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U.S.: Attorney General Holder Expands Major Reform of Mandatory Minimum Drug Laws


Holder Orders Prosecutors to Remove Any Reference to Quantities Of Illicit Drugs that Trigger Mandatory Minimums And To Apply Provision to Pending Cases

Bipartisan Support Grows In Congress for Overhauling U.S. Drug Laws

Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama Administration are continuing to push for reforms of draconian drug sentencing policies that have resulted in the U.S. federal prison population skyrocketing over the past three decades. The White House announced that they will curtail federal mandatory minimum drug laws by ordering prosecutors to remove any references to specific amounts of illegal drugs that trigger mandatory minimum sentences.

Holder also ordered prosecutors to refile charges against defendants in pending cases and to apply the new policy to defendants who are already in the system but have not yet been sentenced.

“I must say I’m impressed at the speed and specificity with which Mr. Holder has followed up on last month’s comments,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “This looks like a major good faith effort to reform federal drug sentencing laws as much as possible given the constraints of federal law and judicial prerogative over sentencing.”

Michigan: Marijuana Legalization Activist's Arrest May Void Legalization Vote


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A man who went door-to-door this summer supporting a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in a Michigan town now faces felony charges of selling pot -- and his arrest could invalidate the election results this fall, according to city officials.

Andrew Cissell, 25, faces felony charges of marijuana delivery, reports Bill Laitner of the Detroit Free Press, and according to Cherilynn Brown, city clerk for the Detroit suburb of Ferndale, that could mean the votes don't count in November.

"It's going to be on the ballots," Brown said on Thursday. "They've already been printed."

Whether the legalization votes will count is up to Oakland County election authorities and prosecutors, according to Brown. The issue, she said, is that officials don't know whether Cissell was a resident of Ferndale when he circulated and filed the petitions.

Cissell registered a Ferndale address at a branch office of the Secretary of State on June 10, and started collecting signatures two days later, according to Brown. Evidence in the marijuana delivery investigation indicated Brown lived mainly in an Oak Park home that he owns, according to Ferndale Police Chief Tim Collins.

New York: Premier of 'America's Longest War' Highlights Disastrous 40-Year War On Drugs


Panelists Include: Director Paul Feine, Drug Policy Alliance’s Ethan Nadelmann, New York City Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O'Grady and The New York Times’ John Tierney

Reason TV is hosting a special New York City reception, panel discussion and screening of the new Drug War documentary America's Longest War on Tuesday, September 24.

From murders on the Mexican border to death row in Mississippi, America’s Longest War, from, shows how the Drug War is destroying families and communities. Viewers will understand the horror and barbarity of the War On Drugs on a visceral level after viewing this film.

The documentary tells the stories of those victimized by the War On Drugs, including a Marine who survived two tours in the Iraq war, only to be shot and killed by police in a drug raid where nothing illegal was found.

Director Paul Feine also introduces you to several other Drug War victims, including a daughter who grew up without her father because mandatory federal sentencing rules forced him to serve 20 years in prison for a nonviolent drug crime.

America’s Longest War shines a light on the very real human costs of the War On Drugs and points to a viable alternative approach to drug policy.

Paul Feine, Director, America's Longest War
Melissa Mark-Viverito, New York City Councilmember
Ethan Nadelmann, executive director, Drug Policy Alliance
Mary Anastasia O'Grady, "The Americas" columnist, The Wall Street Journal

Oregon: Two Marijuana Legalization Initiative Petition Drives Start Strong


By Steve Elliott and Michael Bachara
Hemp News

The national wave of marijuana law reform is gaining momentum every day, and it isn't going to leave out Oregon. More than 30,000 people came to Kelley Point Park on September 7 and 8 for the ninth annual Hempstalk Festival, and more than 5,000 of them signed two marijuana initiative petitions while they were there.

Initiative 21 would amend the Oregon Constitution, ending criminal penalties for cannabis and permitting adult recreational marijuana use, possession and cultivation.

Initiative 22, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act 2014, creates a commission to regulate the cultivation, processing, and sale of marijuana, generating hundreds of millions of dollars for the Oregon General Fund, helping to pay for schools, roads, and social services.

