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Chronicle AM: DEA Lied About Honduras Incident, Not Guilty Verdict in SD MJ Case, More... (5/25/17)

A joint report from the Justice and State inspector generals' finds that the DEA lied and covered up the facts in a 2012 Honduran raid that left four innocent civilians dead, Peruvian security forces prepare to enter forbidden territory in the country's coca heartland, the South Dakota attorney general's ploy to win political advantage by prosecuting a pot consultant fails, and more.

Authorities in Honduras have discovered their first domestic coca plantation. (deamuseum.org)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legislature Passes Bill to Fund the Implementation of the Marijuana Legalization Initiative and Change the Agency That Will Regulate Marijuana for Adult Use. The Senate on Thursday passed Legislative Document 243 unanimously "under the hammer," without debate or a roll call vote, sending it to Gov. Paul LePage (R) for final approval. The House passed it "under the hammer" on Wednesday. The bill would transfer the authority to oversee adult-use marijuana from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations within the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS). The Bureau would be responsible for licensing adult-use marijuana businesses and creating and enforcing regulations. LD 243 also allocates $200,000 to the Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation and $1.4 million to DAFS to implement Question 1.

South Dakota Attorney General Foiled in Bid to Prosecute Pot Consultant for Personal Political Advantage. A jury in Flandreau acquitted a marijuana business consultant of conspiracy to possess and marijuana possession Wednesday. Eric Hagen, president of Colorado-based Monarch America, had contracted with the Flandreau Sioux tribe to assist it in developing a marijuana grow operation and resort, a plan that was abandoned by the tribe in the face of mixed signals from the federal government and staunch opposition from state officials. Led by Attorney General Marty Jackley (R), who is eying the state's governor's office, the state nine-months later charged Hagen and a business partner, even though they never possessed or controlled any marijuana. It took a juror just two hours to find Hagen not guilty. Hagen immediately accused Jackley of ruining his company through a politically motivated prosecution. "He tanked our company by spreading lies and rumors," Hagen said. "It was 100 percent politically motivated. This was simply a media ploy for Jackley because he's running for governor in 2018."

International

Peruvian Forces Set to Enter Key Coca Cultivation Area. Security forces are preparing to enter the lawless Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro River valleys (VRAEM) coca growing areas for the first time as part of a plan to eradicate half the country's coca supply by 20121. The area, where an estimated 125,000-150,000 acres of coca is grown is remote, on the far side of the Andes, and the trade there is protected by armed rebel groups and drug trafficking organization. "It has to be done slowly, but it has to be done," Peru's drug czar Carmen Masias told a news conference.

Hondurans Bust First Coca Plantation. For years, Honduras has been a key transshipment point for cocaine headed from South America toward North American markets, but now Honduran authorities report finding their first domestic coca growing operation. They busted the field containing an estimated 7,000 plants last month in the mountainous region of Esquipulas del Norte. "We have confirmed through toxicological exams that we're dealing with coca plants. This is the first time we've confiscated a coca plantation in Honduras," prosecutor Carlos Morazan said. "At the site, we found a laboratory with tools and precursor chemicals for making coca paste and for processing the drug up to its final power form," Morazan added.

DOJ Report Says DEA Lied About Fatal Honduran Drug Raid. In 2012, a botched drug raid in Honduras led to the shooting deaths of four civilians, including a teenage boy, as they floated along a river. Now, a report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General finds that the DEA lied when it claimed the victims were cocaine traffickers who had shot first and that DEA agents were only present as advisors. The report says the DEA failed to properly investigate, blocked attempts to find the truth, and stuck with an inaccurate version of events despite the efforts of Congress and the Justice Department to get to the bottom of it.

Chronicle AM: Afghan Opium is Booming, American Legion Wants MedMJ Research, More... (5/22/17)

We're starting to see 2018 marijuana legalization initiative action getting underway, an Ohio Supreme Court justice calls for freeing the weed, the American Legion wants the feds to get out of the way of medical marijuana research, Afghanistan has a bumper opium crop, and more.

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Sends Marijuana Legalization Initiaitve Back to Be Reworked. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) has rejected a proposed marijuana legalization initiative from Larry Morris of West Fork, saying that it is "ambiguous" and nearly identical to a later proposal from Mary Berry of Summit. Rutledge suggested that Morris and Berry work together.

