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Chronicle AM: NH Decrim Bill Advances, VT Legalization Bill Passes House, More... (5/3/17)

The long slog toward marijuana law reform continues in New Hampshire and Vermont, a Maine bill would ban kratom, Tom Marino is reportedly out as drug czar, and more.

Maine could join the handful of states that have banned kratom. (Project CBD)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Advances. After years of rejecting marijuana law reforms, the state Senate is advancing a decriminalization bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved House Bill 640 on a 3-2 vote. The bill would decriminalize the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of weed. The bill has already passed the House, but the House version decriminalized up to an ounce.

Oregon Bill to Protect Workers Who Use Marijuana Dies. A bill that would have ended workplace marijuana drug testing has died in the Senate after backers conceded they did not have the votes to pass it. Senate Bill 301 would have required employers from testing workers for any drug that is legal in the state, as long as it was consumed outside of work hours and didn't interfere with the workers' duties. The bill was opposed by business groups.

Vermont House Passes Legalization Bill, But… The House on Tuesday approved a bill to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana -- though not its sale -- but the bill is not expected to advance further this year. House Bill 170 passed on a 74-68 vote, but only after fending off attempts to send it back to committee and to weaken it. The bill also allows for the cultivation of two mature or four immature plants. The Senate has passed its own, more far-reaching legalization bill, which includes tax and regulate, but an amendment that would have brought the House bill in line with the Senate bill was defeated 42-99. The legislative session ends Saturday, and it is not expected that a compromise can be reached by then, but lawmakers can consider bills passed this session next year during the second half of the legislative biennium.

Kratom

Maine Bill Would Ban Kratom. A bill that would make kratom a controlled substance in the same schedule as cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin has been filed in the state legislature. Senate Bill1546 was introduced last week and is now before the Joint Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Asset Forfeiture

Colorado Lawmakers Back With New Asset Forfeiture Bill. Senate Republicans killed a civil asset forfeiture reform bill earlier this session, but now a bipartisan group of lawmakers are back with a new bill, House Bill 1313, which has been modified to address the concerns of law enforcement and prosecutors, who opposed the earlier bill. The new bill cuts in half the $100,000 threshold that barred local law enforcement from partnering with the feds in order to get the bulk of seized goods. It also imposes reporting requirements on seizures. The bill won preliminary approval in the House on Tuesday.

Drug Policy

Donald Trump Will NOT Name Tom Marino Drug Czar. According to news reports, President Donald Trump will not be nominating Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to be director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (colloquially referred to as the "drug czar"). His nomination was opposed by the Drug Policy Alliance, which launched a campaign to prevent Marino from being nominated. Marino's nomination seemed all but certain just a few weeks ago but a flurry of news stories on his extremist views, like turning hospitals into prisons, and using his power as prosecutor to help his friends, no doubt put pressure on the administration to go in a different direction.

Chronicle AM: No Fed $$$ for Anti-MedMJ, MA Docs Call for Safe Injection Sites, More... (5/2/17)

Congress won't fund federal medical marijuana enforcement in states where it's legal, the Massachusetts Medical Society calls for a pilot safe injection site, a Wisconsin federal judge throws out that state's "cocaine mom" law, and more.

Chris Christie is back to attacking marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

Chris Christie Accuses Democrats of Wanting to "Poison Our Kids" With Pot to Raise Tax Revenues. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Monday criticized efforts to legalize marijuana and claimed Democrats were willing to "poison our kids" to get marijuana tax revenues. A reference to a recent report saying the state could earn $300 million in pot taxes set him off. "This is the part that liberals love the most: We can tax it. Sweet Jesus, we can tax it! More money for us!" Christie exclaime. "I can say this now because I'm not running for anything again: $300 million is nothing. We have a $35.5 billion budget; $300 million is a rounding error. I'm sorry. It's true. Think about it, that's 1 percent, less than 1 percent, of the entire state budget for a year. And we're going to poison our kids for 1 percent more money that they can spend on some God awful, stupid program that they can put in the mailer and send out and say, 'I delivered $300 million more for this.'" There's more, too; just click on the link.

Medical Marijuana

Congress Rolls Out 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.

Federal CBD Bill 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.