The groups HEMP in Oregon (Help End Marijuana Prohibition in Oregon) and CRRH (Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp) have kicked off a vigorous volunteer and paid petition drive to get both initiatives on the ballot for November 2014, according to director Paul Stanford.

"Marijuana prohibition does not work and is expensive to maintain," Stanford said. "We must move forward on a better path for hemp and marijuana in Oregon."

Rhode Island: Teacher Charged For Giving Marijuana To School's Principal


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A special education assistant teacher gave two baggies of marijuana to the principal of Nathanael Greene Middle School in Providence, Rhode Island, for winning "Principal of the Year. He was immediately removed from school property and suspended without pay, according to Providence police.

Christopher Michael Sheehan, 57, handed Principal Nicole Mathis an envelope containing two baggies of marijuana totaling 15.5 grams, according to an affidavit by Detective John Bento, reports Amanda Milkovits at the Providence Journal.

The cannabis was an an envelope with the logo of the Rhode Island National Guard, addressed to Sheehan, whose title is "Staff Sergeant." A spokesman for the Guard wouldn't comment.

Mathis told police that Sheehan "said it was a gift for winning the Principal of the Year award," the affidavit said.

Sheehan was charged with unlawful delivery of marijuana in a school zone. He was arraigned on Monday at District Court and released on $10,000 surety bail. He will remain suspended, pending a full investigation and dismissal hearing, according to Providence School Department spokeswoman Christian O'Reilly.

"Our staff are expected to conduct themselves according to the highest standards, and the delivery of a controlled substance onto a school campus is an intolerable act," O'Reilly said stiffly.

California: Police Seize More Than A Ton Of Marijuana On Santa Barbara Beach


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Federal and local law enforcement authorities are reportedly still looking for several suspects connected to the seizure of more than 2,000 pounds of marijuana off the Santa Barbara County coast in California on Friday.

Eighteen people have so far been arrested in connection with the failed smuggling operation, which involved a small fishing boat and a truck, but others were able to escape on foot, reports Samantha Tata at NBC LA.

The California National Guard reportedly spotted about two dozen people unloading bales of what looked like marijuana from a "panga" boat at Arroyop Quemada Beach early Friday morning, reports Fox News.

Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the California Highway Patrol (CHP), Ventura County Sheriff's Department K9 Unit (with "air support," no less), and the U.S. Coast Guard responded to the scene, in an absurd example of law enforcement overkill.

The group took off running when deputies arrived at the beach, but were later apprehended in the bushes, sheriff's department spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said. Fourteen people were arrested at the scene. Many of those arrested were from the Los Angeles area, police said.

U.S.: Tax Reformers Detail Needed Changes to Marijuana Business Taxes


Grover Norquist and Representative Earl Blumenauer identify unjust application of tax code for legal marijuana businesses at press conference with the National Cannabis Industry Association

Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) president Grover Norquist, and National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) executive director Aaron Smith held a press conference on Thursday to mark the release of a new white paper from ATR entitled "Legal Cannabis Dispensary Taxation: A Textbook Case of Punishing Law-Abiding Businesses Through the Tax Code." The paper calls for reform of Internal Revenue Code Section 280E, which essentially forces medical marijuana providers to pay taxes based on gross receipts rather than income, unlike all other small businesses.

Additionally, the paper details Americans for Tax Reform’s endorsement of H.R. 2240, the Small Business Tax Equity Act, introduced earlier this year by Rep. Blumenauer and strongly supported by the NCIA. Norquist also sent a letter explaining his support for H.R. 2240 to House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp.

New Jersey: Judge Sends NJWeedman Back To Jail


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A Superior Court judge in New Jersey has denied longtime cannabis activist Ed "NJWeedman" Forchion's request to stay out of jail as he continues treatments for bone tumors. Judge Charles Delehey on Tuesday ordered the dreadlocked medical marijuana patient to, on September 20, begin serving the remainder of his nine-month sentence for cannabis possession.

But Judge Delehey said he wouldn't keep Forchion, 49, from his monthly treatments in California, reports Danielle Camilli at The judge crafted a sentence that lets Forchion out of jail for 10 days each month to travel to the West Coast for injections to treat his painful leg growths.

Upon his return each month, Forchion must report to the Burlington County Jail in Mount Holly to serve out his term for possession.

