State & Local Legislatures

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Chronicle AM: Abuse-Resistant Oxycontin Tied to Heroin ODs, S. America Coca News, More... (1/13/17)

A new study from the Rand Corporation links the introduction of abuse-resistant Oxycontin in 2010 to the rise in heroin overdose deaths, Bolivia and Colombia take different approaches to coca, a Georgian political party office gets raided, and more.

Georgian police seized pot plants in paper cups from the Girchi Party offices in Tbilisi Wednesday. (DF News)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Legalization Bill Filed. State Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Las Cruces) has filed House Bill 89, the Cannabis Revenue and Freedom Act. It would allow the possession of up to two ounces by adults at home and one ounce outside the household, the cultivation of up to six plants (or 12 per household) and the possession of a harvest up to eight ounces. The measure would revamp the state's existing medical marijuana system and allow for marijuana sales beginning in 2019.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia House Forms Medical Marijuana Study Committee. House Speaker David Ralson (R-Blue Ridge) announced Wednesday that a medical marijuana study committee had been formed with Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) as its chair. Peake is the author of the state's current limited medical marijuana law and has already announced plans for legislation this year.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

RAND: Introduction of Abuse-Deterrent Oxycontin Led to Rise in Heroin Overdose Deaths. In a new working paper released this week, the RAND Corporation looked at supply-side attempts to limit access to opioids and found unintended consequences. Focusing on the 2010 introduction of abuse-resistant Oxycontin, the RAND analysts found "large differential increases in heroin deaths immediately after reformulation in states with the highest initial rates of OxyContin misuse" and concluded that "a substantial share of the dramatic increase in heroin deaths since 2010 can be attributed to the reformulation of OxyContin."

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Eight state legislators jointly filed House Bill 1170 last week. The bill would prohibit the seizure of property without a criminal conviction in most cases. The measure would also require that most proceeds from forfeitures go into the state's general fund; currently, law enforcement agencies can keep up to 100% of the proceeds. The bill would also ban passing busts off to the feds in a bid to evade state restrictions.

International

Bolivia Government Files Bill to Expand Coca Production. The bill would expand legal coca production from 30,000 acres to 50,000 acres. But not all coca growers are happy because some regions are getting more expansion than others.

Colombia Starts Spraying Glyphosate on Coca Crops Again. Colombia recommenced the controversial program on January 2, but this time, it's not using airplanes. Instead, the spraying is being conducted by hand. The aerial spraying campaign had been ended in 2015 over health and environmental concerns, but faced with an increasing amount of coca under cultivation, the government is now resorting once more to the herbicide.

Republic of Georgia Police Raid Party Office, Seize Pot Plants. Georgian police raided the office of the Girchi Party Wednesday, seizing 84 marijuana seedlings that had been planted New Year's Day in a bid to gain publicity for drug decriminalization. Police had threatened party activists with up to 12 years in prison for drug cultivation, but so far have only seized the plants. "This is the price of the action, that something like this would have consequences. Let's see what level this absurdity will reach. I worry about the plants. I am not sure if they will take proper care on them," Iago Khvichia, a member of the party's political council said.

Chronicle AM: NAS Report on MedMJ Released, WA Home Cultivation Bill Filed, More... (1/12/17)

The National Academy of Sciences releases a report finding marijuana is medicine, Rhode Island legislators aim to get pot legal in a hurry, a new bill in Washington state would allow home cultivation, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Maine Bill Would Impose One-Year Moratorium on Legal Marijuana Sales. State Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R) is leading an effort to delay key provisions of the Question 1 legalization initiative. He is sponsoring a bill that would enact a one-year moratorium on pot sales to adults and prohibit the sale of marijuana edibles. "This is not trying to circumvent what the voters passed at the ballot box," he claimed. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Rhode Island Legislators Unveil Legalization Plans. In a proposal unveiled Wednesday, lawmakers came out for a quick move to legal marijuana sales by allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana six months after a bill passes. The legalization proposal would also limit home cultivation to one plant, which must be tagged for tracking purposes. The bill is not expected to be filed until next week at the earliest.