Minnesota Lawmaker Files Bill for Legalization Constitutional Amendment. State Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) introduced House File 2714 on Saturday. The bill proposes a constitutional amendment to allow people 21 and over to buy and grow marijuana for personal use. The bill was filed with just a couple of days left in the session, and Liebling doesn't expect it to pass this year, but "it's time to get the conversation going," she said. Liebling is also seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination next year, and marijuana legalization is one of her campaign planks.

Nevada Marijuana Edibles Regulation Bill Advances. The Assembly Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 344 last Friday. The bill has already passed the Senate. It would require edibles to be sold in single servings in nondescript packaging and be child-proofed. The legislature is rushing to get the bill passed before retail marijuana sales are set to begin on July 1.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Justice William O'Neill, the only Democrat to hold statewide office in the state, says it is time for the Ohio to legalize marijuana. The potential gubernatorial contender said in a speech that he not only wants to free the weed, but also to free nonviolent marijuana offenders from prison. "The time has come for new thinking," O'Neill said in his prepared remarks. "We regulate and tax alcohol and tobacco and imprison people for smoking grass."

South Dakota Legalization Initiative Signature Gathering Gets Underway. Supporters of a marijuana legalization initiative began signature gathering over the weekend after the attorney general's office okayed petitions for circulation. This initiative would legalize the possession of any quantity of marijuana by adults. Organizers have until November 6 to come up with approximately 14,000 valid voter signatures.

Medical Marijuana

American Legion Asks Trump to Allow Research for Vets. In a recent letter to the White House, the conservative veterans' group asked for a meeting with Trump son-in-law and key advisor Jared Kushner, "as we seek support from the president to clear the way for clinical research in the cutting edge areas of cannabinoid receptor research," the letter said. "We are not asking for it to be legalized," said Louis Celli, the national director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation for the American Legion. "There is overwhelming evidence that it has been beneficial for some vets. The difference is that it is not founded in federal research because it has been illegal."

Utah Republicans Reject Resolution Supporting Medical Marijuana. At its annual convention over the weekend, the Utah Republican Party overwhelmingly rejected a resolution in support of medical marijuana, defeating it by a margin of 70% to 29%. The Republican-controlled legislature has refused to enact a full-fledged medical marijuana law, and now the state GOP has made it clear it intends to stick to its guns. Advocates could undertake an initiative campaign next year in the face of legislative indifference or hostility.

International

Bermuda House Passes Marijuana Decriminalization Bill. The House of Assembly has approved an opposition bill that would decriminalize up to a quarter-ounce (7 grams) of marijuana. The bill still needs approval by the Senate and the governor's signature. If that happens, it will go into effect on June 30.

UN Says Afghanistan Opium Cultivation Up 10%. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that illicit opium poppy plantings had increased by 10% last year, with potential opium production up 43%, to 4,800 metric tons. UNODC estimated that opiates accounted for 16% of the country's GDP and more than two-thirds of the agricultural sector. Opium production also provided labor for 235,100 full-time workers and accounted for more than half of the family income of poppy growers. The illicit economy is fueling insecurity, violence and insurgency among other problems to discourage private and public investment in Afghanistan, UNODC said.

Chronicle AM: Drug Policies Fueling Hep C Rise, MI Init Begins Signature Drive, More... (5/19/17)

The CDC issues a damning report about drug policy and Hep C, the clock is ticking on the Vermont legalization bill as the governor ponders his choices, Michigan legalizers hit the streets with petitions for 2018, and more.

State-level policies toward injection drug users can influence Hep C rates -- for better or worse. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Legalization Initiative Signature Gathering Gets Underway. The state Board of Canvassers Thursday gave its go-ahead for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol to begin signature gathering for its marijuana legalization initiative, and the group immediately sent canvassers onto the streets. The measure would legalize up to 2.5 ounces and 12 plants for adults and create a system of legal marijuana commerce. The campaign needs a little more than 252,000 valid voter signatures within six months to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.

Texas Poll Has Majority Support for Legalization. A new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll has a slight majority for marijuana legalization, with 32% saying small amounts should be legalized and 21% saying any amount should be legalized. That's 53% for some form of legalization. Some 30% said only medical marijuana should be legal, while only 17% said no form of marijuana should be legal.

Vermont Clock Ticking on Legalization Bill -- Governor Has Five Days to Veto or Not. The state legislature sent the legalization bill it approved -- Senate Bill 22 -- to Gov. Phil Scott (R) on Thursday. Under state law, he has five days to sign or veto the bill. If he fails to act, the bill becomes law without his signature. He is facing heavy pressures on all sides. Stay tuned.

