Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: Koch Bros Critical of Trump Drug Policies, FL Drug Treatment Fraud, More... (6/26/17)

Florida's medical marijuana regulatory system is now set, the conservative Koch network has some issues with Trump drug war policies, Support Don't Punish marches are going on worldwide, there's something rotten in the Florida drug treatment complex, and more.

Demonstrators took to the streets in more than 200 cities around the globe Monday to call for drug reforms.
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators to Revisit On-Site Consumption Next Month. The state Marijuana Control Board will look at three different options for on-site marijuana use at its meeting next month. One proposal would allow people to try marijuana at retail shops before leaving. Another proposal would allow consumption of edibles, but wouldn't allow smoking. A third proposal would limit on-site use to pot purchased at the site. But none of it is likely to happen before 2018, since the matter won't come up for a vote until August, and there's a 30-day public comment period after that.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas to Begin Accepting Medical Marijuana Applications. The state Medical Marijuana Commission will begin accepting applications from potential medical marijuana growers and distributors as of this Friday, while the state Health Department will begin accepting applications from patients the same day.

Florida Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Implementation Bills. Gov. Rick Scott last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 6A and Senate Bill 8A, which formalize the voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana in the state and set up regulations for the new industry.

Utah Advocates Begin Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign. Medical marijuana supporters organized as the Utah Patients Coalition delivered a proposed initiative to the lieutenant governor's office Monday. Frustrated by the state legislature's refusal to enact a medical marijuana law, the coalition wants to take the issue directly to voters. To qualify for the November 2018 ballot, supporters must hold at least seven public hearings around the state and collect 113,000 valid voter signatures. The measure would not allow smoking medical marijuana and the number of medical marijuana facilities would be limited. It creates a list of specified qualifying conditions.

Drug Policy

Koch Network Critical of Trump Administration on Drug Policy. The conservative Koch brothers political network isn't happy with Trump administration drug policy. At a meeting in Colorado over the weekend, one of the network's top leaders, Mark Holden, decried the administration's return to "the harsh sentencing era of the war on drugs" and added that "You are never going to win the war on drugs. Drugs won." Holden went on to criticize Attorney General Sessions' directive to reevaluate marijuana policies, saying "it's legal in a number of states, so we have to come to grips with that somehow" and that medical marijuana should be "off limits" in any federal crackdown.

Drug Treatment

Florida's Billion Dollar Drug Treatment Industry is Plagued With Fraud and Overdoses. An NBC News investigative report has found crooked treatment centers have created an "insurance fraud mill" by partnering with "body brokers" and operators of "sober homes" to find patients with good health insurance and then billing insurance companies tens of thousands of dollars "for often questionable counseling, costly and potentially unnecessary drug screens, and exotic laboratory tests." And some treatment centers actually encourage drug use because for them, relapse doesn't mean failure, it means more profits.

International

Thousands Take to Streets in Global Drug Reform Day of Action. Thousands of people took to the streets in more than 200 cities in more than 90 countries as part of the Support Don't Punish campaign's "Global Day of Action." Events range from concerts and debates in Belgium, to a float parade and dialogue with Parliamentarians in Ghana, a capacity building workshop for religious leaders in Mauritius, drug user and NGO gatherings in Malaysia, Lithuania, Canada and Australia, street art in Portugal, Bolivia, Ecuador and Montenegro, a 250km bike tour to sensitize the general public in India, a football tournament between people who use drugs and service providers in Morocco, the launch of a global call in support for harm reduction in Brazil, and much, much more

One Year Later, Philippines Drug War Has Killed Thousands, Yet Meth is Cheaper. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte took power last June 30 and immediately embarked on a brutal campaign to end drug abuse that has left an estimated 9,000 people dead, but the street price of meth has fallen and Filipinos are still as anxious as ever about crime. "If prices have fallen, it's an indication that enforcement actions have not been effective," said Gloria Lai of the International Drug Policy Consortium, a global network of non-governmental groups focused on narcotics.

Watch: Minnesota Drug Task Force Cop Assaults Motorist

Worthington, Minnesota, resident Anthony Promvongsa, 21, had a run-in with an angry motorist as he drove through the streets of town last July 28. Promvongsa went on his way, but that agitated motorist—who turned out to be an off-duty cop—called on his colleagues to go after the young man, and this is what happened:

The cop doing the cursing, kicking, and punching in the video is Agent Joe Joswiak, a city of Worthington police officer and a member of the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force.

“I had no idea what was going on when I was approached and attacked by this officer,” Promvongsa said in a statement released Thursday by the ACLU. “I did not even have the opportunity to take off my seatbelt before I was literally blindsided with this unnecessary attack. I immediately pulled over for the Worthington squad car and before I knew what was happening, I was beat and ripped from my vehicle.

"I know I am not the first person to have this type of traumatic experience with law enforcement in Worthington,” Promvongsa added.

Not only did Joswiak brutalize the young man, he and local prosecutors then charged Promvongsa with multiple felonies over the alleged traffic incident. He faces charges of fleeing in a motor vehicle and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon (his car), but, as the ACLU notes, "no matter what happened before the dashcam video began rolling, Anthony did not deserve to be abused by the police in this way."

Joswiak claims that Provongsa refused his order to leave the car, but the video makes clear Joswiak never gave him any chance to do so.  Instead, the ACLU notes, "it shows a textbook case of excessive force."

There was no mention of any drug offense in original police reports, although police searched Promvongsa's vehicle after assaulting him. Later in the video, Joswiak can be heard hopefully asking Promvongsa  "Have you been in trouble with narcotics?" He received a negative response.  

The ACLU says it and Promvongsa are weighing their options, and calls on the Worthington Police and the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force "to immediately investigate the incident, take all appropriate personnel actions, and ensure this never happens again." It also calls for Agent Joswiak to be "held accountable for his actions, up to and including termination and prosecution."

The ACLU's concern that "this never happens again" suggests that it has happened before. "Based on additional complaints that we are receiving, this does not appear to be an isolated incident," the ACLU said. "Rather there’s evidence that racial profiling and police brutality are systemic problems that span the Worthington Police Department, Nobles County Sheriff’s Office, and the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force as Worthington becomes a much more diverse city."

The incident has drawn the attention of U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, who represents the area. “Like many Minnesotans, I found the video released today deeply disturbing," he said in a statement Thursday. "I have had a chance to speak with local officials and leaders in the community and believe all parties are passionate in pursuing justice. I will continue closely monitoring this situation. Addressing situations like this one in our communities and in Minnesota is an absolute necessity and we are all in this together.”

The Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force, Worthington Police Department and the Nobles County Attorney’s Office issued a joint press release Thursday afternoon that amounted to hunkering down and evading the issue of excessive force altogether.

“The July 28, 2016 video released by ACLU is one piece of evidence in a pending criminal case,” the release begins. “Release and discussion of evidence in pending criminal cases is limited by the data practices law and criminal court procedural rules. The video, viewed in a vacuum, shows only a short segment of the incident that is the basis of the criminal charges.

“Because the case is now awaiting a jury trial date, the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force, Worthington Police Department and the Nobles County Attorney’s office feel it is inappropriate to comment further.”

The Buffalo Ridge Drug Task force lauds itself for "aggressive enforcement" and brags about "seizures of vehicles, firearms, jewelry, and large amounts of cash." But now it's becoming known nationwide because of the "aggressive enforcement" actions of one of its officers.

Worthington, MN
United States

Chronicle AM: RI, VT to Study Legalization, Some NV Rec Sales to Begin July 1, More... (6/23/17)

After marijuana legalization comes up short this year, Vermont and Rhode Island will both have study commissions to examine the issue, Nevada's governor finds a way to get recreational sales going next week, Cuba says no to legal weed, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Study Finds No Increase in Traffic Fatalities After Marijuana Legalization. A study published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health finds that vehicle crash fatality rates in Colorado and Washington were similar to those of control states both before and after the two states legalized marijuana. The study concluded: "Three years after recreational marijuana legalization, changes in motor vehicle crash fatality rates for Washington and Colorado were not statistically different from those in similar states without recreational marijuana legalization." (Another study was reported the previous day, which by contrast found increased collision claims.)

Massachusetts Legislature Names Conference Committee to Hammer Out Differences on Marijuana Bill. Legislative leaders on Friday named a six-member House-Senate conference committee to try to come up with a compromise bill to implement voter-approved marijuana legalization after the House formally rejected the Senate's version of the bill. The House version had higher taxes and allowed localities to ban pot businesses without a popular vote; the Senate version didn't.

Nevada Governor Signs Executive Order to Let Recreational Sales Begin July 1. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) has signed an executive order creating an emergency regulation that will allow the state to issue recreational retail licenses next week even if it doesn't approve the distribution licenses caught up in a court battle. Under the emergency regulations, medical marijuana dispensaries could sell surplus product for recreational use effective July 1.

Rhode Island Gives Up on Legal Marijuana This Year, Will Create Study Commission Instead. Both the House and the Senate have now passed bills that would set up a 19-member joint legislative commission to study the effect of legalizing marijuana. The House already approved identical legislation, so only a final concurrence vote on Senate Bill 277A in the House remains.

Vermont Governor Will Appoint Commission to Study Legal Marijuana. Just a day after House Republicans blocked a last-ditch effort to get marijuana legalization passed this year, Gov. Phil Scott (R) announced Thursday he will appoint a commission to study legalization in the state. Last month, Scott vetoed a legalization bill that had passed both chambers, saying he had public safety concerns. A revamped bill addressing those concerns got through the Senate, but was snuffed out when the House refused to waive rules to allow a vote on it.

International

Cuba Says Marijuana Legalization is Fueling Drug Trafficking. The secretary of the Cuban National Drugs Commission said Friday that it will not follow the regional trend toward the liberalization of marijuana laws and that that trend is fueling drug trafficking. "Cuba is facing a very difficult situation at the moment with regards to drug trafficking," Antonio Israel Ibarra said at a news conference. "Firstly because in Latin America and the Caribbean, there is a group of countries trying to legalize, or that has legalized, the use of marijuana. We have not legalized it, nor will we."

Chronicle AM: Americans Want Trump to Leave MJ States Alone, MA Legal MJ Battle, More... (6/22/17)

The Massachusetts House and Senate have different ideas about how to implement marijuana legalization, a new poll finds a strong majority of Americans want Trump to butt out of legal marijuana states, Wisconsin Gov. Rick Walker's Medicaid drug testing plan has virtually no public support, and more.

