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Jeff Sessions Claims Marijuana Only "Slightly Less Awful" Than Heroin

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

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions once again displayed his ignorance about drugs Wednesday as he claimed that marijuana is "only slightly less awful" than heroin. In the same speech, he acknowledged rising heroin and prescription opioid overdose death levels, but failed to note that no one dies from overdosing on marijuana.

The US attorney general made more inflammatory remarks about marijuana on Wednesday. (senate.gov)
Heroin produces physical addiction and is linked to thousands of overdose drug deaths each year. Marijuana does not produce physical addiction, and although it may lead to psychological dependency for a small percentage of users, the dependency rate is much lower than it is even for users of alcohol and tobacco, both of which are more dangerous than marijuana.

Sessions' uninformed claim is likely to increase jitters in the country's nascent legal marijuana industry as it confronts an attorney general whose rhetoric so far has strongly suggested he would like to crack down on legal weed -- although he has yet to take any concrete steps to do so.

Sessions made the claim in prepared remarks for a speech to state, local, and federal law enforcement in Richmond, Virginia. The long-time foe of marijuana and marijuana law reform again sketched his stance toward pot, saying "life-wrecking dependency" on marijuana is "only slightly less awful" than heroin addiction.

I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana -- so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that's only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.

Sessions would not be so "astonished" at the notion that access to marijuana lead to declines in opioid overdose deaths if he actually followed the field. At least three recent studies have found a link: A 2014 Johns Hopkins study found that states with medical marijuana laws have a 25% lower opioid death rate than other states; a 2015 RAND study found a decline in opioid deaths of between 16% and 31% in states that had medical marijuana dispensaries; and a 2016 Health Affairs study found that doctors in medical marijuana states wrote fewer opioid prescriptions for Medicaid patients.

Actual science notwithstanding, Sessions suggested he was prepared to embark on a 21st Century version of Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" and the "this is your brain on drugs" anti-drug propaganda campaigns of the 1980s:

In the '80s and '90s, we saw how campaigns stressing prevention brought down drug use and addiction. We can do this again. Educating people and telling them the terrible truth about drugs and addiction will result in better choices. We can reduce the use of drugs, save lives and turn back the surge in crime that inevitably follows in the wake of increased drug abuse.

But if Sessions wants to educate Americans on "the terrible truth" about drugs, he should probably start with himself. An attorney general who cannot recognize the difference between marijuana and heroin is not one who is fit to pronounce on such matters.

Richmond, VA
United States

Chronicle AM: Bolivia Defends Coca Law at UN, MA Activists Oppose MJ Law Fix, More... (3/14/17)

Welfare drug testing bills are under consideration in Florida and North Dakota, Massachusetts legalizers warn lawmakers not to mess with the state's voter-approved pot law, Bolivia is set to defend its new coca law, and more.

Bolivian government officials head to Vienna to defend the country's new law expanding legal coca cultivation. (deamuseum.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Initiative Campaign Tells Lawmakers to Back Off. The Yes on 4 Committee, the people behind the successful campaign to legalize marijuana in the state, is now urging legislators to back away from meddling with the state's new marijuana law. "The new law requires no fixes," said Yes on 4's Jim Borghesani. The legislative committee charged with "fixing" the law is set to open public hearings on possible revisions of the law next week.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Senate Again Rejects Ban on Smoked Medical Marijuana. For the second time in a week, the Senate has rejected Senate Bill 357, which would have banned smoking of medical marijuana. The Senate rejected the bill Monday night on a 15-11 vote and slapped down a later motion to allow it come back for yet another vote by a margin of 11-0.

Drug Testing

Florida Welfare Drug Testing Bill Advances. A bill that would require adults previously convicted of drug offenses to undergo drug screening and possible drug testing before their families could receive welfare payments passed the House Children, Families, and Seniors Subcommittee on Monday. The measure, House Bill 1117, is still before two other committees in the House.

North Dakota Welfare Drug Testing Bill Gets Trashed in Hearing. A welfare drug testing bill that has already passed the House came under sustained attack at a hearing in the Senate Human Services Committee Monday. The measure, House Bill 1308, would require welfare applicants to undergo drug screening and possible drug testing, but various witnesses testified it was not the way to go. One, Mandan small business owner Susan Beehler, said she had been on welfare in "It's a complicated issue, and it's not going to be solved by a pee cup," said Beehler, adding she's seen no hard data proving that drug screenings for TANF would be cost-effective for the state. The committee took no action on the bill.

