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Medical Marijuana Update

Despite everything, Attorney General Sessions has medical marijuana on his mind, Florida lawmakers approve a no-smoking medical marijuana implementation bill, Vermont's governor signs a medical marijuana expansion bill, and more.

National

On Monday, it was reported that Attorney General Sessions asked Congress to let him go after medical marijuana. Attorney General Sessions sent a letter to Congress last month asking leading members to reject a federal law letting medical marijuana states set their own policies. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to the Justice Department budget bars the use of federal funds to prevent states "from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana." In a letter urging congress members to walk back the amendment, Sessions said the law would "inhibit [his department's] authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act." Hat tip to Tom Angell at MassRoots, who first obtained the letter.

Arizona

Last Thursday, the state attorney general asked the state Supreme Court to reinstate a ban on campus medical marijuana. Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) has asked the state Supreme Court to review an appeals court ruling that struck down a ban on medical marijuana on college campuses. The state is arguing that the legislature had the right to alter the voter-approved medical marijuana law so that college students with medical marijuana cards could face felony arrests for possession of any amount of marijuana.

Connecticut

Last Friday, the state took another step toward adding more qualifying conditions. Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle Seagull announced that she would follow a recommendation from the Medical Marijuana Program Board of Physicians to include three new conditions among the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. They are hydrocephalus with intractable headaches, intractable migraines, and trigeminal neuralgia. Seagull will now draft a new regulation by the end of the month, and after that, there will be a 30-day public comment period, then a review by the office of the attorney general, and then the approval of the Regulation Review Committee of the General Assembly. The whole process could take another year.

Florida

Last Friday, the medical marijuana implementation bill passed the legislature. Lawmakers used a special session to come to an agreement on how to handle medical marijuana. Under the proposal approved by the legislature, which Gov. Rick Scott (R) says he will sign, the state will gain an additional ten medical marijuana operators within four months. Each operator can operate up to 25 dispensaries across the state. But the bill also bans the smoking of medical marijuana even though the constitutional amendment approved by voters last November expressly included a provision that allows smoking. That has led Orlando lawyer John Morgan, who largely bankrolled the amendment, to vow to sue the state over the no-smoking provision.

Vermont

Last Thursday, the governor signed a medical marijuana expansion bill. Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed into law Senate Bill 16, which expands the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The new conditions added are Parkinson's disease, Crohn's disease, and PTSD. The new law also increases the number of dispensaries in the state from four to five.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit <MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: Sessions Sought Free Rein on MedMJ, VT Legalization Still Alive, More... (6/14/17)

Lots of marijuana policy news today, plus GOP Rep. James Sensenbrenner files a bill to reauthorize the Second Chance Act.

Marijuana Policy

California Pot Shops Could Sell Both Recreational and Medical Marijuana Under New Proposal. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and state legislators proposed Monday to allow medical and recreational marijuana to be sold by the same shops. The move was one of dozens of new regulations aimed at merging the medical and recreational marijuana industries contained in budget bills released Monday.

Nevada Lawsuit That Threatens July 1 Sales Date Still Alive. A Carson City district court judge on Tuesday denied the state's motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by liquor distributors seeking a cut of the action in the state's emerging legal marijuana industry. The liquor distributors have won a temporary restraining order holding up the implementation of the state's marijuana sales law until their lawsuit is settled. The distributors claim the state's regulations for licensing marijuana distributors are arbitrary and unfair. This means the state's early July 1 legal sales goal is in jeopardy.

Nevada Governor Signs Three Pot Bills, Vetoes One. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) has signed a bill setting a 15% wholesale tax on both medical and recreational marijuana (Senate Bill 478), and bills adjusting medical marijuana regulations (Senate Bill 344 and Assembly Bill 422), but vetoed a bill that would have allowed those convicted of past marijuana-related crimes involving an equal or lesser amount of what's now legal to have that crime vacated from their criminal records (Assembly Bill 259).

