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Drug Policy

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Published: Tue, 16 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Tue, 16 Jan 2018 05:00:53 -0500


U.S. Attorney Warns Oregon About Recreational Marijuana Boom

Fri, 12 Jan 2018 13:45:00 -0500

A guest commentary in The Oregonian today should concern marijuana growers in the Beaver State. A U.S. attorney is hinting he may unleash some sort of action against Oregon's pot industry. Billy J. Williams, the U.S. attorney for Oregon, is concerned about the amount of marijuana being shipped out of the state. Police have seized more than a ton of pot in outbound parcels for 2017 and more than $1 million in cash. Oregon, he concludes, has an "overproduction" problem. He then claims that "overproduction creates a powerful profit incentive." This gets the economics backwards: Producing too much of something drives its market value downward. What he means is that the excess production of marijuana is pushing producers to find someplace else to sell it, i.e., in states where recreational use is still illegal. But that's a demand problem, isn't it? Williams complains about black and gray markets that are entirely a consequence of the government insisting on criminalizing a product that Americans want to buy and consume. Williams also blames Congress for marijuana's persistence as a federally forbidden drug under the Controlled Substance Act, even though the Drug Enforcement Agency has the authority to reschedule it administratively. Williams doesn't appear to be threatening an immediate crackdown, and casual pot users are probably under no threat of federal prosecution. But he doesn't like the way Oregon is handling legalization, and he's doing the sort of fearmongering that officials tend to do when they're preparing to act: We also know that even recreational marijuana permitted under state law carries ill-effects on public health and safety, as Colorado's experience shows. Since 2013, marijuana-related traffic deaths have doubled in Colorado. Marijuana-related emergency and hospital admissions have increased 35 percent. And youth marijuana use is up 12 percent, 55 percent higher than the national average. We must do everything in our power to avoid similar trends here in Oregon. Funny, he notices those trends but fails to mention that Colorado has also seen a decline in opioid-related deaths since the state legalized marijuana, a contrast to the overdose crisis that the Justice Department is allegedly very concerned about. Medical marijuana use in New Mexico is also associated with reduced use of opioids. Perhaps Williams should consider the lives potentially being saved by all that pot being exported to other states? While he's at it, maybe he should read Reason's Jacob Sullum explain that marijuana-related traffic deaths in Colorado have not in fact doubled and that marijuana use among teens in Colorado is actually going down, not up. Williams adds: In the coming days, I will send invitations to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement, public health organizations, Oregon marijuana interests and concerned citizen groups to attend a summit to address and remedy these and other concerns. This summit and the state's response will inform our federal enforcement strategy. How we move forward will depend in large measure on how the state responds to the gaps we have identified. Until then it would be an inappropriate abdication of my duties to issue any blanket proclamations on our marijuana enforcement strategy in light of federal law. The logical conclusion here is that Williams is attempting to feel out whether there will be a big local backlash if he does crack down on marijuana. He wants to hear people complain that there isn't enough policing going on.[...]

Everyone You Love Did Drugs

Fri, 12 Jan 2018 12:45:00 -0500

It turns out that a lot of accomplished, well-respected historical figures did drugs. From Winston Churchill taking amphetamines to Thomas Edison lacing his wine with cocaine, not everyone who uses narcotics is a hopeless basket case living in a dumpster. While some drug users spiral into addiction and crime, others go on to become president. It's time to debunk the age old stereotypes of the back alley dangerous dealer or the lazy stoner when, according to the National Survey on Drug Use, roughly half of all Americans have tried an illegal drug. In the latest "Mostly Weekly" host Andrew Heaton breaks down the cartoonish Drug Warrior portrayal of drugs by showing some of the beloved historical figures who used them, including: Thomas Jefferson Getrude Stein Carl Sagan Cary Grant The Beatles Mostly Weekly is hosted by Andrew Heaton, with headwriter Sarah Rose Siskind. Script by Sarah Rose Siskind with writing assistance from Andrew Heaton and Brian Sack. Edited by Austin Bragg and Siskind. Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg. Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood. Song: "Burnt to a Crisp or Bloody as Hell" by TeknoAX Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.[...]

Victory in the 'Kettle Falls Five' Case

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 15:29:00 -0500

(image) A federal judge has vacated the convictions of three people sentenced to prison for growing state-legal medical marijuana in Washington. Judge Thomas O. Rice's decision yesterday followed prosecutors' admission that "the United States was not authorized to spend money on the prosecution of the defendants...because the defendants strictly complied with the Washington State medical marijuana laws."

