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Chronicle AM: Legal MJ Industry Reacts to Spicer Threat, VA Needle Exchange, More... (2/24/17)

The uproar is deafening in the wake of White House press secretary Sean Spicer's hint Thursday that Trump could crack down on legal weed, Virginia's governor signs a needle exchange bill into law, the Arizona House unanimously passes asset forfeiture reform, and more.

Needle exchange programs are coming to Virginia under a new law just signed by the governor. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Industry, Advocates React to Spicer Threat. White House press secretary Sean Spicer's statement Thursday that he expects the Justice Department to crack down on recreational marijuana in states where it is legal has excited a firestorm in the industry and among advocates. "To have Mr. Spicer say in one sentence that they're a states' rights administration and in the very next sentence say they're going to crack down... it just defies logic," said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization that lobbies for pot-friendly changes to drug-related legislation. Click on the link for more reaction.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. House Democrats Wednesday introduced House Bill 185, a full-fledged medical marijuana bill that contains generous provisions on the amount of marijuana patients may possess (up to 24 ounces or "an adequate supply" as determined by a physician) and grow (up to 250 square feet of canopy), as well as providing for caregivers and establishing a system of dispensaries and commercial medical grows. Similar bills died in the 2015-2016 session, with one issued an "unfavorable report," meaning its subject matter could not be considered by the House for two years.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona House Unanimously Passes Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The House voted unanimously Thursday to approve House Bill 2477, which sets a higher evidentiary standard for prosecutors to overcome before they can seize cash or property under civil asset forfeiture. Currently, prosecutors need prove only "a preponderance of the evidence," but under this bill, they would have to provide "clear and convincing evidence" the property or cash was linked to a crime. The bill doesn't abolish civil asset forfeiture, but does tighten it. It would also bar prosecutors from doing an end-run around state laws by passing cases off to the feds. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Harm Reduction

Virginia Governor Signs Needle Exchange Bill. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has signed into law House Bill 2317, which authorizes the state health commissioner to establish and operate needle exchange programs after declaring a public health emergency. Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine and Gov. McAuliffe declared that emergency last year.

International

Bolivian Congress Approves Near Doubling of Legal Coca Cultivation.The lower house approved a bill Thursday that would nearly double the amount of land allowed for legal coca cultivation, and the Senate approved it Friday. The bill would allow farmers to plant up to about 50,000 acres with coca, up dramatically from the 30,000 acres currently allowed. Even that new, higher limit was too much for some coca farmers, who want no limits, and clashed violently with police earlier this week.

Uh-Oh: White House Hints at Crackdown on State-Legalized Marijuana (VIDEO)

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

Marijuana legalization advocates and the legal marijuana industry have been on tenterhooks ever since Donald Trump won the White House last November, and increasingly so since he nominated drug warrior former senator Jeff Sessions as his attorney general, the highest law enforcement officer in the land.

But for the three months since the election and the month since Trump took office, the Trump administration has had little to say on the topic. Until now.

At the administration's press briefing Thursday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer hinted that the Trump administration will step up enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition.

"I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement," Spicer said, while adding the exact policy is "a question for the Department of Justice."

Spicer also suggested that any crackdown wouldn't apply to medical marijuana, saying that Trump believes it can "comfort" people suffering from illnesses. But, Spicer said, Trump views recreational marijuana as linked to heroin and prescription opioid use -- even though evidence suggests the opposite.

Spicer's comments are especially worrisome given Sessions' coy responses to questions during his nomination hearings about what he would do about weed. The former Alabama Republican senator said he couldn't ignore federal laws prohbiting marijuana, but that he would have to use "good judgment about to handle these cases."

But any action against legal recreational marijuana will be at odds with public sentiment. A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday had support for marijuana legalization at 59% and -- more critically for administration political calculations -- support for the feds butting out of legal marijuana states at 71%.


Chronicle AM: Trump Could Cut Drug Czar Office, Thousands Protest Duterte's Drug War, More... (2/20/17)

The drug czar's office could be on Trump's chopping block, asset forfeiture reform advances in two states, a Washington state legislator tries to sic the Justice Department on Seattle, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Bill to Protect Kids From Weed Would Allow Cops to Inspect Pot Businesses. Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) has filed Assembly Bill 729, which he said is aimed at putting "safeguards in place" to keep marijuana out of the hands of children. Among its provisions are allowing law enforcement to enter and conduct inspections of pot businesses, requiring retailers to "maintain an unobstructed view for law enforcement into their establishment," and allowing underage sting operations aimed at retailers.

Colorado Bill Would Allow Home Delivery of Weed. A bill filed last week would allow for the home delivery of recreational and medical marijuana. Senate Bill 192 is modeled after Oregon's newly launched home delivery regulations. "This hopefully solves some of the problems as it relates to people concerned about marijuana DUIs or sick patients who don't have access to dispensaries," said lead cosponsor Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont).

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas House Approves Bill Banning Military Members from Becoming Registered Caregivers. The body approved House Bill 1451 last Thursday. Bill sponsor Rep. Douglas House (R-North Little Rock) said federal law prevents military members from acting in that capacity. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Arkansas Bill Would Ban Smoking Medical Marijuana. State Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) last Thursday filed Senate Bill 357, which would make it illegal to consume medical marijuana by smoking it. The bill also removes a provision in the current law that bars landlords from prohibiting the use of non-smoked medical marijuana, leaving renters wondering if landlords will just bar any use of medical marijuana.

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Freshman Rep. John Sims (D-Fleminsburg) has filed a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 411, which would give doctors the ability to recommend medical marijuana for patients. Sims said he saw the bill as a tool for reducing opioid addiction in his state.

