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Chronicle AM: Trump Budget Slashes ONDCP, ACHA Leaves Millions Without Treatment, More... (5/5/17)

The Trump administration wants to slash funding for the drug czar's office by 95%, the American Health Care Act approved in the House Thursday would leave millions without access to drug treatment, and more.

ONDCP faces massive cuts under the Trump budget. But it's early.
Marijuana Policy

Michigan 2018 Legalization Campaign Gets Underway. Backers of a proposed initiative to legalize pot next year launched their campaign on Friday. The initiative is backed by in-state activists and the Marijuana Policy Project, and needs 252, 000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot. A similar effort in 2016 came up short after state officials moved to tighten timelines for signature-gathering.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Senate Approves Amended House Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate on Thursday gave its okay to a heavily-amended House Bill 1397, sending the measure back to the House for final approval. Senate bill sponsor Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming) offered and the Senate approved a "delete all" amendment basically replacing the House text. Among the changes: limiting growers to five retail facilities, allowing the Health Department to grant 10 new licenses this year, and a provision to add five more licenses for every 75,000 patients. The legislative session ends on Monday, so the House must act quickly.

Drug Policy

White House Proposes Massive Cut in Drug Czar's Office Funding. The Trump administration's Office of Management and Budget has released a document that calls for a 95% cut in funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Under the proposal, funding would be slashed from $388 million to $24 million, with up to 33 employees laid off. The budget would also eliminate grants for programs including the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program and the Drug-Free Communities Support program. The OMB says the budget document is preliminary, not final.

Drug Treatment

House Passes Health Care Reform Bill That Would End Access to Treatment for Millions. The House passed the American Health Care Act (ACHA) on Thursday, placing addiction treatment opportunities for millions at risk. As the Drug Policy Alliance noted, "millions of people would lose treatment coverage under this bill and efforts to end the opioid crisis will be put in grave jeopardy." As a result, the advocacy group warned, "people struggling with problematic substance use could relapse to riskier opioid and other drug use behaviors that increase risk for developing costly medical conditions, contracting and transmitting blood-borne disease, and experiencing life-threating overdose." The bill now goes to the Senate.

International

UN Investigator on Executions Rebukes Philippines Over Drug War Killings. United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions rebuked the government of President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday, saying world leaders have recognized that a bloody-handed approach doesn't work, can compound social problems, and "can foster a regime of impunity infecting the whole justice sector and reaching into whole societies, invigorating the rule of violence rather than law." Some 7,000 to 9,000 people have been killed in Duterte's drug war since he took office last year.

Chronicle AM: DEA Wants Prosecutor Corps, ME Gov Wants ODers to Pay for Naloxone, More... (5/4/17)

The DEA proposes its own corps of prosecutors to go after opioids, Maine's governor wants to force repeat overdosers to pay for the naloxone they use, and more.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Legislature Approves Adding PTSD as Qualifying Condition. A bill to "Allow Medical Marijuana Use for Stress Disorders," Senate Bill 17, was sent to the governor's desk on Monday after the Senate last week approved a final concurrence vote to amendments accepted in the House. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is expected to sign it.

New York Assembly Approves PTSD as Qualifying Condition. The Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to approve Assembly Bill 7006, sponsored by Health Committee Chairman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan), which would add PTSD to the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Harm Reduction

Maine Governor Wants Repeat Overdosers to Pay for Naloxone Used to Revive Them. Gov. Paul LePage (R) has submitted a bill, Legislative Document 1558, that would require Maine communities to recover the cost of naloxone from repeat users and fine them $1,000 per incident if they don't go after the money. But doctors and advocates said the bill would make it harder to stop the state's wave of drug overdoses. Le Page is no friend of naloxone, saying it "does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose." He has twice vetoed naloxone bills, only to see them overridden both times.