International

Bolivia Will Defend New Coca Law at UN Meeting This Week. A Bolivian government delegation is headed for Vienna to attend the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting this week to defend its new coca expansion and drug trafficking laws. The European Union has questioned the new coca law, which almost doubles the amount of legal coca cultivation in the country, but President Evo Morales said Bolivia has "all the arguments" it needs to justify the increase.

German Medical Marijuana Cultivation Will Begin in 2019. Germany will begin state-regulated medical marijuana growing operations in 2019, German authorities said. The parliament voted to allow medical marijuana in January, but it will take time to get things up and running. Until then, medical marijuana prescriptions will be filled by imports from Canada and the Netherlands.

Chronicle AM: Conyers Racial Profiling Bill, Competing FL MedMJ Proposals, More... (3/13/17)

The senior member of the House files a racial profiling bill, Colorado lawmakers move to reduce medical marijuana homegrow limits, Kansas lawmakers mess with a medical marijuana bill, Texas lawmakers get a hearing on decriminalization, and more.

CBD cannabis oil (marijuanagames.org)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Decriminalization Bill Gets Hearing Today. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee today held a hearing on House Bill 81, which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the bill, offenders would face a ticket and fine rather than jail time and a criminal record. The Sheriff's Association of Texas opposes the bill, arguing that marijuana is "a gateway drug."

Medical Marijuana

Colorado House Gives Preliminary Approval to Cutting Home Grow Plant Limits. The House voted last Friday to give preliminary approval to House Bill 17-1220, which would limit medical marijuana home grows to 16 plants per residence. The current limit is 99 plants. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and law enforcement support the bill as a means of reducing diversion. The House must vote on the bill again this week before sending it to the Senate.

Florida Lawmakers Have Six Competing Medical Marijuana Plans to Choose From. Voters approved medical marijuana at the ballot box last November. Now, the legislature is trying to figure out how to implement it. Here's an overview of the six competing plans.

Kansas Senate Committee Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill, But Activists Unhappy. The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee approved a CBD cannabis oil bill last Thursday, but only after gutting the original bill, Senate Bill 155, and replacing it with Senate Bill 151, which would only allow doctors to recommend "non-intoxicating" cannabinoid medications. "This is not the scope of what those who want to see prescriptive authority for medical marijuana want," said Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City), who sponsored the original bill. Haley said he would attempt to restore the original bill this week.

Race

Conyers Files Federal Racial Profiling Bill. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the longest serving member of the House (he's been there since 1965), filed House Resolution 1498 last Friday. The bill calls for "eliminat[ing] racial profiling by law enforcement."

International

Philippines President Creates New "Joint Command" to Wage Bloody Drug War. President Rodrigo Duterte has signed an executive order creating an Interagency Committee on Illegal Drugs (ICAD). The order mobilizes 21 executive agencies to prioritize "high value" targets and go after all levels of the drug trade. Since Duterte took office last year, more than 8,000 people have been killed by police or shadowy vigilante groups. Another 48,000 have been jailed.

Chronicle AM: Ominous Sessions Hint on Sentencing, RI AG Anti-Pot Campaign, More... (3/9/17)

Attorney General Sessions hints at a return to tough federal drug sentencing, Rhode Island Attorney General Kilmartin announces a campaign to fend off marijuana legalization, Bolivia's president signs a law nearly doubling legal coca cultivation, and more.

