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August 2016
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Open Thread

Presented for your perusal without my comment, because I’m on vacation… Drug Policy Wonks Propose Two Pathways For Legal Marijuana. “As a handful of states gear up for marijuana legalization ballot initiatives in November, drug policy experts Mark Kleiman and John Hudak explain how laws can be easily reformed.”

“Forty years from now we will know if cannabis legalization was a good thing or not,” says Kleiman. “There are too many effects, too many long-term things, too many cross interactions, too many unknowns. Everyone in the world says they know if cannabis legalization is a good thing or bad thing, except for the six of us who study it for a living.”


Don’t get me started…

Trump, in answer to police chiefs, says there is ‘no noticeable partnership’ between feds and local police

In response to a question from the International Association of Chiefs of Police about improving the “important” partnership between federal and local law enforcement, Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump recently wrote that, “Currently, there is no noticeable partnership between the federal government and state and local law enforcement.” He then added, “That will dramatically change in a Trump administration.” […]

Asked about their number one law enforcement and criminal justice priority, Trump wrote that his administration “will be focused on restoring the rule of law in the United States. Selective enforcement of laws has led to a more dangerous society and the vilification of local law enforcement must come to an end.” Asked about plans to lower crime, Trump wrote, “the law of the land will be enforced, starting with federal statutes that encompass illegal immigration, drug trafficking and human trafficking.”

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New York State of Mind

Just spent the day enjoying the beauty of the Hudson River, on the beginning of a month-long road trip through the NorthEast. I started in Wisconsin, and after New York, will be heading into Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and eastern Canada.

Consider this an open thread.


Facing Tough Primary, DNC Chair Endorses Marijuana Decriminalization. Yep, the tremendously unpopular Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is having to switch to supporting marijuana decriminalization in order to avoid being primaried.

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Take re-scheduling to Congress

Clearly, the DEA has a lot of vested interest in keeping marijuana in schedule 1, and there’s absolutely no chance that change will happen through that agency. This means that it must happen from another direction, which means Congress.

The good news is that there are finally members of Congress who also believe this needs to be changed, so there’s actually some reason to start working on that normally backwards body. (Quotes via Tom Angell at Marijuana.com)

“There are Americans who can realize real medical benefits if this treatment option is brought out of the shadows, and choosing to ignore the medical value of marijuana defies common sense and the scientific evidence.” – Sen. Cory Booker

“Bad news: @DEAHQ refused to reschedule marijuana. This has wide implications for med research, law enforcement & business. … I’ll keep pushing our federal agencies to reschedule marijuana as part of crafting a rational research & public health strategy.” – Sen. Elizabeth Warren

“Time for #DEA to remove marijuana from Sched 1 to expand #medicalmarijuana research & ensure families in need get legal access to treatment.” – Sen. Kirsten Gellibrand

“It’s well past time for us to take marijuana off the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs. …Keeping marijuana in the same category as heroin is absurd. The time is long overdue for us to remove the federal prohibition on marijuana. … If we are serious about criminal justice reform, we must remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. – Sen. Bernie Sanders

“Disappointed by @DEAHQ. We must act to allow access to banking for marijuana biz in states with legalized marijuana” – Sen. Jeff Merkley

“The @DEAHQ is keeping federal law on marijuana behind the times. Will continue to press for rescheduling.” – Sen. Ron Wyden

So perhaps this is a good time to get the Senate to start moving on re de-scheduling. Go here to easily write your Senator.

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Federal government chooses to stay in the dark ages

No big surprise here, but the DEA has refused to reschedule marijuana at all, and is continuing its stranglehold on industrial hemp. Meanwhile, the administration is making a very minor concession by allowing additional research supply sites for medical marijuana research projects.

The New York Times was pretty much bamboozled by this in their article: Obama Administration Set to Remove Barrier to Marijuana Research

The Obama administration is planning to remove a major roadblock to marijuana research, officials said Wednesday, potentially spurring broad scientific study of a drug that is being used to treat dozens of diseases in states across the nation despite little rigorous evidence of its effectiveness.

The new policy is expected to sharply increase the supply of marijuana available to researchers.

Of course, what that doesn’t change:

Researchers will still have to receive approval from federal agencies to conduct medical studies of marijuana, including from the D.E.A. and the Food and Drug Administration. Those whose projects are funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse will also need its consent.

The problem, of course, is having the DEA (or the federal government) involved at all.

