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Chronicle AM: DE Legalization Bill Advances, NH Decrim Bill Passes, More... (5/11/17)

A legalization bill in Vermont awaits the governor's signature, and so does a decrim bill in New Hampshire, Trump names an anti-reform drug commission, Senate Democrats signal their concerns over Trump drug policies, and more.

New England is happening! A Vermont legalization bill is on the governor's desk, so is a New Hampshire decrim bill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Revenue and Finance Committee on Wednesday approved House Bill 110, which would allow people 21 and over to possess marijuana and buy it from marijuana shops, which would be limited to 75. There is no provision for people to grow their own. The bill now goes to the House floor.

New Hampshire Legislature Approves Decriminalization Bill. With approval by the Senate on Thursday, a decriminalization bill is now headed to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu (R). House Bill 640 would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil infraction. It is currently a misdemeanor.

Pennsylvania Poll for First Time Has Majority for Legalization. For the first time, the Franklin and Marshall College Poll is reporting a majority of Keystone Staters favoring marijuana legalization. The poll had support at 56%, a whopping 16-point increase over the last time Franklin and Marshall asked the question in June 2015. But only 44% of Republicans supported it, and the GOP has huge majorities in the state legislature.

Vermont Legalization Bill Awaits Governor's Action. In a historic move, the legislature has approved Senate Bill 22, which would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana possession and allow for limited cultivation by people 21 and over, as well las creating a commission to study the best ways to tax and regulate marijuana commerce in the future. Now the question is whether Gov. Phil Scott (R) will sign the bill into law. He has expressed concerns about drugged driving, but also said he thinks legalization is "inevitable." He says he will "review" the bill and did not commit to vetoing it.

Medical Marijuana

Calls Grow for Florida Special Session to Deal With Medical Marijuana. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has joined a growing number of people calling for a special legislative session to come up with rules for the state's voter-approved medical marijuana amendment. Senate President Joe Negron has also said the legislature should be responsible for crafting the rules. The session ended earlier this week without the legislature reaching agreement on how to regulate medical marijuana. If the legislature doesn't come back into session to deal with the issue, it will be left up to the state Health Department.

Drug Policy

Trump Names Members of Commission to Combat Drug Addiction. President Trump has named the members of his new commission to combat drug addiction, and the list of names is heavy with opponents of marijuana legalization. The members are New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D), Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), Project SAM co-founder and former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy, and former Deputy Director for Demand Reduction at the Office of National Drug Control Policy Dr. Bertha Madras.

Senate Dems Send Letter Raising Concerns on Trump's Opioids, Marijuana Policy. Six Senate Democrats this week sent a letter to the acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) saying they were concerned with the administration's "open hostility" to legal marijuana states and possible budget cuts they said could aggravate the opioid crisis. "We appreciate any sincere efforts to combat substance use disorders. We are concerned that this administration may revert to a policy that focuses on the criminal justice system over public health efforts," the letter reads. The senators referenced Trump's threat to radically defund ONDCP, as well as the repeal of other Obama-era policies responding to the opioid epidemic. "A meaningful effort to combat substance use disorders must focus on the full implementation of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, adequate funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and improving the Affordable Care Act by expanding access to mental health and substance use disorder services and health insurance," the letter says. Repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) would be "a major step backwards in the prevention and treatment of drug addiction," they wrote. "We are very concerned that this administration will exacerbate the opioid epidemic rather than alleviate it," the letter said. And then, there's pot: "We are also concerned by the administration's open hostility to state policies legalizing or decriminalizing the possession and use of medical or recreational marijuana," the senators wrote. "Particularly given the severity of the ongoing opioid use epidemic, federal resources should be targeted at providing comprehensive substance use disorder programs and cutting off the flow of deadly drugs rather than interfering with state regulatory regimes for marijuana," the letter said.

International

Medical Marijuana Now Available in Chilean Pharmacies. Pharmacies in Santiago will begin selling medical marijuana this week, a first for Latin America. Chile legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2015, but until now, patients could only obtain it by importing it or from a small number of dedicated farms set up by a charity. The Congress is currently debating a bill that would allow people to grow their own.

Medical Marijuana Update

Trump makes ominous noises about ignoring congressional mandates protecting medical marijuana states, Florida fails to complete medical marijuana implementation legislation, and more.