Washington State Bill Would Allow Home Cultivation. State Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo) has introduced House Bill 1092, which would allow adults to grow up to six plants at home, as long as the yield is less than 24 ounces. Homes with more than one adult grow produce a total of 12 plants for up to 48 ounces of usable weed. Washington is the only legalization state that does not allow for home cultivation.

Medical Marijuana

National Academy of Sciences Finds Conclusive Evidence Marijuana is an Effective Medicine. The National Academy of Sciences Thursday released a groundbreaking report, "The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. The report finds there is conclusive evidence that marijuana can be used as a medicine, though it didn't find clinical evidence for all conditions marijuana treatment is often associated with. The report does recognize the efficacy of marijuana for treating many medical conditions, including chronic pain, chemo-induced nausea and vomiting, and multiple sclerosis spasticity.

Arkansas Regulators Set Number of Dispensaries at 32. The state Medical Marijuana Commission announced Tuesday that it will issue up to 32 licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries. The commission now has until March 9 to come up with rules for dispensary licensing.

Arkansas Bill to Delay Dispensary Rule-Making Advances. A bill that would delay the creation of rules for licensing dispensaries passed the House Select Committee on Rules Wednesday. Authored by state Rep. Douglas House (R-North Little Rock), House Bill 1026 would give the state Medical Marijuana Commission an extra 60 days beyond March 9 to craft rules and another 30 days before entities can apply for licenses.

Connecticut Doctors' Panel Recommends Adding Four Qualifying Conditions. The state's panel of physicians charged with reviewing requests for adding new qualifying conditions for the state's medical marijuana program decided Wednesday to add fibromyalgia, muscular dystrophy, shingles, and rheumatoid arthritis to the list.

Georgia Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), sponsor of a bill last year that allows for the use of CBD cannabis oil, has now filed a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, but it's not yet available on the legislative website. Stay tuned.

Industrial Hemp

Arizona Industrial Hemp Bill Filed. State Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City) has filed a bill to allow for the production of industrial hemp. The measure is Senate Bill 1045, which would exempt any cannabis plants containing less than 0.3% from the state's marijuana laws.

International

Argentines Move to Crack Down on Cocaine Paste. The Argentine government of President Mauricio Macri has submitted plans to modify the country's drug laws to substantially increase penalties for the production and sale of "paco" (cocaine paste). Current law specifies a four-to-six year prison term, while the proposed change would see terms increase to 15-to-18 years. Small-time dealers would between one and four years, while users would face forced drug treatment.

Chronicle AM: Federal OD & MedMJ Bills Filed, State MedMJ Bills, More... (1/9/17)

Both Congress and state legislatures are getting back to work, and the bills are starting to pile up; South Dakota activists eye a 2018 legalization initiative, and more.

Medical marijuana bills are being filed in the states that have yet to embrace it. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Some California Dispensaries Are Already Selling Marijuana to All Adult Comers. Legal recreational marijuana sales won't begin in the state until at least 2018, but some medical marijuana dispensaries are already selling pot to anyone over 21. "Dozens" of dispensaries are advertising that they no longer require a doctor's recommendation to make purchases. Many, if not all, of these "Prop 64 friendly" dispensaries are unlicensed.

South Dakota Activists Eye 2018 Legalization Initiative. The state has twice rejected medical marijuana at the polls, but that isn't stopping a new group, New Approach South Dakota, from planning a 2018 legalization initiative. The group says it will submit a proposal to the attorney general's office next week.

DC Mayor Announces Plan to End Driver's License Suspensions for Drug Offenses. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said Monday that her administration plans to change a law that suspends the driver's license of people arrested for drug offenses. "In Washington, DC, we value and support rehabilitation and promote employment as a critical component of successful reentry," Mayor Bowser said in a statement. "This change will ensure that the DC criminal code is tailored to public safety, not maintaining antiquated and ineffective policies that place unnecessary burdens on District residents."

Medical Marijuana

Federal Bill to Protect Medical Marijuana Businesses From Asset Forfeiture Filed. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) last Thursday filed House Resolution 331, which would shield medical marijuana-related conduct authorized by state law from federal asset forfeiture attempts. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary and Energy and Commerce committees.