Drug Policy

High Hep C Rates Linked to Drug Policy Failures. A report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention finds that 17 states had high rates of Hep C because they lacked laws and Medicaid policies to prevent drug users from being infected with the disease or obtaining treatment once they did. Seven of those states had a Hep C rate more than twice the national average, and all the others also had above average rates. The report said the states needed to focus more on reducing intravenous drug users' Hep C risk by enacting laws such as allowing pharmacies to sell syringes to the public and by enacting Medicaid policies that do not require patients to be drug free for a certain people before getting treatment. "It is important for policy makers and public health officials to work together to understand the various needs of particular populations to prevent HCV transmission and disease," the report concluded.

International

Trump-Santos Meeting Shows Divergence on Drug Policy. As President Trump and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos addressed reporters at a White House press conference Thursday, clear drug policy differences emerged. While Trump emphasized "building the wall," or an interdiction-based strategy, Santos declined to endorse that strategy, explaining that drug policy is a complex international issue that requires innovation and collaboration. "We declared the war on drugs 40 years ago -- the world declared the war on drugs -- and it's a war that has not been won. We must be more effective and more efficient," Santos said.

Chronicle AM: RI House Punts on Legalization, Leading Mexican Journo Gunned Down, More... (5/17/17)

The Rhode Island House voted to study marijuana legalization instead of actually do it, Vermont newspapers pressure the governor to sign their legalization bill, the federal Justice Safety Valve Act gets refiled, Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas is gunned down, and more.

RIP. Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas, gunned down by presumed cartel hit men in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Monday. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

California Assembly Passes Bill to Restrict Edibles Packaging. The Assembly on Monday approved Assembly Bill 350, which would bar labels on edibles that "contain any content that is designed to be attractive to individuals under the age of 21," including cartoons, images that resemble those used to advertise to children, or have candy-like packaging. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

California Senate Passes Edibles Packaging Bill. The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved Senate Bill 794, which would require all baked items and candies containing marijuana to be marked with a universal symbol (to be designed by the Bureau of Marijuana) and wrapped in child-resistant packaging. The bill now goes to the House.

Rhode Island House Punts on Legalization, Votes for More Study. The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday voted to put off marijuana legalization for at least another year, instead approving a bill to set up a joint House-Senate commission to study the issue. The vote came as more than 200 people gathered on the state house steps to demand a vote on legalization. Legalization backers in the legislature say they have not given up on this year yet, though. Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) said he has "about three alternatives in my back pocket to get this done one way or another" and "I won't give up on this until the last night of session."

Four Vermont Newspapers Call on Governor to Sign Legalization Bill. The Burlington Free Press, the Bennington Banner, the Addison County Independent, and the Rutland Herald have all published editorials urging Gov. Phil Scott (R) to sign into law Senate Bill 22, which would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana and set up a commission to study taxing and regulating marijuana commerce. The bill has not yet officially arrived on Scott's desk. Once it does, he will have five days to either sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Washington Governor Signs "Omnibus" Marijuana Bill. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 5131, the "omnibus bill" of more than a dozen legal changes to the state's marijuana laws. The bill creates an organic certification program for weed, allows people to share pot with friends without fear of violating the law, bars marijuana businesses from depicting plants on any billboards, allows medical patients to buy seeds and plants from producers, and instructs regulators to study the feasibility of allowing people to grow their own. Washington is the only legal state that doesn't allow for home grows.

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Stalled. A bill that would have expanded the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana stalled in the Senate Tuesday as lawmakers complained that a promised amendment to address concerns of the medical profession was never added. But sponsor Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington) said Senate Bill 24 would be reintroduced at a later date. The bill would have added debilitating anxiety to the list of qualifying conditions and removed a requirement that a psychiatrist sign recommendations for people seeking medical marijuana for PTSD.

Drug Policy

Sen. Kamala Harris Slams Trump/Sessions Drug Policy. California's junior senator, Kamala Harris (D) on Tuesday took Attorney General Sessions to task over his call for tough crackdown on drug offenders last week. "I saw the war on drugs up close, and let me tell you, the war on drugs was an abject failure," Harris said. "It offered taxpayers a bad return on investment, it was bad for public safety, it was bad for budgets and our economy, and it was bad for people of color and those struggling to make ends meet." She also called for federal marijuana rescheduling and decriminalization.