They're battling in Boston over the shape of legal marijuana in Massachusetts. (MPP)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: Strong Majority of Americans Want Trump to Respect State Marijuana Laws. A new Survey USA poll commissioned by Marijuana Majority finds that a whopping 76% of Americans want the Trump administration to respect state medical marijuana and marijuana legalization lies. There was majority support for the position about Democrats, Republicans, independents, and every age group. The 76% figure is three points higher than in a Quinnipiac poll asking a similar question in April.

Auto Insurance Study Links Increased Car Crash Claims to Legalized Marijuana. The Highway Loss Data Institute, an insurance research group, released a study Thursday saying collision claims increased 2.7% in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington after legalization when compared to neighboring non-legal states. "We believe that the data is saying that crash risk has increased in these states and those crash risks are associated with the legalization of marijuana," said Matt Moore, senior vice president with the institute, which analyzes insurance data to observe emerging auto-safety trends. But legalization advocates pointed out that comparing claims in largely rural states such as Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming to rates in more urbanized Colorado, Oregon, and Washington may be problematic.

Massachusetts House Passes Bill to Repeal and Replace Voter-Approved Legalization Law. The House on Wednesday approved a bill that would raise the retail tax on marijuana from 12% to 28%, impose stringent background checks and fingerprinting for all people who own or work in licensed marijuana-related businesses, and allow localities to ban marijuana businesses without first getting voter approval. The Senate is poised to take up its own version of the bill with more modest revisions to the voter-approved law, setting the stage for a compromise in the coming week. Legalization advocates attacked the House bill as setting taxes too high and ignoring the will of the voters.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor's Plan to Drug Test Medicaid Recipients Has Virtually No Public Support. Gov. Scott Walker's (R) plan to drug test Medicaid recipients and increase premiums has garnered a grand total of five fully positive comments out of more than a thousand submitted by the public -- and one of them is from his own lieutenant governor. That's a support rate of one half of one percent. "Drug testing has been determined to be expensive, ineffective, and illegal," wrote Bobby Peterson, executive director of ABC for Health, a nonprofit Madison law firm that helps people get health care. "You have espoused Jesus and are embracing the devil and demons that have gained control of the political process," said another email, the name of the sender redacted. "May God have mercy on you in this time of reckoning for surely you are cursed." Walker needed to give the public 30 days to comment before seeking approval from the Trump administration to move forward with its plan.

Vermont House Republicans Kill Last Chance Marijuana Legalization Bill

Vermont will not become the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislative process, or at least it won't do so this year. House Republicans on Wednesday evening killed a last chance effort to get it done this year by refusing to take up a compromise legalization bill that had been passed by the Senate earlier in the day.

Vermont won't legalize marijuana this year. (Wikimedia)
A marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 22, had passed the legislature earlier this year, setting the state up to be the first the free the weed legislatively, only to be vetoed last month by Gov. Phil Scott (R). In his veto message, Scott said he was not philosophically opposed to legalization, claiming "a libertarian streak in me," but had public safety concerns about marijuana and driving and marijuana and kids. The veto message contained specific recommendations for crafting a bill the governor would find acceptable.

The bill passed by the Senate today, an amendment to House Bill 511, which has already passed the House, attempted to address Scott's concerns. Like S.22, it would have legalized the possession of up to an ounce and the cultivation of up to two mature and four immature pot plants by adults, but not create a legal marijuana market. Instead, it would have created a legislative study commission to develop legislation for taxed and regulated cannabis commerce.

Changes to the bill to appease the governor included giving the study commission a broader membership and extending the time given for it to issue its report, as well as stiffer penalties for driving while high, providing marijuana to children, or exposing it to them in cars. The bill didn't contain a roadside marijuana "impairment testing mechanism" desired by Scott, mainly because there are none on the market.

But all of that is moot for now. For the bill to pass during the veto session, House Republicans would have had to agree to waive normal legislative rules, but in Wednesday evening's GOP members largely refused. A motion to waive the rules needed 107 votes to pass (out of a House of 150), but with only 83 Democrats, it needed substantial support from GOP House members to pass. It didn't get it; failing on a vote of 78-63.

Vermont will not legalize marijuana in 2017, but H.511 remains alive. It can and will be taken up by the legislature when it reconvenes next year, and Vermont could still end up being the first state to legalize marijuana legislatively. It's just not happening this year.

Customs Seizes Childproof Marijuana Lock Boxes, Calls Them "Drug Paraphernalia" [FEATURE]

In a prime illustration of the perversities of the war on drugs, US Customs has seized a shipment of a thousand lock boxes aimed at allowing marijuana, tobacco, and pharmaceutical users to keep their stashes safe from kids. Customs has officially designated the boxes as drug paraphernalia, even though everyone involved concedes the boxes are aimed at preventing drug use by kids.

The stash cases were designed by and destined for Stashlogix, a Boulder, Colorado, firm established in the wake of marijuana legalization in the state in 2012 to address a mini-panic over news reports about the dangers of marijuana for kids. Those reports were generally overstated, but the need for secure stashes for pot and other potentially dangerous goodies remained.

"People didn't have ways to safely store these items out of reach of kids, other than up on shelves or in sock drawers," Stashlogix cofounder Skip Stone told the Washington Post. So he and a partner founded the company to market cases and containers "for the storage and transport of medicine, tobacco, and other stuff."

The company's small, lockable cases, with tiny jars and odor-neutralizing inserts included, were a hit with customers. "People love the product," Stone said. "They use it for all sorts of things, but cannabis is definitely one of them. They keep it locked, they feel safer, they feel more responsible."

So the company geared up production, placing orders with a Chinese factory, but things came to a crashing halt on April 28, when Customs seized 1,000 of the storage cases.

"This is to officially notify you that Customs and Border Protection seized the property described below at Los Angeles International Airport on April 28, 2017," read a letter received by Stashlogix. The agency had seized the bags, valued at $12,000, because "it is unlawful for any person to import drug paraphernalia."

Stashlogix's childproof pot lock box
When challenged by Stashlogix, Customs conceded that "standing alone, the Stashlogix storage case can be viewed as a multi-purpose storage case with no association with or to controlled substances," but it pointed out that the odor-absorbing carbon inset could be used to hide the smell of weed, and it cited favorable reviews of the product in the marijuana press, concluding "that there exists one consistent and primary use for the Stashlogix storage cases; namely, the storage and concealment of marijuana."

The federal government doesn't officially recognize the legality of medical or recreational marijuana, and Customs is following decades-old drug war paraphernalia laws to achieve a perverse result: Making marijuana potentially riskier in places where it is legal. After all, half of current pot smokers are parents, and this application of federal policy is making it more difficult for them to keep their kids out of their stashes.

Stone is appealing the ruling, but in the meantime, he's had to write off an additional $18,000 worth of goods still outside the country and lay off his three employees. He's looking for a domestic manufacturer for his cases, since Customs can't mess with domestic goods and the DEA hasn't made paraphernalia a high priority, but the ultimate solution lies in Washington.

"It's going to take an act of Congress to clear up some of these contradictions between state and federal law," he told the Post. "These paraphernalia laws are outdated. Keeping kids safe should be more important than outdated regulations."

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's a New York-New Jersey special edition! The Troy Police drug unit is under investigation, an NYPD officer gets popped for transporting drugs for money, a New Jersey cop gets caught with his hand in the pill jar, and more. Let's get to it:

In Troy, New York, the entire Troy Police drug unit was under investigation as of last Friday for trying to cover up a raid where members entered a home without a search warrant. Members of the unit filed a false burglary report to try to justify their warrantless entry resulting in a "fractious argument" among them. Now, all six officers in Firearms Interdiction and Narcotics Suppression (FINS) unit have been suspended pending the results of an internal investigation.

In Bridgeton, New Jersey, a Vineland police officer was arrested last Wednesday after allegedly pilfering drugs from a prescription drug drop-off box while on duty at police headquarters. Officer Richard Janasiak, 30, went down after an internal audit uncovered possible criminal activity. He is charged with unlawful possession of prescription legend drugs.

In New York City, an NYPD officer was arrested last Thursday for transporting marijuana and cocaine in exchange for money. Officer Nysia Stroud, 29, agreed to transport drugs after meeting with an undercover police officer in March and became transporting large quantities of supposed marijuana and cocaine for payments ranging from $250 to $1,000. Stroud was under investigation after Internal Affairs received allegations she was involved in drug activity. She was charged with possession of a controlled substance and official misconduct.

In Elizabeth, New Jersey, a former Middlesex County probation officer was sentenced last Friday to three years in prison for taking bribes from a man so he could avoid court-ordered drug tests. Rhonda Battle, 48, repeatedly accepted bribes from the probationer to allow him to skip drug testing while in the drug court program. After being caught on surveillance video taking money from the man, Battle pleaded guilty in April to a single count of official misconduct.

Medical Marijuana Update

Congress sees a pair of medical marijuana bills filed, the New York legislature has voted to approve medical marijuana for PTSD, Kentucky residents sue the state over the medical marijuana ban, and more.

National

Last Thursday, the CARERS Act was reintroduced in the Senate. US Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Corey Booker (D-NJ), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) reintroduced a bill that would end the federal prohibition of medical marijuana. Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also signed on to the legislation as original cosponsors. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (or CARERS) Act of 2017 would allow individuals and entities to possess, produce, and distribute medical marijuana if they are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. It would also open up avenues to medical marijuana research and allow physicians employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states where it is legal. The bill also proposes excluding cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana, from the federal government's definition of "marijuana."

Last Thursday, Corey Booker and Steve Cohen filed identical medical marijuana protection bills. Tennessee Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen has filed House Resolution 2920, "to extend the principle of federalism to drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana." New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker has filed a companion bill, Senate Bill 1374, in the upper chamber.

Arkansas

Last Friday, medical marijuana regulations took another key step. The Legislative Council, which serves as the legislature's governing body between sessions, approved draft rules from the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the Department of Health, and the Medical Marijuana Commission aimed at regulating the state's nascent medical marijuana system. The state will begin accepting applications for licenses to operate marijuana cultivation centers and dispensaries June 30.

Kentucky

Last Wednesday, a lawsuit challenging the state's medical marijuana ban was filed. Three Kentuckians who say they have used marijuana to ease health problems have filed a lawsuit in state court charging that banning medical marijuana violates their constitutional privacy rights. The suit names as defendants Gov. Matt Bevin (R) and Attorney General Steve Beshear (D).

Michigan

Last Thursday, lawmakers filed bills to ban medical marijuana billboard ads. State Sen. Rick Jones (R) and Rep. Andy Schor (D) have filed identical bills that would effectively ban billboard for medical marijuana businesses. The bills are Senate Bill 463 and House Bill 4767. They are not yet available on the state legislative web site.

