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Legal Marijuana: The Sky is (Probably) Not Falling [FEATURE]

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

Barrels of ink have been spilled over the prospect that the Trump administration could attempt to turn back the clock when it comes to legal marijuana, but for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth out there, marijuana industry insiders, advocates, and activists don't seem all that worried.

Jeff Sessions loathes marijuana, but is going after it the best use of DOJ resources? (senate.gov)
"I don't think there's any more reason to be scared than to be hopeful at this point," said Mason Tvert, Denver-based communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "The administration has not changed its marijuana policy, and there is reason to believe it may maintain the existing policy or adopt a similar one that respects states' laws regulating marijuana."

"Marijuana is one of the least of my concerns with the Trump administration," said Dale Gieringer, coauthor of the pioneering 1996 Prop 215 medical marijuana initiative and long-time head of California NORML. "That's the first time I've been able to say that, but I just don’t see where there's any percentage in them going after marijuana. The polls are on our side, and they can't enforce the law."

The industry, too, seems to think that there's not really that much to fear from the Trump administration.

"We are in a posture of cautious optimism," said Taylor West, communications director for the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). "We're definitely not taking anything for granted -- it's quite clear that Sessions has really strong personal opposition to the industry -- but we are encouraged by the intense pushback, not just from the industry, but from elected officials, regulators, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. That is probably the most powerful signal to the Justice Department that dramatic changes to current policy would cause them a lot of problems."

West pointed to the strong reaction from state officials in marijuana-legal and medical marijuana states, as well as support from federal lawmakers and not just Democrats. She cited Nevada US Sen. Dean Heller as an example of a Republican lawmaker siding with the industry over the administration.

"They are speaking up because the industry and individual businesses and consumers have spoken up as their constituents and taught them about the industry and what we stand far and why we deserve respect from the federal government," she said.

And the marijuana money people appear largely unperturbed, too. In a report released Thursday, Arcview Market Research projected that the industry is going to continue to boom regardless of what happens in Washington, with revenues of nearly $7 billion this year and an astounding projected annual growth rate of 27% through 2021.

"While the uncertainty created by the mixed signals coming out of the administration may cause a temporary dip in some valuations of cannabis companies and some more risk-averse institutional investors and multinational companies may continue to stay on the sidelines, it won't impact the growth of the market much at all," said Troy Dayton, CEO of Arcview Market Research. "No matter what the administration does, states will continue to issue cannabis licenses to a long line of applicants and licensed cannabis outlets will continue to have long lines of consumers ready to purchase this product from regulated establishments."

Maintaining the Status Quo

Legal marijuana could be a $7 billion industry by 2021. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Medical marijuana is now legal in more than half the states and adult recreational use is legal in eight, including the entire West Coast. Some early enforcement actions notwithstanding, the Obama administration largely turned a blind eye to state-legal but federally-illegal marijuana. The Obama Justice Department adhered to the Cole memorandum, a 2013 "guidance" to federal prosecutors that essentially limited them to going only after legal marijuana operations that crossed specified lines: selling to minors, diverting product to non-legal states, being involved in violence or other trafficking, and the like.

Medical marijuana states at least are also protected by the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which bars the Justice Department from using federal funds to go after state-compliant medical marijuana operations. A similar measure, the McClintock-Hollis amendment, would have extended that same shield to the adult-legal states, but came up just short in the last Congress. Both amendments will be offered again this year.

"Jeff Sessions doesn't like marijuana -- that much is clear -- but that's not the question," MPP's Tvert argued. "The question is whether he believes limited federal resources should be used to interfere in state marijuana laws. As of right now, there's no reason to believe that's the case."

Tvert pointed to Sessions' seeming acceptance of the Cole memo, as well as a memo Sessions sent to federal prosecutors last month telling them to go after "the worst of the worst" and violent crime.

"State licensed and regulate marijuana businesses are by no means violent or the 'worst of the worst,'" Tvert noted. "They want to go after cartels and violent criminals and focus on serious crime, so why force marijuana back into the underground market?"

"President Trump said states should be able to determine own marijuana policies, and he also had strong support for legal access to medical marijuana, and we haven't heard anything new from him on it," said Tvert. "But again, it's not a question of the president's personal views, but of what the federal laws are and the realities of enforcement. Sessions has said on multiple occasions that the federal government cannot effectively enforce federal prohibition in states where it is legal."

The view was not quite as sanguine from Washington, DC, where national NORML has its offices.

"As far as the industry goes, even the threat of a crackdown by the Justice Department has a chilling effect," said Justin Strekal, NORML political director and lobbyist. "While medical marijuana is protected under Farr-Rohrabacher, the adult use economy has no such protections -- at least for now."