It looks like the new attorney general is going old school with harsher drug sentencing. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Decriminalization Bills Filed. A pair of Democratic lawmakers has filed identical decriminalization bills in the House and Senate. State Rep Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) filed House Bill 1403, while state Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) filed Senate Bill 1662. The bills would make possession of up to an ounce a civil violation punishable by a fine of no more than $100. Under current Florida law, small time marijuana possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Rhode Island Attorney General Gins Up Anti-Legalization Campaign. State Attorney General Peter Kilmartin (D) launched a campaign against marijuana legalization Thursday. Kilmartin said he was mobilizing lawmakers, business leaders, and others concerned about public health and public safety issues to fight ongoing efforts in the legislature to legalize it. He's joining forces with Smart Approaches to Marijuana, among others.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Florida Bills Would Have Dealers Facing Manslaughter Charges for Opioid Overdose Deaths. A pair of Republican state lawmakers has filed identical bills that would allow prosecutors to bring manslaughter charges against people who sold opioids to people who overdosed and died on them. Sen. Gregg Steube (R-Sarasota) filed Senate Bill 150 Tuesday, while Rep. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton) filed House Bill 477.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions Signals He Could Reverse Obama Policy of Seeking Less Serious Charges in Drug Cases. Sessions sent a memo to federal prosecutors Wednesday calling on them to crack down on violent crime, and in that memo, he hinted at rolling back Obama administration policies directing federal prosecutors to not always seek the most serious charges in drug cases and to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences by leaving drug quantities out of charging documents. "I encourage you to employ the full complement of federal law to address the problem of violent crime in your district," Sessions wrote. "Further guidance and support in executing this priority -- including an updated memo on charging for all criminal cases -- will be forthcoming."

International

Bolivian President Signs Law Nearly Doubling Amount of Legal Coca Grown. President Evo Morales, a former coca grower himself, signed into law Wednesday a bill that will increase the amount of coca that can be legally planted from 30,000 acres to 55,000 acres. "We want to guarantee coca supplies for life," he said.

Chronicle AM: NH House Passes Decrim, FL GOP Files Restrictive MedMJ Bill, More... (3/8/17)

Marijuana policy continues to play out in state legislatures across the land, asset forfeiture reform is moving in Iowa, the Ohio Supreme Court reverses itself on cocaine sentencing, and more.

The bud is keeping state legislatures busy. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Cannabis Cafes Are Back Under Consideration. The Marijuana Control Board met Tuesday afternoon in Anchorage and agreed to try again to come up with rules for on-site marijuana consumption at businesses. The notion was shot down at the last board meeting, but revived on a 4-1 vote.

Connecticut Legalization Bills Get Hearing. Lawmakers went into the evening hours Tuesday as they engaged in heated debate over several bills before the General Assembly that would legalize marijuana. Click the link to get the flavor of the dewbate.

New Hampshire House of Representatives Overwhelmingly Approves Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession. The House voted 318-36 Wednesday to approve House Bill 640, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Similar bills have failed in years past, but opposition seems to have largely evaporated this year. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Los Angeles Voters Approved Marijuana Regulation Initiative. Voters in Los Angeles approved Measure M with nearly 80% voting in favor. The measure would allow the city to regulate legal marijuana businesses when the legal recreational commerce comes on line next year.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Bill Would Ban Smoking and Edibles. Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a medical marijuana initiative in November, but now Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-Fort Myers) has filed a medical marijuana regulation bill that would ban people from smoking it or using it in edible form. The measure, House Bill 1397, is not yet available on the legislative website. Rodrigues is a member of the Republican House leadership, and the bill represents the Republican approach to expanding medical marijuana access in the state. "It goes further than the current statute in terms of restricting medical marijuana," says Ben Pollara, the medical marijuana initiative's campaign director. "There was unanimous agreement that the new amendment would expand use."

Utah Lawmakers Pass Medical Marijuana Study Bill; Advocates Call it a Trojan Horse. The House voted Wednesday to concur with earlier Senate amendments to House Bill 130 and sent it to the desk of Gov. Gary Herbert (R). The bill allows state universities to study cannabinoid products for their medicinal potential, but doesn't allow for any actual use. Medical marijuana advocates called the bill "a Trojan horse," saying it is merely a delaying tactic.

Wisconsin Legislature Passes CBD Bill. The Assembly voted Tuesday night to approve Senate Bill 10, which would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil by children suffering seizures. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Scott Walker (R), who is expected to sign it.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Senate Committee Passes Bill Taking on Asset Forfeiture; Closes Federal Loophole. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Monday to approve Senate File 446, which would severely limit asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction and which would bar prosecutors from doing an end run around state law by passing cases off to the feds. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Sentencing

Ohio Supreme Court Reverses Itself, Declares Filler Must Be Included in Drug Weights. Two months after ruling that prosecutors must prove the actual amount of pure cocaine possessed -- not inert filler -- to secure longer sentences, the state Supreme Court has done a U-turn. In a ruling Monday, the court sided with prosecutors and held that the total weight of drug plus filler must be used when determining sentences. The reversal comes after two new judges were named to the court earlier this year, and dissenting Justice Bill O'Neill said that was the only thing that changed. "The logic is unassailable. The possession of baby formula, talcum powder, or baking soda does not pose the same risk to the public's health and safety as possession of cocaine does," O'Neill wrote.