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Ends. Medical marijuana will not be on the ballot next year. Organizers of a signature-gathering campaign failed to hand in signatures to the secretary of state's office by the Valentine's Day deadline. Organizers said they will continue to fight to bring medical marijuana to the Cowboy State.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Bill Would Use Seized Cartel Assets to Build Border Wall. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has filed House Resolution 1067, which would order the Justice Department to issue a report on Mexican drug trafficking organization profits and how the DOJ could "increase assets seized by such cartels" to build President Trump's promised border wall. He's even got a name for the bill that creates a nifty acronym: the "Build Up Illegal Line Defense With Assets Lawfully Lifted (BUILD WALL) Act of 2017.

Arizona Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would require prosecutors to set a higher evidentiary standard -- from "preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence" -- is advancing in the House. House Bill 2477 cleared the Federalism, Property Rights & Public Policy by a 9-0 vote last Tuesday, and passed the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee by the same margin last Wednesday.

North Dakota Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would end civil forfeiture in most cases has passed the House Judiciary Committee. House Bill 1170 now heads for a House floor vote.

Drug Policy

White House Could Cut Funding for Drug Czar's Office. The New York Times reported last Friday that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) is on an Office of Management and Budget "hit list" of programs that could be eliminated to reduce federal spending.

Harm Reduction

Washington State Republican Asks Justice Department to Block Seattle Safe Injection Sites. State Sen. Mark Miiloscia (R-Federal Way) has sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to block Seattle and King County from opening supervised injection sites for drug users. An avowed opponent of the harm reduction measure, Miloscia has already authored a bill in the legislature to block it.

International

More Than a Dozen Dead in Mexico Border Town Shoot-Outs. More prohibition-related violence broke out in Reynosa over the weekend, with at least 13 people killed in gun battles between cartel members and in fighting between authorities and the cartels.

Thousands March in Manila Against Duterte's Drug War. Thousands of Filipino Catholics gathered in Manila Sunday in a "show of force" to protest extrajudicial killings carried out in the name of President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war. Organizers estimated the crowd at 20,000, the largest rally yet against the mass killings.

Chronicle AM: NM Senate on MedMJ & Harm Reduction; Iowa Students Win Speech Case, More... (2/14/17)

Medical marijuana and harm reduction measures advance in New Mexico, a police drug field test kit maker is being sued by a Florida man busted for the glaze on his Krispy Kreme donuts, Idaho considers ending mandatory minimums for drug offenses, and more.

The New Mexico Senate has approved a pair of measures aimed at reducing overdose deaths. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Calls for Decriminalization. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northum (D) called Monday for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, saying enforcement is costly and aimed disproportionately at African-Americans. The move comes weeks after Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City) requested that the Virginia Crime Commission study the issue. That move froze pending decriminalization legislation sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria).

Washington State Bill Would Repeal Legalization. Rep. Brad Klippert (R-Kenniwick) has filed House Bill 2096, which would repeal "all laws legalizing the use, possession, sale, or production of marijuana and marijuana-related products." The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Commerce and Gaming.

Wyoming Senate Committee Scales Back Marijuana Sentencing Reforms. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to amend House Bill 197, weakening proposed sentencing reforms by doubling the period during which previous convictions would result in a longer sentence from five years to 10 years. More importantly, the amendment removes the plant form of marijuana from the bill completely, meaning the new tiered sentencing system would apply only to edibles.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate voted 29-11 Monday to approve Senate Bill 177, which would expand the state's program by increasing the amount of marijuana patients may possess to five ounces and increasing the number of plants commercial providers can grow. The bill now goes to the House.

Drug Policy

Idaho Bills Would Alter State's Drug Laws. The House Judiciary and Rules Committee voted Monday to introduce a package of three bills that would reform the state's harsh drug laws. One bill would end mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and another would bar the seizure of vehicles for simple drug possession and require that property found near drugs be seized only if it is meaningfully connected to the crime. The third bill, however, is a step in the opposite direction -- it would allow heroin sellers to be charged with murder in the event of fatal overdoses.

Drug Testing

Florida Field Drug Test Kit Company Sued By Man Jailed for Possessing Donut Glaze. A Florida man is suing the police field drug test kit manufacturer Safariland LLC after an Orlando police officer using one of its field kits charged him with possessing methamphetamine although the substance being tested was actually the glaze from a Krispy Kreme donut. The drug test is either ineffective or unreliable, Daniel Rushing charges in his lawsuit, twice registering a positive result for meth and resulting in his false arrest and imprisonment before felony charges were dropped.

First Amendment

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Student Drug Legalization Group's Free Speech Rights. The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that Iowa State University cannot bar a student group from using the university's logo and mascot on t-shirts calling for the legalization of marijuana. Iowa State NORML had sued in 2014 after the university first gave its okay, but then refused permission after pressure from high-ranking state officials, including the governor's office. Instead, the university suddenly changed its guidelines, with new rules prohibiting designs "that suggest promotion of dangerous, illegal, or unhealthy products." Last year a federal district court filed an injunction prohibiting the school from using its new policy to block NORML from printing new t-shirts, and now the appeals court has upheld that permanent injunction.

Harm Reduction

New Mexico Senate Approves Pair of Harm Reduction Bills. The state Senate Monday overwhelmingly approved two bills aimed at reducing the number of fatal drug overdoses in the state. Senate Bill 47 would improve the state's 911 Good Samaritan law to include alcohol overdoses and eliminate the prospect of criminal liability for violating drug laws while seeking medical assistance for an overdose. Senate Bill 16 would require health care providers to counsel patients on the risk of overdose and to offer prescriptions for the overdose reversal drug naloxone. The bills now go to the House.