New Mexico

Last Friday, the state nixed medical marijuana for opioid addiction and Alzheimer's. Rejecting the recommendation of the state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board, Secretary of Health Lynn Gallagher declined to add opioid use disorder and Alzheimer's as qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.

New York

On Tuesday, the Senate approved medical marijuana for PTSD. The state Senate voted to approve Senate Bill 6092, which allows medical marijuana to be used to treat PTSD. The Assembly passed an identical measure earlier this year, so the bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Pennsylvania

Last Thursday, the governor warned Attorney General Sessions not to interfere with medical marijuana. In a sharply worded letter, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) warned Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to interfere with medical marijuana in the state. "For a lot of patients, this is the only medicine that works. So for him to go after medical cannabis is kind of flying in the face of science and the facts," said a spokesman for the governor.

On Tuesday, the state issued the first medical marijuana permits. The Department of Health on Tuesday announced 12 medical marijuana grower permits, with the permits going to two companies in each of the six permitting regions the department established as part of the implementation of the state's medical marijuana law. The department will announce the allocation of 27 dispensary permits before the month ends, it said.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: NV MJ Sales Could Be Delayed, Forfeiture Reform Goes to PA Gov, More... (6/21/17)

MPP loses bank accounts as the financial sector gets worried about a Trump crackdown on legal marijuana, Nevada's July 1 goal for legal pot sales hits a bump, a New York bill that would allow medical marijuana for PTSD goes to the governor, and more.

Las Vegas may have to wait a while longer for legal marijuana stores. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy Project Loses Bank Accounts. PNC Bank has notified the Marijuana Policy Project that it will close the group's bank accounts on July 7 in what is seen as "a sign of growing concerns in the financial industry that the Trump administration will crack down on the marijuana industry in states that have legalized it." Many financial institutions refuse to do business with marijuana companies while marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but policy groups like MPP have up until now been spared. In this case, PNC Bank said because MPP received money from marijuana businesses, it is cutting the cord.

Nevada July 1 Legal Marijuana Sales Date in Jeopardy After Court Ruling. A district judge in Carson City on Tuesday extended a temporary order barring the state from moving ahead with plans to issue marijuana distribution licenses to existing dispensaries so they can begin recreational sales on July 1. The order comes in a case brought by licensed liquor wholesalers, who say they should have exclusive rights to those licenses for the first 18 months. State officials said they remain committed to the July 1 date, but it's not clear how that's going to happen.

Medical Marijuana

New York Senate Approves Medical Marijuana for PTSD. The state Senate voted Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 6092, which allows medical marijuana to be used to treat PTSD. The Assembly passed an identical measure earlier this year, so the bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Pennsylvania Issues First Medical Marijuana Permits. The Department of Health on Tuesday announced 12 medical marijuana grower permits, with the permits going to two companies in each of the six permitting regions the department established as part of the implementation of the state's medical marijuana law. The department will announce the allocation of 27 dispensary permits before the month ends, it said.

Asset Forfeiture

Pennsylvania Legislator Passes Timid Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. With a unanimous vote in the House on Tuesday, the legislature has approved Senate Bill 8, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but does require county governments to audit all asset forfeitures by local law enforcement agencies and send reports to the state attorney general and the General Assembly each year. The bill also establishes a higher legal threshold before police can seize high-value assets such as cars and houses and bars the seizure of real estate without a hearing. The bill originally would have ended civil forfeiture, but it was amended under pressure from district attorneys to be less strict.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Legalizes MedMJ, China Bans More Synthetic Opioids, More... (6/20/17)

New Jersey pols look to legalize pot next year, Vermont pols look to legalize it this week, China bans more synthetic opioids, Mexico officially embraces medical marijuana, and more.

Medical marijuana is now officially legal in Mexico, but rules and regulations will take some time.
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a legalization measure, Senate Bill 3195, on Monday. The testimony was largely favorable, including from a former state Republican Committee head, the head of a doctors' organization favoring legalization, and from a long-time municipal prosecutor. "I believe by legalizing and regulating it and discouraging, officially as official government policy, like we do with tobacco and alcohol, we will be far better off than the status quo," prosecutor J.H. Barr told the committee. No vote was taken. The bill is strongly opposed by Gov. Chris Christie (R), but he'll be gone in January.

Vermont Legislators Will Try to Get Weed Legalized in Special Session This Week. Gov. Phil Scott (R) vetoed the legalization bill in May, saying he had public safety concerns. Supporters of legalization have come back with a bill that now has stiffer penalties for drugged driving, smoking pot in cars with kids, providing pot to kids, and selling pot in school zones -- all in a bid to win the governor's support. The bill does not include "impairment testing mechanism" requested by Scott, largely because there are no marijuana breathalyzers on the market. Scott has declined to comment on the revised bill. The special session begins Wednesday.

Harm Reduction

Boston Ponders Supervised Injection Sites. With six people a day dying of opioid overdoses in the city so far this year, the city council has set a hearing next Monday to explore the potential impact of supervised injection sites. The move comes after the Massachusetts Medical Society urged state officials to open at least two of the facilities.

International

China Bans Synthetic Opioids Linked to US Overdose Deaths. China announced on Monday that it is banning the ultra-potent synthetic opioid U-47700 and three others. The DEA says China is the chief source of synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and carfentanil, which China has already banned. U-47700, MT-45, PMMA, and 4,4-DMAR will be added to the country's list of controlled substances as of July 1, said Deng Ming, deputy director of the National Narcotics Control Commission.

Mexico Legalizes Medical Marijuana. President Enrique Pena Nieto issued a decree on Monday officially legalizing medical marijuana in the country. Legislation authorizing medical marijuana sailed through the Senate in December and passed the lower house on a 347-7 vote in April. Now, the Ministry of Health will be tasked with drafting and implementing rules and regulations.

Chronicle AM: Roger Stone Wants to Legalize, MA Regulation Battle, More... (6/19/17)

The politics of marijuana regulation continue to roil Massachusetts, Trump adviser and political trickster Roger Stone has formed a legalization lobbying group, the government of the Republic of Georgia backs away from harsh pot sentences, and more.

What is political trickster Roger Stone up to? (alternet.org)
Marijuana Policy

Trump Associate Roger Stone Forms Legalization Lobbying Group. Longtime political trickster and Donald Trump associate Roger Stone announced last Friday that he has formed the United States Cannabis Coalition for the express purpose of legalizing marijuana. He will be joined by former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura (I), as well as both Democratic and Republican political strategists. "I am going to be working with a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, progressives and libertarians, liberals, and conservatives to persuade the president to keep his campaign pledge," Stone said, "and to remind the president that he took a strong and forthright position on this issue in the election." During the campaign, Trump said marijuana legalization should be a state issue and that he was "100%" behind medical marijuana.

Massachusetts Senate Plan Would Not Raise Taxes. State Sen. Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville) last Friday released the Senate's plan to implement marijuana legalization, a sharp contrast with the House bill that would raise the tax rate on marijuana from 12% to 28% and allow local elected officials to ban pot businesses. Jehlen's bill would keep the tax rate at the 12% envisioned by last fall's successful initiative. "A high tax rate is not the will of the voters," she said after releasing the outline of the Senate bill. "You want to start low enough to make the legal market catch hold." The two bills should pass their respective houses and go to conference committee later this month.

Mobile Retreats from Decriminalization Ordinance. Mobile, Alabama, Mayor Sandy Stimpson has requested that discussion of a municipal ordinance to decriminalize marijuana possession be withdrawn from the agenda for Tuesday's city council meeting. The reason for the withdrawal is unclear, but the topic has been controversial with law enforcement and city staff.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Regulations Take Another Key Step. The Legislative Council, which serves as the legislature's governing body between sessions, last Friday approved draft rules from the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the Department of Health, and the Medical Marijuana Commission aimed at regulating the state's nascent medical marijuana system. The state will begin accepting applications for licenses to operate marijuana cultivation centers and dispensaries June 30.

New Mexico Nixes Medical Marijuana for Opioid Addiction, Alzheimer's. Rejecting the recommendation of the state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board, Secretary of Health Lynn Gallagher declined to add opioid use disorder and Alzheimer's as qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.

International

After Protests, Georgia Marijuana Reform Bill Filed. The government has filed a bill in parliament that would end prison sentences for the possession, cultivation, or sale of less than 70 grams (a bit more than a quarter-pound) of marijuana. The move comes after mass protests last weekend over the arrests of two rappers on what are widely believed to be trumped-up marijuana charges for releasing videos critical of police. The bill would also slash by nearly half prison sentences for marijuana offenses involving larger quantities.

Chronicle AM: MJ Policy Keeps Northeast Busy, Major Louisiana Sentencing Reforms, More.... (6/16/17)

Marijuana policy continues to roil statehouses across the Northeast, a US senator and a congressman file identical medical marijuana protection bills, Louisiana -- the lock 'em up state -- enacts comprehensive sentencing reforms, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts to Get New Legalization Rewrite Bill on Monday. After criticism and errors in the text force the House leadership to pull its marijuana legalization rewrite bill this week, House committee chair Rep. Mark Cusack (D-Braintree) said a redrafted version of the bill would be released on Monday, with debate expected in the House on Wednesday. At issue are tax rates and a governance model for the industry.

New Jersey Arresting More People Than Ever for Marijuana, ACLU Report Finds. Marijuana arrests have climbed steadily in the state in recent years, with black residents three times more likely than whites to be targeted. The report, which analyzed FBI Uniform Crime Report and U.S. Census data from 2000 to 2013, comes as lawmakers are making a push to legalize marijuana in the state. The report found a steady increase in marijuana arrests over that period, from 19,607 in 2001 to 24,067 in 2013.

Rhode Island Legalization Advocates Offer Compromise Bill. Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston), along with Regulate Rhode Island, have outlined a compromise bill that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana starting July 1, 2018, with an advisory board to study the effects of legalization and report to the General Assembly next year on setting up a taxed and regulated system of marijuana commerce. Assembly leaders are pushing a bill that would defer legalization until a legislative commission studies the issue.

Vermont Governor Says Legalization Deal Still Possible. Gov. Phil Scott said Thursday an agreement with legislators on marijuana legalization is still possible this year. Scott vetoed the legalization bill last month, citing concerns about drugged driving and children. "We are still negotiating," Scott said. "They understand... what my reservations are in terms of what they're planning, but I still think it's workable." If an agreement is reached, House Republicans would have to agree to suspend the rules of the veto session to allow a vote on the pot bill. They do not sound very interested in that, but Scott has said that if he can reach agreement on a bill, he will try to persuade his GOP colleagues to allow a vote.