"The Cole memo is just a piece of paper," Strekal said, "and there is nothing stopping Sessions from just throwing it away, as the Heritage Foundation has called for him to do. But the Justice Department has no way to force states to recriminalize marijuana in decrim or legal states. The worst case would be that the adult use states are rolled back to a situation where there is no way to have a legal distribution system, but local law enforcement is not going to be enforcing federal marijuana prohibition."

Where apprehension about the direction of Trump administration pot policy is having a real impact right now is in causing politicians to think twice about legalization in states that are considering it, Strekal said.

"We're hearing feedback from legislators in Connecticut and Maryland saying that the attorney general's comments are acting as a road block, while in Georgia, we just saw a defelonization bill defeated. The mere presence of a Reefer Madness-era Jeff Sessions is frightening off potential supporters of ending prohibition."

Still, Bad Things Could Happen

If Congress blocks funding, DEA can't go after legal marijuana (sort of). (justice.gov/dea)
While an oppositional Trump administration may retard the expansion of legal marijuana in the states, the status quo of a fifth of the country living under legalization and more than half with access to medical marijuana appears unlikely to be rolled-back. But that doesn't necessarily mean a free ride for legal weed.

"There could be some sort of federal action against some adult use facility or grower or cultivation company whose product is found to have gone across state lines in quantity, or something like that," CANORML's Gieringer offered. "Like if you have a situation where Nebraska complains, maybe that could stir up pressure in the Justice Department. But that's the most I expect. I could be wrong, though."

"Since Colorado started its licensing program, there's always been a fear that the Justice Department would just bring a lawsuit saying the state is participating in an ongoing conspiracy to distribute a Schedule I drug," Gieringer observed. "They had their chance and they didn't do it. If they tried it now, they will have taken away hundreds of millions of dollars from Colorado and potentially billions from other states and leave anarchy. They can't enforce the marijuana laws anyway; it's a drain on federal resources to even try."

"A federal injection is a potential threat, but it was a potential threat six months ago, too," said MPP's Tvert. "It's still a question of resources. If that were to happen, marijuana would continue to be legal, but the federal government would be preventing states from controlling its production and sale. That would be a real serious problem."

But Tvert warned that the heavy hand of the federal government could still reach out and slap someone down.

"Sean Spicer said they would have greater enforcement, and that could mean anything," he said. "They could be planning to more rigorously enforce the laws against people not in compliance with state laws, there could be more enforcement against illegal actors, they could push states to strengthen their regulations to prevent interstate trafficking. They perhaps could encourage states to increase funding to law enforcement to investigate illegal activity. There is plenty they could do without interfering with the legal market."

The Fightback Against Rollback Will Only Grow Stronger

The advent of a potential hostile Trump administration isn't changing the way NORML does business, Strekal said.

"We're continuing to do what we've always done and act as a grassroots consumer advocacy group," he explained. "We have 150 chapters and we're engaging as an advocacy group at every level of government from city councils to state legislatures to the federal government. At the federal level, we're very encouraged by the formation of the congressional cannabis caucus. We've been working with them to host a few events."

"This moment in time, where there is a lot of uncertainty at the federal level, is the kind of moment the NCIA was created for," said West. "We've been building relationships and allies in DC around industry issues, so when we need those allies, we have them."

Like MPP, the NCIA has a full-time staff lobbyist in Washington. It also works with another DC-based lobbying firm to work the Hill, and with legislators and elected officials.

"You've been able to see, through our work and the work of others, a very strong pushback from people who previously wouldn't have been in favor of the marijuana industry," West said. "The federal government can try to enforce marijuana prohibition in states where it is legal, but it doesn't really have the personnel to do that without the full cooperation of state and local law enforcement. If states are resisting that crackdown, which elected officials have said they would do, it becomes very difficult, if not impossible."

Legal marijuana is on guard, but it's not running away from a fight. The question for the Trump administration becomes whether this is a fight worth fighting.

Jeff Sessions Claims Marijuana Only "Slightly Less Awful" Than Heroin

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

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions once again displayed his ignorance about drugs Wednesday as he claimed that marijuana is "only slightly less awful" than heroin. In the same speech, he acknowledged rising heroin and prescription opioid overdose death levels, but failed to note that no one dies from overdosing on marijuana.

The US attorney general made more inflammatory remarks about marijuana on Wednesday. (senate.gov)
Heroin produces physical addiction and is linked to thousands of overdose drug deaths each year. Marijuana does not produce physical addiction, and although it may lead to psychological dependency for a small percentage of users, the dependency rate is much lower than it is even for users of alcohol and tobacco, both of which are more dangerous than marijuana.