National

Last Friday, Trump threatened to ignore congressional protections for medical marijuana. Congress moved to protect medical marijuana by including in its stopgap federal spending bill a provision barring the Justice Department from using federal funds to go after the drug in states where medical marijuana is legal, but now, President Trump says that doesn't matter. Even though Trump signed the spending bill into law last Friday, he included a signing statement objecting to numerous provisions in the bill -- including the ban on funds to block the implementation of medical marijuana laws in those states. The president seemed to imply that he could ignore the provision and go after the 29 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico where medical marijuana use is allowed. "Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories," Trump noted in the signing statement. "I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

Colorado

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

Florida

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

On Monday, the legislature adjourned with no medical marijuana bill approved. Legislators were unable to agree on how to regulate the state's nascent medical marijuana industry, with the Senate refusing to hear a new proposal from the House on the last day of the legislative sessions, effectively killing the bill. That means it will now be up to the state Department of Health to craft rules and regulations for the industry. It also means that any rules -- such as a proposed ban on smoking medical marijuana -- will be easier to challenge in court than if they had been passed by the legislature.

Georgia

On Tuesday, the governor signed a CBD cannabis oil expansion bill. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed into law Senate Bill 16, which expands the number of qualifying conditions for the use of low-THC cannabis oil and allows patients in hospice care to possess it. The new qualifying conditions are AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, autism, epidermolysis bullosa, peripheral neuropathy and Tourette's syndrome.

New York

Last Tuesday, the Assembly approved adding PTSD as a qualifying condition. The Assembly voted overwhelmingly to approve Assembly Bill 7006, sponsored by Health Committee Chairman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan), which would add PTSD to the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The bill now heads to the Senate.

South Carolina

On Monday, medical marijuana bills died. Bills allowing for medical marijuana are dead this session. Identical bills filed in the House and Senate went basically nowhere, with the House version stuck in the Medical Committee and the Senate version still stuck in a subcommittee.

Texas

Last Friday, a medical marijuana bill advanced. Last Friday, the House Committee on Public Health approved a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 2107. The bill expands a 2015 law by increasing the number of medical conditions that qualify for medical marijuana use. The bill now goes to the Calendars Committee, which will decide whether to take it to a House floor vote. Bills must pass the House by this Thursday or they're dead.

On Tuesday, the medical marijuana bill died. Despite the strongest support yet in Austin, the fight to pass a medical marijuana bill is over. House Bill 2107 is dead, killed by the House Calendars Committee, which failed to take action on it before a Thursday deadline.

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

Chronicle AM: VT Lawmakers Pass Legalization, Sessions May Restart Harsh Drug War, More... (5/10/17)

A bill legalizing the possession and cultivaiton of small amounts of marijuana has passed the Vermont legislature, Attorney General Sessions could be on the verge of reinstating harsh drug war prosecution practices, Mexico's drug violence is on the upswing, and more.

The Vermont legislature made history today becoming the first to have both houses approve a legalization bill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Legislature Passes Legalization Bill. The state becomes the first in the nation to have both chambers of the legislature approve a marijuana legalization bill after the House voted on Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 22, a compromise between a House bill that would only legalize possession and cultivation -- not commerce -- and a Senate bill that envisioned a full-blown tax and regulate law. This bill postpones the effective date of personal legalization to next year and creates a commission to study whether to advance on taxation and regulation. The bill has already passed the Senate and now heads to the desk of Gov. Phil Scott (R). It is unclear whether Scott will sign the bill or not.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. Despite the strongest support yet in Austin, the fight to pass a medical marijuana bill is over. House Bill 2107 is dead, killed by the House Calendars Committee, which failed to take action on it by a Tuesday deadline.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Terry Branstad (R) on Tuesday signed into law Senate File 446, which requires a criminal conviction before property valued at less than $5,000 can be seized by police. The new law also raises the standard of proof from a preponderance of the evidence to "clear and convincing" evidence, and implements record-keeping requirements.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions Could Bring Back Harsh Drug War Prosecutions. Sessions is reviewing policy changes that could reverse Obama era sentencing practices aimed at reducing the federal prison population. According to reports, Sessions could be on the verge of reversing an Eric Holder memo that instructed prosecutors to avoid charging low-level defendants with crimes carrying the most severe penalties and to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences. "As the Attorney General has consistently said, we are reviewing all Department of Justice policies to focus on keeping Americans safe and will be issuing further guidance and support to our prosecutors executing this priority -- including an updated memorandum on charging for all criminal cases," Ian Prior, a department spokesman, in a statement to The Washington Post.

