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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%.


GOP Congressman Warns of Mexican Marijuana Nukes

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

An Arizona Republican congressman has defended the notion of building a border wall by claiming it could prevent a nuclear weapon being smuggled into the United States concealed in a bale of marijuana.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) made the comments Wednesday in a discussion with CNN's Brianna Keilar about President Trump's proposed $21 billion border barrier.

"The reality, Brianna, is that we have to measure all of the costs, ancillary and otherwise, and make the best decision that we can. But I can suggest to you that there are national security implications here for a porous border. We sometimes used to make the point that if someone wanted to smuggle in a dangerous weapon, even a nuclear weapon, into America, how would they do it? And the suggestion was made, 'Well, we'll simply hide it in a bale of marijuana,'" Franks said.

"So the implications of a porous border have national security dimensions that are very significant and that bear a lot of conversation when we talk about costs," he said.

Franks pointed to no evidence of loose nuclear weapons floating around Mexico, nor did he explain why presumed nuke-smugglers would choose to try to hide their weapon in something the US Border Patrol is already looking for, as opposed to, say, a semi-trailer truck going through a port of entry with a load of legal commodities or a boat simply sailing into the Houston Ship Channel.

Still, the Mexican marijuana nuke threat is one that Franks has addressed before. As his website notes, he raised the specter of Hezbollah smuggling marijuana nukes into the US in a House floor speech back in 2012.

"Specifically imagine for a moment, Mr. Speaker, the scenario of Hezbollah, one of Iran's terrorist proxies, gaining possession of just two nuclear warheads and bringing them across the border into the United States concealed, say, in bales of marijuana," he said, "then transporting them into the heart of two different, crowded, unnamed cities. Then calling and telling the White House exactly when and where the first one will be detonated, and then following through 60 seconds later."

That's right: Hezbollah is going to attack us with nuclear bombs hidden inside bales of Mexican brick weed. You can't make this stuff up.

Here's Franks' exchange with Keilar, via CNN:

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: 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.

Chronicle AM: House GOP Wants to Drug Test for Unemployment Benefits, More... (2/15/17)

Vermont's GOP governor throws up an obstacle to marijuana legalization, the House GOP is set to vote to force unemployed workers to take drug tests before receiving their earned benefits, the rightist mayor of South America's largest city turns his back on harm reduction, and more.

House Republicans want laid off workers to have to undergo suspicionless drug tests before receiving their earned benefits.
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Bill Would Limit Pipe, Bong Sales to Pot Shops. Minority whip Rep. Jodi Hack (R-East Salem) has filed a bill that would only allow pot paraphernalia to be sold a licensed marijuana shops. Hack said the measure, House Bill 2556, was aimed at stopping minors from buying the stuff at gas stations, minimarts, and tobacco shops. But smoke shop operators and other retailers are vowing a fight.

Vermont Governor Demands Tough Driving Provisions Before He Will Support Legalization. Gov. Phil Scott (R) says he will not support a legalization bill before the legislature unless it has provisions allowing police to determine is someone is driving while impaired. "Certainly it's still problematic from the standpoint of public safety," said Scott. "I want to make sure that we address those concerns I talked about on the campaign trail in terms of impairment on our highways." He also acknowledged that current tests don't provide clear evidence of impairment, but used that uncertainty to say Vermont should wait and see how other states deal with the issue.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana "Fix" Bills Advance. The House voted Monday to approve two bills aimed at tidying up the state's new medical marijuana law. The measures, both authored by Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock) are House Bill 1371, which requires that Arkansans hold 60% ownership interest in pot businesses in the state, and House Bill 1298, which requires that persons, not corporations, hold the licenses. The bills now head to the Senate.

South Dakota CBD Bill Advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 95, which would reschedule CBD as a Class 4 drug in the state and remove it from the definition of marijuana under state law. The bill would legalize the possession and use of CBD, but only upon approval by the FDA. That requirement was added in committee.

Drug Testing

House to Vote on Drug Testing the Unemployed. The House was prepared to vote as early as today on House Joint Resolution 42, which would undo Obama administration limits on drug testing people seeking unemployment benefits. Under a compromise to extend unemployment benefits in 2012, the Obama administration agreed to limited drug testing, but only once the Labor Department had identified industries and sectors that "regularly require drug tests." People receiving unemployment benefits are people who have been laid off from work, not people who have been fired for cause, including drug use. People who are fired for cause don't qualify for unemployment benefits.