Florida House Passes Medical Marijuana Implementing Bill. The House on Tuesday 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.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Baltimore Cops Begin Investigating Overdoses in Bid to Nail Dealers. A task force of five Baltimore police detectives have begun investigating drug overdoses in an effort to build criminal cases against drug dealers. But with 800 fatal overdoses in the city las year, five detectives may not be able to keep up. The state lacks a law allowing prosecutors to charge dealers in the death of an overdose victim, but prosecutors say there exists "a wide range" of ways they can bring related charges.

Harm Reduction

Massachusetts Docs Call for Supervised Drug Consumption Sites. The Massachusetts Medical Society has endorsed lobbying state and federal policymakers to allow the state to begin a safe injection site pilot program. At the group's annual meeting last Saturday, the membership adopted a policy calling for "a pilot supervised injection facility program in the state, to be under the direction and oversight of the state" as well as wider use of naloxone and more treatment for substance use disorder. The policy calls for the organization to lobby for a federal exemption and state legislation to allow such a facility.

Law Enforcement

Federal Judge Blocks Wisconsin "Cocaine Mom" Law. A US district court judge in Madison ruled last Friday that the state's "cocaine mom" law, which allows the state to detain a pregnant woman suspected of drug or alcohol abuse, is so vague as to be unconstitutional. The law is "void for vagueness," Judge James Peterson held. "Erratic enforcement, driven by the stigma attached to drug and alcohol use by expectant mothers, is all but ensured." The law allowed the state to treat fetuses like children in need of protection if the "expectant mother habitually lacks self-control in the use of alcohol beverages, controlled substances or controlled substance analogs, exhibited to a severe degree, to the extent that there is a substantial risk that the physical health of the unborn child, and of the child when born, will be seriously affected or endangered." But Peterson ruled that such terminology is not "amenable to reasonably precise interpretation."

International

Uruguay Begins Registering Users to Buy Pot in Pharmacies. The first country to legalize marijuana took another step toward implementing that decision on Tuesday as it opened a registry for people who wish to buy marijuana from pharmacies beginning in July. All potential pharmacy pot customers must register before availing themselves of the service. Pot will go for about $1.30 a gram, with each user limited to 10 grams per week.

Chronicle AM: Trump Invites Drug War Criminal Duterte to WH, Mexico Okays MedMJ, More... (5/1/17)

President Trump is buddying up to Filipino President Duterte despite an ever-rising death toll from his drug war, Mexico okays medical marijuana, the Vermont legalization bill is still alive -- but just barely -- and more.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte wins apparent kudos from Trump for his deadly drug war. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Justice Department Says People in Pot Business Can't Use Bankruptcy. The Justice Department's bankruptcy watchdog, the US Trustee Program, wrote a letter to trustees handling consumer bankruptcy cases last week reminding them that marijuana is illegal under federal law and warning them against handling any money from the sale of marijuana-related property. The agency said it had seen an increase in the number of bankruptcies where "marijuana assets" are disclosed. "Our goal is to ensure that trustees are not placed in the untenable position of violating federal law by liquidating, receiving proceeds from, or in any way administering marijuana assets," the Trustee Program warned. The directive applies "even in cases in which such assets are not illegal under state law."

Vermont Legalization Bill Advances as Clock Ticks Down on Legislative Session. The House Human Services Committee approved a legalization measure, House Bill 170, last Friday, clearing the way for the bill to get a House floor vote as early as Tuesday. The session ends on Friday. Neither this bill nor a late Senate bill that would more broadly legalize marijuana is expected to win final approval this session, but favorable House votes would keep them alive for the second half of the session, set for January.

Medical Marijuana

California Issues Medical Marijuana Regulation Draft Rules. A trio of state agencies last Friday releases 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 Legislators Edge Toward Agreement on Medical Marijuana Regulations. The House last Friday 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.

International

Trump Calls Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Apparently Supports His Murderous Drug War, and Invites Him to White House. President Trump invited President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines to the White House after having a "very friendly conversation with Mr. Duterte" on Saturday. According to a statement issued by the White House, the two "discussed the fact that the Philippines is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs." Since he was elected President last May, Duterte has championed a campaign that is responsible for extrajudicial killing of thousands of people. "To host President Duterte at the White House is to endorse his deadly drug war policies," said Michael Collins, Deputy Director at Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "The Trump Administration should immediately withdraw its invitation to Duterte and publicly denounce the mass killings he has advocated for, or risk embarrassing the country with the sight of the US President greeting a remorseless, self-confessed murderer."

