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Illinois Poised to Legalize Marijuana [FEATURE]

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 20:22

Illinois is poised to become the 11th state to legalize marijuana, as soon as Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signs into law a legalization bill passed with bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate last week. Pritzker pushed for the bill's passage.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]When he signs, Illinois will become the first state to get a legalization bill all the way through the legislative process this year, and the first ever to create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce through the legislative process rather than through a voter initiative. (Vermont's legislature legalized possession and cultivation but not sales in early 2018.)

The Senate approved the bill last Wednesday and the House concurred on Friday, the last day of the legislative session.

"The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation," Pritzker said in a statement upon passage of the bill. "This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance."

Once the law goes into effect on January 1, Illinois residents 21 and over will be able to legally possess 30 grams of marijuana, 5 grams of concentrate, or 500 milligrams of THC in a marijuana-infused product. Out-of-staters will only be able to possess up to 15 grams of marijuana.

The right to grow one's own plants, however, was sacrificed in a bid to assuage critics and get the bill over the hump. The bill originally allowed for the home cultivation of up to five plants, but the loud opposition of law enforcement, who worried that it would make it more difficult to find illegal growers, along with Republican lawmakers and other interests, got that taken out.

Washington is the only other legal adult-use marijuana state that does not allow home cultivation.

It also took weakening of the expungement provision in the bill to bring some needed Republicans on board. When the bill was rolled out in the first week of May, it included language that would have created automatic expungement of criminal records for marijuana offenses that will no longer be a crime, but Republicans objected. Instead, bill sponsors agreed to language that removed automatic expungement and replaced it with language allowing the governor to pardon past offenses "with permission to expunge," but that will then require the filing of a petition to get it done, making it likely that many people with past marijuana convictions will not get their records expunged.

Excluding home grows and scaling back expungement was enough to get Republicans such as Rep. David Welter (R-Morris) on board, and that handful of GOP votes ensured passage of the bill.

"I'm a father of three from a rural district, and I'm standing before you supporting this bill because I do not believe the current policy that we have out there right now is working," Welter said during House debate. "Prohibition doesn't work, and we see that. Putting safeguards in place, taxing, regulating it, I believe provides a better market and a safer market."

The new law creates a system of licensed commercial cultivation operations and retail shops, while also setting up a social equity program to help minority businesses enter the emerging industry. That program will deploy grants and loans to such businesses, as well as establishing a grant fund to aid the communities most disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.

Legal marijuana is expected to generate some $87 million in tax revenues for the coming budget year, with $30 million going for a marijuana business development fund and $57 million headed for general revenues. That money will first pay for regulatory expenses and costs related to expungement. After that, the pot dollars will be divided among the general fund (35 percent), community grants (25 percent), mental health and substance abuse programs (20 percent, paying down the state's budget deficit (10 percent), supporting law enforcement (8 percent), and public education (2 percent).

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx cheered the passage of the bill even though the expungement provisions were weakened, and vowed to fight

"I applaud the Illinois General Assembly for passing legislation that legalizes recreational cannabis and provides conviction relief to hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans with low-level charges of cannabis possession," she said in a statement. As prosecutors who implemented these convictions, we must own our role in the harm they have caused and we should play a role in reversing them. The failed war on drugs has disproportionately impacted communities of color, and my office will continue to explore ways to provide the broadest relief possible, beyond that provided by this legislation."

This year has been something of a disappointment for marijuana reformers, with much-touted legalization efforts in states such as Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York stalling out. Illinois was considered something of a dark horse, but now it has beat everyone else across the finish line.

And the Drug Policy Alliance, which has been working hard to get that New York bill passed, has taken notice.

"Illinois state representatives had the courage to pass comprehensive marijuana justice -- and made it their priority before the close of their legislative session," said DPA New York deputy director Melissa Moore. "As we enter the final three weeks of New York's session, our elected officials have a tremendous opportunity to show bold leadership and pass responsible regulation that will serve all New Yorkers and address the harms of marijuana prohibition. The time to act is now and the game plan is clear: Pass the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act immediately."

Whether New York or any other state can still get it done this year or not, the fabric of marijuana prohibition grows increasingly frayed. Thoroughly shredded on the West Coast and tattered in the Northeast, it now has a big hole in the heart of the Midwest with Illinois joining Michigan as a legal weed state.

And there's always next year, where voters in initiative states will have an opportunity to get it done themselves -- without having to deal with cumbersome legislative processes where a single committee chairman can kill a bill, or with recalcitrant lawmakers still stuck in the last century.

(Disclosure: Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug War Chronicle.)

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Why Are Prosecutors Trying to Send a First Step Act Ex-Prisoner Back to Prison? [FEATURE]

Tue, 05/28/2019 - 06:34

Back in 1994, in the depths of the war on drugs, Sonny Mikell picked up a third federal drug conviction in Florida and was handed a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison. No guns, no violence, but the 22-year-old black man was still looking at spending the rest of his life behind bars.