The prosecutors were alluding to the Rohrbacher-Farr amendment, a provision included in every federal budget since 2014. The amendment states that "none of the funds made available in [the federal budget] to the Department of Justice may be prevent...States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana." The Department of Justice had originally interpreted the amendment as prohibiting only the prosecution of state officials, thus allowing it to prosecute the trio; the Ninth Circuit repudiated that interpretation of the law in 2016.

The three defendants—Rhonda Lee Firestack-Harvey, Michelle Lynn Gregg, and Roland Mark Gregg—were indicted in 2013. Along with two other defendants, they were widely known as the "Kettle Falls Five." For the last five years, the government has relentlessly sought to send the three to prison on a host of drug trafficking charges. (The other two defendants, Jason Zucker and Lee Harvey, were no longer parties to the case by the time of the trial. Prosecutors dropped charges against Harvey due to his terminal pancreatic cancer, and Zucker took an 11th-hour plea deal and testified against his former co-defendants.)

In March 2015, a jury acquitted the three of all but one of the charges they faced. They were convicted of producing 74 cannabis plants. (In accordance with the judge's pretrial ruling, the jury had not been told that the plants were intended for medicinal use.) The trio was subsequently sentenced to prison terms ranging from 12 to 33 months. In October 2015, the three filed an appeal arguing, among other things, that the Rohrbacher-Farr amendment barred their prosecution. The government ultimately agreed and asked the judge to dismiss the case. The growers' attorney, Phil Telfeyan, says prosecutors told him they were unable to adequately counter his legal arguments.

The defendants are not entirely out of the woods yet. Despite the defense's request that the court prevent the government from reopening the case for any reason, the dismissal was granted "without prejudice." That means the feds can recharge them within six months if the Rohrbacher-Farr amendment is repealed.

Jeff Sessions Is Set to Give Prosecutors Free Rein to Enforce Federal Marijuana Ban

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 11:00:00 -0500

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is planning to free federal prosecutors to decide for themselves how and whether to go after marijuana providers and users in states where consumption is legal. The Associated Press is reporting this change in advance a formal announcement that's supposed to come later today. Sessions' decision would rescind guidance under the previous administration to limit enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states where consumption is legal to certain situations to keep it from being trafficked to other states and out of the hands of children and keeping the proceeds out of the hands of gangs. This guidance, known as the Cole memo (after former Deputy Attorney General James Cole), is being rescinded by Sessions, the Associated Press reports. It's not entirely clear what will happen when the memo from 2013 is rescinded, but it's possibly a great big shot across the bow of a growing industry. California just legalized recreational marijuana sales and consumption at the start of the new year. New Hampshire is considering a bill right now. Despite popular opinion in favor of legalization, Sessions subscribes to the old school "gateway drug" nonsense. From the A.P.'s report this morning: Sessions and some law enforcement officials in states such as Colorado blame legalization for a number of problems, including drug traffickers that have taken advantage of lax marijuana laws to hide in plain sight, illegally growing and shipping the drug across state lines, where it can sell for much more. The decision was a win for pot opponents who had been urging Sessions to take action. "There is no more safe haven with regard to the federal government and marijuana, but it's also the beginning of the story and not the end," said Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who was among several anti-marijuana advocates who met with Sessions last month. "This is a victory. It's going to dry up a lot of the institutional investment that has gone toward marijuana in the last five years." Threats of a federal crackdown have united liberals who object to the human costs of a war on pot with conservatives who see it as a states' rights issue. Some in law enforcement support a tougher approach, but a bipartisan group of senators in March urged Sessions to uphold existing marijuana policy. Others in Congress have been seeking ways to protect and promote legal pot businesses. What about the law by Congress preventing the Justice Department from spending money to try to fight marijuana use in states that had legalized it? The good news is that the Rohrbacher-Farr amendment is still intact. The bad news is that it expires on Jan. 19 if it's not renewed. It was extended briefly as part of the year-end spending bill to keep the government going. The worse news is that the amendment only forbids the Justice Department from meddling in legalized medical marijuana use. It doesn't stop the Justice Department from going into states that have legalized recreational use. The Cole memo didn't focus on recreational vs. medical use but was about prioritizing certain enforcement goals to protect public safety in a world where marijuana use was becoming accepted and permitted. As it stood, even with the Cole memo, we saw federal prosecutors in the Obama administration target medical marijuana producers who were operating legally under state laws. Nobody can actually say for sure what will happen if the Cole amendment is rescinded, itself a serious problem. Whether or not a marijuana grower ends up in the crosshairs of a prosecutor depends on that prosecutor's own goals and discretion, not a consistent, predictable application of law. Reason's Jacob Sullum has previously predicted that Sessions would not start an organized crackdown on state-level legalized medical marijuana use. It would be extremely unpopular and would create massive political headaches. But tossing that memo could result in an unpredictable, disorganized, and confusing[...]

