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Chronicle AM: House Passes Unemployment Drug Test Bill, Houston Decriminalizes, More... (2/16/17)

The House approves a bill that could open the door to states drug testing people seeking unemployment benefits, harsh sentencing bills advance in Ohio and Kentucky, Houston decriminalizes marijuana possession (in most cases), and more.

The House has approved a bill that would allow states to expand drug testing of people seeking unemployment benefits. (wikimedia
Marijuana Policy

Arizona PAC Plans to File 2018 Legalization Initiative. A political action committee called Safer Arizona was set to file a marijuana legalization initiative with state officials Thursday. Arizona voters narrowly devoted a similar measure last year, but organizers say this one will have some differences, including requiring that people be at least 21 before they can buy it. They will have to gather 150,000 valid voter signatures by July to qualify for the 2018 ballot.

Guam Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. In a hearing Tuesday on a marijuana legalization measure, Bill 8-34, representatives of the judiciary said they took no position on the bill, but cautioned that implementing legalization would require a review of the island territory's entire criminal code. Guam Customs and Quarantine acting chief, Maj. Phillip Taijeron also testified, saying he supported the will of the people. "If the will of the people is to enact Bill 8-34, then I am in support of Bill 8-34," Taijeron said.

New York State Assembly Passes Landmark Legislation to Seal Past Marijuana Possession Convictions. The Assembly voted Tuesday in favor of Assembly Bill 2142, which would seal the criminal records of people who have been unjustly and unconstitutionally arrested for simple possession of marijuana in public view. The vote was 95 in favor and 38 opposed.This sealing legislation has taken on increased importance amid the Trump Administration’s rhetoric and actions targeting immigrant communities. On the national level, simple marijuana possession is the fourth most common cause of deportation, according to the report "Secure Communities and ICE Deportations: A Failed Program?" Sealing records will provide a measure of protection for immigrants by making it difficult or impossible for immigration authorities to meet their legal burden of proof for a judge to find a lawful permanent resident deportable. Additionally, sealing will guard against the Trump administration's Executive Order targeting noncitizens with any criminal arrests and/or convictions for deportation. If the arrest is also sealed and the sealed information is not shared with the FBI, these individuals may be at lower risk of becoming an enforcement target.

Houston to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession. The nation's fourth largest city is ready to decriminalize small-time marijuana possession. As of March 1, under a new "Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program," in most circumstances people caught with an ounce or less will face no jail, no tickets, no court appearances and no criminal record. Houston and surrounding Harris County have spent $200 million prosecuting 100,000 pot possession cases in the past decade, with "no tangible public safety benefit," said District Attorney Kim Ogg (D), who took office this year.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Senate Passes Limited CBD Bill. A measure that would allow people with epilepsy to use low-THC cannabidiol oil passed the Senate Tuesday. The measure, Senate Bill 15, now moves to the House.

Virginia Republicans Kill CBD Expansion Bill. Patient advocates burst into tears Wednesday night as six House Republicans voted to kill a major expansion of the state's CBD law, which limited its use to people with epilepsy. Senate Bill 1298 would have expanded the law to allow its use for treatment for 13 more conditions, but the bill was killed by a 5-6 party line vote in the subcommittee that writes criminal law.

Asset Forfeiture

Colorado Cops Lobby Hard, Defeat Asset Forfeiture Reform. A proposal to expand oversight of police seizures of property was defeated in a party line vote in a Senate committee Wednesday, with Republicans casting all the "no" votes. The measure, Senate Bill 17-136, would also have prevented law enforcement agencies from turning property over to the federal government to get around state restrictions unless the property was worth more than $50,000. The vote came after a parade of law enforcement officers testified against the bill.

Drug Testing

House Approves Measure Aimed at Expanding Drug Testing of People Who File for Unemployment Assistance. The House approved H.J. Res 42, which would repeal a recently finalized Department of Labor rule that interpreted a 2012 federal law that permits states to drug test people who file for unemployment insurance in certain circumstances. Advocates see the repeal of the Department of Labor rule as a first step by some Republicans in Congress at undoing federal restrictions on states conditioning receipt of unemployment and other forms of public assistance on a drug test. The measure now goes before the Senate.