Rhode Island Legislature to Vote on Study Bill, But Advocates Say No Thanks. Marijuana legalization supporters said Wednesday they will not participate in a legalization study commission if it is approved by the General Assembly, calling it "a flawed delay tactic." Instead, Regulate Rhode Island is calling on legislative leaders to vote on a bill that would legalize personal possession and cultivation, but include no immediate plans for taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

Vermont Governor, Legislative Leaders Move Toward Compromise on Legalization. After Gov. Phil Scott (R) vetoed the legalization bill, Senate Bill 16, he said he didn't oppose legalization in principle, but had concerns about youth use and impaired driving. He also said he wanted a study commission in the bill to have more time to examine how the state could implement legal marijuana commerce. Now, legislative leaders say they have come up with compromise language that addresses his concerns, including tougher penalties for selling to children and longer sentences for smoking in a car when a child is present. A spokesman for the governor said "We're making good progress toward an agreement." Legislators will need Republicans to waive a rule to bring the issue up for consideration during a looming special session, but Scott said if an agreement on the bill could be reached, he would seek to persuade Republican legislators to allow it to be taken up.

Medical Marijuana

Attorney General Session Asked Congress to Let Him Go After Medical Marijuana. Attorney General Sessions sent a letter to Congress last month asking leading members to reject a federal law letting medical marijuana states set their own policies. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to the Justice Department budget bars the use of federal funds to prevent states "from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana." In a letter urging congresspeople to walk back the amendment, Sessions said the law would "inhibit [his department's] authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act." Hat tip to Tom Angell at MassRoots, who first obtained the letter.

Reentry/Rehabilitation

Rep. Sensenbrenner Files Second Chance Act Reauthorization Bill. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner( R-WI) has filed House Resolution 2899 to reauthorize the Second Chance Act of 2007. That law provides funding to state, local, and tribal governments that are working to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for people getting out of jail or prison.

Chronicle AM: FL Solons Reach MedMJ Accord, CO Gov Signs Asset Forfeiture Bill, More... (6/12/17)

Florida lawmakers finally reach agreement on implementing the medical marijuana constitutional amendment, Colorado's governor signs an asset forfeiture reform bill, and more.

Faced with large protests, Georgia's prime minister says he will hurry up with drug reform. (IPN screengrab)
Marijuana Policy

House Effort to Help Marijuana Businesses With Banking Thwarted. Two Florida representatives, Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) and Darren Soto (D-Orlando), filed an amendment to the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017 that would have eased federal restrictions on banking services for marijuana businesses. The bill was approved by the House last Thursday, but not before the House Rules Committee stripped the amendment from the bill.

Colorado Governor Signs Bills Limiting Plant Counts, Caregivers. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) last Thursday signed into law House Bill 17-1220, which limits personal cultivation to 12 plants per residence unless a local government allows more, and House Bill 17-1221, which says that only caregivers can grow plants for other people and sets up a grant program to fund police efforts to prosecute crimes related to black market weed.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Takes Another Step Toward Adding More Qualifying Conditions. Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle Seagull announced last Friday that she would follow a recommendation from the Medical Marijuana Program Board of Physicians to include three new conditions among the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. They are hydrocephalus with intractable headaches, intractable migraines, and trigeminal neuralgia. Seagull will now draft a new regulation by the end of the month, and after that, there will be a 30-day public comment period, then a review by the office of the attorney general, and then the approval of the Regulation Review Committee of the General Assembly. The whole process could take another year.

Florida Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Implementation Bill. Lawmakers used a special session to come to an agreement on how to handle medical marijuana last Friday. Under the proposal approved by the legislature, which Gov. Rick Scott (R) says he will sign, the state will gain an additional ten medical marijuana operators within four month. Each operator can operate up to 25 dispensaries across the state. But the bill also bans the smoking of medical marijuana even though the constitutional amendment approved by voters last November expressly included a provision that allows smoking. That has led Orlando lawyer John Morgan, who largely bankrolled the amendment, to vow to sue the state over the no-smoking provision.

Vermont Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. Phil Scott (R) last Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 16, which expands the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The new conditions added are Parkinson's disease, Crohn's disease, and PTSD. The new law also increases the number of dispensaries in the state from four to five.

Asset Forfeiture

Colorado Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) last Friday signed into law a civil asset forfeiture reform bill, House Bill 17-1313, which blocks state and local law enforcement from handing forfeiture cases off to the feds if the total value of the seized property is less than $50,000. In cases prosecuted by the federal government, the local law enforcement agency receives 80% of the proceeds, while under state law, the proceeds go to a general fund. Under the new law, police must also report all asset forfeitures and how they were used to the state.

