01/25/15 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

Doug McVay Reports: The Justice Department makes minor changes to federal forfeiture policy, and Washington state legislators discuss how to combine their legal medical and adult use marijuana programs.

Audio file


JANUARY 25, 2015


DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network, which comes to you through the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network and is supported by the generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you.

Find us on the web at drug truth dot net, where you can find past programs and you can subscribe to our podcasts. You can follow me on twitter, where I'm at drug policy facts, and also at doug mcvay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like, you can find Drug War Facts on facebook as well, please give it a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power.

Now, on with the show.

First this news: The National Institute on Drug Abuse sponsors an annual National Drug Facts Week. This year it's being held next week, from January 26th through February 1st. It's an event directed toward young people, as NIDA puts it, quote:
“National Drug Facts Week (NDFW) is a national health observance for teens to promote local events that use NIDA science to shatter the myths about drugs.”
End quote.

To find out more about national drug facts week, go online and point your browser toward teens dot drugabuse dot gov. And to find some actual drug facts – direct quotes, full citations, and links to the original sources, the kind of uncomfortable truths that the government, and the drug warriors, would rather you not notice – to find those, go to my website at drug war facts dot org.

That actually leads us to our next story.

The Justice Department recently announced minor changes in its forfeiture policy. There have been several news stories about the change and most of them have gotten it very badly wrong. Even some activist and drug policy reform groups, like the Drug Policy Alliance, got fooled. That's because the Justice Department pulled a fast one. The Department got the Washington Post to break the story before the actual policy had been released. The Post got several details wrong. Other news outlets picked up on the story. The Justice Department issued its own news release and the actual language of the official policy change much later on that Friday, by then the story was all over the press.

Now, I had to finish last week's show early to be able to attend a memorial service for an old friend, so I didn't even look into the story until later in the weekend. By the time I did, there were several others working to debunk the Justice Department's spin including Americans for Forfeiture Reform, uh, Reason magazine's Jacob Sullum, the Washington Post's Radley Balko, and California attorney Brenda Grantland. Other outlets picked up on their analysis, but by then the damage had been done, the misinformation was already spreading.

I may have mentioned before that I edit and compile a resource called Drug War Facts. It's more just a job for me, it's my passion, bordering on obsession. The flip side of that is my work to debunk drug war myths. There is only one way to get to the truth: Use the source. Well, I'm not going to interpret it for you and give you my analysis. Rather than explain to you what the Justice Department is doing, in my own words, I'll give it to you directly in the words of the Justice Department, from their actual announcement.

First, here is what they said. Quote:
"The Attorney General ordered that federal agency adoption of property seized by state or local law enforcement under state law be prohibited, except for property that directly relates to public safety concerns, including firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography. The prohibition on federal agency adoption includes, but is not limited to, seizures by state or local law enforcement of vehicles, valuables, cash and other monetary instruments." End quote.

Now, the "adoption" policy is a very minor aspect of federal forfeiture. It's been practically mooted in recent years because of laws in the individual states that allow forfeiture. As the Justice Department itself says, Quote:
"The Justice Department's policy permitting federal agencies to adopt seizures dates from the inception of the Asset Forfeiture Program in the 1980s. The Treasury Department's adoption policy has been part of its Asset Forfeiture Program since its inception in 1993. At the time that these policies were implemented, few states had forfeiture statutes analogous to the federal asset forfeiture laws. Consequently, when state and local law enforcement agencies seized criminal proceeds and property used to commit crimes, they often lacked the legal authority to forfeit the seized items. Turning seized assets over to federal law enforcement agencies for adoption was a way to keep those assets from being returned to criminals. Today, however, every state has either criminal or civil forfeiture laws, making the federal adoption process less necessary. Indeed, adoptions currently constitute a very small slice of the federal asset forfeiture program. Over the last six years, adoptions accounted for roughly three percent of the value of forfeitures in the Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture Program." End quote.

Let's repeat that last sentence: Over the last six years, adoptions accounted for roughly three percent of the value of forfeitures in the Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture Program.

The narrow scope of this order was emphasized again in the Justice Department release.
Quote: "The new policy applies only to adoptions, not to seizures resulting from joint operations involving both federal and state authorities, or to seizures pursuant to warrants issued by federal courts. The policy does not limit the ability of state and local agencies to pursue the forfeiture of assets pursuant to their respective state laws." End quote.

So there you have it. Forfeiture, policing for profit, continues. The equitable sharing program continues. Only the adoption program, which had practically outlived its usefulness, is ending – for the time being. The Department tried to spin the news in such a way as to make people think they're doing the right thing for a change. But no, it's just business as usual. And it's not a change in the law, it is only a change in policy. So when I say for the time being, this could actually be undone by the next attorney general, she wouldn't even have to wait for the next administration.