Law Enforcement

DEA Wants Own Prosecutor Corps to Go After Opioids. In a little-noticed proposal published in the Federal Register in March, the DEA said it wants to hire as many as 20 prosecutors to help it enhance its resources and target large offenders. The new prosecutor corps "would be permitted to represent the United States in criminal and civil proceedings before the courts and apply for various legal orders." Funding for the program would come from drug manufacturers regulated by the DEA. If approved, the move would mark the first time the DEA had its own dedicated prosecutors to go after drug offenses. But critics say the plan "exceeds DEA's authority under federal law" because it would require funding from the drug diversion registration program. "In this notice, the DEA effectively proposes a power grab and is trying to end-run the congressional appropriations process," said Michael Collins, deputy director at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Congress Will Give the DOJ Exactly Zero Dollars to Go After Medical Marijuana

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

The bipartisan congressional budget agreement to keep the federal government operating through September contains exactly no money for the Justice Department to wage war on medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The agreement reached Sunday instead explicitly bars the use of federal funds to go after medical marijuana.

You're safe -- sort of -- at least until September. (Sandra Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
And it sends a strong message to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an avowed foe of marijuana and loosening marijuana laws, who told reporters in a February Justice Department briefing that while states "can pass the laws they choose," it remains "a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not."

The budget agreement eliminated funding for medical marijuana enforcement by adopting the language of an amendment that has been successfully used since 2014 to keep the feds out of medical marijuana states. Known originally as the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment and now as the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment, the measure bars the Justice Department from spending money to prevent states from "implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."

The budget language lists the states that have medical marijuana laws, but curiously enough, does not include Indiana and North Dakota, both of which recently adopted medical marijuana laws. At this point, the omission is considered an error, not evidence of malign intent toward those two states.

It should be noted that the budget move does not necessarily mean medical marijuana operators are now free and clear of potential federal attention. Federal prosecutors could attempt to go after such operations by arguing that they are somehow not in compliance with state laws.

Still, the move was greeted with studied approval by medical marijuana supporters, who are now calling for marijuana to be removed from the Controlled Substances Act.

"Medical marijuana patients and the businesses that support them now have a measure of certainty," said Oregon US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a founding member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. "But this annual challenge must end. We need permanent protections for state-legal medical marijuana programs, as well as adult-use."

It is time to "amend federal law in a manner that comports with the available science, public opinion, and with America's rapidly changing cultural and legal landscape," agreed Justin Strekal, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

The best way to do that, Strekal said, is "removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act so that states possess the flexibility to engage in their own marijuana regulatory policies how best they see fit."

Adding restrictive amendments to the Justice Department budget bill has served in recent years to block the feds from interfering in medical marijuana states, but is only a stopgap measure. The amendments have to be renewed each fiscal year, and there is always a chance they could fail. That's why activists and the industry want the certainty that would be provided by either changing the federal marijuana laws or by making the funding ban permanent.

"Medical cannabis patients in the US can rest easy knowing they won't have to return to the black market to acquire their medicine," said Jeffrey Zucker of the marijuana business strategy firm Green Lion Partners. "Operators can relax a bit knowing their hard work isn't for naught and their employees' jobs are safe."

But only until September -- and that's why it's not quite time to get comfortable, he said.

"While this is great as a continuing step, it's important for activists and the industry to remain vigilant and getting cannabis federally unscheduled and truly ending the prohibition of this medicinal plant," Zucker said.

In the meantime, medical marijuana is protected in the 29 states where it is legal. But adult-use legal marijuana, legal in eight states, is not under the purview of the budget agreement and is still theoretically at risk from a Sessions Justice Department.

But even Sessions, a fire-breathing foe of the weed, increasingly seems disinclined to make good on earlier vows to go after legal pot. Like Donald Trump discovering that health care reform is "complicated," Jeff Sessions is apparently coming to understand, as he reportedly told Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper's chief of staff last week, that the Obama administration's toleration of state-legal marijuana legalization under specified conditions is "not too far from good policy."

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: NH Decrim Bill Advances, VT Legalization Bill Passes House, More... (5/3/17)

The long slog toward marijuana law reform continues in New Hampshire and Vermont, a Maine bill would ban kratom, Tom Marino is reportedly out as drug czar, and more.

Maine could join the handful of states that have banned kratom. (Project CBD)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Advances. After years of rejecting marijuana law reforms, the state Senate is advancing a decriminalization bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved House Bill 640 on a 3-2 vote. The bill would decriminalize the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of weed. The bill has already passed the House, but the House version decriminalized up to an ounce.

