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Chronicle AM: DEA Lied About Honduras Incident, Not Guilty Verdict in SD MJ Case, More... (5/25/17)

A joint report from the Justice and State inspector generals' finds that the DEA lied and covered up the facts in a 2012 Honduran raid that left four innocent civilians dead, Peruvian security forces prepare to enter forbidden territory in the country's coca heartland, the South Dakota attorney general's ploy to win political advantage by prosecuting a pot consultant fails, and more.

Authorities in Honduras have discovered their first domestic coca plantation. (deamuseum.org)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legislature Passes Bill to Fund the Implementation of the Marijuana Legalization Initiative and Change the Agency That Will Regulate Marijuana for Adult Use. The Senate on Thursday passed Legislative Document 243 unanimously "under the hammer," without debate or a roll call vote, sending it to Gov. Paul LePage (R) for final approval. The House passed it "under the hammer" on Wednesday. The bill would transfer the authority to oversee adult-use marijuana from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations within the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS). The Bureau would be responsible for licensing adult-use marijuana businesses and creating and enforcing regulations. LD 243 also allocates $200,000 to the Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation and $1.4 million to DAFS to implement Question 1.

South Dakota Attorney General Foiled in Bid to Prosecute Pot Consultant for Personal Political Advantage. A jury in Flandreau acquitted a marijuana business consultant of conspiracy to possess and marijuana possession Wednesday. Eric Hagen, president of Colorado-based Monarch America, had contracted with the Flandreau Sioux tribe to assist it in developing a marijuana grow operation and resort, a plan that was abandoned by the tribe in the face of mixed signals from the federal government and staunch opposition from state officials. Led by Attorney General Marty Jackley (R), who is eying the state's governor's office, the state nine-months later charged Hagen and a business partner, even though they never possessed or controlled any marijuana. It took a juror just two hours to find Hagen not guilty. Hagen immediately accused Jackley of ruining his company through a politically motivated prosecution. "He tanked our company by spreading lies and rumors," Hagen said. "It was 100 percent politically motivated. This was simply a media ploy for Jackley because he's running for governor in 2018."

International

Peruvian Forces Set to Enter Key Coca Cultivation Area. Security forces are preparing to enter the lawless Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro River valleys (VRAEM) coca growing areas for the first time as part of a plan to eradicate half the country's coca supply by 20121. The area, where an estimated 125,000-150,000 acres of coca is grown is remote, on the far side of the Andes, and the trade there is protected by armed rebel groups and drug trafficking organization. "It has to be done slowly, but it has to be done," Peru's drug czar Carmen Masias told a news conference.

Hondurans Bust First Coca Plantation. For years, Honduras has been a key transshipment point for cocaine headed from South America toward North American markets, but now Honduran authorities report finding their first domestic coca growing operation. They busted the field containing an estimated 7,000 plants last month in the mountainous region of Esquipulas del Norte. "We have confirmed through toxicological exams that we're dealing with coca plants. This is the first time we've confiscated a coca plantation in Honduras," prosecutor Carlos Morazan said. "At the site, we found a laboratory with tools and precursor chemicals for making coca paste and for processing the drug up to its final power form," Morazan added.

DOJ Report Says DEA Lied About Fatal Honduran Drug Raid. In 2012, a botched drug raid in Honduras led to the shooting deaths of four civilians, including a teenage boy, as they floated along a river. Now, a report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General finds that the DEA lied when it claimed the victims were cocaine traffickers who had shot first and that DEA agents were only present as advisors. The report says the DEA failed to properly investigate, blocked attempts to find the truth, and stuck with an inaccurate version of events despite the efforts of Congress and the Justice Department to get to the bottom of it.

Chronicle AM: Afghan Opium is Booming, American Legion Wants MedMJ Research, More... (5/22/17)

We're starting to see 2018 marijuana legalization initiative action getting underway, an Ohio Supreme Court justice calls for freeing the weed, the American Legion wants the feds to get out of the way of medical marijuana research, Afghanistan has a bumper opium crop, and more.

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Sends Marijuana Legalization Initiaitve Back to Be Reworked. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) has rejected a proposed marijuana legalization initiative from Larry Morris of West Fork, saying that it is "ambiguous" and nearly identical to a later proposal from Mary Berry of Summit. Rutledge suggested that Morris and Berry work together.