Now, you'll find the text from that order, as well as a link to the original files, on my website Drug War Facts dot org, in the forfeiture section.

Moving on. The Washington state legislature is in session and marijuana is on the agenda. Legislation is being introduced by state senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles that would, in the words of her news release, quote, “align the currently unregulated medical marijuana system and that of the regulated recreational marijuana system” end quote.

There are two main pieces of legislation. The first is Senate Bill 5052, the cannabis patient protection act, in the Washington state legislature. The second, Washington State Senate Bill 5519, was only just introduced on January 22nd. That one is called the comprehensive marijuana reform act. The two bills contain a lot of the same language, but they are separate bills with different regulations, and they currently have completely different sets of sponsors. So far, only SB5052 has had any sort of hearing.

Now, the state of Washington has a medical market that is largely unregulated, it's technically not really legal. They also have an adult use market, regulated and controlled by the state, which was set up after the passage of Initiative 502 in 2012. Washington state has become the first, or at least the most visible, state to try and somehow combine these two different markets. The first, but it's not the last – I mean, Colorado is actually going through this to a degree in its state legislature. The Oregon legislature is considering bills to do this as well, even though the state of Oregon has not yet even established its adult use system. For now, everyone's eyes are on Washington. Whatever they come up with, there is a very good chance other states will follow.

That's why this week, we're going to take a look at what's going on in the state of Washington.

Some, particularly the business community and law enforcement, hope to simply roll the medical market into the adult use market, make it one big program. Others, particularly patients and patient advocates, are concerned with maintaining the medical market for the simple reason that patients do have different needs than social use consumers. This debate will continue to be heard around the country as more and more states move to legalize, especially those states which already have established medical programs. Washington state is the first, and as the leader, they will have tremendous impact nationally, whatever they decide.

Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles has been a leader in the Washington state legislature on issues of marijuana and medical marijuana policy for years. She introduced Senate Bill 5519, the comprehensive marijuana reform act, on January 22nd, as I said. The text has only just been made available, no hearings of any sort have yet been held yet. We do have her news conference, however, so let's listen in to part of that. The first speaker is Senator Kohl-Welles, she introduces the others.

JEANNE KOHL-WELLES: So, what my bill would do, and this is one approach, Senator Rivers and I have complimentary approaches in many ways and similar approaches. My bill has some differences. First of all, it would allow for the, uh, a single licensing system for retail marijuana outlets, namely I-502 stores, whether they wanted to specialize in medicinal products for patients or they wanted to strictly adhere to recreational, that's fine. But they can get an endorsement from the Department of Health to be able to have medical grade products and be able to advertise as such, and that's a very important element.

But any recreational, or any 502 store could do that. And, uh, the beauty I think in my bill, and as city attorney Pete Holmes who cannot be here today has indicated, that it's simple and it's elegant in its simplicity, because we don't have the convoluted system in place right now, or we would not have those, that in place. Retailers would be able to sell to anybody who wishes to purchase high CBD and low THC, THC being the, the uh, property in marijuana that can help someone feel a little, high, whatever. And if the purchases are made for the high CBD low THC, there would be no taxation on the product for the purchaser. They don't have to have a medical marijuana authorization, it's strictly on the product that's purchased.

On the other hand, there are some individuals with medical needs who do receive benefits of high THC products. I've understood that some individuals with cancer have help in reducing their maligning, malignant tumors through the use of THC. And so we would create a new process through the Department of Health that would in fact allow an individual to apply for a medical waiver. That may sound complicated, it's not, it's just strictly completing a short application indicating that the person has a given, statutorily allowed for medical condition, and needs, and can benefit from the high THC product.

Department of Health would just check with the medical, the health care professional, let's just say doctor right now, and say, okeh, does this, is this a patient of yours? Yes. Are, have you diagnosed or are you treating this patient for cancer, or whatever the medical condition is that's allowed for in law. Yes, then the Department of Health can issue this medical waiver. We do not have to have a registry, which many patients have a very high concern about. A, physician, whoever the health care professional is does not have to complete, prepare or complete, sign, a medical authorization. And, some don't do that because of concern about federal law and they have federal licenses for prescribing.

Secondly then, they can just provide a medical waiver card, it would be uniform, and that's what would be shown, not some type of health care authorization which right now we know unfortunately there's a great deal of abuse associated with that, kids are getting ahold of them, people who do not have one of the medical conditions authorized are getting ahold of them. So we'd just shut that whole process out. Eventually we would eliminate those health care professional authorizations, there would just be no need.

