It's been a quiet week on the medical marijuana front, perhaps a post-election lull. But there is news from California, Colorado, and Rhode Island. Let's get to it:
On Tuesday, activists complained that California veterans were being denied pain medications over their medical marijuana use. California NORML reported that it is being contacted by veterans who are being told by their VA doctors that they must choose between their prescription pain medications and medical marijuana. The group reports "a spate of complaints" from Long Beach and Loma Linda after scheduling changes for some prescription drugs recently took effect. Those changes entail stricter reporting requirements for doctors, and that, among other factors, seems to have spurred the tightening up. Click on the title link for more details and a plan for action from Canorml and Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access.
On Tuesday, Colorado reported another $30 million month in medical marijuana sales. September sales were at $31.6 million, down slightly from August's $33.4 million. The all-time high was in February, when medical marijuana sales totaled $36 million. Recreational sales are also running about $30 million a month.
On Wednesday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit over medical marijuana employment discrimination. The ACLU of Rhode Island has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a URI graduate student who was denied summer employment this year at a fabrics company because of her status as a registered medical marijuana user. The suit is on behalf of Christine Callaghan, a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design who is studying textiles and working towards a masters' degree in that field at URI. She has participated in the medical marijuana program for almost two years to deal with frequent, debilitating migraine headaches. She lost a pain internship offer with Darlington Fabrics after disclosing her medical condition and medical marijuana patient status. The lawsuit argues that failure to hire because of a potential employee's patient status is discriminatory under the state's Civil Rights Act.
[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]
Busy, busy. A crooked FBI agent is wreaking havoc with drug cases in DC, rip-off cops get busted in Chicago and Philly, an Alabama cop gets nailed for making a woman cook meth for him, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:left]In Washington, DC, a federal judge threw out 13 more tainted drug cases last Friday. US District Judge Reggie Walton dismissed 13 criminal indictments against defendants in major drug cases as a scandal around FBI agent Matthew Lowry, 33, continues to unravel. Lowry is accused of tampering with drugs, guns, and other evidence seized in the cases, but he has not yet been charged with any criminal offenses. A day earlier, prosecutors dropped charges against 10 other defendants, some of whom had been serving lengthy prison sentences.
In Chicago, a Cook County sheriff's deputy was arrested on drug corruption charges last Monday. He killed himself the next day. Officer Stanley Kogut apparently hanged himself at the Metropolitan Correctional Center where he was being held. He and his partner, Robert Vaughan, had been arrested in an FBI sting after they robbed an agent posing as a drug dealer of 70 pounds of marijuana.
In Salem, West Virginia, a Salem Correction Facility guard was arrested last Wednesday after she was caught bringing pills, powders, and paraphernalia into the jail. Guard Philomena Liberty got caught during a random pat down at the start of her shift. Officers found she had six different types of pills, a cardboard envelope containing a white powder, and drug paraphernalia. She denied that she intended to traffic the drugs, saying she was going to crush and snort them herself. She is charged with transporting drugs into a correctional facility.
In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia police officer was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly ripping off drug dealers and buyers along with three middlemen. Christopher Saravello is accused of using the middlemen to buy or sell drugs to others and then providing him with information on their locations. Saravello would then show up in uniform in his police vehicle, pretend to lock up his middlemen, and then let the buyers and dealers go, but only after stealing their cash and drugs. Saravello had resigned from the department in 2012, as it prepared to fire him for being strung out on prescription drugs.
In Mt. Vernon, New York, a former Mt. Vernon police officer was arrested Monday for illegally obtaining nearly 4,000 hydrocodone pills. Joseph Russo used forged prescriptions in his and his wife's name to obtain the pills. He also filed fake insurance claims to pay for the prescriptions. He is charged with second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and first degree scheming to defraud, but, oddly enough, not drug possession.
In Colchester, Vermont, a Colchester police detective was arrested Tuesday after a gun that was supposed to be in the department's evidence room turned up at a house in a Burlington drug raid. Corporal Tyler Kinney, 38, is now accused of taking drugs and the gun from the evidence room. He was expected to be charged in federal court today with drug distribution and gun trafficking offenses. The Colchester Police say they have now ordered an external audit of the evidence room and procedures for handling evidence.