Mexican Parliamenent Approves Medical Marijuana. The Chamber of Deputies voted 374-7 last Friday to approve the use of medical marijuana. The Senate approved the move five months ago, so the measure now goes to President Enrique Peña Nieto, who is expected to sign it -- he proposed the idea last year.

Chronicle AM: CO Gov Says Sessions Chat Eases Pot Crackdown Fears, More... (4/28/17)

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says a meeting with AG Sessions has eased his fears of a marijuana crackdown, but the state legislature is moving ahead anyway with a bill to block cops from helping the feds; Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan orders a study of racial disadvantage in the state's medical marijuana system, and more.

Jeff Sessions may hate weed, but Colorado's governor says he's less concerned about a crackdown after chatting with him.
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Governor Less Concerned About Pot Crackdown After Meeting With Sessions. After meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week, Gov. John Hickenlooper is less worried about a federal crackdown on legal marijuana. The governor said Sessions reiterated his dislike for marijuana, but hinted the department is more interested in going after more dangerous drugs. "He's got his hands full with things -- heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine -- other things are even more significant. But doesn't mean that he feels in any way that he should be cutting any slack to marijuana," Hickenlooper said. "And he certainly was very direct and clearly said they've got a lot of priorities," the governor continued. "And, at one point, he said, 'Well you haven't seen us cracking down, have you?' I interpreted that as he's got his hands full," Hickenlooper added.

Colorado House Approves Bill to Bar Cops From Helping With Fed Pot Crackdown. The House voted 56-7 on Wednesday to approve a bill that would prohibit law enforcement officers from aiding in a potential federal marijuana crackdown. The bill doesn't specifically mention marijuana, but bars public employees from "arresting a Colorado citizen for committing an act that is a Colorado constitutional right." The bill now goes to the Senate.

Maryland Governor Orders Study on Minority Participation in Marijuana Industry. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Thursday ordered a study of whether minorities face a disadvantage when trying to participate in the state's nascent marijuana industry. Such a study would be a prerequisite for giving preferences to blacks and other minorities when awarding licenses to grow, process, or sell the herb.

Washington Governor Signs Marijuana, Hemp Bills. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Thursday signed into three bills having to do with marijuana. One bill subjects marijuana edibles to the same oversight as other food products, a second bill gives pot shops the ability to give away "lock boxes" for people to keep their stashes safe from kids, and the third bill legalizes industrial hemp in the state.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Regulators Give Final Approval for Proposed Medical Marijuana Rules. The state's Board of Health on Thursday 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 beginning next 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.

Vermont Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Heads for House Floor. The House Human Services Committee on Thursday 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 to reconcile the two measures.

Asset Forfeiture

Pennsylvania Senate Approves Asset Forfeiture Reforms. The Senate voted 39-10 on Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 8, which makes only moderate reforms to the state's asset forfeiture laws. All 10 no votes were cast by Democrats, who said they bill didn't go far enough to fix an abusive system. After lobbying by state prosecutors, lawmakers had removed a provision ending civil asset forfeiture. But the bill does raise the evidentiary standard for forfeiture from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." The bill now goes to the House.

International

Tunisian Parliament Approves Minor Reform of Harsh Drug Laws. The parliament on Tuesday approved an amendment to the country's harsh drug laws that would give judges discretion when sentencing someone for a first drug offense. Under existing law, anyone caught in possession of any amount of any drug faced a mandatory minimum one-year prison sentence. The government says this move is only temporary, while comprehensive reforms of the drug laws are being studied.

Chronicle AM: Nevada MJ Bills Moving, NY Safe Consumption Campaign Underway, More... (4/26/17)

A group of DAs have published a report critical of marijuana legalization, Nevada marijuana bills are moving, a New York campaign for the establishment of safe drug consumption rooms gets underway, and more.

Will El Chapo pay for the border wall? Ted Cruz thinks it's a swell idea.
Marijuana Policy

In New Report, Prosecutors Slam Marijuana Legalization. The National District Attorneys' Association has released a report, Marijuana Policy: The State and Local Prosecutors' Perspective, that criticizes legalization as leading to greater access by children and creating challenges for impaired driving enforcement. The DAs also criticized state-level legalization and decriminalization as "an obstacle to the comprehensive federal framework." The report will be used by the Trump administration to help fashion its marijuana policy.