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Rep. Joel Bomgar (R-Madison) has filed House Bill 179, which would ensure that any "qualifying patient who possesses a valid registry identification card is not subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner." The bill specifies a list of qualifying conditions, allow for caregivers for patients who can't grow their own, and allow for dispensaries. Patients could possess up to 2. 5 ounces of marijuana.

Indiana Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Indianapolis) has filed Senate Bill 255, which would allow patients with a specified list of conditions or "any persistent or chronic illness or condition" to use medical marijuana with a physician's recommendation. The measure would also create a statewide medical marijuana program. Tallian has introduced similar bills in past years that have gone nowhere.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Coming Soon. State Sen. Anna Wishart (D-Lincoln) says she will introduce a comprehensive medical marijuana bill this session. A similar measure came within three votes of advancing last year, but the measure would still face an uphill battle in the legislature and a probable veto from Gov. Pete Ricketts (R).

New Mexico Medical Marijuana Fix Bill Filed. State Sen. Cisco McSorly (D-Albuquerque) has filed Senate Bill 8, which would more than double the amount of medical marijuana licensed producers can grow in the state and expand the amount of marijuana that patients could possess. "This bill will guarantee there is an adequate supply of marijuana for our patients," McSorley said.

Kratom

Florida Bill to Make Kratom a Controlled Substance Filed. State Rep. Kristin Jacobs (D-Coconut Grove) last Friday filed House Bill 183, which would add mitragynine and hydroxymitragynine, the psychoactive components of kratom, to the state's controlled substances act. Under the bill, selling, manufacturing, or importing kratom would be a misdemeanor.

Collateral Consequences

Nebraska Bill Would (Mostly) End Lifetime Ban on Food Stamps for Drug Felons. State Sen. Mike Groene (R-North Platte) last Friday filed Legislative Bill 128, which would end the lifetime ban on food stamps for drug felons, but only if they got drug abuse treatment after their most recent conviction. Alternately, drug felons could take and pass voluntary drug tests every six months to qualify. People with more than two drug felonies would continue to be banned from receiving food stamps. A measure to completely end the ban failed last year.

Harm Reduction

Federal Bill Filed to Ease Access to Overdose Reversal Drug. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and a bipartisan group of 18 cosponsors have filed House Resolution 304, which would ease bureaucratic obstacles to emergency medical care providers wishing to administer the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary and Energy and Commerce committees.

Chronicle AM: CT Legalization Bills Filed, WI CBD Bill Set to Move This Year, More... (1/6/17)

Connecticut legislators prepare to take up marijuana legalization, Wisconsin legislators look set to pass a CBD bill this year, Indiana's new governor will ease up on needle exchange restrictions, and more.

Legal weed could be coming to Connecticut. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Legalization Bills Filed in Connecticut. At least three pot legalization bills have been filed for the looming session of the state legislature, including one from state Rep. Melissa Ziobron (R-East Hampton) and one from Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney (D-New Haven). Only Looney's bill yet shows up on the state legislative website. It is Senate Bill 11.

Medical Marijuana

After Key Legislator Waives Objection, Wisconsin Could See CBD Bill Passed. Legislation to allow the use of CBD cannabis oil could pass this year after key opponents last year said they would get out of the way this year. The Assembly passed a CBD bill last year, only to see it derailed in the Senate by opposition from three Senate Republicans, Leah Vukmir, Duey Stroebel, and Mary Lazich. Vukmir now says she will support a CBD bill, Stroebel is staying silent, and Lazich is gone. The bill is expected to be introduced later this month.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Wisconsin Governor Calls for Legislative Special Session on Heroin. Gov. Scott Walker (R) said Thursday he will order a special session of the legislature to "fight heroin addiction." He is also calling on state agencies to ramp up their responses to opioid use in the state. "This is a public health crisis, and that's why I'm calling a special session of the Legislature and directing state agencies to ramp up the state's response," Walker said. Opioid overdose deaths have been on the rise in the state for nine straight years. Walker is eyeing a package of bills that include expanding access to naloxone, Good Samaritan 911 protections for reporting overdoses, a civil commitment procedure for addicts, and requiring codeine-containing cough syrups to be prescription-only.

