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Medical Marijuana Update

A measure that would allow VA docs to issue medical marijuana recommendations advanced in the Senate, Massachusetts' highest court rules in favor of a worker fired for using medical marijuana, and more.

National

Last Thursday, a Senate panel approved medical marijuana for veterans. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to adopt an amendment that would allow military veterans to get medical marijuana recommendations through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bipartisan measure picked up four more votes than last year, when it was approved by the full House, but killed in conference committee.

Massachusetts

On Monday, the state's high court ruled for a woman fired for using medical marijuana. The state Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a woman fired after testing positively for legally recommended medical marijuana can sue her former employer for handicap discrimination. The employer had argued that the use shouldn't be allowed because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but the high court disagreed. If a doctor concludes medical marijuana is the most effective treatment for a debilitating condition, "an exception to an employer's drug policy to permit its use is a facially reasonable accommodation" and "the fact that the employee's possession of medical marijuana is in violation of federal law does not make it per se unreasonable as an accommodation."

Nevada

On Sunday, medical marijuana patients complained of higher prices after recreational sales began. Medical marijuana patients are complaining of "price gouging" in the wake of the advent of legal recreational marijuana sales in the state. "Our prices have almost doubled in some places," patient Emily Wilson said. Some patients are reportedly resorting to the black market because of high legal prices.

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

Chronicle AM: Uruguay Marijuana Pharmacy Sales Begin, DPA Names New Chief, More... (7/19/17)

All New England states have now either decriminalized or legalized marijuana, the Drug Policy Alliance names a new head, Uruguay begins legal pot sales at pharmacies, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Implementation Bill Could Go to Governor This Week. Legislative leaders defended their compromise pot bill, House Bill 3818, Wednesday, and votes on the bill could come at any time. The measure is expected to pass the legislature and then head to the desk of Gov. Charlie Baker (R), who is expected to sign it. The bill increases taxes from 12% to up to 20%, and would allow authorities in localities that didn't vote in favor of the legalization initiative to ban pot businesses without a popular vote.

New Hampshire Governor Signs Decriminalization Bill. Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has signed into law House Bill 640, which eliminates criminal penalties for the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana. Instead of jail time, violators will face a $100 fine for a first offense, $200 for a second, and $350 for a third offense within three years of the original offense. With the state now adopting decriminalization, all of New England has now either legalized or decriminalized marijuana possession.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Names New Executive Director. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the nation's most powerful drug reform organization, has selected a replacement for founder and long-time executive director Ethan Nadelmann, who stepped down earlier this year.The DPA board of directors announced Tuesday it had voted unanimously to appoint Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno as Nadelmann's successor. McFarland Sánchez-Moreno is moving over from Human Rights Watch, where for the past 13 years she served as Co-Director of the US Program, where she picked up plenty of domestic and international drug policy experience. She also pushed for the group to more directly take on the war on drugs as a human rights issue, and as a result, Human Rights Watch became the first major international human rights organization to call for drug decriminalization and global drug reform.

International

Uruguay Legal Marijuana Sales in Pharmacies Get Underway. Pharmacists in Uruguay began selling marijuana to customers Wednesday, the last step in a pioneering national legalization process that began more than three years ago. Uruguay is the first country in the world to completely legalize marijuana for recreational use. Canada is set to be next.

Drug Policy Alliance Names New Executive Director

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the nation's most powerful drug reform organization, has selected a replacement for founder and long-time executive director Ethan Nadelmann, who stepped down earlier this year.

Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno (Drug Policy Alliance)
The DPA board of directors announced Tuesday it had voted unanimously to appoint Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno as Nadelmann's successor.

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno is moving over from Human Rights Watch, where for the past 13 years she served as Co-Director of the US Program, where she picked up plenty of domestic and international drug policy experience. She also pushed for the group to more directly take on the war on drugs as a human rights issue, and as a result, Human Rights Watch became the first major international human rights organization to call for drug decriminalization and global drug reform.

She grew up in Peru and spent her early years at Human Rights Watch researching Colombia, where drug profits helped fuel a decades-long civil war and corroded governmental legitimacy through corruption. That sharpened her awareness of the need for social justice and drug policy reform.

"We are excited to have found someone with such passion to reverse and remedy the destructive effects of the drug war, and with the knowledge, experience and persistence to do it," said DPA board president Ira Glasser.

As Co-Director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch, she manages a team that fights against racial discrimination in law enforcement, punitive sentencing, and deportation policies that tear families apart -- all issues inextricably intertwined with the war on drugs.