Warning: Don’t Bring Your Legal Marijuana Through Internal Border Checkpoints in California

Thu, 28 Dec 2017 10:40:00 -0500

(image) On Monday, recreational marijuana sale and use becomes officially legal under California law. But a warning for folks who live in the southern part of the state: You may have problems if you try to bring marijuana through internal border checkpoints.

Despite legalization, Border Patrol agents in the many internal stopping points in California will seize and keep any marijuana they find, regardless of whether it was legally purchased, the Associated Press reports:

"Prior to Jan. 1, it's going to be the same after Jan. 1, because nothing changed on our end," said Ryan Yamasaki, an assistant chief of the Border Patrol's San Diego sector. "If you're a federal law enforcement agency, you uphold federal laws."

As if we need more reasons to hate these infernal, internal "checkpoints." Ostensibly intended as a second buffer to catch illegal immigrants, the checkpoints are really about trying to stop drug smuggling, and the government fully acknowledges this.

Thanks to a Supreme Court precedent from the 1970s, the feds have permission to search people without warrants miles away from the actual border to the country. As a result, anybody who lives within 100 miles of a border, most particularly the southern border between the United States and Mexico, can find themselves being stopped by feds and asked intrusive questions about what they're doing.

This can be a miserable experience for people who have to travel through these checkpoints regularly, and now they have to wonder if it's going to get even worse. The Associated Press reporter hung around an internal checkpoint east of San Diego and watched as a drug dog sniffed out a truck driver's small marijuana stash.

The only good news is that federal prosecutors seem to have no interest in going after people for simple possession. These people are photographed and fingerprinted but not arrested or charged. And obviously they have their drugs confiscated.

The Associated Press notes that 40 percent of all marijuana seized at these checkpoints are in amounts of less than an ounce. I'm guessing we see that percentage climb in the new year.

New Policy Lets V.A. Docs Talk to Veterans About Medical Marijuana Use

Wed, 20 Dec 2017 08:30:00 -0500

(image) Under new Department of Veterans Affairs guidelines, doctors still cannot prescribe medical marijuana, but it looks as though they can stop pretending that it doesn't actually help patients.

Veterans have been turning to marijuana as a treatment for pain and for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This use should be seen as good news, given that studies show that when chronic pain patients turn to marijuana, they reduce their use of opioids. The V.A. has been looking for ways to reduce dependency on opioids among patients, but simply cutting veterans off exposes them to pain which can potentially drive them to the black market for relief.

Even though marijuana is proving to be an effective treatment for some veterans' ailments, V.A. doctors are forbidden from prescribing it or helping patients get it even in states that have legalized medical use. The V.A. blames marijuana's continued status a forbidden Schedule 1 controlled substance.

The ban against prescribing or recommending marijuana (or even helping veterans fill out forms related to getting medical marijuana) is not going to change, unfortunately. And the V.A. still will not pay for medical marijuana as a treatment.

But this new directive will allow health care providers and pharmacists to actually discuss marijuana use with veterans who are in state-approved programs, in particular "how the use of marijuana may impact other aspects of the overall care of the veteran, such as pain management, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or substance abuse disorder treatment." And they're not permitted to turn away vets solely on the basis of their participating in a state-legal medical marijuana program.

V.A. healthcare providers are authorized by the new directive to make appropriate changes to a veterans' health care to account for marijuana use and to document it in patients' records as a "Non-VA/Herbal/Over the Counter" treatment.

Marijuana-focused journalist Tom Angell took note Tuesday of this directive, released earlier in the month. He's got a three-page guidance brief posted at Forbes here. It's an extremely modest change, but it's not nothing. The American Legion has been calling for marijuana to be reclassified by the federal government to acknowledge the reality that it does have valid medical purposes. It's tough to see that happening in the current administration, but at least there's some improvement.