Harm Reduction

Indiana's Incoming Governor to Ease Pence's Needle Exchange Restrictions. Governor-to-be Eric Holcomb (R) vowed Thursday to roll back restrictions on needle exchanges signed into law by his predecessor, Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Holcomb said local -- not state -- officials should be able to authorize needle exchanges. Holcomb has also created a "drug czar" position within his incoming administration, which will, among other duties, seek increased funding for needle exchanges.

Chronicle AM: Asset Forfeiture Actions in Three States, Trump Kratom Petition Needs Signatures, More... (1/5/17)

It's going to cost big bucks to get into the Arkansas medical marijuana growing business, a petition urging Donald Trump not to let the DEA ban kratom seeks signatures, there is asset forfeiture action in three states, and more.

The American Kratom Association is petitioning Donald Trump to block any ban on the herb. (Project CBD)
Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Sets Grower License Fee at $100,000. People who want one of the five commercial medical marijuana cultivation licenses the state is preparing to issue better have deep pockets. The Medical Marijuana Commission has set an annual fee of $100,000 for those licenses. But wait, there's more: That's in addition to a $15,000 application fee, only half of which will be refunded if the application is rejected. And applicants must show proof they have a million dollars in assets or surety bond and $500,000 in cash. One commission member argued for a lower, $15,000 license fee, saying he didn't want some residents to be shut out of the opportunity, but that move didn't fly.

Kratom

Less Than Three Weeks Remain to Sign Trump Kratom Petition. The American Kratom Association has organized a petition urging President-elect Donald Trump to halt the DEA's effort to criminalize kratom or to reverse any last-minute ban that might occur under the Obama administration. The group has set a target of 25,000 signatures before January 22, but only has 8,000 so far.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Ohio Governor Signs Naloxone Expansion Bill. Gov. John Kasich (R) has signed into law Senate Bill 319, which expands access to the anti-overdose drug naloxone to entities such as homeless shelters, halfway houses, schools, and treatment centers that deal with populations at higher risk of overdose. It also offers civil immunity to law enforcement officers who carry and use naloxone.

Asset Forfeiture

Kansas Bill Would Undo Police Asset Forfeiture Reporting Requirements. The first bill introduced in the 2017 legislative session, Senate Bill 1, would repeal a state law requiring law enforcement agencies to file annual reports on the money and other assets they seize. The bill is the creation of the Legislative Committee on Post Audit, which filed a report last summer noting that few police agencies comply with the reporting requirements, so the committee's solution was to kill the requirement. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website. The session starts next week.

Michigan Bill Would Reform Civil Asset Forfeiture. State Rep. Peter Lucido (R-Macomb County) has introduced House Bill 4629, which would reform the state's forfeiture laws by killing a provision that requires property owners whose property is seized to pay 10% of what police feel it is worth within 20 days to get the property back. Lucido said that the next step is getting rid of civil asset forfeiture. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Ohio Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. John Kasich (R) has signed into House Bill 347, which limits civil asset forfeiture proceedings to cases involving at least $15,000 in cash and requires a criminal conviction or at least a criminal charge be filed in most cases before forfeiture proceedings can begin.

Medical Marijuana Update

Arkansas and Florida start moving toward voter-approved medical marijuana systems, Massachusetts activists push for greater patient access, and more.

Arkansas

Last Friday, a lawmaker filed medical marijuana implementation bills. State Rep. Douglas House (R-North Little Rock) has filed a pair of bills aimed at the state's new medical marijuana law. House Bill 1057 would add national and state criminal background check requirements, while House Bill 1058 would amend the definition of written certification to clarify that it is not a medical record. The bills are not yet available on the legislative web site.

Florida

As of Tuesday, Florida is now a medical marijuana state. The constitutional amendment approved by voters in November to legalize medical marijuana went into effect Tuesday. But the state doesn't have a distribution system up and running yet. Lawmakers and the state Department of Health will have to craft rules, with an implementation target date of September 9.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, a public hearing heard calls for eased patient access. At a public hearing in Boston Tuesday, advocates called for changes in the state's medical marijuana law to allow hospices and nursing homes to provide the medicine for patients. "Hospice patients are literally out of time," said Elizabeth Dost, clinical director for the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, which represents medical marijuana patients. "The patient's average length of stay (in hospice) in Massachusetts is 35 to 45 days. By the time they access cannabis, they are often deceased." Another public hearing is set for Thursday morning in Holyoke.