Medical Marijuana

Corey Booker, Steve Cohen File Identical Medical Marijuana Protection Bills. Tennessee Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen has filed House Resolution 2920, "to extend the principle of federalism to drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana." New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker has filed a companion bill, Senate Bill 1374, in the upper chamber.

Michigan Lawmakers File Medical Marijuana Billboard Ad Ban Bills. State Sen. Rick Jones (R) and Rep. Andy Schor (D) have filed identical bills that would effectively ban billboard for medical marijuana businesses. The bills are Senate Bill 463 and House Bill 4767. They are not yet available on the state legislative web site.

Pennsylvania Governor Warns Session Against Interfering with Medical Marijuana. In a sharply worded letter, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) warned Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to interfere with medical marijuana in the state. "For a lot of patients, this is the only medicine that works. So for him to go after medical cannabis is kind of flying in the face of science and the facts," said a spokesman for the governor.

Criminal Justice

Louisiana Enacts Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reforms. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) on Thursday signed a package of 10 bills that shrink sentences, mostly for nonviolent offenders, and expand parole and probation and reentry opportunities for offenders. The state has the highest proportion of its population behind bars of any state, but Edwards predicts that the new laws will see the state's prison population falling by as much as 10% in the next decade. The bills are House Bills 116, 249, 489, 519, 680 681 and Senate Bills 16, 139, 220, 221. They can be viewed at the state legislative website.

International

British Columbia Court Throws Out Mandatory Minimums for Marijuana Producers. The BC Court of Appeals last week threw out the mandatory minimum sentence for people caught producing more than six marijuana plants, saying the law mandating it was unconstitutional. "I note that a six-month sentence is typical for a first-time trafficker involved in a relatively sophisticated commercial dial-a-dope operation. Imposing that sentence on a 19-year-old student or a migraine sufferer who is growing six plants intending to share them with friends would, in my view, be abhorrent to most Canadians," the trial court judge held, instead giving the man a suspended sentence. The government appealed, and lost last week.

Chronicle AM: Federal CARERS Act Refiled, RI Legalization Commission Bill Advances, More... (6/15/17)

A bipartisan group of senators reintroduce the CARERS Act to protect medical marijuana in the states, marijuana legalization is keeping legislators busy in the Northeast, New York GOP senators want more drug war to fight opioids, and more.

Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is among a bipartisan group of senators who reintroduced the CARERS Act today. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legal MJ Rewrite Bill Delayed By Errors, Concern at High Tax Rates. House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) has postponed a vote on the legislature's rewrite of the marijuana legalization law approved by voters last fall after errors in the drafting of the bill and the high tax rate proposed -- 28% -- drew protests from Democratic lawmakers. "I think there are certain things that we have to clear up, so because of that, I think it's important that with a bill of this mag that we try to get it right or close to right this first time, so I'd rather do that than try to rush it through," DeLeo said, adding that there was a consensus among Democrats on the basics of the bill.

New Jersey Legalization Bill Gets Hearing Monday. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Monday morning on Senate Bill 3195, which legalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana and sets up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. The Drug Policy Alliance has expressed "concern" that the bill "does not include essential components to create a fair and equitable marijuana market in New Jersey." Such legislation must include polices to repair past harms to minority communities, DPA said.

Rhode Island Legalization Study Commission Bill Passes House. A bill that creates a legislative commission to study marijuana legalization -- instead of just legalizing it -- passed the House Wednesday night. House Bill 551A now heads to the Senate. Regulate Rhode Island, the main advocacy group for legalization, has said it will not participate in the commission, which it describes as a delaying tactic.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Bill to End Federal Prohibition of Medical Marijuana Reintroduced in US Senate. US Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Corey Booker (D-NJ), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) reintroduced a bill Thursday that would end the federal prohibition of medical marijuana. Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also signed on to the legislation as original cosponsors. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (or CARERS) Act of 2017 would allow individuals and entities to possess, produce, and distribute medical marijuana if they are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. It would also open up avenues to medical marijuana research and allow physicians employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states where it is legal. The bill also proposes excluding cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana, from the federal government's definition of "marijuana."

Kentucky Lawsuit Challenges State's Medical Marijuana Ban. Three Kentuckians who say they have used marijuana to ease health problems have filed a lawsuit in state court charging that banning medical marijuana violates their constitutional privacy rights. The suit names as defendants Gov. Matt Bevin (R) and Attorney General Steve Beshear (D).

Rhode Island Governor Proposes Medical Marijuana Expansion. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has proposed a budget amendment that calls for "no less than six licensed compassion centers" and increased licensing fees that would generate $1.5 in revenues for the state's general fund. There are three existing dispensaries, which would each be allowed to open one more store front, plus the three additional ones proposed.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Republicans Want More Drug War to Fight Opioids. A Republican Senate task force says that adding funding for addiction treatment is good, but that it's time to increase heroin penalties "to get dealers off the street." The senators are proposing charging dealers with murder if one of their customers dies and increasing penalties based on the weight of the drugs sold. Assembly Democrats rejected the idea, calling the approach one that's been "tried and failed." The Assembly killed a similar approach last year.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's pretty quiet on the corrupt cop front week, except for one drug-gobbling Tennessee cop and Burritogate in Tulsa. Let's get to it:

In Ripley, Tennessee, a former Ripley police officer was sentenced last Friday to four years' probation after turning up as a suspect in an undercover drug investigation. Stephen Michael Kirkpatrick wasn't the intended target, but information developed in the investigation led to him being charged on numerous counts. He pleaded guilty to two counts of official misconduct, 13 counts of cocaine possession, one count of marijuana possession, one count of meth possession, and one count of misuse of official information.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a Tulsa County jail guard was arrested last Friday after deputies found drugs hidden inside a burrito he brought into the jail. Guard Kevin Mayo, 20, went down after the burrito turned out to be filled with marijuana, methamphetamine, and prescription pain pill. He is charged with possession of contraband in a jail, conspiracy to commit a felony, possession of both marijuana and methamphetamine, possession of a schedule II drug, and possession of drug paraphernalia. He is now on unpaid leave and in jail.

Medical Marijuana Update

Despite everything, Attorney General Sessions has medical marijuana on his mind, Florida lawmakers approve a no-smoking medical marijuana implementation bill, Vermont's governor signs a medical marijuana expansion bill, and more.

National

On Monday, it was reported that Attorney General Sessions asked Congress to let him go after medical marijuana. Attorney General Sessions sent a letter to Congress last month asking leading members to reject a federal law letting medical marijuana states set their own policies. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to the Justice Department budget bars the use of federal funds to prevent states "from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana." In a letter urging congress members to walk back the amendment, Sessions said the law would "inhibit [his department's] authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act." Hat tip to Tom Angell at MassRoots, who first obtained the letter.

Arizona

Last Thursday, the state attorney general asked the state Supreme Court to reinstate a ban on campus medical marijuana. Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) has asked the state Supreme Court to review an appeals court ruling that struck down a ban on medical marijuana on college campuses. The state is arguing that the legislature had the right to alter the voter-approved medical marijuana law so that college students with medical marijuana cards could face felony arrests for possession of any amount of marijuana.

Connecticut

Last Friday, the state took another step toward adding more qualifying conditions. Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle Seagull announced that she would follow a recommendation from the Medical Marijuana Program Board of Physicians to include three new conditions among the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. They are hydrocephalus with intractable headaches, intractable migraines, and trigeminal neuralgia. Seagull will now draft a new regulation by the end of the month, and after that, there will be a 30-day public comment period, then a review by the office of the attorney general, and then the approval of the Regulation Review Committee of the General Assembly. The whole process could take another year.

Florida

Last Friday, the medical marijuana implementation bill passed the legislature. Lawmakers used a special session to come to an agreement on how to handle medical marijuana. Under the proposal approved by the legislature, which Gov. Rick Scott (R) says he will sign, the state will gain an additional ten medical marijuana operators within four months. Each operator can operate up to 25 dispensaries across the state. But the bill also bans the smoking of medical marijuana even though the constitutional amendment approved by voters last November expressly included a provision that allows smoking. That has led Orlando lawyer John Morgan, who largely bankrolled the amendment, to vow to sue the state over the no-smoking provision.

Vermont

Last Thursday, the governor signed a medical marijuana expansion bill. Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed into law Senate Bill 16, which expands the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The new conditions added are Parkinson's disease, Crohn's disease, and PTSD. The new law also increases the number of dispensaries in the state from four to five.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit <MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: Sessions Sought Free Rein on MedMJ, VT Legalization Still Alive, More... (6/14/17)

Lots of marijuana policy news today, plus GOP Rep. James Sensenbrenner files a bill to reauthorize the Second Chance Act.

Marijuana Policy

California Pot Shops Could Sell Both Recreational and Medical Marijuana Under New Proposal. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and state legislators proposed Monday to allow medical and recreational marijuana to be sold by the same shops. The move was one of dozens of new regulations aimed at merging the medical and recreational marijuana industries contained in budget bills released Monday.

Nevada Lawsuit That Threatens July 1 Sales Date Still Alive. A Carson City district court judge on Tuesday denied the state's motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by liquor distributors seeking a cut of the action in the state's emerging legal marijuana industry. The liquor distributors have won a temporary restraining order holding up the implementation of the state's marijuana sales law until their lawsuit is settled. The distributors claim the state's regulations for licensing marijuana distributors are arbitrary and unfair. This means the state's early July 1 legal sales goal is in jeopardy.

Nevada Governor Signs Three Pot Bills, Vetoes One. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) has signed a bill setting a 15% wholesale tax on both medical and recreational marijuana (Senate Bill 478), and bills adjusting medical marijuana regulations (Senate Bill 344 and Assembly Bill 422), but vetoed a bill that would have allowed those convicted of past marijuana-related crimes involving an equal or lesser amount of what's now legal to have that crime vacated from their criminal records (Assembly Bill 259).

Rhode Island Legislature to Vote on Study Bill, But Advocates Say No Thanks. Marijuana legalization supporters said Wednesday they will not participate in a legalization study commission if it is approved by the General Assembly, calling it "a flawed delay tactic." Instead, Regulate Rhode Island is calling on legislative leaders to vote on a bill that would legalize personal possession and cultivation, but include no immediate plans for taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

Vermont Governor, Legislative Leaders Move Toward Compromise on Legalization. After Gov. Phil Scott (R) vetoed the legalization bill, Senate Bill 16, he said he didn't oppose legalization in principle, but had concerns about youth use and impaired driving. He also said he wanted a study commission in the bill to have more time to examine how the state could implement legal marijuana commerce. Now, legislative leaders say they have come up with compromise language that addresses his concerns, including tougher penalties for selling to children and longer sentences for smoking in a car when a child is present. A spokesman for the governor said "We're making good progress toward an agreement." Legislators will need Republicans to waive a rule to bring the issue up for consideration during a looming special session, but Scott said if an agreement on the bill could be reached, he would seek to persuade Republican legislators to allow it to be taken up.