Sessions' uninformed claim is likely to increase jitters in the country's nascent legal marijuana industry as it confronts an attorney general whose rhetoric so far has strongly suggested he would like to crack down on legal weed -- although he has yet to take any concrete steps to do so.

Sessions made the claim in prepared remarks for a speech to state, local, and federal law enforcement in Richmond, Virginia. The long-time foe of marijuana and marijuana law reform again sketched his stance toward pot, saying "life-wrecking dependency" on marijuana is "only slightly less awful" than heroin addiction.

I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana -- so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that's only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.

Sessions would not be so "astonished" at the notion that access to marijuana lead to declines in opioid overdose deaths if he actually followed the field. At least three recent studies have found a link: A 2014 Johns Hopkins study found that states with medical marijuana laws have a 25% lower opioid death rate than other states; a 2015 RAND study found a decline in opioid deaths of between 16% and 31% in states that had medical marijuana dispensaries; and a 2016 Health Affairs study found that doctors in medical marijuana states wrote fewer opioid prescriptions for Medicaid patients.

Actual science notwithstanding, Sessions suggested he was prepared to embark on a 21st Century version of Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" and the "this is your brain on drugs" anti-drug propaganda campaigns of the 1980s:

In the '80s and '90s, we saw how campaigns stressing prevention brought down drug use and addiction. We can do this again. Educating people and telling them the terrible truth about drugs and addiction will result in better choices. We can reduce the use of drugs, save lives and turn back the surge in crime that inevitably follows in the wake of increased drug abuse.

But if Sessions wants to educate Americans on "the terrible truth" about drugs, he should probably start with himself. An attorney general who cannot recognize the difference between marijuana and heroin is not one who is fit to pronounce on such matters.

Richmond, VA
United States

Attorney General Sessions Won't Rule Out Using Mafia Law to Go After Legal Marijuana

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

On conservative radio talker Hugh Hewitt's program Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions continued to bad mouth marijuana and suggested he might use laws enacted to go after the Mafia against the legal marijuana industry.

"I think it's a more dangerous drug than a lot of people realize. I don#39;t think we're going to be a better community if marijuana is sold in every corner grocery store," the attorney general told Hewitt.

The conservative talker then helpfully suggested that one way Washington could go after legal pot was by bringing racketeering charges against marijuana businesses.

"One RICO prosecution against one marijuana retailer in one state that has so-called legalization ends this façade and this flaunting of the Supremacy Clause. Will you be bringing such a case?" Hewitt asked Sessions.

Sessions didn't exactly jump on the idea, but neither did he reject it.

"We will um… marijuana is against federal law, and that applies in states where they may have repealed their own anti-marijuana laws," Sessions said in response. "So yes, we will enforce law in an appropriate way nationwide. It's not possible for the federal government, of course, to take over everything the local police used to do in a state that's legalized it."

But Hewitt was not done chewing on that bone, asking Sessions if he couldn't just make an example out of somebody.

"I mean, if you want to send that message, you can send it. Do you think you're going to send it?" he asked.

Sessions had to clue in Hewitt about the difficulty of reining in the burgeoning the legal marijuana industry.

"Well, we'll be evaluating how we want to handle that," he said. "I think it's a little more complicated than one RICO case, I've got to tell you. This, places like Colorado, it's just sprung up a lot of different independent entities that are moving marijuana. And it's also being moved interstate, not just in the home state," he added.

Sessions has been a staunch foe of marijuana legalization, and the industry has been on tenterhooks since he was nominated as the nation's highest law enforcement officer. He attempted to soft-shoe his views during his confirmation hearings, suggesting that he wasn't going to aggressively go after the legal pot industry, but his comments with Hewitt may suggest otherwise.

Taken together with a memo on violent crime Sessions sent to federal prosecutors Wednesday in which he hinted at at rolling back Obama Justice Department policies directing federal prosecutors to not always seek the most serious charges in drug cases and to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences, his comments to Hewitt Thursday suggest that the Trump administration is about to head resolutely backwards on drug policy in general and marijuana policy in particular.

Listen to the Hewitt interview below:

Chronicle AM: Ominous Sessions Hint on Sentencing, RI AG Anti-Pot Campaign, More... (3/9/17)

Attorney General Sessions hints at a return to tough federal drug sentencing, Rhode Island Attorney General Kilmartin announces a campaign to fend off marijuana legalization, Bolivia's president signs a law nearly doubling legal coca cultivation, and more.