New Hampshire

Last Friday, a new bill being drafted would let patients grow their own. A bill currently in draft form would allow patients living at least 30 miles from a dispensary to grow their medicine. New Hampshire and Connecticut are the only New England states that don't allow patients to grow, and state Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) wants to change that. He said he is open to altering the bill's language, including the 30-mile provision.

Puerto Rico

Last Friday, the territory got its first dispensaries. Medical marijuana dispensaries have begun operating in the US territory, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla said Friday. He said two dispensaries are now open. The move comes nearly two years after his administration adopted a regulation to allow for medical marijuana.

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

Chronicle AM: US Legal MJ Sales Near $6 Billion, ME Goes Legal at Month's End, More... (1/3/17)

Happy New Year! Legal marijuana sales hit a new record, Maine's legalization law will go into effect on January 30 (but not pot shops), Puerto Rico sees its first dispensaries, and more.

Somebody modified the iconic Hollywood sign on New Year's Eve. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

US Marijuana Sales Hit Nearly $6 Billion in 2016. A new report from Arcview Market Research put US legal and medical marijuana sales at $5.86 billion last year, with nearly another $900 million being sold in Canada. Assuming a compound annual growth rate of 25%, Arcview estimates that North American sales will reach $20.2 billion by 2021.

California Bill Would Specifically Outlaw Pot Smoking Behind the Wheel. State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) and Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) have filed Senate Bill 65, which would make it a misdemeanor to drive while smoking or otherwise ingesting marijuana. Hill said he filed the bill because the state's legal marijuana law does not explicitly bar such activity.

Idaho Moms for Marijuana Founder Busted for CBD at Statehouse Rally. Serra Frank, the founder of Moms for Marijuana International, was arrested on the capitol steps in Boise Sunday for possession of marijuana after she displayed a pill bottle containing what she said were capsules containing CBD oil. She was also charged with possession of paraphernalia. The rally was held to protest Gov. "Butch" Otter's (R) veto of a CBD bill last year.

Maine Legalization Goes Into Effect January 30, But Governor Wants a Moratorium on Sales. Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage has officially certified the results of the November vote on marijuana legalization, meaning it will go into effect at month's end. But he also called for a moratorium on sales until lawmakers can work out regulatory details. The state's new pot law already gives the legislature nine months to come up with regulations, leading legalization activists to describe LePage's moratorium call as "defeatist" and premature.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Lawmaker Files Medical Marijuana Implementation Bills. State Rep. Douglas House (R-North Little Rock) has filed a pair of bills aimed at the state's new medical marijuana law. House Bill 1057 would add national and state criminal background check requirements, while House Bill 1058 would amend the definition of written certification to clarify that it is not a medical record. The bills are not yet available on the legislative website.

New Hampshire Bill Would Let Patients Grow Their Own. A bill currently in draft form would allow patients living at least 30 miles from a dispensary to grow their medicine. New Hampshire and Connecticut are the only New England states that don't allow patients to grow, and state Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) wants to change that. He said he is open to altering the bill's language, including the 30-mile provision.

Puerto Rico Gets First Dispensaries. Medical marijuana dispensaries have begun operating in the US territory, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla said Friday. He said two dispensaries are now open. The move comes nearly two years after his administration adopted a regulation to allow for medical marijuana.

Chronicle AM: Maine Init Losers Still Fighting, New Cartel Gains Strength in MX, More... (12/29/16)

Maine election losers seek to block the implementation of marijuana legalization, Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel is being overtaken by an upstart, and more.

With El Chapo behind bars, the Sinaloa Cartel is being overtaken by rivals.
Marijuana Policy

Sore Losers Department: Maine Marijuana Foes Now Seek Moratorium on Implementing Legalization. The anti-legalization group Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities, whose effort to defeat the marijuana initiative failed and whose effort to overturn the results via a recount also failed, is now calling for a moratorium on implementing the law. The law calls for a nine-month period for regulators to make rules for retailers and social clubs, but the group says that isn't enough.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Michigan Overdose Reversal Drugs Will Be Easier to Obtain Next Week. Thanks to bills signed into law Wednesday, Michiganders will have easier access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) beginning January 1. One bill allows pharmacists to dispense the drug without a prescription under a standing order from the state's chief medical officer. Another bill gives school boards the ability to get a prescription for naloxone to be administered by a school nurse or other trained employee in case a student overdoses.