Ben Carson Admits War on Drugs Conflicts with War on Poverty

Tue, 19 Dec 2017 16:10:00 -0500

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson was a typical modern Republican drug warrior during his presidential run in 2016. As Tom Angell at the Marijuana Moment site reminds us, the former neurosurgeon supported medical marijuana but was quick to discuss the alleged IQ damage the drug can cause, believed it could be a "gateway drug" to more harmful practices, and insisted he would, if elected president, enforce federal anti-pot laws even in states that had legalized.

In a speech last week at the Manhattan Institute, Carson showed he recognizes the drug war causes direct, unwarranted harm to America's poor, encouraging those of us who like to believe even politicians can be persuaded by arguments spread by libertarians (and others) about the deleterious effects of the drug war on America.

In a talk lamenting that "in many communities there are more black males incarcerated than there are in college," Carson acknowledged "the war on poverty sometimes conflicted with the war on drugs, which often dealt harshly with non-violent offenders, taking men away from their families, and disproportionately affecting minority communities."

Carson does not, alas, have direct authority to help end government law enforcement policies regarding marijuana and other drugs that have those bad effects. But it is heartening to see the truth seep through the higher levels of the Trump administration. Let's hope Jeff Sessions might be listening.

Video of the speech, given last week at the Manhattan Institute at a symposium called "Prospects for Black America." The relevant line, in the context of a critique of aspects of post-Great Society policy, starts around 12:40.

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Even Without the Rider That Protects Medical Marijuana, a Pot Crackdown Is Unlikely

Mon, 18 Dec 2017 14:00:00 -0500

As we approach the end of 2017, it's not clear whether Congress will renew the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which prohibits the Justice Department from interfering with state medical marijuana laws. James Higdon, writing in Politico Magazine, argues that the demise of the spending rider would be "a major boost" for Attorney General Jeff Sessions' "yearning to battle legal marijuana," leaving him "free to unleash federal drug agents" on state-licensed growers and distributors. That gloss overestimates the amendment's significance and underestimates the factors that have deterred Sessions from cracking down on state-legal marijuana, notwithstanding his well-known fear and loathing of the plant. The medical marijuana amendment, which was first enacted in December 2014 and has been renewed each year since then, has proven a significant barrier to DOJ harassment of patients and providers. A federal appeals court has ruled that the amendment bars prosecution of medical marijuana growers and suppliers whose actions comply with state law, including continued pursuit of cases initiated before the amendment took effect. Sessions himself concedes that the rider ties his hands in those respects. The protection also extends to civil actions aimed at shutting down dispensaries. Sessions, not surprisingly, resents the restraint, and in May he urged Congress to let the amendment expire. Yet the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment does not apply to state-licensed businesses that supply the recreational market, which Sessions nevertheless has refrained from targeting. Sessions says he is sticking to the Obama administration policy of going after state-legal cannabusinesses only if they impinge on "federal law enforcement priorities" such as preventing interstate smuggling and sales to minors. While that policy leaves a lot of wiggle room for an attorney general inclined to enforce the federal ban on marijuana more aggressively, Sessions so far has not taken advantage of it. There are several good reasons for his reticence: 1. Most Americans think marijuana should be legal, and an even larger majority, including most Republicans, says the decision should be left to the states. 2. Sessions' boss, who is already irked at him because of the Russia investigation, has repeatedly said states should be free to legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use (although he is less enthusiastic about the latter option). 3. Marijuana is legal for recreational use in eight states, home to one in five Americans. Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states. A cannabis crackdown would anger officials from those states, creating political headaches that neither Sessions nor Donald Trump needs. 4. While the DOJ could close down conspicuous cannabusinesses easily enough, maybe just by sending some threatening letters, it does not have the resources to prevent home cultivation, which is legal in seven of the eight states that allow recreational use. A crackdown would shift the supply from a few visible and regulated sources to myriad uncontrollable growers. Whatever happens with the Rohrabacher-Bluemenauer amendment, these factors would continue to discourage Sessions from giving his anti-pot prejudices full rein.[...]

Vermont's U.S. Attorney Says Safe Injection Sites Encourage Illegal Drug Use. The Research Says She's Wrong.