Medical Marijuana

Attorney General Session Asked Congress to Let Him Go After Medical Marijuana. Attorney General Sessions sent a letter to Congress last month asking leading members to reject a federal law letting medical marijuana states set their own policies. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to the Justice Department budget bars the use of federal funds to prevent states "from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana." In a letter urging congresspeople to walk back the amendment, Sessions said the law would "inhibit [his department's] authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act." Hat tip to Tom Angell at MassRoots, who first obtained the letter.

Reentry/Rehabilitation

Rep. Sensenbrenner Files Second Chance Act Reauthorization Bill. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner( R-WI) has filed House Resolution 2899 to reauthorize the Second Chance Act of 2007. That law provides funding to state, local, and tribal governments that are working to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for people getting out of jail or prison.

America, We Can Fix This: 24 Ways to Reduce Opioid Overdoses and Addiction [FEATURE]

Drugs, mainly opioids, are killing Americans at a record rate. The number of drug overdose deaths in the country quadrupled between 1999 and 2010 -- and compared to the numbers we're seeing now, those were the good old days.

Some 30,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2010. According to a new estimate from the New York Times, double that number died last year. And the rate of increase in overdose deaths was growing, up a stunning 19% over 2015.

The Times' estimate of between 59,000 and 65,000 drug overdose deaths last year is greater than the number of American soldiers killed during the entire Vietnam War, greater than that number of people killed in the peak year for car crash deaths, greater than the number of people who died in the year the AIDS epidemic peaked, and higher than the peak year for gun deaths.

In the first decade of the century, overdoses and addiction rose in conjunction with a dramatic increase in prescription opioid prescribing; since then, as government agents and medical professionals alike sought to tamp down prescribing of opioids, the overdose wave has continued, now with most opioid OD fatalities linked to illicit heroin and powerful black market synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and carfentanil.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says we are in the midst of "the worst drug overdose epidemic in history," and it's hard to argue with that.

So, what do we do about it? Despite decades of failure and unintended consequences, the prohibitionist reflex is still strong. Calls for more punitive laws, tougher prosecutorial stances, and harsher sentences ring out from state houses across the land to the White House. But tough drug war policies haven't worked. The fact that the overdose and addiction epidemic is taking place under a prohibition regime should make that self-evident.

More enlightened -- and effective -- approaches are now being tried, in part, no doubt, because today's opioid epidemic is disproportionately affecting white, middle class people and not the inner city black people identified with heroin epidemics of the past. But they are also being tried because for the past quarter-century an ever-growing drug reform movement has articulated the failures of prohibition and illuminated more effective alternatives.

The drug reform movement's most powerful organization, the Drug Policy Alliance, this spring published A Public Health and Safety Approach to Problematic Opioid Use and Overdose, which lays out more than two dozen specific policy prescriptions in the realms of addiction treatment, harm reduction, prevention, and criminal justice that have been proven to save lives and reduce dependency on opioids. These policy prescriptions are doable now -- and some are being implemented in some fashion in some places -- but require that political decisions be made, or that forces be mobilized to get those decisions made. Some would require a radical divergence from the orthodoxies of drug prohibition, but that's a small price to pay given the mounting death toll.

Here are 24 concrete policy proposals that can save lives and reduce addiction right now. All the facts and figures are fully documented in the heavily-annotated original. Consult it if you want to get down to the nitty-gritty. In the meantime:

Addiction Treatment

1. Create Expert Panel on Treatment Needs: States should establish an expert panel to address effective treatment needs and opportunities. The expert panel should evaluate barriers to existing treatment options and make recommendations to the state legislature on removing unnecessary impediments to accessing effective treatment on demand. Moreover, the panel should determine where gaps in treatment exist and make recommendations to provide additional types of effective treatment and increased access points to treatment (such as hospital-based on demand addiction treatment). The expert panel must also set evidence-based standards of care and identify the essential components of effective treatment and recovery services to be included in licensed facilities, especially with regards to medication-assisted treatment, admission requirements, discharge, continuity of care and/or after-care, pain management, treatment programming, integration of medical and mental health services, and provision of or referrals to harm reduction services. The expert panel should identify how to improve or create referral mechanisms and treatment linkages across various healthcare and other providers. The panel should establish clear outcome measures and a system for evaluating how well providers meet the scientific requirements the panel sets. And, finally, the expert panel should evaluate opportunities under the ACA to expand coverage for treatment.

2. Increase Insurance Coverage for Medication-Assited Treatment (MAT): Seventeen state medical plans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) do not provide coverage for methadone or buprenorphine for opioid dependence. Moreover, the Veterans Administration's (VA's) insurance system has explicitly prohibited coverage of methadone and buprenorphine treatment for active duty personnel or for veterans in the process of transitioning from Department of Defense care. As a result, veterans obtaining care through the VA are denied effective treatment for opioid dependence. Insurance coverage for these critical medications should be standard practice.

3. Establish and Implement Office-Based Opioid Treatment for Methadone: Currently, with a few exceptions, methadone for the treatment of opioid dependence is only available through a highly regulated and widely stigmatized system of Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs). Moreover, several states have imposed moratoriums on establishing new OTPs that facilitate methadone treatment despite large, unmet treatment needs for a growing opioid-dependent population. Patients enrolled in methadone treatment in many communities are often limited to visiting a single OTP and face other inconveniences that make adherence to treatment more difficult. Initial trials have suggested that methadone can be effectively delivered in office-based settings and that, with training, physicians would be willing to prescribe methadone to their patients to treat their opioid dependence. Office-based methadone may help reduce the stigma associated with methadone delivered in OTPs as well as provide a critical window of intervention to address medical and psychiatric conditions. Office-based opioid treatment programs offering methadone have been implemented in California, Connecticut, and Vermont.

4. Provide MAT in Criminal Justice Settings, Including Jails/Prisons and Drug Courts: Individuals recently released from correctional settings are up to 130 times more likely to die of an overdose than the general population, particularly in the immediate two weeks after release. Given that approximately one quarter of people incarcerated in jails and prisons are opioid-dependent, initiating MAT behind bars should be a widespread, standard practice as a part of a comprehensive plan to reduce risk of opioid fatality. Jails should be mandated to continue MAT for those who received it in the community and to assess and initiate new patients in treatment. Prisons should initiate methadone or buprenorphine prior to release, with a referral to a community-based clinic or provider upon release. In addition, drug courts should be mandated to offer participants the option to participate in MAT if they are not already enrolled, make arrangements for their treatment, and should not be permitted to make discontinuation of MAT a criterion for successful completion of drug court programs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will no longer provide federal funding to drug courts that deny the use of MAT when made available to the client under the care of a physician and pursuant to a valid prescription. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals agrees: "No drug court should prohibit the use of MAT for participants deemed appropriate and in need of an addiction medication."

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) can help.
5. Offer Hospital-Based MAT: Emergency departments should be mandated to inform patients about MAT and offer buprenorphine to those patients that visit emergency rooms and have an underlying opioid use disorder, with an appointment for continued treatment with physicians in the community. Hospitals should also offer MAT within the inpatient setting, and start MAT prior to discharge with community referrals for ongoing MAT.

6. Assess Barriers to Accessing MAT to Increase Access to Methadone and Buprenorphine: A number of known barriers prevent MAT from being as widely accessible as it should be. The federal government needs to reevaluate the need for and effectiveness of the OTP model and make necessary modifications to ensure improved and increased access to methadone. And, while federal law allows physicians to become eligible to prescribe buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid dependence, it arbitrarily caps the number of opioid patients a physician can treat with buprenorphine at any one time to 30 through the first year following certification, expandable to up to potentially 200 patients thereafter. Moreover, states need to evaluate additional barriers created by state law, including, among others, training and continuing education requirements, restrictions on nurse practitioners, insurance enrollment and reimbursement, and lack of provider incentives.

7. Establish and Implement a Heroin-Assisted Treatment Pilot Program: Heroin-assisted treatment (HAT) refers to the administering or dispensing of pharmaceutical-grade heroin to a small and previously unresponsive group of chronic heroin users under the supervision of a doctor in a specialized clinic. The heroin is required to be consumed on-site, under the watchful eye of trained professionals. This enables providers to ensure that the drug is not diverted, and allows staff to intervene in the event of overdose or other adverse reaction. Permanent HAT programs have been established in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, with additional trial programs having been completed or currently taking place in Spain, Belgium and Canada. Findings from randomized controlled studies in these countries have yielded unanimously positive results, including: 1) HAT reduces drug use; 2) retention rates in HAT surpass those of conventional treatment; 3) HAT can be a stepping stone to other treatments and even abstinence; 4) HAT improves health, social functioning, and quality of life; 5) HAT does not pose nuisance or other neighborhood concerns; 6) HAT reduces crime; 7) HAT can reduce the black market for heroin; and, 8) HAT is cost-effective (cost-savings from the benefits attributable to the program far outweigh the cost of program operation over the long-run). States should consider permitting the establishment and implementation of a HAT pilot program. Nevada and Maryland have introduced legislation of this nature and the New Mexico Legislature recently convened a joint committee hearing to query experts about this strategy.

8. Evaluate the Use of Cannabis to Decrease Reliance on Prescription Opioids and Reduce Opioid Overdose Deaths: Medical use of marijuana can be an effective adjunct to or substitute for opioids in the treatment of chronic pain. Research published last year found 80 percent of medical cannabis users reported substituting cannabis for prescribed medications, particularly among patients with pain-related conditions. Another important recent study reported that cannabis treatment "may allow for opioid treatment at lower doses with fewer [patient] side effects." The result of substituting marijuana, a drug with less side effects and potential for abuse, has had profound harm reduction impacts. The Journal of the American Medical Association, for instance, documents a relationship between medical marijuana laws and a significant reduction in opioid overdose fatalities: "[s]tates with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws."Another working paper from the RAND BING Center for Health Economics notes that "states permitting medical cannabis dispensaries experienced a 15 to 35 percent decrease in substance abuse admissions and opiate overdose deaths." There is also some emerging evidence that marijuana has the potential to treat opioid addiction, but additional research is needed.