Oregon Bill to Protect Workers Who Use Marijuana Dies. A bill that would have ended workplace marijuana drug testing has died in the Senate after backers conceded they did not have the votes to pass it. Senate Bill 301 would have required employers from testing workers for any drug that is legal in the state, as long as it was consumed outside of work hours and didn't interfere with the workers' duties. The bill was opposed by business groups.

Vermont House Passes Legalization Bill, But… The House on Tuesday approved a bill to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana -- though not its sale -- but the bill is not expected to advance further this year. House Bill 170 passed on a 74-68 vote, but only after fending off attempts to send it back to committee and to weaken it. The bill also allows for the cultivation of two mature or four immature plants. The Senate has passed its own, more far-reaching legalization bill, which includes tax and regulate, but an amendment that would have brought the House bill in line with the Senate bill was defeated 42-99. The legislative session ends Saturday, and it is not expected that a compromise can be reached by then, but lawmakers can consider bills passed this session next year during the second half of the legislative biennium.

Kratom

Maine Bill Would Ban Kratom. A bill that would make kratom a controlled substance in the same schedule as cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin has been filed in the state legislature. Senate Bill1546 was introduced last week and is now before the Joint Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Asset Forfeiture

Colorado Lawmakers Back With New Asset Forfeiture Bill. Senate Republicans killed a civil asset forfeiture reform bill earlier this session, but now a bipartisan group of lawmakers are back with a new bill, House Bill 1313, which has been modified to address the concerns of law enforcement and prosecutors, who opposed the earlier bill. The new bill cuts in half the $100,000 threshold that barred local law enforcement from partnering with the feds in order to get the bulk of seized goods. It also imposes reporting requirements on seizures. The bill won preliminary approval in the House on Tuesday.

Drug Policy

Donald Trump Will NOT Name Tom Marino Drug Czar. According to news reports, President Donald Trump will not be nominating Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to be director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (colloquially referred to as the "drug czar"). His nomination was opposed by the Drug Policy Alliance, which launched a campaign to prevent Marino from being nominated. Marino's nomination seemed all but certain just a few weeks ago but a flurry of news stories on his extremist views, like turning hospitals into prisons, and using his power as prosecutor to help his friends, no doubt put pressure on the administration to go in a different direction.

Chronicle AM: Trump Invites Drug War Criminal Duterte to WH, Mexico Okays MedMJ, More... (5/1/17)

President Trump is buddying up to Filipino President Duterte despite an ever-rising death toll from his drug war, Mexico okays medical marijuana, the Vermont legalization bill is still alive -- but just barely -- and more.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte wins apparent kudos from Trump for his deadly drug war. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Justice Department Says People in Pot Business Can't Use Bankruptcy. The Justice Department's bankruptcy watchdog, the US Trustee Program, wrote a letter to trustees handling consumer bankruptcy cases last week reminding them that marijuana is illegal under federal law and warning them against handling any money from the sale of marijuana-related property. The agency said it had seen an increase in the number of bankruptcies where "marijuana assets" are disclosed. "Our goal is to ensure that trustees are not placed in the untenable position of violating federal law by liquidating, receiving proceeds from, or in any way administering marijuana assets," the Trustee Program warned. The directive applies "even in cases in which such assets are not illegal under state law."

Vermont Legalization Bill Advances as Clock Ticks Down on Legislative Session. The House Human Services Committee approved a legalization measure, House Bill 170, last Friday, clearing the way for the bill to get a House floor vote as early as Tuesday. The session ends on Friday. Neither this bill nor a late Senate bill that would more broadly legalize marijuana is expected to win final approval this session, but favorable House votes would keep them alive for the second half of the session, set for January.

Medical Marijuana

California Issues Medical Marijuana Regulation Draft Rules. A trio of state agencies last Friday releases 114 pages of draft rules designed to regulate the state's massive medical marijuana industry. Now there is a 45-day public comment period before the rules become law. Click on the link for more details.