Massachusetts House Passes Bill Barring Use of Cash Welfare Benefits to Buy Pot. The House on Tuesday passed House Bill 3194, which would bar the use of cash welfare benefits to purchase marijuana. State law already prohibits cash benefits from being used to purchase alcohol, lottery tickets, cigarettes, and pornography. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Nevada Marijuana Bills Advance. In a frenzy of last-minute activity, legislators approved a series of marijuana bills on Tuesday. Senate Bill 375, which advocates for tribes' right to establish marijuana facilities; Senate Bill 344, which establishes packaging standards; Senate Bill 236, which would allow for on-site consumption; and Senate Bill 374, which would allow the use of medical marijuana for opioid addiction, all passed the Senate and head for the Assembly. Meanwhile, the Assembly passed Assembly Bill 259, which would allow courts to seal the records of people charged with possessing an ounce or less. That bill now heads for the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Health and Human Services Committee on Monday approved House Bill 1397, which aims to regulate the state's voter-approved medical marijuana system. Critics call the House bill too restrictive and are calling on legislators to instead support a rival bill in the Senate.

Drug Policy

Ted Cruz Files Bill to Make El Chapo Pay for the Border Wall. US Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has filed Senate Bill 939, "to reserve any amounts forfeited to the US government as a result of the criminal prosecution of Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera (commonly known as "El Chapo"), or of other felony convictions involving the transportation of controlled substances into the United States, for security measures along the Southern border, including the completion of a border wall.

Harm Reduction

Safe Shape Tour across New York State Calls for "Safer Consumption Spaces" to Combat Skyrocketing Overdoses. In response to New York State's overdose and opioid epidemic, a coalition of healthcare professionals, public health experts, advocates, and people with a history of drug use are launching a statewide campaign calling for the creation of safer consumption spaces (SCS) supervised injection facilities (SIF) where people can legally consume previously-purchased illicit drugs with supervision from peers and healthcare professionals who help make their use safer and connect them with medical care, drug treatment, and social services. Click on the link for much more information and how to register for events.

Chronicle AM: DHS Flip Flops on MJ, OR Bill to Protect MJ Users from Feds Passes, More... (4/19/17)

Two top federal security officials say scary things about marijuana policy, at least two states are moving to protect pot people from any federal crackdown, San Francisco becomes the latest city to embrace LEAD, and more.

DHS head John Kelly went from marijuana "is not a factor" in drug war to vowing to deport marijuana users in less than 48 hours.
Marijuana Policy

AG Sessions Says Marijuana Plays Role in International Criminal Enterprises. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that marijuana is a significant part of international drug trafficking and that there is "a lot" of violence around "marijuana distribution networks" in this country. "We have quite a bit of marijuana being imported by the cartels from Mexico. This is definitely a cartel-sponsored event," he said. "So it is a financial money-maker for them," he said. "I returned from the border last week and they told me that quite a number of the people they arrest are hauling marijuana across the border."

Homeland Security Chief Says Marijuana Possession is Grounds for Deportation. What a difference a couple of days makes! Over the weekend, Homeland Security Chief John Kelly said that "marijuana is not a factor" in the administration's war on drugs, but by Tuesday, he had changed his tune, denouncing marijuana as a "gateway drug" and warning that DHS would use pot charges to deport people. "ICE will continue to use marijuana possession, distribution and convictions as essential elements as they build their deportation removal apprehension packages for targeted operations against illegal aliens living in the United States," he said.

California Bill to Protect Pot People from Feds Advances. A bill aimed at protecting marijuana users and the state's blossoming pot industry from any federal crackdown was approved by the Assembly Public Safety Committee on a 5-2 vote. The measure, Assembly Bill 1578, would prevent state and local police from helping federal law enforcement crack down on state-legal marijuana activity.

Guam Governor Backs Away from Legalization Proposal, Citing Trump. Governor Eddie Baza Calvo has suspended his push to legalize marijuana on the American territory, citing a change of atmosphere in Washington. "US Attorney General Jeff Sessions' pronouncement that the federal government intends to crack down on jurisdictions where recreational marijuana is legal," a Calvo spokesman pointed out.

Oregon Bill to Protect Pot People from Feds Signed into Law Governor Kate Brown (D) on Monday signed into law Senate Bill 863. The bill would protect Oregon marijuana users from any federal crackdown by prohibiting the state's pot retailers from sharing or keeping information about their customers' purchases or identities.