Harm Reduction

9. Establish and Implement Safe Drug Consumption Services: States and/or municipalities should permit the establishment and implementation of safe drug consumption services through local health departments and/or community-based organizations. California and Maryland have introduced legislation to establish safe drug consumption services, and the City of Ithaca, New York has included a proposal for a supervised injection site in their widely-publicized municipal drug strategy. In Washington State, the King County Heroin an Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force has recommended the establishment of at least two pilot supervised consumption sites as part of a community health engagement program designed to reduce stigma and "decrease risks associated with substance use disorder and promote improved health outcomes" in the region that includes the cities of Seattle, Renton and Auburn.

10. Maximize Naloxone Access Points, Including Lay Distribution and Pharmacy Access, As Well As Immunities for Prescription, Distribution and Administration:Naloxone should be available directly from a physician to either a patient or to a family member, friend, or other person in a position to assist in an overdose, from community-based organizations through lay distribution or standing order laws, and from pharmacies behind-the-counter without a prescription through standing order, collaborative agreement, or standardized protocol laws or regulations. Though some states, including California, New York, Colorado and Vermont, among others, have access to naloxone at each of these critical intervention points, many others only provide naloxone through a standard prescription. Civil and criminal immunities should be provided to prescribers, dispensers and lay administrators at every access point. In addition, all first responders, firefighters and law enforcement should be trained on how to recognize an overdose and be permitted to carry and use naloxone. Naloxone should also be reclassified as an over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Having naloxone available over-the-counter would greatly increase the ability of parents, caregivers, and other bystanders to intervene and provide first aid to a person experiencing an opioid overdose. FDA approval of OTC naloxone is predicated on research that satisfies efficacy and safety data requirements. Pharmaceutical companies, however, have not sought to develop an over-the-counter product.88 Federal funding may be needed to meet FDA approval requirements.

11. Provide Dedicated Funding for Community-Based Naloxone Distribution and Overdose Prevention and Response Education: Few states provide dedicated budget lines to support the cost of naloxone or staffing for community-based opioid overdose prevention programs. The CDC, however, reports that, between 1996 and 2014, these programs trained and equipped more than 152,280 laypeople with naloxone, who have successfully reversed 26,463 opioid overdoses.89 Without additional and dedicated funding, community-based opioid overdose prevention programs will not be able to continue to provide naloxone to all those who need it, and the likelihood of new programs being implemented is slim. A major barrier to naloxone access is its affordability and chronic shortages in market supply, 90 which overdose prevention programs, operating on shoestring budgets, can have a difficult time navigating.

12. Improve Insurance Coverage for Naloxone: Individuals who use heroin and other opioids are often both uninsured and marginalized by the healthcare system.91 States should insure optimal reimbursement rates for naloxone to increase access to those who need it most – users themselves.

Overdose reversal drugs need to be made much more widely available -- and affordable. (health.pa.gov)
13. Provide Naloxone to Additional At-Risk Communities: People exiting detox and other treatment programs as well as periods of incarceration are at particularly high risk for overdose because their tolerance has been substantially decreased. After their period of abstinence, if they relapse and use the same amount, the result is often a deadly overdose. States should require overdose education and offer naloxone to people upon discharge from detox and other drug treatment programs and jails/prisons. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has declared that prescribing or dispensing naloxone is an essential complement to both detoxification services as well as medically supervised withdrawal. Vermont passed legislation making naloxone available to eligible pilot project participants who are transitioning from incarceration back to the community. In addition, there are other programs/studies that provide naloxone to recently released individuals on a limited basis, including in San Francisco, California, King County, Washington and Rhode Island.

14. Encourage Distribution of Naloxone to Patients Receiving Opioids: Physicians should be encouraged to prescribe naloxone to their patients and opioid treatment programs should inform their clients about naloxone, if prescribing or dispensing an opioid to them. Pharmacists should similarly be encouraged to offer naloxone along with all Schedule II opioid prescriptions being filled, for syringe purchases (without concurrent injectable medication), and for all co-prescriptions (within 30 days) of a benzodiazepine (such as Valium™, Xanax™ or Klonopin™) and any opioid medication. The Rhode Island Governor's Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force found that offering naloxone to those prescribed a Schedule II opioid or when co-prescribed a benzodiazepine and any opioid would have reached 86% of overdose victims who received a prescription from a pharmacy prior to their death, and could have prevented 58% of all overdose deaths from 2014 to 2015.

15. Expand Good Samaritan Protections: "Good Samaritan" laws provide limited immunity from prosecution for specified drug law violations for people who summon help at the scene of an overdose. But, protection from prosecution is not enough to ensure that people are not too frightened to seek medical help. Other consequences, like arrest, parole or probation violations, and immigration consequences, can be equal barriers to calling 911. States with Good Samaritan laws already on the books should evaluate the protections provided and determine whether expansion of those protections would increase the likelihood that people seek medical assistance.

16. End the Criminalization of Syringe Possession: Syringes should be exempt from state paraphernalia laws in order to provide optimal access to people who inject drugs. Twenty-two states criminalize syringe possession. Thus, even if there is a legal access point, such as pharmacy sales, paraphernalia laws still permit law enforcement to arrest and prosecute individuals in possession of a syringe. Public health and law enforcement authorities should not be working at cross-purposes.

17. Reduce Barriers to Over-The-Counter Syringe Sales and Permit Direct Prescriptions of Syringes: While the non-prescription, over-the-counter sale of syringes is now permitted in all but one U.S. state, access is still unduly restricted.States should evaluate the potential barriers to accessing syringes over-thecounter and implement measures to improve access. Moreover, doctors should be permitted to prescribe syringes directly to their patients, a practice few states currently permit.

18. Authorize and Fund Sterile Syringe Access and Exchange Programs; Increase Programs: States should explicitly authorize and fund sterile syringe access and exchange programs, and states that have already authorized them should evaluate how to increase the number or capacity of programs to ensure all state residents – whether in urban centers or rural communities -- have access to clean syringes, as well as evaluate any possible barriers to access such as unnecessary age restrictions.

19. Provide Free Public, Community-Level Access to Drug Checking Services: Technology exists to test heroin and opioid products for adulterants via GC/MS analysis, but it has so far been unavailable at a public level in the US (aside from a mail-in service run by Ecstasydata.org). Making these services available in the context of a community outreach service or academic study would lower the number of deaths and hospitalizations and also allow for real-time tracking of local drug trends.

Prevention

20. Establish Expert Panel on Opioid Prescribing: Though the CDC has issued guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain, the guidelines are voluntary and are likely to exacerbate disparities in treatment that already exist. Research has shown, for example, that African Americans are less likely than whites to receive opioids for pain even when being treated for the same conditions. Moreover, the CDC guidelines only address prescribing practices for chronic pain, not prescribing practices more broadly. States should accordingly establish an expert panel to undertake an assessment as to whether prescribing practices, such as co-prescriptions for benzodiazepines and opioids or overprescribing of opioids, have contributed to increased rates of opioid dependence, and, if so, the expert panel should develop a plan to address any such linkages as well as any treatment disparities. The plan must account for the potential negative effects of curtailing prescribing practices or swiftly reducing prescription opioid prescribing volume. A task force in Rhode Island found that while changes in opioid supply can have the intended effect of reducing availability of abuse-able medications, they have also been linked to an increase in transition to illicit drug use and in more risky drug use behaviors (e.g., snorting and injecting pain medications). The plan must also account for chronic pain patients, particularly those already underserviced, and not unduly limit their access to necessary medications. Finally, to the extent prescribing guidelines are issued as part of the plan, they should be mandatory and applied across the board.

21. Mandate Medical Provider Education: States should mandate that all health professional degree-granting institutions include curricula on opioid dependence, overdose prevention, medication-assisted treatment, and harm reduction interventions, and that continuing education on these topics be readily available.

22. Develop Comprehensive, Evidence-Based Health, Wellness, and Harm Reduction Curriculum for Youth: State education departments, in conjunction with an expert panel consisting of various stakeholders that ascribe to scientific principles of treatment for youth, should develop a comprehensive, evidence-based health, wellness, and harm reduction curriculum for use in schools that incorporates scientific education on drugs, continuum of use, and contributors to problematic drug use (e.g., coping and resiliency, mental health issues, adverse childhood experiences, traumatic events and crisis), as well as how reduce harm (e.g., not mixing opioids with benzodiazepines). Education departments should also establish protocols and resources for early intervention, counseling, linkage to care, harm reduction resources, and other supports for students.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

23. Establish Diversion Programs, Including Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD): LEAD is a pre-booking diversion program that establishes protocols by which police divert people away from the typical criminal justice route of arrest, charge and conviction into a health-based, harm-reduction focused intensive case management process wherein the individual receives support services ranging from housing and healthcare to drug treatment and mental health services. Municipalities should create and implement LEAD programs and states and the federal government should provide dedicated funding for such programs. Various other forms of diversion programs exist and can be implemented should LEAD prove unsuitable to a particular population or municipality.

24. Decriminalize Drug Possession: Decriminalization is commonly defined as the elimination of criminal penalties for drug possession for personal use. In other words, it means that people who merely use or possess small amounts of drugs are no longer arrested, jailed, prosecuted, imprisoned, put on probation or parole, or saddled with a criminal record. Nearly two dozen countries have taken steps toward decriminalization. Empirical evidence from the international experiences demonstrate that decriminalization does not result in increased use or crime, reduces incidences of HIV/AIDs and overdose, increases the number of people in treatment, and reduces social costs of drug misuse. All criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of controlled substances for personal use should be removed.

Chronicle AM: FL Solons Reach MedMJ Accord, CO Gov Signs Asset Forfeiture Bill, More... (6/12/17)

Florida lawmakers finally reach agreement on implementing the medical marijuana constitutional amendment, Colorado's governor signs an asset forfeiture reform bill, and more.

Faced with large protests, Georgia's prime minister says he will hurry up with drug reform. (IPN screengrab)
Marijuana Policy

House Effort to Help Marijuana Businesses With Banking Thwarted. Two Florida representatives, Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) and Darren Soto (D-Orlando), filed an amendment to the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017 that would have eased federal restrictions on banking services for marijuana businesses. The bill was approved by the House last Thursday, but not before the House Rules Committee stripped the amendment from the bill.

Colorado Governor Signs Bills Limiting Plant Counts, Caregivers. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) last Thursday signed into law House Bill 17-1220, which limits personal cultivation to 12 plants per residence unless a local government allows more, and House Bill 17-1221, which says that only caregivers can grow plants for other people and sets up a grant program to fund police efforts to prosecute crimes related to black market weed.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Takes Another Step Toward Adding More Qualifying Conditions. Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle Seagull announced last Friday that she would follow a recommendation from the Medical Marijuana Program Board of Physicians to include three new conditions among the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. They are hydrocephalus with intractable headaches, intractable migraines, and trigeminal neuralgia. Seagull will now draft a new regulation by the end of the month, and after that, there will be a 30-day public comment period, then a review by the office of the attorney general, and then the approval of the Regulation Review Committee of the General Assembly. The whole process could take another year.