Fri, 15 Dec 2017 17:20:00 -0500

The United States attorney with jurisdiction over Vermont announced this week that a proposal to introduce supervised injection facilities (SIFs) in the state would be illegal under federal law and would "encourage and normalize heroin use." Vermont legislators are considering supervised injection facilities due to the state's massive increase in opioid overdose deaths. In November, a group of local law enforcement and medical professionals in Chittenden County, Vermont, concluded an eight-month study of SIFs by announcing that the state legislature should legalize them. Such facilities have operated for years in Canada, Australia, many cities in Europe, and Iran. They allow heroin users a safe place to inject, clean needles, and access to social workers and medical staff. The list of SIF proponents in Vermont includes Patricia Fisher, a physician at the University of Vermont Medical Center; University of Vermont Police Chief Lianne Tuomey; Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George; and Grace Keller, the head of a harm reduction facility called Howard Center. But others in Vermont's law enforcement community appear unready to lower the death toll. "By permitting SIFs, is Vermont at risk of condoning heroin use and giving illegal drug use the state's stamp of approval?" asked Tom Anderson, the state's commissioner of public safety, in November. And now a federal prosecutor has waded into what should be a state and local debate. On Wednesday, the office of U.S. Attorney Christina E. Nolan released a statement claiming that SIFs "are counterproductive and dangerous as a matter of policy." Here's more: [T]he proposed government-sanctioned sites would encourage and normalize heroin use, thereby increasing demand for opiates and, by extension, risk of overdose and overdose deaths. Opiate users, moreover, all-to-often believe they are purchasing heroin when, in fact, they are purchasing its common substitute, fentanyl, ingestion of which gives rise to greatly enhanced dangers of overdose and fatality. Introduction of fentanyl to SIFs would create additional public health risks, not only for the users, but for SIF staff members who might come in contact with that highly potent substance. What's really interesting about this statement is that not one part of it is true. A 2014 literature review of 75 SIF studies concluded that such facilities are "efficacious in attracting the most marginalized [drug users], promoting safer injection conditions, enhancing access to primary health care, and reducing the overdose frequency." The literature review also found no evidence that SIFs "increase drug injecting, drug trafficking or crime in the surrounding environments." As to whether it's better to get people off heroin than to let them shoot up safely: That's the wrong question to ask. Of course it's better to not be addicted to heroin. But there's a huge disparity between the availability of evidence-based treatment options and the number of people who want to manage their opioid addiction. Regardless of whether we resolve that asymmetry, basic human decency should compel us to make life less awful for people who risk dying every time they get high. As Steven Chapman recently put it: "Even the most incorrigible opioid users are not beyond help. But dead ones are, and there are more of those every day." [...]

PharmaCann Challenges "Racial Quotas" for Ohio Medical Marijuana Licenses

Wed, 13 Dec 2017 21:50:00 -0500 reports that PharmaCann Ohio, LLC, has filed a constitutional challenge against the states minority set-aside requirement for the issuance of marijuana cultivation licenses. The firm claims that it was denied a license in favor of other, lower scoring firms because state law requires that a minimum proportion of licenses are awarded to members of racial minority groups.

From the report:

PharmaCann Ohio, LLC wants the court to order the Ohio Department of Commerce to award licenses to the top-scoring applicants, including PharmaCann, and is seeking a temporary order to stop the department from issuing provisional licenses to the two minority-owned companies.

The lawsuit was the first filed challenging the results of a months-long, expensive process of applying for a limited number of grow licenses. At least one other losing applicant has said it plans to sue the state. . . .

PharmaCann scored 158.56 points in a competitive application scoring process, ranking 12th of eligible applicants. Parma Wellness Center, LLC and Harvest Grows, LLC scored less than PharmaCann, ranking 14th and 23rd, respectively.

The provision at issue in the Ohio Revised Code provides:

The department shall issue not less than fifteen per cent of cultivator, processor, or laboratory licenses to entities that are owned and controlled by United States citizens who are residents of this state and are members of one of the following economically disadvantaged groups: Blacks or African Americans. American Indians. Hispanics or Latinos, and Asians.

Qualifying licensees must meet other specified requirements, but need not be among the highest scoring applicants.

According to PharmaCann's complaint, this provision operates as an impermissible "racial quota" in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

Why Won't the FDA Let Me Shove Chocolate Up My Nose?