Blunting Trump's Mass Deportation Plans With Drug Reform [FEATURE]

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

As President Trump ratchets up the machinery of mass deportation, supporters of a humane, comprehensive approach to immigration are seeking ways to throw sand in its gears. When mass deportation is touted because of the "criminality" of those targeted, one solution is to reduce criminalization, which is not to turn a blind eye to violent or dangerous criminals, but to recognize that we live in an over-criminalized society. That means school kids can now be arrested for behavior that would have sent them to the principal's office in years past (especially if they're a certain color). The US also generates the world's largest prison-industrial complex, and has criminalized tens of millions of people for the offense of simply possessing a certain plant, and millions more for possessing other proscribed substances.

ICE arrests an immigrant in San Jose. (dhs.gov)
While Trump talks about "bad hombres" as he ramps up the immigration crackdown, data shows that the net of criminality used to deport not just undocumented workers, but also legal immigrants and permanent resident aliens, is cast exceedingly wide. It's overwhelmingly not gang members or drug lords who are getting deported, but people whose crimes include crossing the border without papers, as well as traffic and minor drug offenses.

The report Secure Communities and ICE Deportations: A Failed Program , which examined Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation records, found that the top three "most serious" criminal charges used to deport people and which accounted for roughly half of all deportations were illegal entry, followed by DWI and unspecified traffic violations.

The fourth "most serious" criminal charge used to deport people was simple marijuana possession, with more than 6,000 people being thrown out of the country in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, the years the study covered. Right behind that was simple cocaine possession, accounting for another 6,000 in each of those years. "Other" drug possession charges accounted for nearly 2,500 deportations each of those years.

Nearly 3,000 people a year were deported for selling pot, and more than 4,000 for selling cocaine, but only about 2,000 a year for the more serious offense of drug trafficking, accounting for a mere 1% of all deportations in those years.

ICE raid in Atlanta. (dhs.gov)
This has been going on for years. In the same report, researchers estimated that some 250,000 people had been deported for drug offenses during the Obama administration, accounting for one-fifth of all criminal deportations. Now, the Trump administration gives every indication it intends to be even tougher.

In light of the massive use of drug charges to deport non-citizens, drug reform takes on a whole new aspect. Marijuana decriminalization and legalization may not generally be viewed through the lens of immigrant protection, but they shield millions of people from drug deportation in those states that have enacted such laws. Similarly, efforts to decriminalize drug possession in general are also moves that would protect immigrants.

Now, legislators and activists in vanguard states are adopting prophylactic measures, such as sealing marijuana arrest records, rejiggering the way drug possession cases are handled, and, more fundamentally, moving to decriminalize pot and/or drug possession. In doing so, they are building alliances with other communities, especially those of color, that have been hard hit by the mass criminalization of the war on drugs.

In California, first decriminalization in 2011 and then outright legalization last year removed pot possession from the realm of the criminal, offering protection to hundreds of thousands of immigrants. But the California legalization initiative, Proposition 64, also made the reduction or elimination of marijuana-related criminal penalties retroactive,meaning past convictions for marijuana offenses reduced or eliminated can be reclassified on a criminal record for free. Having old marijuana offenses reduced to infractions or dismissed outright can remove that criminal cause for removal from any California immigrant's record.

Across the county in New York, with a charge led by the state legislature's Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus, the state assembly voted in January to approve AB 2142, which would seal the criminal records of people who had been unjustly arrested for simple possession of marijuana in public view, a charge police used to still bust people for marijuana after it was decriminalized in 1977. Like the Prop 64 provision in California, this measure would protect not only minority community members in general -- who make up 80% of those arrested on the public possession charge -- from the collateral consequences of a drug conviction, but immigrants in particular from being expelled from their homes.

"A marijuana conviction can lead to devastating consequences for immigrants, including detention and deportation," said Alisa Wellek, executive director of the Immigrant Defense Project. "This bill will provide some important protections for green card holders and undocumented New Yorkers targeted by Trump's aggressive deportation agenda."