Sentencing

Bipartisan "Justice Safety Valve Act" Filed in Both Houses. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) on Tuesday reintroduced the Justice Safety Valve Act, Senate Bill 1127, while Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) filed companion legislation, House Bill 2435, in the lower chamber. The bill would give federal judges the ability to impose sentences below mandatory minimums in appropriate cases based on mitigating factors. "Mandatory minimum sentences disproportionately affect minorities and low-income communities, while doing little to keep us safe and turning mistakes into tragedies. As this legislation demonstrates, Congress can come together in a bipartisan fashion to change these laws," said Sen. Paul.

International

Leading Mexican Journalist Gunned Down in Sinaloa. Gunmen in the state capital of Culiacan on Monday assassinated journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas, 50, as he drove to work in his car. Valdez, a veteran journalist who chronicled the bloody conflicts between drug cartels in his home state, co-founded the newspaper Riodoce in 2003, and had won prizes from Columbia University and the Committee to Protect Journalists for his reporting. Valdez is only the latest of at least 104 journalists who have been killed in Mexico since 2000; another 25 have disappeared. The killing is raising pressure on the Mexican government, which has failed to solve all but a handful of the slaying. Your reporter met Valdez in his office in Culiacan in 2008. He will be missed.

Chronicle AM: Rand Paul Slams Jeff Sessions, Guatemala Poppy Conflict Grows Violent, More... (5/16/17)

Marijuana legalization efforts look stalled in Connecticut and Rhode Island, Rand Paul joins the chorus of critics of Attorney General Sessions' drug war crackdown, the California Senate approves a bill to end sentencing enhancements for prior drug convictions, and more.

Kentucky libertarian GOP Sen. Rand Paul says return to harsh drug war will disproportionately harm black communities.
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Dems Put Legalization Language in Budget Bill. Democrats have included marijuana legalization language in their budget recommendations, while conceding they don't have enough votes in their own caucus to pass the measure. The measure needs 76 votes to pass, but not all 79 Democrats are on board. They said they included the language to spur further conversations and to help balance the state budget. Legalization bills have been defeated in two committees this year.

Rhode Island Bill to Create Legalization Study Commission Gets Vote Today. The House Judiciary Committee was set to vote today on a measure that would create a legislative commission to study marijuana legalization. The move is not supported by legalization proponents, who charge it is a delaying tactic. Foes were set to rally at the statehouse at noon today to urge a legalization vote this year.

Drug Policy

Rand Paul Slams Sessions' Return to Hard Core Drug War. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) slammed Attorney General Sessions' new sentencing guidelines in a CNN op-ed Monday. Last Friday, Sessions instructed federal prosecutors to charge defendants with the most serious possible offense carrying the longest possible prison sentence. "The attorney general's new guidelines, a reversal of a policy that was working, will accentuate the injustice in our criminal justice system," Paul wrote, adding that the "war on drugs" disproportionately affects young black men. "I want to go the opposite way from the attorney general," Paul said.

Senate Bill to Reauthorize Drug Czar's Office Funding Filed. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has filed Senate Bill 1123, which would reauthorize funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). The move comes after the Trump administration suggested cutting funding for the office by 95%. This bill does not actually fund ONDCP; it merely authorizes funding it. Actual appropriations levels would be set later in the budget process.

Sentencing

California Senate Approves Bill to End Sentence Enhancements for Prior Drug Convictions. The Senaate approved the RISE ACT (Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements), Senate Bill 180, on a party line vote Monday. The bill would repeal a three-year mandatory enhancement for prior drug convictions that are added to any new conviction. Today, someone convicted for sale or possession for sale of a miniscule amount of drugs, can face 3-5 years plus an additional three years in jail for each prior conviction for similar drug offenses.

International

Guatemala Border Communities Clash Over Cartel-Tied Opium Crops. The Guatemalan government has declared a state of emergency in the Ixchiguán and Tajumulco municipalities of the San Marcos department near the border with Mexico after community members engaged in armed battles between themselves and the Guatemalan military. The villagers are fighting over poppy crops, with one village aligned with the Jalisco New Generation cartel and the other aligned with the Sinaloa cartel. Videos of the conflict show the villagers heavily armed.