It looks like the new attorney general is going old school with harsher drug sentencing. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Decriminalization Bills Filed. A pair of Democratic lawmakers has filed identical decriminalization bills in the House and Senate. State Rep Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) filed House Bill 1403, while state Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) filed Senate Bill 1662. The bills would make possession of up to an ounce a civil violation punishable by a fine of no more than $100. Under current Florida law, small time marijuana possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Rhode Island Attorney General Gins Up Anti-Legalization Campaign. State Attorney General Peter Kilmartin (D) launched a campaign against marijuana legalization Thursday. Kilmartin said he was mobilizing lawmakers, business leaders, and others concerned about public health and public safety issues to fight ongoing efforts in the legislature to legalize it. He's joining forces with Smart Approaches to Marijuana, among others.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Florida Bills Would Have Dealers Facing Manslaughter Charges for Opioid Overdose Deaths. A pair of Republican state lawmakers has filed identical bills that would allow prosecutors to bring manslaughter charges against people who sold opioids to people who overdosed and died on them. Sen. Gregg Steube (R-Sarasota) filed Senate Bill 150 Tuesday, while Rep. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton) filed House Bill 477.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions Signals He Could Reverse Obama Policy of Seeking Less Serious Charges in Drug Cases. Sessions sent a memo to federal prosecutors Wednesday calling on them to crack down on violent crime, and in that memo, he hinted at rolling back Obama administration policies directing federal prosecutors to not always seek the most serious charges in drug cases and to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences by leaving drug quantities out of charging documents. "I encourage you to employ the full complement of federal law to address the problem of violent crime in your district," Sessions wrote. "Further guidance and support in executing this priority -- including an updated memo on charging for all criminal cases -- will be forthcoming."

International

Bolivian President Signs Law Nearly Doubling Amount of Legal Coca Grown. President Evo Morales, a former coca grower himself, signed into law Wednesday a bill that will increase the amount of coca that can be legally planted from 30,000 acres to 55,000 acres. "We want to guarantee coca supplies for life," he said.

Blunting Trump's Mass Deportation Plans With Drug Reform [FEATURE]

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

As President Trump ratchets up the machinery of mass deportation, supporters of a humane, comprehensive approach to immigration are seeking ways to throw sand in its gears. When mass deportation is touted because of the "criminality" of those targeted, one solution is to reduce criminalization, which is not to turn a blind eye to violent or dangerous criminals, but to recognize that we live in an over-criminalized society. That means school kids can now be arrested for behavior that would have sent them to the principal's office in years past (especially if they're a certain color). The US also generates the world's largest prison-industrial complex, and has criminalized tens of millions of people for the offense of simply possessing a certain plant, and millions more for possessing other proscribed substances.

ICE arrests an immigrant in San Jose. (dhs.gov)
While Trump talks about "bad hombres" as he ramps up the immigration crackdown, data shows that the net of criminality used to deport not just undocumented workers, but also legal immigrants and permanent resident aliens, is cast exceedingly wide. It's overwhelmingly not gang members or drug lords who are getting deported, but people whose crimes include crossing the border without papers, as well as traffic and minor drug offenses.

The report Secure Communities and ICE Deportations: A Failed Program , which examined Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation records, found that the top three "most serious" criminal charges used to deport people and which accounted for roughly half of all deportations were illegal entry, followed by DWI and unspecified traffic violations.

The fourth "most serious" criminal charge used to deport people was simple marijuana possession, with more than 6,000 people being thrown out of the country in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, the years the study covered. Right behind that was simple cocaine possession, accounting for another 6,000 in each of those years. "Other" drug possession charges accounted for nearly 2,500 deportations each of those years.

Nearly 3,000 people a year were deported for selling pot, and more than 4,000 for selling cocaine, but only about 2,000 a year for the more serious offense of drug trafficking, accounting for a mere 1% of all deportations in those years.

ICE raid in Atlanta. (dhs.gov)
This has been going on for years. In the same report, researchers estimated that some 250,000 people had been deported for drug offenses during the Obama administration, accounting for one-fifth of all criminal deportations. Now, the Trump administration gives every indication it intends to be even tougher.

In light of the massive use of drug charges to deport non-citizens, drug reform takes on a whole new aspect. Marijuana decriminalization and legalization may not generally be viewed through the lens of immigrant protection, but they shield millions of people from drug deportation in those states that have enacted such laws. Similarly, efforts to decriminalize drug possession in general are also moves that would protect immigrants.

Now, legislators and activists in vanguard states are adopting prophylactic measures, such as sealing marijuana arrest records, rejiggering the way drug possession cases are handled, and, more fundamentally, moving to decriminalize pot and/or drug possession. In doing so, they are building alliances with other communities, especially those of color, that have been hard hit by the mass criminalization of the war on drugs.

