Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Here Comes Hemp: Congress Votes to Unleash a Billion-Dollar Industry [FEATURE]

The Senate on Tuesday and the House on Wednesday gave final approval to the massive 2018 Farm Bill, including a provision that will end an eight-decade ban on industrial hemp, that non-psychoactive but extremely useful member of the cannabis family. President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.

The sun rises on a new chapter for hemp in America (votehemp.org)
Even though you could smoke a hemp joint the size of a telephone pole and get nothing more than a cough and a headache, for decades the DEA has refused to recognize any distinction between hemp and marijuana that gets you high. That meant that American farmers could not legally produce hemp for a hemp products industry worth $820 million last year and expected to break the billion-dollar mark this year.

That’s right: Thanks to a federal court case brought against the DEA more than a decade ago, farmers in countries where hemp is legal can export it to the U.S., and companies in the U.S. can turn that hemp into a variety of products ranging from foods to clothing to auto body parts to building materials and beyond, but U.S. farmers can’t grow it. That’s about to change.

“For too long, the outrageous and outdated ban on growing hemp has hamstrung farmers in Oregon and across the country,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). “Hemp products are made in America, sold in America, and consumed in America. Now, hemp will be able to be legally grown in America, to the economic benefit of consumers and farmers in Oregon and nationwide.”

Wyden and fellow Oregonian Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) teamed up with Kentucky Republican Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell to sponsor the bill and guide it through Congress. McConnell’s role as Senate Majority Leader certainly didn’t hurt the bill’s prospects.

As well as guiding the bill forward, McConnell took to the Senate floor on various occasions to support it. In his statement on the passage of the farm bill, he touted “the new opportunities available with the full legalization of industrial hemp.”

“Finally we are recognizing industrial hemp for the agricultural product it is,” Merkley said. “This is a cash crop that hasn’t been allowed to meet its full economic potential because of outdated restrictions. When I visited a hemp farm mid-harvest, I saw firsthand the enormous potential of this diverse crop under the limited 2014 farm bill. This full legalization provides economic opportunity for farmers across rural Oregon and rural America—good for jobs, good for our communities, and just good common sense.”

The bill defines hemp as cannabis with 0.3 percent THC or less by dry weight and removes it from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Regulatory authority over hemp moves from the DEA to the Agriculture Department. The definition of hemp in the bill includes all parts of the plant and specifically lists cannabinoids, including CBD, that are removed from control of the CSA. The bill also includes funding and authorization for research and authorizes crop insurance for hemp farmers.

The inclusion of CBD has the potential of greatly expanding the size of the legal hemp industry. Hemp-based CBD wellness products—a category that didn’t exist five years ago—already account for nearly a quarter of the domestic hemp market, and the Hemp Business Journal predicts they will account for nearly $650 million worth of sales by 2022, becoming the single largest sector of the hemp market.

It’s been more than 40 years since Jack Herer ignited the marijuana movement’s interest in hemp with The Emperor Wears No Clothes: Hemp and the Marijuana Conspiracy. Herer is long gone—he died at age 70 in 2010—but the movement he launched has now reached the promised land. The single most ridiculously unjustifiable aspect of federal marijuana prohibition has been killed; now it’s time to finish the job by ending federal marijuana prohibition.

Chronicle AM: NJ Pot Legalization Delayed, NM Court Rejects Albuquerque Car Seizures, More.. (12/14/18)

A national coalition of civil rights, labor, and civic groups calls for descheduling marijuana; New Jersey isn't quite there yet, France takes a step toward allowing medical marijuana, and more.

Still waiting for Garden State legaliation... (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

National Coalition Calls for Marijuana to Be Descheduled. A coalition of civil rights groups, labor unions, and other groups is calling not only for Congress to deschedule marijuana but also for it to ensure that communities most harmed by pot prohibition see benefits. The coalition includes AARP, the AFL-CIO, and the League of Women Voters. "Pass legislation de-scheduling marijuana with racial equity and justice reform components," the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said in a letter outlining priorities for the coalition in the 116th Congress that begins in January.

New Jersey Legalization May Not Happen Until Next Year. Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin met with Gov. Phil Murphy (D) Thursday for a closed-door meeting to discuss marijuana legalization but made no decision. The lawmakers now say a vote may not take place until next year, even though Murphy wanted it in the first 90 days of his term.