International

Facing Mass Protests, Georgian Prime Minister Vows to Soften Harsh Drug Policies. After large crowds gathered in the capital Tbilisi to protest the arrest of two rappers who claim police planted drugs on them, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili unexpectedly weighed in a vowed to soften the country's drug laws. "I call on the parliament to accelerate the work [on the issue of softening drug legislation] in order at last to adopt a modified and humane law for the fall session in line with European standards," said in a statement published on the government website.

Chronicle AM: NYT Says ODs at Record High, WI Gov Advances Medicaid Drug Testing, More... (6/7/17)

Drug overdoses are at an all time high, drug war dinosaur senators want to return to harsh sentencing, Wisconsin's GOP governor moves forward with first in the nation plan to drug test Medicaid applicants, and more.

Fatal drug overdoses totaled nearly 60,000 last year, the New York Times reports. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut House Debates Legalization, But There is No Vote. The House debated the pros and cons of marijuana legalization Tuesday night, but Democratic leaders then ended debate without any vote. They said a legalization bill would have failed in the House, but the debate could increase the chances of legalization being included as part of a budget bill, although observers describe that prospect as "a long shot."

Wichita Reduces Pot Penalties. The city council voted Tuesday to adopt an ordinance that would reduce the penalty for possession of up to 32 grams (slightly more than an ounce) of marijuana to $50 plus court costs.

ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance Sue Southern California City Over Pot Cultivation Ordinance. The ACLU of California and the Drug Policy Alliance are suing Fontana, claiming that the city's marijuana ordinance conflicts with rights granted to all Californians under Proposition 64. Under Prop. 64, every Californian 21 or older has a right to cultivate up to six marijuana plants for personal use. But the law also says cities or counties can ban outdoor gardens and "reasonably regulate" indoor grows.Fontana -- a city of 200,000 people that sits 50 miles east of Los Angeles -- passed an ordinance in January that requires residents who want to cultivate up to six plants inside their home to first get a $411 permit from the city and not have any drug convictions within the past five years, a policy the groups describe as both illegal and "egregious."

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Finalizes Process for Medical Marijuana Applications. In a meeting Tuesday, the state Medical Marijuana Commission finalized the process for accepting applications for medical marijuana growers and sellers. The move comes after the commission developed a more detailed scoring system for ranking applicants. The application period will open June 30 and go on for 90 days. The commission will distribute 32 dispensary licenses and five cultivation facility licenses.

Florida Lawmakers Reach Agreement on Implementing Medical Marijuana. Lawmakers on Wednesday came to agreement on how to implement the state's voter-approved medical law. Under the agreement, ten new growers will be licensed this year, with five licenses going to previous applicants, five going to new applicants, and at least one reserved for a black farmer. The state current licenses only seven commercial grows. The agreement also caps the number of dispensaries each grower can operate at 25.

Oregon Bill to Let Medical Growers Sell Up to 20 Pounds in Recreational Market Advances. A bill that seeks to reshape the state's medical marijuana program so it can coexist with legal recreational marijuana is advancing. House Bill 2198, which would let medical growers sell up to 20 pounds in the recreational market in a bid to stay viable, passed the Joint Committee on Marijuana Regulation last week and is now before Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Times Investigation Finds Drug Overdose Deaths Reached All-Time High in 2016. The New York Times published on Monday an investigative report that found that drug overdose deaths last year reached an all-time high, suggesting that the country's long-term opioid crisis continues to worsen and that younger age groups in the U.S. are experiencing record numbers of opioid overdoses than in the past. The Times looked at preliminary overdose data for 2016 provided by hundreds of state and local health authorities, concluding: "Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50, and all evidence suggests the problem has continued to worsen in 2017." The report estimates that more than 59,000 people died from a drug overdose in 2016 -- an increase of 19% from 2015. The report does not elaborate on which drugs are behind the estimated jump in overdose deaths last year, nor does the report indicate which age groups under 50 saw the largest increase in overdose deaths over prior years.

Senate Drug Warriors Feinstein and Grassley Prepare Bill With Tough New Penalties for Synthetic Opioids. The senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are preparing a bill that would create tough new penalties for people caught with synthetic opioids. A draft of the bill would give the attorney general the power to ban all kinds of synthetic drugs and it would impose a 10-year maximum sentence on people caught selling them for a first offense. A second offense would see the sentence double. The bill would penalize people selling drugs at a low level in the US, critics said.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Submits Request to Drug Test Medicaid Applicants. Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Wednesday officially submitted a request for a federal waiver to become the first state in the country to drug test applicants for Medicaid benefits. Walker said the plan would provide drug addicts with treatment and make them employable. "Healthy workers help Wisconsin employers fill jobs that require passing a drug test," Walker's administration said in a press release Wednesday announcing the waiver. But critics called the notion a waste of money and an insult to people who need Medicaid.