Minnesota Lawmaker Files Bill for Legalization Constitutional Amendment. State Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) introduced House File 2714 on Saturday. The bill proposes a constitutional amendment to allow people 21 and over to buy and grow marijuana for personal use. The bill was filed with just a couple of days left in the session, and Liebling doesn't expect it to pass this year, but "it's time to get the conversation going," she said. Liebling is also seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination next year, and marijuana legalization is one of her campaign planks.

Nevada Marijuana Edibles Regulation Bill Advances. The Assembly Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 344 last Friday. The bill has already passed the Senate. It would require edibles to be sold in single servings in nondescript packaging and be child-proofed. The legislature is rushing to get the bill passed before retail marijuana sales are set to begin on July 1.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Justice William O'Neill, the only Democrat to hold statewide office in the state, says it is time for the Ohio to legalize marijuana. The potential gubernatorial contender said in a speech that he not only wants to free the weed, but also to free nonviolent marijuana offenders from prison. "The time has come for new thinking," O'Neill said in his prepared remarks. "We regulate and tax alcohol and tobacco and imprison people for smoking grass."

South Dakota Legalization Initiative Signature Gathering Gets Underway. Supporters of a marijuana legalization initiative began signature gathering over the weekend after the attorney general's office okayed petitions for circulation. This initiative would legalize the possession of any quantity of marijuana by adults. Organizers have until November 6 to come up with approximately 14,000 valid voter signatures.

Medical Marijuana

American Legion Asks Trump to Allow Research for Vets. In a recent letter to the White House, the conservative veterans' group asked for a meeting with Trump son-in-law and key advisor Jared Kushner, "as we seek support from the president to clear the way for clinical research in the cutting edge areas of cannabinoid receptor research," the letter said. "We are not asking for it to be legalized," said Louis Celli, the national director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation for the American Legion. "There is overwhelming evidence that it has been beneficial for some vets. The difference is that it is not founded in federal research because it has been illegal."

Utah Republicans Reject Resolution Supporting Medical Marijuana. At its annual convention over the weekend, the Utah Republican Party overwhelmingly rejected a resolution in support of medical marijuana, defeating it by a margin of 70% to 29%. The Republican-controlled legislature has refused to enact a full-fledged medical marijuana law, and now the state GOP has made it clear it intends to stick to its guns. Advocates could undertake an initiative campaign next year in the face of legislative indifference or hostility.

International

Bermuda House Passes Marijuana Decriminalization Bill. The House of Assembly has approved an opposition bill that would decriminalize up to a quarter-ounce (7 grams) of marijuana. The bill still needs approval by the Senate and the governor's signature. If that happens, it will go into effect on June 30.

UN Says Afghanistan Opium Cultivation Up 10%. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that illicit opium poppy plantings had increased by 10% last year, with potential opium production up 43%, to 4,800 metric tons. UNODC estimated that opiates accounted for 16% of the country's GDP and more than two-thirds of the agricultural sector. Opium production also provided labor for 235,100 full-time workers and accounted for more than half of the family income of poppy growers. The illicit economy is fueling insecurity, violence and insurgency among other problems to discourage private and public investment in Afghanistan, UNODC said.

Chronicle AM: Rand Paul Slams Jeff Sessions, Guatemala Poppy Conflict Grows Violent, More... (5/16/17)

Marijuana legalization efforts look stalled in Connecticut and Rhode Island, Rand Paul joins the chorus of critics of Attorney General Sessions' drug war crackdown, the California Senate approves a bill to end sentencing enhancements for prior drug convictions, and more.

Kentucky libertarian GOP Sen. Rand Paul says return to harsh drug war will disproportionately harm black communities.
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Dems Put Legalization Language in Budget Bill. Democrats have included marijuana legalization language in their budget recommendations, while conceding they don't have enough votes in their own caucus to pass the measure. The measure needs 76 votes to pass, but not all 79 Democrats are on board. They said they included the language to spur further conversations and to help balance the state budget. Legalization bills have been defeated in two committees this year.

Rhode Island Bill to Create Legalization Study Commission Gets Vote Today. The House Judiciary Committee was set to vote today on a measure that would create a legislative commission to study marijuana legalization. The move is not supported by legalization proponents, who charge it is a delaying tactic. Foes were set to rally at the statehouse at noon today to urge a legalization vote this year.