Asset Forfeiture

New Mexico Appeals Court Rules Against Albuquerque Asset Forfeiture Law. The state Court of Appeals has ruled that Albuquerque's municipal vehicle seizure program is not only pre-empted by the state's law governing seizures, it "completely contradicts it." The city can only seize vehicles after a criminal conviction, the court held. "While the language of the NMFA does not prohibit municipalities from enacting and enforcing criminal forfeiture proceedings, it restricts forfeiture to criminal proceedings, and imposes specific requirements on any criminal forfeiture proceedings that must comport with … the NMFA."

International

France Moves Toward Allowing Medical Marijuana. A government-appointed committee has given initial approval for the use of medical marijuana. The Agency for Drug Safety has concluded that it is "relevant to authorize the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes for patients in certain clinical situations." If a patient is receiving insufficient relief from current therapeutics, cannabis represents a viable alternative, the committee decided.It said people with chronic pain, cancer patients, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis sufferers and patients in palliative care could all benefit from cannabis use. 

Chronicle AM: Congress Passes Hemp Bill, CDC Report on Overdose Deaths, More... (12/13/18)

Hemp, hemp, hooray! Congress has passed a bill to legalize hemp, the CDC issues a new report on overdose deaths, St. Vincent and the Grenadines legalizes medical marijuana, and more.

Fentanyl is now the leading drug implicated in overdose deaths, according to the CDC. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Senator Seeks to Add Marijuana Amendment to Criminal Justice Bill. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) will try to add an amendment to the pending prison and sentencing reform bill that would effectively end federal marijuana prohibition. Gardner seeks to add his STATES Act (S.3032) as the amendment. That would allow states to implement their own pot laws without fear of federal interference.

California Regulators Issue Final Version of Regulations. California marijuana regulations are now set after regulators issued their third and final version of the rules. Among the highlights: Deliveries will be allowed statewide, contract manufacturing will be allowed (licensed companies make and package products for unlicensed companies), and regulations for childproof packaging have changed to place the burden on retailers.

St. Paul City Council Backs Resolution To Legalize Recreational Marijuana. Minnesota's second largest city now officially supports marijuana legalization. The city council voted 6-1 Wednesday to support a resolution calling for it. Governor-Elect Tim Walz (DFL) is also down with the idea.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Gets Underway. Two state senators, Anna Wishart, and Adam Morfeld, both Democrats from Lincoln, announced Thursday that they had created a campaign committee to put a medical marijuana constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot. The committee is Nebraskans for Sensible Marijuana Laws.

Industrial Hemp

Congress Approves Industrial Hemp Legalization. With a final vote in the House on Wednesday, the 2018 Farm Bill, complete with a provision legalizing domestic hemp production, was approved by Congress and now heads for the president's desk. The bill clears the way for American farmers to participate in what is already a billion-dollar domestic hemp industry that is currently reliant on foreign imports.

Opioids

Fentanyl Now the Most Common Drug in Fatal Overdoses, CDC Reports. Fentanyl is now the most commonly used drug involved in drug overdoses, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fentanyl was involved in more than 30,000 overdose deaths, while second place heroin was implicated in more than 27,000 deaths. There were some 63,000 overdose deaths in 2016, many of them involving multiple substances.

International

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Pass Medicinal Marijuana Bill.  Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has become the first Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Member State to decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes and scientific research. "There is broad recognition and buy-in of the economic benefits this tightly controlled and regulated industry is expected to bring in terms of direct employment, the creation of support industries and foreign investment," said Agriculture Minister Saboto Ceaser.

Errata: No, You Don't Just Get a Ticket for Driving High in Michigan; You Go to Jail

In a story published in the Chronicle AM on December 6, we inadvertently reported that under the state's new marijuana legalization law, getting caught driving under the influence of marijuana would result in a ticket. THAT IS NOT THE CASE! Marijuana legalization does not change Michigan's laws against impaired driving. Being caught driving under the influence of marijuana is a serious crime in Michigan. A first offense is a misdemeanor, but later offenses can bring felony charges, along with all the other consequences of an impaired driving conviction. 

Trump's Ghoulish Call for Even More Chinese Drug Executions [FEATURE]

In a pair of tweets last Wednesday, President Trump urged China to crack down on fentanyl, which he described as a "horror drug," and predicted "incredible results" if China would start executing people for fentanyl-related offenses.

Trump urges the Chinese to kill more drug offenders. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Fentanyl is an extremely powerful synthetic opioid linked to tens of thousands of overdose deaths in the US in recent years. Chinese chemical factories are believed to be the primary producers of fentanyl and related synthetic opioid analogs, which are then mixed in with other illicit drugs, making them even more dangerous than they were on their own.

