Mandatory Minimum Sentencing (STDW)
On Thursday, Michelle Alexander, author of the best-selling and galvanizing The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness sat down with poet/activist Asha Bandele of the Drug Policy Alliance to discuss the book's impact and where we go from here.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]The New Jim Crow has been a phenomenon. Spending nearly 80 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, it brought to the forefront a national conversation about why the United States had become the world's largest incarcerator, with 2.2 million in prison or jail and 7.7 million under control of the criminal justice system, and African American boys and men -- and now women -- making up a disproportionate number of those imprisoned. Alexander identified failed drug war policies as the primary driver of those numbers, and called for a greater challenge to them by key civil rights leaders.
It's now been nearly four years since The New Jim Crow first appeared. Some things have changed -- federal sentencing reforms, marijuana legalization in two states -- but many others haven't. Alexander and Bandele discuss what has changed, what hasn't, and what needs to, raising serious questions about the path we've been down and providing suggestions about new directions.
Audio of the conversation is online here, and a transcript follows here:
Asha Bandele: The US has 5% of the world's population, but has 25% of the world's incarcerated population, and the biggest policy cause is the failed drug war. How has the landscape changed in the last four years since The New Jim Crow came out?
Michelle Alexander: The landscape absolutely has changed in profound ways. When writing this book, I was feeling incredibly frustrated by the failure of many civil rights organizations and leaders to make the war on drugs a critical priority in their organization and also by the failure of many of my progressive friends and allies to awaken to the magnitude of the harm caused by the war on drugs and mass incarceration. At the same time, not so long ago, I didn't understand the horror of the drug war myself, I failed to connect the dots and understand the ways these systems of racial and social control are born and reborn.
But over last few years, I couldn't be more pleased with reception. Many people warned me that civil rights organizations could be defensive or angered by criticisms in the book, but they've done nothing but respond with enthusiasm and some real self-reflection.
There is absolutely an awakening taking place. It's important to understand that this didn't start with my book -- Angela Davis coined the term "prison industrial complex" years ago; Mumia Abu-Jamal was writing from prison about mass incarceration and our racialized prison state. Many, many advocates have been doing this work and connecting the dots for far longer than I have. I wanted to lend more credibility and support for the work that so many have been doing for some, but that has been marginalized.
I am optimistic, but at the same time, I see real reasons for concern. There are important victories in legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington, in Holder speaking out against mandatory minimums and felon disenfranchisement, in politicians across the country raising concerns about the size of the prison state for the first time in 40 years, but much of the dialog is still driven by fiscal concerns rather than genuine concern for the people and communities most impacted, the families destroyed. We haven't yet really had the kind of conversation we must have as a nation if we are going to do more than tinker with the machine and break our habit of creating mass incarceration in America.
Asha Bandele: Obama has his My Brother's Keeper initiative directed at black boys falling behind. A lot of this is driven by having families and communities disrupted by the drug war. Obama nodded at the structural racism that dismembers communities, but he said it was a moral failing. He's addressed race the least of any modern American president. Your thoughts?
[image:2 align:left]Michelle Alexander: I'm glad that Obama is shining a spotlight on the real crisis facing black communities today, in particular black boys and young men, and he's right to draw attention to it and elevate it, but I worry that the initiative is based more in rhetoric than in a meaningful commitment to addressing the structures and institutions that have created these conditions in our communities. There is a commitment to studying the problem and identifying programs that work to keep black kids in school and out of jail, and there is an aspect that seeks to engage foundations and corporations, but there is nothing in the initiative that offers any kind of policy change from the government or any government funding of any kind to support these desperately needed programs.
There is an implicit assumption that we just need to find what works to lift people up by their bootstraps, without acknowledging that we're waging a war on these communities we claim to be so concerned about. The initiative itself reflects this common narrative that suggests the reasons why there are so many poor people of color trapped at the bottom -- bad schools, poverty, broken homes. And if we encourage people to stay in school and get and stay married, then the whole problem of mass incarceration will no longer be of any real concern.