International

Trump Administration Accuses Venezuela VP of Drug Smuggling. The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control has imposed sanctions on Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, accusing him of being an international drug kingpin. Treasury said that El Aissimi facilitated drug trafficking in his previous post of Aragua state. The Treasury Department placed him on a list reserved for "specially designated narcotics traffickers," part of what's known as the Kingpin Act.

In the Time of Trump, Can Congress Take the Lead on Marijuana Policy? [FEATURE]

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

While the marijuana community -- consumers, industry, and advocates alike -- eyes with trepidation the reign of avowed drug warrior Jeff Sessions at the Justice Department, the Trump executive branch isn't the only game in town when it comes to making marijuana policy. Congress is back in session, and after last November's legalization and medical marijuana victories at the polls, the pot state delegation is larger than ever.

Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) (house.gov)
And at least some of those senators and congressmen and women representing the 28 states (and the District of Columbia) that have embraced medical marijuana and the eight states plus DC that have so far gone for adult legalization, are gearing up to fight for reform at the Capitol.

A nascent congressional Cannabis Caucus formed in December is preparing a plethora of bills for the current session, and its members say they are optimistic about their chances, even in the time of Trump -- and Republicans holding every committee chair in both houses. It's because Congress is riding the marijuana wave, too, said caucus founder and co-chair Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

"This Congress is going to be a little better than last Congress, and last Congress was better than the one before that," he said in an interview this week with The Cannabist. "It's very interesting watching the momentum build."

That momentum derives from public opinion polls consistently showing nationwide majorities favoring legalization and, more importantly, the actual victories at the polls in November, where legalization went four for five and medical marijuana went four for four.

"It's easier for people to embrace much of what we're doing legislatively," he said. Fixing industry-critical concerns such as the lack of operating expense deductions or access to financial services for state-legal businesses or barriers to medical marijuana research are now mere "housekeeping" issues, he added.

Nonetheless, fixes still have to get through the Congress. They haven't so far, and it's a long way between filing a bill and seeing it signed into law. Still, Blumenauer and colleagues will be pushing harder than ever.

He is joined in the Cannabis Caucus by co-chairs Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Don Young (R-AL). The bipartisan grouping is notably made up of representatives from vanguard legalization states, but by no means all of them -- California alone has 53 House members -- and there is certainly room for more to come on board.

"I'm more hopeful than ever before that we can move legislation like the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act," Polis told The Cannabist, referring to last session's H.R. 1013, which picked up 19 cosponsors and was referred to a slew of subcommittees, but never even got a hearing.

Caucus member Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) (house.gov)
That bill was one of about two dozen pot-related proposals filed in the last session, and they're already starting to pile up again this session. While Blumenauer told The Cannabist more were to come, here's what's on the table so far:

H.R. 331 -- Filed by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the States' Medical Marijuana Rights Protection Act would block federal civil asset forfeiture aimed at the owners of state-legal medical marijuana operations.

H.R. 714 -- Filed by Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), the Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marihuana Act would move marijuana to the Controlled Substance Act's Schedule II, opening the door to more research and, potentially, doctors' ability to prescribe (as opposed to recommend) marijuana for patients. It would also bar the use of that act or the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to interfere with medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

H.R. 715 -- Also filed by Rep. Griffith, the Compassionate Access Act would reschedule marijuana, provide for its medical use under state laws, and remove CBD (cannabidiol) from the definition of marijuana.

H.R. 975 -- Filed by Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Rohrabacher, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act would exempt 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.

There is no outright federal marijuana legalization bill out there yet this session, but expect to see Rep. Polis come back with his bill or perhaps Bernie Sanders reviving his bill to end federal marijuana prohibition, or both. Given political realities on the Hill, though, the Cannabis Caucus will likely save its political capital for fights it might be able to win, such as fixing the tax and banking problems facing the industry.

Another key battleground -- and one where marijuana advocates have actually won before -- is the appropriations process. The Justice Department and the DEA can't go after marijuana in legal states if Congress bars them from spending any federal funds to do so, and that's exactly what Congress did when it approved the Rohrabacher-Farr Medical Marijuana Amendment last session.

If a similar amendment were to succeed again, even if Attorney General Sessions wanted to call out the cavalry, he couldn't buy the horse feed, and it wouldn't matter how many nasty memos his deputies wrote.

And while his past pronouncements are indeed worrisome, he was quite coy at his nomination hearings, saying that he "won't commit to never enforcing federal law," but adding that enforcement priorities are "a problem of resources for the federal government."

Sessions did add later in the hearings that it's not "the attorney general's job to decide what laws to enforce," but suggested that his former colleagues could settle things once and for all.

Does new Attorney General Jeff Sessions want to punt pot policy back to Congress? (senate.gov)
"I think one obvious concern is that the United States Congress has made the possession of marijuana in every state and distribution of it an illegal act," he said. "If that something is not desired any longer, Congress should pass the law to change the rule."

And then there's Sessions' boss, President Trump. While he projects a law and order image and has campaigned against "drugs," the drugs he seems most concerned about are heroin and the prescription opioids -- not pot. He's also suggested in the past a willingness to let states experiment on marijuana policy, and he has a lot of other things on his plate. It's not at all clear he would let Sessions unleash a war on weed even if he wanted to.

Earl Blumenauer doesn't think Trump wants to charge into this particular melee.