Florida Legislators Edge Toward Agreement on Medical Marijuana Regulations. The House last Friday modified its medical marijuana regulation bill, House Bill 1397, to make it more palatable to patients and the state Senate. The bill was amended to do away with a 90-day waiting requirement for and to allow the use of vaporizing and edibles. The House also backed away from requiring doctors to recertify patients every three months. But the House and Senate remain divided on how many operations should be added to the state's seven "dispensing organization," with Senate Bill 406 added five licenses, while the House bill only adds one. Legislators have only until Friday to get it done; the session ends then.

International

Trump Calls Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Apparently Supports His Murderous Drug War, and Invites Him to White House. President Trump invited President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines to the White House after having a "very friendly conversation with Mr. Duterte" on Saturday. According to a statement issued by the White House, the two "discussed the fact that the Philippines is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs." Since he was elected President last May, Duterte has championed a campaign that is responsible for extrajudicial killing of thousands of people. "To host President Duterte at the White House is to endorse his deadly drug war policies," said Michael Collins, Deputy Director at Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "The Trump Administration should immediately withdraw its invitation to Duterte and publicly denounce the mass killings he has advocated for, or risk embarrassing the country with the sight of the US President greeting a remorseless, self-confessed murderer."

Mexican Parliamenent Approves Medical Marijuana. The Chamber of Deputies voted 374-7 last Friday to approve the use of medical marijuana. The Senate approved the move five months ago, so the measure now goes to President Enrique Peña Nieto, who is expected to sign it -- he proposed the idea last year.

Chronicle AM: CO Gov Says Sessions Chat Eases Pot Crackdown Fears, More... (4/28/17)

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says a meeting with AG Sessions has eased his fears of a marijuana crackdown, but the state legislature is moving ahead anyway with a bill to block cops from helping the feds; Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan orders a study of racial disadvantage in the state's medical marijuana system, and more.

Jeff Sessions may hate weed, but Colorado's governor says he's less concerned about a crackdown after chatting with him.
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Governor Less Concerned About Pot Crackdown After Meeting With Sessions. After meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week, Gov. John Hickenlooper is less worried about a federal crackdown on legal marijuana. The governor said Sessions reiterated his dislike for marijuana, but hinted the department is more interested in going after more dangerous drugs. "He's got his hands full with things -- heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine -- other things are even more significant. But doesn't mean that he feels in any way that he should be cutting any slack to marijuana," Hickenlooper said. "And he certainly was very direct and clearly said they've got a lot of priorities," the governor continued. "And, at one point, he said, 'Well you haven't seen us cracking down, have you?' I interpreted that as he's got his hands full," Hickenlooper added.

Colorado House Approves Bill to Bar Cops From Helping With Fed Pot Crackdown. The House voted 56-7 on Wednesday to approve a bill that would prohibit law enforcement officers from aiding in a potential federal marijuana crackdown. The bill doesn't specifically mention marijuana, but bars public employees from "arresting a Colorado citizen for committing an act that is a Colorado constitutional right." The bill now goes to the Senate.

Maryland Governor Orders Study on Minority Participation in Marijuana Industry. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Thursday ordered a study of whether minorities face a disadvantage when trying to participate in the state's nascent marijuana industry. Such a study would be a prerequisite for giving preferences to blacks and other minorities when awarding licenses to grow, process, or sell the herb.

Washington Governor Signs Marijuana, Hemp Bills. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Thursday signed into three bills having to do with marijuana. One bill subjects marijuana edibles to the same oversight as other food products, a second bill gives pot shops the ability to give away "lock boxes" for people to keep their stashes safe from kids, and the third bill legalizes industrial hemp in the state.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Regulators Give Final Approval for Proposed Medical Marijuana Rules. The state's Board of Health on Thursday gave final approval for rules governing who gets to grow and sell medical marijuana. But the rules must still survive a review by lawmakers, which will study them in a special session beginning next Monday. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment requires the rules to be in place by May 8, or the state will be violating the state constitution.

Vermont Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Heads for House Floor. The House Human Services Committee on Thursday approved a medical marijuana expansion bill, Senate Bill 16, which adds Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, and PTSD to the list of qualifying condition. The bill has already passed the Senate and now awaits a House floor vote, but differences between what the Senate approved and what the House approved mean a conference committee is likely to reconcile the two measures.