But I've come to believe we have it backwards. These communities are poor and have failing schools and broken homes not because of their personal failings, but because we've declared war on them, spent billions building prisons while allowing schools to fail, targeted children in these communities, stopping, searching, frisking them -- and the first arrest is typically for some nonviolent minor drug offense, which occurs with equal frequency in middle class white neighborhoods but typically goes ignored. We saddle them with criminal records, jail them, then release them to a parallel universe where they are discriminated against for the rest of their lives, locked into permanent second-class status.
We've done this in the communities most in need our support and economic investment. Rather than providing meaningful support to these families and communities where the jobs have gone overseas and they are struggling to move from an industrial-based economy to a global one, we have declared war on them. We have stood back and said "What is wrong with them?" The more pressing question is "What is wrong with us?"
Asha Bandele: During the Great Depression, FDR had the New Deal, but now it seem like there is no social commitment at the highest levels of government. And we see things like Eric Holder and Rand Paul standing together to end mandatory minimums. Is this an unholy alliance?
Michelle Alexander: We have to be very clear that so much of the progress being made on drug policy reflects the fact that we are at a time when politicians are highly motivated to downsize prisons because we can't afford the massive prison state without raising taxes on the predominantly white middle class. This is the first time in 40 years we've been willing to have a serious conversation about prison downsizing.
But I'm deeply concerned about us doing the right things for the wrong reasons. This movement to end mass incarceration and the war on drugs is about breaking the habit of forming caste-like systems and creating a new ethic of care and concern for each of us, this idea that each of us has basic human rights. That is the ultimate goal of this movement. The real issue that lies at the core of every caste system ever created is the devaluing of human beings.
If we're going to do this just to save some cash, we haven't woken up to the magnitude of the harm. If we are not willing to have a searching conversation about how we got to this place, how we are able to lock up millions of people, we will find ourselves either still having a slightly downsized mass incarceration system or some new system of racial control because we will have not learned the core lesson our racial history is trying to teach us. We have to learn to care for them, the Other, the ghetto dwellers we demonize.
Temporary, fleeting political alliances with politicians who may have no real interest in communities of color is problematic. We need to stay focused on doing the right things for the right reasons, and not count as victories battles won when the real lessons have not been learned.
Asha Bandele: Portugal decriminalized all drugs and drug use has remained flat, overdoses been cut by a third, HIV cut by two-thirds. What can we learn from taking a public health approach and its fundamental rejection of stigma?
Michelle Alexander: Portugal is an excellent example of how it is possible to reduce addiction and abuse and drug related crime in a non-punitive manner without filling prisons and jails. Supposedly, we criminalize drugs because we are so concerned about the harm they cause people, but we wind up inflicting far more pain and suffering than the substances themselves. What are we doing really when we criminalize drugs is not criminalizing substances, but people.
I support a wholesale shift to a public health model for dealing with drug addiction and abuse. How would we treat people abusing if we really cared about them? Would we put them in a cage, saddle them with criminal records that will force them into legal discrimination the rest of their lives? I support the decriminalization of all drugs for personal use. If you possess a substance, we should help you get education and support, not demonize, shame, and punish you for the rest of your life.
I'm thrilled that Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana and DC has decriminalized it -- these are critically important steps in shifting from a purely punitive approach. But there are warning flags. I flick on the news, and I see images of people using marijuana and trying to run legitimate businesses, and they're almost all white. When we thought of them as black or brown, we had a purely punitive approach. Also, it seems like its exclusively white men being interviewed as wanting to start marijuana businesses and make a lot of money selling marijuana.
I have to say the image doesn't sit right. Here are white men poised to run big marijuana businesses after 40 years of impoverished black kids getting prison time for doing the same thing. As we talk about legalization, we have to also be willing to talk about reparations for the war on drugs, as in how do we repair the harm caused.
With regard to Iraq, Colin Powell said "If you break it, you own it," but we haven't learned that basic lesson from our own racial history. We set the slaves free with nothing, and after Reconstruction, a new caste system arose, Jim Crow. A movement arose and we stopped Jim Crow, but we got no reparations after the waging of a brutal war on poor communities of color that decimated families and fanned the violence it was supposed to address.