[image:1 align:left]"I had jobs off and on, I worked as a cook, but I got on the path of selling drugs and caught and charged in 1991 and 1992, and then caught that last one in '94," Mikell said in an interview last week. "And they gave me a life sentence for conspiracy to sell crack. All they needed was the two priors, and then they could hand down a life sentence."

Sonny Mikell is emblematic of the tens of thousands of people, disproportionately black and brown, imprisoned with draconian sentences under repressive drug laws passed with bipartisan support in the 1980s and 1990s. The war on drugs caused both state and federal prison populations to skyrocket, cementing the land of the free's status as the world's leading jailer.

In the federal prison system, where Mikell did his time, fewer than 5,000 people were doing time for drug offenses in 1980, before the Reagan-era acceleration of the Nixon-era drug war. By 1995, that number had increased a whopping ten-fold to more than 52,000. With more harsh drug sentences in the 1994 crime bill, the number of federal drug prisoners doubled again to a peak of nearly 99,000 in 2010, before beginning to fall as 21st century efforts to undo the damage of mass incarceration began to kick in.

For 25 years, Mikell did his time quietly while picking up only one minor disciplinary infraction: "I worked, I was a cook in the kitchen, I studied law, I worked on my case, I filed motions to try and see what could help," Mikell said of his years behind bars. "Most got denied."

But as Mikell and thousands like him rotted behind bars for decades, attitudes toward the war on drugs and the resort to mass incarceration to wage it have changed and pressure for relief mounted. Given the failure of the drug war to eliminate drug use, arguably even to reduce it, and given the damage done to communities of color by heavy-handed policing and ever-increasing numbers of breadwinners hauled off to prison and families disrupted, the states began embracing sentencing reforms shortly after the turn of the century.

But it would take a few years more for those new realizations to work their way to the federal law and give Mikell and his fellow federal drug war prisoners the hope that they might somehow, someday be given a second chance. That came under the Obama administration.

While Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder took significant steps to ease drug-related mass incarceration, such as advising prosecutors to not seek the toughest possible charges, it was the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 that marked the first effort to redress the inequities of the drug war. That law reduced -- but did not eliminate -- the disparity in the sentencing of crack and powder cocaine offenses. According to the US Sentencing Commission, the new law helped both to reduce the federal prison population and to lower sentences for new crack offenders,

But because the new law wasn't retroactive, it did no good for Mikell and his imprisoned peers. That changed in 2011, when the Sentencing Commission voted to retroactively apply new, more lenient sentencing guidelines in the Fair Sentencing Act to people sentenced before the law was enacted. With that move, thousands of federal prisoners have been able to seek and obtain sentencing reductions.

But not Sonny Mickell. The Sentencing Commission's move only affected federal sentencing guidelines, not the mandatory minimum laws that had him in a box for life. It would take that rare Trump-era bipartisan achievement, the passage of the First Step Act late last year, to give Mickell a shot at freedom. That law extended the sentencing reductions for crack offenders to people sentenced prior to the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act -- even those with mandatory minimums.

"Hoping it was my chance, I filed for clemency when Obama was in office," Mikell recalled. "The Clemency Project tried, but I get denied. I told myself I couldn't lose hope, and when the First Step Act passed and made those sentencing cuts retroactive, I contacted my lawyers and asked if I qualified."

"I was assigned to Sonny's case," explained Juliann Welch, a federal public defender in the appellate division of the Middle District of Florida. "The judge set a hearing for the case on March 15 and I was ready to argue that he was eligible for some relief, but the judge had already reviewed the records and said he didn't see any reason to keep Sonny in prison and reduced his sentence to time served right there."

Even though federal prosecutors objected to the summary ruling, Welch said it was clearly the correct call: "When they passed the First Step Act, sentences like Sonny's are the wrong they were trying to right," she said. "He had never done a day in prison and then got a mandatory life sentence as a young kid for a nonviolent drug crime."

"Ms. Welch called me the same day the judge issued the order, and they gave me a bus ticket home," Mikell recalled. "That's all they gave me."

In the couple of months that Mikell has been free, he's been reuniting with family, trying to catch up with technology, and trying to reestablish himself in society.

"I have good family support," he said, explaining that the mother of a woman he had dated basically adopted him while he was in prison. "She is a goodhearted woman, she always stayed in contact, and she's still there. It was a sight for me to see her. I can still hardly believe it. I still don't know how to use these phones, though," he laughed.

But being able to find employment is no laughing matter for an ex-con. "I've got a drivers' license and I'm looking for a job, but people want to know what's on your resume, where you've been. Every day I try to find a job, but it's tough with that hanging over my head."