Asset Forfeiture

Pennsylvania Senate Approves Asset Forfeiture Reforms. The Senate voted 39-10 on Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 8, which makes only moderate reforms to the state's asset forfeiture laws. All 10 no votes were cast by Democrats, who said they bill didn't go far enough to fix an abusive system. After lobbying by state prosecutors, lawmakers had removed a provision ending civil asset forfeiture. But the bill does raise the evidentiary standard for forfeiture from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." The bill now goes to the House.

International

Tunisian Parliament Approves Minor Reform of Harsh Drug Laws. The parliament on Tuesday approved an amendment to the country's harsh drug laws that would give judges discretion when sentencing someone for a first drug offense. Under existing law, anyone caught in possession of any amount of any drug faced a mandatory minimum one-year prison sentence. The government says this move is only temporary, while comprehensive reforms of the drug laws are being studied.

Chronicle AM: DHS Flip Flops on MJ, OR Bill to Protect MJ Users from Feds Passes, More... (4/19/17)

Two top federal security officials say scary things about marijuana policy, at least two states are moving to protect pot people from any federal crackdown, San Francisco becomes the latest city to embrace LEAD, and more.

DHS head John Kelly went from marijuana "is not a factor" in drug war to vowing to deport marijuana users in less than 48 hours.
Marijuana Policy

AG Sessions Says Marijuana Plays Role in International Criminal Enterprises. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that marijuana is a significant part of international drug trafficking and that there is "a lot" of violence around "marijuana distribution networks" in this country. "We have quite a bit of marijuana being imported by the cartels from Mexico. This is definitely a cartel-sponsored event," he said. "So it is a financial money-maker for them," he said. "I returned from the border last week and they told me that quite a number of the people they arrest are hauling marijuana across the border."

Homeland Security Chief Says Marijuana Possession is Grounds for Deportation. What a difference a couple of days makes! Over the weekend, Homeland Security Chief John Kelly said that "marijuana is not a factor" in the administration's war on drugs, but by Tuesday, he had changed his tune, denouncing marijuana as a "gateway drug" and warning that DHS would use pot charges to deport people. "ICE will continue to use marijuana possession, distribution and convictions as essential elements as they build their deportation removal apprehension packages for targeted operations against illegal aliens living in the United States," he said.

California Bill to Protect Pot People from Feds Advances. A bill aimed at protecting marijuana users and the state's blossoming pot industry from any federal crackdown was approved by the Assembly Public Safety Committee on a 5-2 vote. The measure, Assembly Bill 1578, would prevent state and local police from helping federal law enforcement crack down on state-legal marijuana activity.

Guam Governor Backs Away from Legalization Proposal, Citing Trump. Governor Eddie Baza Calvo has suspended his push to legalize marijuana on the American territory, citing a change of atmosphere in Washington. "US Attorney General Jeff Sessions' pronouncement that the federal government intends to crack down on jurisdictions where recreational marijuana is legal," a Calvo spokesman pointed out.

Oregon Bill to Protect Pot People from Feds Signed into Law Governor Kate Brown (D) on Monday signed into law Senate Bill 863. The bill would protect Oregon marijuana users from any federal crackdown by prohibiting the state's pot retailers from sharing or keeping information about their customers' purchases or identities.

Atlanta City Council Punts on Marijuana Decriminalization. The city council on Tuesday failed to pass a decriminalization ordinance, instead referring the measure to the Public Safety Committee for further review. The measure would have decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce, with a maximum fine of $75.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Senate Approves Bill to Down-Schedule Marijuana. The state Senate voted Tuesday to approve a bill that would reschedule marijuana under state law from Schedule I to Schedule II and allow the manufacture and distribution of medical marijuana products. The bill now heads to the House.

North Dakota Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill. Governor Doug Burgum (R) on Monday signed into law Senate Bill 2344, which imposes sweeping legislative modifications on the state's new voter-approved medical marijuana law. With the governor's signature on the bill, the state now expects to have its system up and running within 12 to 18 months.