Here is the full press release from the DEA:

DEA ANNOUNCES ACTIONS RELATED TO MARIJUANA AND INDUSTRIAL HEMP

WASHINGTON – The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced several marijuana- related actions, including actions regarding scientific research and scheduling of marijuana, as well as principles on the cultivation of industrial hemp under the Agricultural Act of 2014.

DEA Publishes Responses to Two Pending Petitions to Reschedule Marijuana

DEA has denied two petitions to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). In response to the petitions, DEA requested a scientific and medical evaluation and scheduling recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which was conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in consultation with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Based on the legal standards in the CSA, marijuana remains a schedule I controlled substance because it does not meet the criteria for currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision, and it has a high potential for abuse.

In his letter to the petitioners, DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg offered a detailed response outlining the factual and legal basis for the denial of the petitions.

The full response to the petitions can be found in the Federal Register here: AND here:

The DEA and the FDA continue to believe that scientifically valid and well-controlled clinical trials conducted under investigational new drug (IND) applications are the most appropriate way to conduct research on the medicinal uses of marijuana. Furthermore, DEA and FDA believe that the drug approval process is the most appropriate way to assess whether a product derived from marijuana or its constituents is safe and effective and has an accepted medical use. This pathway allows the FDA the important ability to determine whether a product meets the FDA criteria for safety and effectiveness for approval.

Increasing the Number of Authorized Marijuana Manufacturers Supplying Researchers

DEA announced a policy change designed to foster research by expanding the number of DEA- registered marijuana manufacturers. This change should provide researchers with a more varied and robust supply of marijuana. At present, there is only one entity authorized to produce marijuana to supply researchers in the United States: the University of Mississippi, operating under a contract with NIDA. Consistent with the CSA and U.S. treaty obligations, DEA’s new policy will allow additional entities to apply to become registered with DEA so that they may grow and distribute marijuana for FDA-authorized research purposes. To read this statement, click here:

This change illustrates DEA’s commitment to working together with the FDA and NIDA to facilitate research concerning marijuana and its components. DEA currently has 350 individuals registered to conduct research on marijuana and its components. Notably, DEA has approved

every application for registration submitted by researchers seeking to use NIDA-supplied marijuana to conduct research that HHS determined to be scientifically meritorious.

Statement of Principles Concerning Industrial Hemp and the Agricultural Act of 2014

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in consultation with DEA and the FDA, also released a statement of principles concerning provisions of the Agricultural Act of 2014 relating to the cultivation of industrial hemp. Industrial hemp is a low-concentration THC variety of the cannabis plant intended to be used for industrial purposes (e.g., fiber and seed). This statement of principles is intended to inform the public, including institutions of higher education and State departments of agriculture, how Federal law applies to activities associated with industrial hemp that is grown and cultivated in accordance with Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014.

The statement of principles can be viewed here:

This statement of principles outlines the legalized growing and cultivating of industrial hemp for research purposes under certain conditions, such as in States where growth and cultivation are legal under State law. The 2014 Act did not remove industrial hemp from the list of controlled substances and, with certain limited exceptions, the requirements of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the CSA continue to apply to industrial hemp-related activities. The statement of principles addresses questions including the extent to which private parties may grow industrial hemp as part of an agricultural pilot program, the circumstances under which the sale of hemp products is permitted, and other related topics.

DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg’s letter to the petitioners can be found here: AA Rosenberg Marijuana petition_ltr_08.11.2016.pdf

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Open Thread

NYPD Sued for Refusing to Reveal Data on Millions in Asset Forfeiture Revenue

The New York City Police Department is stonewalling a records request for information on how it collects and distributes “tens of millions” of dollars in seized cash and property under asset forfeiture laws, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by Bronx Defenders, a legal aid organization that assists low-income people.


Philippines President Duterte on vigilante drug war: “You can’t stop me”

The crackdown has been one of the biggest and bloodiest in the Philippines’ recent history and has alarmed human rights groups and the dominant Roman Catholic Church. But Duterte has dismissed their concerns and has openly threatened to kill crime suspects, assuring law enforcers that he would defend them if they face lawsuits while battling criminality.

Church leader Archbishop Socrates Villegas issued a statement, read in churches Sunday in his northern district, expressing deep concerns over the killings of drugs suspects and lamenting a lack of widespread outrage over the deaths.


Marijuana Haters Say They Have Millions to Spend Against Legalization Effort

But there’s a third horse in this race. The antipot group Smart Approaches to Marijuana says its political arm, SAM Action, has raised more than $2 million to fight legalization in California and elsewhere this election season.