Mikell has something else hanging over his head, too: A potential move by federal prosecutors to appeal his sentence cut and send him back to prison for life.

While prosecutors have yet to actually file their appeal to send Mikell back to prison, Welch said their legal issue was a bit of sentencing arcana that revolved around the weight of the drug for which he could be held culpable. Although he was only found guilty for 50 grams by a jury, a sentencing judge using a lesser standard of evidence in effect at the time found him culpable for 290 grams.

Prosecutors will argue that current federal drug statutes that have a 280-gram cutoff would render Mikell ineligible for release under the provisions of the First Step Act. Welch is prepared to fight that case on its merits, but wonders what the prosecutors are thinking.

"Even though the judge found him responsible for 290 grams, the government never proved anything beyond 50 grams," she said. "But we will argue it and have to wonder why they think a sentencing finding of ten extra grams is worth sending him back to prison for life."

"I think that's just wrong," said Mikell. "The law is designed to help guys like me who have been in for years and years. It gives judges the discretion to give a man a second chance, and these prosecutors are coming back and saying we want you in prison, but they're not looking at the individual, just the law. I didn't do any violent crime on the street or in prison. I don't understand why they're trying to send me back to prison."

Neither does public defender Welch. "They haven't move to reincarcerate him pending appeal," said Welch. "If they really thought he was a public threat, they would have moved to keep him in prison, but they didn't."

Appealing First Step Act sentence cuts would seem to run counter of the law's goals, and it's not clear who in the Justice Department is advising prosecutors to appeal Mikell's case, Welch explained.

"The US Attorney has to have the permission of the Solicitor General to appeal, but we don't actually know how far up the chain this has gone," she said.

Hundreds of inmates have already received sentence cuts under the First Step Act, but at least one other released prisoner has been threatened with an appeal. Gregory Allen's was a similar case to Mikell's, with federal prosecutors raising the same legal issues.

In Allen's case, though, prosecutors voluntarily dismissed the appeal. Maybe it was because it they thought it would look bad since the man they were going after had just been to the White House in an event where President Trump hosted ex-inmates helped by the First Step Act.

"We don't know why that dropped that appeal," Welch said. "We suspect it had something to do with the optics. The Justice Department and US Attorneys have to consider which cases they want to make the face of this fight."

Prosecutors have until the end of the month to actually file their appeal. Welch and Mikell are hoping they will reconsider. After all, that's what the First Step Act is supposed to do.

Categories: Latest News

The Five States with the Most Drug Arrests Per Capita (and the Five with the Fewest) [FEATURE]

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 17:54

Thanks to a new report on state-by-state drug issues, courtesy of WalletHub, we now have a good idea which are the most perilous for people who use drugs, whether its marijuana, mushrooms, or methamphetamines. (The report doesn't break down which drugs people were arrested for.)

The Five States with the Highest Rates of Drug Arrests

  1. South Dakota (tie)
  2. Wyoming (tie)
  3. South Carolina (tie)
  4. North Dakota
  5. Mississippi

We have a three-way tie for worst place and, notably, a clear regional pattern. Three of the top drug arrest states are neighbors in the thinly populated region where the northern plains eventually run into the Rocky Mountains. All are deep red states. The other two are in the heart of Dixie, and are also deep red.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]None of these states has legalized or even decriminalized marijuana (North Dakota just decriminalized this month, but it's not in effect yet), which accounts for roughly half of all drug arrests. So there's that, too.

An oft-heard lament of bikers attending the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota's Black Hills is that "you come for a stroll, but leave on parole" (or, in a more optimistic variant, "you come on vacation, but leave on probation"). One reason for that and for the state's number one ranking here is South Dakota"s unlawful ingestion or "internal possession" law, a uniquely regressive andst repressive addition to the drug war armory.

Under that law, anyone who tests positive for drugs is subject to a criminal penalty -- a misdemeanor in the case of marijuana, a felony for other illicit drugs. And state law enforcement routinely seeks drug tests from arrestees. If they refuse to consent, state judges routinely rubber stamp search warrant requests, and law enforcement threatens to forcibly catheterize uncooperative arrestees. Something to keep in mind on your way to Mt. Rushmore this summer.

The law applies even if the drug were ingested elsewhere. Consider that. Someone who lawfully used medical marijuana in neighboring Montana, North Dakota, or Minnesota could come to South Dakota, get hit by a car crossing the street, get drug tested in the hospital, and be arrested for unlawful ingestion under state law. Likewise, someone who smoked marijuana in neighboring Nebraska, where it is decriminalized, could face a stiffer punishment for having pot in his urine in South Dakota than if he had been caught with actual marijuana in Nebraska, where he would just pay a fine.