Sentencing

Kentucky Senate Passes Bill Toughening Penalties for Heroin, Fentanyl Sales. The Senate voted unanimously Thursday to approve a bill increasing penalties for people trafficking even the smallest amounts of heroin and fentanyl. The measure, Senate Bill 14, rolls back sentencing reforms enacted in 2011. Under those reforms, trafficking less than House Bill 4, which reverses a state Supreme Court ruling that only the weight of actual cocaine -- not filler -- be used when imposing stiffer sentences for possession and trafficking. Under the bill, prosecutors would be able to sentence defendants based on the weight of the entire mixture. Under the bill, a pound of powder that contained only a gram of cocaine would be considered a pound of cocaine for sentencing purposes. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Chronicle AM: States' Rights Marijuana Bill Filed, Trouble in Morocco's Rif, More... (2/8/17)

A federal bill to let states experiment with marijuana policy is back, CBD cannabis oil and medical marijuana study bills advance at the statehouse, trouble is bubbling up in Morocco's hash-producing regions, and more.

California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is again introducing a bill to give states the lead on marijuana policy. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Republican Congressman Files Federal Bill to Let States Set Own Marijuana Policies. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) Tuesday filed House Resolution 975, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act. The bill would resolve conflicts between state and federal laws by exempting people and entities from certain provisions of the Controlled Substances Act if they are acting in compliance with state laws. Rohrabacher authored similar legislation in the last Congress, garnering 20 cosponsors, including seven Republicans.

Minnesota Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Jon Applebaum (DFL-Minnetonka) filed a bill Wednesday to legalize marijuana for recreational use. "Minnesotans are rightfully developing different attitudes on marijuana," Applebaum said in a news release. "Other states' successes, along with the failed prohibition attempts of others, validated the need for a statewide conversation," he added. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Bill to Lower THC Levels, Add Autism Advances. A bill that would add autism to the list of qualifying conditions for using CBD cannabis oil, but would also lower the amount of THC in cannabis oil was approved by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Medical marijuana advocates like Senate Bill 16 for its autism provision, but don't want the lower THC provision. The bill would drop allowable THC levels from 5% to 3%.

Utah House Passes Medical Marijuana Research Bill. The House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to pass House Bill 130, which would allow universities in the state to study medical marijuana. The bill is a fallback after legislators retreated from earlier plans to push an actual medical marijuana bill. The bill now advances to the Senate.

Wisconsin Senate Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to approve a bill allowing for the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat seizures. Senate Bill 10 now heads to the House.

Sentencing

Maryland Bill Would Set Criminal Penalties for People Who Sell Drugs Linked to Fatal Overdoses. A bill that would set criminal penalties of up to 30 years in prison for people who sell heroin or fentanyl where "the use of which is a contributing cause to the death of another" has been filed in the House. The measure, House Bill 612, aims not only at the person who directly sold the drug, but also anyone in the supply chain. It's scheduled for a committee hearing on February 28.

International

Morocco Drug Control Policy Sparking Unrest in Country's North. The death of an illegal fish vendor in November has sparked months of widespread protests and unrest in Morocco's Rif, but that unrest has been brewing for years thanks to a lack of economic development and the government's harsh treatment of cannabis growers, one of the few economic activities available to area residents: "This situation in which Rifans are left with few other economic options than to engage in illicit activities and risk criminal sanctions is aggravated by the harsh provisions of the Moroccan narcotics law. While drug use is punished with two months to one year in prison, the law allows for up to 30 years for drug trafficking offenses. The average sentence is around 10 to 15 years, even for minor, non-violent offences."

Philippines President Insults Former Colombia President Over Drug Policy Criticisms. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte called former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria "an idiot" for publishing an article in the New York Times criticizing Duterte's murderous crack down on drugs. "To tell you frankly... they say that Colombia leader has been lecturing about me. That idiot," Duterte said.

Colombia Gives Land Titles to Families Abandoning Coca Crops. The Colombian government announced Monday it will grant land titles to some 10,000 peasant families that have given up on coca production. The program will take place in southern Cauca, Nariño and Putumayo provinces, where about half the country's coca is grown. The move comes after the government and the leftist guerrillas of the FARC agreed to a crop eradication and substation program last month.

Chronicle AM: NFL Players Want Less Punitive MJ Approach, Israel MedMJ Research, More... (1/25/17)

NFL players want the league to ease up on weed, an Oregon bill seeks to declare a kratom "emergency" and study whether to ban it, the Israelis are funding medical marijuana research, and more.