Law Enforcement

San Francisco Begins Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Program. As of the beginning of April, the city is now operating a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program aimed at reducing the incarceration and criminalization of drug users and those with mental illnesses. LEAD is a pre-booking diversion program that refers low level offenders to treatment and community-based health and social services instead of prosecuting and jailing them. LEAD was pioneered in Seattle and is now in operation in a handful of cities across the country.

Chronicle AM: NV Syringe Vending Machines, Good and Bad CO MJ Bills, More... (4/17/17)

Nevada will soon see the first syringe vending machines in the country, the Colorado legislature responds to a threatened federal crackdown -- for better and worse -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is moving forward with plans to drug test Medicaid recipients, and more.

Syringe vending machines -- coming first to Nevada. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

A Majority of American Adults Have Tried Marijuana, Poll Finds. A new Marist/Yahoo poll finds that 52% of American adults have tried marijuana at least once, and that 56% find the drug "socially acceptable. The same poll has support for legalization at 49%, with 47% opposed.

DC Marijuana Activists to Hand Out Free Joints on Capitol Hill for 4/20. The same folks who brought legal marijuana to the nation's capital are planning to hand out more than a thousand free marijuana joints on Capitol Hill Thursday, 4/20, the unofficial marijuana holiday. Anyone over 21 who has a congressional ID is eligible for the free weed, said DCMJ. The activists said the action was meant to life the "special interest smokescreen" blocking marijuana reform in Congress.

Homeland Security Chief Says Marijuana "Not a Factor" in Drug War. DHS Secretary John Kelly said Sunday that marijuana is "not a factor" in the country's drug war and that "arresting a lot of users" will not solve the country's drug problems. Kelly responded to a question about whether legalizing marijuana in the US would help or hinder his work attempting to interdict drug shipments to the US. "Yeah, marijuana is not a factor in the drug war," Kelly responded, adding later: "It's three things. Methamphetamine. Almost all produced in Mexico. Heroin. Virtually all produced in Mexico. And cocaine that comes up from further south." And rather than arresting users: "The solution is a comprehensive drug demand reduction program in the United States that involves every man and woman of goodwill. And then rehabilitation. And then law enforcement. And then getting at the poppy fields and the coca fields in the south."

Colorado Social Consumption Bill Dies. A bill that would have set up the country's first statewide law allowing for on-premises marijuana consumption at licensed businesses is dead, with legislators citing fear of a federal crackdown for its demise. The House voted last Thursday to amend Senate Bill 17-184 to remove the provision that would have allowed adults to bring their own weed to businesses and consume it on-premises.

Colorado Senate Approves Bill to Shift Legal Marijuana Inventories Over to Medical Marijuana in Event of Federal Crackdown. The state Senate has approved Senate Bill 17-192, which would allow adult-use marijuana businesses to transfer their inventory to medical marijuana status if a federal crackdown on adult-legal weed happens. The bill now goes to the House.

Nevada Legislature Still Faces Heavy Load of Marijuana Bills. The legislative session marked its first key deadline last Friday when all proposed bills had to have passed out of their committee of introduction or be declared dead. And fourteen marijuana-related bills remain alive, including one, Senate Bill 302, that would allow dispensaries to begin selling marijuana to any adult beginning in July. Click the link for the rest of the bills and their status.

Tennessee Governor Signs Bill Killing Decrim in Memphis and Nashville. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) last Friday signed into law House Bill 173, which bars cities in the state from crafting marijuana penalties lesser than state law. The bill was a response to moves by the state's two largest cities, Memphis and Nashville, which had passed municipal decriminalization ordinances.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Regulators Finalize Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Medical Marijuana Commission last Tuesday gave final approval to rules governing dispensaries and cultivation facilities. The rules must still be approved by the legislature, which has passed some legislation that appears to conflict with them. The legislature only has until May 8 to modify the rules or the state will be out of compliance with the Medical Marijuana Act, which is now part of the state constitution.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Alabama House Approves Tougher Penalties for Heroin, Fentanyl. The House voted last week to approve harsh new penalties for the possession and sale of heroin and fentanyl. In a unanimous vote, the chamber approved a one-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession and increased penalties for trafficking, including a mandatory life sentence without parole for trafficking 10 or more kilos of either drugs. The bill is House Bill 203, which is now before the Senate.

