Congress’s Summer Fling With Marijuana – By JAMES HIGDON July 30, 2015

How Congress turned on the DEA and embraced weed.

It’s not easy being the DEA these days. After an unprecedented losing streak on Capitol Hill, the once-untouchable Drug Enforcement Administration suffered last week what might be considered the ultimate indignity: A Senate panel, for the first time, voted in favor of legal, recreational marijuana.

Last Thursday, the Appropriations Committee voted 16-14 on an amendment to allow marijuana businesses access to federal banking services, a landmark shift that will help states like Colorado, where pot is legal, fully integrate marijuana into their economies. As significant as the vote was—according to drug policy reform advocates, it marked the first time that either house of Congress has voted to advance legislation concerning legal marijuana—it’s only the latest vote in a remarkable run of success marijuana advocates have had this year on Capitol Hill.

“The amendment was a necessary response to an absurd regulatory morass,” Montana Sen. Steve Daines, one of the three Republicans to support Thursday’s amendment, tells Politico, referring to the multifaceted and complex system of laws that have been enacted over the past four decades to prosecute a war on marijuana. It’s a war that began on or about May 26, 1971, when President Richard Nixon told his chief of staff Bob Haldeman, “I want a goddamn strong statement on marijuana …I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them.”

But that war appears to be winding down—potentially quickly. The summer of 2015 could be viewed historically as the tipping point against Nixon’s war on pot, the time when the DEA, a federal drug-fighting agency created by Nixon in 1973, found itself in unfamiliar territory as a target of congressional scrutiny, budget cuts and scorn. In a conference call this week, the new acting DEA administrator repeatedly downplayed marijuana enforcement efforts, saying that while he’s not exactly telling agents not to pursue marijuana cases, it’s generally not something anyone focuses on these days: “Typically it’s heroin, opioids, meth and cocaine in roughly that order and marijuana tends to come in at the back of the pack.”

What a difference a year makes.


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Mitch McConnell’s Love Affair with Hemp – By JAMES HIGDON March 02, 2015

How the Kentucky senator picked a fight with the DEA and became one of Washington’s top drug policy reformers.


Last May, a shipment of 250 pounds of hemp seeds left Italy destined for Kentucky as part of a pilot project made legal by the 2013 federal farm bill. Kentucky farmers had long hoped for a crop that could fill the void left by the decline of tobacco, and many thought that industrial hemp, which is used in a vast array of products, could be that crop.

The hemp seeds cleared customs in Chicago, but when the cargo landed at the UPS wing of Louisville International Airport, the Drug Enforcement Administration seized it, arguing that importing hemp seeds required an import permit, which could take six months to process. If farmers couldn’t get those seeds into the ground by June 1, the entire first year of the hemp pilot program would be dashed.

The DEA would have succeeded in blocking the seeds from reaching Kentucky farmers and university researchers but for the efforts of the state’s agricultural commissioner, who sued the agency and, most improbably, Mitch McConnell.

McConnell—then the Senate’s minority leader—worked furiously to free the seeds from the DEA’s clutches and continued the pro-hemp drumbeat throughout 2014, as he campaigned for reelection. This year, as Senate majority leader, he’s taken a further step by co-sponsoring the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015. While the farm bill carved out an exception to allow hemp cultivation in Kentucky, the 2015 bill would remove hemp entirely from the list of drugs strictly regulated by the Controlled Substances Act. It would, in essence, legalize hemp production in the United States

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DEA stages surprise NFL inspections – By John Barr | Updated: November 16, 2014, 9:53 PM ET

 DEA Stages Surprise NFL Inspections ESPN reporter John Barr discusses the DEA's decision to conduct surprise inspections Sunday, targeting the medical and training staffs of visiting NFL teams, the NFL's reaction and why he thinks this is happening. Tags: NFL

DEA Stages Surprise NFL Inspections
ESPN reporter John Barr discusses the DEA’s decision to conduct surprise inspections Sunday, targeting the medical and training staffs of visiting NFL teams, the NFL’s reaction and why he thinks this is happening.
Tags: NFL

WASHINGTON — In an unprecedented step, agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration conducted surprise inspections Sunday, targeting the medical and training staffs of visiting NFL teams, in an effort to determine whether they violated federal drug laws governing the handling and distribution of prescription painkillers, “Outside the Lines” has learned.

A federal law enforcement official, with knowledge of the investigation, told “Outside the Lines” the inspections were motivated by allegations raised in a May 2014 federal lawsuit, filed on behalf of several prominent NFL players, who allege team physicians and trainers routinely gave them painkillers in an illegal manner to mask injuries and keep them on the field.

Painkiller MIsuse By Retired NFL Players

In January 2011, ESPN reported on the first-ever study of painkiller misuse by retired NFL players. That study, funded in part by ESPN and with a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Among the key findings:

• Retired NFL players misuse opioid pain medications at a rate more than four times that of the general population.

• 52 percent of the retired players said they used prescription pain medication during their playing days.

• Of those who took the drugs while playing, 71 percent said they misused the drugs then, and 15 percent of the misusers acknowledged misusing the medications within the past 30 days.

— John Barr

“DEA agents are currently interviewing NFL team doctors in several locations as part of an ongoing investigation into potential violations of the Controlled Substances Act,” DEA spokesperson Rusty Payne said Sunday.

“The Drug Enforcement Administration has a responsibility under the Controlled Substances Act to ensure that registrants who possess, prescribe and dispense controlled substances are following the law,” Payne added.