Trump's tweets came just days after he errantly praised China's President Xi Jinping for agreeing that China would "designate Fentanyl as a Controlled Substance, meaning that people selling Fentanyl to the United States will be subject to China's maximum penalty under the law."

In reality, China made fentanyl and five fentanyl products controlled substances back in 2015 and promised President Obama it would "crack down" on it in 2016. Yet, the flow of fentanyl continued and fentanyl-related overdose deaths continued to climb.

And in reality, China is already most likely the world's leading drug executioner. The only reason for any doubt is that China does not provide data on how many people it executes for drug offenses, but according to Amnesty International, "thousands of executions… were believed to have been carried out in China" last year.

China's closest competitor in the gruesome race to execute drug offenders has been Iran, where Amnesty says more than 200 were hung in 2017, but recognizing the futility of the hardline approach and heeding pressure from European funders of Iranian anti-drug efforts, the Islamic Republic has now moved to greatly reduce the number of drug executions.

But as has been evident from his support of bloody-handed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who was presided over a war on drug sellers and users that has left thousands dead, Trump has a fondness for the death penalty. And despite the lack of any evidence that killing drug offenders actually leads to a reduction in drug use or trafficking, he wants more.

That brought a quick response from the Drug Policy Alliance, which ripped into Trump's cheerleading the death penalty in China as "morally repugnant" and instead urged responses to the fentanyl crisis that might actually achieve something.

"Draconian criminal punishments for fentanyl will actually make the problems associated with this drug much worse than they are now," said Grant Smith, the group's deputy director of national affairs. "This won't reduce addiction and overdose deaths in the US, but it will incentivize the proliferation of even more potent drugs that will further exacerbate the crisis. President Trump's push for China to execute more of its citizens for drug offenses is morally repugnant and ignores the decades-long failure of extremely harsh drug policies here in the US."

Instead of lobbying for harsh, but inhumane and ineffective, drug policies in China, Trump would better address the overdose crisis by implementing proven harm reduction measures, Smith added.

"Fentanyl has indeed become the leading cause of overdose deaths in the US, but health-based measures are far more effective than criminalization," he said. "Interventions like drug checking, naloxone, supervised consumption spaces, and expanding access to evidence-based treatment are urgently needed to reduce fentanyl-related deaths."

But the Trump administration isn't into that. In fact, the Trump Justice Department just recently went out of its way to promise a crackdown on any cities that try to open safe injection sites as a means of reducing overdose deaths and the spread of blood-borne diseases. He would rather American drug users die and Chinese drug sellers be killed than come up with effective responses that would actually save lives.

Medical Marijuana Update

The battle over medical marijuana in Utah continues, the battle over medical marijuana in Florida may be ending, and more.

Florida

Florida Governor-Elect to End Former Governor's Court Battles Over Medical Marijuana. Incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is parting ways with his predecessor, Rick Scott (R), when it comes to medical marijuana. A spokesman for DeSantis said last Friday that he is unwilling to continue Scott's court battles over the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. "He is not interested in continuing that fight. I think he has a different perspective than Governor Scott," said spokeswoman Jeannette Nunez. "I think he wants the will of the voters to be implemented."

Georgia

Georgia Lawmakers Propose Hemp Farming, CBD Oil Distribution. Republican-led legislative committees are recommending that the state pass bills next year to allow hemp farming for CBD oil and the distribution of CBD. The state has had a law since 2015 allowing patients to use CBD, but state law still bars buying, selling, or transporting it. A separate proposal would allow for growing and selling THC oil containing less than 5% of the cannabinoid.

Utah

Utah Advocacy Groups Sue to Block Compromise Agreement on Medical Marijuana. A pair of patient advocacy groups filed suit last Thursday to block a legislative agreement that supersedes the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative passed in November. The groups accuse the Mormon Church of unconstitutional interference in a process that led to the gutting of the measure approved by voters. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to set aside the revised medical marijuana law approved by the legislature and to keep the original version in the initiative.

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

Chronicle AM: Senate Approves Legal Hemp, NJ ACLU Asset Forfeiture Abuse Report, More... (12/12/18)

Industrial hemp takes a big step toward legalization, New York's governor is planning on legalizing weed next year, the ACLU of New Jersey has a disturbing new report out on civil asset forfeiture, and more.