Chronicle AM: NJ Legalization Bill Filed, Seattle Safe Injection Sites Face NIMBY, More... (5/15/17)

A new Jersey state senator wants to legalize marijuana, and so do Britain's Liberal Democrats; Seattle's proposed safe injection sites face NIMBY opposition, violence flares in Mexico and threatens to erupt in Colombia, and more.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos helps eradicating the first of many coca plants. (President’s Office)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Legislature Approves Bill Outlawing Urine Testing of Suspected Pot-Impaired Drivers. Lawmakers last Thursday gave final approval to Assembly Bill 135, which would bar the use of urine tests for driving under the influence of marijuana because the science shows that urinalysis does not actually measure impairment -- merely the presence of marijuana metabolites. Under the bill, drivers suspected of being under the influence of pot would be subjected to a blood test, which actually measures THC levels (although not impairment). The bill does not change the state's per se DUID level of two nanogram of THC per milliliter, which presumes drivers are impaired at that level.

New Jersey Legalization Bill Rolled Out Today. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) on Monday introduced a legalization bill, even though he conceded it was unlikely to become law while Gov. Chris Christie (R) is still around. Christie's term ends in January. The bill would allow the possession of up to an ounce, 16 ounces of edibles, and 72 ounces of marijuana-infused beverages, but would not allow personal cultivation. The bill would also create a Division of Marijuana Enforcement to regulate marijuana commerce, with a sales tax of 7%, rising to 25% over five years. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Expansion Bill. Gov. Terry Branstad (R) last Friday signed into law House File 524, which expands an existing law that allows people with certain conditions to use CBD cannabis oil, but did not allow for production or sale of the oil. The new law lets the state authorize up to two facilities to grow marijuana and produce cannabis oil to be sold in five state-approved dispensaries. It also expands the list of qualifying illnesses to include 15 chronic conditions.

Harm Reduction

Seattle Supervised Injection Sites Face NIMBY Opposition. Opponents of proposed supervised injection sites -- one in Seattle and one possibly in suburban King County -- have organized a local initiative campaign to put the proposal to a county-wide vote. Initiative 27 needs some 47,000 valid voter signatures by July 31 to put the proposal to an up or down vote on the November 2017 ballot.

International

Colombian Government Begins Coca Eradication, Narcos Begin Fight-Back. President Juan Manuel Santos took part last Thursday in the kickoff of a campaign to eradicate coca crops and provide substitutes. The government wants to eradicate some 125,000 acres of coca -- more than three times the amount eradicated last year -- but with the FARC now demobilized, drug traffickers and militias are now waging a campaign of threats, intimidation, and violent attacks to protect their business, leaving coca growers caught between the government and the narcos. Nearly three dozen rural community leaders have been assassinated since the November peace deal, and the traffickers seems to be tailing government officials trying to sell the program. In one Putomayo town last week, anonymous pamphlets threatening cooperative leaders appeared the next day.

Mexican Cartel Fight Over Reynosa "Plaza" Leaves More Than Two Dozen Dead. As of late last week, at least 28 people had been killed in fighting among drug traffickers over who would control "la plaza" (the franchise) in the Mexican border town of Reynosa. The dead include cartel members, civilians, and members of the military. The combatants are variously described as either members of the Zetas and Gulf cartels or factions of the Zetas.

British Lib Dems Embrace Marijuana Legalization. The Liberal Democrats have adopted a platform that includes legalizing marijuana and marijuana commerce. The Lib Dems were the third force in British politics behind Labor and the Conservatives, but saw their number of MPs drop dramatically in the most recent elections after joining the Tories as a junior partner in a coalition government. The Lib Dems are now the fourth force in British politics, having been surpassed by the Scottish Nationalists in the last election.

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Drug Policy

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

Drug Testing

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

International

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

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

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

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.

Chronicle AM: Trump Names Drug Czar Nominee, Dallas to Take Up Decrim, More... (4/11/17)

A Colorado bill barring co-op grows heads to the governor, an Oregon bill protecting marijuana consumers and an Iowa bill reforming asset forfeiture go to their governors, Trump reportedly names a new drug czar, and more.

Trump has reportedly named Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy. (marino.house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Legislature Approves Banning Co-op Grows. The state Senate voted unanimously Monday to approve House Bill 17-1771, which makes it a criminal offense to grow recreational marijuana for other people. The House approved the measure earlier. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) supported the bill and is expected to sign it.

Oregon Bill Would Shield Marijuana User Data from Federal Officials. The legislature has approved a bill that would protect marijuana consumers by ending the state practice of collecting point-of-sale identification information. The measure now goes to Gov. Kate Brown (D), who is expected to sign it.