Drug Policy

Rand Paul Slams Sessions' Return to Hard Core Drug War. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) slammed Attorney General Sessions' new sentencing guidelines in a CNN op-ed Monday. Last Friday, Sessions instructed federal prosecutors to charge defendants with the most serious possible offense carrying the longest possible prison sentence. "The attorney general's new guidelines, a reversal of a policy that was working, will accentuate the injustice in our criminal justice system," Paul wrote, adding that the "war on drugs" disproportionately affects young black men. "I want to go the opposite way from the attorney general," Paul said.

Senate Bill to Reauthorize Drug Czar's Office Funding Filed. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has filed Senate Bill 1123, which would reauthorize funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). The move comes after the Trump administration suggested cutting funding for the office by 95%. This bill does not actually fund ONDCP; it merely authorizes funding it. Actual appropriations levels would be set later in the budget process.

Sentencing

California Senate Approves Bill to End Sentence Enhancements for Prior Drug Convictions. The Senaate approved the RISE ACT (Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements), Senate Bill 180, on a party line vote Monday. The bill would repeal a three-year mandatory enhancement for prior drug convictions that are added to any new conviction. Today, someone convicted for sale or possession for sale of a miniscule amount of drugs, can face 3-5 years plus an additional three years in jail for each prior conviction for similar drug offenses.

International

Guatemala Border Communities Clash Over Cartel-Tied Opium Crops. The Guatemalan government has declared a state of emergency in the Ixchiguán and Tajumulco municipalities of the San Marcos department near the border with Mexico after community members engaged in armed battles between themselves and the Guatemalan military. The villagers are fighting over poppy crops, with one village aligned with the Jalisco New Generation cartel and the other aligned with the Sinaloa cartel. Videos of the conflict show the villagers heavily armed.

Chronicle AM: NJ Legalization Bill Filed, Seattle Safe Injection Sites Face NIMBY, More... (5/15/17)

A new Jersey state senator wants to legalize marijuana, and so do Britain's Liberal Democrats; Seattle's proposed safe injection sites face NIMBY opposition, violence flares in Mexico and threatens to erupt in Colombia, and more.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos helps eradicating the first of many coca plants. (President’s Office)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Legislature Approves Bill Outlawing Urine Testing of Suspected Pot-Impaired Drivers. Lawmakers last Thursday gave final approval to Assembly Bill 135, which would bar the use of urine tests for driving under the influence of marijuana because the science shows that urinalysis does not actually measure impairment -- merely the presence of marijuana metabolites. Under the bill, drivers suspected of being under the influence of pot would be subjected to a blood test, which actually measures THC levels (although not impairment). The bill does not change the state's per se DUID level of two nanogram of THC per milliliter, which presumes drivers are impaired at that level.

New Jersey Legalization Bill Rolled Out Today. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) on Monday introduced a legalization bill, even though he conceded it was unlikely to become law while Gov. Chris Christie (R) is still around. Christie's term ends in January. The bill would allow the possession of up to an ounce, 16 ounces of edibles, and 72 ounces of marijuana-infused beverages, but would not allow personal cultivation. The bill would also create a Division of Marijuana Enforcement to regulate marijuana commerce, with a sales tax of 7%, rising to 25% over five years. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Expansion Bill. Gov. Terry Branstad (R) last Friday signed into law House File 524, which expands an existing law that allows people with certain conditions to use CBD cannabis oil, but did not allow for production or sale of the oil. The new law lets the state authorize up to two facilities to grow marijuana and produce cannabis oil to be sold in five state-approved dispensaries. It also expands the list of qualifying illnesses to include 15 chronic conditions.

Harm Reduction

Seattle Supervised Injection Sites Face NIMBY Opposition. Opponents of proposed supervised injection sites -- one in Seattle and one possibly in suburban King County -- have organized a local initiative campaign to put the proposal to a county-wide vote. Initiative 27 needs some 47,000 valid voter signatures by July 31 to put the proposal to an up or down vote on the November 2017 ballot.