Oregon is the second state this year to see moves toward banning kratom at the statehouse. It's happening in Florida, too.
Marijuana Policy

NFL Players Association Will Propose Less Punitive Approach to Pot. The NFLPA is working on a proposal to change the league's drug policy to take a softer line on marijuana. The association will take the proposal its board of representatives first, and if the board approves it, on to the league. Currently, players are subject to fines or suspensions for using marijuana, whether recreationally or medicinally.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Governor Signs Medical Marijuana "Fix" Bills. Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed into law two bills aimed at modifying the state's new, voter-approved medical marijuana law. House Bill 1026 will extend the deadline for rulemaking from 120 days to 180 days, and House Bill 1058 removes the requirement that doctors certify in writing that the help benefits of marijuana would outweigh the risks to the patient.

Kratom

Oregon Bill Would Declare Emergency, Study Whether to Ban Kratom. The state Senate Interim Committee on the Judiciary has filed a measure, Senate Bill 518, which would declare a kratom "emergency" in the state and direct the state Board of Pharmacy to conduct a study to see if the plant and its derivatives should be scheduled as a controlled substance under state law. The DEA is currently weighing a similar move on the federal level, but has run into stiff opposition from users and advocates.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Maryland Governor Rolls Out Package to Fight Heroin. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) unveiled a package of proposals to deal with heroin and prescription opioid use in the state. He wants strict limits on doctors' ability to write prescriptions for opioids, stiff penalties for sellers of those drugs, and a new "command center" to coordinate the official response. In other states where such measures have been proposed, doctors have objected loudly to politicians placing legal limits on the care they provide. Democrats in the legislature are working on their own package of measures, but have released no details.

Drug Testing

New York Bill Would Require Drug Testing Children Whose Parents Get Arrested for Drugs. A bill named after an infant who died of a drug overdose would require hair follicle testing of children if their parent or guardian has been arrested on a drug charge. Kayleigh Mae's Law is not yet on the legislative website. Kayleigh Mae Cassell was found to have been given cocaine and heroin by her mother and live-in boyfriend, both of whom have pleaded guilty in her death.

International

Israel Will Fund Research for Medical Marijuana Crops. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development will fund medical marijuana research in what it says is a pioneering step to aid researchers in developing a new generation of medical marijuana products. The ministry and the Health Ministry have allocated $2.1 million US for the project.

Chronicle AM: Abuse-Resistant Oxycontin Tied to Heroin ODs, S. America Coca News, More... (1/13/17)

A new study from the Rand Corporation links the introduction of abuse-resistant Oxycontin in 2010 to the rise in heroin overdose deaths, Bolivia and Colombia take different approaches to coca, a Georgian political party office gets raided, and more.

Georgian police seized pot plants in paper cups from the Girchi Party offices in Tbilisi Wednesday. (DF News)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Legalization Bill Filed. State Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Las Cruces) has filed House Bill 89, the Cannabis Revenue and Freedom Act. It would allow the possession of up to two ounces by adults at home and one ounce outside the household, the cultivation of up to six plants (or 12 per household) and the possession of a harvest up to eight ounces. The measure would revamp the state's existing medical marijuana system and allow for marijuana sales beginning in 2019.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia House Forms Medical Marijuana Study Committee. House Speaker David Ralson (R-Blue Ridge) announced Wednesday that a medical marijuana study committee had been formed with Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) as its chair. Peake is the author of the state's current limited medical marijuana law and has already announced plans for legislation this year.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

RAND: Introduction of Abuse-Deterrent Oxycontin Led to Rise in Heroin Overdose Deaths. In a new working paper released this week, the RAND Corporation looked at supply-side attempts to limit access to opioids and found unintended consequences. Focusing on the 2010 introduction of abuse-resistant Oxycontin, the RAND analysts found "large differential increases in heroin deaths immediately after reformulation in states with the highest initial rates of OxyContin misuse" and concluded that "a substantial share of the dramatic increase in heroin deaths since 2010 can be attributed to the reformulation of OxyContin."

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Eight state legislators jointly filed House Bill 1170 last week. The bill would prohibit the seizure of property without a criminal conviction in most cases. The measure would also require that most proceeds from forfeitures go into the state's general fund; currently, law enforcement agencies can keep up to 100% of the proceeds. The bill would also ban passing busts off to the feds in a bid to evade state restrictions.

International

Bolivia Government Files Bill to Expand Coca Production. The bill would expand legal coca production from 30,000 acres to 50,000 acres. But not all coca growers are happy because some regions are getting more expansion than others.

