some crack offenders who are already in federal prison). Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) is urging people whose senators are on the committee to call in to voice their support next Tuesday. Click on the link for more details.
Human Rights Watch Report Condemns Forced Pleas in Federal Drug Cases. Human Rights Watch Thursday released a report condemning coercive plea bargaining by federal prosecutors in drug cases and calling for sentencing reform. The report is An Offer You Can't Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty.
Israeli Health Ministry Bill Would Expand Medical Marijuana Program. The Israeli Health Ministry is proposing legislation that would increase the number of doctors authorized to prescribe medical marijuana and allow it to be distributed through pharmacies. The ministry is resisting allowing even broader access.
British Drug Think-Tank Offers Guide to Marijuana Regulation. The British drug think-tank Transform Drug Policy Foundation has issued "Hot to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide" for policy makers, drug policy reform advocates and affected communities all over the world, who are witnessing the question change from, "Should we maintain cannabis prohibition?" to "How will legal regulation work in practice?"
[image:1 align:left caption:true][This article was originally published on the Speakeasy blog -- check out the Speakeasy for quick updates and commentary on a daily basis.]
Good, and, frankly, somewhat surprising news for Denver tokers. The city council last night reversed itself and undid the ban on marijuana smoking in public view even if on one's own property. There will be one more vote on the ordinance next week.
According to KUSA TV, Councilwoman Susan Shepherd offered up an amendment to undo the ban, which had passed last week on a 7-5 vote. The vote last night to reverse was 7-6.
Shepherd suggested that rather than calling the police, neighbors try being neighborly. That would mean talking to your neighbor if his marijuana smoke bothers you, and dealing with your neighbor's concerns if your marijuana smoke bothers him.
[image:1 align:right caption:true][This article was originally published on the Speakeasy blog -- check out the Speakeasy for quick updates and commentary on a daily basis.]
British publications have gotten their hands on a leaked UN document that reveals fundamental splits among nations as the international organization prepares for the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs in 2016. Much, but not all, criticism of the status quo is coming from Latin America.
Read the Guardian's article here: Leaked Paper Reveals UN Split Over War on Drugs
- Among the countries seeking specific reformist changes in the UN's drug stance:
- Ecuador wants language recognizing that the world needs to look beyond prohibition.
- Venezuela wants language addressing the economic implications of drug prohibition.
- Norway wants language that includes a critical assessment of the "so-called war on drugs."
- Switzerland wants language that recognizes the public health consequences of current policies.
- The European Union wants language emphasizing drug treatment and care over incarceration.
It's been little over a half-century since the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs codified the global drug prohibition system. The consensus represented by the 1961 treaty is now, at long last, crumbling.
Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and Their Godfathers by Anibel Hernandez (2013, Verso Press, 362 pp., $26.95 HB)
[image:1 align:right]Being a Mexican drug lord is typically a career path with a suddenly abbreviated trajectory. Just ask the erstwhile leaders of the Zetas or the Familia Michoacana or the Beltran Leyvas or the Tijuana cartel or the Juarez cartel or the Gulf cartel. Well, ask them if you can hold séances or know how to burrow inside maximum security prisons -- because they're either dead or behind bars.
But as just about anyone in Mexico will tell you, there is one Mexican drug trafficking organization whose top leadership appears untouchable. That would be the Sinaloa cartel, led by the world's most famous narco and one of its wealthiest men, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, and his top henchman, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada. More than a dozen years after he escaped from a Mexican prison, despite two presidencies waging an ever more aggressive war against the cartels, Guzman and company remain on top of the heap, his rivals decimated even as the Sinaloa cartel continues its bloody, multi-million dollar a year business. And El Chapo and El Mayo remain unscathed.