Wed, 13 Dec 2017 12:15:00 -0500

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is going after a company that makes chocolate you can snort like snuff. The FDA has sent a warning letter to the makers of Coco Loko, a snortable powder made from cacao, about how they were marketing and labeling their products. Part of the complaint is stupid nanny-state nonsense. The makers of Coco Loko deliberately market themselves as an alternative to prohibited street drugs. In its complaint, the FDA absurdly complains that marketing Coco Loko as an alternative to drugs encourages the use of illegal drugs: "As a physician and a parent, I'm deeply troubled by the unlawful marketing of these potentially dangerous products, especially since they are so easily accessible by minors. Encouraging the use of snortable chocolate as an alternative to illegal street drugs is not acceptable—there are very real consequences to snorting any powder, not to mention the societal dangers of promoting drug abuse,"' said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. "At a time where drug addiction is threatening the fabric of American society, we must take action when we see efforts that may further fuel illicit drug abuse. We'll continue to vigorously target bad actors that sell unapproved products, including products that contain undeclared drug ingredients." The FDA also claims that using Coco Loko can trigger vocal cord spasms and exacerbate asthma. And it notes that the product includes taurine and guarana—ingredients common to energy drinks—that have not been evaluated for intranasal consumption. The FDA further warns that another product by the company—Legal Lean Syrup, a grape-flavored drink with herbal supplements—also contains a drug ingredient, doxylamine, that is not declared on labeling. That's a little bit more of a serious concern, as that drug is an ingredient in over-the-counter sleep aids and consumers might want to know that. Finally, the FDA objects to either product being sold as "dietary supplements." It looks like, in the end, the only thing the FDA isn't concerned about is people snorting chocolate. The FDA's response to Coco Loko's manufacturer, Arco Globus Trading, isn't as severe as it could have been, but that's because this hasn't reached the "enforcement" stage yet. The FDA is giving the company 15 days to explain how it's going fix all these problems. It isn't specifically telling the company that these products themselves are illegal...yet. Nevertheless, the company has shut down its shop on the web, so you cannot buy the stuff online anymore. That will no doubt please fearmongering nannies like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.), who started screaming over the summer that the FDA needs to do something about Coco Loco. Like Gottlieb, Schumer leaned heavily on the complaint that the product was "easily accessible" to minors. As I noted at the time, a container with 10 doses was selling for $20 dollars. That made it fairly expensive, and it seems to me that it's unlikely to actually appeal to children, particularly since they could just buy an energy drink or a candy bar. Or both! We'll have to wait and see if the company can able to handle all the labeling/marketing issues to the FDA's satisfaction. But I suspect the nannies have won this fight.[...]

Pressure Builds on Bureau of Prisons to Release Elderly and Sick Inmates

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 16:15:00 -0500

A coalition of political advocacy groups, criminal justice reformers, and religious organizations sent a letter Thursday to Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Mark Inch asking him to reform the bureau's compassionate release program. Compassionate release was created by Congress in 1984 to provide an administrative mechanism for shortening the sentences of prisoners in "extraordinary and compelling" circumstances. Since then, BOP has used compassionate very infrequently and only for terminally ill prisoners. But even folks knocking on death's door have been denied early release, or died while waiting for an answer. The letter campaign marks the latest major push in the last four years to get the BOP to help sick and elderly prisoners understand and apply for the program. The agency has ignored similar requests from the Justice Department Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The BOP has also declined to explain to Congress or the public why compassionate release is so seldom used. "The BOP should take steps immediately to ensure that all prisoners and their families are aware of the compassionate release program and its eligibility requirements," reads the letter, which is signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the Church of Scientology, FreedomWorks, R Street Institute, Families Against Mandatory Minimums*, and more than a dozen other groups across the ideological spectrum. "The Bureau should give clear guidance for submitting requests and commit to a meaningful and timely review of and response to requests. In addition, the BOP should make sure that all relevant staff, including medical care providers, case managers, and unit teams, are aware of the eligibility criteria." In July, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) added language to the 2018 appropriations bill requiring the BOP to inform the Senate how many compassionate release requests it granted in the last five years, how many it denied, and how many people died while waiting for an answer. The DOJ Inspector General's Office and the U.S. Sentencing Commission have also called on the BOP to use the program more often due to the explosion of the BOP's elderly population and the fact that federal detention facilities were not designed to serve as nursing homes or hospitals. As a result, sick prisoners receive inadequate medical care. One institution reviewed by the Inspector General's Office did not have enough medical staff to treat its sick population, nor enough correctional officers to lead off-site medical trips. The lack of staffing meant prisoners at the center who needed specialized treatment for cardiology, neurosurgery, pulmonology, and urology had to wait an average of 114 days to see a physician. The OIG also reported that as of 2016, the BOP employed only 36 social workers for an inmate population of nearly 200,000 people, and that despite having an unprecedented number of wheelchair and walker-dependent inmates, the BOP has not conducted an accessibility review of its facilities in more than 20 years. Many of the people serving decades-long sentences at the federal level are drug offenders. While these sentences are disproportionately long for people in their 20s, they are absurd for the elderly. "We know that people age out of crime, especially violent crime," says Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "Compassionate release allows us to use that knowledge and to target expensive prison space for those who actually threaten public safety." In addition to appealing directly to Inch, FAMM has also released a series of videos highlighting the kinds of cases the BOP either ignores or denies. Readers may find the case of Warren Rossin, who received a 20-year sentence for[...]