International

DEA Says There's a New Biggest Cartel in Mexico. The days of Sinaloa Cartel dominance of the Mexican drug trade and criminal underworld are over, and "El Chapo" Guzman's men have been ousted by a relatively new player on the scene: the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG in its Spanish initials), the DEA says. The group operates in at least half of Mexico's states, as well as along the entire Pacific Coast of North and South America, as well as having distribution operations in Asia, Oceania, and Europe.

The Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2016 [FEATURE]

As 2016 comes to a tumultuous end, we look back on the year in drugs and drug policy. It's definitely a mixed bag, with some major victories for drug reform, especially marijuana legalization, but also some major challenges, especially around heroin and prescription opioids, and the threat of things taking a turn for the worse next year. Here are the ten biggest domestic drug policy stories of the year. (Check back for a top ten international drug policy stories soon.)

1. Marijuana Legalization Wins Big

Legalization initiatives won in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, losing only in Arizona. These weren't the first states to do so -- Colorado and Washington led the way in 2012, with Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, following in 2014 -- but in one fell swoop, states with a combined population of nearly 50 million people just freed the weed. Add in the earlier states, and we're now talking about around 67 million people, or more than one-fifth of the national population.

The question is where does marijuana win next? We won't see state legalization initiatives until 2018, (and conventional wisdom may suggest waiting for the higher-turnout 2020 presidential election year), and most of the low-hanging fruit in terms of initiative states has been harvested, but activists in Michigan came this close to qualifying for the ballot this year and are raring to go again. In the meantime, there are the state legislatures. When AlterNet looked into the crystal ball a few weeks ago, the best bets looked like Connecticut, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

2. Medical Marijuana Wins Big

Medical marijuana is even more popular than legal marijuana, and it went four-for-four at the ballot box in November, adding Arkansas, Florida, Montana, North Dakota to the list of full-blown medical marijuana states. That makes 28 states -- more than half the country -- that allow for medical marijuana, along with another dozen or so red states that have passed limited CBD-only medical marijuana laws as a sop to public opinion.

It's worth noting that Montana is a special case. Voters there approved medical marijuana in 2004, only to see a Republican-dominated state legislature gut the program in 2011. The initiative approved by voters this year reinstates that program, and shuttered dispensaries are now set to reopen.

The increasing acceptance of medical marijuana is going to make it that much harder for the DEA or the Trump administration to balk at reclassifying marijuana away from Schedule I, which is supposedly reserved for dangerous substances with no medical uses. It may also, along with the growing number of legal pot states, provide the necessary impetus to changing federal banking laws to allow pot businesses to behave like normal businesses.

Drug reformers are nervous about the future. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
3. The Republicans Take Control in Washington

The Trump victory and Republican control of both houses of Congress has profound drug policy implications, for everything from legal marijuana to funding for needle exchange programs to sentencing policy to the border and foreign policy and beyond. Early Trump cabinet picks, such as Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) to lead the Justice Department, are ominous for progressive drug reform, but as with many other policy spheres, what Trump will actually do is a big unknown. It's probably safe to say that any harm reduction programs requiring federal funding or approval are in danger, that any further sentencing reforms are going to be in for a tough slog, and that any federal spending for mental health and substance abuse treatment will face an uphill battle. But the cops will probably get more money.

The really big question mark is around marijuana policy. Trump has signaled he's okay with letting the states experiment, but Sen. Sessions is one of the most retrograde of drug warriors in Washington. Time will tell, but in the meantime, the marijuana industry is on tenterhooks and respect for the will of voters in pot legal states and even medical marijuana states is an open question.

4. The Opioid Epidemic Continues

Just as this year comes to an end, the CDC announced that opioid overdose deaths last year had topped 33,000, and with 12,000 heroin overdoses, junk had overtaken gunplay as a cause of death. There's little sign that things have gotten any better this year.