A bill that would remove unlawful ingestion charges for marijuana died in the legislature earlier this year. A bill to study the unlawful ingestion law, SB 167 has been signed into law this year, but only after it was amended to remove any specific mention of unlawful ingestion. Instead, it sets up a commission to study alternatives to imprisonment for drug offenses.

The Five States with the Lowest Rates of Drug Arrests

  1. Alaska
  2. Massachusetts
  3. Washington
  4. Vermont
  5. Rhode Island

Again, a clear regional pattern emerges. Three of these states are in New England, while the other two are in the Pacific Northwest (stretching it a bit for Alaska). All of them except Alaska are deep blue states.

And all of them except Rhode Island are legal marijuana states. Rhode Island is a decriminalization state. No wonder these states have the lowest drug arrest rates; half of all drug arrests go up in smoke with legalization, or even decrim.

Two of these states -- Massachusetts and Washington -- have Law Enforcement-Assisted Diversion (LEAD) programs, which shunt potential drug arrestees into the public health and drug treatment systems instead of the criminal justice system. That shrinks drug arrest numbers, too.

And it shrinks arrest numbers not only by detouring drug offenders into treatment or social services instead of the courts, but also by producing a much lower future arrest rate among people who have been diverted. In Seattle, where LEAD was first introduced, people in the program were 58% less likely to be rearrested.

So… if you're headed for Mt. Rushmore or Ft. Sumter, you've been warned. Maybe visiting Plymouth Rock or Mt. Denali might be a safer choice.

Categories: Latest News

Philadelphia's Maverick Prosecutor Takes Aim at the War on Drugs [FEATURE]

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 06:47

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner made waves last week by reportedly saying he is "very close" to implementing a policy that would decriminalize the possession of all drugs, but that was just the latest salvo in the former criminal defense and civil rights lawyer's war on the war on drugs.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Since taking office in January 2018, Krasner has made a number of policy moves that are helping to cement his reputation as one of the country's most radical prosecutors, and he's doing it in one of America's largest cities. His progressive approach didn't come out of nowhere, though.

Krasner's decades of experience in the defense bar -- as opposed to rising through the ranks of prosecutors -- have provided him with a unique perspective on the social and racial impacts of the drug war, one deeply at odds with the law-and-order views of most DAs. For 30 years, Krasner represented the poor, the oppressed, and the brutalized, filing civil rights and police brutality lawsuits.

He often represented protestors and activists, including 400 people arrested at the 2000 Republican National Convention, AIDS activists, and members of the Black Lives Matter movement. He helped hundreds of imprisoned on false charges by a notoriously corrupt drug squad. And he sued the Philadelphia police dozens of times in civil rights and police brutality cases. This is not the career path of your average DA.

In an early sign that a new era is at hand, one of Krasner's first acts was to demand the resignations of 31l ine prosecutors and supervisors he saw as obstructionist and to see them escorted from the building to ensure they didn't take anything with them other than personal effects. Krasner said he made the quick move on the advice of Houston's reformist DA, Kim Ogg, who told him that when she gave inherited personnel two weeks' notice she would be asking for resignations, recalcitrant employees deleted massive amounts of emails, wiped hard drives, and took other steps to sabotage her efforts.

Critics called his move a purge, but for Krasner, it was lessons learned: "We had some awareness from working as attorneys in this city -- and interacting with people [in the office] -- of who was really never going to get with this program," he says. "I felt we couldn't take the risk that there might be some effort at sabotage here."

Krasner got national attention the following month when he issued a revolutionary memo on prosecuting policies designed to "end mass incarceration and restore balance to sentencing." The memo said prosecutors must decline certain charges, namely marijuana possession and prostitution. The ban on pot prosecutions held regardless of weight, and included not charging for paraphernalia or for getting caught buying weed. The ban on prostitution prosecutions applied to anyone who had fewer than three previous prostitution convictions; those with three or more convictions could be charged and sent to a special problem-solving court set up to get prostitutes out of the life.

Philadelphia had already decriminalized small time marijuana possession in 2014, but police continued to arrest people for larger amounts and under a rarely used state law making it a crime to purchase the drug. Krasner's memo brought a further decline to already dramatically shrinking marijuana arrests numbers, mainly by ending the prosecutions for buying it.

Arrests for that offense haven't completely vanished, as police continue to make them despite knowing they won't be prosecuted, but 2018 saw a 30 percent decline in such busts. Still, racial disparities persist: Blacks made up 85 percent of all arrested pot buyers.

The memo more broadly called for plea bargains to have the lightest sentences possible under state guidelines and, most dramatically, mandated that prosecutors assess how much the defendant's incarceration would cost and why it was worth spending public money on it.

He has worked assiduously to ensure that city residents who unlawfully had cash or property seized under a city asset forfeiture program deemed unconstitutional by the court are made whole. His office is administering a $3 million fund for victims of the city's lawless practices, which saw thousands of people lose their homes, cars, cash, and other property to profit-driven policing and prosecutions.