“The ballot initiatives in California, Arizona, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine usher in massive commercialization of kid-friendly marijuana products,” said SAM co-founder Kevin Sabet. “They go way beyond just legalization for adults’ personal use.”


Enjoying watching the Olympics. The good news these days is that, as long as you don’t smoke marijuana on the day you’re competing, you’re not likely to get bounced for having it in your blood like you used to.

Side note: the drugging scandal going on now in the Olympics has to do with Russian athletes – kind of ironic considering how hard line Russia is against any kind of recreational drug use.

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Democratic Party Platform

While you may not notice much difference in quality of drug policy viewpoints between individual politicians on both sides of the aisle, the contrast between the Republican Party Platform and the Democratic Party Platform is pretty stark.

The full Democratic Party Platform is available to read online.

Let’s start with the most outstanding passage, given here completely:

Reforming our Criminal Justice System

Democrats are committed to reforming our criminal justice system and ending mass incarceration. Something is profoundly wrong when almost a quarter of the world’s prison population is in the United States, even though our country has less than five percent of the world’s population. We will reform mandatory minimum sentences and close private prisons and detention centers. Research and evidence, rather than slogans and sound bites, must guide criminal justice policies.

We will rebuild the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Across the country, there are police officers inspiring trust and confidence, honorably doing their duty, deploying creative and effective strategies, and demonstrating that it is possible to prevent crime without relying on unnecessary force. They deserve our respect and support, and we should learn from those examples and build on what works.

We will work with police chiefs to invest in training for officers on issues such as de-escalation and the creation of national guidelines for the appropriate use of force. We will encourage better police-community relations, require the use of body cameras, and stop the use of weapons of war that have no place in our communities. We will end racial profiling that targets individuals solely on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin, which is un-American and counterproductive. We should report national data on policing strategies and provide greater transparency and accountability. We will require the Department of Justice to investigate all questionable or suspicious police-involved shootings, and we will support states and localities who help make those investigations and prosecutions more transparent, including through reforming the grand jury process. We will assist states in providing a system of public defense that is adequately resourced and which meets American Bar Association standards.

And we will reform the civil asset forfeiture system to protect people and remove perverse incentives for law enforcement to “police for a profit.”

Instead of investing in more jails and incarceration, we need to invest more in jobs and education, and end the school-to-prison pipeline. We will remove barriers to help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully re-enter society by “banning the box,” expanding reentry programs, and restoring voting rights. We think the next President should take executive action to ban the box for federal employers and contractors, so applicants have an opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications before being asked about their criminal records.

The “war on drugs” has led to the imprisonment of millions of Americans, disproportionately people of color, without reducing drug use. Whenever possible, Democrats will prioritize prevention and treatment over incarceration when tackling addiction and substance use disorder. We will build on effective models of drug courts, veterans’ courts, and other diversionary programs that seek to give nonviolent offenders opportunities for rehabilitation as opposed to incarceration.

Because of conflicting federal and state laws concerning marijuana, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from the list of “Schedule 1″ federal controlled substances and to appropriately regulate it, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization. We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.

We will abolish the death penalty, which has proven to be a cruel and unusual form of punishment. It has no place in the United States of America. The application of the death penalty is arbitrary and unjust. The cost to taxpayers far exceeds those of life imprisonment. It does not deter crime. And, exonerations show a dangerous lack of reliability for what is an irreversible punishment.

We have been inspired by the movements for criminal justice that directly address the discriminatory treatment of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and American Indians to rebuild trust in the criminal justice system.

For politicians, that’s pretty outstanding. Sure, I might quibble a bit with the reliance on drug courts and forced treatment, but overall, this is really excellent.

When you get to the section on combating drug and alcohol addiction, at least the Democratic Party Platform has a plan of sorts, as opposed to the Republican Platform.

Combating Drug and Alcohol Addiction

We must confront the epidemic of drug and alcohol addiction, specifically the opioid crisis and other drugs plaguing our communities, by vastly expanding access to prevention and treatment, supporting recovery, helping community organizations, and promoting better practices by prescribers. The Democratic Party is committed to assisting the estimated 20 million people struggling with addiction in this country to find and sustain healthy lives by encouraging full recovery and integration into society and working to remove common barriers to gainful employment, housing, and education. We will continue to fight to expand access to care for addiction services, and ensure that insurance coverage is equal to that for any other health conditions. We think it is time for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Labor, and state regulatory agencies to fully implement the protections of the Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act of 2008—which means that American medical insurers, including the federal government, will need to disclose how they make their medical management decisions.