International

Colombian Government Begins Coca Eradication, Narcos Begin Fight-Back. President Juan Manuel Santos took part last Thursday in the kickoff of a campaign to eradicate coca crops and provide substitutes. The government wants to eradicate some 125,000 acres of coca -- more than three times the amount eradicated last year -- but with the FARC now demobilized, drug traffickers and militias are now waging a campaign of threats, intimidation, and violent attacks to protect their business, leaving coca growers caught between the government and the narcos. Nearly three dozen rural community leaders have been assassinated since the November peace deal, and the traffickers seems to be tailing government officials trying to sell the program. In one Putomayo town last week, anonymous pamphlets threatening cooperative leaders appeared the next day.

Mexican Cartel Fight Over Reynosa "Plaza" Leaves More Than Two Dozen Dead. As of late last week, at least 28 people had been killed in fighting among drug traffickers over who would control "la plaza" (the franchise) in the Mexican border town of Reynosa. The dead include cartel members, civilians, and members of the military. The combatants are variously described as either members of the Zetas and Gulf cartels or factions of the Zetas.

British Lib Dems Embrace Marijuana Legalization. The Liberal Democrats have adopted a platform that includes legalizing marijuana and marijuana commerce. The Lib Dems were the third force in British politics behind Labor and the Conservatives, but saw their number of MPs drop dramatically in the most recent elections after joining the Tories as a junior partner in a coalition government. The Lib Dems are now the fourth force in British politics, having been surpassed by the Scottish Nationalists in the last election.

Chronicle AM: VT Lawmakers Pass Legalization, Sessions May Restart Harsh Drug War, More... (5/10/17)

A bill legalizing the possession and cultivaiton of small amounts of marijuana has passed the Vermont legislature, Attorney General Sessions could be on the verge of reinstating harsh drug war prosecution practices, Mexico's drug violence is on the upswing, and more.

The Vermont legislature made history today becoming the first to have both houses approve a legalization bill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Legislature Passes Legalization Bill. The state becomes the first in the nation to have both chambers of the legislature approve a marijuana legalization bill after the House voted on Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 22, a compromise between a House bill that would only legalize possession and cultivation -- not commerce -- and a Senate bill that envisioned a full-blown tax and regulate law. This bill postpones the effective date of personal legalization to next year and creates a commission to study whether to advance on taxation and regulation. The bill has already passed the Senate and now heads to the desk of Gov. Phil Scott (R). It is unclear whether Scott will sign the bill or not.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. Despite the strongest support yet in Austin, the fight to pass a medical marijuana bill is over. House Bill 2107 is dead, killed by the House Calendars Committee, which failed to take action on it by a Tuesday deadline.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Terry Branstad (R) on Tuesday signed into law Senate File 446, which requires a criminal conviction before property valued at less than $5,000 can be seized by police. The new law also raises the standard of proof from a preponderance of the evidence to "clear and convincing" evidence, and implements record-keeping requirements.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions Could Bring Back Harsh Drug War Prosecutions. Sessions is reviewing policy changes that could reverse Obama era sentencing practices aimed at reducing the federal prison population. According to reports, Sessions could be on the verge of reversing an Eric Holder memo that instructed prosecutors to avoid charging low-level defendants with crimes carrying the most severe penalties and to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences. "As the Attorney General has consistently said, we are reviewing all Department of Justice policies to focus on keeping Americans safe and will be issuing further guidance and support to our prosecutors executing this priority -- including an updated memorandum on charging for all criminal cases," Ian Prior, a department spokesman, in a statement to The Washington Post.

Drug Testing

Labor Department Removes Obama Rule Blocking States' Drug Testing for Unemployment Benefits. The department will publish in the Federal Register on Thursday notice that it is officially removing the Obama era rule that limited states' ability to force unemployment applicants to undergo drug testing. Congress had repealed the rule under the Congressional Review Act in March.

International

Irish Senators Approve Supervised Injection Sites. The Seanad on Wednesday approved legislation permitting the creation of supervised injection sites with a bill that will allow for the preparation and possession of drugs on such premises. The measure was approved by the lower house, the Dail, in March.