Atlanta City Council Punts on Marijuana Decriminalization. The city council on Tuesday failed to pass a decriminalization ordinance, instead referring the measure to the Public Safety Committee for further review. The measure would have decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce, with a maximum fine of $75.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Senate Approves Bill to Down-Schedule Marijuana. The state Senate voted Tuesday to approve a bill that would reschedule marijuana under state law from Schedule I to Schedule II and allow the manufacture and distribution of medical marijuana products. The bill now heads to the House.

North Dakota Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill. Governor Doug Burgum (R) on Monday signed into law Senate Bill 2344, which imposes sweeping legislative modifications on the state's new voter-approved medical marijuana law. With the governor's signature on the bill, the state now expects to have its system up and running within 12 to 18 months.

Law Enforcement

San Francisco Begins Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Program. As of the beginning of April, the city is now operating a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program aimed at reducing the incarceration and criminalization of drug users and those with mental illnesses. LEAD is a pre-booking diversion program that refers low level offenders to treatment and community-based health and social services instead of prosecuting and jailing them. LEAD was pioneered in Seattle and is now in operation in a handful of cities across the country.

Chronicle AM: NV Syringe Vending Machines, Good and Bad CO MJ Bills, More... (4/17/17)

Nevada will soon see the first syringe vending machines in the country, the Colorado legislature responds to a threatened federal crackdown -- for better and worse -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is moving forward with plans to drug test Medicaid recipients, and more.

Syringe vending machines -- coming first to Nevada. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

A Majority of American Adults Have Tried Marijuana, Poll Finds. A new Marist/Yahoo poll finds that 52% of American adults have tried marijuana at least once, and that 56% find the drug "socially acceptable. The same poll has support for legalization at 49%, with 47% opposed.

DC Marijuana Activists to Hand Out Free Joints on Capitol Hill for 4/20. The same folks who brought legal marijuana to the nation's capital are planning to hand out more than a thousand free marijuana joints on Capitol Hill Thursday, 4/20, the unofficial marijuana holiday. Anyone over 21 who has a congressional ID is eligible for the free weed, said DCMJ. The activists said the action was meant to life the "special interest smokescreen" blocking marijuana reform in Congress.

Homeland Security Chief Says Marijuana "Not a Factor" in Drug War. DHS Secretary John Kelly said Sunday that marijuana is "not a factor" in the country's drug war and that "arresting a lot of users" will not solve the country's drug problems. Kelly responded to a question about whether legalizing marijuana in the US would help or hinder his work attempting to interdict drug shipments to the US. "Yeah, marijuana is not a factor in the drug war," Kelly responded, adding later: "It's three things. Methamphetamine. Almost all produced in Mexico. Heroin. Virtually all produced in Mexico. And cocaine that comes up from further south." And rather than arresting users: "The solution is a comprehensive drug demand reduction program in the United States that involves every man and woman of goodwill. And then rehabilitation. And then law enforcement. And then getting at the poppy fields and the coca fields in the south."

Colorado Social Consumption Bill Dies. A bill that would have set up the country's first statewide law allowing for on-premises marijuana consumption at licensed businesses is dead, with legislators citing fear of a federal crackdown for its demise. The House voted last Thursday to amend Senate Bill 17-184 to remove the provision that would have allowed adults to bring their own weed to businesses and consume it on-premises.

Colorado Senate Approves Bill to Shift Legal Marijuana Inventories Over to Medical Marijuana in Event of Federal Crackdown. The state Senate has approved Senate Bill 17-192, which would allow adult-use marijuana businesses to transfer their inventory to medical marijuana status if a federal crackdown on adult-legal weed happens. The bill now goes to the House.

Nevada Legislature Still Faces Heavy Load of Marijuana Bills. The legislative session marked its first key deadline last Friday when all proposed bills had to have passed out of their committee of introduction or be declared dead. And fourteen marijuana-related bills remain alive, including one, Senate Bill 302, that would allow dispensaries to begin selling marijuana to any adult beginning in July. Click the link for the rest of the bills and their status.