Los Angeles Reserves the Right to Decide Who May Sell You Pot

Thu, 07 Dec 2017 15:30:00 -0500

The City of Los Angeles voted yesterday to implement a host of licensing and regulatory guidelines that would usher in the legalized growing, manufacturing, and sale of recreational marijuana next year. For the most part, this is good news. One of the biggest cities in the United States is ending this particular segment of the drug war, assuming the Department of Justice doesn't come in and arrest everybody. L.A. is doing this for the money. When California approved recreational marijuana use, it gave local governments the authority to levy taxes on the trade. The Los Angeles Times reports that the city expects legal pot to generate $50 million in tax revenue in just its first year. (That sounds like a huge pile of cash, but it's nothing compared to the $1 billion the city spends annually on pensions and health care for retired city employees. The infusion of marijuana money is not going to solve L.A.'s spending problems.) Unfortunately, Los Angeles is handling this newly legal form of commerce the way it handles everything: with an incredibly complicated licensing system that favors certain people at the expense of others. This approach may mean that the black market for marijuana will continue in the city. L.A. is deliberately capping the number of shops and grow facilities that it will license, based on population and location. Officials calculate that fewer than 400 actual pot shops will be permitted, along with around 340 growers and 520 manufacturers. Fundamentally this means city officials, not the marketplace, will be deciding who gets to be a marijuana dealer. And that means influence matters. There's already going to be a licensing priority toward the entrenched medical marijuana interests who were early entrants as legal dispensaries. Note that when the city finally stopped resisting the opening of medical marijuana dispensaries, it did so in such a way that played favorites with these established businesses and deliberately helped them fend off competitors. In an attempt to be more inclusive, the city will also implement a "social equity" program to give some "priority processing" for people who qualify on the basis of being poor, or having previously been convicted of misdemeanor marijuana crimes, or having lived in areas who have been disproportionally impacted by pot enforcement. While that sounds nice, the rules are complicated enough that you can be sure they'll be gamed. And the city is imposing so many security and data retention requirements, that few actual poor people seem likely to get in before the license cap is reached. There are also all sorts of public hearing and notification requirements—not to mention the rules embedded in with the state's notoriously abused California Environmental Quality Act—that NIMBY types (and potential competitors) can use to keep pot shops out. If Los Angeles were really committed to help poor people and those chewed up and spit out by the drug war to start their own cannabis businesses, it wouldn't be capping the number of pot shops the city would permit. So we'll see how it goes. There are some empty storefronts in my Mid-City neighborhood that could host a pot shop. But there's also a rehab facility and an elementary school, and the regulations prohibit a shop from being within 700 feet of either of those, so I'm not holding my breath.[...]

Drug Users In D.C. Can Now Legally Test Their Dope for Fentanyl. Now How About Over-the-Counter Naloxone?