Do we simply say "We're done now, let's move on" and white men can make money? This time, we have to get it right; we have to tell the whole truth, we have to repair the harm done. It's not enough to just stop. Enormous harm had been done; we have to repair those communities.
Colorado is rolling in the marijuana tax dollars, Washington state gets closer to licensing legal grows, a New Hampshire patient grow bill is moving, the Europeans are worried about some new drugs, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Colorado Governor Announces Marijuana Tax Revenues Plan. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) Wednesday announced his plan to start spending tax revenues from legalized marijuana. He said he would spend $99 million next fiscal year, with half of it going to youth use prevention, another 40% going to substance abuse treatment, and more than $12 million for public health. His proposal must be approved by the legislature.
Washington State Regulators Announce Rules Modifications. The Washington State Liquor Control Board announced Wednesday that it will limit marijuana business applicants to one pot grow each, down from the three-license limit it originally set. The board also reduced by 30% the amount of grow space that licensees can use. The board is trying to address how to equitably distribute the two million square foot of grow space it has set as a statewide cap. The move also opens the way to the actual issuance of grow licenses, which could come as soon as early next month.
New Hampshire Patient Cultivation Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would allow qualifying patients to cultivate a limited amount of medical marijuana in New Hampshire was approved this morning in a 13-3 vote by the House Committee on Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs. The bill will be considered by the full House sometime in March. Sponsored by Rep. Donald Wright (R-Tuftonboro), House Bill 1622 would patients or their designated caregivers to possess up to two mature plants and twelve seedlings. The cultivation location would have to be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services, and patients would lose their ability to cultivate when an alternative treatment center opens within 30 miles of their residence.
South Carolina CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) Wednesday introduced a bill to allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil for the treatment of epilepsy seizures. Senate Bill 1035 has been referred to the Committee on Medical Affairs.
Arizona Bill Would Use Medical Marijuana Fees to Fund Anti-Drug Campaigns. A bill approved Wednesday by the House Health Committee would set up a special fund using fees from medical marijuana user and dispensaries to "discourage marijuana use among the general population." House Bill 2333, sponsored by Rep. Ethan Orr (R-Tucson) is being derided by the Marijuana Policy Project, whose spokesman, Mason Tvert, said "It is remarkable how much money some government officials are willing to flush down the toilet in hopes of scaring adults away from using marijuana."
Vermont Law School Symposium Will Address Heroin Addiction and New Solutions. The Vermont Law Criminal Law Society is hosting a symposium on heroin and opiate addiction and responses to it on Monday. "This event is about new ideas from new sources," said Vermont Law JD candidate George Selby ', one of the panel organizers. "We need to fundamentally change the way we treat addicts and the opiates they fall victim to." Panelists will include addiction and pain specialists, a narcotics investigator, and an advocate for revolutionizing drug policy. They will discuss whether drug courts, replacement therapy, and support groups are enough, and tackle a controversial question: Should doctors be allowed to prescribe heroin to treat heroin addiction? One of the featured speakers is Arnold Trebach, JD, PhD, professor emeritus of public affairs at American University and founder of the Drug Policy Foundation, the precursor to the Drug Policy Alliance, who plans to call for action in Vermont. Click on the title link for more details.
Europeans Issue Alert on Four New Synthetic Drugs. The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction has issued an alert and announced a formal risk assessment of four new synthetic drugs. They are the hallucinogenic phenethylamine 251-NBOMe ("N-Bomb," linked to three deaths), the synthetic opioid AH-7921 (15 reported deaths in Europe), the synthetic cathinone derivative MDPV ("legal cocaine," linked to 99 deaths), and the arylcyclohexamine drug Methoxetamine (linked to 20 deaths). Click on the link above for more details.
British Columbia Judge Rules Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Unconstitutional. A judge in Canada's British Columbia ruled Wednesday that mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders under the federal 2012 Safe Streets and Communities Act are unconstitutional. In November, an Ontario judge struck down a similar sentence for a weapons offense, but BC is the first province to have the drug offense sentences quashed. Crown prosecutors are expected to appeal.