Drug Testing

Labor Department Removes Obama Rule Blocking States' Drug Testing for Unemployment Benefits. The department will publish in the Federal Register on Thursday notice that it is officially removing the Obama era rule that limited states' ability to force unemployment applicants to undergo drug testing. Congress had repealed the rule under the Congressional Review Act in March.

International

Irish Senators Approve Supervised Injection Sites. The Seanad on Wednesday approved legislation permitting the creation of supervised injection sites with a bill that will allow for the preparation and possession of drugs on such premises. The measure was approved by the lower house, the Dail, in March.

Mexico's Drug War Was World's Second Deadliest Conflict Last Year. Some 23,000 people were killed in prohibition-related violence in Mexico last year, making the country second only to Syria in terms of lives lost to conflict. About 50,000 were reported killed in the Syrian civil war in 2016. The numbers come from an annual survey of armed conflict from the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan claimed 17,000 and 16,000 lives respectively in 2016, although in lethality they were surpassed by conflicts in Mexico and Central America, which have received much less attention from the media and the international community," said Anastasia Voronkova, the editor of the survey. Last year's toll is a dramatic increase from the 15,000 conflict deaths in Mexico in 2014 and the 17,000 in 2015. "It is noteworthy that the largest rises in fatalities were registered in states that were key battlegrounds for control between competing, increasingly fragmented cartels," she said. "The violence grew worse as the cartels expanded the territorial reach of their campaigns, seeking to 'cleanse' areas of rivals in their efforts to secure a monopoly on drug-trafficking routes and other criminal assets."

Colombian Coca Production More Than Triples. Thanks largely to "perverse incentives" linked to the end of the decades-long conflict between the Colombian state and the FARC, Colombia is growing more coca than ever. As a result, the cocaine market is saturated, prices have crashed, and unpicked coca leaves are rotting in the fields. "We've never seen anything like it before," said Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas. The country produced a whopping 710 tons of cocaine last year, up from 235 tons three years earlier.

Chronicle AM: Nevada Marijuana Sales Could Start July 1, GA Gov Signs CBD Bill, More... (5/9/17)

Nevada marijuana stores get an okay for early openings, Georgia's governor signs a CBC cannabis oil expansion bill, Chris Christie says drug czar budget cuts aren't going to happen, and more.

Peruvian police attack medical marijuana marchers in Lima last Saturday. (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Recreational Marijuana Sales Can Begin as Early as July 1. The Nevada Tax Commission voted on Monday to approve temporary licenses for qualifying pot shops so that they can open without waiting for the commission to draft rules, a process that must be completed by January 1. The marijuana retailers must, though, have state and local licenses to operate, and most counties have yet to approve their own regulations.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Expansion Bill. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) on Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 16, which expands the number of qualifying conditions for the use of low-THC cannabis oil and allows patients in hospice care to possess it. The new qualifying conditions are AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, autism, epidermolysis bullosa, peripheral neuropathy and Tourette's syndrome.

Drug Policy

Chris Christie Says Cuts to Drug Czar's Office Won't Happen. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who was named by President Trump to head an advisory group on the opioid epidemic, said on Tuesday that a widely-reported deep cut in funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) is "not going to happen." The governor added that: "I believe there will be funding and I believe funding will take different forms." But he also criticized the office, saying the opioid epidemic was evidence it wasn't doing its job.

International

Australia Welfare Recipients to Be Subject to Drug Testing. The federal government is aiming to cut welfare expenses, in part by going after people affected by drugs and alcohol. Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison said in his budget speech that a pilot drug testing program will be run on 5,000 welfare recipients. Anyone who tests positive will have his or her benefits locked to a cashless card that can only be used for "essential living expenses" and will also be "subjected to further tests and possible referral to treatment."