"The war on drugs is a root cause of many of the injustices I have fought throughout my career," said McFarland Sánchez-Moreno. "I'm both honored and delighted to now take on the cause of ending the war on drugs, as part of an organization that has already been behind groundbreaking reforms in the US and abroad"

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno takes over at a very interesting time for drug reform. On one hand, marijuana legalization is becoming more popular and more widespread, and a large number of states have also embarked on other drug reform policies, such as reducing harsh sentencing practices. On the other hand, the federal government under the Trump administration appears determined to move aggressively backward on drug reform.

"We cannot allow fearmongering, ignorance, and dishonesty about drugs to drive policy in the United States," said McFarland Sánchez-Moreno. "At this critical time, the Drug Policy Alliance's mission of educating the public and policymakers, and advocating for a rational, compassionate approach to drugs, is more important than ever"

Chronicle AM: MA Solons Reach Legalization Accord, Sessions Wants More Forfeiture, More... (7/18/17)

Bay state lawmakers come together on implementing marijuana legalization, Jeff Sessions signals a ramped up asset forfeiture effort, DanceSafe is offering fentanly test strips, and more.

Fentanyl test strips being offered for sale by the harm reduction group DanceSafe (dancesafe.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Lawmakers Reach Agreement on Legalization Implementation Bill. Lawmakers announced Monday they had agreed on a rewrite of the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization law. Under the deal, taxes on pot could reach 20% (up from the 12% approved by the voters, down from the 28% proposed by the House). The measure, House Bill 3818, also addresses the issue of local control by requiring jurisdictions where a majority voted for the initiative to hold a popular vote before banning marijuana businesses; jurisdictions that didn't favor the initiative could ban such businesses without a popular vote.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Renews Call for Legalization. Auditor General Eugene DePascuale (D) came out in support of marijuana legalization earlier this year, and he was at it again this week. Now, he's arguing that legalization could help in fighting the opioid epidemic."So the connection I'm drawing there is: there are times when there are going to be people who will smoke marijuana as a way to reduce their pain," DePasquale said. "The ideal would be for nobody to have any pain, but that's not reality. In many instances, marijuana is a much safer alternative than opioids."

San Francisco Creates Office of Cannabis for Pot Businesses. The city has taken initial steps to create a new Office of Cannabis to handle marijuana permits and complaints and serve as a clearinghouse for the public and pot businesses. It will be responsible for creating and managing the permitting process for all pot businesses, as well as providing policy analysis and serving as the main point of contact for businesses, state regulators, and the public.

Asset Forfeiture

Attorney General Sessions Wants to Ramp Up Asset Forfeiture in Drug Cases. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Monday that the Dept. of Justice will seek to increase the use of asset forfeiture by state and local police forces. Sessions said in prepared remarks for the National District Attorney's Association meeting, "We hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture -- especially for drug traffickers. With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime."

Harm Reduction

DanceSafe is Now Offering Fentanyl Test Strips. The rave culture-oriented harm reduction group has studies various fentanyl detection strips and found that one offered by Canadian company BTNX was most effective at detecting the synthetic opioid and its analogues. It is now offering those strips for sale via its website. Click on the link for complete information.

Jeff Sessions Wants More Asset Forfeiture -- Especially in Drug Cases

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Monday that the Dept. of Justice will seek to increase the use of asset forfeiture by state and local police forces.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes another drug warrior move. (senate.gov)
Asset forfeiture is a practice in which police seize cash and property. It has come under sustained criticism in recent years, with critics arguing that it amounts to policing for profit, and state legislatures around the country have moved to rein it in. But Attorney General Sessions is headed in the opposite direction.

Sessions said in prepared remarks for the National District Attorney's Association meeting, "We hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture -- especially for drug traffickers. With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime."

But it's not just criminals who fall victim to asset forfeiture. Federal law and many states allow the seizure of cash or property without convicting or even charging someone with a crime, a procedure known as civil asset forfeiture. And some fairly significant chunks of money can be involved: As The Washington Post noted, the Justice Department's Inspector General has found that.since 2007, the DEA alone has seized more than $3 billion in cash, in cases in which the owners were never charged with crimes.