Colombia Starts Spraying Glyphosate on Coca Crops Again. Colombia recommenced the controversial program on January 2, but this time, it's not using airplanes. Instead, the spraying is being conducted by hand. The aerial spraying campaign had been ended in 2015 over health and environmental concerns, but faced with an increasing amount of coca under cultivation, the government is now resorting once more to the herbicide.

Republic of Georgia Police Raid Party Office, Seize Pot Plants. Georgian police raided the office of the Girchi Party Wednesday, seizing 84 marijuana seedlings that had been planted New Year's Day in a bid to gain publicity for drug decriminalization. Police had threatened party activists with up to 12 years in prison for drug cultivation, but so far have only seized the plants. "This is the price of the action, that something like this would have consequences. Let's see what level this absurdity will reach. I worry about the plants. I am not sure if they will take proper care on them," Iago Khvichia, a member of the party's political council said.

Chronicle AM: Asset Forfeiture Actions in Three States, Trump Kratom Petition Needs Signatures, More... (1/5/17)

It's going to cost big bucks to get into the Arkansas medical marijuana growing business, a petition urging Donald Trump not to let the DEA ban kratom seeks signatures, there is asset forfeiture action in three states, and more.

The American Kratom Association is petitioning Donald Trump to block any ban on the herb. (Project CBD)
Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Sets Grower License Fee at $100,000. People who want one of the five commercial medical marijuana cultivation licenses the state is preparing to issue better have deep pockets. The Medical Marijuana Commission has set an annual fee of $100,000 for those licenses. But wait, there's more: That's in addition to a $15,000 application fee, only half of which will be refunded if the application is rejected. And applicants must show proof they have a million dollars in assets or surety bond and $500,000 in cash. One commission member argued for a lower, $15,000 license fee, saying he didn't want some residents to be shut out of the opportunity, but that move didn't fly.

Kratom

Less Than Three Weeks Remain to Sign Trump Kratom Petition. The American Kratom Association has organized a petition urging President-elect Donald Trump to halt the DEA's effort to criminalize kratom or to reverse any last-minute ban that might occur under the Obama administration. The group has set a target of 25,000 signatures before January 22, but only has 8,000 so far.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Ohio Governor Signs Naloxone Expansion Bill. Gov. John Kasich (R) has signed into law Senate Bill 319, which expands access to the anti-overdose drug naloxone to entities such as homeless shelters, halfway houses, schools, and treatment centers that deal with populations at higher risk of overdose. It also offers civil immunity to law enforcement officers who carry and use naloxone.

Asset Forfeiture

Kansas Bill Would Undo Police Asset Forfeiture Reporting Requirements. The first bill introduced in the 2017 legislative session, Senate Bill 1, would repeal a state law requiring law enforcement agencies to file annual reports on the money and other assets they seize. The bill is the creation of the Legislative Committee on Post Audit, which filed a report last summer noting that few police agencies comply with the reporting requirements, so the committee's solution was to kill the requirement. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website. The session starts next week.

Michigan Bill Would Reform Civil Asset Forfeiture. State Rep. Peter Lucido (R-Macomb County) has introduced House Bill 4629, which would reform the state's forfeiture laws by killing a provision that requires property owners whose property is seized to pay 10% of what police feel it is worth within 20 days to get the property back. Lucido said that the next step is getting rid of civil asset forfeiture. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Ohio Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. John Kasich (R) has signed into House Bill 347, which limits civil asset forfeiture proceedings to cases involving at least $15,000 in cash and requires a criminal conviction or at least a criminal charge be filed in most cases before forfeiture proceedings can begin.

Chronicle AM: MA MJ Shop Delay Protested, Prison Population Still Dropping, More... (12/30/16)

Massachusetts marijuana shops get delayed by six months, Nevada personal legalization goes into effect next week, the national prison population continues a slow decline, and more.

Hemp is on the move in America. (Vote Hemp)
Marijuana Policy

Amid Protests, MA Governor Signs Law Pushing Back Legalization Implementation. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) Friday signed into law a bill delaying the opening of retail marijuana shops for six months, from January 2018 to July 2018. He did so as demonstrators gathered at the capitol to protest the measure, which was hot-rodded through the legislature by a mere handful of solons on Wednesday. The delay "not only flies in the face of the will of the voters who voted for the January 2018 deadline, it shows contempt for the legislature itself, having been passed, not after three readings to the full House and Senate, but in the course of less than an hour by just two senators and five representatives," said the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, which organized the protest.