In Birmingham, Alabama, a former Winston County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty Monday to federal charges that he forced a woman to cook meth for him. Grady Concord, 42, had been hit with a single count of meth manufacture in June, but prosecutors added new counts of extortion under color of law, meth manufacture, and meth distribution where children are present. The woman said Concord threatened her with arrest if she didn't cook for him and provided pseudoephedrine tablets for her. Some of them were stolen from the department evidence room. Concord copped to the three later counts Monday and is looking at up to 20 years in prison at sentencing.
Chronicle AM: AR Marijuana Init, Nadelmann TED Talk, Colombia MedMJ, Dutch Grower Crackdown, More (11/12/14)
An Arkansas legalization initiative moves forward, Massachusetts' new GOP governor-elect will oppose legalization, Ethan Nadelmann gives a sizzling TED Talk, Colombia moves toward approving medical marijuana, the Dutch move resolutely backward, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right]Arkansas Attorney General Approves Legalization Initiative. A marijuana and hemp legalization constitutional amendment initiative sponsored by Arkansas CALM (Citizens' Alliance for the Legalization of Marijuana) has won ballot title approval by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. The Secretary of State's office must still approve the Arkansas Hemp & Marijuana Amendment's petition wording instructions. The amendment would legalize the cultivation, production, distribution, sale, purchase, possession and use of the cannabis plant, prohibiting sale to anyone under the age of 21. It would let people to grow up to 36 plants.
For First Time, Colorado Monthly Recreational Pot Sales Don't Increase. Recreational marijuana sales totaled $31.6 million in September, down from $34.1 million in August, the first time month-over-month sales have not increased. It's not clear why this is, but some observers point to the time of year -- in between the state's summer tourism high season and its winter tourism high season.
Massachusetts' New Republican Governor Will Oppose Legalization. Incoming Republican Governor-elect Charlie Baker has pledged to "vigorously oppose" marijuana legalization in the Bay State. "I'm going to oppose that and I'm going to oppose that vigorously... with a lot of help from a lot of other people in the addiction community," he said in an interview. Massachusetts has already approved medical marijuana and pot decriminalization through the initiative process, and seven elections worth of successful nonbinding public policy questions suggest that Baker is out of touch with his constituents on the issue.
Michigan Appeals Court to Hear Challenge to Grand Rapids Decriminalization Ordinance. The appeals court will hear arguments Friday from Kent County prosecutor Bill Forsyth challenging the voter-approved 2012 decriminalization ordinance in Grand Rapids. He will argue that voters there cannot trump the state's marijuana law. Forsythe lost in district court, with the judge in the case ruling that the city's ordinance didn't make marijuana legal, but merely adapted a policy about how police should deal with it.
Wichita Decriminalization Initiative Qualifies for April Ballot. The Southcentral Kansas Peace and Justice Center reports that a municipal initiative to make marijuana and pot paraphernalia possession a citable offense with a $50 fine has qualified for the April ballot. An earlier effort was derailed by disallowed signatures, but activists this time concentrated on gathering signatures from people leaving the polls on election day -- and it worked.
ACLU Files Rhode Island Lawsuit Over Medical Marijuana Discrimination. The ACLU of Rhode Island has filed a lawsuit today on behalf of a URI graduate student who was denied summer employment this year at a fabrics company because of her status as a registered medical marijuana user. The suit is on behalf of Christine Callaghan, a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design who is studying textiles and working towards a masters' degree in that field at URI. She has participated in the medical marijuana program for almost two years to deal with frequent, debilitating migraine headaches. She lost a paying internship offer with Darlington Fabrics after disclosing her medical condition and medical marijuana patient status. The lawsuit argues that failure to hire because of a potential employee's patient status is discriminatory under the state's Civil Rights Act.
Ethan Nadelmann TED Talk on Why We Need to End the War on Drugs. Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann has given a fiery and visionary TED talk in Rio de Janiero analyzing US drug policy and how society can more effectively and humanely deal with drugs. "The reason some drugs are legal and others are not has nothing to do with science or health or the risk of drugs, and everything to do with who uses, and is perceived to use, certain drugs," he said in the talk. "If the principal smokers of cocaine were affluent older white men and the principal users of Viagra were young black men, using Viagra would land you time behind bars." The speech was made last month, but was just made available today. Click on the TED talk link to hear the whole thing.
