The Drug Debate

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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.

Five Reasons Trump Needs to Think Twice Before Waging War on Weed

White House press secretary Sean Spicer's comment last week that we "will see greater enforcement" of federal marijuana prohibition has set off tremors in the pot industry, but it should be setting off warning bells at the White House itself.

Going after legal marijuana will have serious political and economic ramifications. (Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Any move against marijuana would be politically fraught, economically foolish, and counter to some of the Trump administration's other expressed goals, such as fighting Mexican drug cartels and creating American jobs right here in America.

Here are five reasons the Trump administration needs to think twice before its meddles with legal marijuana:

1. Legal marijuana is way more popular than Trump is. A Quinnipiac poll released last week is only the latest of a long series of polls in recent years showing majority support for marijuana legalization. That poll had nearly three out of five Americans -- 59% -- down with freeing the weed. And more directly to the political point, an even higher number -- 71% -- want the federal government to butt out in states where it is legal. Trump, meanwhile, is polling in the thirties or forties in personal popularity polls. And we know he wants to be liked.

2. Trump can't make legal marijuana go away; he can only mess it up. Even if Jeff Sessions lives up to marijuana industry nightmare scenarios by successfully shutting down pot businesses and preventing states from taxing and regulating it, marijuana possession and cultivation for personal use will remain legal under state law. The federal government cannot force state and local police to enforce federal marijuana prohibition and it does not have the resources to effectively do so itself. People will continue to grow and possess pot in legal states, and continue to sell it -- only now all that activity will return to the black market.

3. Legal marijuana is a job creation dynamo. The marijuana industry already employs more than 100,000 people and, if left unimpeded, would create more jobs than manufacturing by 2020, according to a recent report from New Frontier Data. That report projects that 250,000 jobs would be created in the industry by 2020, while Bureau of Labor statistics project than 800,000 manufacturing jobs are going to vanish by 2024. And new jobs are way more likely to pop up in marijuana processing operations than in coal fields.

4. Legal marijuana is a tax bonanza for the states. In Colorado, the state took in $200 million in pot tax revenues in 2016, using it for schools and public health and safety, Oregon took in $60 million, and Washington saw $35 million in the last fiscal year. In California, the Legislative Analyst's Office estimates legal weed will generate $1 billion in tax revenues per year. An awful lot of fiscal conservatives are very happy to see those revenues.

5. Legal marijuana hurts drug cartels. If the Trump administration wants to hurt Mexican drug trafficking organizations, the so-called cartels, not interfering with legal competition from this side of the border is a good way to do that. Mexican brick weed is not, of course, the sole source of cartel revenues, but it is a significant one, accounting for perhaps a fifth of cartel receipts, and legalization is hurting cartel marijuana exports. Seizures at the border have dropped by nearly two thirds in recent years, from a high of 3.5 million pounds in 2009 to only 1.5 million pounds in 2015, and there are many stories of Mexican pot farmers being driven out of business by competition from the north.

Chronicle AM: Fatal Heroin ODs Quadrupled in Five Years, Trump MJ Threat Pushback, More... (2/27/17)

Fatal heroin overdoses have quadrupled in five years, elected officials in legal marijuana states push back on Trump threats, Philly civil asset forfeiture lawsuit wins class action status, and more.

Truth in advertising? Branded heroin seized by the New Jersey State Police.
Marijuana Policy

Elected Officials From Legal Marijuana States Slam Notion of Crackdown. White House press secretary Sean Spicer's announcement last Thursday that the Trump administration was thinking of going after legal marijuana continues to generate sharp pushback. On Sunday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said now was "the wrong time to pull back" and that a federal crackdown would create "a level of conflict that's going to be very difficult." Meanwhile, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden (D) called on the administration to "respect the decisions of Oregon voters."

Michigan Legalization Initiative a Compromise Effort, Draft Language Now Available. A number of Michigan marijuana legalization stakeholders have come together to create a draft of a proposed 2018 initiative. The draft includes a 12-plant personal cultivation limit, would limit initial business licenses to existing medical marijuana businesses, and would include "microbusiness" licenses for small commercial grows, among other provisions. The effort is being led by the Marijuana Policy Project, which has been consulting with MINORML, MILegalize 2018 (the folks behind a 2016 effort that came up just short on signature gathering), the Michigan Cannabis Coalition, the Michigan ACLU and others. MPP hopes to have a final draft to present to state officials by late April.

Virginia Legislature Approves Bill to End Driver License Suspensions for First-Time Marijuana Possession. The General Assembly passed House Bill 2051 last Friday. Under the bill, first-time pot possession offenders will not have their licenses automatically suspended for six month. Instead, a judge has the option of ordering them to do 100 hours of community service. Minors would still see their licenses automatically suspended, as would people caught indulging while driving. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).