Maryland General Assembly Passes Package of Heroin/Opioid Bills. The Assembly last week approved a package of bills aimed at tackling the state's heroin and prescription opioid crisis. One bill would create 24/7 drug treatment centers for addicts, increase reimbursements for drug treatment, and ease access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. A second bill would create drug awareness programs in schools and allow school nurses to stock and dispense naloxone. A third bill would require doctors to follow best practices when prescribing opioids, while a fourth bill increases prison sentences for people convicted of fentanyl offenses. The bills now await the governor's signature.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) last week signed into law House Bill 2477, which requires a higher evidentiary standard before police and prosecutors can seize assets from suspects. Instead of a "preponderance" of the evidence, cops must now provide "clear and convincing evidence" that the assets are linked to a crime.

Drug Policy

New York City Council Passes Bill to Coordinate Drug Policy Among City Departments. The city council recently passed legislation to create a coordinated municipal drug strategy. The bill empowers the Mayor to designate a lead agency or office to convene stakeholders including city agencies, outside experts, and communities impacted by drug use to develop a city-wide, health-focused plan for a coordinated approach in addressing issues related to drug use.

West Virginia Legislature Passes Bill Creating Drug Policy Office. A bill that would create an Office of Drug Control Policy within the Department of Health and Human Services has passed both houses of the legislature and awaits the governor's signature. The measure, House Bill 2620, passed last Friday, the final day of the session. Gov. Jim Justice (D) has fifteen days to sign the bill.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Moving Forward With Plan to Drug Test Medicaid Recipients. Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Monday posted his proposal for moving people off state Badgercare Medicaid, which includes a provision requiring drug screenings for Medicaid recipients. People suspected of illegal drug use after screening would be ineligible for coverage until they are tested. People who test positive would be offered drug treatment, while people who refuse the test would lose benefits for six months.

Harm Reduction

Nevada Becomes First State to Install Needle Vending Machines. In a bid to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hep C, a needle exchange program in Las Vegas is now providing clean needles in vending machines. The Las Vegas Harm Reduction Center worked together with the Southern Nevada Health District and the Nevada AIDS Research and Education Society to install the new machines. Each client will be limited to two kits per week, with the kits including syringes, alcohol wipes, condoms, and a needle disposal box.

International

Canada Unveils Plan for Legal Marijuana Sales by June 2018. The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last Thursday filed legislation designed to implement marijuana legalization by June of next year. The bill would allow adults 18 and over to possess up to 30 grams of dried marijuana and would allow the federal government to regulate producers, while the provinces would regulate sales to consumers. Other issues, such as pricing, taxation, and packaging are still to be worked out.

Trump Drug Czar Nominee: Tough on Colombian Peasants and US Marijuana Users

President Trump will name Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino (R) to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), CBS News reported Tuesday. The White House gave no official comment, but sources told CBS that an official announcement would come soon.

Reported drug czar nominee Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) (marino.house.gov)
Marino's legacy of legislative achievements around drug policy offers little comfort to reformers looking for signs that the "law and order" theme of the Trump administration may not be as bad as it sounds. Marino is a former prosecutor now in his third term in the House. His 2016 Transnational Drug Trafficking Act expands the ability of US prosecutors to use extraterritoriality to go after international drug traffickers, but while the law is touted as aiming at "kingpins," but observers south of the border have argued that the law "targets people on the lowest rungs of the trafficking ladder, i.e. Colombia's coca farmers." Marino has also been a reliable vote in opposition to marijuana reform in Congress.

Marino's rural congressional district has seen rising concern about heroin and opioids, and he serves on the House bipartisan committee combating the opioid epidemic. A bill he was an author and key supporter of in that area may suggest a more complex picture -- the 2016 Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, which supporters characterized as balancing the needs of patients, the pharmaceutical industry, and law enforcement, but which critics describe as a means of undercutting the DEA's ability to hold pharmaceutical drug distributors accountable for the diversion of large amounts of opioid pain relievers.