"What happened was that there was a 'keep what you kill' approach," Krasner said. "And all that it did was incentivize prosecutors to always try to take grandma's house, always try to take a working person's car, and often to do it simply because someone's nephew did something illegal out of the basement. And the owner, who may have been at church, didn't know."

Most recently, a May 1 interview that Krasner did for Axios on HBO that will air next month was teased by with the headline "Scoop: Philly prosecutor may stop charging drug users as criminals" and this lede: "Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, one of the most progressive district attorneys in the country, told 'Axios on HBO' that he is 'very close' to implementing a policy that would relax the penalties for drug possession laws."

"One of the things we're looking at is essentially diverting all possession of drugs cases," he said in the interview. "Possession is different than dealing. It's different than carrying a bunch of drugs that you intend to sell or deliver later… We are talking about people who are using drugs, the vast majority of them suffering from addiction. I do not see value in convicting people like that, thereby making it harder for them to get a job."

The Axios interview garnered lots of attention, but Axios -- and many of the outlets that ran with the story -- oversold it as Krasner endorsing drug decriminalization. Even Krasner isn't quite ready to go that far, although it's an approach that has worked in Portugal for nearly 20 years.

Instead, Krasner spokesman Ben Waxman said late last week that Axios got the story wrong. Krasner was talking diversion, not decriminalization, Waxman said. Diversion means people charged with drug possession could enter a treatment program and, if they successfully completed it, end up with no prison time and no criminal record. Decriminalization means they wouldn't be arrested and charged in the first place. "The Axios piece really conflated a bunch of different stuff," Waxman said. "I don't think they understood the difference between diversion and decriminalization."

Axios is sticking to its guns, though. "Axios went to extraordinary lengths to clarify the specifics of this story with Krasner's team, as well as other experts, to ensure the article's accuracy given the complexity and nuances of the topic," a spokesperson wrote in a statement. "This interview was recorded on video. We stand by our reporting."

Meanwhile, drug diversion is already going on in Philadelphia -- last year almost half of the 5,458 arrests for drug possession ending up in already existing diversions programs -- so Krasner was actually talking about expanding existing programs. That's a good thing, but not nearly as sexy or sensational as drug decriminalization.Still, Larry Krasner has been a model of what a progressive prosecutor can do, and he's got time to do more. But maybe he should take a couple weeks off and visit Portugal.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Categories: Latest News

In Historic Come-from-Behind Victory, Denver Magic Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative Passes [FEATURE]

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 05:56

Hours after numerous media outlets (including us) had the Denver magic mushroom initiative going down to defeat Tuesday night, it managed a near-miraculous last-minute comeback to squeak out a victory by a margin of 50.56% to 49.44%, late Wednesday afternoon, according to unofficial Denver Election Division results.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Election officials tweeted that "the results remain unofficial" until the city certifies them on May 16. If they hold, Denver will become the first locality in the United States to effectively decriminalize the use and possession of a psychedelic substance.

Even Decriminalize Denver, the group behind the measure, had conceded defeat Tuesday night, with group leader Kevin Matthews saying "it's not a loss, it's a lesson," as the measure trailed by thousands of votes throughout the evening. But then the worm turned, and now Denver has broken new ground.

With passage of I-301, the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative, voters have told the city they want to "deprioritize, to the greatest extent possible, the imposition of criminal penalties on persons 21 years of age and older for the personal possession of psilocybin mushrooms." The measure also "prohibits the city and county of Denver from spending resources on imposing criminal penalties on persons 21 years of age and older for the personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms."

Personal possession is defined under the measure to include growing one's own mushrooms, but the mushrooms not be "used or displayed in public." The measure does not decriminalize sales, saying they are still subject to prosecution under state law.

Decriminalize Denver campaigned on the criminal and social justice implications of the proposal, as well as touting the potential therapeutic benefits of magic mushrooms. Interest in those benefits is part of a psychedelic renaissance underway for years now that is manifested not only in significant increases in the number of young people reporting having used hallucinogens, but also an explosion of research into the therapeutic properties of psychedelics.

[image:2 align:right caption:true]Denver may be the first place where the psychedelic renaissance passes an electoral test, but it won't be the last where it's tried. The Oregon Psilocybin Society is already in the signature-gathering phase of its 2020 Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative, while just to the south, a group calling itself Decriminalize California is just beginning efforts to get on the 2020 ballot with a statewide decriminalization there. Those same activists tried but failed to get on the ballot last year.

For the Drug Policy Alliance, Wednesday's victory in Denver was only the beginning.

"No one should be arrested or incarcerated simply for using or possessing psilocybin or any other drug," said the group's Colorado state director, Art Way. "If anything, this initiative doesn't go nearly far enough. Given the scientific and public support for decriminalizing all drugs, as Portugal has done successfully, we need broader reforms that can scale back the mass criminalization of people who use drugs."