Colombia Senate Panel Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate's First Commission Tuesday approved a medical marijuana bill on a 13-2 vote. The bill authored by Sen. Juan Manuel Galan would allow the use of marijuana by people suffering from terminal illness or chronic painful conditions, including cancer and AIDS. It was amended during debate to clarify that marijuana-containing medications could not be imported into the country. The bill has the support of Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria.
Dutch Crack Down on Illegal Marijuana Grows, Suppliers. Anyone involved in the illegal production of marijuana is subject to up to three years in prison under a proposal from Justice Minister Opstelten that has been approved by the Senate. The new measure will go into effect on March 1. Under this new law, not only growers, but also grow shops, landlords, electricians who install illegal grow equipment, financiers, and anyone else involved in the illegal grows can be punished. Where the country's famous cannabis coffee shops are supposed to get their product will now be even more of a mystery.
Chronicle AM: No More Portland Pot Cases, Senior Drug Testing Racket, Vets' MedMj Problems, More (11/11/14)
The fallout from last week's legalization votes begins, California veterans are reporting medical marijuana problems with the VA, doctors are billing Medicare for largely needless senior drug testing, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
No More Pot Prosecutions in Portland. That didn't take long. Less than a week after Oregon voters approved the Measure 91 legalization initiative, prosecutors in Multnomah County (Portland) announced Monday that they will dismiss all pending violation-level marijuana possession cases and won't bother to prosecute any future ones. "Because it is clear that a significant majority of voters in Multnomah County support the legalization of marijuana in certain amounts, this office will dismiss the pending charges related to conduct which will otherwise become legal July 1, 2015," said a statement from Multnomah County DA Rode Underhill. "Any remaining charges not impacted by Ballot Measure 91 will be prosecuted." Prosecutors in other Oregon counties are still figuring out how to respond.
Alaska Legislator Getting to Work on Legal Marijuana Draft Regulations. That didn't take long, either. Less than a week after Alaska voters approved the Measure 2 legalization initiative, Rep. Bob Lynn (R-Anchorage) said Monday he plans to file legislation in January that would restrict pot shops within a certain distance of schools and public parks, limit advertising, and bar people with felonies from working in the industry. Lynn said he expects his proposals to attract plenty of discussion among lawmakers.
Opposition Coalition Forms in Vermont. A coalition to oppose marijuana legalization in the Green Mountain State has announced itself. SMART VT calls itself a "grassroots coalition" of "concerned Vermonters" and is now calling on Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) to not take up legalization this legislative session. Too late, though: A public hearing on legalization is set for Wednesday. Click the last link for hearing details.
US Veterans Denied Pain Medications Over Medical Marijuana Use. California NORML is reporting that it is being contacted by veterans who are being told by their VA doctors that they must choose between their prescription pain medications and medical marijuana. The group reports "a spate of complaints" from Long Beach and Loma Linda after scheduling changes for some prescription drugs recently took effect. Those changes entail stricter reporting requirements for doctors, and that, among other factors, seems to have spurred the tightening up. Click on the title link for more details and a plan for action from CANORML and Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access. Happy Veterans Day!
Pain Docs Getting Rich Doing Useless Drug Tests on Seniors, Taxpayers Pick Up the Tab. In an expensive side-effect of the "war" on pain pill addiction, pain specialists are now ordering costly testing of seniors for recreational drug use, and Medicare is stuck footing the bill. The doctors are also responding to a Medicare crackdown on abusive billing for simple urine drug screens by moving to high-tech testing methods for which billing is not limited. Now, doctors are testing for a number of different drugs -- including illegal ones rarely used by seniors, such as cocaine, ecstasy, and PCP -- and raking in the tax dollars. Medicare spending on drug testing has increased an incredible 1,423% since 2007 to $445 million in 2012. That included $14 million for testing seniors for PCP, for which one lab director with 25 years in the business told The Wall Street Journal she had never seen a positive test result in people over 65. The comprehensive article is worth the read; click on the link to get it.
Montreal Gets First Medical Marijuana Clinic. Montreal's first medical marijuana clinic is opening today. Sante Cannabis does not sell medical marijuana, but its doctors and staff guide patients on how to use marijuana, proper strains to use, and determine whether to smoke, vape, or use edibles. The city has had dispensaries or "compassion centers" for years, but Sante Cannabis is the first medical marijuana business to have doctors on staff.
British Lib Dem Leader, Former Colombian President Team Up to Fight for Drug Reform. Liberal Democratic party leader and British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos have agreed to work together to help forge an alliance between European and Latin American countries aiming to reform global drug prohibition. They are taking aim at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs set for 2016.
Chronicle AM: Historic UK Drug Debate Looms, NYPD Ending Marijuana Possession Arrests, More (11/10/14)
Look out! Here comes the next wave of marijuana legalization efforts. Also, NYPD will stop its penny-ante pot arrests, Oregon DAs ponder dropping pot charges, the FBI's annual arrest figures are out, the ACLU gets $50 million to fight overincarceration, Britain awaits a historic debate on drug policy, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Nevada 2016 Legalization Initiative Ready to Hand in Signatures. The Nevada Coalition to Regulate Marijuana says it will turn in 170,000 signatures Wednesday for its proposed 2016 initiative to legalize marijuana. It needs 102,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. This is a Marijuana Policy Project effort.
Oregon Prosecutors to Rethink Pending Pot Cases. Although marijuana possession won't be legal in the state until July 2015, prosecutors in some of its most populous counties say they will revisit pending marijuana cases in light of last week's legalization victory at the polls. DAs in Clackamas (Oregon City), Multnomah (Portland), and Washington (Hillsboro) counties all said they are trying to figure out how to proceed.
Rhode Island Activists Aim to Legalize It in 2015. Which will be the first Northeastern state to legalize marijuana? Rhode Island activists organized into Regulate Rhode Island want their state to be the one. They are putting together a coalition to try to push a bill to tax and regulate marijuana through the General Assembly next year. The bill died in the legislature this year. This is a Marijuana Policy Project effort.
NYPD to Stop Arrests for Minor Marijuana Offenses. The NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced today that the department will quit arresting people for low-level marijuana possession. NYPD has been arresting tens of thousands of people each year, but in the face of withering criticism, it will now begin issuing tickets instead. But people caught smoking pot in public will continue to face arrest.
Wisconsin Governor Calls for Drug Testing for Unemployment, Food Stamps. Newly reelected Republican Gov. Scott Walker is calling drug testing of people seeking public benefits, including unemployment insurance. He and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) both say it will be a priority in the coming legislative session. Walker and Vos haven't unveiled an actual proposal, but any bill that calls for mandatory, suspicionless drug testing is certain to face constitutional challenges.
Pot Arrests Drop, But Still 1.5 Million Drug Arrests Last Year. More than 1.5 million people were arrested for drug offenses in the US last year, and more than 693,000 of those for marijuana offenses. The figures come from the FBI's 2013 Uniform Crime Report, which was released today. Marijuana arrests have declined from peaks early in this century. In 2008, there were a record 872,000 marijuana arrests, so pot busts have declined by slightly more than 20% since then. But arrests for other drug offenses continue apace, actually increasingly slightly last year. Still, because of the decline in marijuana arrests, the overall number of drug arrests dropped by about 50,000.
ACLU Gets $50 Million to Fight to Reduce Incarceration. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been awarded a $50 million grant from George Soros's Open Society Foundations to mount an eight-year campaign to change criminal justice policies and reduce incarceration in this country. The group says there is an emerging bipartisan consensus to make reforms, although last week's election results may stiffen opposition. The ACLU wants to reduce imprisonment by 50% in the next years.
Missing Mexican Students Were Murdered By Drug Gang, Officials Say. Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said last Friday that 43 radical student teachers missing for more than a month in Iguala, Guerrero, had been murdered by a drug gang working with the wife of the mayor of the city. Murillo said the students were killed and their bodies burned, with the remains scattered in a local river. The announcement of the students' fate has not, however, quieted outrage in the country, where corruption and impunity are major issues. Demonstrators torched the wooden front doors of the National Palace in Mexico City Saturday night and were blocking the Acapulco airport Monday, among other actions.
Former Chilean President Calls for Drug Decriminalization. In an interview last Friday, former President Ricardo Lagos said decriminalizing marijuana -- and possibly even cocaine -- possession was the best way to reduce both prohibition-related crime and drug use. Start with marijuana, he said. "After one or two years we will see if we dare to legalize cocaine. It starts with a major prevention campaign and with providing non-prison punishment for those who are incarcerated today, depending on the magnitude of their offenses," Lagos proposed. "The only thing that's clear to me is that there were 10,000 drug arrests per year in Chile in 2002 and 10 years later it's multiplying by eight, reaching 82,000. Chile needs to grow up," he said. Lagos was president of the country from 2000 to 2006.
In Historic Move, British Parliament to Debate Drug Policy. The House of Commons will debate Britain's drug policies for three hours this coming Thursday. It is the first time Parliament has taken up the topic since passage of the Misuse of Drugs Act -- the current law -- four decades ago. The debate comes as Britain's governing coalition has been sundered on the issue, with the junior partner Liberal Democrats coming out loudly for drug decriminalization and the senior partner Conservatives firmly holding the line against any reforms.
Australia's New South Wales Wants Random Drug Testing of Drivers. The New South Wales state government has introduced a bill that would allow police to randomly drug test drivers for the presence of marijuana, amphetamines, and ecstasy. The tests would be done with a saliva swab.
More than 1.5 million people were arrested for drug offenses in the US last year, and more than 693,000 of those for marijuana offenses. The figures come from the FBI's 2013 Uniform Crime Report, which was released today.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]That's about one pot bust and slightly more than one other drug arrest every minute, 365 days a year. The vast majority of them are for simple possession. Over 87% of all marijuana arrests and 82% of all drug arrests were for possession only.
Marijuana arrests have declined from peaks early in this century. In 2008, there were a record 872,000 marijuana arrests, so pot busts have declined by slightly more than 20% since then. But arrests for other drug offenses continue apace, actually increasingly slightly last year. Still, because of the decline in marijuana arrests, the overall number of drug arrests dropped by about 50,000.
In 2008, marijuana arrests accounted for a majority (52%) of all drug arrests. Now, it is down to 40.6%.
Some of the decline in marijuana arrests can be attributed to the passage of decriminalization and legalization laws, particularly in the West, where pot arrests accounted for only 18% of all drug arrests. California decriminalized pot possession in 2011, and Colorado and Washington legalized it in the 2012 elections.
[image:2 align:right caption:true]In other parts of the country, marijuana arrests continued to roll along, even in the Northeast, where they accounted for 46% of all drug arrests. In the South, the figure was 49.8%, and in the Midwest, pot accounted for 51.7% of all drug arrests.
When it comes to race, blacks continue to be disproportionately represented among drug arrestees. African-Americans accounted for 30.7% of all drug arrests, but they only make up about 13% of the population. That means blacks are being arrested for drugs at 2 ½ times the rate their percentage of the population would predict.
Drug arrests were the single largest category of arrests made in the US and accounted for about 13% of all arrests. The 1.5 million drug arrests well exceeded second place larceny-theft (1.232 million) and third place driving under the influence (1.167 million). More than three times as many people were arrested for drug offenses than for all violent crimes combined (480,000).
The continued law enforcement emphasis on drug enforcement drew criticism from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).
[image:3 align:left caption:true]"Police made more drug arrests than for any other single category of crime. Meanwhile, only 64% of murders and 48% of violent crimes generally are being solved," said LEAP executive director Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), citing the FBI statistics. "We clearly have our priorities in the wrong place."
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), fresh from last week's successful "marijuana midterms," pronounced itself pleased with the decline in pot busts, but called for them to end, not just diminish.
"We're pleased to see the drop, but arresting even one adult for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol is inexcusable," said MPP communications director Mason Tvert. "Every year we see millions of violent crimes attributed to alcohol, and the evidence is clear that marijuana is not a significant contributing factor in such incidents. Yet our laws continue to steer adults toward drinking by threatening to punish them if they make the safer choice. These arrest numbers demonstrate that the threat is very real," he noted.
Tvert also echoed LEAP in criticizing law enforcement priorities.
"Law enforcement officials should be spending their time and resources addressing serious crimes, not arresting and prosecuting adults for using marijuana," he said. "Every year, these statistics show hundreds of thousands of marijuana-related arrests are taking place and countless violent crimes are going unsolved. We have to wonder how many of those crimes could be solved -- or prevented -- if police weren't wasting their time enforcing failed marijuana prohibition laws."
The laws must change, he said.
"A majority of Americans think marijuana should be legal for adults and treated similarly to alcohol. Voters in four states and the District of Columbia have now passed laws that reflect that, and we expect several more will do over the next few years. It's time for our laws to catch up with public opinion."