"This is a struggle and will continue to be, but this is something where I honestly don't think the new administration, which has probably enough controversy on its hands, is going to knowingly pick a fight with what, almost without exception, was approved by local voters," Blumenauer said.

To ensure that Sessions doesn't strike out, "we need to make the case directly to Trump" about the economic potential of the marijuana industry, said Polis. But until federal marijuana prohibition is ended, "the industry really exists at the discretion of the president and the attorney general, and that's a dangerous place to be," he added.

Well, and Congress, too. It holds the purse strings, after all.

Marijuana policy is going to be at play in the 115th Congress. Ending federal prohibition remains the Holy Grail, but in the meantime, there are concrete actions Congress can take to protect medical and legal marijuana and the industry it's creating. Now, let's see if the Cannabis Caucus can lead the way to some victories.

Trump Goes Full Nixon on Law-and-Order, Vows 'Ruthless' War on Drugs and Crime [FEATURE]

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

In a sharp break with the Obama administration, which distanced itself from harsh anti-drug rhetoric and emphasized treatment for drug users over punishment, President Trump last week reverted to tough drug war oratory and backed it up with a series of executive orders he said were "designed to restore safety in America."

"We're going to stop the drugs from pouring in," Trump told law enforcement professionals of the Major Cities Chiefs Association last Wednesday. "We're going to stop those drugs from poisoning our youth, from poisoning our people. We're going to be ruthless in that fight. We have no choice. And we're going to take that fight to the drug cartels and work to liberate our communities from their terrible grip of violence."

Trump also lambasted the Obama administration for one of its signature achievements in criminal justice reform, opening the prison doors for more than 1,700 drug war prisoners who had already served sentences longer than they would have under current, revised sentencing guidelines. Obama freed "record numbers of drug traffickers, many of them kingpins," Trump complained.

And in a sign of a return to the dark days of drug war over-sentencing, he called for harsher mandatory minimum prison sentences for "the most serious" drug offenders, as well as aggressive prosecutions of drug traffickers and cracking down on "shipping loopholes" he claimed allowed drugs to be sent to the US from other countries.

In a New Hampshire campaign speech during the campaign, Trump called for more treatment for drug users and more access to overdose reversal drugs, but there was no sign of that side of the drug policy equation in Wednesday's speech.

Last Thursday, Trump backed up his tough talk with action as, at the Oval Office swearing in of Attorney General Jeff Session, he rolled out three executive orders he said were "designed to restore safety in America," but which appear to signal an increasingly authoritarian response to crime, drugs, and discontent with policing practices.

The first, which Trump said would "reduce crime and restore public safety," orders Sessions to create a new Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Policy, which will come up with "strategies to reduce crime, including, in particular, illegal immigration, drug trafficking and violent crime," propose legislation to implement them, and submit a report to the president within a year.

The second, regarding "transnational criminal organizations and preventing drug trafficking," directs various federal law enforcement agencies to "increase intelligence sharing" and orders an already existing interagency working group to submit a report to Trump within four months describing progress made in combating the cartels, "along with any recommended actions for dismantling them."

"I'm directing Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to undertake all necessary and lawful action to break the back of the criminal cartels that have spread across our nation and are destroying the blood of our youth and other people," Trump said Thursday.

The third directs the Justice Department to use federal law to prosecute people who commit crimes against police officers, even though they already face universally severe penalties under existing state laws.

Trump was breathing law-and-order brimstone last week. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
"It's a shame what's been happening to our great, truly great law enforcement officers," Trump said at the signing ceremony. "That's going to stop as of today."

The tough talk and the executive orders provoked immediate alarm and pushback from human and civil rights advocates, drug reformers, the Mexican government, and even the law enforcement community. The apparent turn back toward a more law-and-order approach to drugs also runs against the tide of public health and public policy opinion that the war on drugs has been a failure.

In a report released last Friday, dozens of senior law enforcement officials warned Trump against a tough crackdown on crime and urged him to instead continue the Obama administration's efforts to reform the criminal justice system.

The report was coauthored for Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration by former Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who won wide praise for his response after a gun man killed five of his officers last year.

"Decades of experience have convinced us of a sobering reality: Today's crime policies, which too often rely only on jail and prison, are simply ineffective in preserving public safety," the report said.

The president's crime plan would encourage police to focus on general lawbreaking rather than violent crime, the report said. The Justice Department already spends more than $5 billion a year to support local police, much of it spent on "antiquated law enforcement tools, such as dragnet enforcement of lower-level offenses" and Trump's plan would "repeat this mistake," the officials wrote. "We cannot fund all crime fighting tactics."

Drug reformers also sounded the alarm.

"This rhetoric is dangerous, disturbing, and dishonest," said Bill Piper, senior director for national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We have had a war on drugs. It has failed. Tough talk may look good before the cameras, but history has taught us that cracking down on drugs and building walls will not stop the supply or use of drugs. It mostly causes the death and destruction of innocent lives. Trump must tone down his outrageous rhetoric and threats, and instead reach out to leadership from both parties to enact a humane and sensible health-based approach to drug policies that both reduce overdose and our country's mass incarceration crisis."

Indeed, most public health experts argue that the prohibitionist approach to drugs has been a failure. They point to research such as a 2013 study in the British Medical Journal that found that despite billions spent on drug prohibition since 1990, drug prices have only decreased and purity increased, making getting high easier and more affordable than ever before.

"These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing," the authors conclude.