Mexico's Drug War Was World's Second Deadliest Conflict Last Year. Some 23,000 people were killed in prohibition-related violence in Mexico last year, making the country second only to Syria in terms of lives lost to conflict. About 50,000 were reported killed in the Syrian civil war in 2016. The numbers come from an annual survey of armed conflict from the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan claimed 17,000 and 16,000 lives respectively in 2016, although in lethality they were surpassed by conflicts in Mexico and Central America, which have received much less attention from the media and the international community," said Anastasia Voronkova, the editor of the survey. Last year's toll is a dramatic increase from the 15,000 conflict deaths in Mexico in 2014 and the 17,000 in 2015. "It is noteworthy that the largest rises in fatalities were registered in states that were key battlegrounds for control between competing, increasingly fragmented cartels," she said. "The violence grew worse as the cartels expanded the territorial reach of their campaigns, seeking to 'cleanse' areas of rivals in their efforts to secure a monopoly on drug-trafficking routes and other criminal assets."

Colombian Coca Production More Than Triples. Thanks largely to "perverse incentives" linked to the end of the decades-long conflict between the Colombian state and the FARC, Colombia is growing more coca than ever. As a result, the cocaine market is saturated, prices have crashed, and unpicked coca leaves are rotting in the fields. "We've never seen anything like it before," said Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas. The country produced a whopping 710 tons of cocaine last year, up from 235 tons three years earlier.

Chronicle AM: Trump Invites Drug War Criminal Duterte to WH, Mexico Okays MedMJ, More... (5/1/17)

President Trump is buddying up to Filipino President Duterte despite an ever-rising death toll from his drug war, Mexico okays medical marijuana, the Vermont legalization bill is still alive -- but just barely -- and more.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte wins apparent kudos from Trump for his deadly drug war. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Justice Department Says People in Pot Business Can't Use Bankruptcy. The Justice Department's bankruptcy watchdog, the US Trustee Program, wrote a letter to trustees handling consumer bankruptcy cases last week reminding them that marijuana is illegal under federal law and warning them against handling any money from the sale of marijuana-related property. The agency said it had seen an increase in the number of bankruptcies where "marijuana assets" are disclosed. "Our goal is to ensure that trustees are not placed in the untenable position of violating federal law by liquidating, receiving proceeds from, or in any way administering marijuana assets," the Trustee Program warned. The directive applies "even in cases in which such assets are not illegal under state law."

Vermont Legalization Bill Advances as Clock Ticks Down on Legislative Session. The House Human Services Committee approved a legalization measure, House Bill 170, last Friday, clearing the way for the bill to get a House floor vote as early as Tuesday. The session ends on Friday. Neither this bill nor a late Senate bill that would more broadly legalize marijuana is expected to win final approval this session, but favorable House votes would keep them alive for the second half of the session, set for January.

Medical Marijuana

California Issues Medical Marijuana Regulation Draft Rules. A trio of state agencies last Friday releases 114 pages of draft rules designed to regulate the state's massive medical marijuana industry. Now there is a 45-day public comment period before the rules become law. Click on the link for more details.

Florida Legislators Edge Toward Agreement on Medical Marijuana Regulations. The House last Friday modified its medical marijuana regulation bill, House Bill 1397, to make it more palatable to patients and the state Senate. The bill was amended to do away with a 90-day waiting requirement for and to allow the use of vaporizing and edibles. The House also backed away from requiring doctors to recertify patients every three months. But the House and Senate remain divided on how many operations should be added to the state's seven "dispensing organization," with Senate Bill 406 added five licenses, while the House bill only adds one. Legislators have only until Friday to get it done; the session ends then.

International

Trump Calls Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Apparently Supports His Murderous Drug War, and Invites Him to White House. President Trump invited President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines to the White House after having a "very friendly conversation with Mr. Duterte" on Saturday. According to a statement issued by the White House, the two "discussed the fact that the Philippines is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs." Since he was elected President last May, Duterte has championed a campaign that is responsible for extrajudicial killing of thousands of people. "To host President Duterte at the White House is to endorse his deadly drug war policies," said Michael Collins, Deputy Director at Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "The Trump Administration should immediately withdraw its invitation to Duterte and publicly denounce the mass killings he has advocated for, or risk embarrassing the country with the sight of the US President greeting a remorseless, self-confessed murderer."

Mexican Parliamenent Approves Medical Marijuana. The Chamber of Deputies voted 374-7 last Friday to approve the use of medical marijuana. The Senate approved the move five months ago, so the measure now goes to President Enrique Peña Nieto, who is expected to sign it -- he proposed the idea last year.

Not One Step Back: Drug Policy Reformers and African American Academics Convene in the South

This article was published in collaboration with Alternet and first appeared here.