India Asset Forfeiture Bill Passes Lok Sabha. A bill that would increase the Indian government's ability to seize assets from drug traffickers was approved Wednesday by the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the country's bicameral parliament. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill, 2011 passed on a voice vote after members took turns worrying aloud about the spread of drug use in the world's most populous democracy.
Big news on a couple of fronts regarding federal sentencing and federal prisoners, the DC council is set to approve decriminalization, Minnesota's welfare drug testing law gets some pushback, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right]Marijuana Policy
DC City Council to Vote on Decriminalization Bill Tuesday. The District of Columbia city council will vote Tuesday on the decriminalization bill, the Drug Policy Alliance said Thursday in an email to supporters. The link above is to the bill itself.
Missouri Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced. Rep. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) Wednesday introduced House Bill 1659, which would allow adults to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana and set up a taxed and regulated marijuana commerce regime.
Latest Poll Has Arizona Voters "Narrowly Opposing" Legalization. Marijuana legalization had the support of 43% of voters, with 51% in a Scutari and Cjeslak poll released Wednesday. That's the fourth poll in the last year on the topic, all conducted by different pollsters. Two show majorities for legalization; two don't.
Oregon Sees Conferences in Ashland, Portland This Week. Would-be marijuana entrepreneurs in Oregon have two conferences aimed at them this week. The two-day Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference began today in Ashland. The National Cannabis Industry Association is holding a one-day "Northwest Cannabusiness Symposium" in Portland on Saturday. An Oregon law allowing dispensaries goes into effect March 3.
Charlie Crist Will Vote for Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative. Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist said Wednesday he plans to vote for the state's pending medical marijuana initiative. "This is an issue of compassion, trusting doctors, and trusting the people of Florida," he said. "I will vote for it."
Minnesota Welfare Drug Test Law Draws Flak. Democratic Farm Labor (DFL) legislators, county officials and anti-poverty advocates are pushing back against the state's 2012 law mandating drug tests for welfare recipients with drug felonies. At a hearing Wednesday, Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) said she would propose a bill that would effectively overturn the law by giving counties the discretion to decide whether to apply it or not. County officials complained that the law is expensive to implement and actually affects few people. In one county, one county was forced to spend $1,500 in staff time to search out and test the one person to whom the law applied.
Search and Seizure
NYC Mayor DeBlasio Drops "Stop and Frisk" Appeal. The New York City mayor's office filed papers seeking to drop an appeal of a judge's decision ordering major reforms to the police department's stop-and-frisk policy. A judge ruled last year that the New York Police Department had discriminated against blacks and Hispanics with how it went about stopping, questioning and sometimes frisking people on the street. The judge ordered major reforms to the department's implementation of the policy. Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg appealed the decision.
Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Smarter Sentencing Act. The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved the Smarter Sentencing Act on a 13-5 vote. It now goes to the Senate floor. Similar legislation is pending in the House.
Justice Department Calls for Drug Prisoners to Seek Clemency. In an unusual move, the Obama administration Thursday told defense lawyers they should suggest more inmates serving time on drug charges who might be deserving of clemency. In a speech to the New York State Bar Association, Deputy Attorney General James Cole told attendees that the Justice Department wanted more names to forward to the White House -- and that the defense bar could be of assistance.
Minnesota Synthetic Drug Bill Wins Committee Vote. Minnesota's House Select Committee on Controlled Substances and Synthetic Drugs Wednesday approved a bill that would toughen laws against new synthetic drugs by expanding the definition of "drug" under the law to include any "substance or derivative… when introduced into the body, induces an effect substantially similar to… controlled substance regardless of whether the substance is marketed for the purpose of human consumption." The legislation would also empower the Board of Pharmacy to execute "cease and desist" orders on stores that sell the substances.
Israeli Cops Keep Arresting Small-Time Hash Possessors, Despite Prosecutor's Instructions to Lay Off. Israeli police keep arresting people for small-time hashish and marijuana possession even though longstanding policy directives from the attorney general instruct them not to. The state prosecutor's office said Wednesday it hadn't instructed them to do so.