Public health analysts also point to research showing that between 1991 and 2001, even when the drug war was in full effect, the rate of illicit drug use among teens rose sharply, while their cigarette smoking rate fell off a bit and their alcohol use dropped sharply. The substances that are legal for adult use were less likely to see increases than ones that are prohibited, the analysts point out.

Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Luis Videgaray also chimed in to note that there wouldn't be any Mexican drug cartels without American demand for drugs and to remind Washington that it's not just what's being exported from Mexico that is a problem, but what's being imported, too.

"For years, from the Mexican perspective, people say, 'OK, the problem with drugs -- that it's creating so much violence, so many deaths of young people in Mexico -- is because there's demand for drugs in the US,''" Videgaray said. "We happen to be neighbors to the largest market for drugs. From the American perspective, it's just the other way around," he said, adding that both countries need to get past "the blame game."

And if the US is serious about helping Mexico disrupt the cartels "business model," it needs to stop the southbound traffic in cash and guns.

"We need to stop illegal weapons flowing from the U.S. into Mexico," Videgaray said. "We always think about illegal stuff moving through the border south to north, but people forget that most guns -- and we're not talking small guns, we're talking heavy weapons -- they get to the cartels and create literally small armies out of the cartels."

Will progress on reducing mass incarceration come to a halt? (nadcp.org)
Human Rights Watch reacted to a comment from Attorney General Sessions at his swearing in ceremony that crime is a "dangerous permanent trend that places the lives of American people at risk," by noting that crime is down dramatically by all measures over the past 20 years despite a slight increase in violent crimes between 2014 and 2015. "There is no 'dangerous permanent trend' in violent or non-violent crime," it pointed out.

And Amnesty International swiftly reacted to the executive order calling for new federal penalties for crimes against police.

"Law enforcement officers face unique hardships and challenges due to the nature of their work," said Amnesty's Noor Mir. "Authorities are already able to vigorously prosecute crimes against law enforcement officers, and there is no history to suggest that officers are not fully protected by current laws. This order will not protect anyone, and instead it creates additional penalties that could cause people to be significantly over-prosecuted for offenses including resisting arrest.

There is a better way, said Mir, but that would require going in a radically different direction than where the Trump administration is headed.

"This order does nothing to address real and serious problems in the US criminal justice system," he said. "Relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve could instead be improved by investing in reform of the criminal justice system and better training for officers. Police already have laws protecting them, but there is no federal standard for the prosecution of officers who unlawfully kill civilians. Implementing a standard for lethal force in line with international standards will protect both police and civilians."

The Trump administration has outlined an approach to drugs and criminal justice policy with dark Nixonian and Reaganite underpinnings, promising more, more, more heavy-handed policing, more swelling prison populations, and more -- not less -- distrust and suspicion between police and the communities they are supposed to serve and protect.

And, in typical Trump fashion, his brash, draconian approach to the complex social problems around crime and drugs is creating a rapid backlash. Whether the rising opposition to Trump can rein in his authoritarian impulses and regressive policy approaches to the issue remains to be seen, but a battle to stop the slide backward is brewing.

Chronicle AM: Drug Warrior Jeff Sessions is AG, NY Gov Calls Marijuana Gateway Drug, More... (2/9/17)

A man who thinks marijuana users aren't "good people" is now the US attorney general, New York's Democratic governor cites the gateway theory as he opposes marijuana legalization, North Dakota lawmakers kill a welfare drug testing bill, and more.

Meet the new boss: Attorney General Jeff Sessions takes office. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New York Governor Calls Marijuana "Gateway Drug," Rejects Legalization. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Wednesday that marijuana is "a gateway drug, and marijuana leads to other drugs and there's a lot of proof that that's true... There's two sides to the argument. But I, as of this date, I am unconvinced on recreational marijuana."

Washington Bill Would Bar State From Helping Any Federal Crackdown. A bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. David Sawyer (D-Lakewood) and three others would attempt to protect the state's legal marijuana industry by "prohibiting the use of public resources to assist the federal government in any activity that might impede or interfere with Washington state's regulation of marijuana and marijuana-related products." The measure is House Bill 1895, which is now before the House State Government, Elections, and Information Technology Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City) has filed Senate Bill 155, which would allow patients with specified diseases or conditions to grow and possess medical marijuana, or have a caregiver grow it for them. The bill also envisions the creation of state regulated and taxed "compassion centers" or dispensaries.

Drug Policy

Jeff Sessions Confirmed As Attorney General, Drug Policy Reformers React. The Senate confirmed Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General on a near party-line vote Wednesday night. The marijuana and drug reform communities -- among many others -- are nervous about how Sessions might deviate from the Obama administration's hands-off policy on marijuana in the states, as well as broader criminal justice issues. "Jeff Sessions and President Trump are stuck in the 1980s when it comes to drug policy, while most of the country knows by now that we need alternatives to the failed drug war," the DPA's Bill Piper said. "If the Administration tries to roll back marijuana reform or to undermine criminal justice reform they will find themselves even less popular than they are now."

Drug Testing

North Dakota Senate Kills Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Senate killed Senate Bill 2279, which would have required mandatory "addiction screening" of people receiving food stamps, with those identified as being "at risk" of drug use being forced to undergo drug treatment. The measure died on a 20-26 vote after legislators pointed out that similar welfare drug testing programs have found only a tiny number of people.

International

Peru Government Will Present Medical Marijuana Bill. The administration of President Pedro Kuczynski said it will present a bill allowing for the use of medical marijuana to the legislature, which is dominated by the opposition. The move comes in the wake of a public uproar after police raided a Lima house where a group of parents grew marijuana to make cannabis oil to treat their children's epilepsy and other diseases.