The sun is rising on a new American hemp industry. (votehemp.org)
Marijuana Policy

New York Governor Readying Plan to Legalize Marijuana. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will soon unveil a plan to legalize marijuana, his office said Tuesday. "The goal of this administration is to create a model program for regulated adult-use cannabis -- and the best way to do that is to ensure our final proposal captures the views of everyday New Yorkers," Cuomo spokesman Tyrone Stevens said. The proposal will come early next year, he added.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Lawmakers Propose Hemp Farming, CBD Oil Distribution. Republican-led legislative committees are recommending that the state pass bills next year to allow hemp farming for CBD oil and the distribution of CBD. The state has had a law since 2015 allowing patients to use CBD, but state law still bars buying, selling, or transporting it. A separate proposal would allow for growing and selling THC oil containing less than 5% of the cannabinoid.

Industrial Hemp

Senate Approves Farm Bill With Hemp Provision Intact. The Senate on Tuesday approved the omnibus farm bill, including a provision to legalize industrial hemp. Senate and House agricultural committees had already reconciled their versions of the bill, so now it goes back to the House for final approval. In a late compromise, a lifetime ban on people with felony convictions from participating in the industry was reduced to a 10-year ban.

Asset Forfeiture

ACLU-NJ Report Reveals Abuse and Overuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture in New Jersey. A new report from the state ACLU finds disturbing racial disparities and other worrisome trends in local law enforcement's use of civil asset forfeiture. The report finds that these practices "disproportionately harm people of color." "The civil asset forfeiture system has proved prone to widespread abuse, but it's also ripe for sweeping reform," said ACLU-NJ Catalyst Fellow Liza Weisberg, who contributed to the report. "We see a path forward that can get us there."

International

UK Lawmakers Reject Marijuana Legalization In House Of Commons Vote. The House of Commons on Tuesday rejected a move to legalize marijuana on a vote of 66 to 52. The proposal was heard under parliament's "10-minute rule motion," which lets lawmakers conduct a brief debate before voting on whether to let the measure proceed. The proposal came from Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, who said the government's recent move to ease access to medical marijuana didn't go far enough. "It is total hypocrisy that the most dangerous drug of all, in terms of harm to yourself and others, alcohol, is consumed in large quantities right here in our national Parliament, whilst we criminalize others for using a less dangerous drug -- with many using it for the relief of pain," Lamb said after the vote.

Chronicle AM: Fed Criminal Justice Bill Will Get Senate Vote, Hemp is in Farm Bill, More... (12/11/18)

Mitch McConnell changes course and okays a Senate vote on the First Step Act, McConnell ensures the hemp provision remains in the farm bill, a Moscow court ruling could run the city's only harm reduction NGO out of business, and more.

Mitch McConnell pushes hemp bill, okays sentencing reform (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Pot Conviction Expungement Bill Gets More Support. A bill filed by Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) that would allow people to clear low-level marijuana convictions has picked up support from the legislative leadership. Assistant Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (D-Chicago) announced last Friday that she was supporting the bill. The state decriminalized the possession of up to 10 grams in 2016, but that law didn't address those who had already been convicted of small-time possession.

Sentencing Reform

In Last Minute Switch, McConnell Says Reform Bill Will Get a Senate Vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Tuesday that he will bring a prison and sentencing reform bill, S. 3649, to the Senate floor for a vote. "At the request of the president and following improvements to the legislation that has been secured by several members, the Senate will take up the recently revised criminal justice bill," McConnell said from the Senate floor. The move comes after McConnell just last week said there wasn't time to deal with the bill, and time remains a critical factor. The House earlier this year passed a prison reform bill that didn't include sentencing reforms, so if the bill passes the Senate, it will have to go back to the House for approval. This is by no means a done deal, but at least limited sentencing reform remains alive at this point.

Industrial Hemp

Final Version of Farm Bill Includes Hemp Provision. The omnibus farm bill set to be passed by the Senate this month includes the legalization of industrial hemp. That would allow US farmers to cultivate, process, and sell hemp. The hemp provision is being championed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The bill had originally included a ban on people with felony drug convictions, but under a compromise, that ban would end after ten years.

International

New Zealand Legalizes Medical Marijuana. The government has approved a bill that will make medical marijuana widely available for thousands of patients over time but will at first be limited to terminally ill patients. The move comes ahead of a nationwide referendum on recreational marijuana sometimes in the next two years.