Tennessee Governor Signs Bill Killing Decrim in Memphis and Nashville. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) last Friday signed into law House Bill 173, which bars cities in the state from crafting marijuana penalties lesser than state law. The bill was a response to moves by the state's two largest cities, Memphis and Nashville, which had passed municipal decriminalization ordinances.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Regulators Finalize Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Medical Marijuana Commission last Tuesday gave final approval to rules governing dispensaries and cultivation facilities. The rules must still be approved by the legislature, which has passed some legislation that appears to conflict with them. The legislature only has until May 8 to modify the rules or the state will be out of compliance with the Medical Marijuana Act, which is now part of the state constitution.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Alabama House Approves Tougher Penalties for Heroin, Fentanyl. The House voted last week to approve harsh new penalties for the possession and sale of heroin and fentanyl. In a unanimous vote, the chamber approved a one-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession and increased penalties for trafficking, including a mandatory life sentence without parole for trafficking 10 or more kilos of either drugs. The bill is House Bill 203, which is now before the Senate.

Maryland General Assembly Passes Package of Heroin/Opioid Bills. The Assembly last week approved a package of bills aimed at tackling the state's heroin and prescription opioid crisis. One bill would create 24/7 drug treatment centers for addicts, increase reimbursements for drug treatment, and ease access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. A second bill would create drug awareness programs in schools and allow school nurses to stock and dispense naloxone. A third bill would require doctors to follow best practices when prescribing opioids, while a fourth bill increases prison sentences for people convicted of fentanyl offenses. The bills now await the governor's signature.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) last week signed into law House Bill 2477, which requires a higher evidentiary standard before police and prosecutors can seize assets from suspects. Instead of a "preponderance" of the evidence, cops must now provide "clear and convincing evidence" that the assets are linked to a crime.

Drug Policy

New York City Council Passes Bill to Coordinate Drug Policy Among City Departments. The city council recently passed legislation to create a coordinated municipal drug strategy. The bill empowers the Mayor to designate a lead agency or office to convene stakeholders including city agencies, outside experts, and communities impacted by drug use to develop a city-wide, health-focused plan for a coordinated approach in addressing issues related to drug use.

West Virginia Legislature Passes Bill Creating Drug Policy Office. A bill that would create an Office of Drug Control Policy within the Department of Health and Human Services has passed both houses of the legislature and awaits the governor's signature. The measure, House Bill 2620, passed last Friday, the final day of the session. Gov. Jim Justice (D) has fifteen days to sign the bill.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Moving Forward With Plan to Drug Test Medicaid Recipients. Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Monday posted his proposal for moving people off state Badgercare Medicaid, which includes a provision requiring drug screenings for Medicaid recipients. People suspected of illegal drug use after screening would be ineligible for coverage until they are tested. People who test positive would be offered drug treatment, while people who refuse the test would lose benefits for six months.

Harm Reduction

Nevada Becomes First State to Install Needle Vending Machines. In a bid to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hep C, a needle exchange program in Las Vegas is now providing clean needles in vending machines. The Las Vegas Harm Reduction Center worked together with the Southern Nevada Health District and the Nevada AIDS Research and Education Society to install the new machines. Each client will be limited to two kits per week, with the kits including syringes, alcohol wipes, condoms, and a needle disposal box.

International

Canada Unveils Plan for Legal Marijuana Sales by June 2018. The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last Thursday filed legislation designed to implement marijuana legalization by June of next year. The bill would allow adults 18 and over to possess up to 30 grams of dried marijuana and would allow the federal government to regulate producers, while the provinces would regulate sales to consumers. Other issues, such as pricing, taxation, and packaging are still to be worked out.

Trump Drug Czar Nominee: Tough on Colombian Peasants and US Marijuana Users

President Trump will name Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino (R) to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), CBS News reported Tuesday. The White House gave no official comment, but sources told CBS that an official announcement would come soon.

Reported drug czar nominee Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) (marino.house.gov)
Marino's legacy of legislative achievements around drug policy offers little comfort to reformers looking for signs that the "law and order" theme of the Trump administration may not be as bad as it sounds. Marino is a former prosecutor now in his third term in the House. His 2016 Transnational Drug Trafficking Act expands the ability of US prosecutors to use extraterritoriality to go after international drug traffickers, but while the law is touted as aiming at "kingpins," but observers south of the border have argued that the law "targets people on the lowest rungs of the trafficking ladder, i.e. Colombia's coca farmers." Marino has also been a reliable vote in opposition to marijuana reform in Congress.

Marino's rural congressional district has seen rising concern about heroin and opioids, and he serves on the House bipartisan committee combating the opioid epidemic. A bill he was an author and key supporter of in that area may suggest a more complex picture -- the 2016 Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, which supporters characterized as balancing the needs of patients, the pharmaceutical industry, and law enforcement, but which critics describe as a means of undercutting the DEA's ability to hold pharmaceutical drug distributors accountable for the diversion of large amounts of opioid pain relievers.

The ability of pain patients to have access to the drugs that can help them is a continuing -- and under-covered -- issue in the debate around prescription opioids. So is the ability of physicians to appropriately prescribe them within running afoul of regulatory authorities or even drug enforcement authorities. If Marino's bill reflects a concern with such issues, or a more general willingness to treat DEA pronouncements on such matters with skepticism, that could be useful. Conversely, however, the nation is also in the midst of a much more well-covered increase in the misuse of opioids. ONDCP has a role to play in promoting public health measures that can reduce overdoses and the risk of addiction. If Marino is too deferential to the preferences of big pharma lobbyists, while otherwise hooked on hard-line drug war approaches, opportunities to advance positive approaches for reducing the risks that go with opioids may be squandered.

In the fight over the 2016 Act, Marino, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on Regulatory Reform, clashed repeatedly with DEA Office of Diversion Control head Joseph Rannazzisi. In a 2014 conference call with congressional staffers, Rannazzisi warned that the bill, backed by a pharmaceutical industry lobbying campaign, would protect corporations engaged in criminal activity.

"[If t]his bill passes the way it's written we won't be able to get immediate suspension orders, we won't be able to stop the hemorrhaging of these drugs out of these bad pharmacies and these bad corporations," Rannazzisi recalled telling them. "What you're doing is filing a bill that will protect defendants in our cases."

Rannazzisi's opposition infuriated Marino, who ripped into the veteran DEA official's boss, then-DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart at a congressional hearing later that year.

"It is my understanding that Joe Rannazzisi, a senior DEA official, has publicly accused we sponsors of the bill of, quote, 'supporting criminals,' unquote" Marino said. "This offends me immensely."

A week later, Marino and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) demanded that the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General investigate Rannazzis for "intimidating" members of Congress. Rannazzissi was replaced and retired in October 2015.

Marino's record is good enough for anti-marijuana crusader and former ONDCP advisor Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (Project SAM). "My understanding is that Tom has a deep understanding of the issue and is excited to get started," he enthused to CBS News.

But it's not good enough for anyone interested in a truly progressive approach to drug policy.

Senators' False Claims Pave Way for Dangerous Drug Bill [FEATURE]

The two octogenarian senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are up to one of their favorite pastimes again this year. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) have reintroduced a perennial bill that would increase penalties for drug dealers who sell products designed to entice children.

"Ecstasy bracelets" (non-edible) (Pinterest)
If the bill were to become law, anyone who knew or "had reasonable cause to believe" that a "modified controlled substance would be distributed to a minor" would be looking at a 10- to 20-year prison sentence.

But the bill, the "Protecting Kids from Candy-Flavored Drugs Act of 2017" (Senate Bill 739), is seemingly justified more by urban myths than facts and, critics say, both unnecessary and more likely to be used against real-life sellers of marijuana edibles than mythical strawberry-flavored meth dealers.

"There are many instances of of drug dealers altering flavor and packaging of cocaine or methamphetamines to appeal to children," Feinstein tweeted as the bill rolled out late last month.

"Law enforcement reports that drug dealers frequently combine drugs with chocolate or fruit flavors or package the drugs to look like candy or soda to attract youth," the senators claimed in a joint statement. "For example, there are reports of candy bracelets containing ecstasy; gummy bears laced with Xanax; and candy laced with THC."

"Cynical criminals take advantage of drug trends in the general population to market dangerous illicit drugs specifically to kids," Grassley added in a separate press release. "It could be marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine or something else. The criminals are innovative, and the law should keep up with them. Federal law should make crystal clear that marketing potentially lethal drugs to kids will have steep consequences."

The problem for Feinstein and Grassley, who have unsuccessfully filed the bill three times before, is that the crisis they wish to solve largely doesn't exist. The first time around, they were inspired by media reports of strawberry-flavored meth, but those have been roundly debunked as myths.