The state -- and the nation -- need to go further, Way said: "More than a million people are arrested each year in the US for drug possession, but this has done nothing to reduce the availability of drugs or the harms they can cause. More comprehensive is necessary to achieve the cost savings and public health outcomes that will maximally benefit Colorado."

But Denver's magic mushroom decriminalization is a beginning.

Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug War Chronicle.

Categories: Latest News

Legal Marijuana Is a Job Creation Machine [FEATURE]

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 21:40

As the marijuana business comes out of the shadows and into the legal marketplace, jobs in the legal industry are coming with it -- by the hundreds of thousands, with more on the way. In fact, the legal marijuana business is forecast to see the greatest increase in demand of any profession over the next ten years.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]That's according to the marijuana information clearing house Leafly, which crunched the numbers in its recently-released Special Report: 2019 Cannabis Jobs Count. That report finds that legal marijuana has already created 211,000 full-time jobs, with more than 64,000 added last year alone, and tens of thousands more being created this year.

The marijuana workforce increased 21 percent in 2017, jumped by another 44 percent last year, and Leafly expects at least another 20 percent growth this year. That's a more than doubling of the industry workforce in just three years.

By way of comparison, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently listed the industries with the fastest job growth prospects. Home health care aide positions are expected to jump 47 percent, while openings for wind turbine technicians and solar voltaic installers are expected to double. But that's in the next 10 years; the marijuana industry did it in three.

Because marijuana remains federally illegal, the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't count pot jobs. That left Leafly's data team, working in conjunction with Whitney Economics, to come up with the numbers. They did so using state-reported data, industry surveys, on-the-ground reporting, Leafly's own proprietary data, and economic formulas devised by Whitney.

The upward jobs trend is likely to continue for years to come, rolling through the individual states as they embrace medical marijuana and recreational legalization. So far, 34 states have some form of legal medical marijuana, but only ten have achieved full-blown legalization, so the medium-term job creation potential is substantial.

We can see this playing out in the legal states. Early legalizers Colorado and Washington saw double-digit jobs growth last year -- 17 percent and 26 percent, respectively -- but these numbers actually represent a plateau as their legal markets mature. Triple-digit job growth figures are common as states come online. In Florida, when medical marijuana dispensaries opened up last year, the state added more than 9,000 pot jobs, a stunning increase of more than 700 percent.

The Sunshine State wasn't alone in seeing huge job increases last year. Nevada added more than 7,500 jobs, Pennsylvania went from 90 pot jobs to nearly 4,000, and New York nearly tripled the number of full-time positions. By year's end more than 5,000 New Yorkers worked in the industry.

This year, Leafly predicts the biggest harvest of new jobs in the industry will come in California, where hiring was flat last year because of disruptions caused by the shift from the unlicensed medical system to tightly regulated adult-use legalization. The Golden State should see 10,000 new cannabis jobs, bringing total employment to around 60,000.

Massachusetts, where the adult-use market is just getting started, is set to add some 9,500 positions, while Florida's rollout of medical marijuana should see jobs there increase by 5,000 this year, bringing the total for the state to 15,000. In Oklahoma, there were no legal marijuana jobs in 2018, but with the November 2018 victory of a medical marijuana initiative, there are more than 2,100 jobs now, which should more than double to 4,400 by year's end. Similarly, in Arkansas, where the first dispensary is set to open any day now, the number of industry positions is expected to go from 135 now to nearly a thousand before the year is up.

Now, just imagine what happens when states such as Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York manage to actually get legalization bills through the legislature. The jobs will follow in a wave that will eventually make its way to the last stubborn prohibitionist holdouts in places like South Carolina and South Dakota. The marijuana job boom isn't ending; it's just getting underway.

This article was produced by ​Drug Reporter​, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Categories: Latest News

Marijuana With a Mission: Brother David's Quest to Turn the Cannabis Industry Truly Green and Good [FEATURE]

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 16:26

With the advent of legalization, the marijuana cultivation industry is being transformed -- and not always for the better. What was once an illicit lifestyle with mom and pop growers hiding in the hills and playing cat and mouse games with prohibition enforcers is now a legal, above-board economic sector that increasingly resembles industrial agriculture, complete with massive indoor grows the size of football fields that gobble up energy, suck up water, and require large inputs of nutrients and pesticides.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]These sorts of practices are not exactly environmentally-friendly and they turn a blind eye to the climate change crisis that is already having an impact in this country, whether it's ever-more-drenching downpours during hurricanes, more frequent and intense tornados, shorelines inundated by rising sea levels, or -- closer to home for the legal marijuana industry -- drought and forest fires in California and the Pacific Northwest.