"Sealing past illegitimate marijuana convictions is not only right, it is most urgent as the country moves toward legalization and immigrant families are put at risk under our new federal administration," said Kassandra Frederique, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Comprehensive drug law reform must include legislative and programmatic measures that account for our wrongheaded policies and invest in building healthier and safer communities, from the Bronx to Buffalo, Muslim and Christian, US-born and green card-holding."

Companion legislation in the form of Senate Bill 3809 awaits action in the Senate, but activists are also pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include similar language as part of his decriminalization proposal in state budget legislation, opening another possible path forward.

One-way street? (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
"In New York State 22,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in 2016. The misdemeanor charge for public view of marijuana possession gives those people convicted a criminal record that will follow them throughout their lives, potentially limiting their access to education, affecting their ability to obtain employment, leading to a potential inability to provide for their families," said Sen. Jamaal Bailey, author of the Senate bill.

"Furthermore, and even more problematic, there exist significant racial disparities in the manner that marijuana possession policy is enforced. Blacks and Latinos are arrested at higher rates despite the fact that white people use marijuana at higher rates than people of color. Responsible and fair policy is what we need here," Bailey added. "We must act now, with proactive legislation, for the future of many young men and women of our state are at stake here."

Meanwhile, back in California, Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) has reintroduced legislation explicitly designed to shield immigrants from deportation for drug possession charges, as long as they undergo treatment or counseling. Under her bill, Assembly Bill 208, people arrested for simple possession would be able to enroll in a drug treatment for six months to a year before formally entering a guilty plea, and if they successfully completed treatment, the courts would wipe the charges from their records.

The bill would address a discrepancy between state law and federal immigration law. Under state drug diversion programs, defendants are required to first plead guilty before opting for treatment. But although successful completion of treatment sees the charges dropped under state law, the charges still stand under federal law, triggering deportation proceedings even if the person has completed treatment and had charges dismissed.

"For those who want to get treatment and get their life right, we should see that with open arms, not see it as a way of deporting somebody," Eggman said.

Eggman authored a similar bill in 2015 that got all the way through the legislature only to be vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who worried that it eliminated "the most powerful incentive to stay in treatment -- the knowledge that the judgment will be entered for failure to do so."

In the Trump era, the need for such measures has become even more critical, Eggman said.

"It might be a more complex discussion this year, and it's a discussion we should have," she said. "If our laws are meant to treat everyone the same, then why wouldn't we want that opportunity for treatment available to anyone without risk for deportation?"

Reforming drug laws to reduce criminalization benefits all of us, but in the time of Trump, reforming drug laws is also a means of protecting some of our most vulnerable residents from the knock in the night and expulsion from the country they call home.

Chronicle AM: PA Auditor General Calls for Legal MJ, NV Public Consumption Bill, More... (3/7/17)

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale comes out for marijuana legalization, citing the tax revenue boost; a bill to limit home cultivation in Colorado advances, the Arizona Senate approves a hemp bill, the Arkansas Senate kills a no-smoking medical marijuana bill, and more.

Pennsylvania's auditor general has reefer dollar signs in his eyes as he calls for legalization. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill to Limit Home Cultivation Advances. The House Finance Committee voted Monday to approve House Bill 1220, which would limit home grows to 12 plants. Bill sponsors paint it as an effort to prevent diversion to the illegal market, but medical marijuana patients and advocates testified that it could make it difficult for them to grow enough medicine for their needs.

Nevada Bill to Allow Licenses for Public Events With Pot Consumption Filed. The state's leading pro-marijuana reform politician, Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) filed Senate Bill 236 Monday. The bill, which is not yet available on the legislative website, would allow local governments to issue licenses for one-off events with public pot consumption, as well as licensing pot shops, bars, or other businesses to allow consumption on-premises. The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Pennsylvania Auditor Endorses Marijuana Legalization, Says State Could Earn Millions. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale (D) said Monday he supported marijuana legalization and that the state could generate $200 million a year in tax revenues from it. "The regulation-and-taxation-of-marijuana train has rumbled out of the station across the United States," DePasquale said at a press conference in the state capitol. "The question is whether Pennsylvania is going to miss its stop."

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Senate Kills Bill to Ban Smoking of Medical Marijuana. The Senate voted 15-10 Monday to reject Senate Bill 357, which would have banned smoking medical marijuana. Bill sponsor Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) argued smoking is a public health hazard and that smoking marijuana is a recreational use, not a medicinal one, but his colleagues were not buying his argument.