Arkansas Senate Approves Bill Making Welfare Drug Testing Permanent. The Senate Tuesday approved Senate Bill 123, which would make permanent a welfare drug testing pilot program approved two years ago, even though the pilot program had only two people fail a drug test and 11 decline to take it out of more than 3,000 people who applied for welfare last year. Under the Arkansas law, the children of people who fail a drug test lose their benefits unless their parent undergoes drug treatment at his or her own expense. The bill now goes to the House.

International

Sao Paulo's New Mayor Turns Back on Successful Harm Reduction Program. New Mayor Joao Doria will scale back a successful harm reduction program that provided housing and jobs to people with problematic crack cocaine use and replace it with a coercive and abstinence-based program. The Restart program Doria likes involves the involuntary "hospitalization and confinement of those who are victims of crack so that with medical treatment, they can stay away from drugs," he explained.

Venezuela VP Shrugs Off US Drug Sanctions. The Venezuelan government Tuesday condemned US sanctions imposed a day earlier on Vice President Tareck El Aissami as a "highly dangerous" infringement of Venezuelan sovereignty, while El Aissami himself called it a "miserable and defamatory aggression" that wouldn't distract him from his job. The US accuses El Aissami of facilitating cocaine shipments while he was a provincial governor.

Chronicle AM: NM Senate on MedMJ & Harm Reduction; Iowa Students Win Speech Case, More... (2/14/17)

Medical marijuana and harm reduction measures advance in New Mexico, a police drug field test kit maker is being sued by a Florida man busted for the glaze on his Krispy Kreme donuts, Idaho considers ending mandatory minimums for drug offenses, and more.

The New Mexico Senate has approved a pair of measures aimed at reducing overdose deaths. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Calls for Decriminalization. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northum (D) called Monday for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, saying enforcement is costly and aimed disproportionately at African-Americans. The move comes weeks after Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City) requested that the Virginia Crime Commission study the issue. That move froze pending decriminalization legislation sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria).

Washington State Bill Would Repeal Legalization. Rep. Brad Klippert (R-Kenniwick) has filed House Bill 2096, which would repeal "all laws legalizing the use, possession, sale, or production of marijuana and marijuana-related products." The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Commerce and Gaming.

Wyoming Senate Committee Scales Back Marijuana Sentencing Reforms. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to amend House Bill 197, weakening proposed sentencing reforms by doubling the period during which previous convictions would result in a longer sentence from five years to 10 years. More importantly, the amendment removes the plant form of marijuana from the bill completely, meaning the new tiered sentencing system would apply only to edibles.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate voted 29-11 Monday to approve Senate Bill 177, which would expand the state's program by increasing the amount of marijuana patients may possess to five ounces and increasing the number of plants commercial providers can grow. The bill now goes to the House.

Drug Policy

Idaho Bills Would Alter State's Drug Laws. The House Judiciary and Rules Committee voted Monday to introduce a package of three bills that would reform the state's harsh drug laws. One bill would end mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and another would bar the seizure of vehicles for simple drug possession and require that property found near drugs be seized only if it is meaningfully connected to the crime. The third bill, however, is a step in the opposite direction -- it would allow heroin sellers to be charged with murder in the event of fatal overdoses.

Drug Testing

Florida Field Drug Test Kit Company Sued By Man Jailed for Possessing Donut Glaze. A Florida man is suing the police field drug test kit manufacturer Safariland LLC after an Orlando police officer using one of its field kits charged him with possessing methamphetamine although the substance being tested was actually the glaze from a Krispy Kreme donut. The drug test is either ineffective or unreliable, Daniel Rushing charges in his lawsuit, twice registering a positive result for meth and resulting in his false arrest and imprisonment before felony charges were dropped.

First Amendment

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Student Drug Legalization Group's Free Speech Rights. The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that Iowa State University cannot bar a student group from using the university's logo and mascot on t-shirts calling for the legalization of marijuana. Iowa State NORML had sued in 2014 after the university first gave its okay, but then refused permission after pressure from high-ranking state officials, including the governor's office. Instead, the university suddenly changed its guidelines, with new rules prohibiting designs "that suggest promotion of dangerous, illegal, or unhealthy products." Last year a federal district court filed an injunction prohibiting the school from using its new policy to block NORML from printing new t-shirts, and now the appeals court has upheld that permanent injunction.

Harm Reduction

New Mexico Senate Approves Pair of Harm Reduction Bills. The state Senate Monday overwhelmingly approved two bills aimed at reducing the number of fatal drug overdoses in the state. Senate Bill 47 would improve the state's 911 Good Samaritan law to include alcohol overdoses and eliminate the prospect of criminal liability for violating drug laws while seeking medical assistance for an overdose. Senate Bill 16 would require health care providers to counsel patients on the risk of overdose and to offer prescriptions for the overdose reversal drug naloxone. The bills now go to the House.

International

Trump Administration Accuses Venezuela VP of Drug Smuggling. The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control has imposed sanctions on Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, accusing him of being an international drug kingpin. Treasury said that El Aissimi facilitated drug trafficking in his previous post of Aragua state. The Treasury Department placed him on a list reserved for "specially designated narcotics traffickers," part of what's known as the Kingpin Act.

In the Time of Trump, Can Congress Take the Lead on Marijuana Policy? [FEATURE]

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

While the marijuana community -- consumers, industry, and advocates alike -- eyes with trepidation the reign of avowed drug warrior Jeff Sessions at the Justice Department, the Trump executive branch isn't the only game in town when it comes to making marijuana policy. Congress is back in session, and after last November's legalization and medical marijuana victories at the polls, the pot state delegation is larger than ever.

Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) (house.gov)
And at least some of those senators and congressmen and women representing the 28 states (and the District of Columbia) that have embraced medical marijuana and the eight states plus DC that have so far gone for adult legalization, are gearing up to fight for reform at the Capitol.

A nascent congressional Cannabis Caucus formed in December is preparing a plethora of bills for the current session, and its members say they are optimistic about their chances, even in the time of Trump -- and Republicans holding every committee chair in both houses. It's because Congress is riding the marijuana wave, too, said caucus founder and co-chair Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

"This Congress is going to be a little better than last Congress, and last Congress was better than the one before that," he said in an interview this week with The Cannabist. "It's very interesting watching the momentum build."

That momentum derives from public opinion polls consistently showing nationwide majorities favoring legalization and, more importantly, the actual victories at the polls in November, where legalization went four for five and medical marijuana went four for four.

"It's easier for people to embrace much of what we're doing legislatively," he said. Fixing industry-critical concerns such as the lack of operating expense deductions or access to financial services for state-legal businesses or barriers to medical marijuana research are now mere "housekeeping" issues, he added.

Nonetheless, fixes still have to get through the Congress. They haven't so far, and it's a long way between filing a bill and seeing it signed into law. Still, Blumenauer and colleagues will be pushing harder than ever.

He is joined in the Cannabis Caucus by co-chairs Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Don Young (R-AL). The bipartisan grouping is notably made up of representatives from vanguard legalization states, but by no means all of them -- California alone has 53 House members -- and there is certainly room for more to come on board.

"I'm more hopeful than ever before that we can move legislation like the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act," Polis told The Cannabist, referring to last session's H.R. 1013, which picked up 19 cosponsors and was referred to a slew of subcommittees, but never even got a hearing.

Caucus member Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) (house.gov)
That bill was one of about two dozen pot-related proposals filed in the last session, and they're already starting to pile up again this session. While Blumenauer told The Cannabist more were to come, here's what's on the table so far:

H.R. 331 -- Filed by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the States' Medical Marijuana Rights Protection Act would block federal civil asset forfeiture aimed at the owners of state-legal medical marijuana operations.

H.R. 714 -- Filed by Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), the Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marihuana Act would move marijuana to the Controlled Substance Act's Schedule II, opening the door to more research and, potentially, doctors' ability to prescribe (as opposed to recommend) marijuana for patients. It would also bar the use of that act or the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to interfere with medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

H.R. 715 -- Also filed by Rep. Griffith, the Compassionate Access Act would reschedule marijuana, provide for its medical use under state laws, and remove CBD (cannabidiol) from the definition of marijuana.

H.R. 975 -- Filed by Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Rohrabacher, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act would exempt people and entities from certain provisions of the Controlled Substances Act if they are acting in compliance with state laws. Rohrabacher authored similar legislation in the last Congress, garnering 20 cosponsors, including seven Republicans.

There is no outright federal marijuana legalization bill out there yet this session, but expect to see Rep. Polis come back with his bill or perhaps Bernie Sanders reviving his bill to end federal marijuana prohibition, or both. Given political realities on the Hill, though, the Cannabis Caucus will likely save its political capital for fights it might be able to win, such as fixing the tax and banking problems facing the industry.

Another key battleground -- and one where marijuana advocates have actually won before -- is the appropriations process. The Justice Department and the DEA can't go after marijuana in legal states if Congress bars them from spending any federal funds to do so, and that's exactly what Congress did when it approved the Rohrabacher-Farr Medical Marijuana Amendment last session.

If a similar amendment were to succeed again, even if Attorney General Sessions wanted to call out the cavalry, he couldn't buy the horse feed, and it wouldn't matter how many nasty memos his deputies wrote.

And while his past pronouncements are indeed worrisome, he was quite coy at his nomination hearings, saying that he "won't commit to never enforcing federal law," but adding that enforcement priorities are "a problem of resources for the federal government."

Sessions did add later in the hearings that it's not "the attorney general's job to decide what laws to enforce," but suggested that his former colleagues could settle things once and for all.

Does new Attorney General Jeff Sessions want to punt pot policy back to Congress? (senate.gov)
"I think one obvious concern is that the United States Congress has made the possession of marijuana in every state and distribution of it an illegal act," he said. "If that something is not desired any longer, Congress should pass the law to change the rule."

And then there's Sessions' boss, President Trump. While he projects a law and order image and has campaigned against "drugs," the drugs he seems most concerned about are heroin and the prescription opioids -- not pot. He's also suggested in the past a willingness to let states experiment on marijuana policy, and he has a lot of other things on his plate. It's not at all clear he would let Sessions unleash a war on weed even if he wanted to.

Earl Blumenauer doesn't think Trump wants to charge into this particular melee.

"This is a struggle and will continue to be, but this is something where I honestly don't think the new administration, which has probably enough controversy on its hands, is going to knowingly pick a fight with what, almost without exception, was approved by local voters," Blumenauer said.

To ensure that Sessions doesn't strike out, "we need to make the case directly to Trump" about the economic potential of the marijuana industry, said Polis. But until federal marijuana prohibition is ended, "the industry really exists at the discretion of the president and the attorney general, and that's a dangerous place to be," he added.

Well, and Congress, too. It holds the purse strings, after all.

Marijuana policy is going to be at play in the 115th Congress. Ending federal prohibition remains the Holy Grail, but in the meantime, there are concrete actions Congress can take to protect medical and legal marijuana and the industry it's creating. Now, let's see if the Cannabis Caucus can lead the way to some victories.

Trump Goes Full Nixon on Law-and-Order, Vows 'Ruthless' War on Drugs and Crime [FEATURE]

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

In a sharp break with the Obama administration, which distanced itself from harsh anti-drug rhetoric and emphasized treatment for drug users over punishment, President Trump last week reverted to tough drug war oratory and backed it up with a series of executive orders he said were "designed to restore safety in America."

"We're going to stop the drugs from pouring in," Trump told law enforcement professionals of the Major Cities Chiefs Association last Wednesday. "We're going to stop those drugs from poisoning our youth, from poisoning our people. We're going to be ruthless in that fight. We have no choice. And we're going to take that fight to the drug cartels and work to liberate our communities from their terrible grip of violence."

Trump also lambasted the Obama administration for one of its signature achievements in criminal justice reform, opening the prison doors for more than 1,700 drug war prisoners who had already served sentences longer than they would have under current, revised sentencing guidelines. Obama freed "record numbers of drug traffickers, many of them kingpins," Trump complained.

And in a sign of a return to the dark days of drug war over-sentencing, he called for harsher mandatory minimum prison sentences for "the most serious" drug offenders, as well as aggressive prosecutions of drug traffickers and cracking down on "shipping loopholes" he claimed allowed drugs to be sent to the US from other countries.

In a New Hampshire campaign speech during the campaign, Trump called for more treatment for drug users and more access to overdose reversal drugs, but there was no sign of that side of the drug policy equation in Wednesday's speech.

Last Thursday, Trump backed up his tough talk with action as, at the Oval Office swearing in of Attorney General Jeff Session, he rolled out three executive orders he said were "designed to restore safety in America," but which appear to signal an increasingly authoritarian response to crime, drugs, and discontent with policing practices.

The first, which Trump said would "reduce crime and restore public safety," orders Sessions to create a new Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Policy, which will come up with "strategies to reduce crime, including, in particular, illegal immigration, drug trafficking and violent crime," propose legislation to implement them, and submit a report to the president within a year.

The second, regarding "transnational criminal organizations and preventing drug trafficking," directs various federal law enforcement agencies to "increase intelligence sharing" and orders an already existing interagency working group to submit a report to Trump within four months describing progress made in combating the cartels, "along with any recommended actions for dismantling them."

"I'm directing Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to undertake all necessary and lawful action to break the back of the criminal cartels that have spread across our nation and are destroying the blood of our youth and other people," Trump said Thursday.

The third directs the Justice Department to use federal law to prosecute people who commit crimes against police officers, even though they already face universally severe penalties under existing state laws.

Trump was breathing law-and-order brimstone last week. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
"It's a shame what's been happening to our great, truly great law enforcement officers," Trump said at the signing ceremony. "That's going to stop as of today."

The tough talk and the executive orders provoked immediate alarm and pushback from human and civil rights advocates, drug reformers, the Mexican government, and even the law enforcement community. The apparent turn back toward a more law-and-order approach to drugs also runs against the tide of public health and public policy opinion that the war on drugs has been a failure.

In a report released last Friday, dozens of senior law enforcement officials warned Trump against a tough crackdown on crime and urged him to instead continue the Obama administration's efforts to reform the criminal justice system.

The report was coauthored for Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration by former Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who won wide praise for his response after a gun man killed five of his officers last year.

"Decades of experience have convinced us of a sobering reality: Today's crime policies, which too often rely only on jail and prison, are simply ineffective in preserving public safety," the report said.

The president's crime plan would encourage police to focus on general lawbreaking rather than violent crime, the report said. The Justice Department already spends more than $5 billion a year to support local police, much of it spent on "antiquated law enforcement tools, such as dragnet enforcement of lower-level offenses" and Trump's plan would "repeat this mistake," the officials wrote. "We cannot fund all crime fighting tactics."

Drug reformers also sounded the alarm.

"This rhetoric is dangerous, disturbing, and dishonest," said Bill Piper, senior director for national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We have had a war on drugs. It has failed. Tough talk may look good before the cameras, but history has taught us that cracking down on drugs and building walls will not stop the supply or use of drugs. It mostly causes the death and destruction of innocent lives. Trump must tone down his outrageous rhetoric and threats, and instead reach out to leadership from both parties to enact a humane and sensible health-based approach to drug policies that both reduce overdose and our country's mass incarceration crisis."

Indeed, most public health experts argue that the prohibitionist approach to drugs has been a failure. They point to research such as a 2013 study in the British Medical Journal that found that despite billions spent on drug prohibition since 1990, drug prices have only decreased and purity increased, making getting high easier and more affordable than ever before.

"These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing," the authors conclude.

Public health analysts also point to research showing that between 1991 and 2001, even when the drug war was in full effect, the rate of illicit drug use among teens rose sharply, while their cigarette smoking rate fell off a bit and their alcohol use dropped sharply. The substances that are legal for adult use were less likely to see increases than ones that are prohibited, the analysts point out.

Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Luis Videgaray also chimed in to note that there wouldn't be any Mexican drug cartels without American demand for drugs and to remind Washington that it's not just what's being exported from Mexico that is a problem, but what's being imported, too.

"For years, from the Mexican perspective, people say, 'OK, the problem with drugs -- that it's creating so much violence, so many deaths of young people in Mexico -- is because there's demand for drugs in the US,''" Videgaray said. "We happen to be neighbors to the largest market for drugs. From the American perspective, it's just the other way around," he said, adding that both countries need to get past "the blame game."

And if the US is serious about helping Mexico disrupt the cartels "business model," it needs to stop the southbound traffic in cash and guns.

"We need to stop illegal weapons flowing from the U.S. into Mexico," Videgaray said. "We always think about illegal stuff moving through the border south to north, but people forget that most guns -- and we're not talking small guns, we're talking heavy weapons -- they get to the cartels and create literally small armies out of the cartels."

Will progress on reducing mass incarceration come to a halt? (nadcp.org)
Human Rights Watch reacted to a comment from Attorney General Sessions at his swearing in ceremony that crime is a "dangerous permanent trend that places the lives of American people at risk," by noting that crime is down dramatically by all measures over the past 20 years despite a slight increase in violent crimes between 2014 and 2015. "There is no 'dangerous permanent trend' in violent or non-violent crime," it pointed out.

And Amnesty International swiftly reacted to the executive order calling for new federal penalties for crimes against police.