Nevada Legalization Goes Into Effect Next Week. Voters approved the Question 2 marijuana legalization initiative in November and will begin to enjoy the fruits of their victory on January 1, when the new law goes into effect. It will allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of weed or an eighth-ounce of cannabis concentrates. But retail sales won't go into effect until the state sets up a regulatory structure. The state has until January 2018 to get it done.

Industrial Hemp

Vote Hemp Issues Year-End Report: Four More Hemp States. The industry lobbying and educational group points to hemp victories in Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island this year, as well as hemp-related bills passing in some other states that have already approved industrial hemp production. In all, hemp bills were introduced in 29 states in 2016.

Sentencing

Nation's Prison Population Now at 13-Year Low. Driven largely by a drop in the federal prison population, the country's overall prison and jail population dropped 2% in 2015, pushing it down to levels not seen in more than a decade, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported Thursday. The decline continues a downward trend that began in 2009. A 7% decline in federal prisoners accounting for 40% of the overall decrease, but states including California and Texas also saw significant prisoner population reductions.

Activist and Author Tony Papa Wins a Pardon. The Drug Policy Alliance's Tony Papa was granted a pardon by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Friday. Papa served 12 years of a 15-to-life sentence for drug trafficking before he was granted clemencyby then Gov. George Pataki (R) in 1997. Since then, he has authored two books, pursued a career as an artist, and been a devoted drug reform activist.

International

Poll: British Columbia Voters Ready to Legalize Hard Drugs to Fight Opioid Crisis. A new survey of provincial attitudes toward drugs and addiction finds that nearly two-thirds of residents are open to considering hard drug legalization in the context of the province's ongoing opioid crisis. Some 63% said they were either completely willing to consider legalization or open to considering it with more information, while only 20% flat-out rejected it. Another 17% said they were not willing now, but might change their minds with new information.

The Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2016 [FEATURE]

As 2016 comes to a tumultuous end, we look back on the year in drugs and drug policy. It's definitely a mixed bag, with some major victories for drug reform, especially marijuana legalization, but also some major challenges, especially around heroin and prescription opioids, and the threat of things taking a turn for the worse next year. Here are the ten biggest domestic drug policy stories of the year. (Check back for a top ten international drug policy stories soon.)

1. Marijuana Legalization Wins Big

Legalization initiatives won in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, losing only in Arizona. These weren't the first states to do so -- Colorado and Washington led the way in 2012, with Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, following in 2014 -- but in one fell swoop, states with a combined population of nearly 50 million people just freed the weed. Add in the earlier states, and we're now talking about around 67 million people, or more than one-fifth of the national population.

The question is where does marijuana win next? We won't see state legalization initiatives until 2018, (and conventional wisdom may suggest waiting for the higher-turnout 2020 presidential election year), and most of the low-hanging fruit in terms of initiative states has been harvested, but activists in Michigan came this close to qualifying for the ballot this year and are raring to go again. In the meantime, there are the state legislatures. When AlterNet looked into the crystal ball a few weeks ago, the best bets looked like Connecticut, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

2. Medical Marijuana Wins Big

Medical marijuana is even more popular than legal marijuana, and it went four-for-four at the ballot box in November, adding Arkansas, Florida, Montana, North Dakota to the list of full-blown medical marijuana states. That makes 28 states -- more than half the country -- that allow for medical marijuana, along with another dozen or so red states that have passed limited CBD-only medical marijuana laws as a sop to public opinion.

It's worth noting that Montana is a special case. Voters there approved medical marijuana in 2004, only to see a Republican-dominated state legislature gut the program in 2011. The initiative approved by voters this year reinstates that program, and shuttered dispensaries are now set to reopen.

The increasing acceptance of medical marijuana is going to make it that much harder for the DEA or the Trump administration to balk at reclassifying marijuana away from Schedule I, which is supposedly reserved for dangerous substances with no medical uses. It may also, along with the growing number of legal pot states, provide the necessary impetus to changing federal banking laws to allow pot businesses to behave like normal businesses.