We should also do more to educate our youth, as well as their families, teachers, coaches, mentors, and friends, to intervene early to prevent drug and alcohol abuse and addiction. We should help state and local leaders establish evidence-based, age-appropriate, and locally-tailored prevention programs. These programs include school-based drug education programs that have been shown to have meaningful effects on risky behavior; community-based peer mentorship and leadership programs; and after-school activities that deter drug use and encourage life skills.

It’s not a particularly good plan. The focus on pushing and funding treatment without doing something to improve the kind of treatment we offer in this country is likely to cause more damage than good. At least there is a nod to “evidence-based” programs in the prevention section, something that hasn’t really been part of what we do federally.

When it comes to international efforts, the platform goes on at length to discuss all sorts of things, but tellingly, has very little emphasis on pursuing an exported drug war – about the only mention is this brief throw-away bit in the section on the Americas:

We will bolster democratic institutions, promote economic opportunity and prosperity, and tackle the rise of drugs, transnational crime, and corruption.

Of course, a platform doesn’t necessarily translate into policy or actual action, but it is something that can be pointed to to attempt to influence lawmakers.

And this one definitely could be worse.

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Terrorists have poisoned the water supply… with THC?

I know people have already been talking about this in comments, but this is just so bizarre…

Colorado town finds THC in its water, warns residents not to drink or bathe in it

This Denver Post article may be the best so far on the subject as it shows both the hysteria…

Screening stations are being set up for worried residents, and water is being trucked in. The county’s public health department said the public should avoid the town’s water for at least the next 48 hours and report any effects to the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center.

and the calm logic…

“It would take more product than any of us could afford to contaminate a city water supply to the extent that people would suffer any effects,” Dr. John Fox, Lincoln County’s health officer, said in a statement.

Peter Perrone, who owns Wheat Ridge cannabis testing facility Gobi Analytical, said cannabinoids such as THC or CBD “are in no way soluble in water.”

“There is zero possibility that there’s anything like THC in the Hugo water,” Perrone said.

And how do they know there’s THC in the water? 6 of 10 field tests came up positive. And we know how accurate those field tests are.

This is merely new newest form of Reefer Madness.

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Republican Party Platform – the good, the bad, the ugly

I took a look through the Republic Party Platform

A mixture of stuff that absolutely makes me cringe, along with the occasional bit of material that seemed quite sensible.

Here are a few points that may be of interest to our group:

In its discussion of the Fourth Amendment, the platform completely ignores the abuses by the criminal justice system connected to the drug war, and instead focuses on things like the Foreign Tax Compliance Act, and the use of aerial surveillance on U.S. soil.

However, in its Fifth Amendment discussion, it does include this excellent bit:

Civil asset forfeiture was originally intended as a way to cripple organized crime through the seizure of property used in a criminal enterprise. Regrettably, it has become a tool for unscrupulous law enforcement officials, acting without due process, to profit by destroying the livelihood of innocent individuals, many of whom never recover the lawful assets taken from them. When the rights of the innocent can be so easily violated, no one’s rights are safe. We call on Congress and state legislatures to enact reforms to protect law-abiding citizens against abusive asset forfeiture tactics.

In the criminal justice section, it’s nice to see this acknowledgement:

Two grave problems undermine the rule of law on the federal level: Over-criminalization and over-federalization. In the first case, Congress and federal agencies have increased the number of criminal offenses in the U.S. Code from 3,000 in the early 1980s to more than 4,500 today. That does not include an estimated 300,000 regulations containing criminal penalties. No one, including the Department of Justice, can come up with accurate numbers. That recklessness is bad enough when committed by Congress, but when it comes from the unelected bureaucrats of the federal agencies, it is intolerable. The power of career civil servants and political appointees to criminalize behavior is one of the worst violations of constitutional order perpetrated by the administrative state.

To deal with this morass, we urge caution in the creation of new “crimes” and a bipartisan presidential commission to purge the Code and the body of regulations of old “crimes.” We call for mens rea elements in the definition of any new crimes to protect Americans who, in violating a law, act unknowingly or without criminal intent. We urge Congress to codify the Common Law’s Rule of Lenity, which requires courts to interpret unclear statutes in favor of a defendant.

But the section entitled “Combatting Drug Abuse” shows a complete lack of direction.