Also for those individuals who have a need greater than what they could grow on their own, up to six plants, they would be able to apply for a medical waiver to have that greater amount being available. Uh, we would allow for home grows for all individuals in the state of Washington who are 21 years or over. That coincides with what is allowable in the other legalization states, Colorado, and now Oregon and Alaska, and the District of Columbia, so there would be a uniformity there.

With regard to people who are under 21 but over 18, many of whom have legitimate medical conditions, uh, they would also be able to apply for a medical waiver so they could purchase in the retail, the 502 licensed store. Any 502 store that does provide, uh, this ability for the product and wishes to be able to advise patients that come in would have to have their employees be trained by the Department of Health, and we also would create a new medic – mari – medical marijuana consultant, um permit which I think would be a really good idea to have someone, having that permit on staff at the facility.

We would expand the ability of local jurisdictions to be able to have the 502, uh, licensed facilities in their jurisdiction. Right now we know for example in Seattle it's very difficult to find a space, area where a thousand feet distance buffer requirement occurs, from schools, playgrounds, video arcades, transit centers, parks, and so forth. And we would keep that provision for park, excuse me, for schools and playgrounds, because that, those two coincide with federal law, but other than that we would allow local jurisdictions to drop down to a 500 feet buffer zone for any of the other, uh, areas, parks, transit centers, and so forth. They don't have to do that, but they can do that through their zoning process.

Uh, I would also like to just bring out in conclusion because I want to hear, have you hear from the other people who are here, that, uh, the hope here is that we have a regulated market for everybody. We should not have unregulated, um, uh a industry for patients in particular who may likely be more vulnerable, we need to have testing, including pesticide testing for all, we want to make sure patients including recreational users get correct information. We know however that there are some outstanding dispensaries operating now who provide invaluable service to patients, particularly the vulnerable patients. And I would like to see them continue, but we have to have a regulated system enacted here.

And given that, my bill will require that the liquor control board expand the number of licensees but also develop a merit and experience based criteria system so that the good actors here who've been operating in good faith, want to be regulated, have been paying taxes, have a business license with their local jurisdiction, would be able to become a licensed entity in an easy way.

We also set up a license for research, uh, for medical mar, for marijuana, and we also would have a license for delivery of the product, because some people aren't close to a store. Again, home grows are part of this and they would provide a bright line for law enforcement because there would be a six plant minimum, and anybody growing at home would have to be 21 years or over. It's pretty easy to detect, uh, be a lot easier on law enforcement and result in a lot less hassle for people who are growing legitimately.

And lastly, I'd just like to bring out that, to conclude, we've got to have a law passed this session. We should do it as soon as we can, and that's why I'm delighted to be working with Senator Rivers and other legislators in the House. I know I've missed something, but with that I'm going to call on a few people to make some brief remarks. I'm going to start with our King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.

DAN SATTERBERG: Thank you Senator. Those of us in law enforcement like to enforce nice, bright lines with clear distinctions about what's legal and what's not. Uh, obviously, the situation with medical marijuana in our state is anything but that. And, since the initiative was passed, many of us have tried to enforce the law in such a way that patient access was not restrained, but over time and with the patchwork of swiss cheese amendments here and there, it has become unenforceable and unworkable and it needs to be fixed.

And I admire Senator Kohl-Welles and Senator Rivers for stepping up to this task because I know that even, no matter how well intentioned you are and no matter how determined you are to maintain safe access to patients you will nevertheless be attacked by those who have a stake in the black market, who are making a lot of money now in an unregulated, untaxed, uh, wild west of marijuana in our state, and this is the first step toward bringing that bright line, uh, that says basically that if you want to sell marijuana, you have to have a license from the state to do it.

If you want to grow commercial amounts, you have to have a license. If you want to process hash oils or other products or derivatives, you have to have a license and if you don't have a license, then you're violating the law. That's a nice, clear line and it will help law enforcement do their best to enforce it. None of us want to use the criminal justice system to put people in prison for marijuana offenses, but the law, that is such a rare opportunity, extraordinary opportunity of freedom for the citizens of Washington, to be able to go into a licensed store and buy marijuana that has been tested and is legal, that's an extraordinary opportunity that is threatened by the proliferation of this black market.

Uh, and it's not fair, it's simply not fair to the people who abide by the rules, who got the, the uh, won the lottery and got the permits and got the license, and are out there trying to do this the right way, they're being undermined by the black market which is untaxed, produces product that is untested, and don't even pretend anymore to be a collective garden, they are simply in many cases, and I don't want to paint them all with a broad brush, but they're, those who are abusing the system are really just a retail outlet for the black market. Many people are making millions of dollars at the expense of Washington's brand new freedom, and are threatening that.