And as many, many Mexicans are eager to tell you, it looks like the fix is in. How is it that they can't catch or kill El Chapo? How is it that he escaped from prison in the first place? The cynical folk wisdom is that he is being protected by people in the government. That people should think that is not surprising. Suspicions of government complicity in the drug trade, whether in the state police forces; the ever-mutating (because frequently, necessarily, and unsuccessfully cleansed of corruption) federal police forces, the military, or the high ministries, are both long-held and well-founded.
Books reviewed in this publication over the past few years have amply detailed the layers of corruption and complicity surrounding the drug trade in Mexico, but in Narcoland, prize-winning Mexican journalist Anabel Hernandez takes it to a whole new level. Narcoland is the updated English language version of her explosive 2010 Mexican blockbuster Los Señores del Narco, a book whose publication generated death threats and led the National Commission on Human Rights to assign her two full-time bodyguards.
Despite Mexico's well-deserved reputation as a burial ground for journalists and despite the threats generated by her journalistic digging, Hernandez is undeterred. She is not the least bit squeamish about charging that the Mexican government has been hopelessly corrupted by the filthy lucre of the drug trade, right up to the presidential palace, and she is not afraid to name names, including people close to presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon, as well as some of their most important appointees, such as Calderon's Secretary for Public Safety Genaro Garcia Luna.
The charges Hernandez makes are blunt and mind-boggling: "From the beginning of his government, Calderon's strategy against the drug barons was designed to favor El Chapo Guzman and his main partners: El Mayo Zambada, El Nacho Coronel, and El Azul Esparragoza," she writes. "There is firm documentary evidence that Calderon's war was overwhelmingly aimed at those traffickers who are El Chapo's enemies or threats to his leadership… In fact, what Mexico has experienced in the last decade is not a 'war on drug traffickers,' but a war between drug traffickers, with the government taking sides for the Sinaloa Cartel."
Hernandez clearly finger Garcia Luna, Calderon's top cop, as deep in El Chapo's pocket, and presents pretty convincing evidence for her case, including not only the inability to ever find El Chapo, but also the deployment of Mexican state security forces on his behalf. Funny, isn't it, how the cartels the Mexican government most aggressively pursues are the ones that El Chapo happens to have in his sights at the time?
Hernandez is equally blunt in her assessment of Mexico as a whole. It's a "mafiocracy," she writes, and the criminality isn't limited to capos and cops. Politicians rely on drug money to win campaigns, and traffickers rely on bought politicians to go about their business. Similarly, businessmen and high society people turn a blind eye to the narco-wealth that insinuates itself into every corner of society and every sector of the economy.
Beyond being a mega-scale muckracker, Hernandez is also an excellent story teller. She provides a behind-the-scenes account of El Chapo's 2001 escape from Puente Grande prison that is both shocking and enthralling. I won't give it away, but suffice to say that the official version of events, in which El Chapo escaped in a laundry cart, is not, according to Hernandez, what really happened.
Likewise, while navigating one's way through that minefield of competing cartels and their nick-named major players is an excruciating task, Hernandez provides the clearest, most compelling, and most comprehensible narrative yet of the evolution and infighting among the cartels.
It feels like conspiracy theory, and at times, one has to wonder. Is Nacho Coronel really still alive, having, as Hernandez claims, having faked his death in a shoot-out with soldiers in Jalisco in 2010? It seems unlikely. But her broader thesis -- that the fix is in -- seems quite likely. Could Mexico's officially most wanted man have eluded capture or death, eliminated his rivals, consolidated his power, expanded his operations, and weaved his web of complicity without serious help from very well connected players at the highest levels of Mexican politics, business, and law enforcement? It seems unlikely.
A report from Human Rights Watch released this morning demonstrates the corruption o
Arkansas Baptists reject medical marijuana, and so do some California communities. New Jersey's governor mouths off, and Illinois and Massachusetts communities move to regulate soon-to-arrive medical marijuana businesses. Let's get to it:
Last Wednesday, a judge ruled that Maricopa County had no enforceable zoning ordinance with which to restrict medical marijuana dispensaries. Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon's ruling supplements one he issued last month overturning the county's zoning ordinance for dispensaries. In that ruling, he found that the ordinance violated the state's medical marijuana law and appeared to be an effort to thwart the law.