In California, first decriminalization in 2011 and then outright legalization last year removed pot possession from the realm of the criminal, offering protection to hundreds of thousands of immigrants. But the California legalization initiative, Proposition 64, also made the reduction or elimination of marijuana-related criminal penalties retroactive,meaning past convictions for marijuana offenses reduced or eliminated can be reclassified on a criminal record for free. Having old marijuana offenses reduced to infractions or dismissed outright can remove that criminal cause for removal from any California immigrant's record.

Across the county in New York, with a charge led by the state legislature's Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus, the state assembly voted in January to approve AB 2142, which would seal the criminal records of people who had been unjustly arrested for simple possession of marijuana in public view, a charge police used to still bust people for marijuana after it was decriminalized in 1977. Like the Prop 64 provision in California, this measure would protect not only minority community members in general -- who make up 80% of those arrested on the public possession charge -- from the collateral consequences of a drug conviction, but immigrants in particular from being expelled from their homes.

"A marijuana conviction can lead to devastating consequences for immigrants, including detention and deportation," said Alisa Wellek, executive director of the Immigrant Defense Project. "This bill will provide some important protections for green card holders and undocumented New Yorkers targeted by Trump's aggressive deportation agenda."

"Sealing past illegitimate marijuana convictions is not only right, it is most urgent as the country moves toward legalization and immigrant families are put at risk under our new federal administration," said Kassandra Frederique, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Comprehensive drug law reform must include legislative and programmatic measures that account for our wrongheaded policies and invest in building healthier and safer communities, from the Bronx to Buffalo, Muslim and Christian, US-born and green card-holding."

Companion legislation in the form of Senate Bill 3809 awaits action in the Senate, but activists are also pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include similar language as part of his decriminalization proposal in state budget legislation, opening another possible path forward.

One-way street? (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
"In New York State 22,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in 2016. The misdemeanor charge for public view of marijuana possession gives those people convicted a criminal record that will follow them throughout their lives, potentially limiting their access to education, affecting their ability to obtain employment, leading to a potential inability to provide for their families," said Sen. Jamaal Bailey, author of the Senate bill.

"Furthermore, and even more problematic, there exist significant racial disparities in the manner that marijuana possession policy is enforced. Blacks and Latinos are arrested at higher rates despite the fact that white people use marijuana at higher rates than people of color. Responsible and fair policy is what we need here," Bailey added. "We must act now, with proactive legislation, for the future of many young men and women of our state are at stake here."

Meanwhile, back in California, Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) has reintroduced legislation explicitly designed to shield immigrants from deportation for drug possession charges, as long as they undergo treatment or counseling. Under her bill, Assembly Bill 208, people arrested for simple possession would be able to enroll in a drug treatment for six months to a year before formally entering a guilty plea, and if they successfully completed treatment, the courts would wipe the charges from their records.

The bill would address a discrepancy between state law and federal immigration law. Under state drug diversion programs, defendants are required to first plead guilty before opting for treatment. But although successful completion of treatment sees the charges dropped under state law, the charges still stand under federal law, triggering deportation proceedings even if the person has completed treatment and had charges dismissed.

"For those who want to get treatment and get their life right, we should see that with open arms, not see it as a way of deporting somebody," Eggman said.

Eggman authored a similar bill in 2015 that got all the way through the legislature only to be vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who worried that it eliminated "the most powerful incentive to stay in treatment -- the knowledge that the judgment will be entered for failure to do so."

In the Trump era, the need for such measures has become even more critical, Eggman said.

"It might be a more complex discussion this year, and it's a discussion we should have," she said. "If our laws are meant to treat everyone the same, then why wouldn't we want that opportunity for treatment available to anyone without risk for deportation?"

Reforming drug laws to reduce criminalization benefits all of us, but in the time of Trump, reforming drug laws is also a means of protecting some of our most vulnerable residents from the knock in the night and expulsion from the country they call home.

Chronicle AM: Capitol Hill MJ Politics Heats Up, INCB Condemns Philippines Drug War, More... (3/3/17)

Eleven senators urge the Trump administration to leave legal marijuana alone, a federal legalization bill gets introduced, Justin Trudeau says yes to marijuana legalization but no to drug decriminalization, the INCB rips the Philippines' bloody drug war, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Eleven US Senators Urge Trump Administration Not to Mess With Legal Marijuana. Eleven senators, led by Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions Thursday urging him to uphold the Obama administration policy of letting states implement their own marijuana laws. "We respectfully request that you uphold DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational use," they wrote. "It is critical that states continue to implement these laws."