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 15:25:00 -0500

In an emergency measure passed unanimously yesterday, the D.C. City Council voted to amend the Drug Paraphernalia Act of 1982 "to allow the use of testing kits for specified purposes." Portable drug testing kits, in which a reagent solution changes color based on the presence of certain compounds, are the cheapest and easiest way for non-medical users to figure out if their heroin contains fentanyl, if their MDMA contains PMA, etc. This site sells a box of 10 fentanyl test kits for only $15 (but only to cops). D.C.'s temporary repeal of the ban on drug testing kits will "allow syringe exchanges and community organizations to provide drug checking kits to help their clients detect fentanyl to prevent fatal overdoses," according to an email from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). If Mayor Muriel Bowser signs off, the repeal will be in effect for 90 days. The DPA, which shepherded the law through, expects the council to extend it by another 225 days once the initial repeal expires. I tip my hat to the council for putting the health of D.C.'s residents over whatever argument says it's politically preferable for heroin users to kill themselves than shoot up one more time. But it's a little alarming that the city has moved so slowly to address the opioid crisis. The fentanyl death rate in D.C. has tripled in the last three years, and the city still hasn't legalized over-the-counter sales of the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone. As of August, D.C. was buying and distributing the drug itself—rather inefficiently, according to groups that work with drug users. This is both surprising and disappointing, given that the city was a relatively early leader in legalizing clean needle exchanges. Paraphernalia laws, many of them passed decades ago, pose a massive obstacle to saving lives and helping people who want to be helped. In addition to being counterproductive, they are also absurdly broad: Under some circumstances, D.C. classifies dextrose, i.e., granulated sugar, as paraphernalia. Indiana offers another great example of what happens when legislators just say no to revisiting paraphernalia laws. For a very long time, the state prohibited the operation of clean needle exchanges. It took nearly 200 HIV cases in and around Scott County for then-Gov. Mike Pence to sign a repeal of the ban. Public health researchers have since concluded, based on the huge enrollment of participants in the exchange program after the outbreak, that repealing the ban earlier might have prevented the outbreak. Or legislators could've waited just a little longer and allowed Scott County (pop. 24,000) to achieve the distinction of hosting an HIV-positive population that's at least 1 percent of the overall population, the statistical threshold for declaring a generalized HIV epidemic. The evidence for testing kits is not as robust as it is for clean needle exchanges and supervised injection facilities, but what little research has been done suggests that the majority of opioid users don't know what they're taking and are less likely to overdose when they find out. That's a good enough reason to permanently repeal the D.C. ban.[...]

Don’t Register Anything

Tue, 05 Dec 2017 00:01:00 -0500

If we needed yet another demonstration that getting yourself on the government's radar is just a bad idea, Hawaii handed it to us in spades last week. That's when we learned that the Honolulu Police Department was putting the screws to people so honest—and trusting—as to comply with state laws requiring registration of certain goods and activities. They shouldn't have been so honest and trusting. Like too many jurisdictions, Hawaii requires gun owners to register their firearms. Also like an excess of other control-freaky places, the state requires medical marijuana users to register themselves with the state Department of Health. As it turns out, those who dutifully abide by both requirements find themselves in trouble. Hawaii may allow the use of marijuana for medicinal uses, and even require registration of its users, but the state continues to regard the practice as a violation of federal law. As a result, Honolulu residents who legally complied with requirements that they enter themselves in both registries have received threatening letters signed by officials including Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard. These letters read, in part: "Your medical marijuana use disqualifies you from ownership of firearms and ammunition. If you currently own or have any firearms, you have 30 days upon receipt of this letter to voluntarily surrender your firearms, permit and ammunition to the Honolulu Police Department or otherwise transfer ownership." Federal law restricts the possession of firearms by anybody who is an "unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance," and marijuana remains a controlled substance according to the folks in D.C. That's enough of an excuse for Honolulu police officials to try to disarm locals who've done their best to abide by state gun and marijuana laws. But it's not just a Hawaii problem. As Jacob Sullum previously noted, "Last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which includes Hawaii, upheld the ATF's policy of banning gun sales to people who are known to have medical marijuana cards, even if they do not currently consume cannabis." So putting your name on a medical marijuana registry anywhere has the potential to make it more difficult to legally buy a firearm. Actually, entering your information into a medical marijuana registry can put a red flag next to your name in so many ways. Colorado marijuana patients have been surprised during traffic stops to discover that cops knew they were registered users. Cops are supposed to have access to the registry only under limited circumstances, but the data has obviously been shared more widely than many people envisioned. Even so, the state's Board of Health rejected a petition to block sharing of registry information with law enforcement, with the head of the board insisting, "We don't know that we are doing anything wrong." The same issue developed in Oregon, where a 2012 news report noted that "Law enforcement ran more than 20,000 queries on potential patients and grow sites from March through October of this year." Unlike Colorado, Oregon deliberately gave police open access to the medical marijuana registry, and they apparently browsed it at will—at least until the courts gave them a slap. In 2010, a state judge told cops to stop running concealed carry permit applicants' names through the system, saying "the statute does not authorize the use of database information for purposes of helping to determine whether an individual uses, or may use, marijuana." Complaints about police in Colorado and Oregon browsing marijuana registries for excuses to hassle people seem to have subsided in recent years, perhaps because both states have legalized recr[...]