On Tuesday, word came that the state Baptist convention rejected medical marijuana. Delegates there approved a resolution opposing the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act and any other attempts to legalize medical marijuana in the 2014 elections. The resolution calls on good Baptists "to reject the notion that the largely unsupervised cultivation, marketing, distribution, and smoking of marijuana is compassionate and sound medical practice, to recognize the proposed medical marijuana laws as clandestine attempts to take the first step toward the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Arkansas, to refuse to sign petitions to qualify these measures for the ballot, and to soundly reject all of them at the ballot box in the November 2014 general election."
Last Tuesday, the Laguna Hills city council voted to ban dispensaries. The town becomes the latest Orange County community to formalize its ban. "I don't believe that marijuana has any place in our society," Councilman Randal Bressette said. "Every opportunity I have to protect our residents from the demons of that drug, I will do so."
Also last Tuesday, a Los Angeles judge blocked a Mar Vista dispensary from opening. Superior Court Judge James Chalant issued a temporary restraining order against the dispensary, saying it violates Proposition D, the measure passed earlier this year by city voters that dramatically limited the number of dispensaries.
On Monday, the Ventura city council gave final approval to a dispensary ban. The ban had won preliminary approval on a 4-3 vote last month, and the vote stayed the same Monday. The ban also applies to delivery services.
On Tuesday, a dispensary operator was named mayor of Sebastopol. Robert Jacob, founder and executive director of the Peace in Medicine dispensaries, was elected mayor of the Sonoma County town by the city council. He is a council member and had served as vice mayor for the past year. [Editor's Note: This is my town; this is my mayor.]
Also on Tuesday, the Napa city council voted to repeal an ordinance that would have allowed a dispensary to operate there. The council voted 3-2 for repeal, saying a dispensary would increase youth access to marijuana. Council members also scoffed at the notion that medical marijuana patients are actually sick.
Also on Tuesday, Solano County supervisors voted to ban dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county. Dispensaries are already banned in six of the county's cities; only Vallejo has not moved to ban them. Having dispensaries in rural areas would place "an undue burden" on cities that have a ban, one supervisor claimed.
Last Wednesday, Chicago officials proposed tight regulations on dispensaries and medical marijuana grows. Alderman Ed Burke and the city Department of Planning and Development are recommending that dispensaries and grows only be allowed in manufacturing districts and that they be required to obtain special use permits. Some 22 dispensaries would be allowed.
On Tuesday, the Wheaton city council approved an ordinance limiting dispensaries to districts zoned for manufacturing. The vote in the Chicago suburb was 6-1.
On Sunday, a state senator said he would again introduce a medical marijuana bill. Sen. Joe Bolckom (D-Iowa City) has introduced such bills four times in the past decade. This time, he said, he would model his bill on the law in place in New Mexico.
On Tuesday, the Newton board of alderman approved zoning regulations for dispensaries that would limit them to mixed-use zones outside city centers. The move comes before a citywide moratorium is set to expire at the end of the month.
Last Thursday, the state appeals court agreed to hear two cases on whether workers fired for medical marijuana use can receive unemployment benefits. Lower courts have overturned the decisions of a state agency and ruled in favor of people who sought benefits after being dismissed, but medical marijuana foe Attorney General Bill Schuette argues that the state's medical marijuana law only protects people from criminal prosecution, not civil sanctions.
On Monday, Gov. Chris Christie (R) said he was through expanding the state's medical marijuana law and called medical marijuana a stalking horse for legalization. His remarks came in response to efforts to allow New Jersey patients to buy their medicine in other states and bring it home.