"Law enforcement officers face unique hardships and challenges due to the nature of their work," said Amnesty's Noor Mir. "Authorities are already able to vigorously prosecute crimes against law enforcement officers, and there is no history to suggest that officers are not fully protected by current laws. This order will not protect anyone, and instead it creates additional penalties that could cause people to be significantly over-prosecuted for offenses including resisting arrest.

There is a better way, said Mir, but that would require going in a radically different direction than where the Trump administration is headed.

"This order does nothing to address real and serious problems in the US criminal justice system," he said. "Relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve could instead be improved by investing in reform of the criminal justice system and better training for officers. Police already have laws protecting them, but there is no federal standard for the prosecution of officers who unlawfully kill civilians. Implementing a standard for lethal force in line with international standards will protect both police and civilians."

The Trump administration has outlined an approach to drugs and criminal justice policy with dark Nixonian and Reaganite underpinnings, promising more, more, more heavy-handed policing, more swelling prison populations, and more -- not less -- distrust and suspicion between police and the communities they are supposed to serve and protect.

And, in typical Trump fashion, his brash, draconian approach to the complex social problems around crime and drugs is creating a rapid backlash. Whether the rising opposition to Trump can rein in his authoritarian impulses and regressive policy approaches to the issue remains to be seen, but a battle to stop the slide backward is brewing.

Chronicle AM: Trump Rolls Out Crime & Drug War, Brazil Top Judge Says Legalize, More... (2/10/17)

Donald Trump takes a hard line on crime and drugs, a new Michigan poll has support for marijuana legalization at an all time high, a Brazilian Supreme Court justice calls for an end to the drug war there, and more.

Donald Trump takes a hard line on crime and drugs. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Support for Legalization at Highest Level Ever. A new poll from EPIC/MRA has support for marijuana legalization in the state at 57%. That's a four percent increase from the same poll last year. The poll comes as activists organized as MILegalize prepare efforts to get a legalization initiative on the 2018 ballot. They came up just short last year after the state legislature and state courts blocked their efforts to get all their signatures counted.

New Jersey Lawmakers Vow to Press Forward With Legalization Effort Despite Trump. Garden State lawmakers say the appointment of marijuana legalization foe Jeff Sessions as President Trump's attorney general will not stop them from pressing forward with their efforts. State Sen. Nick Scutari (D) said he is "concerned," but not deterred. "It doesn't give me pause. It's a concern but we are not going to pause," Scutari said Thursday. "Hopefully he will follow what President Trump said as a candidate -- that it's a states' rights issue."

Vermont's GOP Governor Opposes Legalization Bill. Gov. Phil Scott's (R) administration came out firmly against legalization Thursday. "We oppose this bill," State Police Major Glenn Hall told the House Judiciary Committee. "We speak with one voice," added Public Safety Commissioner Tom Anderson. "That's what the governor stands for also."

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Bills to "Fix" Medical Marijuana Law Moving. Six medical marijuana-related bills moved out of committees to face floor votes in their respective chambers Wednesday. The House Rules Committee advanced five bills, while the Senate Education Committee advanced one bill. More bills are still in committee. Many of the bills deal with technical "fixes," but some of them would alter the way the program is intended to work. Click on the link for a complete rundown on the bills.

Drug Policy

Trump Signs Executive Orders Aimed at Drugs, Crime. The president signed three executive orders he said were "designed to restore safety in America." One that aims to "reduce crime and restore public safety" directs Attorney General Sessions to create a Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, which is charged with developing "strategies to reduce crime, including, in particular, illegal immigration, drug trafficking and violent crime" proposing new legislation, and submiting at least one report to the President within the next year. The second is aimed at combatting international drug trafficking organizations, while the third directs the Justice Department to use existing federal law to prosecute those who commit crimes against police officers.

International

Brazil Supreme Court Judge Calls for Marijuana, Cocaine Legalization. Supreme Court Justice Robero Barroso called Friday for marijuana and even cocaine to be legalized to erode the growing power of illegal drug trafficking organizations. Fifty years of drug war had only clogged jails with small-time offenders and fueled violent gang battles. "Unlike the United States and Europe where the problem lies in the impact drugs have on consumers, in Brazil the problem lies in the power drug traffickers have over poor communities," Barroso said. "I can assure you it is only a matter of time. Either we legalize marijuana now or we do it in the future after we have spent billions and incarcerated thousands."

Drug War Issues

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