Medical Marijuana Update

Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Grassley file a CBD research bill, Detroit has been moving against unpermitted dispensaries, and more.

National

Last Thursday, a pair of prohibitoinist senators filed a CBD research bill. Two of the Senate's most ardent prohibitionists, International Narcotics Control caucus leaders Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) filed a bill to expand research into the medical benefits of cannabidiol and marijuana. The bill has not yet been assigned a number, nor is the text available on the congressional website, but the text can be viewed here. Feinstein authored a similar bill last session that went nowhere.

Arkansas

On Tuesday, state regulators delayed voting on final rules for another week. The state Medical Marijuana Commission needs another week to finalize some rules, commission Chairwoman Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman said. If it indeed finalizes rules next week, applications for medical marijuana businesses will open up on June 30.

Michigan

As of Monday, Detroit has closed 167 unpermitted dispensaries, with more to come. The city's crackdown on illegally operating dispensaries has seen 167 of them shuttered since the campaign began last year, and another 51 are in line to be closed in coming weeks, according to Detroit corporation counsel Melvin Butch Hollowell. The city had identified 283 illegally operating dispensaries and has a goal of reducing the number of dispensaries in the city to 50.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, 'visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: Senators' Sessions Forfeiture Letter, Canada Legalization Debate, More... (5/31/17)

A bipartisan group of US senators has sent Attorney General Sessions a letter asking him to rein in federal civil asset forfeiture, the Rhode Island House is voting on a pot legalization study commission, the Canadian parliament begins debating the government's legalization bill, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Senate Votes to Make Marijuana Use in Cars an Infraction. The state Senate on Tuesday approved Senate Bill 65, which would prohibit the use of marijuana in automobiles because of concerns over drugged driving. The bill would make the offense a violation, punishable by no more than a fine. The bill now goes to the Assembly.

Rhode Island House to Vote Today on Legalization Study Commission. The House is set to vote today on a bill creating a 17-member panel to "conduct a comprehensive review and make recommendations regarding marijuana and the effects of its use." The commission would have until March 1, 2018 to report its findings to the General Assembly. Adopting the bill effectively blocks legalization in the state until next year at the earliest. This measure is supported by anti-reform state Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and Smart Approaches to Marijuana. If the measure passes the House, it then goes to the Senate.

Wisconsin Decriminalization Bill Gets Lone Republican Supporter. Legislative proponents of marijuana decriminalization held a press conference on Tuesday to rally support for a bill that would remove criminal penalties for possession of 10 grams or less. Three Democratic cosponsors were joined by Republican Rep. Adam Jarchow (District 28) at the presser, where they conceded their bill was unlikely to pass this year, but was intended to get the ball rolling.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Regulators Delay Voting on Final Rules for Another Week. The state Medical Marijuana Commission needs another week to finalize some rules, commission Chairwoman Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman said Tuesday. If it indeed finalizes rules next week, applications for medical marijuana businesses will open up on June 30.

Asset Forfeiture

Bipartisan Group of Senators Ask Session to Rein In Asset Forfeiture. Six US senators have sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to change Justice Department policy on civil asset forfeiture. "We encourage the Department of Justice to revise its civil asset forfeiture practices to reflect our nation's commitment to the rule of law and due process," Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Angus King (I-ME) wrote to Sessions. "We encourage the Department of Justice to revise its civil asset forfeiture practices to reflect our nation's commitment to the rule of law and due process." Noting that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had recently expressed skepticism about the practice, they added: "You need not wait for Supreme Court censure before reforming these practices, and, in any event, the Department of Justice should err on the side of protecting constitutional rights."

International

Canada Begins Debating Government's Marijuana Legalization Bill. Parliamentary debate on the C-45 legalization bill got underway Tuesday. Supported by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the bill is expected to pass, making Canada the second country after Uruguay to legalize marijuana.