I think today, we put those people on notice who are abusing the system. Today, we put the people who are selling black market marijuana through retail outlets on notice that, you're going to have to start winding down your business, uh, and disinvesting in that because someday if you don't have a license you're not going to be able to sell marijuana to anybody who walks in off the street. Those little ubiquitous green placards that are all over Seattle, there's hundreds of them everywhere popping up all the time, those are going to have to disappear. And I think that you will hear a sigh of relief, and a little silent applause from the communities where those are, saying thank you, because those are selling to kids, those are selling to people who don't have a medical authorization, they're simply a retail outlet for the black market.

I know that Senator Rivers, I'm sure that Senator Kohl-Welles, and I want to assure that, that myself, I'm in that group, that we are believers that there are specific therapeutic properties that marijuana has that other medicines don't, and we want to make sure that those are available to the people who need them, and the high CBD oils particularly, uh, are things that we need to make sure are available to people who need them and is, it's nobody's intention to, uh, create a retail system that doesn't have that access available.

And that may mean that a specialty license includes a larger canopy to grow, because as I understand it you need more plant to create this product. Uh, they may need some relief from taxes to make the medicine more accessible, and it needs to be tested for purity and potency. Now there's the great irony right there, today in the recreational stores, the general adult use stores, the package you pick up has been tested for purity and potency but if you go get medical marijuana, it hasn't been tested for anything, who knows what it is. It's, a lot of it, uh, is, is probably not what it's advertised to be.

So we can make, we can make this much more civilized, uh, and much safer for people. So, I'm not here to endorse one bill over another. I hope to work with both Senator Rivers and Senator Kohl-Welles to bring, uh, some clear lines here, and to, to make sure that, the, Washington's law is easily understood and easily followed. Uh, and I do admire you for taking this on once again, Senator. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was a portion of a news conference held on January 20th by Washington state Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, announcing the introduction of her bill, Senate Bill 5519, the comprehensive marijuana reform act. The state of Washington is considering whether, and how, to combine the medical and adult use marijuana markets. There is no doubt that what they decide will have a huge impact, and could end up becoming the model for other states.

Now, it's worth noting, Senator Kohl-Welles is a Democrat. The Washington state senate is controlled by the Republicans however only with a very narrow, one-seat majority. The House side of the Washington legislature is controlled by the Democrats, though that too is a very narrow majority of just four seats. What this means is, that whatever comes out of the legislature will be a compromise, it will be the product of negotiation, neither side can push its own proposal through intact. All we can do is wait and see, and hope that they do a good job. And if you're an activist or a reformer in the state of Washington, you can be in touch with your state legislators, to make sure that they know how you feel.

Finally: last week the US Senate Judiciary Committee was supposed to consider the nomination of Michael Botticelli to be director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. They were supposed to have considered it last year but the session ended without a vote. The Republicans on the committee had requested that the nomination be held over until next session. That's now. Last week, Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley, the Republican of Iowa, announced that the Botticelli nomination was to be held over for another week – again at the request of the GOP members of the committee. No reason was given.

Grassley also announced last week that he plans to have hearings on the nominee for attorney general, Loretta Lynch, next week on the 28th and 29th of January. The question is, will they try to make the Obama administration's drug policies, and the administration's openness to at least the concept of drug policy reform, a wedge issue in the next election? And if so, will these hearings be the opening salvo of that? The bigger question is, will that backfire? Charles Grassley is a prohibitionist and drug warrior of the old school, and the policies that he espouses are becoming less and less popular – even in his, and my, home state of Iowa. Change is not just coming, it's already here.

For today, that's it. This was Century of Lies, I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts. Thank you for listening.

Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network. We're heard on 420 Radio dot org on Mondays at 11 am and 11 pm, Saturdays at 4 am, all times are pacific. We're heard on time4hemp.com on Wednesdays between 1 and 2pm pacific along with our sister program Cultural Baggage. And we're on The Detour Talk Network at thedetour.us on Tuesdays at 8:30pm. A few of the stations out there that carry Century Of Lies include WERU 89.9 FM in Blue Hill, Maine; WPRR 1680 am 95.3 fm in Grand Rapids, Michigan; WIEC 102.7 FM in Eau Claire, WI; WGOT-LP 94.7 FM in Gainesville, Florida; KRFP 90.3 FM in Moscow, Idaho; Valley Free Radio WXOJ-LP 103.3 FM in Northampton, Massachusetts, KOWA-LP 106.5 FM in Olympia, Washington, and Free Radio Santa Cruz 101.3 fm in Santa Cruz California.

Recordings of this show and past shows can be found at the website drug truth dot net. While you're there check out our other programs and subscribe to our podcasts. Follow me on Twitter, where I'm @ Drug Policy Facts and @ Doug McVay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like. Drug War Facts is on facebook too, please give it a like and share it with friends. Spread the word. Remember: Knowledge is power.

We'll be back next week with more news and commentary on the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the drug truth network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!