Rhode Island Legalization Bill Hearing Today. The House Judiciary Committee was set to hold a hearing on a marijuana legalization measure, House Bill 5555, on Tuesday. The bill would legalize the consumption and cultivation of marijuana by adults and set up a system of legal, regulated marijuana commerce.

Tennessee Bill to Reduce Penalty for Small Amounts of Marijuana Fails. A bill that would have increased the amount of marijuana for which simple possession could be charged from one-half ounce to one ounce has died in the legislature. House Bill 0109 lost by one vote in the House on Monday.

Dallas City Council to Vote on Decrim Ordinance Wednesday. The city council will vote Wednesday on a proposal to decriminalize the possession of up to four ounces of marijuana. The city says it hopes to reduce jail time for nonviolent offenders and free officers for more serious policing priorities.

Medical Marijuana

Montana House Amends Regulation Bill, Advocates Unhappy. A bill aimed at setting up a new regulatory framework for medical marijuana in the state was radically overhauled in a House committee Monday -- and supports of the original measure are not pleased. The measure, Senate Bill 333, saw 20 amendments attached by the House Taxation Committee, including amendments that changed the taxing structure, before that committee sent it to the House floor. The bill has already passed the Senate, and if the bill passes the House, a conference committee will be necessary to try to reconcile the differences.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Legislature Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. The legislature has approved Senate File 446, which bars civil asset forfeiture for cash or property valued at less than $5,000 and raises the standard of proof required for asset seizure from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Terry Branstad (R) for final approval.

Drug Policy

President Trump Reportedly Names Congressman Tom Marino as Drug Czar. CBS News has reported that President Trump will name Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Marino is a former prosecutor now in his third term who has cosponsored at least two major drug policy bills, the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act and the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, both of which have their critics.

International

The Industry and Trade Ministry has proposed allowing the cultivation of opiates for medicine production. It has prepared a bill for the Duma take up. The notion has already been explored by federal executive bodies and apparently has their go-ahead.

Chronicle AM: GA CBD Bill Advances, SD MedMJ & Legalization Inits Pass Hurdle, More... (3/29/17)

South Dakota activists hope the third time's the charm when it comes to medical marijuana initiatives, a Georgia CBD expansion bill advances, the Oklahoma Supreme Court slaps down former Attorney General (now EPA head) Scott Pruitt over medical marijuana ballot language, and more.

Will South Dakota ever approve medical marijuana? Voters could have another chance in 2018. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana Initiatives Get Attorney General Approval. State Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) has provided required attorney general explanations for two proposed initiatives. A marijuana legalization initiative would allow the possession of up to an ounce and the cultivation of up to five plants, as well as taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, while a medical marijuana initiative would allow patients to possess up to three ounces and grow a minimum of six plants. The initiatives are now ready for signature gathering and both need 13,871 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Restrictive Florida Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. While a half-dozen competing measures aim to address the state's voter-approved medical marijuana system, the most restrictive measure advanced in the House on Tuesday. House Bill 1397 would limit growers to the seven currently permitted and bans smoking, vaping, and edibles. It moved out of the Health Quality Subcommittee on a 14-1 vote, but faces two more committee votes before heading for the House floor. None of the five Senate bills addressing medical marijuana have yet had a hearing.

Georgia CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Clears House. The House voted 167-4 Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 16, which would add six new qualifying conditions for the use of cannabis oil, including autism, AIDS, Tourette's Syndrome, and Alzheimer's. The state Senate approved the bill last month.

Oklahoma Supreme Court Says Former Attorney General Wrongly Changed Initiative Ballot Question Wording. Former state Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), now head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, changed the ballot title for a medical marijuana initiative in a way that would mislead voters. The original ballot question read: "A yes vote legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma for medicinal purposes," but Pruitt changed that to: "This measure legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma. There are no qualifying medical conditions identified." Now, the original language for the 2018 initiative has been restored.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Senate Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. The state Senate on Tuesday approved Senate File 446, which would bar the seizure of property valued at less than $5,000 unless there was a prior criminal conviction. The measure also increases the standard of proof required for asset forfeiture from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." The bill is now in the House, where it must advance by a committee this week to survive.

Law Enforcement

Arizona Senator, Congresswoman File Federal Bill to Increase Penalties for Border "Spotters." US Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) have introduced the "Transnational Criminal Organization Illicit Spotter Prevention and Elimination Act," which would toughen penalties on "spotters" who warn drug and human smugglers about the position of Border Patrol surveillance or officers. The bill would subject such people to up to 10 years in federal prison. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Drug War Issues

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