South African Opioid Substitution Program Underway. The city of Tshwane and the University of Pretoria are collaborating on a pilot opioid substitution therapy (OST) program in seven clinics in central Pretoria and Tshwane townships. Doctors are prescribing drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine to be consumed under direct supervision of health workers. The program also links patients to counseling and job skills, as well as testing for HIV and Hep C.

Chronicle AM: France Marijuana Decrim, PA High Court Reins in Forfeiture, More... (5/26/17)

France is moving toward marijuana decriminalization, perhaps as early as September, Vermont legalization supporters still hold out hope, and more.

Vive la France!
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Senate Committee Votes to Establish Commission to Study Marijuana Legalization. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to approve House Bill 215, which would create a 22-member commission to study"the possible impacts of changing state policy to treat marijuana in a manner similar to the way the state deals with alcohol and shall study the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana including the specific issues related to growing, selling, taxing, limiting use, advertising, promoting, and otherwise regulating marijuana and marijuana-infused edible products." The bill has already passed the House and now heads for the Senate floor.

Vermont Legalization Supporters Seek Compromise. In the wake of Gov. Phil Scott's (R) veto of the Senate Bill 22 legalization measure, supporters are seeking to find a compromise that will make the governor comfortable signing off on legalization. Scott said he wanted more aggressive penalties for driving under the influence or smoking in front of children and clearer and harsher penalties for selling and providing marijuana to minors. But Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Richard Sears (D-Bennington), a legalization supporter, said while compromise was possible, it might not happen if Republicans don't agree to suspend legislative rules to allow the legislation to move more quickly during a two-day summer session.

Medical Marijuana

Prohibitionist Senators File CBD Research Bill. Two of the Senate's most ardent prohibitionists, International Narcotics Control caucus leaders Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) filed a bill to expand research into the medical benefits of cannabidiol and marijuana Thursday. The bill has not yet been assigned a number, nor is the text available on the congressional website, but the text can be viewed here. Feinstein authored a similar bill last session that went nowhere.

Asset Forfeiture

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Reins in Prosecutors on Civil Asset Forfeiture. In a unanimous decision Thursday, the state's highest court ruled that before seizing a property, prosecutors must prove it played a significant role in committing a crime, and it's value must be proportionate to the offense. The ruling came in the case of a 72-year-old Philadelphia woman whose $54,000 home and used minivan were seized in 2012 after her son was investigated for selling small amounts of marijuana. Her case has now been sent back to the lower courts to be decided in compliance with this ruling.

Sentencing

Hakeem Jeffries Files Federal Drug Charge Expungement Bill. US Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) has filed House Resolution 2617, which would allow first-time, low-level, nonviolent drug possession offenders a change to expunge their convictions and clean up their records upon completion of court imposed probation. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

International

France Could Decriminalize Marijuana Possession as Soon as September. Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said Wednesday that the ministry is set to issue new rules under which someone caught with small amounts of pot would be cited and fined -- not arrested. The new rules could be in place "within three or four months," he said. Collomb's boss, newly-inaugurated President Emmanuel Macron had campaigned in favor of decriminalization and described marijuana prohibition as "posing a security problem."

Chronicle AM: Federal MJ Banking Bill Filed, More Workers Test Positive for Drugs, More... (5/18/17)

Marijuana policy continues to motivate members of Congress, a leading drug testing firm reports that positive worker drug tests are on the rise, Maryland's first medical marijuana cultivator gets final approval to grow, and more.

Racially charged cartoon from Philippines newspaper attacking Dr. Carl Hart, who criticized the Philippines drug war.
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Senate Bill to End Federal Marijuana Banking Ban Filed. Eight US senators running the gamut from Rand Paul (R-KY) on the right to Cory Booker (D-NJ) on the left filed a bill to block federal regulators from punishing financial institutions for doing business with state-legal marijuana-related businesses. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Lawmakers Push Federal Legalization Bill. US Rep. Thomas Garrett (R-VA) and allies held a Capitol Hill press conference on Wednesday to try to gain some momentum for Garrett's Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act (Senate Bill 1227), which was introduced in February but has gone nowhere so far. Garrett said that he had enthusiastically prosecuted marijuana offenders, but grew tired of "creating criminals out of people who otherwise follow the law." Joining Garrett was another of the bill's 11 cosponsors, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who said "the question before us is not whether you think marijuana use is good or bad, or how you feel about this issue, but whether we should be turning people into criminals."