The crisis has provoked numerous responses, at both the state and the federal levels, some good, but some not. Just this month, Congress approved a billion dollars in opioid treatment and prevention programs, and the overdose epidemic has prompted the loosening of access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone and prodded ongoing efforts to embrace more harm reduction approaches, such as supervised injection sites.

On the other hand, prosecutors in states across the country have taken to charging the people who sell opioids (prescription or otherwise) to people who overdose and die with murder, more intrusive and privacy-invading prescription monitoring programs have been established, and the tightening of the screws on opioid prescriptions is leaving some chronic pain sufferers in the lurch and leading others to seek out opioids on the black market.

5. Obama Commutes More Than a Thousand Drug War Sentences

In a bid to undo some of the most egregious excesses of the drug war, President Obama has now cut the sentences of and freed more than a thousand people sentenced under the harsh laws of the 1980s, particularly the racially-biased crack cocaine laws, who have already served more time than they would have if sentenced under current laws passed during the Obama administration. He has commuted more sentences in a single year than any president in history, and he has commuted more sentences than the last 11 presidents combined.

The commutations come under a program announced by then-Attorney General Eric Holder, who encouraged drug war prisoners to apply for them. The bad news is that the clock is likely to run out before Obama has a chance to deal with thousands of pending applications backlogged in the Office of the Pardons Attorney. The good news is that he still has six weeks to issue more commutations and free more drug war prisoners.

6. The DEA Gets a Wake-Up Call When It Tries to Ban Kratom

Derived from a Southeast Asian tree, kratom has become popular as an unregulated alternative to opioids for relaxation and pain relief, not to mention withdrawing from opioids. It has very low overdose potential compared to other opioids and has become a go-to drug for hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of people.

Perturbed by its rising popularity, the DEA moved in late summer to use its emergency scheduling powers to ban kratom, but was hit with an unprecedented buzz saw of opposition from kratom users, scientists, researchers, and even Republican senators like Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who authored and encouraged his colleagues to sign a letter to the DEA asking the agency to postpone its planned scheduling.

The DEA backed off -- but didn't back down -- in October, announcing that it was shelving its ban plan for now and instead opening a period of public comment. That period ended on December 1, but before it did, the agency was inundated with submissions from people opposing the ban. Now, the DEA will factor in that input, as well as formal input from the Food and Drug Administration before making its decision.

The battle around kratom isn't over, and the DEA could still ban it in the end, but the whole episode demonstrates how much the ground has shifted under the agency. DEA doesn't just get its way anymore.

7. Federal Funds for Needle Exchanges Flow Again

It actually happened late in 2015, but the impact was felt this year. In December 2015, Congress approved an omnibus budget bill that removed the ban on federal funding of needle exchanges. The ban had been in place for 20 years, except for a two-year stretch between 2009 and 2011, when Democrats controlled the House.

Federal funding for needle exchanges is another drug policy response that could be endangered by Republican control of both the Congress and the presidency.

Vancouver's safe injection site. Is one coming to a city near you? (vch.ca)
8. The Slow Turn Towards Safe Injection Sites Accelerates

When will the US join the ranks of nations that embrace the harm reduction tactic of supervised drug consumption sites? Maybe sooner than you think. Moves are underway in at least three major US cities to get such facilities open, a need made all the more urgent by the nation's ongoing opioid crisis, as the Drug Policy Alliance noted in a December report calling for a number of interventions, including safe injection sites, to address it.

In New York City, the city council has approved a $100,000 study into the feasibility of safe injection sites, while in San Francisco, city public health officials have endorsed a call for them there and have even suggested they need as many as a half dozen. But San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee opposes them, so battle lines are being drawn.

The best bet may be Seattle, where city and surrounding King County officials are on board with a plan to open safe injection sites to fight heroin and prescription opioid abuse. That plan, conceived by the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force, was released in September.