Bermuda Marijuana Reform Group Seeks Input. The Cannabis Reform Collaborative (CRC) is soliciting for public input and is inviting members of the community to submit their thoughts and research on the topic of cannabis reform. Click on either link for complete details.
Drug Prohibition Leads to Central America Deforestation, Study Finds. Drug trafficking threatens forests in remote areas of Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and other nearby countries, according to a research report in Science magazine. Most media outlets have portrayed the finding as "Drug Trafficking Leads to Central America Deforestation," but as the authors of the article note, "Drug policies are also conservation policies, whether we realize it or not. US-led militarized interdiction, for example, has succeeded mainly in moving traffickers around, driving them to operate in ever-more remote, biodiverse ecosystems. Reforming drug policies could alleviate some of the pressures on Central America's disappearing forests." The article is Drug Policy as Conservation Policy: Deforestation; available to members or subscribers.
The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday gave its imprimatur to the Smarter Sentencing Act, approving the bill and sending it on to a Senate floor vote. The bill is designed to reduce the federal prison population and decrease racial disparities and, if passed by Congress, would mark the biggest federal sentencing reform in decades.
[image:1 align:left]The act, Senate Bill 1410, cuts mandatory minimum sentences for drug law violations, makes retroactive the crack cocaine sentencing reforms passed in 2010, and gives judges greater discretion to sentence below mandatory minimums when the facts of the case warrant it.
The act was cosponsored by a bipartisan group of senators from across the political spectrum, including Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
"The tide has turned against punitive drug policies that destroy lives and tear families apart," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "From liberal stalwarts to Tea Party favorites, there is now consensus that our country incarcerates too many people, for too much time, at too much expense to taxpayers."
The sentencing reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) also welcomed the bill's progress, but said that it was not happy with some changes included as the bill made its way through the committee.
"We strongly support the underlying bill; however, we have deep concerns about changes made during markup. These changes include new mandatory minimums for domestic violence and sexual abuse that are unjustified and opposed by the very victims they are supposed to protect," the group noted.
"Although FAMM would prefer the total repeal of mandatory minimum sentences, this bill is a necessary compromise that will help address many of the drivers of our exploding prison populations. The reform package is bipartisan, reasonable, and will save taxpayers billions of dollars by locking up fewer nonviolent drug offenders for shorter periods of time. It also focuses on over-criminalization, a monster that no one has been able to get a handle on, but one that must be brought under control."
While the bill has passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, companion legislation is languishing in the Republican-controlled House. House Bill 3382, sponsored by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and 15 cosponsors, is currently before the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). Advocates are calling on Goodlatte, who helped establish a House Over-Criminalization Task Force last year, to move on the Smarter Sentencing Act.
"Seven of the 10 members of the Over-Criminalization Task Force currently support mandatory minimum sentencing reform, and all of the Task Force members have shown interest in getting a handle on our enormous criminal code," said FAMM's Julie Stewart. "The interest is there, and the time is right -- this is something that Congress could actually do this year."
The favorable Senate Judiciary Committee vote -- it passed 13-5 -- came even as federal prosecutors came out in opposition to it. In a Monday letter to Attorney General Holder, the National Association of Assistant US Attorneys opposed reforms to mandatory minimums.
"We do not join with those who regard our federal system of justice as 'broken' or in need of major reconstruction," the organization said. "Instead, we consider the current federal mandatory minimum sentence framework as well-constructed and well worth preserving."
That sparked a tough rebuke from the Drug Policy Alliance.
"It is disgraceful that prosecutors continue to defend a criminal justice system that is profoundly racially unjust and cruel," said Piper. "While support for major reform is growing in both political parties, many prosecutors are still living in the dark ages."
[image:1 align:right]The Smarter Sentencing Act has just passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee,
Superbowl-linked banners chiding the NFL on marijuana policy go up, drug testing of students, workers, and welfare recipients is in the news, a federal sentencing reform bill picks up support, Guatemalan peasants pick up rocks and sticks to chase off eradicators, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Obama's State of the Union Remarks on Marijuana Policy. Sorry, there weren't any. Nor did he speak about sentencing reform or any other aspect of drug policy.