Spokesmen for the San Francisco 49ersTampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks all acknowledged that DEA agents showed up to inspect their medical staffs after their teams’ respective road games Sunday.

“What we were told was they are random checks of team physicians as they travel to see if anyone is transporting controlled substances across state lines,” 49ers spokesman Bob Lange said after Sunday’s game against the Giants. “The 49ers medical staff complied and the team departed the stadium as scheduled.”

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DEA investigating distribution of prescription drugs in NFL, report says – By Cindy Boren July 13 at 2:27 PMq

(Gene J. Puskar / AP)

A recent lawsuit in which former NFL players allege they were improperly supplied prescription pain medication has triggered an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the New York Daily News reports.

Authorities from the DEA’s New York division are speaking with former players about how team physicians and trainers distributed drugs like Percodan, Vicodin and Toradol, seeking to “find out who provided and distributed the drugs,” an unnamed source told Michael O’Keeffe of the News.

In late May, a group of former players filed a class-action lawsuit in which they claim they were illegally given prescription drugs in order to stay on the field and were not told of long-term risks, like drug dependence, nerve damage and renal failure. Among nine named lead plaintiffs are former Chicago Bears players Jim McMahon and Richard Dent and Marcellus Wiley.

“The allegations in our lawsuit, that the NFL has violated state and federal drug laws, have been confirmed by over 1,300 former NFL players,” Steve Silverman, an attorney for the former players, told the News. “We are pleased to learn that the DEA and United States Department of Justice are also taking our clients’ allegations seriously and are actively protecting the welfare of NFL players.”

The NFL declined to comment for the News.

The NFL and retired players recently reached a settlement of a concussion lawsuit. Now, drugs will be the subject of increased attention. As part of a five-part series examining medicine in the NFL last year, The Washington Post surveyed more than 500 former players and one in four said he felt pressure from team doctors to take medication he was uncomfortable with. Nearly nine in 10 reported playing despite injuries and an overwhelming number — 68 percent — said they did felt they had no option other than to play.

Related: Pain management spawns culture of use and abuse

House Blocks DEA From Targeting Medical Marijuana – Ryan J. Reilly Matt Ferner Posted: 05/30/2014 12:24 am EDT Updated: 05/30/2014 12:59 pm EDT

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WASHINGTON — Reflecting growing national acceptance of cannabis, a bipartisan coalition of House members voted early Friday to restrict the Drug Enforcement Administration from using funds to go after medical marijuana operations that are legal under state laws.

An appropriations amendment offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) prohibiting the DEA from spending funds to arrest state-licensed medical marijuana patients and providers passed 219-189. The Senate will likely consider its own appropriations bill for the DEA, and the House amendment would have to survive a joint conference before it could go into effect.

Rohrabacher said on the House floor that the amendment “should be a no-brainer” for conservatives who support states’ rights and argued passionately against allowing the federal government to interfere with a doctor-patient relationship.

“Some people are suffering, and if a doctor feels that he needs to prescribe something to alleviate that suffering, it is immoral for this government to get in the way,” Rohrabacher said, his voice rising. “And that’s what’s happening.”

The debate pitted three House Republicans who also are doctors against one another. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) and Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) opposed the amendment, while Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) supported it.

Harris insisted that there were no medical benefits to marijuana and that medical marijuana laws were a step toward legalizing recreational pot.

“It’s the camel’s nose under the tent,” said Harris. He cited piece of anti-marijuana propaganda published by the DEA this month that claimed medical marijuana was just “a means to an end” — the eventual legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes. The taxpayer-funded report uses scare quotes around the word “medical.”

“I don’t think we should accept at all that this is history in the making,” said Fleming, who lamented earlier this month that it wasn’t realistic to make alcohol illegal.

Broun said there were “very valid medical reasons” to use marijuana extracts or products. “It’s less dangerous than some narcotics that doctors prescribe all over this country,” Broun said. He said medical marijuana was a states’ rights issue and Congress needed to “reserve the states’ powers under the Constitution.”

Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) co-sponsored the amendment with Reps. Rohrabacher, Don Young (R-Alaska), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Steve Stockman (R-Texas), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

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How Synthetic Weed Fuels Yemen’s Terrorism – WORLD NEWS 05.23.14

Behind those packs of ‘Scooby Snax’ is an intricate drug-trafficking network that investigators say is proving increasingly lucrative for those who hate America most.

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What is this scale for? Faisal Elnaha, the Yemeni manager of an Alabama Texaco remembers a DEA agent demanding on the morning of May 7.

Rummaging wildly through the rundown gas station he’d been managing for 10 years, agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration flung questions at the 36-year-old like candy. Unbeknownst to Elnaha at the time, his modest store had just become the newest target in the second phase of a nationwide drug takedown called Project Synergy—the specific raid in Birmingham had been given the code name Operation Red Tide. Poring over spices, small candy, and gum, the agents’ search for synthetic drugs was just beginning.

“That scale was for letters!” Elnaha says with audible anguish on the phone two weeks later, now out of a job and unable to take care of his sick mother. “They found a lot of stuff [at] places, but not here. Not even tiny things, not nothing,” he says. But if the authorities got Elnaha’s store wrong, as he claims, they weren’t far off. Just a few blocks down on Sixth Avenue in Birmingham, they hit the jackpot.

At a super storage warehouse lined with red steel doors, the agents allegedly uncovered hundreds of thousands of rainbow-clad bags bearing the inscription “Scooby Snax”—a code for “fake marijuana” or “spice.” But it was the $30 million to $40 million in profit they traced, and the receiving end of the money most of all, that was most alarming: Yemen.

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