While many states allow police to keep the cash they seize, others have enacted legislation directing that forfeiture funds go to the general fund or some other specified fund, depriving law enforcement of a revenue stream to which it had become accustomed. Police in such states evade such laws by turning over seizures to federal law enforcement, which then returns 80% of it to the local law enforcement agencies. The feds and the cops get their money; other state purposes that would have benefited do not.

It's called the Equitable Sharing Program, and that's the "adoptive forfeiture" Sessions referenced in his speech. He was making clear that he intends to undo a 2015 Justice Department memo authorized by then-Attorney General Eric Holder curtailing the practice.

"Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate," Sessions emphasized, "as is sharing with our partners."

That isn't sitting too well with Robert Everett Johnson, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, a DC-based nonprofit that describes itself as "the Law Firm for Liberty."

"This is a federalism issue," Johnson told the Post. "Any return to federal adoptive forfeitures would circumvent limitations on civil forfeiture that are imposed by state legislatures… the Department of Justice is saying 'we're going to help state and local law enforcement to get around those reforms.'"

The move is also drawing criticism from at least one Capitol Hill arch-conservative, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT). In a statement Monday, he told Reason he had serious concerns with a return to aggressive federal asset forfeiture, and he cited Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's remarkable dissent in an asset forfeiture case before the court last month.

"As Justice Thomas has previously said, there are serious constitutional concerns regarding modern civil asset forfeiture practices," Lee said. "The Department has an obligation to consider due process constraints in crafting its civil asset forfeiture policies."

But Attorney General Sessions gave no indication he's going to be slowed down by such considerations. Between his embrace of asset forfeiture, his threatening comments about legal marijuana, and his call for a return to harsh federal drug sentencing practices, Sessions is turning out to be just as bad as reformers thought he would be.

Minneapolis, MN
United States

Chronicle AM: Houston Cops Drop Faulty Field Drug Tests, AK Pot Clubs Coming, More... (7/17/17)

Houston police will quit using faulty field drug tests that sent hundreds of innocents to jail, a Colorado appeals court rules a drug dog alert on marijuana in a vehicle is not sufficient grounds for a vehicle search, the Massachusetts high court sides with an employee fired for medical marijuana use, and more.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled in favor of an employee fired for medical marijuana use. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators Advance Social Consumption Proposal. At its meeting last week, the state Marijuana Control Board voted 3-2 to approve draft rules for on-site marijuana consumption at retail outlets. Now there will be a 60-day public comment period before the rules come back to the board, most likely at its November meeting.

Colorado Appeals Court Rules Marijuana Scent Not Enough to Search Vehicle. An appeals court ruled last Thursday that a drug dog's detection of the scent of marijuana in a vehicle does not give police the authority to search the vehicle. "Because Amendment 64 legalized possession for personal use of one ounce or less of marijuana by persons 21 years of age or older in Colorado, it is no longer accurate to say, at least as a matter of state law, that an alert by a dog which can detect marijuana -- but not specific amounts -- can reveal only the presence of "contraband,'" he wrote.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts High Court Rules for Woman Fired for Using Medical Marijuana. The state Supreme Judicial Court ruled Monday that a woman fired after testing positively for legally recommended medical marijuana can sue her former employer for handicap discrimination. The employer had argued that the use shouldn't be allowed because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but the high court disagreed. If a doctor concludes medical marijuana is the most effective treatment for a debilitating condition, "an exception to an employer's drug policy to permit its use is a facially reasonable accommodation" and "the fact that the employee's possession of medical marijuana is in violation of federal law does not make it per se unreasonable as an accommodation."

Nevada Medical Marijuana Patients Facing Higher Prices With Legalization. Medical marijuana patients are complaining of "price gouging" in the wake of the advent of legal recreational marijuana sales in the state. "Our prices have almost doubled in some places," patient Emily Wilson said. Some patients are reportedly resorting to the black market because of high legal prices.

Drug Testing

Houston Cops End Use of Field Drug Tests That Sent Innocent People to Jail. Police in the nation's fourth largest city have ended the use of $2 chemical field drug tests, whose use have led to hundreds of wrongful convictions in recent years. Police announced the move as an officer safety measure in the face of dangerous new drugs, but did not mention the faulty tests' role in the recent scandal over convictions based on false positives.

Chronicle AM: Dark Web Drug Sales Site AlphaBay Busted, Owner Kills Self in Jail, More... (7/14/17)

AlphaBay is history, Nevada moves to ease its legal pot shortage, the White House opioid commission misses a deadline -- again -- and more.