[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]
Some Denver city council members don't know when to give it a rest, some California US reps want stiffer penalties for pot grows on public lands, the Big Dog speaks on drug policy, Ecstasy may be on the rise, Morocco holds a historic hearing on cannabis, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Denver City Council Now Considering Cultivation Restrictions. Just when you thought it was safe again, after an effort to stop people from smoking marijuana on their own property in public view died Monday night, the Denver city council is now considering an effort to cap the number of plants that can be grown in a single household. The measure is sponsored by Councilwoman Jeanne Robb, the same person behind the failed private property smoking ban. The measure would be in conflict with Amendment 64, which is now part of the state constitution and clearly says anyone 21 or older can grow six plants "notwithstanding any other provision of law."
California US Senator, Representatives Seek Tougher Penalties for Federal Lands Marijuana Grows. Several California congressmen, including some who have been strong supporters of medical marijuana, have written a letter to the US Sentencing Commission seeking longer prison sentences for people growing on federal and some private lands. "We are concerned that existing guidelines do not address the long term detrimental threats these operations pose to the environment and nearby communities," the letter said. "The production and cultivation of controlled substances in particular marijuana, on public lands or while trespassing on private property is a direct threat to our environment and public safety." The signatories include Sen. Dianne Feinstein and US Reps. Doug Amalfa, Sam Farr, Jared Huffman, and Mike Thompson.
Bill Clinton Says Attitudes Toward Drug Legalization Are Changing. Attitudes toward drug legalization are changing, former President Bill Clinton said in an interview with Fusion TV Tuesday. "The drug issue should be decided by people in each country, based on what they think is right," the ex-president opined. "We have a process in America for doing it that's being revisited state-by-state. And Latin America is free to do the same thing. It's obvious that attitudes are changing and opening up," he said. But he added that he didn't think hard drugs should be treated like marijuana. "It's also too complicated to say that if you legalize it, you wouldn't have any of these armed gangs trying to exercise a stranglehold over whole communities and lives, or that we could actually get away with legalizing cocaine and then the criminals would go away," he said.
Vermont Chief Justice Criticizes Drug War, "Tough on Crime" Approach. Vermont Chief Justice Paul Reiber has lashed out at the war on drugs and "tough on crime" approaches in general in a pair of recent speeches and a television interview. "Even with our best efforts, we are losing ground," Reiber told a crowd at Vermont Law School last month. "The classic approach of 'tough on crime' is not working in this area of drug policy. The public responds very well to this 'tough on crime' message, but that does not mean it's effective in changing individual behavior. If the idea is law enforcement alone will slow and eventually eliminate drug use altogether, that isn't going to happen… The criminal justice system can't solve the drug problem."
Teen Ecstasy-Related Hospital ER Visits Doubled in Recent Years, Feds Say. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported Tuesday that hospital emergency room visits linked to teen Ecstasy use had more than doubled between 2005 and 2011. The number jumped from about 4,500 to more than 10,000 during that period. One third of those cases also involved alcohol. Authorities worry the club drug is making a comeback, although the number of ER visits reported for ecstasy is a tiny fraction of the 1.5 million drug-related ER visits reported each year.
Morocco Parliament Holds Hearing on Legalizing Cannabis for Hemp, Medical Marijuana. Morocco's Party for Authenticity and Modernity held a historic hearing Wednesday about legalizing marijuana cultivation for hemp and medical marijuana. The party hopes to introduce legislation next year. Somewhere between 750,000 and a million Moroccans depend on the cannabis crop for a living, although lawmakers said small farmers currently reap very little profit, with most profits going to drug traffickers sending Moroccan hash to Europe.
Former Mexican Border State Governor Charged in US with Money Laundering for Cartels. Tomas Yarrington, the former PRI governor of Tamaulipas state, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville and McAllen, Texas, has been indicted by US authorities on charges he took millions in bribes from the Gulf Cartel. Prosecutors allege Yarrington started receiving bribes while running for governor of the state in 1999 and continued to do so throughout his term. He is being sought by US authorities, but has not been taken into custody in Mexico.
I posted some photos last month, but here is the video from Phil's award at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference.