President Obama talks ganja in Jamaica, a federal banking official talks shop in Colorado, New Mexico takes a historic step to end civil asset forfeiture, and more.
[image:1 align:left]Marijuana Policy
Rastaman Queries Obama on Marijuana Policy. At a town hall event in Kingston, Jamaica, a dreadlocked Rastafarian asked President Obama about legalizing marijuana. "Give thanks! Yes greetings Mr. President," said the man, "Life and blessings on you and your family. My name is Miguel Williams but you can call I and I 'steppa'... That is quite sufficient, ya man." Williams then set out the case for legalization and asked if Obama would champion it. "How did I anticipate this question?" was Obama's joking response. "Well, there is the issue of legalization of marijuana and then there is the issue of decriminalizing or dealing with the incarceration in some cases devastation of communities as a consequence of nonviolent drug offenses," Obama said. "I am a very strong believer that the path that we have taken in the United States in the so-called 'war on drugs' has been so heavy in emphasizing incarceration that it has been counterproductive," he said to some applause. But he didn't address the question of whether the US should legalize, only whether it would. "I do not foresee, any time soon, Congress changing the law at a national basis," he said.
Federal Banking Official Meets With Colorado Pot Shops. Kansas City Federal Reserve President Esther George met with marijuana business owners in Denver Thursday to discuss vexing access to banking issues with proprietors. But she gave no indication that the industry is on the verge of gaining increased access to financial services. Click the link for more details.
Kansas Attorney General Asks State Supreme Court to Undo Wichita Decriminalization Vote. Attorney General Derek Schmidt has asked the high court to strike down the decriminalization ballot measure approved by Wichita voters on Tuesday. In a court filing Thursday, Schmidt argued that the ordinance would conflict with state law, that it would give unlawful direction to police and judges, and that the initiative was not properly filed because it did not contain a "be it ordained" clause required by state law.
Oregon Edibles Could Be Delayed. Oregon pot shops should be open by early next year, but don't expect to find any edibles in them, at least at first. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has asked the legislature for the okay to delay licensing of edibles manufacturers, citing the complexities around the issue. Edibles may not be available until 2017.
Colorado Bill to Let Parolees, Probationers Use Medical Marijuana Advances. The House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill Thursday that would allow people on probation or parole use to medical marijuana. The change wouldn't apply, however, to people whose crimes were related to marijuana. The measure is House Bill 1267.
Los Angeles City Attorney Says 500 Unpermitted Dispensaries Shut Down. City Attorney Mike Feuer said Thursday that his office has closed down 500 unpermitted dispensaries since the city voted two years ago to cap their number at about 130. But he conceded that hundreds more still operate.
New Mexico Ends Civil Asset Forfeiture. In a historic move, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) today signed into law a bill that will end civil asset forfeiture by law enforcement in the state, a practice widely known as "policing for profit." The measure is House Bill 560. Click on the title link for more details.
California Bill Would Allow Immigrant Drug Offenders to Get Treatment, Avoid Deportation. A bill proposed by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) would let people charged with drug possession and other low-level drug offenses to opt for drug treatment ahead of taking a plea and see their charges dropped if they complete treatment. The bill is designed to block the deportation under federal law of long-time resident immigrants because they have a drug conviction. The bill is Assembly Bill 1351. It is currently before the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
This article was written in collaboration with AlterNet and originally appeared here.
[image:1 align:right]In a historic move, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) today signed into law a bill that will end civil asset forfeiture by law enforcement in the state, a practice widely known as "policing for profit." The measure is House Bill 560.
Under civil asset forfeiture, police and prosecutors can seize someone's property without ever charging them with a crime, let alone convicting them. Police can then funnel many of those assets, including cash seizures, back to their own departments, creating a vicious cycle of more profit-driven law enforcement providing more resources to law enforcement for more profit-driven law enforcement.
"This is a good day for the Bill of Rights," said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson. "For years police could seize people's cash, cars, and houses without even accusing anyone of a crime. Today, we have ended this unfair practice in New Mexico and replaced it with a model that is just and constitutional."
The practice of asset forfeiture has been coming under increasing scrutiny and criticism in recent years as cases of abuse become more widely known. The Obama administration Justice Department has in the past few months taken steps to address asset forfeiture abuse at the federal level, and asset forfeiture reform bills have been introduced in a number of states this year. The governor of Wyoming vetoed one last month.
New Mexico is the first state where such a bill has passed, and it now has the strongest asset forfeiture protections in the county. The bill passed the legislature unanimously.
Under the new law, civil asset forfeiture will be replaced with criminal forfeiture, forcing authorities to actually convict someone of a crime before taking his property.
"With this law, New Mexico leads the nation in protecting the property rights of innocent Americans," said Paul Gessing, President of the Rio Grande Foundation. "Convicted criminals will still see the fruits of their crime confiscated by the state, but innocent New Mexicans can now rest easy knowing that their property will never be seized by police without proper due process."
"New Mexico has succeeded today in reigning in one of the worst excesses of the drug war," said Emily Kaltenbach, State Director for Drug Policy Alliance's New Mexico office. "Like other drug war programs, civil asset forfeiture is disproportionately used against poor people of color who cannot afford to hire lawyers to get their property back. This law is an important step towards repairing some of the damage the drug war has inflicted upon our society and system of justice."
A black New Orleans man was killed Monday after a traffic stop escalated into a chase and shootout, and a white South Carolina man was killed in a drug raid on his home Thursday, in the two latest deaths in the US drug war. Desmond Willis, 25, and Phillip Michael Burgess, 28, become the 18th and 19th persons die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.
[image:1 align:left]According to The New Orleans Times-Picayune, citing the account provided by Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Norman at a Wednesday press conference, deputies initially pulled Willis over for a traffic violation, but smelled marijuana from his open window. (This contradicts an earlier law enforcement statement that he was targeted as part of a drug investigation.) Deputies ordered him to put his hands up and turn off the SUV, but when one deputy reached into the vehicle to grab his arm, Willis sped off.
He then crashed his SUV and took off on foot. Norman said Willis fired at deputies and that witnesses inside an office building and a restaurant saw him firing. Deputies returned fire, killing him in the parking lot of New Orleans Seafood and Hamburger.
Detectives recovered a 9 mm pistol near his body, and a .38 caliber pistol and $800 in cash in his pockets. In the SUV, investigators found a half-pound of pot packaged for sale, as well as ammunition, sandwich bags, and a vacuum sealer.
According to Fox Carolina News, citing Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office sources, narcotics officers were serving a drug search warrant Thursday morning in Boiling Springs when Burgess became "belligerent."
The narcs called for backup, and two deputies showed up to assist. The official account said Burgess continued to be belligerent and grabbed a gun from atop the refrigerator, pointing it at deputies. The two deputies then opened fire, killing him.
Because his death was at the hands of law enforcement, it will be investigated by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).
No word on if any drugs were found.
An Alaska marijuana regulation bill continues its slow advance, another Michigan legalization initiative effort emerges, Texas pot bills get a hearing, the DEA recommends tripling the federal research marijuana crop, and more.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Alaska Marijuana Regulation Bill Advances. The House Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a bill to create a marijuana control board to govern the state's soon-to-be legal pot industry. The committee advanced the bill, House Bill 123, without adopting amendments that would have barred people with felony convictions within the past five years or misdemeanor drug convictions within the past three years from getting licenses. The bill now goes to the House Finance Committee.
Michigan Legalization Initiative Group Files Proposed Language. The Michigan Cannabis Coalition today submitted proposed language to state officials for review. The coalition is one of three groups considering a 2016 legalization initiative. If approved for signature-gathering, initiatives would have to come up with some 250,000 valid voter signatures within 180 days to qualify for the 2016 ballot.
Texas Marijuana Reform Bills Get Hearing. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee ran late into the night last night hearing impassioned testimony on a set of bills aimed at decriminalizing marijuana. The main bill is House Bill 507, by Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso), which would make possession of less than an ounce a civil infraction. Another bill, House Bill 325, from Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) would make possession of less than a third of an ounce a Class C misdemeanor, the least serious criminal offense. Yet another bill, House Bill 414, from Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) would make possession of less than an ounce a Class C misdemeanor, while House Bill 1115, from Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) would keep pot possession a misdemeanor, but would require police to cite and release anyone caught with less than four ounces. Finally, House Bill 2165, from Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) would remove all marijuana prohibition laws from the books. No votes were taken.
Wichita Seeks Court Ruling on Legality of Local Decriminalization. The city has filed a petition for declaratory judgment in local district court asking the court to rule on the legality of enacting a decriminalization ordinance approved Tuesday by voters. State Attorney General Derek Schmidt said last month that the ordinance would have no effect, and he's also warned the city that he would be required to sue to enforce state law.
DEA Recommends Government Triple Amount of Marijuana Grown for Research. The DEA recommended Wednesday that the government produce nearly 900 pounds of marijuana for research this year, more than three times the amount the agency had estimated it would need. The increase is because of "unanticipated medical, scientific, research, and industrial needs of the United States," the agency said in a notice published in the Federal Register.
Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Dead for This Year. Both the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and the House Health Committee voted to kill pending medical marijuana bills this week. Both committees, however, agreed to create summer study committees to look at the legislation.
Florida Senate Panel Takes Up Asset Forfeiture Bill. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice today took up Senate Bill 1534, from Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-Tampa). The bill would limit law enforcement to using seized funds only to reimburse themselves for the cost of holding seized property, with the rest going into the Crimes Compensation Trust Fund.
Drug Czar Touts Needle Exchange Programs in Kentucky Visit. Director of the Office of National Drug Control (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Michael Botticelli touted needle exchange programs as a means of reducing the spread of infectious diseases and to steer drug users toward treatment in a visit to Kentucky Wednesday. He said the program also reduce the danger of law enforcement getting stuck with dirty needles. Kentucky lawmakers just passed an anti-heroin bill that will allow for needle exchanges, and a nearby Ohio county just started an emergency needle exchange to combat an HIV outbreak.
Chile Harvests First Medical Marijuana Crop. TV cameras were on hand in Santiago Wednesday as the country's first permitted medical marijuana crop was harvested. Chilean health officials last fall gave the okay. The therapeutic Daya Foundation will produce cannabis oils from the plants and provide them to 200 selected cancer patients.