Drug reformers are nervous about the future. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
3. The Republicans Take Control in Washington

The Trump victory and Republican control of both houses of Congress has profound drug policy implications, for everything from legal marijuana to funding for needle exchange programs to sentencing policy to the border and foreign policy and beyond. Early Trump cabinet picks, such as Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) to lead the Justice Department, are ominous for progressive drug reform, but as with many other policy spheres, what Trump will actually do is a big unknown. It's probably safe to say that any harm reduction programs requiring federal funding or approval are in danger, that any further sentencing reforms are going to be in for a tough slog, and that any federal spending for mental health and substance abuse treatment will face an uphill battle. But the cops will probably get more money.

The really big question mark is around marijuana policy. Trump has signaled he's okay with letting the states experiment, but Sen. Sessions is one of the most retrograde of drug warriors in Washington. Time will tell, but in the meantime, the marijuana industry is on tenterhooks and respect for the will of voters in pot legal states and even medical marijuana states is an open question.

4. The Opioid Epidemic Continues

Just as this year comes to an end, the CDC announced that opioid overdose deaths last year had topped 33,000, and with 12,000 heroin overdoses, junk had overtaken gunplay as a cause of death. There's little sign that things have gotten any better this year.

The crisis has provoked numerous responses, at both the state and the federal levels, some good, but some not. Just this month, Congress approved a billion dollars in opioid treatment and prevention programs, and the overdose epidemic has prompted the loosening of access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone and prodded ongoing efforts to embrace more harm reduction approaches, such as supervised injection sites.

On the other hand, prosecutors in states across the country have taken to charging the people who sell opioids (prescription or otherwise) to people who overdose and die with murder, more intrusive and privacy-invading prescription monitoring programs have been established, and the tightening of the screws on opioid prescriptions is leaving some chronic pain sufferers in the lurch and leading others to seek out opioids on the black market.

5. Obama Commutes More Than a Thousand Drug War Sentences

In a bid to undo some of the most egregious excesses of the drug war, President Obama has now cut the sentences of and freed more than a thousand people sentenced under the harsh laws of the 1980s, particularly the racially-biased crack cocaine laws, who have already served more time than they would have if sentenced under current laws passed during the Obama administration. He has commuted more sentences in a single year than any president in history, and he has commuted more sentences than the last 11 presidents combined.

The commutations come under a program announced by then-Attorney General Eric Holder, who encouraged drug war prisoners to apply for them. The bad news is that the clock is likely to run out before Obama has a chance to deal with thousands of pending applications backlogged in the Office of the Pardons Attorney. The good news is that he still has six weeks to issue more commutations and free more drug war prisoners.

6. The DEA Gets a Wake-Up Call When It Tries to Ban Kratom

Derived from a Southeast Asian tree, kratom has become popular as an unregulated alternative to opioids for relaxation and pain relief, not to mention withdrawing from opioids. It has very low overdose potential compared to other opioids and has become a go-to drug for hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of people.

Perturbed by its rising popularity, the DEA moved in late summer to use its emergency scheduling powers to ban kratom, but was hit with an unprecedented buzz saw of opposition from kratom users, scientists, researchers, and even Republican senators like Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who authored and encouraged his colleagues to sign a letter to the DEA asking the agency to postpone its planned scheduling.

The DEA backed off -- but didn't back down -- in October, announcing that it was shelving its ban plan for now and instead opening a period of public comment. That period ended on December 1, but before it did, the agency was inundated with submissions from people opposing the ban. Now, the DEA will factor in that input, as well as formal input from the Food and Drug Administration before making its decision.

The battle around kratom isn't over, and the DEA could still ban it in the end, but the whole episode demonstrates how much the ground has shifted under the agency. DEA doesn't just get its way anymore.

7. Federal Funds for Needle Exchanges Flow Again

It actually happened late in 2015, but the impact was felt this year. In December 2015, Congress approved an omnibus budget bill that removed the ban on federal funding of needle exchanges. The ban had been in place for 20 years, except for a two-year stretch between 2009 and 2011, when Democrats controlled the House.

Federal funding for needle exchanges is another drug policy response that could be endangered by Republican control of both the Congress and the presidency.

Vancouver's safe injection site. Is one coming to a city near you? (vch.ca)
8. The Slow Turn Towards Safe Injection Sites Accelerates

When will the US join the ranks of nations that embrace the harm reduction tactic of supervised drug consumption sites? Maybe sooner than you think. Moves are underway in at least three major US cities to get such facilities open, a need made all the more urgent by the nation's ongoing opioid crisis, as the Drug Policy Alliance noted in a December report calling for a number of interventions, including safe injection sites, to address it.