Forchion, a dual resident of Pemberton Township, N.J., and Los Angeles, got the jail term in March after violating the probation imposed under Judge Delehey's sentence for a 2010 possession case. He never reported to his probation officer so that terms of his probation could be set up, according to the judge.

U.S.: NFL Under Pressure To Ease Harsh Penalties For Marijuana Use


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The National Football League has fallen behind the times, when it comes to acceptance of marijuana. The NFL, so far, has stubbornly refused to follow the lead of the public's shifting opinion about recreational cannabis use.

The Marijuana Policy Project highlighted this discrepancy recently when it paid $5,000 for a 48-foot-wide billboard in Denver prior to the Broncos' season opener against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, reports David Lariviere at Forbes. The billboard urged the league to "stop driving players to drink" with harsh marijuana penalties, noting "a safer choice is now legal (here)" after Colorado voters in November approved legalization measure Amendment 64.

The MPP has also launched a petition on directed at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, calling on the league to change its harsh penalties for marijuana.

"For years, the NFL has been punishing players for using marijuana despite the fact that it is far less harmful than alcohol, a substance widely embraced by the league," said Mason Tvert, director of communications at MPP.

U.S.: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About Drug Education and Zero Tolerance


Back to School: New Editions of DPA Publications Beyond Zero Tolerance and Safety First Offer Pragmatic Drug Education Strategies and Policies

As the school year kicks off, two Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) publications are offering reality-based approaches to drug education and school discipline for parents, teachers and administrators that provide guidance on:

• How parents can foster open and honest dialogue with their children around the risks and consequences of drug use
• How an interactive, participatory high school drug education and student assistance program operates
• How restorative practices work effectively in high schools and what steps are required for their adoption and use

Beyond Zero Tolerance: A Reality-Based Approach to Drug Education and School Discipline is a comprehensive, humane and cost-effective approach to high school drug education. A new, updated edition was released this month.

Most high schools in the U.S. address student drug use with “zero tolerance” policies that may include expulsion, suspension, exclusion from extracurricular activities, and even arrest. Proponents of these policies argue that harsh punishment will deter most youth from engaging in alcohol and other drug use -– yet national surveys show us each year that rates of teen drug use have remained consistent over the years, while graduation rates are disturbingly low.

U.S.: Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on Conflicts Between State and Federal Marijuana Laws


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

In its first-ever hearing on cannabis legalization, U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday discussed “Conflicts Between State and Federal Marijuana Laws." The move comes shortly after the Department of Justice announced on August 29 that it will not seek to stop Colorado and Washington from moving forward with implementation of voter-approved laws establishing state-regulated systems of marijuana cultivation and retail sales, as long as a number of stipulations are adhered to, such as preventing distribution to minors.

Coming shortly after major announcements from the DoJ limiting the use of mandatory minimums and declaring that the federal government will respect democratically enacted state marijuana laws as long as states smartly regulate the trade, advocates hope these announcements signal a shift in Obama Administration policy toward more sensible drug enforcement, though federal laws still remain unchanged.

The hearing reinforced the growing consensus among legal marijuana regulators, law enforcement officials, and cannabis business professionals that allowing access to banking services is now the most pressing obstacle to the success of the regulated marijuana industry realizing its potential to effectively control cannabis sales in the states where it is legal for medical or adult use, and ensuring the eight federal enforcement priorities outlined in last month's DoJ memo can be upheld, according to the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA).

U.S.: Marijuana Use Rises Among Young Adults And Those In Their 50s


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Marijuana's rising popularity is behind an increase in pot use among Americans, including young adults as well as those in their 50s and 60s, according to a recently released national survey.

Cannabis is the most popular illegal substance in America, and it only increased its popularity from 2007 to 2012, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, reports Emily Alpert at the Los Angeles Times. More than a fifth of young adults said they had used "illicit drugs" in the previous month, with almost 19 percent of adults 18 to 25 saying they recently used marijuana.

The surge of marijuana use was especially strong among Baby Boomers in their late 50s, whose rates of "illicit drug use" rose from 1.9 percent in 2002 to 6.6 percent in 2012. Researchers say the Boomers are taking their lifelong propensity for drugs into that age group.

A majority of respondents told the Pew Research Center in a poll earlier this year that pot should be legal.