Hundreds of members of the Atlanta community and dozens of the nation's leading advocates for drug policy reform gathered in a groundbreaking meeting over the weekend. The meeting aimed at building alliances with the African American community to both advance smart public health approaches to drug policy and maintain and protect existing reforms in the face of hostile powers in Washington.

Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Rep. Maxine Waters, asha bandele
Sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, Georgia State University's Department of African American Studies, the Morehouse School of Medicine, Amnesty International, The Ordinary People's Society, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and Peachtree NORML, "Not One Step Back" marked the first time the drug reform movement has come to the historically black colleges of the South and signals the emergence of a powerful new alliance between black academics and reform advocates.

The event included a series of panels filled with activists, academics, and public health experts, including Black Lives Matter cofounder Patrice Cullors and VH1 personality and best-selling author Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, and was highlighted by a keynote address by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA).

To the delight of the audience, "Auntie Maxine" slammed the drug war as aimed only at certain communities while those making fortunes at the top of the illegal drug trade go untouched. The representative from South Central reached back to the days of the crack cocaine boom to make her case.

"The police did everything you think wouldn't happen in a democracy," she said, citing illegal raids and thuggish behavior from the LAPD of then-Chief Darryl Gates, the inventor of the SWAT team. But if low-level users and dealers were getting hammered, others involved went scot free.

"Something happened to devastate our communities," she said, alluding to the arrival of massive amounts of cocaine flowing from political allies of the Reagan administration as it waged war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. "The CIA and DEA turned a blind eye," Waters argued. "If you're the CIA and DEA, you know who the dealer is, but they take the lower-level dealers and let the big dealers keep selling drugs."

"Ricky Ross did time," she said, referencing the South Central dealer held responsible for unleashing the crack epidemic (with the help of Nicaraguan Contra connections). "But those big banks that laundered all that drug money -- nobody got locked up, they just have to pay fines. But for them, fines are just a cost of doing business. Even today, some of the biggest banks are laundering money for drug dealers," Waters noted.

"We have to defend our communities; we don't support drugs and addiction, but you need to know that people in high places bear some responsibility. One of the worst things about the drug war is that we never really dealt with how these drugs come into our communities," Waters added.

The selection of Atlanta for the conclave was no accident. Georgia is a state that incarcerates blacks for drug offenses at twice the rate it does whites. While blacks make up only a third of the state's population, they account for three-quarters of those behind bars for marijuana offenses.

The state has the nation's fourth-highest incarceration rate, with a prison population on track to grow 8% within the next five years, and one out of every 13 adults in the state are in prison or jail or on probation or parole.

Atlanta is also the powerhouse of the South -- the region's largest city, and one that is increasingly progressive in a long-time red state that could now be turning purple. And it is the site of the Drug Policy Alliance's International Drug Policy Reform Conference -- the world's premier drug reform gathering -- set for October. What better place to bring a laser focus on the racial injustice of the drug war?

"The drug war is coded language," said Drug Policy Alliance senior director asha bandele. "When the law no longer allowed the control and containment of people based on race, they inserted the word 'drug' and then targeted communities of color. Fifty years later, we see the outcome of that war. Drug use remains the same, and black people and people of color are disproportionately locked up. But no community, regardless of race, has been left unharmed, which is why we are calling everyone together to strategize."

And strategize they did, with panels such as "Drug Reform is a Human Rights Issue," "This is What the Drug War Looks Like: Survivors Speak," "Strength, Courage, and Wisdom: Who We Must Be in These Times," and "Dreaming a World: A Nation Beyond Prisons and Punishment."

While denunciations of white privilege were to be expected, the accompanying arguments that capitalism plays a role in perpetuating oppression and inequality was surprisingly frank.

"We have to dismantle both white supremacy and capitalism," said Eunisses Hernandez, a California-based program coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We need to reach a place where trauma is dealt with in a public health model. The current system of law enforcement, prisons, and jails doesn't do anything for us."

"We're in agreement here," said Dr. Hill. "We have to eliminate white supremacy and capitalism."

That's not something you hear much in mainstream political discourse, but in Atlanta, under the impetus of addressing the horrors of the war on drugs, the search for answers is leading to some very serious questions -- questions that go well beyond the ambit of mere drug reform. Something was brewing in Atlanta this weekend. Whether the initial progress will be built upon remains to be seen, but the drug reformers are going to be back in October to try to strengthen and deepen those new-found bonds.