Medical Marijuana

Iowa CBD Expansion Bill Stalled. A bill that could have expanded the use of CBD cannabis oil ran into a brick wall in the House Public Safety Committee last Thursday. Committee Chair Rep. Clel Baudler (R-Greenfield) said he had to pull House Study Bill 132 because there wasn't enough support from Republicans to get it out of committee.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Fatal Heroin Overdoses Quadrupled in Five Years. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that fatal heroin overdoses jumped from 3,000 in 2010 to more than 12,000 in 2015, a four-fold increase. Heroin killed slightly more people than prescription opioids. The highest drug overdose death rates were in West Virginia, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Ohio, the study found.

Asset Forfeiture

Lawsuit Challenging Philadelphia Civil Asset Forfeitures Wins Class Status. A federal judge has granted class certification to plaintiffs suing the city of Philadelphia over its civil asset forfeiture program. The plaintiffs are arguing that the program creates an unconstitutional conflict of interest for law enforcement agencies, and the granting of class certification "means that the four named plaintiffs can officially represent the tens of thousands of property owners with asset that have been seized in the past five years," said Institute for Justice attorney Darpana Sheth, who is representing the plaintiffs. Philadelphia prosecutors have filed more than 20,000 civil forfeiture actions since April 2012, the beginning date for the lawsuit.

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Harm Reduction

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chronicle AM: Quinnipiac Poll Has 59% for Legalization, Trump Could Kill ONDCP, More... (2/23/17)

Yet another national poll has a strong marjority for marijuana legalization, Trump administration cost-cutters eye the drug czar's office, Arizona pot legalizers refine their 2018 initiative, and more.

Going, going, gone?
Marijuana Policy

Quinnipiac Poll Has Support for Legalization at 59%. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for marijuana legalization nationwide at 59%, with an even larger number -- 71% -- saying the federal government should respect state marijuana laws. The poll also finds support for medical marijuana at stratospheric levels, with 93% in support.

Arizona Initiative Campaign Refines Its Proposal. Safer Arizona has refiled its marijuana legalization initiative after receiving criticism of some parts of it after it was originally filed last week. The new version adds a mandatory 1,000-foot buffer between schools and marijuana operations, makes it a crime -- not a civil offense -- to sell marijuana to minors, makes possession by minors a crime, but with only a $50 civil fine for a first offense, and allows local authorities to impose "reasonable zoning restrictions." The initiative needs 150,000 valid voter signatures by July to qualify for the 2018 ballot.

Wyoming Marijuana Edibles Penalties Bill Gets Tightened. A bill that originally created a tiered penalty system for both marijuana and marijuana edibles earlier had its provisions relating to marijuana removed, and now a Senate committee has further tightened the bill to make possession of more than three grams of edibles a felony and has increased the period for which past offenses would be considered from five years to 10 years. The committee taking a hatchet to House Bill 197 is the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill had passed the House largely intact.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Senate Okays Changes to Voter-Approved Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Senate voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 2344, which imposes tougher restrictions and more oversight than the initiative approved by voters in November. The bill sets steep fees for patients and providers and allows the Health Department to inspect patients' homes with 24-hour notice and medical marijuana facilities with no notice. On the upside, it also allows for smoking medical marijuana and lowers the age for classification as minor from 21 to 19. The bill now heads to the House.

Drug Policy

Trump Considers Eliminating ONDCP, the Drug Czar's Office. The White House Office of Management and Budget has proposed cutting nine government programs, including the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Unsurprisingly, the move is generating pushback from law enforcement, the drug treatment complex, and some legislators. Stay tuned.

Drug Testing

Arkansas Welfare Drug Testing Bill Passes House. A bill that would make permanent a pilot program requiring people seeking help from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to undergo drug screening and drug testing if deemed likely to be using drugs has passed the House. Senate Bill 123 has already passed the Senate, but now goes back for a housekeeping vote before heading to the governor's desk. The bill passed even though state Health Department officials testified that only two people had actually failed the drug test under the pilot program.

International

Edmonton Awaits Approval of Safe Injection Sites from Canadian Government. The province of Alberta and the city of Edmonton are ready to move ahead with safe injection sites and are now awaiting federal government approval. Local officials unveiled the locations of the proposed sites Wednesday. Last year, the Alberta government announced it would seek a federal exemption to set up "medically supervised injection services," and now it awaits action from the Liberal government in Ottawa.

Chronicle AM: OR Bill to Bar MJ Drug Tests Before Hiring Gets Rough Reception, More... (2/22/17)

An Oregon effort to protect marijuana using job seekers gets hammered by employers, the Arkansas commission charged with crafting rules and regs for medical marijuana has approved final rules, asset forfeiture reform has passed the North Dakota House, Bolivian coca farmers are unhappy, and more.

Drug testing that discriminates against marijuana users is an issue in pot-legal states. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Bill to Block Employers From Firing Workers for Marijuana Use Gets Rough Reception. A bill that would protect workers from using state-legal marijuana during their off hours ran into a storm of opposition at a hearing Tuesday. Senate Bill 301 would bar employers from refusing to hire workers merely because of a positive test result for pot, but employers complained that the bill would violate federal law and that there is no scientific means of determining whether someone who tests positive is still under the influence. The hearing was before the Senate Judiciary Committee. No vote was taken.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Commission Approves Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Medical Marijuana Commission Tuesday approved final rules governing how the state's medical marijuana system will be regulated. Next comes a public hearing set for March 31, and then the rules must be approved by the state legislature, which must happen before May 8. After that, the commission will use the rules to determine who gets licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana.