Superbowl Banners Chide NFL on Marijuana Hypocrisy. The Marijuana Policy Project has launched a billboard blitz on the NFL, using five billboards around MetLife Stadium, where the game will be played Sunday, to highlight the hypocrisy of the leagues' marijuana policy. The group also delivered a petition with more than 12,000 signatures to league headquarters in New York City Wednesday calling on the league to stop punishing players for using pot.
Wall Street Journal/NBC Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55%. Yet another poll is out showing majority support for marijuana legalization. The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll has it at 55%. Click on the link for more details.
Nevada Legalization Advocates Focus on 2015. Nevada marijuana activists are crafting language for an initiative to legalize the herb with an eye on gathering enough signatures this year and next to put the measure before the state legislature. If the legislature then fails to approve it, it would go before the voters in 2016.
Connecticut Announces Selection of First Medical Marijuana Producers. State officials Tuesday announced that four applicants have been chosen as the first-ever producers of medical marijuana to serve the needs of seriously ill patients in Connecticut. Each of the four businesses now must establish escrow arrangements in the amount of $2 million, and pay their annual license fee, at which time their operating license will be issued. Producers must be operational within 180 days of licensure. Additional information about the licensed producers will be made available in the near future.
10th Annual National Harm Reduction Conference Set for Baltimore in October. This is the nation's largest annual harm reduction event. Click on the link for all the details.
New Jersey School District Abandons Random Student Drug Testing Bid. The Northern Valley Regional School District has given up its effort to impose random drug testing on students involved in extracurricular activities. After a year of debate, with many parents fiercely opposing the plan, the school board voted it down 5-4.
Maine Workplace Drug Testing Bill Under Consideration. A bill backed by conservative Republican Gov. LePage and the state Department of Labor is designed to encourage an expansion of drug testing by private employers. Legislative Document 1669 would remove the current provision that requires employers to maintain an employee assistance program and pay for half the costs of drug treatment. The bill would also make it easier for employers to identify potential drug abuse by creating a probable standard for testing that could be triggered by a single accident within the workplace. The bill is opposed by labor unions and the ACLU of Maine, which calls it a serious invasion of employee privacy.
Indiana Welfare Drug Testing Bill Passes House. A welfare drug testing bill easily passed the Republican-dominated House Tuesday. House Bill 1351 would require welfare applicants to take a written test that measures their propensity to use drugs. Those whom the test says are likely to be drug users would be required to undergo drug testing. Persons who fail the drug test could keep their benefits, provided they undergo drug treatment. But, as bill critic Rep. Vanessa Summers (D-Indianapolis) pointed out, the state doesn't offer low-cost drug treatment. The bill now goes to the state Senate.
Federal Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up More Supporters. The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013, which would reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, give judges more discretion to sentence beneath the mandatory minimums, and apply retroactive sentence reductions to some crack cocaine offenders, has picked up more support this year. It was introduced with two cosponsors, Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Angus King, Jr (I-ME) came on board last fall, and Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) have joined as cosponsors this month. The link is to the bill itself.
Canada Opposing Harm Reduction Policies in UN Fight. In the fight over new guidelines for the global drug control regime at the United Nations, Canada is opposing efforts to place a stronger emphasis on harm reduction measures. Drug policy groups monitoring the negotiations say Canada has joined ranks with China, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and Russia in aggressively opposing European endorsements of health policies aimed at reducing harms, such as HIV transmission, among drug users. Canada also opposes the participation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in future UN drug policymaking sessions. "The Government of Canada believes that the best way to address the public health consequences of injection drug-use is to prevent people from using illicit drugs in the first place," said a Canadian government spokesperson, refusing to elaborate further.
Guatemalan Peasants Attack Opium Poppy Eradicators. Scores of opium-growing peasants in a community near the Mexican border attacked a national police contingent sent out to eradicate their crops Monday. Indian peasants in Tajumulco blocked the way and threw rocks, sticks and incendiary bombs at the contingent to stop it from reaching the croplands. Three police officers were injured, but police said they would continue eradication efforts. Last month, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina floated the idea of legalizing the poppy crop.