Peru Police Attack Medical Marijuana Rally Marchers. Activists calling for the legalization of marijuana announced Monday they had filed a lawsuit against the National Police after officers violently attacked marchers in a peaceful demonstration last Saturday. "We were just marching peacefully when the police started attacking us with tear gas, including our children, regardless of the fact that some of them were in wheelchairs," said Looking for Hope leader Ayde Farfan. Police also arrested eight activists, although they released them the next day. The Peruvian Congress is set to debate a medical marijuana bill next week, but it doesn't include a provision for growing your own, which is what the marchers were calling for.

Chronicle AM: Trump May Ignore Congress's Ban on MedMJ Enforcement Funding, More... (5/8/17)

Marijuana activists march worldwide, the Trump administration hints it may ignore a congressional ban on funding for medical marijuana enforcement, the Vermont legalization effort still lives, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Global Marijuana Marchers Hit the Streets. From London to Lubbock, New York City to Buenos Aires, marijuana activists took to the streets in dozens of towns and cities around the world in what is being described as the19th annual Global Marijuana March. Hundreds came out in New York, thousands in Buenos Aires, in what was probably the largest single gathering. While Dana Beal and New York City activists have been holding marches since the 1970s, the first "global" march was in 1999.

Arizona Activists Gear Up for Another Initiative Effort in 2018. After being narrowly defeated at the polls last year, activists with Safer Arizona have filed paperwork with the secretary of state's office to allow them to begin signature gathering to place a legalization measure on the November 2018 ballot. The group needs 156,042 valid voter signatures by July 5, 2018 to qualify for the ballot.

Nevada Lawmakers Advance Bill to Eliminate Urine Drug Tests for DUID. Last Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Assembly Bill 135, which would eliminate the use of urine samples as a measure for testing impaired driving. Police would be limited to using blood tests under the bill. The bill is advancing based on medical testimony that urine testing cannot accurately measure cognitive impairment and maintains the state's existing law that sets a de facto impairment level of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. The bill has already passed the Assembly and now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Vermont Legalization Effort Not Dead Yet. Last Friday, one day before the legislature was set to adjourn, the Senate approved a compromise marijuana legalization bill. The bill is nearly identical to a measure already passed by the House and would implement the legalization of small-time possession and cultivation beginning in July, but would defer marijuana commerce to a nine-member commission, which would present legislation next year. It's unclear, though, when the House will take up the legislation or what it will do when it does address the bill. The House could vote to approve it or it could send it to conference committee. House leaders have said that instead of ending Saturday, the session will adjourn until Wednesday and then resume.

Medical Marijuana

Trump Threatens to Ignore Congressional Protections for Medical Marijuana. Congress moved to protect medical marijuana by including in its stop-gap federal spending bill a provision barring the Justice Department from using federal funds to go after the drug in states where medical marijuana is legal, but now, President Trump says that doesn't matter. Even though Trump signed the spending bill into law last Friday, he included a signing statement objecting to numerous provisions in the bill -- including the ban on funds to block the implementation of medical marijuana laws in those states.The president said he reserved the right to ignore that provision and left open the possibility the Trump administration could go after the 29 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico where medical marijuana use is allowed. "Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories," Trump noted in the signing statement. "I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

Florida Legislature Adjourns With No Medical Marijuana Bill. Legislators were unable to agree on how to regulate the state's nascent medical marijuana industry, with the Senate refusing to hear a new proposal from the House on the last day of the legislative sessions, effectively killing the bill. That means it will now be up to the state Department of Health to craft rules and regulations for the industry. It also means that any rules -- such as a proposed ban on smoking medical marijuana -- will be easier to challenge in court than if they had been passed by the legislature.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. Bills allowing for medical marijuana are dead this session. Identical bills filed in the House and Senate went basically nowhere, with the House version stuck in the Medical Committee and the Senate version still stuck in a subcommittee.

Texas Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. Last Friday, the House Committee on Public Health approved a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 2107. The bill expands a 2015 law by increasing the number of medical conditions that qualify for medical marijuana use. The bill now goes to the Calendars Committee, which will decide whether to take it to a House floor vote. Bills must pass the House by this Thursday or they're dead.

Drug Policy

Ohio GOP, Democratic Senators Blast Proposed Drug Czar Cuts. Both Ohio senators, Rob Portman (R) and Sherrod Brown (D) blasted the Trump administration over reports that it plans a 95% cut to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Portman said the office was critical for fighting the opioid epidemic, while Brown echoed those comments.

Schumer Blasts Proposed Drug Czar Cuts. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) blasted the Trump administration proposal to cut the drug czar's office, too. "The president goes out and talks about how important it is to fight drugs," he said Sunday. "I'm glad he's doing that, and then his budget is going to propose 95% of a cut in one of the most effective and cost effective ways we can fight the drug scourge."

International

Bipartisan Federal Bill Aims at Philippines Drug War. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have filed the "Philippines Human Rights Accountability and Counternarcotics Act of 2017," Senate Bill 1055, which places restrictions on defense aid to the country, provides additional funding for the Filipino human rights community, and supports a public health approach to drug use. The bill comes as the number of extrajudicial killings passes an estimated 7,000 in around nine months, as a result of the drug war led by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

Trump Threatens to Defy Congress to Go After Medical Marijuana

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

Congress moved to protect medical marijuana by including in its stopgap federal spending bill a provision barring the Justice Department from using federal funds to go after the drug in states where medical marijuana is legal, but now, President Trump says that doesn't matter.

The president wants to ignore the will of Congress when it comes to funding for medical marijuana enforcement. (Gage Skidmore)
Even though Trump signed the spending bill into law last Friday, he included a signing statement objecting to numerous provisions in the bill -- including the ban on funds to block the implementation of medical marijuana laws in those states.

Despite those state laws, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which also does not recognize "medical marijuana."

The president said he reserved the right to ignore that provision and left open the possibility the Trump administration could go after the 29 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico where medical marijuana use is allowed.

"Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories," Trump noted in the signing statement. "I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

The language suggests that Trump could give Attorney General Jeff Sessions his go ahead when it comes to enforcing marijuana policy. Sessions has vowed to crack down on marijuana and has scoffed at arguments for its medical use as "desperate."

"I reject the idea that we're going to be better placed if we have more marijuana," Sessions told law enforcement officials in an April speech. "It's not a healthy substance, particularly for young people."

But the language also sets up a potential power struggle with Congress, which, under the Constitution, has the sole power to appropriate funds for federal government operations.

As Steve Bell, a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington told Bloomberg News, the signing statement signals a desire to usurp power from Congress.

"It is the constitutional prerogative of the Congress to spend money and to put limitations on spending," said Bell, a former staff director of the Senate Budget Committee and an aide to former Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico. "This is an extremely broad assertion of executive branch power over the purse."

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a primary sponsor of the rider who is also a Trump supporter, threatened to take the matter to the Supreme Court if necessary to protect medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal thought they had some protection, thanks to the congressional budget action, but in typical Trumpian fashion, the president's signing statement has once again introduced doubt and uncertainty, leaving at risk not only patients and providers, but also traditional limits on executive authority.

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Drug Policy

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

Drug Treatment

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

International

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Harm Reduction

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

Law Enforcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Congress refuses to fund anti-marijuana federal enforcement efforts in medical marijuana states, Arkansas and Florida continue grappling with establishing regulations for their new programs, California rolls out its medical marijuana regulations, and more.

National

On Sunday, Congress rolled out an interim budget with no funding for medical marijuana enforcement. The budget bill crafted by Congress to keep the federal government working in the short term includes the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment language barring the spending of federal dollars to enforce federal pot prohibition in states that have legalized medical marijuana. The language is only good through September, though.

On Monday, a federal CBD bill was filed. US Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) on Monday filed House Resolution 2273, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD-rich plants from the definition of marijuana. It's been referred to the House Judiciary, Financial Services, and Energy and Commerce committees.

Arkansas

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

California

Last Friday, the state issued medical marijuana regulation draft rules. A trio of state agencies released 114 pages of draft rules designed to regulate the state's massive medical marijuana industry. Now there is a 45-day public comment period before the rules become law. Click on the link for more details.

Florida

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

On Tuesday, the House passed the medical marijuana regulation bill. The House approved a medical marijuana regulation measure, House Bill 1397, after altering several provisions opposed by patients and the industry. The measure removes the ban on using low-THC marijuana products in public, increases the number of dispensaries to 17 statewide, and allows patients to only have to see a doctor once every seven months to get renewed. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Vermont

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

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

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