In New York City, the city council has approved a $100,000 study into the feasibility of safe injection sites, while in San Francisco, city public health officials have endorsed a call for them there and have even suggested they need as many as a half dozen. But San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee opposes them, so battle lines are being drawn.

The best bet may be Seattle, where city and surrounding King County officials are on board with a plan to open safe injection sites to fight heroin and prescription opioid abuse. That plan, conceived by the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force, was released in September.

9. Asset Forfeiture Reform Advances

Nearly 20 years after Congress passed limited federal civil asset forfeiture reform, the practice is now under sustained assault in the states. More than a half-dozen states had passed civil asset forfeiture reforms before the year began, and this year the following states came on board (although some of the new laws did not end, but only modified or restricted civil asset forfeiture): California, Florida, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

And next year looks to be more of the same. Bills have already been filed in Missouri and Texas, and renewed efforts are likely in New Hampshire and Wisconsin, where they were thwarted this year.

10. The DEA is Busting Fewer People

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) reported in December that convictions for drug cases referred by the DEA continued a 10-year decline. During Fiscal Year 2016, federal prosecutors won 9,553 criminal convictions on cases referred by the DEA. That's down 7.1% from the previous year, down 25% from five years ago, and down 35% from 10 years ago. TRAC notes that the decline in convictions is the result of fewer referrals by the DEA, not a lowered conviction rate, which has held steady.

Chronicle AM: CO Caregiver Plant Limit to Drop Big-Time Next Week, Aussie Poll Has Pro-Pot Plurality, More... (12/27/16)

Colorado caregivers will have to dramatically trim their gardens beginning January 1, Kansas medical marijuana mom Shona Banda has a federal lawsuit thrown out, Australian public opinion is shifting in favor of marijuana legalization, and more.

Kansas medical marijuana mom Shona Banda's federal lawsuit got tossed.
Medical Marijuana

Colorado Caregiver Plant Limits Shrink Dramatically As of Next Week. Beginning January 1, the maximum number of plants medical marijuana caregivers can grow will drop from 495 to 99. The change, adopted by the legislature, is being hailed by law enforcement, which sees it as a move against black market marijuana supplies, but marijuana advocates worry that patients are at risk of losing a vital source of medicine.

Federal Judge Throws Out Kansas Medical Marijuana Mom's Lawsuit. A federal judge has thrown out the lawsuit from Shona Banda, the Garden City mother who lost custody of her son and was arrested over her use of cannabis oil. Garden City police raided her home in March 2015 after he son spoke up about her cannabis use at school, and child welfare authorities took custody of her son. In her lawsuit, Banda argued that she had a "fundamental right" to use medical marijuana and asked the court to restore custody of her son. But the judge ruled that Banda had not responded to filings from plaintiffs and dismissed the case. She still faces state criminal charges.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Top Maine Republican Wants Single Committee to Handle Opioid Crisis. Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling (R-New Gloucester) is calling for a single committee to handle bills addressing the state's opioid problem. Drug policy current is handled by three main committees -- Health and Human Services, Judiciary, and Criminal Justice and Public Safety -- but Espling said she doesn't want solutions placed in "silos." But neither the Democratic House leadership nor the Republican Senate leadership has signed on to her idea.

International

Poll: More Australians Now Favor Pot Legalization Than Don't. According to data from the Australian National University, 43% of Australians polled support marijuana legalization, with 32% opposed, and the rest undecided. Support is up nine points since 2013, when only 34% favored legalization and 44% were opposed.

Chronicle AM: Joe Manchin Wants New Drug War, AZ&MI Appeals Courts Rule for MedMJ, More... (12/21/16)

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D) calls for a new war on drugs and gets roundly ridiculed for it, appeals courts in Arizona and Michigan issue favorable medical marijuana rulings, a Missouri bill would end the asset forfeiture loophole that lets state police circumvent tough state laws by going to the feds, and more.

Medical marijuana saw court victories in Arizona and Michigan this week. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would Ban Bud Billboards. Over the past year, billboards advertising marijuana products and businesses have popped up all over the state, but now, some lawmakers want to impose strict limits on marijuana advertising. Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) is one of the sponsors of Assembly Bill 64, which would bar ads that could be seen by minors "We have legal adult use and medical use, and we want to make sure that advertising hits the target audience as much as possible and doesn't slip beyond that," Bonta said. "We want to target adults and patients and not the broader audience that includes kids and carpools and school buses and families." The bill would require a two-thirds majority to pass because it would amend Proposition 64.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Appeals Court Rules Local Officials Can't Use Fed Law to Hassle Dispensaries. In a unanimous decision, the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that local officials can't use the federal ban on marijuana to refuse to provide zoning for dispensaries. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery (R) had no legal basis to claim that federal law trumps the state's voter-approved medical marijuana, the court held.