Some of their other claims are even more ludicrous. "Gummy bears laced with Xanax" seem only to be found on the furthest fringes of the web (a Reddit user subforum, to be precise) dedicated to bored drug hobbyists with too much time on their hands.

And the "candy bracelets containing ecstasy" claim appears to be based on a misreading of raver culture percolated through a concerned parents group.

"People (especially at Raves) have started wearing bracelets lined with ecstasy as opposed to the old candy bracelets kids used to wear," warned something called Careful Parents. "Much like the candy bracelets of old, people can eat the drug right off the bracelets. Google images of these bracelets for a better idea of what they look like and be on the lookout if your kids like to go to Raves."

But that warning was based on a 10-year-old story about rave culture in the Seattle Times -- a story that indeed mentioned bracelets and ecstasy and "candy kisses" (the sharing of beaded bracelets), but did not claim that the bracelets were made of ecstasy. The wearing of colorful bracelets is part of rave culture, but ecstasy bracelets are a myth based on misunderstanding.

The idea of drug dealers peddling candy-flavored drugs to kids may be an old bugaboo, but it just doesn't make much economic sense, said Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

"Those are not popular commodities to sell to children," he told ATTN:. "Why risk already severe penalties for some kid's lunch money?"

"This reminds me of the horror stories that you hear every Halloween -- where you have people handing out these infused products to children," Daniel Shortt, an attorney who focuses on cannabis law at the firm Harris Bricken, told ATTN:. "There's really no data supporting that that happens."

While candy-flavored meth or ecstasy bracelets are mythical, marijuana edibles and beverages are not. They are sold legally under state laws in medical and adult legal marijuana states, but the text of the bill could certainly be interpreted as aiming at them as well. It specifies that it would apply to people who sell federally illegal drugs to minors that are:

Combined with a beverage or candy product,
Marketed or packaged to appear similar to a beverage or candy product, or

Modified by flavoring or coloring to appear similar to a candy or beverage product.

"That's broad," Shortt said. "I worry about how that could applied to marijuana-infused edibles."

Edibles are often infused in candies, cookies, and chocolates, as well as brightly packaged beverages. It's not strawberry-flavored meth dealers who are likely to be caught up if this bill ever passes -- since they don't exist -- but people selling pot brownies and the like, in the black market or in the legal pot shop, who sell to minors, either knowingly or inadvertently.

Chronicle AM: Sessions "Surprised" By MJ Support, VT MJ Bill on Last Legs, More... (4/12/17)

The US attorney general admits being surprised that people don't like his stance on marijuana, Vermont's legalization bill is on a death watch, Illinois legalizers gear up, and more.

Who knew marijuana legalization was popular? (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Jeff Sessions "Surprised" By Opposition to His Marijuana Stance. At a speech at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pronounced himself "surprised" that his position against marijuana was drawing criticism. "When they nominated me for attorney general, who would have thought the biggest issue in America was when I said, 'I don't think America's going to be a better place if they sell marijuana at every corner grocery store?,'" Sessions asked. "They didn't like that; I'm surprised they didn't like that."

Hawaii Bill Would Roll Back Nation's Toughest Drug Paraphernalia Laws. Under current Hawaii law, possession of a pipe or bong for marijuana is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, but perhaps not for long. A measure that would decriminalize marijuana paraphernalia, House Bill 1501, passed the Senate Tuesday. The bill has already been approved by the House, but differences in the amount of fines allowed will have to be ironed out in conference committee.

Illinois Legalization Backers Unveil Statewide Coalition. State Sen. Heather Steans (D) and Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D), the legislators behind the marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2353, announced Tuesday that the bill would get a first hearing next week and that they had formed a statewide coalition, the Coalition for a Safer Illinois to garner public and legislative support.

Vermont Legalization Bill on Verge of Death. The prospects for the Green Mountain State legalizing marijuana this year grow exceedingly dim. Senate leaders said Tuesday their body is extremely unlikely to support a legalization measure, House Bill 170, currently stuck in the House. Proponents in the House had hoped they could get it moving again, but Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe said even if it passed the House, it still faced "insurmountable obstacles" in the Senate. The House bill would only legalize possession and personal cultivation -- not commercial marijuana -- while the Senate wants a regulated market.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Medical Marijuana Bills Get Hearing. Measures that would add new qualifying medical conditions and allow patients to grow their plants got a hearing in the Senate Tuesday. The bills have already passed the House. No votes were taken, though.

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