Hemp

Arizona Senate Passes Hemp Legalization Bill. The Senate has approved Senate Bill 1337, which would authorize industrial hemp production, processing, manufacture, distribution, and sales. It also includes language saying the state cannot prevent hemp commerce merely on the grounds that it is federally illegal.

Drug Policy

West Virginia Bill Would Create Drug Policy Office, Track Overdoses. A bill that would create an office to track fatal drug overdoses passed the House last week and heads to the Senate. House Bill 2620 would provide a central data collection point to track overdoses and arrests in the state. That information could be compiled and used as supporting data in research and as the state applies for federal grant money to combat the state's drug abuse epidemic. The bill is only one of many filed to deal with the opioid problem in the state. Click on the link for more.

Chronicle AM: Israel Cabinet Approves MJ Decrim, NM Senate Approves MJ Decrim, More... (3/6/17)

Legalization bills are getting hearings on the East Coast, decriminalization advances in New Mexico and Israel, a Wyoming edibles penalty bill is dead, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Legalization Bill Gets Hearing Tomorrow. The General Assembly's Public Health Committee has a hearing set for House Bill 5314, cosponsored by Rep. Melissa Ziobron (R-East Haddam). The bill would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over, set up a regulatory system for marijuana cultivation and sales, and set up a tax system for marijuana commerce. Other legalization bills proposed by Democrats are awaiting action.

Maryland Legalization Bills Get Hearing. Supporters and foes of marijuana legalization testified before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last Thursday on Senate Bill 927, which would tax and regulate legal marijuana sales, and on Senate Bill 891, which would set up a referendum to amend the state constitution to allow people 21 and over to possess up to two ounces and grow up to six plants. No votes were taken.

New Mexico Senate Approves Decriminalization Bill. The Senate voted last Thursday to approve Senate Bill 258, which would decriminalize the possession of up to a half-ounce of marijuana. Between a half-ounce and eight ounces would remain a misdemeanor. The move comes after the legislature rejected outright legalization. The bill is now before the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Supporters Will Try Again. Initiative campaigners gave up a few months ago on signature gathering, but now say they will try again and are aiming at getting a measure on the 2018 ballot. Campaigners said they would have a new petition later this spring or summer.

Wyoming Bill to Set Edibles Penalties Dies Amidst Discord. A conference committee of House and Senate members was unable to reach agreement on how to punish the possession of marijuana edibles, killing House Bill 197. The bill had sought to close a loophole in state law that left it unclear how to punish edibles possession, but originally also included sentencing reductions for marijuana in its plant form. That provision was intended to make the bill palatable to Democratic lawmakers, but it was stripped out of the bill in the Senate. The bill died when the House rejected the Senate version.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana "Fix" Bills Are Moving. The Senate sent two medical marijuana bills to the governor's desk last Thursday, while the House passed three more bills and sent them to the Senate. Winning final legislative approval were House Bill 1556, which bars the use of teleconferencing to certify a patient for medical marijuana, and House Bill 1402, which would allow the state to reschedule marijuana if the federal government does it first. Meanwhile, the Senate will now take up House Bill 1580, which imposes a 4% sales tax on cultivation facilities and a 4% sales tax on dispensary sales; House Bill 1436, which sets an expiration date for dispensary licenses, and House Bill 1584, which would led regulators issue temporary dispensary or cultivation licenses when the original owner ceases to be in control of the business.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bills Filed. Sen. Patricia Rucker (R-Jefferson) and 11 cosponsors have filed Senate Bill 386 and companion legislation in the House that would allow for the medical use of marijuana by patients with one of a list of qualifying disorders.

Asset Forfeiture

Mississippi Senate Approves Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The Senate voted unanimously last Thursday to approve House Bill 812, which will require law enforcement to report on all forfeitures and creates a new asset forfeiture warrant system under which a judge would have to authorize seizures. The bill had already passed both houses, but had to go back to the Senate for a housekeeping vote. It now head to the desk of Gov. Phil Bryant (R).

International

Israeli Cabinet Approves Marijuana Decriminalization. The cabinet has approved the public safety minister's proposal to decriminalize pot possession. Under the proposal, people caught with marijuana would face only administrative fines for their first three offenses, but criminal charges for a fourth. The measure must still be approved by the Knesset.