Now, some stalwarts of environmental and drug reform activism are partnering with one of California's most environmentally and socially-conscious cannabis distributors to try to tip the industry and marijuana consumers toward embracing ecologically-aware best practices that protect family farms, produce highest-quality product at competitive prices, and are good for the planet.

David Bronner, grandson of the founder of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and the company's CEO (Cosmic Engagement Officer), is joining forces with small, sun-grown farmer champion and sustainable cannabis supply chain company Flow Kana to create Brother David's, a nonprofit marijuana company for consumers who value where their weed was grown and care about how it was produced. The venture will also promote a "beyond organic" Sun + Earth certification that all its products will carry.

Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, pot farmers who wish to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable, environmentally-sound organic agriculture practices cannot avail themselves of the label "organic," which is a federal program operated by the US Department of Agriculture. Sun + Earth certification seeks to fill that gap, and then some.

The Sun + Earth label "certifies that cannabis brands are holistically, responsibly, and regeneratively grown for the well-being of all people, farmers, and the planet," the group's web site explains. "We set the standard above and beyond organic." As seen in draft standards released for public comment last August, compliance with standards set by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements is just the beginning. The standards go above and beyond organic by promoting biodiversity and preserving ecosystem health, water conservation, carbon sequestration, growing plants in natural light only, and promoting soil conservation, among other requirements.

Such standards are wholly in line with the cutting edge save-the-planet practices now known as regenerative agriculture, which its practitioners define as following: "Regenerative Agriculture aims to capture carbon in soil and aboveground biomass, reversing current global trends of atmospheric accumulation. At the same time, it offers increased yields, resilience to climate instability, and higher health and vitality for farming and ranching communities."

That's exactly what Bronner and Flow Kana want to create in the marijuana industry.

[image:2 align:right caption:true]"The problem with cannabis production now is the same as with industrial agriculture in general," Bronner said in a phone interview last week. "Now that we're post-prohibition, we have all the same problems as every legal commodity crop. We're seeing huge, indoor corporate grows that rely on chemicals and are energy-intensive and are displacing small farmers. There's a way we should be growing our crops that is regenerative, that builds top soil and creates biodiverse habitat for wildlife -- not dumping huge amounts of pesticides and fertilizers on the land and forcing farmers off the land to work for slave wages."

Flow Kana has the pot farmers Brother David's is looking for. Dedicated to creating the first sun-grown cannabis brand while supporting the state's small, independent marijuana farming ecosystem, the company has partnered with more than 200 Northern California growers using organic farming practices. Not every Flow Kana partner farmer is Sun + Earth certified, but every partner farmer whose product is destined for Brother David's is.

"It took us awhile to find Flow Kana," Bronner noted. "We didn't know of any distribution entity of any size that wasn't trying to integrate with massive grows. But there is a real cool family at the heart of the company; they have really good ethics about partnering with farmers, they're very transparent, and their top farms are all totally regenerative organic. These are multigenerational back-to-the-land farmers who've been growing cannabis alongside vegetables for decades."

"The Emerald Triangle's ecosystem of small farms is a rare one that regenerative pioneers like Dr. Bronner's have spent decades creating in their supply chain. The cannabis industry already has this and we have to fight to preserve it from the ways of industrial agriculture," said Michael Steinmetz, Flow Kana CEO. "This movement is not only about saving these environmental and community values but making this decentralized model of agriculture the gold standard for others to follow across the cannabis industry and beyond. This fight requires everyone's involvement and careful collaboration across many operators, distributors, retailers, and brands working in tandem to preserve, protect, and evolve our industry and world."

Veteran Washington, DC activist Adam Eidinger, who organized the District's successful 2014 marijuana legalization initiative, is a longtime Bronner ally who describes himself as "a missionary" for Brother David's. He accompanied Bronner on Emerald Triangle scouting trips looking for the right farms.

"We visited all the farms," he recalled in a phone interview. "They're all advocate farms. They've been in the space since before it was legal, some of them 30 or 40 years. These are well-established, multigeneration cannabis farmers. But they're also farms that can grow their own nutrients on-site, they usually also have livestock, veggies, greens, perennials, maybe 40 crops on a small amount of land. And no-till agriculture. You end up losing a lot of topsoil every time you till," he added.

"Brother David's is an activist brand," Eidinger emphasized. "This is people who have consistently been fighting for reform for 20 years, and we're jumping in now, kind of late, because we want to identify cannabis that consumers can trust and we want to support regenerative organic farmers, small-scale producers who have transitioned to the legal market. With this brand, consumers can put their money where it will do the most good."

That's because Brother David's is not only operating under agricultural best practices, it's operating as a nonprofit, with all net proceeds going to support regenerative ag and drug and criminal justice reform efforts.