Republican Congressman Files Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill. Freshman Virginia Republican Rep. Thomas Garrett has filed a legalization bill, House Resolution 1227, that is identical to the one filed last year by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Unlike the Sanders bill, which garnered no cosponsors, this one already has three. Garrett played up the states' rights angle in announcing the bill: "Virginia is more than capable of handling its own marijuana policy, as are states such as Colorado or California," he said.

New Mexico Senate Passes Bill Lowering Marijuana Penalties. The Senate Thursday approved Senate Bill 258, which would make possession of less than a half ounce an administrative offense punishable by no more than a $50 fine. Possession of between a half ounce and an ounce would be a misdemeanor, punishable by no more than a $100 fine. The bill now goes to the House.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Bill to Let Pharmacies Dispense CBD Cannabis Oil Goes to Governor. The House Thursday approved Senate Bill 2610, which would amend the state's existing CBD cannabis oil law to allow pharmacies to join the University of Mississippi Medical Center in dispensing the medicine. The bill has already passed the Senate and now heads to the desk of Gov. Phil Bryant (R).

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Maryland Governor Declares Opioid State of Emergency. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced Wednesday that he is declaring a state of emergency around the state's heroin and opioid abuse problem. "I will be signing an executive order declaring a state of emergency in response to rapid escalation of the heroin and opioid crisis in our state," Hogan said. "With this continuing threat increasing at such an alarming rate, we must allow for rapid coordination with our state and local emergency teams." Hogan said issuing the emergency notice would give the state and local emergency agencies more flexibility to deal with the problem.

Asset Forfeiture

Idaho House Passes Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The Republican-controlled House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to approve House Bill 202, which would bar police from seizing cash or property merely because it was in close proximity to an illegal substance. The bill also bans seizing vehicles unless they are connected to drug-dealing offenses, requires judicial approval for police to keep assets, and requires police to report on seizures. The bill passed despite opposition from the Idaho Sheriffs' Association. It now goes to the Senate.

International

US to Pressure Colombia to Cut Coca Crop. American drug officials will go to Bogota next week to "engage in serious discussions with the Government of Colombia" about the sharp increase in coca cultivation and cocaine production in the country in recent years, they said in a press briefing on Thursday. Colombia has seen a spike in coca cultivation in 2014 and 2015, the last years for which data is available. "We are working on the problem. It is a serious problem," said William R. Brownfield, assistant secretary of the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, during Thursday's press briefing. "Both governments recognize this fact. Both governments realize that it is neither in the interest of Colombia, nor in the United States of America, nor, frankly, any country in the Western Hemisphere or the world, that there be more than a doubling of cocaine production coming from Colombia over the last four -- three or four years."

Justin Trudeau Says Marijuana Legalization Coming, But Rejects Drug Decriminalization for Canada. The Canadian prime minister said Thursday he hoped to have a marijuana legalization bill before parliament this summer, but rejected calls from British Columbia public health officials to decriminalize drug possession in a bid to reduce overdose deaths. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for anyone who is on the front lines," he said. "I always listen very carefully to what they have to say. But at the same time, I can absolutely confirm that we are moving forward on a framework to regulate and control marijuana to protect our kids and keep our communities safer from organized crime, and we are not planning on including any other illicit substances in the movement toward legalizing, controlling and regulating."

International Narcotics Control Board Rips Philippines Drug War. In its annual report, released Thursday, the INCB said President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drug users and sellers violates international drug control treaties. "The Board wishes to bring once again to the attention of all Governments that extrajudicial action, purportedly taken in pursuit of drug control objectives, is fundamentally contrary to the provisions and objectives of the three international drug control conventions, under which all actions must be undertaken within the due process of law,"the report said. The INCB said that it had issued a statement calling on the Philippines government to issue an immediate and unequivocal condemnation and denunciation of the killings of individuals suspected of involvement in the illegal drug trade. It also called on the government to put an immediate stop to such actions and bring the perpetrators of such acts to justice.

Chronicle AM: Trump Vows to Win Drug War, Sessions Rejects Marijuana Legalization, More... (3/1/17)

The Trump administration's posture toward drug and marijuana reform is becoming evident, Philippines President Duterte is reenlisting the National Police in his drug war, the Colombian government and the FARC are working together on coca crop substitution, and more.

Trump wants more drug war. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Sessions Scoffs at Marijuana Legalization. "We have a responsibility to use our best judgment… and my view is we don't need to be legalizing marijuana," he said at the winter meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General. "I'm dubious about marijuana. I'm not sure we're going to be a better, healthier nation if we have marijuana sold at every corner grocery store." He also ridiculed the notion that using marijuana could be a cure for opioid abuse, calling it "a desperate attempt" to defend marijuana. But he did concede that "maybe science will prove me wrong."