Durham Police Will Become First in England to Implement Prescription Heroin and Supervised Injection Sites. Police in Durham are set to begin buying pharmaceutical heroin and providing it to addicts, who will inject it twice a day at a supervised injection site. The plan is currently being studied by public health authorities in the region.

Chronicle AM: Capitol Hill MJ Politics Heats Up, INCB Condemns Philippines Drug War, More... (3/3/17)

Eleven senators urge the Trump administration to leave legal marijuana alone, a federal legalization bill gets introduced, Justin Trudeau says yes to marijuana legalization but no to drug decriminalization, the INCB rips the Philippines' bloody drug war, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Eleven US Senators Urge Trump Administration Not to Mess With Legal Marijuana. Eleven senators, led by Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions Thursday urging him to uphold the Obama administration policy of letting states implement their own marijuana laws. "We respectfully request that you uphold DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational use," they wrote. "It is critical that states continue to implement these laws."

Republican Congressman Files Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill. Freshman Virginia Republican Rep. Thomas Garrett has filed a legalization bill, House Resolution 1227, that is identical to the one filed last year by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Unlike the Sanders bill, which garnered no cosponsors, this one already has three. Garrett played up the states' rights angle in announcing the bill: "Virginia is more than capable of handling its own marijuana policy, as are states such as Colorado or California," he said.

New Mexico Senate Passes Bill Lowering Marijuana Penalties. The Senate Thursday approved Senate Bill 258, which would make possession of less than a half ounce an administrative offense punishable by no more than a $50 fine. Possession of between a half ounce and an ounce would be a misdemeanor, punishable by no more than a $100 fine. The bill now goes to the House.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Bill to Let Pharmacies Dispense CBD Cannabis Oil Goes to Governor. The House Thursday approved Senate Bill 2610, which would amend the state's existing CBD cannabis oil law to allow pharmacies to join the University of Mississippi Medical Center in dispensing the medicine. The bill has already passed the Senate and now heads to the desk of Gov. Phil Bryant (R).

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Maryland Governor Declares Opioid State of Emergency. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced Wednesday that he is declaring a state of emergency around the state's heroin and opioid abuse problem. "I will be signing an executive order declaring a state of emergency in response to rapid escalation of the heroin and opioid crisis in our state," Hogan said. "With this continuing threat increasing at such an alarming rate, we must allow for rapid coordination with our state and local emergency teams." Hogan said issuing the emergency notice would give the state and local emergency agencies more flexibility to deal with the problem.

Asset Forfeiture

Idaho House Passes Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The Republican-controlled House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to approve House Bill 202, which would bar police from seizing cash or property merely because it was in close proximity to an illegal substance. The bill also bans seizing vehicles unless they are connected to drug-dealing offenses, requires judicial approval for police to keep assets, and requires police to report on seizures. The bill passed despite opposition from the Idaho Sheriffs' Association. It now goes to the Senate.

International

US to Pressure Colombia to Cut Coca Crop. American drug officials will go to Bogota next week to "engage in serious discussions with the Government of Colombia" about the sharp increase in coca cultivation and cocaine production in the country in recent years, they said in a press briefing on Thursday. Colombia has seen a spike in coca cultivation in 2014 and 2015, the last years for which data is available. "We are working on the problem. It is a serious problem," said William R. Brownfield, assistant secretary of the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, during Thursday's press briefing. "Both governments recognize this fact. Both governments realize that it is neither in the interest of Colombia, nor in the United States of America, nor, frankly, any country in the Western Hemisphere or the world, that there be more than a doubling of cocaine production coming from Colombia over the last four -- three or four years."

Justin Trudeau Says Marijuana Legalization Coming, But Rejects Drug Decriminalization for Canada. The Canadian prime minister said Thursday he hoped to have a marijuana legalization bill before parliament this summer, but rejected calls from British Columbia public health officials to decriminalize drug possession in a bid to reduce overdose deaths. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for anyone who is on the front lines," he said. "I always listen very carefully to what they have to say. But at the same time, I can absolutely confirm that we are moving forward on a framework to regulate and control marijuana to protect our kids and keep our communities safer from organized crime, and we are not planning on including any other illicit substances in the movement toward legalizing, controlling and regulating."