Chronicle AM: Trump Threatens TX Lawmaker Over Forfeiture, NYC MJ Arrests Up Again, More... (2/7/17)

Donald Trump threatens the career of a Texas state senator over asset forfeiture, Chris Christie vetoes an asset forfeiture reporting bill, NYC marijuana arrests jump, Rhode Islanders are ready to legalize it, and more.

Donald Trump threatens to "destroy" the career of a Texas lawmaker who wants civil asset forfeiture reform. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Poll: Three Out of Five Say Legalize It. A new poll from Public Policy Polling has support for marijuana legalization in the state at 59%, with only 36% opposed. The poll comes as the legislature prepares to take up legalization legislation sponsored by Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) and Rep. Thomas Slater (D-Providence). Their bill, the Cannabis Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow one mature marijuana plant in an enclosed, locked space. It would establish the Office of Cannabis Coordination within the executive branch, which would be charged with coordinating among state agencies to establish a tightly regulated system of licensed marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, processing facilities, and testing facilities. The legislation would also create a 23% excise tax on retail marijuana sales in addition to the standard 7% sales tax.

New York City Marijuana Arrests Jumped 10% Last Year. The NYPD arrested some 17,762 people for small-time pot possession last year, a 10% rise over 2015. The numbers are down from the 50,000 a year that made the city the world's pot arrest capital a decade ago, but still very high for a city in a state that decriminalized pot possession in the 1970s. While the number of arrests has varied over the years, one thing remains constant: Ethnic minorities constitute the vast majority of those arrested for pot in the city; the figure was 85% last year.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Rep. Eric Proctor (D-Tulsa) introduced House Bill 1877 Monday. It would allow patients suffering from a specified list of conditions to use medical marijuana without fear of arrest or other penalty as long as they comply with the rules and regulations of the envisioned medical marijuana program. Patients could grow their own or have caregivers grow it for them, and state-licensed dispensaries and grow operations would be allowed.

Wisconsin Medical Marijuana Bills Filed. State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) have filed a pair of bills aimed at legalizing medical marijuana in the state. The first bill, the Compassionate Cannabis Care Act, would legalize medical marijuana, while the second bill would authorize a statewide referendum allowing citizens to vote on whether they support medical marijuana. The bills are not yet available on the legislative website.

Asset Forfeiture

Trump Threatens to "Destroy" Career of Lawmaker Advocating Asset Forfeiture Reform. At a listening session with sheriffs from around the country, President Donald Trump invited a Texas sheriff to destroy the career of a lawmaker who is considering a bill that would require a criminal conviction before the state could seize people's assets. When Rockwall County Sheriff Harold Eavenson told Trump he was concerned about such legislative efforts, Trump was incredulous. "Can you believe that?" Trump interjected. "Who is the state senator? Do you want to give his name? We'll destroy his career," Trump volunteered.

New Jersey Governor Vetoes Asset Forfeiture Reporting Bill. Gov. Chris Christie (R) Monday vetoed a bill that would have required county and state prosecutors to publicly report on how they use civil forfeiture to seize property in criminal investigations. The measure was Senate Bill 2267, and it had unanimously passed both houses of the legislature. Christie issued a conditional veto that recommended changes to create a weaker reporting requirement that would "strike a balance between government transparency and protecting law enforcement operations and personnel."

Interview: Marc Mauer on Criminal Justice Reform in the Trump Years [FEATURE]

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

For nearly half a century, America has been in the grip of incarceration fever. Beginning with the "law and order" campaigns of Richard Nixon, reprised by Ronald Reagan's "war on drugs," and seemingly carried on by inertia through the Bush-Clinton-Bush era, the fever only began to break in the last few years.

The Sentencing Project's Marc Mauer (Human Rights Project/Bard College)
For the first time in decades, we have not seen the ever-increasing uptick in the number of people behind bars in the United States. After the incredible expansion of imprisonment that made the land of the free the unchallenged leader in mass incarceration, the US prison population may have finally peaked. Small declines have occurred in state prison populations, and the federal prison population, fueled largely by drug war excess, is stabilizing.

Much of the progress has come under the Obama administration, but now, there's a new sheriff in town, and he doesn't seem remotely as reform-friendly as Obama. What's going to happen with sentencing reform and criminal justice under Trump and the Republicans?

To try to find some answers, we turned to someone who's been fighting for reform for decades now, Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit committed to working for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration.

Drug War Chronicle: When it comes to sentencing reform, we're likely in for a rough ride these next few years with tough-talking Trump in the White House and Republicans in control of both houses of Congress. But before we look forward to what may come, it's worth looking back at where we've been and what's been accomplished in the last eight years. How did sentencing reform do under Obama?

Marc Mauer: I think we saw very substantial reform, both in terms of actual policy changes that have made a real difference, but also in terms of a change in the political environment, which is really critical for long-term reform.

We saw substantial changes coming out of Congress, the White House, and the US Sentencing Commission. In Congress, probably the most substantial piece of legislation was the Fairness in Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced -- but didn't eliminate -- the crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing disparity.

But changes put in place by the Sentencing Commission have had the largest impact. It amended the sentencing guidelines to reduce punishments for drug offenders, which affected an estimated 46,000 people currently serving federal drug sentences. Of those, about 43,000 have seen their cases reviewed, with 29,000 getting sentence reductions and 14,000 getting denied. These are going to be rolling reductions -- for people who might have had three years left, the guidelines change might knock that down to six months; for people doing 30 years, it might knock it down to 27. They still have a long way to go, but not as far as before. This is having and will have the most significant effect.