Florida Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Implementation Bill. Lawmakers used a special session to come to an agreement on how to handle medical marijuana last Friday. Under the proposal approved by the legislature, which Gov. Rick Scott (R) says he will sign, the state will gain an additional ten medical marijuana operators within four month. Each operator can operate up to 25 dispensaries across the state. But the bill also bans the smoking of medical marijuana even though the constitutional amendment approved by voters last November expressly included a provision that allows smoking. That has led Orlando lawyer John Morgan, who largely bankrolled the amendment, to vow to sue the state over the no-smoking provision.

Vermont Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. Phil Scott (R) last Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 16, which expands the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The new conditions added are Parkinson's disease, Crohn's disease, and PTSD. The new law also increases the number of dispensaries in the state from four to five.

Asset Forfeiture

Colorado Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) last Friday signed into law a civil asset forfeiture reform bill, House Bill 17-1313, which blocks state and local law enforcement from handing forfeiture cases off to the feds if the total value of the seized property is less than $50,000. In cases prosecuted by the federal government, the local law enforcement agency receives 80% of the proceeds, while under state law, the proceeds go to a general fund. Under the new law, police must also report all asset forfeitures and how they were used to the state.

International

Facing Mass Protests, Georgian Prime Minister Vows to Soften Harsh Drug Policies. After large crowds gathered in the capital Tbilisi to protest the arrest of two rappers who claim police planted drugs on them, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili unexpectedly weighed in a vowed to soften the country's drug laws. "I call on the parliament to accelerate the work [on the issue of softening drug legislation] in order at last to adopt a modified and humane law for the fall session in line with European standards," said in a statement published on the government website.

Chronicle AM: LA County Deputies to Carry Naloxone, Florida MedMJ Bill Advances, More... (6/9/17)

New York lawmakers are beginning a new push for marijuana legalization, the Florida Senate has passed a medical marijuana implementation bill, LA County Sheriff's deputies begin carrying the overdose reversal drug Naloxone, and more.

The LA County Sheriff's Department becomes the largest police agency in the land to carry Naloxone. (pa.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New York Lawmakers Prepare Legalization Effort. State Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) and Rep. Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo), along with advocates organized by the Drug Policy Alliance, will hold a press conference Monday to announce the reintroduction of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, Senate Bill 3040 and its Assembly companion, Assembly Bill 3506. The legislation would establish a legal market for adult-use cannabis in the state, with marijuana taxed and regulated in a fashion similar to how alcohol is regulated for adults over 21.

Rhode Island Legal MJ Backers Propose Compromise. Lawmakers trying to salvage a marijuana legalization effort have proposed a two-stage process where marijuana possession would be legalized first, but the legalization of marijuana commerce would come later. The proposal from Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) and Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) does not have the support of state Senate and House leaders, though. They are supporting a rival bill that would delay legalization by creating a legislative commission to study the issue.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Attorney General Asks State Supreme Court to Reinstate Ban on Campus Medical Marijuana. Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) has asked the state Supreme Court to review an appeals court ruling that struck down a ban on medical marijuana on college campuses. The state is arguing that the legislature had the right to alter the voter-approved medical marijuana law so that college students with medical marijuana cards could face felony arrests for possession of any amount of marijuana.

Florida Senate Passes Law Implementing Medical Marijuana. The state Senate on Friday approved a bill that would implement the state's constitutional amendment expanding the use of medical marijuana on a vote of 28-8. A similar bill fell apart during the legislature's regular session, but now, during a special session, it is moving. It must still past the House and be signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott (R) to become law. The bill would cap the number of medical marijuana cultivation operations at 25 statewide and it would not allow for the smoking of medical marijuana.

Harm Reduction

Los Angeles County Deputies to Start Carrying Naloxone. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is about to become the largest law enforcement agency in the US to equip its members with the life-saving opioid overdose reversal drug. Some 600 Naloxone spray kits are being handed out this week, and the department plans to get the kits in the hands of 3,000 of its deputies by year's end.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Drug War Violence Roils Reynosa, RI MJ Commission Expanded, More... (6/8/17)

A Rhode Island legislative commission studying marijuana legalization gets an expanded membership, including more seats favorable to legalization, cartel infighting leaves a bloody toll in Reynosa, British public health experts call for festival pill testing, and more.

No let up in prohibition-related violence along the Rio Grande. (Borderlands Beat/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Legalization Commission Gets Expanded. The House Judiciary Committee has voted to expand the membership of a commission studying legalization by adding five more people. The five new members will add heft to the commission's pro-legalization contingent. They include the head of the local NAACP branch, a representative of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, a criminal defense attorney, and the director of the local chapter of Direct Action for Rights and Equality. This brings the size of the commission to 22. The panel would report recommendations on legalizing marijuana to the General Assembly by March 2018.

Drug Policy

Wisconsin Seeks to Keep Locking Up Pregnant Women Suspected of Drug Use Despite Court Ruling. The state Department of Justice has asked the 10th US Circuit of Appeals to let it continue to apply a law allowing it to detain pregnant women it suspects of drug use even though a US district court judge struck it down in April. State officials first sought an emergency stay to block the ruling while they appeal, but when that was denied Monday, on Tuesday they asked to continue to apply the law to pending cases while it appeals the denial to the US Supreme Court.

International

British Public Health Group Calls for Pill Testing at Festivals. Citing the danger of "serious health harm" from stronger ecstasy in the UK, the Royal Society for Public Health is calling for a program to allow festival goers to test their drugs on site. The society reported than a one-off pill testing pilot program last year resulted in 18% of people bringing their drugs in deciding to through them in the garbage after they turned out to be counterfeit or adulterated.

Mexico Drug War Violence Continues to Roil Reynosa. At least 50 people have been killed in the past month in the Mexican border town of Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, according to unofficial counts in local media. Most of the dead are reportedly gunmen from rival factions of the Gulf Cartel, who are fighting for control of local drug trafficking routes, but at least one civilizan -- a taco cart vendor -- is among the dead.

The Marijuana Economy Dwarfs Ten of America's Most Popular Food and Drink Staples

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Marijuana is legal in eight states and the District of Columbia, and medical marijuana is legal in nearly 30 (although often under quite restrictive regulatory schemes). Between the two, legal weed is generating total annual sales of between $4 billion and $4.5 billion.

But legal marijuana sales are dwarfed by sales in the black market, which according to a recent report in Marijuana Business Daily, accounts for about ten times the size of the legal market, or about $45 billion to $50 billion.

That's still only about half the size of the legal beer and tobacco market, and it's more than it might be when legalization ultimately drops prices, which most observers expect. Nevertheless, it is nothing to sneeze at, and it puts marijuana well ahead of some major American economic sectors. Here are ten products or services already being surpassed by pot, with the first five being smaller than the legal market and the second five being smaller than the estimated overall market, including both licit and illicit markets. Some of these industries could hope for synergistic effects, though.

1. Girl Scout cookies

Thin Mints are the hands-down winner when it comes to Girl Scout cookies, accounting for 25% of all sales, but that's only around $200 million. All told, Americans shelled out $776 million for the treats last year. That's a lot of cookies, but that's less than one-quarter of the size of the legal pot market.

2. Tequila

Shots with lime and salt, margaritas, Tequila sunrises... Americans gulp down a huge volume of the Mexican agave concoction every year, but the $2.3 billion in annual tequila sales is only half the size of the legal marijuana market. Of course, tequila is only a fraction of the alcohol industry, which still rocks compared to weed. Beer sales alone are more than $100 billion a year.

3. Music streaming services

Who doesn't love music and want it handy on all their devices? Music streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, and Amazon Music Unlimited are big, big, big, but at about $2.5 billion in annual sales, only half as big as legal weed.

4. Erectile dysfunction medication

Viagra and Cialis can't stand up against legal marijuana, either. There's a huge potential market out there, with an estimated 52% of men experiencing erectile dysfunction at some point in their lives, but annual sales for the two drugs combined is still only $2.7 billion.

5. Frozen pizza

From Tombstone to California Pizza Kitchen, take-home store-bought frozen pizzas are a traditional favorite of millions of Americans. And now, we're finally reaching sales parity with legal pot. Frozen pizzas account for $4.4 billion in sales each year, very near the amount spend on legally purchased marijuana.

6. Ice cream

Retail ice cream sales come to $5.1 billion a year, just barely exceeding the high-end estimate for legal pot sales, but barely one-tenth the size of the estimated black and legal marijuana markets. That's still a lot of scoops, though.

7. Movie tickets

Let's go to the movies! Even though movie tickets aren't exactly cheap, people still pay for that theatrical cinematic experience to the tune of $11.1 billion in ticket sales per year (not counting snacks). That's only about a quarter of the size of the overall pot market. Being stoned on weed could make some of those lame loser movies more palatable.

8. The NFL

Pro football is a monster, dominating sports TV, radio, and internet for half the year and generating $13.3 billion in annual revenues. At the rate legal marijuana markets are expanding (just wait for California!), legal pot sales alone could surpass NFL revenues within just a few years, and the total estimated market is more than three times what the league is bringing in.

9. Gambling

Pot is bigger than Vegas? Yep. And Reno and Atlantic City and all those casinos everywhere combined. Make no mistake -- gambling is big business, with Americans burning through $34.6 billion a year, according to the American Gambling Association, but Americans are burning through even more weed, and we'd wager that's going to go up, too.

10. Daycare for kids

Daycare for kids isn't exactly inexpensive and it's an issue for millions of American working families. According to IBISWorld's market research, that's a $48 billion hit on the family budget. It's an awful lot of money. It's also more or less the amount Americans are spending on pot right now.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Veterans Administration secretary hints at openness to medical marijuana for PTSD, Arkansas regulators are ready to accept applications, Florida lawmakers are ready to move forward on implementing the will of the voters, and more.

National

Last Wednesday, the VA secretary said he's open to medical marijuana for PTSD. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said he is open to expanding the use of medical marijuana to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder in states where it is legal. There may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful and we're interested in looking at that and learning from that," Shulkin said during a press conference. "Right now, federal law does not prevent us at VA to look at that as an option for veterans... I believe that everything that could help veterans should be debated by Congress and by medical experts and we will implement that law."

Arkansas

On Tuesday, tstate regulators finalized the process for medical marijuana applications. The state Medical Marijuana Commission finalized the process for accepting applications for medical marijuana growers and sellers. The move comes after the commission developed a more detailed scoring system for ranking applicants. The application period will open June 30 and go on for 90 days. The commission will distribute 32 dispensary licenses and five cultivation facility licenses.