International Narcotics Control Board Rips Philippines Drug War. In its annual report, released Thursday, the INCB said President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drug users and sellers violates international drug control treaties. "The Board wishes to bring once again to the attention of all Governments that extrajudicial action, purportedly taken in pursuit of drug control objectives, is fundamentally contrary to the provisions and objectives of the three international drug control conventions, under which all actions must be undertaken within the due process of law,"the report said. The INCB said that it had issued a statement calling on the Philippines government to issue an immediate and unequivocal condemnation and denunciation of the killings of individuals suspected of involvement in the illegal drug trade. It also called on the government to put an immediate stop to such actions and bring the perpetrators of such acts to justice.

Chronicle AM: No More Petty MJ Busts in Houston, Battle of the Georgia CBD Bills, More... (3/2/17)

Houston decriminalizes -- sort of -- Colorado ponders social cannabis clubs, Georgia legislators have passed two different CBD bills, Oregonians are ready to defelonize drug possession, and more.

This won't get you arrested in Houston anymore, but the cops will still take your stash. (flickr.com)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Lawmakers Take Up Pot Social Club Bills. The Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee Wednesday approved a bill that would let local governments allow private marijuana clubs. Under Senate Bill 184, tokers would likely pay a fee to become members of a club and consume it there. Another, broader measure, Senate Bill 63, which would have allowed consumption licenses to be issued to shops where pot could be both sold and consumed, was defeated on a 6-1 vote.

Georgia Bill to Reduce Pot Penalties Advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee gave its seal of approval to Senate Bill 105 Tuesday. The bill reduces the penalty for possession of less than a half ounce of weed from up to a year in jail to a fine of up to $300. Possession of more than a half ounce, but less than two ounces, would be worth up to a year in jail, while possession of more than two ounces would remain a felony.

Houston "Decriminalization" Now in Effect. As of Wednesday, police in America's fourth-largest city will no longer arrest people with up to four ounces of pot. Instead, they will seize the weed and make the person sign a contract promising to take a drug education class.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Bill to Ban Smoking, Edibles Advances. The Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor has approved Senate Bill 357, which bans smoking medical marijuana and the selling of foods or drinks containing medical marijuana. The measure now heads to the Senate floor. That same committee rejected another bill, Senate Bill 238, that would have delayed implementation of the medical marijuana law under federal marijuana prohibition ends.

Georgia House Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Expansion Bill. The House on Wednesday approved House Bill 65, which would expand the state's 2015 CBD cannabis oil law. The bill adds new qualifying conditions, removes a one-year residency requirement, and allows reciprocity with other CBD cannabis oil states. The House move comes two weeks after the Senate passed a more restrictive CBD expansion bill, Senate Bill 16, which would only add one new condition and would reduce the maximum allowable THC in cannabis oil from 5% to 3%. Medical marijuana advocates are not happy with the Senate bill.

Drug Policy

Oregon Poll Finds Strong Support for Reducing Drug Possession Felonies to Misdemeanors. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Oregonians support making small-time drug possession a misdemeanor, according to a new poll. Under current law, possession is a felony. The poll comes as a bill to do just that is about to be introduced.

Drug Testing

Florida Bill Would Require Welfare Drug Tests for Drug Offenders. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jack Latvala (R) introduced Senate Bill 1392 Wednesday. The measure would force people who have any felony drug conviction or "a documented history of multiple arrests" for drug use within the past 10 years to undergo drug testing before receiving welfare benefits. People who test positive would be barred from benefits for two years, although they could reapply after six months if they have completed drug treatment. A companion bill was also introduce in the House.

International

International Legal, Drug Policy Groups Call for Release of Philippine Critic of Duterte's Drug War. Both the Global Commission on Drug Policy and the International Commission of Jurists have issued statements tdemanding the immediate release of Senator Leila de Lima, who was arrested on drug charges after criticizing President Duterte's bloody crackdown on drugs. The charges against De Lima are "fabricated" and her prosecution is politically motivated, the ICJ said. "The ICJ calls on the Philippine government to immediately release Senator De Lima and immediately stop any further acts of harassment against her and other public critics of the government," the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said in a statement on Tuesday. The Global Commission also expressed concern about her arrest and called for her release: "We are hopeful that the presumption of innocence will be upheld and that Senator de Lima will soon be released from pre-trial detention," the GCDP said in a statement.

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