Indiana CBD Bill Heads for Governor's Desk. The House passed Senate Bill 15 on a 98-0 vote Tuesday. The Senate had approved the bill last week, so it now goes to the desk of Gov. Eric Holcomb (R). The bill would allow people with epilepsy to use CBD cannabis oil.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. A House panel voted 3-0 Tuesday to advance House Bill 3128, a full-fledged medical marijuana bill that includes provisions for dispensaries. The bill now goes to the full Medical Military and Municipal Affairs Committee.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota House Passes Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The House voted 50-42 Wednesday to approve House Bill 1170, which would end civil asset forfeiture by requiring a prior criminal conviction before property could be seized, and which would require that any revenues from seizures go to the state's general fund instead of to law enforcement. The measure now heads to the Senate.

International

Bolivian Coca Farmers Clash With Police Over Cultivation Limits. Angry coca farmers threw rocks, fireworks, and sticks of dynamite as they clashed with police outside the Palacio Quemado, the seat of government and official residence of President Evo Morales in La Paz. That was the second day of clashes sparked by the government's move to limit coca cultivation to 50,000 acres. The government says local demand only requires about 40,000 acres, but the farmers say that figure is too low.

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

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

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

Drug Policy

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

Harm Reduction

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

International

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

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

Chronicle AM: AL Bill Has Mandatory Life w/o Parole for Possessing Ounce of Fentanyl, More... (2/17/17)

The Alabama legislature ponders harsh drug sentences not seen since the last century, decriminalization is picking up some support in Texas, China announces scheduling controls on fentanyl, and more.

An Alabama bill would make possession of as little as an ounce of fentanyl a mandatory life sentence without parole.
Marijuana Policy

Cannabis, Drug Policy Reform Advocates Commend Congressional Members on Formation of Congressional Cannabis Caucus. In a joint statement Thursday, major marijuana and drug reform groups commended congress members for forming the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Don Young (R-AK). After commending the representatives, the joint statement noted that "the establishment of a Cannabis Caucus will allow members from both parties, who represent diverse constituencies from around the country, to join together for the purpose of advancing sensible cannabis policy reform. It will also facilitate efforts to ease the tension between federal prohibition laws and state laws that regulate cannabis for medical and adult use."

Texas Decriminalization Bill Picks Up Some Support. Law enforcement officials joined House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Joe Moody (D-El Paso) at the capitol Thursday to express support for a measure to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of weed, House Bill 81. The bill is currently before the committee. Harris County, the state's most populous, just announced plans to institute decriminalization there.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill, But Advocates Say It's a Step Backwards. The Senate Thursday approved Senate Bill 16, but advocates said it was a retreat because it lowers the amount of allowable THC in cannabis oil from 7% to 3%. Some senators wanted to reduce it to 1%. The bill now goes to the House, where Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), who wrote the original CBD bill, said he hopes to rewrite it to restore the 7% figure.

Utah Medical Marijuana Research Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted Thursday to approve House Bill130, which would allow universities in the state to do research on the medicinal effects of marijuana. The bill has already passed the House and now awaits a Senate floor vote.

Hemp

Arizona Industrial Hemp Bill Advances. A bill that would legalize the production and processing of industrial hemp has passed two key committees. Senate Bill 1337 passed the Public Safety Committee on a 6-1 vote Monday and the Appropriations Committee Tuesday on a 10-0 vote. It still needs to go before the Senate Rules Committee before it heads for a floor vote.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. The House Judiciary Committee approved House Bill 1170 on an 11-4 vote Thursday. The bill would require a criminal conviction before property could be seized in most situations and bans prosecutors from circumventing state law by handing cases off to the federal government. The measure now heads for a House floor vote.

Sentencing

Alabama Bills Would Increase Heroin, Fentanyl Sentences. Under bills currently before the state legislature, prison sentences would go up for people who possess or sell heroin and fentanyl. Under one bill, anyone convicted of their possession would face mandatory prison sentences, and under another, Senate Bill 154, people possessing as little as one ounce of fentanyl would face a mandatory sentence of life without parole. The state instituted sentencing reforms several years back; some legislators worry these bills would undo those efforts.

International

China Announces Scheduling Controls of Carfentanil and other Fentanyl Compounds. China announced Thursday that it will begin scheduling controls of four fentanyl-class substances -- carfentanil, furanyl fentanyl, valeryl fentanyl, and acryl fentanyl -- beginning March 1. Chinese pharmaceutical factories have been identified as major producers of the synthetic opioids, which are linked to thousands of drug overdose deaths in the US.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Drug Testing

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

Sentencing

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

Drug War Issues

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