Combatting Drug Abuse

The progress made over the last three decades against drug abuse is eroding, whether for cultural reasons or for lack of national leadership. In many jurisdictions, marijuana is virtually legalized despite its illegality under federal law. At the other end of the drug spectrum, heroin use nearly doubled from 2003 to 2013, while deaths from heroin have quadrupled. All this highlights the continuing conflicts and contradictions in public attitudes and public policy toward illegal substances. Congress and a new administration should consider the long- range implications of these trends for public health and safety and prepare to deal with the problematic consequences.

The misuse of prescription painkillers — opioids — is a related problem. Heroin and opioid abuse touches our communities, our homes, and our families in ways that have grave effects on Americans in every community. With a quadrupling of both their sales and their overdose deaths, the opioid crisis is ravaging communities all over the country, often hitting rural areas harder than urban. Because over-prescription of drugs is such a large part of the problem, Republican legislation now allows Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage plans to limit patients to a single pharmacy. Congressional Republicans have also called upon the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to ensure that no physician will be penalized for limiting opioid prescriptions. We look for expeditious agreement between the House and Senate on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which addresses the opioid epidemic from both the demand and supply sides of the problem.

That’s it. The entire section on drug policy.

Drugs are, however, mentioned again in a couple of other places (veterans and Mexico), again fairly cluelessly…

Over-prescription of opioids has become a nationwide problem hindering the treatment of veterans suffering from mental health issues. We therefore support the need to explore new and broader ranges of options, including faith- based programs, that will better serve the veteran and reduce the need to rely on drugs as the sole treatment. […]

We thank our neighbors in Mexico and Canada who have been our partners in the fight against terrorism and the war on drugs. The Mexican people deserve our assistance as they bravely resist the drug cartels that traffic in death on both sides of our border.

Not much to get excited about, that’s for sure.

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Odds and Ends

How the War on Drugs Fails Black Communities

Here’s something that all Americans should agree on: Many policies have a disproportionately negative effect on black families—and, by extension, on all of us. The most insidious of them all, however, may be the war on drugs.


Philippines Drug War Out Of Control? Rodrigo Duterte Wants All Addicts, Dealers Dead As Police Kill 110 Suspects

While police have confirmed over 110 people killed, the number is likely higher with other bodies not related to police killings found in the streets with placards on them declaring that the person was involved in dealing drugs. Human rights groups have expressed concern that violence is quickly getting out of control and people are ignoring laws.


Hollywood’s ‘Infiltrator’ shines light on failed drug war

In one moment in “The Infiltrator,” Cranston’s character expresses surprise when his partner, played by John Leguizamo, says that he offered his informant $250,000 for information. Leguizamo responds, “No one said the war on drugs was going to be cheap, bro.”

Julian Zelizer, history professor and author of this piece, gets one thing glaringly wrong:

There is growing support, in the case of some drugs, to abandon a policy that revolved around locking up citizens and unintentionally fostering illegal drug markets, toward a set of regulatory and medical policies that can contain the problem.

These efforts won’t work for all kinds of drugs, given that some can be much more dangerous when used, not just to the user but those around them.

Really? How does making them illegal make them safer to the user and those around them? Even the most dangerous of drugs is safer to the world when regulated and controlled. The prime example is the government supplied heroin programs around the world that drastically reduce crime, death, and other negative side-effects.


Sen. Feinstein Will Not Be Giving Up the Drug War Anytime Soon

No surprise, there.


Congress Finally Passes Bipartisan Legislation To Address Opioid Epidemic

Baby steps.

In a rare instance of bipartisanship and compromise in Congress, the Senate on Wednesday passed legislation by a 92-2 vote that addresses the opioid epidemic. President Barack Obama, who in his State of the Union speech had ad-libbed a plea to lawmakers to do something about the crisis, will now have a bill to sign.

It’s not really a shift in our drug-war mindset, but more a focus on treatment without funding to go along with it, but I suppose that’s still progress.

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How to move from outrage to reform?

Obviously, there’s been a lot of strife in this country revolving around race and policing.

This isn’t new to those of us involved in drug policy reform for many years. The racist underpinnings of the drug war itself, along with the militarization and us-vs-them mentality of policing that has come out of the drug war, has made this inevitable.

The drug-war-victims has expanded in some ways to include our entire country.

There is now, finally, a lot of outrage and a lot of anger, but unfortunately, I’m seeing it directed at entire classes, races, or occupations of people, rather than at the root causes.

How do we focus that anger and resentment into specific causes of action such as meaningful drug policy reform and criminal justice reform?

All I’m seeing is a lot of yelling and hurt.

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