Though marijuana use is on the rise, many other drugs have fallen in popularity or remained about the same. Cocaine was less common in 2012 than in 2006, with only one percent of Americans saying they've used it in the past month. Fewer than 640,000 people said they had started using cocaine in the past year, compared with a million new users in 2002.

New Zealand: Country's First Cannabis Museum Opening


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

New Zealand's first cannabis museum is opening, featuring more than 100 books, articles, photographs and displays. The facility also includes space for community groups, recording facilities, and a movie projector.

Legalise Cannabis House in Dunedin, where the museum is located, is becoming the national headquarters of the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party and includes a broadcasting studio and computer equipment for running the organization's political campaigns.

"Cannabis is such a taboo subject, but New Zealand has the highest [cannabis consumption] rate in the Western world per percentage of population; we are like the most stoner country in the West," said Legalise Cannabis House Manager Abe Gray, reports Hamish McNeilly at the Otago Daily Times.

Gray stressed that no marijuana is on display, but users are encouraged to visit Dunedin's 4:20 protests which are featured in the museum.

"There will be no cannabis smoked or sold in the house," Gray said. "There will only be information."

The protests began on the campus of the University of Otago in mid-2004 when people began gathering under a walnut tree near the Union Building at 4:20 p.m. each Friday to support cannabis law reform.

"We had to have a museum because we had so much memorabilia about the 4:20s," Gray said.

The protests were a magnet for tourists, and the museum is likely to draw crowds, as well, according to Gray.

U.S.: Vote Hemp Holds Briefing With Massie, Polis To Discuss State vs. Federal Laws on Hemp


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Vote Hemp on Tuesday held an 11 a.m. briefing and press conference on the recent policy change at the U.S. Department of Justice honoring state laws regarding marijuana production. Members of the press heard directly from Rep. Thomas Massie, Rep. Jared Polis, Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer and others on the opportunity for industrial hemp farming and whether further legislative clarification is necessary in light of the Justice Department's ruling.

Also discussed was the hemp farming amendment to the House Farm Bill, an update on the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, H.R. 525 and S. 359, the current market for and agricultural benefits of industrial hemp.

Nine states have enacted laws regulating hemp production, and 10 others have urged Congress to remove federal barriers to it. Industrial hemp, a non-drug crop, is already a $500 million-plus industry in the U.S., representing more than 4,000 jobs.

Commissioner Comer is leading the charge to move forward with hemp production in Kentucky, and it is his position that the Justice Department's ruling must honor state law in all states where the Legislature has established a responsible administrative framework to license hemp producers.

U.S.: 25 Years Ago, DEA's Own Judge Ruled Cannabis Should Be Reclassified Under Federal Law


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Twenty-five years ago today, on September 6, 1988, an administrative ruling determined that marijuana has accepted medicinal uses, and for that reason it ought to be reclassified under federal law.

Drug Enforcement Administration Chief Administrative Law Judge Francis Young, in the ruling, determined: "Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care."

"It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record," Judge Young continued in the ruling, "In the Matter of Marijuana Rescheduling."

"The administrative law judge recommends that the Administrator conclude that the marijuana plant considered as a whole has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, that there is no lack of accepted safety for use of it under medical supervision and that it may lawfully be transferred from Schedule I to Schedule II [of the federal Controlled Substances Act]."

Colorado: Pro-Marijuana Group Places Billboard Outside Denver Broncos' Mile High Stadium


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A huge pro-marijuana billboard now greets visitors to Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos, thanks to the Marijuana Policy Project.

MPP is continuing its strategy of advertising at our near popular American sports events with the billboard purchase just outside Sports Authority Field at Mile High, reports Dan Carson at Bleacher Report.

"Stop Driving Players To Drink," the billboard scolds the National Football League, referring to the NFL's policy of punishing players for smoking marijuana, but allowing alcohol use.

"NFL players are being told that they can go out and get completely drunk, but face no punishment from the leagues," MPP spokesman Mason Tvert said. "But if a player gets caught using marijuana, they could be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars, forced to sit out games and deemed a troublemaker."

MPP had attempted to air a promotional video at the Indianapolis Speedway in July during the Brickyard 400, but the ad was pulled before the race began.

MPP reportedly paid $5,000 for the ad space. The billboard is located one block west of the stadium.