The ability of pain patients to have access to the drugs that can help them is a continuing -- and under-covered -- issue in the debate around prescription opioids. So is the ability of physicians to appropriately prescribe them within running afoul of regulatory authorities or even drug enforcement authorities. If Marino's bill reflects a concern with such issues, or a more general willingness to treat DEA pronouncements on such matters with skepticism, that could be useful. Conversely, however, the nation is also in the midst of a much more well-covered increase in the misuse of opioids. ONDCP has a role to play in promoting public health measures that can reduce overdoses and the risk of addiction. If Marino is too deferential to the preferences of big pharma lobbyists, while otherwise hooked on hard-line drug war approaches, opportunities to advance positive approaches for reducing the risks that go with opioids may be squandered.

In the fight over the 2016 Act, Marino, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on Regulatory Reform, clashed repeatedly with DEA Office of Diversion Control head Joseph Rannazzisi. In a 2014 conference call with congressional staffers, Rannazzisi warned that the bill, backed by a pharmaceutical industry lobbying campaign, would protect corporations engaged in criminal activity.

"[If t]his bill passes the way it's written we won't be able to get immediate suspension orders, we won't be able to stop the hemorrhaging of these drugs out of these bad pharmacies and these bad corporations," Rannazzisi recalled telling them. "What you're doing is filing a bill that will protect defendants in our cases."

Rannazzisi's opposition infuriated Marino, who ripped into the veteran DEA official's boss, then-DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart at a congressional hearing later that year.

"It is my understanding that Joe Rannazzisi, a senior DEA official, has publicly accused we sponsors of the bill of, quote, 'supporting criminals,' unquote" Marino said. "This offends me immensely."

A week later, Marino and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) demanded that the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General investigate Rannazzis for "intimidating" members of Congress. Rannazzissi was replaced and retired in October 2015.

Marino's record is good enough for anti-marijuana crusader and former ONDCP advisor Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (Project SAM). "My understanding is that Tom has a deep understanding of the issue and is excited to get started," he enthused to CBS News.

But it's not good enough for anyone interested in a truly progressive approach to drug policy.

Chronicle AM: Sessions "Surprised" By MJ Support, VT MJ Bill on Last Legs, More... (4/12/17)

The US attorney general admits being surprised that people don't like his stance on marijuana, Vermont's legalization bill is on a death watch, Illinois legalizers gear up, and more.

Who knew marijuana legalization was popular? (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Jeff Sessions "Surprised" By Opposition to His Marijuana Stance. At a speech at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pronounced himself "surprised" that his position against marijuana was drawing criticism. "When they nominated me for attorney general, who would have thought the biggest issue in America was when I said, 'I don't think America's going to be a better place if they sell marijuana at every corner grocery store?,'" Sessions asked. "They didn't like that; I'm surprised they didn't like that."

Hawaii Bill Would Roll Back Nation's Toughest Drug Paraphernalia Laws. Under current Hawaii law, possession of a pipe or bong for marijuana is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, but perhaps not for long. A measure that would decriminalize marijuana paraphernalia, House Bill 1501, passed the Senate Tuesday. The bill has already been approved by the House, but differences in the amount of fines allowed will have to be ironed out in conference committee.

Illinois Legalization Backers Unveil Statewide Coalition. State Sen. Heather Steans (D) and Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D), the legislators behind the marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2353, announced Tuesday that the bill would get a first hearing next week and that they had formed a statewide coalition, the Coalition for a Safer Illinois to garner public and legislative support.

Vermont Legalization Bill on Verge of Death. The prospects for the Green Mountain State legalizing marijuana this year grow exceedingly dim. Senate leaders said Tuesday their body is extremely unlikely to support a legalization measure, House Bill 170, currently stuck in the House. Proponents in the House had hoped they could get it moving again, but Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe said even if it passed the House, it still faced "insurmountable obstacles" in the Senate. The House bill would only legalize possession and personal cultivation -- not commercial marijuana -- while the Senate wants a regulated market.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Medical Marijuana Bills Get Hearing. Measures that would add new qualifying medical conditions and allow patients to grow their plants got a hearing in the Senate Tuesday. The bills have already passed the House. No votes were taken, though.

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