Atlanta, GA
United States

WATCH: Florida Sheriff's Creepy Tough Guy Video Threatens Heroin Dealers

As part of his effort to fight heroin trafficking, Lake County, Florida, Sheriff Peyton Grinnell has released a video pledging to go after drug dealers, but the effort from the sheriff's "Community Engagement Unit" is both creepy and wrong-headed.

The video features the sheriff surrounded by four masked officers, their eyes hidden behind sunglasses, their torsos protected by bullet-proof vests, wearing the olive green pants of the military -- not the blue of law enforcement. They look like some sort of paramilitary hit squad, and that's what Sheriff Grinnell promises they will be.

"To the dealers that are pushing this poison, I have a message for you," the glowering sheriff warns. "We're coming for you. As a matter of fact, our undercover agents have already bought heroin from many of you… To the dealers, I say: Enjoy looking over your shoulder, constantly wondering if today is the day we come for you. Enjoy trying to sleep tonight as you wonder if tonight's the night our SWAT team blows your door off its hinges."

The message is presumably designed to be reassuring for the good citizens of Lake County, but the sheriff's promise of increased resort to paramilitarized, high-intensity, middle-of-the-night drug raids is anything but, given the record of SWAT raid errors over the years.

The New York Times recently reported that in the past six years alone, at least 81 civilians and 13 cops have been killed in "dynamic entry" raids, oftentimes after police obtained a "no-knock" warrant allowing them to bust in a door and go in heavy without warning. And as the Washington Post noted in a roundup of SWAT raid mishaps last fall, such mistakes -- sometimes fatal -- continue to occur with depressing regularity.

But even when no one is killed and no headlines are made, mistaken SWAT raids corrode public confidence. Families whose children are subjected to screaming masked intruders kicking their doors down in the middle of the night and pointing guns at their heads are likely to be traumatized for years even if the cops say "sorry."

Bad raids happen for a variety of reasons. An informant may lie to score points with the cops. The cops might hit the wrong address by mistake. Or they may hit the right address, but without necessary information about who they may encounter, as was the case with the notorious 2014 Georgia raid where a SWAT member threw a flashbang grenade into a baby's crib and blew a hole in the 19 -- month-old's chest, nearly killing him. (Police in this case were also acting on a bad informant's tip.)

Heroin is a serious problem, and it is illegal. We expect police to enforce the law, but there has to be a better way than treating drug suspects like they're ISIS terrorists or Iraqi insurgents. What ever happened to, "We've got the place surrounded. Come out with your hands up!"?

Here's the video:

Chronicle AM: US Senate Okays Unemployment Drug Testing, NM Decrim Advances, More... (3/15/17)

The US Congress has voted to allow states to force drug tests on people seeking unemployment benefits, decriminalization bills get filed in Florida and advance in New Mexico, another mass grave is uncovered in Old Mexico, and more.

A bill that would decriminalize small-time marijuana possession is moving in Santa Fe. (irin.org)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Decriminalization Bills Filed. A pair of lawmakers have filed identical decriminalization bills. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) filed House Bill1403, while Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) filed Senate Bill1662. Under the bills, possession of up to an ounce would be decriminalized, with a maximum $100 fine. Under current law, possession of up to an ounce is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

New Mexico Decriminalization Bill Advances. A bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to a half ounce of marijuana has passed out of the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee and now faces only one more vote in the House Judiciary Committee before heading to the House floor. The measure, Senate Bill 258, has already passed the Senate.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Washington State Bill Would Force Heroin and Opioid Users into Treatment. State Sen. Steve O'Ban (R-University Place) has filed a bill that could force opioid users into involuntary drug treatment by declaring them "gravely disabled" under the Involuntary Treatment Act. The measure, Senate Bill 5811, had a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Committee on Human Services, Mental Health, and Housing, but no vote was taken, and O'Ban said he didn't think the bill was going anywhere this year.

Asset Forfeiture

Mississippi Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill into Law. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) Monday signed into law House Bill 812, under which state law enforcement agencies will have to report their seizures, create a searchable website for seizure information, and submit civil seizure warrants to judges within 72 hours. The new law doesn't end civil asset forfeiture in the state, but advocates said "it's a start."