Colorado voters, like those in Washington state, last November legalized marijuana for adults. Last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the federal government won't interfere with the state laws legalizing cannabis -- at least not right now.

U.S.: Groups Call on Congress to Hold Hearings on the DEA


Sign-On Letter Highlights Numerous Recent DEA Scandals: Secret Use of NSA and CIA Surveillance Records, Unfettered Access to Citizens’ Phone Records, and Many More

Signatories Call on Congress to Hold the DEA Accountable for Systematic, Illegal Practices

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

More than 120 groups from across the political spectrum and around the globe, including the ACLU, Witness for Peace, Drug Policy Alliance, and the International Drug Policy Consortium (a global network of 106 NGOs) sent a letter to Congress on Thursday, calling on key legislators from the House and Senate Judiciary and Oversight Committees to hold hearings on the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

“For too long Congress has given the DEA a free pass,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Our hope is that Congress does its job and provides oversight because this agency has a deeply troubling track record of unregulated and out of control behavior. The DEA must be reined in and held accountable.”

The catalyst for the letter is a series of investigative articles from early August and September by Reuters and The New York Times. The Reuters articles outline how the DEA has used certain CIA and NSA programs to pursue drug convictions in the United States. The revelations have added to the current controversy surrounding NSA programs.

U.S.: Federal Government Report Shows Marijuana Prohibition Has Failed


Usage rates remain relatively unchanged despite hundreds of thousands of arrests and billions of dollars spent to reduce marijuana supply and demand

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, released on Wednesday by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), show marijuana prohibition has failed to accomplish its goals.

According to the results, usage rates have remained relatively constant despite hundreds of thousands of arrests for marijuana-related offenses and billions of dollars spent to reduce marijuana supply and demand in the United States.

The survey found that overall past-month marijuana use increased by less than half of 1 percent from 2011 to 2012, and use by individuals aged 12-17 decreased by less than three-quarters of 1 percent

“Today's survey reveals nothing new," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Billions of dollars are being spent to enforce marijuana prohibition laws, yet they have utterly failed to reduce supply and demand.

"By keeping marijuana illegal, our government is simply handing over control of a lucrative market to violent drug cartels instead of legitimate taxpaying businesses," Riffle said.

New York: Man Who Grew 186 Marijuana Plants In Parents' Basement Faces Federal Prison


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A Cicero, New York man is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in December after federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents last year found 186 marijuana plants in his parents' basement and 32 more at a second property. Scott Burger, 38, faces at least 33 months in prison for the 218 plants.

DEA agents found what they estimated to be $500,000 worth of marijuana plants during the raid, reports Jeff Stein at Burger has since pleaded guilty to "manufacturing a controlled substance," a felony.

Burger said he started growing cannabis because commenters on the Internet said it was difficult, but he believed it was easy. "I said that it couldn't be too hard ... I'm an ambitious guy," Burger said. "I just thought it'd be interesting."

Burger said he moved back into his parents' basement a few years ago, coming back from from Las Vegas to help his mother, who has rheumatoid arthritis and a crooked back. He hopes the judge will take into account his role as his mother's "primary caregiver" when deciding his sentence; he said he's responsible for getting her up in the morning and helping her do laundry, when he's not working as an auto mechanic.

(Photo of Scott Burger in his parents' basement: Jeff Stein/

U.S.: DEA Phone Call Surveillance Database Bigger Than NSA's


Did Anybody Ever Really Believe They'd Only Spy On Terrorists?

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The United States federal government has access to a massive database containing 25 years of AT&T phone call data, as part of a secret program in which telephone company employees work beside federal and local law enforcement agents to track the phone calls of "suspected drug dealers."

The revelations completely confirm the biggest fears of civil libertarians and drug policy reformers in the United States: that the government uses large-scale surveillance programs for drug law enforcement, rather than for national security (which, of course, was the original excuse for the wholesale, warrantless spying on American citizens).

As first reported by Scott Shane and Colin Moynihan of The New York Times, the operation, known as the Hemisphere Project, has been ongoing for at least six years. It has access to every single call coming through any AT&T switchboard since 1987, reports Richard Esposito at NBC News.

The vast database grows by billions of calls every day, and is even larger than the controversial database maintained by the National Security Administration (NSA), which only goes back five years.

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