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Regulators Grant First Medical Marijuana Grow License. More than four years after the state approved medical marijuana, the state Medical Cannabis Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to grant final approval to the first firm licensed to grow medical marijuana, ForwardGro in Anne Arundel County. "A new industry in Maryland has been launched," said Patrick Jameson, executive director of the commission. "They can start to grow immediately." Fifteen companies were granted preliminary licenses last year, but none of the others have been granted final approval yet.

Drug Testing

Drug Testing Firm Reports Workers' Positive Tests at 12-Year High. Drug testing firm Quest Diagnostics reported Wednesday that 4.2% of drug tests among the US workforce came back positive, the highest rate since 2004, when it hit 4.5%. The firm reported increases in positive results for marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine, but heroin remained unchanged. "This year's findings are remarkable because they show increased rates of drug positivity for the most common illicit drugs across virtually all drug test specimen types and in all testing populations," said Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostic Employer Solutions.

International

DPA's Dr. Carl Hart Gets Death Threats, Insults for Speaking Out Against Duterte's Drug War.Neuroscientist and Drug Policy Alliance board member Dr. Carl Hart cut short a visit to the Philippines last week after his remarks challenging Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs, his assertion that methamphetamine use "shrinks the brains," and his openness about his own drug use resulted in hostile ridicule from the president, a racist cartoon in a Manila-based newspaper, and death threats on social media.

Chronicle AM: RI House Punts on Legalization, Leading Mexican Journo Gunned Down, More... (5/17/17)

The Rhode Island House voted to study marijuana legalization instead of actually do it, Vermont newspapers pressure the governor to sign their legalization bill, the federal Justice Safety Valve Act gets refiled, Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas is gunned down, and more.

RIP. Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas, gunned down by presumed cartel hit men in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Monday. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

California Assembly Passes Bill to Restrict Edibles Packaging. The Assembly on Monday approved Assembly Bill 350, which would bar labels on edibles that "contain any content that is designed to be attractive to individuals under the age of 21," including cartoons, images that resemble those used to advertise to children, or have candy-like packaging. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

California Senate Passes Edibles Packaging Bill. The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved Senate Bill 794, which would require all baked items and candies containing marijuana to be marked with a universal symbol (to be designed by the Bureau of Marijuana) and wrapped in child-resistant packaging. The bill now goes to the House.

Rhode Island House Punts on Legalization, Votes for More Study. The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday voted to put off marijuana legalization for at least another year, instead approving a bill to set up a joint House-Senate commission to study the issue. The vote came as more than 200 people gathered on the state house steps to demand a vote on legalization. Legalization backers in the legislature say they have not given up on this year yet, though. Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) said he has "about three alternatives in my back pocket to get this done one way or another" and "I won't give up on this until the last night of session."

Four Vermont Newspapers Call on Governor to Sign Legalization Bill. The Burlington Free Press, the Bennington Banner, the Addison County Independent, and the Rutland Herald have all published editorials urging Gov. Phil Scott (R) to sign into law Senate Bill 22, which would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana and set up a commission to study taxing and regulating marijuana commerce. The bill has not yet officially arrived on Scott's desk. Once it does, he will have five days to either sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Washington Governor Signs "Omnibus" Marijuana Bill. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 5131, the "omnibus bill" of more than a dozen legal changes to the state's marijuana laws. The bill creates an organic certification program for weed, allows people to share pot with friends without fear of violating the law, bars marijuana businesses from depicting plants on any billboards, allows medical patients to buy seeds and plants from producers, and instructs regulators to study the feasibility of allowing people to grow their own. Washington is the only legal state that doesn't allow for home grows.

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Stalled. A bill that would have expanded the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana stalled in the Senate Tuesday as lawmakers complained that a promised amendment to address concerns of the medical profession was never added. But sponsor Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington) said Senate Bill 24 would be reintroduced at a later date. The bill would have added debilitating anxiety to the list of qualifying conditions and removed a requirement that a psychiatrist sign recommendations for people seeking medical marijuana for PTSD.

Drug Policy

Sen. Kamala Harris Slams Trump/Sessions Drug Policy. California's junior senator, Kamala Harris (D) on Tuesday took Attorney General Sessions to task over his call for tough crackdown on drug offenders last week. "I saw the war on drugs up close, and let me tell you, the war on drugs was an abject failure," Harris said. "It offered taxpayers a bad return on investment, it was bad for public safety, it was bad for budgets and our economy, and it was bad for people of color and those struggling to make ends meet." She also called for federal marijuana rescheduling and decriminalization.