California Bill to Address Pot-Impaired Driving Advances. A bill that calls on the state Highway Patrol to form a task force to develop methods for identifying drivers impaired by marijuana or prescription drugs and for an evaluation of technologies for measuring marijuana impairment has passed out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee. Assembly Bill 6 now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Drug Policy

Trump Vows to Win War on Drugs; Doesn't Mention Marijuana. In his inaugural address to Congress Tuesday night, President Trump echoed the ghosts of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan -- not to mention Miguel Cervantes -- as he vowed to defeat drugs. If there is a silver lining, his ire appears directed at heroin and other hard drugs. The word "marijuana" did not appear once in his speech. "Our terrible drug epidemic will slow down and ultimately, stop," he promised as part of a litany of MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN accomplishments to come ("Dying industries will come roaring back to life. Heroic veterans will get the care they so desperately need… "). And, having forgotten -- or more likely, never learned -- the lessons of the past half century of American drug prohibition, he's going to defeat drugs the old-fashioned way: with more war on drugs. "To protect our citizens, I have directed the Department of Justice to form a Task Force on Reducing Violent Crime," Trump said. "I have further ordered the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, along with the Department of State and the Director of National Intelligence, to coordinate an aggressive strategy to dismantle the criminal cartels that have spread across our Nation."

International

Tens of Thousands of Colombia Families to Quit Coca Farming. Some 55,000 families in territories controlled by the FARC will participate in a voluntary crop substitution program sponsored by the government, the presidency said Tuesday. The move will see nearly 100,000 acres of coca crops voluntarily eradicated under FARC supervision. The move to coca substitution is part of the peace agreement signed by President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leaders last November.

Philippines President Brings Police Back to Wage More Drug War. President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday he would recall some police to fight the drug war. He had suspended the entire Philippine National Police from all operations in the bloody crackdown last month after a rogue squad of drug officers kidnapped and killed a South Korean businessman at PNP headquarters, but said he needed more manpower to sustain the crackdown, which has left more than 7,700 dead since he took office last year. "So, I need more men. I have to call back the police again to do the job most of the time on drugs, not everyone," he told reporters.

Trump Vows to Win War on Drugs, But Doesn't Mention Marijuana [FEATURE]

In his inaugural address to Congress Tuesday night, President Trump echoed the ghosts of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan -- not to mention summoning the specter of Miguel Cervantes -- as he vowed to defeat drugs.

If there is a silver lining, his ire appears directed at heroin and other hard drugs. The word "marijuana" did not appear once in his speech.

"Our terrible drug epidemic will slow down and ultimately, stop," he promised as part of a litany of MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN accomplishments to come. ("Dying industries will come roaring back to life. Heroic veterans will get the care they so desperately need…")

And, having forgotten -- or more likely, never learned -- the lessons of the past half century of American drug prohibition, he's going to defeat drugs the old-fashioned way: with more war on drugs.

"To protect our citizens, I have directed the Department of Justice to form a Task Force on Reducing Violent Crime," Trump said. "I have further ordered the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, along with the Department of State and the Director of National Intelligence, to coordinate an aggressive strategy to dismantle the criminal cartels that have spread across our Nation."

But talk is cheap. Drug law enforcement costs money. The DEA and other federal agencies are already waging a multi-billion dollar a year war on drugs; if Trump's budget proposals match his rhetoric, he will have to be prepared to spend billions more. Just when he wants to cut just about all federal spending but defense, too.

Trump can ratchet up the drug war in some ways without relying on congressional appropriations through his control of the executive branch. For instance, his Justice Department could direct federal prosecutors to seek mandatory minimum prison sentences in most or all drug cases, a practice eschewed by the Obama Justice Department. That, too, has budgetary consequences, but until some time down the road.

Trump did at least pay lip service to addressing drug use as a public health issue, saying he would "expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted," but that doesn't gibe with his call to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If Obamacare is repealed, nearly three million Americans with addiction disorders with lose access to some or all of their health coverage, including nearly a quarter million receiving opioid addiction treatment.

Trump's Tuesday night crime and drug talk was interwoven with talk about the border, comingling immigration, drugs, and his border wall in a hot mess of overheated, but politically useful, rhetoric.

"We've defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross -- and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate," he said, ignoring the quadrupling in size of the Border Patrol in the past 20 years and the billions pumped into border security since 2001. "We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth."

Trump also said that he was already making America safer with his immigration enforcement actions.

"As we speak, we are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our citizens. Bad ones are going out as I speak tonight and as I have promised," he said.