Drug Testing

Senate Votes to Allow States to Drug Test People Seeking Unemployment Benefits. The Senate voted 51-48 along party lines to roll back an Obama-era regulation that blocks states from demanding drug tests of people seeking unemployment benefits. Under a 2012 law, states can only drug test individuals applying for unemployment benefits if they were previously fired for drug use or work in jobs for which workers are regularly drug tested. The Obama rule specified a list of jobs that could be included under the law. The measure has already passed the House, and President Trump is expected to sign it.

International

Mass Grave Discovered in Mexico's Veracruz. Searchers have uncovered a series of mass graves on the outskirts of the city of Veracruz where scores, if not hundreds, of people believed to have been killed in drug gang violence have been buried. On Tuesday, local prosecutor Jorge Winkler told reporters that 250 human skulls had been found at the sites. An estimated 100,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug wars in the past decade, and tens of thousands more have gone missing.

Colombia Coca Cultivation at Two-Decade High, US Says. The US estimates that coca production in Colombia increased 18% last year over 2015, with nearly half a million acres under production. The spike in production comes as the country begins implementing a peace accord with FARC rebels, and be the result of a "perverse incentive" for farmers to grow coca last year in order to qualify for subsidies for switching to substitute crops.

Trump Vows to Win War on Drugs, But Doesn't Mention Marijuana [FEATURE]

In his inaugural address to Congress Tuesday night, President Trump echoed the ghosts of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan -- not to mention summoning the specter of Miguel Cervantes -- as he vowed to defeat drugs.

If there is a silver lining, his ire appears directed at heroin and other hard drugs. The word "marijuana" did not appear once in his speech.

"Our terrible drug epidemic will slow down and ultimately, stop," he promised as part of a litany of MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN accomplishments to come. ("Dying industries will come roaring back to life. Heroic veterans will get the care they so desperately need…")

And, having forgotten -- or more likely, never learned -- the lessons of the past half century of American drug prohibition, he's going to defeat drugs the old-fashioned way: with more war on drugs.

"To protect our citizens, I have directed the Department of Justice to form a Task Force on Reducing Violent Crime," Trump said. "I have further ordered the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, along with the Department of State and the Director of National Intelligence, to coordinate an aggressive strategy to dismantle the criminal cartels that have spread across our Nation."

But talk is cheap. Drug law enforcement costs money. The DEA and other federal agencies are already waging a multi-billion dollar a year war on drugs; if Trump's budget proposals match his rhetoric, he will have to be prepared to spend billions more. Just when he wants to cut just about all federal spending but defense, too.

Trump can ratchet up the drug war in some ways without relying on congressional appropriations through his control of the executive branch. For instance, his Justice Department could direct federal prosecutors to seek mandatory minimum prison sentences in most or all drug cases, a practice eschewed by the Obama Justice Department. That, too, has budgetary consequences, but until some time down the road.

Trump did at least pay lip service to addressing drug use as a public health issue, saying he would "expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted," but that doesn't gibe with his call to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If Obamacare is repealed, nearly three million Americans with addiction disorders with lose access to some or all of their health coverage, including nearly a quarter million receiving opioid addiction treatment.

Trump's Tuesday night crime and drug talk was interwoven with talk about the border, comingling immigration, drugs, and his border wall in a hot mess of overheated, but politically useful, rhetoric.

"We've defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross -- and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate," he said, ignoring the quadrupling in size of the Border Patrol in the past 20 years and the billions pumped into border security since 2001. "We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth."

Trump also said that he was already making America safer with his immigration enforcement actions.

"As we speak, we are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our citizens. Bad ones are going out as I speak tonight and as I have promised," he said.

It's too early to see who is actually being deported in the opening days of the Trump administration, but if the past is any indicator, it's not "gang members, drug dealers, and criminals," but, in rank order, people whose most serious crime was crossing the border without papers, alcohol-impaired drivers, other traffic violators, and pot smokers. Those were the four leading charges for criminal immigration deportations in one recent year, according to Secure Communities and ICE Deportations: A Failed Program?

Trump's drug war rhetoric is triumphalist and militaristic, but so far it's largely just talk. The proof will be in budget proposals and Justice Department memoranda, but in terms of progressive drug policy, he's striking a very ominous tone. This does not bode well.

Drug War Issues

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