Sentencing

Bipartisan "Justice Safety Valve Act" Filed in Both Houses. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) on Tuesday reintroduced the Justice Safety Valve Act, Senate Bill 1127, while Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) filed companion legislation, House Bill 2435, in the lower chamber. The bill would give federal judges the ability to impose sentences below mandatory minimums in appropriate cases based on mitigating factors. "Mandatory minimum sentences disproportionately affect minorities and low-income communities, while doing little to keep us safe and turning mistakes into tragedies. As this legislation demonstrates, Congress can come together in a bipartisan fashion to change these laws," said Sen. Paul.

International

Leading Mexican Journalist Gunned Down in Sinaloa. Gunmen in the state capital of Culiacan on Monday assassinated journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas, 50, as he drove to work in his car. Valdez, a veteran journalist who chronicled the bloody conflicts between drug cartels in his home state, co-founded the newspaper Riodoce in 2003, and had won prizes from Columbia University and the Committee to Protect Journalists for his reporting. Valdez is only the latest of at least 104 journalists who have been killed in Mexico since 2000; another 25 have disappeared. The killing is raising pressure on the Mexican government, which has failed to solve all but a handful of the slaying. Your reporter met Valdez in his office in Culiacan in 2008. He will be missed.

Chronicle AM: Rand Paul Slams Jeff Sessions, Guatemala Poppy Conflict Grows Violent, More... (5/16/17)

Marijuana legalization efforts look stalled in Connecticut and Rhode Island, Rand Paul joins the chorus of critics of Attorney General Sessions' drug war crackdown, the California Senate approves a bill to end sentencing enhancements for prior drug convictions, and more.

Kentucky libertarian GOP Sen. Rand Paul says return to harsh drug war will disproportionately harm black communities.
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Dems Put Legalization Language in Budget Bill. Democrats have included marijuana legalization language in their budget recommendations, while conceding they don't have enough votes in their own caucus to pass the measure. The measure needs 76 votes to pass, but not all 79 Democrats are on board. They said they included the language to spur further conversations and to help balance the state budget. Legalization bills have been defeated in two committees this year.

Rhode Island Bill to Create Legalization Study Commission Gets Vote Today. The House Judiciary Committee was set to vote today on a measure that would create a legislative commission to study marijuana legalization. The move is not supported by legalization proponents, who charge it is a delaying tactic. Foes were set to rally at the statehouse at noon today to urge a legalization vote this year.

Drug Policy

Rand Paul Slams Sessions' Return to Hard Core Drug War. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) slammed Attorney General Sessions' new sentencing guidelines in a CNN op-ed Monday. Last Friday, Sessions instructed federal prosecutors to charge defendants with the most serious possible offense carrying the longest possible prison sentence. "The attorney general's new guidelines, a reversal of a policy that was working, will accentuate the injustice in our criminal justice system," Paul wrote, adding that the "war on drugs" disproportionately affects young black men. "I want to go the opposite way from the attorney general," Paul said.

Senate Bill to Reauthorize Drug Czar's Office Funding Filed. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has filed Senate Bill 1123, which would reauthorize funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). The move comes after the Trump administration suggested cutting funding for the office by 95%. This bill does not actually fund ONDCP; it merely authorizes funding it. Actual appropriations levels would be set later in the budget process.

Sentencing

California Senate Approves Bill to End Sentence Enhancements for Prior Drug Convictions. The Senaate approved the RISE ACT (Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements), Senate Bill 180, on a party line vote Monday. The bill would repeal a three-year mandatory enhancement for prior drug convictions that are added to any new conviction. Today, someone convicted for sale or possession for sale of a miniscule amount of drugs, can face 3-5 years plus an additional three years in jail for each prior conviction for similar drug offenses.

International

Guatemala Border Communities Clash Over Cartel-Tied Opium Crops. The Guatemalan government has declared a state of emergency in the Ixchiguán and Tajumulco municipalities of the San Marcos department near the border with Mexico after community members engaged in armed battles between themselves and the Guatemalan military. The villagers are fighting over poppy crops, with one village aligned with the Jalisco New Generation cartel and the other aligned with the Sinaloa cartel. Videos of the conflict show the villagers heavily armed.

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