9. Asset Forfeiture Reform Advances

Nearly 20 years after Congress passed limited federal civil asset forfeiture reform, the practice is now under sustained assault in the states. More than a half-dozen states had passed civil asset forfeiture reforms before the year began, and this year the following states came on board (although some of the new laws did not end, but only modified or restricted civil asset forfeiture): California, Florida, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

And next year looks to be more of the same. Bills have already been filed in Missouri and Texas, and renewed efforts are likely in New Hampshire and Wisconsin, where they were thwarted this year.

10. The DEA is Busting Fewer People

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) reported in December that convictions for drug cases referred by the DEA continued a 10-year decline. During Fiscal Year 2016, federal prosecutors won 9,553 criminal convictions on cases referred by the DEA. That's down 7.1% from the previous year, down 25% from five years ago, and down 35% from 10 years ago. TRAC notes that the decline in convictions is the result of fewer referrals by the DEA, not a lowered conviction rate, which has held steady.

Medical Marijuana Update

A study finds medical marijuana associated with a decline in traffic fatalities, the Arizona courts stick up for medical marijuana, changes in state law will have impacts in Colorado and Oregon, and more.

National

On Monday, a study found that states with medical marijuana laws see a decline in traffic deaths. A new study from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health finds that states that have passed medical marijuana laws have seen an 11% reduction in traffic fatalities since those laws went into effect. And those states have seen a 26% reduction in traffic fatalities compared to states where marijuana remains illegal.

Arizona

Last Wednesday, a prosecutor said he will appeal a ruling telling him not to obstruct medical marijuana businesses. Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney Bill Montgomery said he will ask the state Supreme Court to review a ruling a day earlier from the Court of Appeals that rejected his argument that federal law preempts the state's medical marijuana and approve zoning for a medical marijuana dispensary in Sun City. He said the ruling against him undermines federalism and the "fundamental principle of the rule of law."

Last Thursday, the appeals court ruled that the state must prove patients were actually impaired before convicting them of DUID. Medical marijuana users can't be convicted of DUID solely for having marijuana in their systems absent proof they were actually impaired, the court ruled. Arizona is a zero-tolerance DUID state, and that's a problem, the judges said. "According to evidence here, there is no scientific consensus about the concentration of THC that generally is sufficient to impair a human being,'' appellate Judge Diane Johnsen wrote. The court also clarified that it is up to the state to prove impairment, not up to the defendant to disprove it. The ruling comes just two days after another division of the appellate court blocked Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery in his bid to cite federal prohibition as a reason to refuse zoning requests for dispensaries.

Colorado

As of next Sunday, caregiver plant limits will drop dramatically. Beginning January 1, the maximum number of plants medical marijuana caregivers can grow will drop from 495 to 99. The change, adopted by the legislature, is being hailed by law enforcement, which sees it as a move against black market marijuana supplies, but marijuana advocates worry that patients are at risk of losing a vital source of medicine.

Kansas

On Tuesday, a federal judge threw out a medical marijuana mom's lawsuit. A federal judge has thrown out the lawsuit from Shona Banda, the Garden City mother who lost custody of her son and was arrested over her use of cannabis oil. Garden City police raided her home in March 2015 after he son spoke up about her cannabis use at school, and child welfare authorities took custody of her son. In her lawsuit, Banda argued that she had a "fundamental right" to use medical marijuana and asked the court to restore custody of her son. But the judge ruled that Banda had not responded to filings from plaintiffs and dismissed the case. She still faces state criminal charges.

Oregon

As of this coming Sunday, dispensaries will go back to selling only to patients. As of January 1, dispensaries will revert to selling only to card-carrying patients. The state had allowed dispensaries to sell to any adult while it set up a licensing scheme for retail pot shops, but that now ends, and that means Oregon pot consumers who are not patients will have fewer places to legally buy pot. There are some 300 dispensaries in the state, but only a hundred retail pot shops. Some dispensaries are moving to be licensed as retail shops.

Pennsylvania

Last Wednesday, regulators announced an initial round of planned dispensary permits. The state will authorize up to 27 dispensary permits during a process that begins with applications opening in mid-January and able to be submitted between February 20 and March 20. Each dispensary is allowed two secondary locations, meaning up to 81 medical marijuana shops could open in this first phase. The state medical marijuana law allows for up to 50 dispensary permits to be issued. State officials said they expected dispensaries to be open for business by mid-2018.

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

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