Marijuana Policy

Nevada Regulators Approve Emergency Measures to Ease Pot Shortage. The state Tax Commission voted Thursday to let the Department of Taxation to again determine whether limiting marijuana transport licenses to licensed alcohol distributors would result in a shortage of legal marijuana distributors. If the department does make that determination, it could then award transport licenses to previous medical marijuana distributors. "When businesses operate we get the tax revenue and that's what the state wants," testified Deonne Contine, director of the Department of Taxation. "We need to do everything we can to get more distributors licensed so these businesses can continue operating."

Industrial Hemp

Utah Regulators Give Initial Approval for Hemp Research Grows. The state Agricultural Advisory Board on Thursday gave initial approval to a new rule that would allow limited marijuana cultivation for research purposes. The rule would allow anyone with a permit to grow industrial hemp. State universities are already able to cultivate hemp for research purposes under the 2014 federal Farm Bill, but this rule now expands who can grow the plant. The rule is open for public review through the summer and if finalized, would allow the state to begin issuing permits next January.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

White House Opioid Commission Again Misses Deadline. The president's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), will miss a second deadline for filing an interim report. Under a Trump executive order establishing the commission, the panel had until June 27 to file its interim report, but failed to do so and said it would on July 17. Now, in a notice printed in the Federal Register Friday, the commission said it would reschedule its July 17 call until July 31, again missing its deadline. The commission has until October 1 to issue a final report.

Law Enforcement

Dark Web Giant AlphaBay Busted, Owner Hangs Himself in Thai Jail. AlphaBay, one of the largest drug sales websites on the Dark Web, has gone dark. It wasn't, as some suspected, a scam and rip-off by the owners, but the result of a joint law enforcement operation by police in Canada, the US, and Thailand. Canadian citizen Alexandre Cazes, identified as AlphaBay's owner, was arrested July 5 in Thailand, where he owned three luxurious homes. He was found hanged in a Thai jail cell Wednesday.

Chronicle AM: Vets MedMJ Vets Advances in Senate, Drug War Bill Advances in House, More... (7/13/15)

Congress is dealing with medical marijuana and drug policy issues, legalization advocates call on New Hampshire's governor to kill a marijuana study commission bill, Rhode Island's governor issues an executive order dealing with the state's opioid crisis, and more.

VA docs could recommend medical marijuana for veterans under legislation moving in the Senate (Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska's Largest City Wants Social Consumption at Pot Shops. The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday urged the state Marijuana Control Board to allow tourists and locals to smoke or otherwise consume marijuana at retail stores. The move comes as the board is set to meet in Fairbank later this week. The board is expected to examine several proposals related to consumption in pot shops at that meeting.

Montana Man Challenges State's Standard for Marijuana DUIs. A Billings man facing a vehicular manslaughter charge for an accident while he was allegedly under the influence of marijuana is challenging the state's de jure standard of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Kent Roderick Jensen and his attorney argue that the standard is arbitrary and the charge should be dismissed. "There is no science to back up the 5 ng/mL level as a level that indicates impairment in a sizable enough portion of users to make it a standard for everyone," his attorney wrote in a motion seeking dismissal. The judge in the case has heard oral arguments and received written briefs, but has yet to make a decision.

New Hampshire Governor Should Veto Marijuana Study Commission, Reform Advocates Say. Advocates sent a letter to Gov. Chris Sununu (R) asking him to veto House Bill 215, a bill that would create a study commission to consider marijuana legalization and regulation. The letter, which was signed by leading advocates including the bill's prime sponsor, Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton), notes that, "The commission envisioned by the final bill includes numerous vocal opponents, such as the Association of Chiefs of Police and New Futures, but it does not include any known supporters." The House version of the bill included a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and a representative from the Marijuana Policy Project, which would have added some balance to the commission, but the Senate removed those prospective members from the bill.

Wisconsin Lawmaker Files Legalization Bill. Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) on Thursday announced she would file a marijuana legalization bill. There are no details on it yet. This would be the fourth time she has filed a similar bill.

Medical Marijuana

US Senate Panel Approves Medical Marijuana for Veterans. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted on Thursday to adopt an amendment that would allow military veterans to get medical marijuana recommendations through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bipartisan measure picked up four more votes than last year in the committee. Then, it was approved by the full House, but killed in conference committee.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Rhode Island Governor Signs Executive Order Dealing With Opioid Crisis. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) was joined by White House acting drug czar Richard Baum on Thursday as she signed an executive order aimed at curbing the "alarming rate of deaths" due to opioid overdoses. The 18-point order includes directives calling for a family task force on impacts of opioid use, expanded access to "sober" homes for people in recovery, and the creation of diversion programs to keep people out of the criminal justice system, among others.