Arkansas Regulators Set Number of Commercial Grows at Five. The state Medical Marijuana Commission voted Tuesday to allow up to five commercial cultivation centers in the state. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, approved by voters last month, specified that there could be between four and eight centers; the commission opted to start on the low end. Grows won't start, however, until rules about growing, processing, and distribution are finalized.

Michigan Appeals Court Rules Medical Marijuana Law Protects People Transporting It. The state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the state's medical marijuana law extends to people accused of illegally transporting it. A state law written after voters approved medical marijuana, requires that it be stored in the trunk or other inaccessible part of the vehicle, but the court held that law is invalid because it imposes additional requirements on medical marijuana users.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

West Virginia Democratic Senator Calls for "War on Drugs" to Fight Opioid Crisis. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said Tuesday a new "war on drugs" in necessary to combat rampant opioid use, sparking immediate ridicule on Twitter and other social media. "We need to declare a war on drugs," Manchin said on CNN when asked what President-elect Donald Trump should do about the opioid situation. Manchin added that he has met addicts who started out smoking marijuana but ended up taking prescription drugs and then moving on to heroin. "It's just been unbelievable," he said. But it was Manchin's resort to last-century tropes that the Internet found unbelievable. Taking on his call for a new drug war, one Twitter user responded, "If only someone would have thought to do that, say, 30 or 40 years ago. Genius!!"

Asset Forfeiture

Missouri Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. State Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-St. Louis) has pre-filed House Bill 231, which would close a loophole that allowed state and local police to circumvent tough state asset forfeiture laws by turning cases over to the feds. The bill would prohibit such behavior unless the amount involved was more than $100,000 cash.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Senate Approves MedMJ, WI Lawmaker Wants HS Drug Testing, More... (12/14/16)

With the backing of the president, Mexico's Senate has approved medical marijuana; Kentucky's attorney general identifies the opioid epidemic as the state's biggest problem, Nevada drug dogs trained to sniff out marijuana face an uncertain future after legalization, and more.

Do you want to play high school sports in Wisconsin? A GOP lawmaker wants you to have to pee in a cup first. (Wikimedia)
Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Kentucky AG Says Opioid Epidemic Should Be Legislature's Top Priority. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear said Tuesday that the opioid epidemic -- not a failing pension program -- is the state's biggest problem and the Republican-controlled legislature should make that its top priority. "We have a very important pension problem that we have to tackle, but a pension hasn't killed anyone's father or mother or taken a child from a parent," Beshear said. "This drug epidemic is the single largest threat to the lives of our citizens and also to our economy itself."

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Lawmaker Wants to Impose Drug Testing on High School Students Statewide. Whether to drug test students is a question traditionally left to local school boards, but state Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) is drafting a bill to impose drug testing on some students statewide. He said he will introduce a bill that will require private and public schools to have policies to randomly drug test students who participate in voluntary activities, such as sports or choir or the debate club. Only a handful of Wisconsin school districts currently have such policies.

Law Enforcement

After Pot Vote, Nevada Drug Dogs Face Uncertain Future. With legal marijuana looming in the state's near future, Nevada drug dogs trained to sniff marijuana could be out of a job. Drug dogs are trained to detect various substances and will alert on any of them, but after January 1, they could be alerting on a legal substance, and that means their usefulness to law enforcement is in question. They could be retrained (difficult and expensive) or replaced (expensive).

International

Mexico Senate Votes Overwhelmingly to Approve Medical Marijuana. The Mexican Senate voted 98-7 Tuesday to approve medical marijuana legislation. The move comes after President Enrique Pena Nieto earlier this year signaled his support. Some lawmakers said they were disappointed the bill didn't legalize marijuana outright.

Philippines President Admits Personally Killing People. Speaking Monday about his bloody war on drugs, which has left nearly 6,000 dead in six months, President Rodrigo Duterte admitted to personally killing people while mayor of Davao City, where he has long been accused of tolerating death squads. "In Davao I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys [police officers] that if I can do it, why can't you. And I'd go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around, and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill," he said.

Drug War Issues

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