The Obama White House was very active on sentencing reform, too. Obama commuted more than 1,700 federal prison sentences, a third of those life sentences, typically for third-time drug offenses, and that has a very significant effect. They've also done a number of initiatives around re-entry, collateral consequences, "ban the box" policies, and the like.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently issued guidance to employers about when it is and isn't appropriate to use prior criminal records when considering employment applications. The administration set up an interagency reentry council that brought together a number of cabinet agencies to see what they could do to have an impact on easing reentry.

There's been a congressional ban on inmates using Pell grant education funds, which only Congress can overturn, but the Obama administration created a pilot Pell grant program and was able to restore some funding on a research basis. The estimate is that about 12,000 incarcerated students will be able to take advantage of that.

President Obama meets with federal prisoners, El Reno, Oklahoma, 2015 (whitehouse.gov)
DWC: Now, it's a new era, and Jeff Sessions appears set to become our next attorney general. He was something of a player on criminal justice issues in the Senate; what's your take on what to expect from him on sentencing and criminal justice reform?

MM: I'm not overly optimistic. He's been supportive of some criminal justice reform in the past, most notably the Fair Sentencing Act and the Prison Rape Elimination Act -- that involved a left-right coalition that felt prison rape was a bad thing, and provided money for research, training, and oversight as ways to reduce prison rape and sexual assault.

But in other areas, he's pretty much a hardliner. He was one of a handful of Republicans who vocally opposed sentencing reform legislation that was moving through Congress last year. He's one of the reasons the bill never got a Senate floor vote, even though it had passed out of the Judiciary Committee.

He's expressed skepticism about the work of the Civil Rights Division at Justice, particularly toward the consent decrees that it has imposed on cities and police departments making them agree to try to deal with tensions police law enforcement and African-American communities. That wasn't a pro- or anti-law enforcement approach; we have a real problem, and we need to get the parties working together. Getting law enforcement and local officials to agree that we have a problem is a very important tool to address a very serious problem.

To just say as Sessions does that he supports law enforcement doesn't get us very far. What do we do when law enforcement isn't doing the right thing, when it's violating people's rights? This will be very problematic.

And he continues to express support for harsh sentencing. It will be very interesting to see what perspective he has on what federal prosecutors should do. Eric Holder directed US Attorneys to change their charging practices in low-level drug cases so that people with minimal criminal histories wouldn't be hit with mandatory minimum sentences when possible. We haven't heard from Sessions whether he will keep that in place, or overturn it, or come up with something else. That will be critical. Attorneys general have swung back and forth on this.

DWC: That sentencing reform bill died last year, in part because of election year politics. Now the campaigns are over, but the Republicans control Congress. What are the prospects for anything good happening there now?

MM: There is some hope for sentencing reform. Among the Republican leadership, both Sen. Chuck Grassley, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and House Speaker Paul Ryan have publicly expressed a desire to see criminal justice reform go through this Congress. It's not entirely clear what that would look like -- would it look like last year's bill or only contain some aspects? -- but it is encouraging that they're voicing support for moving in that direction. Clearly, the big question is how the White House responds.

DWC: That is the big question. So, what about Trump? What do you foresee?

MM: Well, during the campaign, Trump called himself the law and order candidate, and he's been a vocal proponent of the death penalty and other tough measures, so that isn't encouraging. And if Sessions becomes attorney general, he would be involved, too, and that doesn't bode well for sentencing reform. Whether he makes this a priority issue or lets his GOP colleagues on Capitol Hill take the lead will tell us a lot about the prospects.

DWC: With Trump and a Republican Congress you're facing a different political constellation than you were last year. How does that change your work, or does it?

MM: It doesn't change much in the day-to-day work. To make criminal justice reform work, we've always needed to make it bipartisan. It's been too sensitive and too emotional for so long that it's just not going to work unless it's bipartisan. That worked with crack sentencing and some other sentencing reform measures moving through Congress, and we are just going to continue the work. We meet regularly with congressional offices.

When it comes to justice reform issues, the political environment has shifted from the days of just "lock 'em up." There is growing and substantial support for reform from the right, not uniformly, but there is enough commonality of purpose that there is a good base for some kind of legislative change. That doesn't mean it's going to be easy, though.

DWC: Our conversation has focused so far on the federal level, but it's the states -- not the feds -- who hold the vast majority of prison inmates. How are things looking at the state level, and what impact do you thing the new order in Washington will have at the statehouse?

The states have begun reducing their prison populations. (nadcp.org)
MM: Unlike issues like health care, criminal justice is primarily a state and local issue, and over the last 10 or 15 years, there has been significant forward momentum. Overall, the state prison population has declined modestly, but in a handful of states they have achieved reductions of 25% or 30% over this period. And they did it on their own; this wasn't inspired by Washington.

And this wasn't just a blue state phenomenon. The state with the most substantial prison reduction was New Jersey with 31% -- under Christ Christie, who was generally supportive. Other states that saw big reductions were California, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York, but also Mississippi. We've also seen reforms enacted in places like Georgia and South Carolina, and Republican governors have been supportive.

It's quite likely the momentum we see at the state level will continue to a significant extent. At that level, policymakers are closer to the issue, and money issues are more relevant -- states actually have to balance their budgets. And by now, a number of states have had good experiences with reducing prison populations, with no adverse effects on public safety. The public has been supportive, or at least not opposed.

DWC: So, where do we go from here?