"Brother David's is dedicating 100% of net profits, and a big chunk of that will go to drug policy reform groups, and not just cannabis reform," Eidinger explained. "David committed $5 million to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) through Dr Bronner's, but there is still more need with more studies and initiatives. Some of the money will go to criminal justice reform in general, not necessarily about drugs, things like prisoner reentry and sentencing reform. If this takes off, we can do more for the community, and that's the mission. Other companies' mission is to make money."

"The cannabis legalization movement has achieved significant victories in the last 20 years. Now, we need to advance consumer and environmental interests by implementing regenerative organic agriculture in the cannabis industry," said Bronner. "As society moves closer and closer toward the federal legalization of cannabis, we need to chart a new course before it's too late. We need to promote Sun + Earth and other high bar standards -- because it's best for the Earth in this age of climate crisis, and produces the cleanest, greenest and most ethical cannabis possible."

Brother David's is rolling out beginning in May in select California dispensaries. It will offer nine strains from eight different Sun + Earth certified farms partnering with Flow Kana. The strains are priced to compete in the mid-price premium market. For pot people who want to do their share to save the planet, it's time to get woke and bake with Brother D.

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org, the publisher of this newsletter.

Categories: Latest News

DHS Considers Classifying Fentanyl as a Weapon of Mass Destruction [FEATURE]

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 21:33

The military affairs and news web site Task & Purpose has obtained an internal memo from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that shows the agency is considering designating the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) "when certain criteria are met."

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Typically produced in China and then smuggled through Mexico or sent directly to the US via package delivery services, fentanyl has been implicated in tens of thousands of drug overdose deaths in recent years. The drug is doubly dangerous because not only is it dozens of times stronger than heroin, it is all too often mixed in with other drugs so that consumers ingest it unwittingly.

The memo obtained by Task & Purpose was dated February 22, 2019 and titled "Use of counter-WMD authorities to combat fentanyl." It was prepared for then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen by DHS Assistant Secretary for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction James F. McConnell, who sketched the background of the drug and noted how some members of the federal government see it as a potential "mass casualty weapon."

McConnell is a long-time homeland security official who has led the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction office since he was appointed by President Trump in May 2018.

"Fentanyl's high toxicity and increasing availability are attractive to threat actors seeking nonconventional materials for a chemical weapons attack," he wrote. "In July 2018, the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate assessed that '...fentanyl is very likely a viable option for a chemical weapon attack by extremists or criminals'," he wrote.

But other parts of the memo suggest DHS is considering the move not only as part of a war on fentanyl but as a means of obtaining more funding for the agency's WMD activities. Indeed, funding for the counter-WMD program has declined under Trump, whose homeland security priorities are focused on the US-Mexico border, despite crime rates at the border being lower than in other parts of the country.

"[Counter-WMD] Office efforts will focus on quantities and configurations that could be used as mass casualty weapons," McDonnell wrote as he tried to sell the idea. "However, many activities, such as support to fentanyl interdiction and detection efforts, would tangentially benefit broader DHS and interagency counter-opioid efforts. Within the past couple years, there has been a reinvigorated interest in addressing fentanyl and its analogues as WMD materials due to the ongoing opioid crisis," he added.

The Counter-WMD office could help in the fight against fentanyl by developing and managing new technologies, deploying sensors, and helping other agencies in the field, McDonnell told Nielsen. He also claimed that senior Defense Department leaders "had proposed formally designating fentanyl as a WMD material."

Neither the Defense Department nor DHS would comment to Task & Purpose on the report, but members of the counter-WMD community contacted by the web site reacted with bemusement and skepticism.

Fentanyl as a WMD is a "fringe scenario," chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense expert Dan Kaszeta reacted. There are "literally dozens" of toxic chemicals that could be easily weaponized, he said.

"This is like declaring ecstasy as a WMD," said another member of the Defense Department's counter-WMD team speaking on condition of anonymity.

"It reads like somebody is laying the administrative background for trying to tap into pots of money for detecting WMD and decontaminating WMD," Kaszeta told Task & Purpose. "It's an interdepartmental play for money, that's all it is."

But McConnell is planning to move ahead. In the memo, he said his office would continue to brief DHS on fentanyl-related counter-WMD efforts and would schedule an interagency planning event on fentanyl.

An unnamed senior Defense official told Task & Purpose that while such a meeting was probably "a good idea," it was far more likely that someone seeking a chemical WMD would instead turn to sarin or mustard gas. "Anybody with a college level degree in chemistry can manufacture chemical weapons agents," he said.

"I cannot see any scenario where a nation-state would use fentanyl on the battlefield, or for that matter, a terrorist using a really toxic chemical like fentanyl in an attack when they could just sell it for funding the purchase of firearms and explosives or steal an industrial chemical instead," the official added.

In that light, McConnell's memo appears more as a cynical bureaucratic exercise aimed at increasing program budgets rather than a serious effort to address homeland security.

Categories: Latest News