No Marijuana Decriminalization for Guyana, Home Affairs Minister Says. Guyanese Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee Tuesday shot down any talk of liberalizing the country's marijuana laws. "As we speak at this point in time, at twenty minutes to five, on the twenty-eighth day of January, the position and the policy of the government of Guyana is to pursue a zero tolerance policy in respect of trafficking in narcotics, possession of narcotics and any other form of activity in respect of drugs that are deemed illegal according to the laws of our country and according to the treaties and conventions of an international nature which we have signed on to," the Home Affairs Minister declared.
Jamaican Government Still Scared of Western Opposition to Marijuana Reform. Foreign Affairs Minister AJ Nicholson warned Monday that Jamaica must proceed cautiously with calls to decriminalize or legalize marijuana because of fears of violating global drug control treaties and offending the US and European countries. "There is no consideration at this time about changing the treaties, but there are still some concerns about how some Western countries would view our move towards decriminalize, depenalize or anything like that," he said.
Filipino Legislators Ponder Medical Marijuana. Minority lawmakers in the Philippines are considering medical marijuana. Rep. Rodolofo Albano III said that he planned on filing a bill in March that would permit the sale and purchase of cannabis strictly for medical use.
Florida's medical marijuana initiative will go to the voters in November, the DEA administrator is being both jeered and cheered for her criticism of President Obama's remarks on marijuana, the Supreme Court makes it harder to punish drug dealers for deaths related to their wares, and much more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
DEA Head Criticizes Obama Marijuana Remarks, Faces Calls to be Ousted. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart last week got a standing ovation from a convention of sheriffs when she criticized President Obama's remarks on the relative safety of marijuana compared with alcohol. But now, drug reformers are calling for her head.
Colorado and Washington NORML in Superbowl "Bud Bowl" Challenge. The contenders in Sunday's NFL Superbowl game, the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, both come from states where marijuana is legal. In honor of their hometown teams and their respective states' legal marijuana status, NORML chapters in Washington and Colorado have engaged in a friendly wager. If the Denver Broncos win, WA NORML has agreed to dress in Bronco colors of blue and orange and sing Karaoke-style Colorado's (second) official state song "Rocky Mountain High" by John Denver. If the Seattle Seahawks win, CO NORML will do the same, but in Seahawk blue and green and singing "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix, a native son of Seattle. [Ed: StoptheDrugWar.org has no position on either the game or the wager.]
New Jersey State Senator Announces Plans to Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D) said late last week that he plans to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. The bill is not yet filed, but envisions language that would tax and regulate marijuana like alchohol.
Harris County (Houston) DA Says Decriminalize It. Responding to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) remarks last week in Davos that he supported decriminalization of marijuana possession, Harris County DA Devon Anderson said she agrees with his call for decriminalization.
Seattle City Attorney Wants More Marijuana Stores. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes last Thursday reiterated his request that the Washington State Liquor Control Board increase the number of marijuana retail stores allowed in the city. The board has set the number at 21, but Holmes has said that is not going to be enough.
Oregon Marijuana Legalization Referendum Bill Filed. State Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-District 4) and several cosponsors have introduced Senate Bill 1556, which would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana possession and commerce for adults. If passed by the legislature, the measure would then go before voters on the November ballot.
Florida Supreme Court Approves Medical Marijuana Initiative -- It's Going to the Voters! The Florida Supreme Court Monday removed the final obstacle to the state's medical marijuana initiative appearing on the November ballot. It rejected a challenge to the measure's language by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R). The initiative has already had enough signatures validated to qualify. Click on the link to read the opinion and the text of the initiative.
Guam Medical Marijuana Bill Now Calls for Referendum. Sen. Tina-Muna Barnes, sponsor of medical marijuana Bill 215, announced Monday that she has rewritten the bill "to allow for a referendum, thus placing the question before the People of Guam in the 2014 General Election." She made the change, she said, because "the overwhelming majority of senators from both parties felt that an issue of this importance should be decided by the people directly."
Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licenses Set To Be Awarded In Massachusetts. The state Department of Public Health says it hopes to award up to 35 medical marijuana dispensary licenses this week. More than a hundred applications have been submitted. State law allows up to five dispensaries in each county in the state.
Bangor (PA) School District Wants Random Drug Tests for Teachers. A policy that would make the Bangor Area School District the only one in the state to require random, suspicionless drug testing of teachers is part of negotiations for a new union contract. The contract being discussed wouldn't impose random drug testing, but would require teachers to put it to a vote. The issue came to the fore in the area after a teacher died of a heroin overdose in the apartment of a wrestling coach in 2009.
Illinois Welfare Drug Testing Bill Introduced. State Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) has introduced a bill that would require welfare applicants to undergo a drug test before becoming eligible to receive benefits. House Bill 4255 does not include an intermediary step of drug screening to determine which applicants are likely to be drug users, but goes straight to testing all applicants. The federal courts have found similar laws unconstitutional.
US Supreme Court Restricts Heroin Death Sentencing Enhancement. The US Supreme Court ruled Monday that a heroin dealer cannot be held liable for a customer's death if the heroin use was only a contributing factor and not necessarily the sole cause. Federal law imposes a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence when "death or serious injury results from the use" of an illegal drug, and prosecutors have used the statute to win the tough sentences, but the high court held Monday that prosecutors must prove that the drug was the specific cause of death, not just a contributing factor. The case is Burrage v. United States.
San Francisco Jail Population Dropping Because of Decrease in Drug Arrests. A report from the San Francisco board of supervisors' budget analysts says the jail population has dropped because of decreased drug arrests and city policies that promote alternatives to incarceration. The jail population is down 30% since 2008. The report comes as supervisors wrangle over whether the city needs a new jail and how big it should be.
DEA Busts Bitcoin Exchange CEO for Silk Road Money Laundering. Charlie Shrem, the CEO of BitInstant, a Bitcoin exchange, has been arrested by the DEA and is charged with money laundering for selling over $1 million in Bitcoins to users of the Silk Road dark web drug sales site, who used the currency to buy drugs there. Shrem faces federal money laundering charges. Shrem and an unnamed coconspirator were both charged. "Hiding behind their computers, both defendants are charged with knowingly contributing to and facilitating anonymous drug sales, earning substantial profits along the way," DEA agent James Hunt said in a release.
Virginia Bill to Criminalize "Secret Compartments" Filed. A bill introduced by state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) would make it a crime to knowingly have a secret compartment in a car -- even if there isn't anything in it. The bill, Senate Bill 234, makes having such a compartment a felony and defines a "false or secret compartment" as any enclosure that is integrated into or attached to a vehicle or vessel, the purpose of which is to conceal, hide, or prevent the discovery of a person, controlled substance, or other contraband.
Mexican President Invites Anti-Cartel Vigilantes to Join Security Forces. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said last Thursday that anti-cartel vigilantes or militias were a result of institutional weakness within national security forces and asked them to join those same security forces. He asked them to do "to do it by observing the principles and formalities of the law, fulfilling the requirements to become part of the security corps." The vigilantes are engaged in ongoing battles with the Knights Templar cartel in the state of Michoacan.
Dutch MP Calls on Government to Allow Marijuana Growing Pilot Projects. Labor MP Marith Rebel called last week for Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten to allow experiments with the legal production of marijuana. "Turning a blind eye to the fact the cafes are selling marijuana but not recognizing the fact they also have to buy it is helping criminals," Rebel said. Opstelten last month rejected calls from local councils to allow regulated grows, even though polls show majority support for the move.
New Zealand Greens Will Push for Marijuana Decriminalization, But Not Too Hard. New Zealand's Green Party says it will push for decriminalization in any post-election negotiations with Labor, but that the issue will not be a deal breaker. "I would like to progress a vast amount of our policy, and that would be one," said party coleader Metiria Turei. "We believe a drug-free lifestyle is the healthiest, but we don't believe people should be convicted of a crime, adults, if they smoke cannabis. So we still consider decriminalization is the wisest policy." But she also said the party had no bottom lines as it ponders the prospect of a coalition government with Labor.