Florida

Last Friday, the governor vetoed medical marijuana research projects. Gov. Rick Scott (R) used his line-item veto power to kill three line items that would have provided more than $3 million dollars to the Moffitt Cancer Center and the University of Florida for medical marijuana research. In his veto message, Scott wrote that the institutions had plenty of money to fund the research on their own.

On Wednesday, lawmakers reached agreement on implementing medical marijuana. Lawmakers came to agreement on how to implement the state's voter-approved medical law. Under the agreement, 10 new growers will be licensed this year, with five licenses going to previous applicants, five going to new applicants, and at least one reserved for a black farmer. The state current licenses only seven commercial grows. The agreement also caps the number of dispensaries each grower can operate at 25.

Oregon

Last Friday, a bill to let medical growers sell limited amounts on the recreational market advanced. A bill that seeks to reshape the state's medical marijuana program so it can coexist with legal recreational marijuana is advancing. House Bill 2198, which would let medical growers sell up to 20 pounds in the recreational market in a bid to stay viable, passed the Joint Committee on Marijuana Regulation last Friday and is now before Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A North Dakota sheriff was letting meth suborn him, a Florida sheriff's deputy was tweaked on steroids, and more. Let's get to it:

In Fessenden, North Dakota, the former Wells County sheriff was arrested last Tuesday on bribery and methamphetamine charges. Johnny Zip Lawson, 41, is accused of consuming meth provided by a local man in exchange for not investigating break-ins and burglaries in the area that may have been committed by that man. He is charged with conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, methamphetamine, a Class A felony, and bribery-unlawful influence of public servants, a Class C felony. He was also charged with three Class A misdemeanors: providing false information to a law enforcement officer, neglect of duty and ingesting a controlled substance, methamphetamine.

In Bridgeport, Connecticut, a Fairfield police detective was arrested last Friday for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars' worth of heroin and Oxycontin from the department's evidence room. Detective Stephen Rilling, 40, is accused of signing out heroin, Oxycontin, and cocaine for "testing," but consuming the drugs himself. He is charged with third-degree computer crime, second-degree larceny by defrauding a public community, possession of narcotics, second-degree forgery, tampering with evidence and false entry by an officer or agent of a public community.

In Daytona Beach, Florida, a Volusia County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Friday on accusations that he stole money and a synthetic steroid from a driver during a traffic stop. John Braman, 24, went down after body-camera video showed him taking money out of the driver's wallet. Prosecutors said body camera video showed at least two more cases of Braman ripping off motorists and that investigators found steroids and syringes in Braman's car. He is charged with theft, official misconduct, and possession of a controlled substance.

Chronicle AM: NYT Says ODs at Record High, WI Gov Advances Medicaid Drug Testing, More... (6/7/17)

Drug overdoses are at an all time high, drug war dinosaur senators want to return to harsh sentencing, Wisconsin's GOP governor moves forward with first in the nation plan to drug test Medicaid applicants, and more.

Fatal drug overdoses totaled nearly 60,000 last year, the New York Times reports. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut House Debates Legalization, But There is No Vote. The House debated the pros and cons of marijuana legalization Tuesday night, but Democratic leaders then ended debate without any vote. They said a legalization bill would have failed in the House, but the debate could increase the chances of legalization being included as part of a budget bill, although observers describe that prospect as "a long shot."

Wichita Reduces Pot Penalties. The city council voted Tuesday to adopt an ordinance that would reduce the penalty for possession of up to 32 grams (slightly more than an ounce) of marijuana to $50 plus court costs.

ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance Sue Southern California City Over Pot Cultivation Ordinance. The ACLU of California and the Drug Policy Alliance are suing Fontana, claiming that the city's marijuana ordinance conflicts with rights granted to all Californians under Proposition 64. Under Prop. 64, every Californian 21 or older has a right to cultivate up to six marijuana plants for personal use. But the law also says cities or counties can ban outdoor gardens and "reasonably regulate" indoor grows.Fontana -- a city of 200,000 people that sits 50 miles east of Los Angeles -- passed an ordinance in January that requires residents who want to cultivate up to six plants inside their home to first get a $411 permit from the city and not have any drug convictions within the past five years, a policy the groups describe as both illegal and "egregious."

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Finalizes Process for Medical Marijuana Applications. In a meeting Tuesday, the state Medical Marijuana Commission finalized the process for accepting applications for medical marijuana growers and sellers. The move comes after the commission developed a more detailed scoring system for ranking applicants. The application period will open June 30 and go on for 90 days. The commission will distribute 32 dispensary licenses and five cultivation facility licenses.

Florida Lawmakers Reach Agreement on Implementing Medical Marijuana. Lawmakers on Wednesday came to agreement on how to implement the state's voter-approved medical law. Under the agreement, ten new growers will be licensed this year, with five licenses going to previous applicants, five going to new applicants, and at least one reserved for a black farmer. The state current licenses only seven commercial grows. The agreement also caps the number of dispensaries each grower can operate at 25.

Oregon Bill to Let Medical Growers Sell Up to 20 Pounds in Recreational Market Advances. A bill that seeks to reshape the state's medical marijuana program so it can coexist with legal recreational marijuana is advancing. House Bill 2198, which would let medical growers sell up to 20 pounds in the recreational market in a bid to stay viable, passed the Joint Committee on Marijuana Regulation last week and is now before Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Times Investigation Finds Drug Overdose Deaths Reached All-Time High in 2016. The New York Times published on Monday an investigative report that found that drug overdose deaths last year reached an all-time high, suggesting that the country's long-term opioid crisis continues to worsen and that younger age groups in the U.S. are experiencing record numbers of opioid overdoses than in the past. The Times looked at preliminary overdose data for 2016 provided by hundreds of state and local health authorities, concluding: "Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50, and all evidence suggests the problem has continued to worsen in 2017." The report estimates that more than 59,000 people died from a drug overdose in 2016 -- an increase of 19% from 2015. The report does not elaborate on which drugs are behind the estimated jump in overdose deaths last year, nor does the report indicate which age groups under 50 saw the largest increase in overdose deaths over prior years.

Senate Drug Warriors Feinstein and Grassley Prepare Bill With Tough New Penalties for Synthetic Opioids. The senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are preparing a bill that would create tough new penalties for people caught with synthetic opioids. A draft of the bill would give the attorney general the power to ban all kinds of synthetic drugs and it would impose a 10-year maximum sentence on people caught selling them for a first offense. A second offense would see the sentence double. The bill would penalize people selling drugs at a low level in the US, critics said.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Submits Request to Drug Test Medicaid Applicants. Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Wednesday officially submitted a request for a federal waiver to become the first state in the country to drug test applicants for Medicaid benefits. Walker said the plan would provide drug addicts with treatment and make them employable. "Healthy workers help Wisconsin employers fill jobs that require passing a drug test," Walker's administration said in a press release Wednesday announcing the waiver. But critics called the notion a waste of money and an insult to people who need Medicaid.

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Restricts Forfeiture, Rejects College Drug Test Bid, More... (6/6/17)

The Supreme Court makes two good drug policy-related rulings in one day, the California Assembly approves both a marijuana "sanctuary" bill and a supervised injection site bill, last-ditch efforts to free the weed in Connecticut hit a bump, and more.

The Supreme Court rules favorably on two drug policy-related issues. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

California Assembly Passes Marijuana "Sanctuary" Bill. The Assembly has approved Assembly Bill 1578, which would prohibit state resources from being used to help enforce federal marijuana laws that conflict with state law. The bill from Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) now goes to the state Senate.

Connecticut Legalization Measure Still Stalled. The last-ditch effort to get legalization passed through the budget process broke down early Monday just minutes before a press conference announcing a compromise was to be announced. Rep. Melissa Ziobron (R-East Haddam) complained that she didn't see a copy of the legalization amendment until just minutes earlier, when she learned that Rep. Josh Elliot (D-Hamden) and other Democrats had been crafting the measure since last Friday. "This isn't about headlines. This isn't about a news conference," Ziobron said. "This is about what's good for the state of Connecticut, and doing it last-minute, doing it in a way that is not bipartisan, is very worrisome and should be for every single person in this state."

Nevada Republicans Kill Governor's Pot Tax Bill. A bill supported by Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) that would have imposed a 10% tax on recreational marijuana sales has been defeated in the Senate after Republicans refused to support it because of unrelated budget issues. The vote was 12-9 in favor, but because it was a budget bill, it needed a two-thirds majority, or 14 votes, to pass.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Governor Uses Line-Item Veto to Kill Medical Marijuana Research Projects. Gov. Rick Scott (R) used his line-item veto power to kill three line items that would have provided more than $3 million dollars to the Moffitt Cancer Center and the University of Florida for medical marijuana research. In his veto message, Scott wrote that the institutions had plenty of money to fund the research on their own.

Asset Forfeiture

Supreme Court Restricts Asset Forfeiture in Drug Cases. In a decision handed down Monday, the US Supreme Court has moved to restrict prosecutorial efforts to seize money or goods from drug defendants. In Honeycutt v. US, brothers Terry and Tony Honeycutt were convicted of selling methamphetamine precursor chemicals, and the feds then swooped in to seize $200,000 of the estimated $270,000 profits from the sales. But they then sought to seize the remaining $70,000 from Terry Honeycutt, who was only an employee at his brother's hardware store, and that crossed a line, the court said. "Congress did not authorize the government to confiscate substitute property from other defendants or coconspirators," Sotomayor said. "It authorized the government to confiscate assets only from the defendant who initially acquired the property and who bears responsibility for its dissipation."

Drug Testing

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Appeal from Missouri Tech College That Wanted to Drug Test All Students. The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal from the State Technical College of Missouri of an appeals court ruling that its mandatory drug testing policy is unconstitutional when applied to all students. Lower courts had upheld mandatory suspicionless drug testing of only a handful of the school's disciplines where safety was a key element. "This case establishes -- once and for all -- that under the Fourth Amendment, every person has the right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure, including college students," the ACLU, which filed the class-action lawsuit in 2011, said in a statement Monday.

Harm Reduction

California Assembly Passes Supervised Injection Sites Bill. The Assembly last Thursday approved Assembly Bill 186, which would allow for the provision of supervised drug consumption sites. The pioneering harm reduction measure sponsored by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) now moves to the state Senate. "California is blazing a new trail toward a policy on drug addiction and abuse that treats it as the medical issue and public health challenge that it is, and not as a moral failing," said Talamantes Eggman. "We are in the midst of an epidemic, and this bill will grant us another tool to fight it -- to provide better access to services like treatment and counseling, to better protect public health and safety, and to save lives."

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