It's too early to see who is actually being deported in the opening days of the Trump administration, but if the past is any indicator, it's not "gang members, drug dealers, and criminals," but, in rank order, people whose most serious crime was crossing the border without papers, alcohol-impaired drivers, other traffic violators, and pot smokers. Those were the four leading charges for criminal immigration deportations in one recent year, according to Secure Communities and ICE Deportations: A Failed Program?

Trump's drug war rhetoric is triumphalist and militaristic, but so far it's largely just talk. The proof will be in budget proposals and Justice Department memoranda, but in terms of progressive drug policy, he's striking a very ominous tone. This does not bode well.

Chronicle AM: Sessions Vows Drug Crackdown, State Forfeiture Bills Advance, More... (2/28/17)

Ominous noises from AG Sessions on marijuana and drug policy, asset forfeiture reform advances in three states, the feds threaten to shut down the Las Vegas Cannabis Cup, and more.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has more than just weed on his mind. (theleafonline.org)
Marijuana Policy

Sessions Makes Ominous Noises on Marijuana Policy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions restated his opposition to marijuana use Monday and warned that marijuana legalization efforts could open states to "violence" and a response from the federal government. "I don't think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot," Sessions said to reporters Monday at the Department of Justice. "I believe it's an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we're seeing real violence around that." He had more disturbing things to say Tuesday. See below.

Feds Threaten to Shut Down Las Vegas Cannabis Cup. Nevada US Attorney Daniel Bogden has sent a letter to the Moapa Paiute tribe warning that the Cannabis Cup trade show set for tribal lands next weekend would violate federal marijuana prohibition laws. "I am informed that the tribal council is moving forward with the planned marijuana event referred to as the 2017 High Times Cannabis Cup because it is under the impression that the so-called 'Cole Memorandum' and subsequent memoranda from the Department of Justice permit marijuana use, possession and distribution on tribal lands when the state law also permits it. Unfortunately, this is an incorrect interpretation of the Department's position on this issue," Bogden wrote in a February 16 letter.

New Mexico Legalization Bill Killed. An effort to legalize marijuana died Monday in the House Business and Industry Committee after members voted 9-1 to kill it. House Bill 89 went down at least in part because of uncertainty surrounding the Trump administration's posture toward legal marijuana. It would have created a 15% tax on marijuana sales from licensed shops, with revenues earmarked for schools, the judiciary, and drug treatment programs.

Asset Forfeiture

Idaho Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill to require police to demonstrate an actual connection between drugs and seized property before seizing it and to clarify that possession of cash alone is not grounds for seizure has passed the House Judiciary Committee. House Bill 202 now heads for a House floor vote.

Indiana Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would end asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction and would bar prosecutors from circumventing state law by passing cases off to the feds has passed the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law. Senate Bill 8 now heads for a Senate floor vote.

New Mexico Senate Passes Bill to Close Asset Forfeiture Loophole Used By Cities. The Senate has approved Senate Bill 202 on a unanimous vote. The state ended civil asset forfeiture in 2015, but police in Albuquerque and other cities claimed the law did not apply to their municipal asset forfeiture programs. This bill clarifies that it does. It is now before the House Judiciary Committee.

Drug Policy

Sessions Says DOJ Will Prioritize Drugs, Violent Crime. In remarks before the National Association of Attorneys General Tuesday, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions acknowledged that crime was at historically low levels, but vowed to pursue gun and drug offenses. "[I]llegal drugs flood across our southern border and into cities and towns across our country, bringing violence, addiction and misery. In particular, we've seen an increase in the trafficking of new, low-cost heroin by Mexican drug cartels working with local street gangs,"Sessions said. "As the market for this heroin expands, gangs fight for territory and new customers and neighborhoods are caught in the crossfire,"he continued. "In recent years, we've also seen a significant shift in the priority given to prosecuting gun and drug offenders at the federal level. While numbers don't tell the whole story, I still find the following statistics troubling: at the end of 2015 there were more than 7 percent fewer federal gun prosecutions than five years before. In that same five-year period, federal drug prosecutions declined by 18 percent. "Under my leadership at the Department of Justice, this trend will end,"he said.

Sentencing

West Virginia Bill Would Create Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Adults Who Make or Transport Drugs Around Minors. The House of Delegates' Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse has approved House Bill 2648, which would set a three-year mandatory minimum sentence for any adult found guilty of transporting or manufacturing drugs in front of a minor. The bill now heads to the House Judiciary Committee.

International

Poll Has Four of Five Danes Favoring Medical Marijuana. A new survey from Analyse Denmark has support for medical marijuana at 80%, "with the remainder saying they did not have an opinion." The poll comes as the country awaits a medical marijuana pilot project set to begin on January 1. The poll also asked about marijuana legalization, but only 36% were in favor, with 45% opposed.

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.

Drug War Issues

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