MM: Our goals and our strategy largely remain the same. We have to speak to broad audiences and work both sides of the aisle. Most importantly, we have to remember that criminal justice reform has never been easy. For several decades, we spent a good part of our careers trying to explain why tough on crime policies are counterproductive. It's been a long battle, but it's come to the point where the public environment has been shifting in a more rational, compassionate direction.

We have to build on the hard work that's been done. Now, we have Black Lives Matter and related grassroots activity, which has really spread quite quickly, creating a broader demand for change from the ground up. Some political leaders lead, but many follow; the more active support there is around the country, the more politicians have to respond.

Still, going backwards is quite possible. What happens to the commitment to civil rights? What happens to sentencing policy? If not actual backward movement, probably at least a halt to work around reentry programming in prisons and the like. That would be a real shame. We have made significant progress, the field has a much greater store of knowledge about what works and what doesn't. We are ready to try to expand on that; it would be extremely foolish in terms of public safety not to take advantage of that.

Chronicle AM: CA Faces Plethora of Pot Bills, NM Legalization Bill Advances, More... (2/6/17)

Marijuana-related legislation is moving in several states, the HIA is suing the DEA over hemp foods, Philippines Catholic bishops speak out against drug war killings, and more.

The Hemp Industry Association is suing the DEA (again) over hemp foods. (thehia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska On-Site Consumption Not Dead Yet. Last Wednesday, the Marijuana Control Board shot down a proposal that would have allowed for Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes, but a day later, the state's Department of Economic Development clarified in a press release that the decision didn't amount to a permanent ban on such businesses. The department encouraged marijuana businesses that want to allow on-site consumption to continue filing relevant paperwork, even though there is not yet an alternative proposal to regulate businesses allowing on-site consumption.

After Legalization, California Faces a Plethora of Pot Bills. The passage of Prop 64 appears to have left as many questions as answers, and legislators in Sacramento are working to address them with at least nine bills filed already. The proposals range from efforts to reconcile the medical marijuana and legal marijuana regulatory systems to protecting non-union workers to helping pot businesses gain access to financial services and beyond. Click on the link to see the full list of bills and accompanying discussion.

New Mexico Legalization Bill Wins House Vote. The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee voted to allow a legalization measure, House Bill 89, to keep advancing through the House. The committee made no recommendation for or against. The bill still faces to more committee votes before it can head for a House floor vote. "This is the one thing we can do this year that will instantly inject a massive amount of money into our economy and create jobs right away," said bill sponsor Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Mesilla Park).

New York Legalization Bills Filed. A pair of identical bills to legalize marijuana for adults and allow for legal, taxed, and regulated marijuana commerce have been filed in Albany. They are Senate Bill 3040, with Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) as primary sponsor, and Assembly Bill 3506, with Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) as primary sponsor.

Wyoming House Votes to Cut Pot Penalties. The House voted Saturday to approve House Bill 197, which would reduce the penalty for possession of three ounces of marijuana or less. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Washington Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana Use at School Wins Committee Vote. The House Health Care and Wellness Committee approved "Ducky's Bill," House Bill 1060, last Friday on a 13-3 vote. The bill is named after an elementary school student who can only attend half-days of class because of intractable epileptic seizures. It would require school districts to allow students to use medical marijuana on school grounds, on a school bus, or while attending a school-sponsored event. A companion measure has been filed in the Senate, but has not moved yet.

Hemp

Hemp Industries Association Sues DEA Over Illegal Attempt to Regulate Hemp Foods as Schedule I Drugs. The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) has filed a motion to hold the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in contempt of court for violating an unchallenged, long-standing order issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco, prohibiting the agency from regulating hemp food products as Schedule I controlled substances. Specifically, the HIA asserts that the DEA continues to operate with blatant disregard for the 2004 ruling made by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which permanently enjoined the DEA from regulating hemp fiber, stalk, sterilized seed and oil, which are specifically exempted from the definition of "marijuana" in the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Asset Forfeiture

Colorado Bill Would Close Federal Asset Forfeiture Loophole in Most Situations. A bipartisan group of four senators has filed Senate Bill 136, which would require state law enforcement to comply with extensive reporting requirements, but would also prohibit them from entering into agreements to transfer seized property to the federal government unless it amounts to more than $100,000. Law enforcement agencies use federal sharing programs to get around state laws aimed at reining in asset forfeiture procedures. The bill is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Drug Testing

Colorado Companies Shedding Marijuana Drug Tests. The Associated Press is reporting that in the past two years, seven percent of Colorado companies have dropped marijuana from pre-employment drug tests. Would you test someone for alcohol or something like that I mean it's legal like alcohol is. Why would you test someone for marijuana especially if it's legal?" said one small business owner.

Rhode Island Random Welfare Drug Testing Bill Filed. State Sen. Elaine Morgan last Thursday filed a bill that would allow the Department of Human Services to conduct random, suspicionless drug tests on welfare recipients. The bill heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It has yet to appear on the legislative website.

International

Israeli Ministers Endorse Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana Exports. The Ministerial Committee on Legislation has endorsed a draft bill to allow the export of medical marijuana. That means the measure will now move forward as a government bill.

Tel Aviv Marijuana Legalization Demonstration Draws Thousands. As the Knesset and the Israeli cabinet ponder marijuana decriminalization, thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv Saturday night to call for full legalization. At least two Knesset members, Likud's Sharren Haskel and Meretz's Tamar Zandberg, were present.

Philippines Catholic Bishops Issue Pastoral Statement Condemning Drug War Killings. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines issued a pastoral statement Sunday expressing opposition to President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign of killings of drug users and sellers. The bishops called on Filipinos to follow the basic teaching of the Church. The full text of the statement is available at the link.

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