Drug Policy

House Judiciary Committee Approves Bill that Gives Attorney General Sessions Unchecked Power to Ban New Drugs and Set Criminal Penalties. The committee on Wednesday advanced legislation that greatly expands the penalties for new drugs and gives Attorney General Sessions unilateral new powers to schedule drugs. Opponents warned that the legislation is a counterproductive approach to the opioid crisis that will exacerbate mass incarceration and enable Attorney General Sessions to ban hundreds of substances and prosecute people with long federal prison terms in violation of the new drug laws. The measure is House Resolution 2851, the "Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017," or "SITSA."

International

Colombia's Coca Crop Substitution Program Faces Same Old Obstacles, Report Finds. A new report from the Colombian Ideas for Peace Foundation casts doubt on the government's ability to eradicate 250,000 acres of coca plantings, saying a vacuum left by the demobilization of leftist FARC guerrillas has not been filled by the state, but is instead being filled by illegal armed drug trafficking groups and paramilitary formations. That means the state is not providing adequate security measures and sustainable alternatives in areas historically hit hardest by decades of armed conflict.

Outrageous Massachusetts Drug Bill Would Send You to Prison and Steal Your Car -- No Drugs Needed

p>With the support of state law enforcement, a Massachusetts Democratic state representative has filed a drug war bill that would send violators to prison for a mandatory minimum two years (five years for a second offense) and allow police to seize their vehicles -- all without the presence of any actual drugs.

Sponsored by Rep. Stephan Hay (D-Fitchfield), the measure, House Bill 1266, makes it a crime to have a hidden compartment in one's vehicle or to try to add one -- and it presumes that any hidden compartment in a vehicle is for "for the purpose of transporting or distributing controlled substances" and related contraband, such as cash or weapons. As the bill specifies in its asset forfeiture section:

Proof that a conveyance contains a hidden compartment as defined in this section shall be prima facie evidence that the conveyance was used intended for use in and for the business of unlawfully manufacturing, dispensing, or distributing controlled substances.

This is a legislative attempt to redefine reality in the name of drug war priorities akin to South Dakota's law deeming meth use or possession by a parent as child abuse. Despite that law, meth use is not child abuse, although it could lead to it. Similarly, having a hidden compartment in a car does not mean one is involved in trafficking, although one could be. But in both cases, legislators seek to twist reality to sync with prohibitionist -- and punitive -- ideology.

Only one state, Ohio, has a similar law on the books, and it has only been used once, but that one instance should be disturbing. In 2013, state troopers stopped Norman Gurley and discovered a secret compartment in his vehicle. They found absolutely no drugs but arrested him anyway on charges he broke the secret compartment law. That case briefly became a national news sensation before fading into obscurity, but it still lives: Gurley is set for a jury trial in December.

Police in Massachusetts are supporting this bill not only because it gives them one more tool in their war on drugs, but also because they get to keep any cars they seize. Massachusetts has the worst civil asset forfeiture laws in the country, and unlike states that are lining up to end forfeitures without a criminal conviction, as neighboring Connecticut did this week, cops only need to reach the threshold of probable cause that someone's cash or car or other property is related to a crime to seize it. This bill would make it all the easier, and they wouldn't even need to find any drugs.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

The nation's drug cops were apparently well-behaved this past week, but we can't say the same thing about prison guards. Let's get to it:

In San Diego, a former California state prison guard pleaded guilty last Thursday to smuggling drugs and cellphones into the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility. Anibal Navarro, 39, admitted receiving around $45,000 over a two-year period to smuggle meth, heroin, and cellphones to inmates. He went down after being popped by the FBI and the prison's internal affairs unit as he attempted to smuggle 10 ounces of meth and four ounces of heroin into the prison at Otay Mesa.

In Savannah, Georgia, a former federal prison guard was sentenced last Thursday to 46 months in prison for attempting to transport cocaine for a prisoner. Akeiran Lawson admitted approaching an inmate and offered to transport loads for a drug trafficking organization, but the inmate ratted him out, which led to a federal undercover sting. In the sting, Lawson agreed to transport a load from Savannah to Atlanta for $20,000, but was arrested after he took possession of the fake cocaine.

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