Moscow Court Imposes Punishing Fine on City's Sole Harm Reduction NGO. A Moscow court has ordered the Andrey Rylkov Foundation, the city's only harm reduction non-profit, to pay a fine of $10,000 for publishing what it called "drug propaganda." The foundation aroused the ire of the court by publishing safety advice about synthetic cathinones ("bath salts") in a drug users' newsletter. The advice didn't recommend taking those drugs but urged users to be careful if they did. The fine, which Amnesty International has described as "suffocating," could drive the foundation out of business if it can't come up with the funds to pay it by Christmas, leaving Moscow without a single harm reduction NGO.

Chronicle AM: Bill Barr's Drug Warrior Past, Iran Warns Sanction Could Bring "Deluge of Drugs," More... (12/10/18)

Trump's sanctions could come back to bite us, Iran warns; Trump's new attorney general pick has some solid drug warrior credentials, the WHO postpones a recommendation on marijuana scheduling, and more.

Iran interdicts more opium and heroin than any other country. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Governor-Elect to End Former Governor's Court Battles Over Medical Marijuana. Incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is parting ways with his predecessor, Rick Scott (R), when it comes to medical marijuana. A spokesman for DeSantis said last Friday that he is unwilling to continue Scott's court battles over the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. "He is not interested in continuing that fight. I think he has a different perspective than Governor Scott," said spokeswoman Jeannette Nunez. "I think he wants the will of the voters to be implemented."

Foreign Policy

US Sanctions Could Lead to "Deluge of Drugs," Iran Warns. If US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration weaken Iran's ability to contain the opium trade from neighboring Afghanistan, the result could be a "deluge" of drugs, President Hassan Rouhani warned in a speech carried on state television last Friday. "I warn those who impose sanctions that if Iran's ability to fight drugs and terrorism are affected... you will not be safe from a deluge of drugs, asylum seekers, bombs and terrorism, Rouhani said. "We spend $800 million a year to fight drugs which ensures the health of nations stretching from of Eastern Europe to the American West and North Africa to West Asia. Imagine what a disaster there would be if there is a breach in the dam," Rouhani said. "We don't expect the West to pay their share, but they should know that sanctions hurt Iran's capacity to fight drugs and terrorism."

Law Enforcement

Trump's New Attorney General Pick Has Record as Drug Warrior. The president's pick to be the new attorney general, former Attorney General William Barr, may be less hostile to marijuana than Jeff Sessions, but as attorney general under George HW Bush, he pushed hard for more incarceration of drug offenders. More recently, he wrote a 2015 letter defending the criminal justice system as not in need of serious reform and defending mandatory minimum sentencing in particular, while encouraging Congress not to act on a sentencing reform bill. "It's hard to imagine an Attorney General as bad as Jeff Sessions when it comes to criminal justice and the drug war, but Trump seems to have found one," Michael Collins, director of national drug affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. "Nominating Barr totally undermines Trump's recent endorsement of sentencing reform."

International

WHO Postpones Recommendation for Rescheduling Marijuana. Saying it needed more time to review findings, the World Health Organization (WHO) postponed making any recommendation on rescheduling marijuana. The recommendation was expected to be made at last Friday at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna, but that didn't happen. No new date has been provided.

Mexico's New Government Takes Aim at Cartel Finances. Mexican Financial Intelligence Unit head Santiago Nieto announced last Thursday that he had filed a complaint against three businesses and seven people linked to the Jalisco New Generation cartel. Nieto said that was only the opening salvo in the fight to stop organized crime from flourishing with impunity.

Oregon Initiative Would Decriminalize Psilocybin [FEATURE]

An initiative that would decriminalize most psilocybin offenses and open the door to regulated production and therapeutic use of the psychedelic substance in Oregon is moving forward.

Magic mushrooms could be decriminalized under the Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative (Wikipedia)
Late last month, the secretary of state approved ballot title language for the Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative. The next step is a signature-gathering drive to qualify the measure for the 2020 ballot. Some 117,578 valid voter signatures are required, and petitioners have until next July to obtain them.

Under the initiative, anyone possessing up to 50 grams of dried magic mushrooms or 10 doses of psilocybin would not be charged with a crime, but with a violation similar to a speeding ticket. The only punishment would be a fine. Similarly, distribution of up to 50 grams or 10 doses without a license would be a violation -- unless that person has two or more prior felony convictions, in which case, he would be hit with a misdemeanor.

As quantities possessed increase, so do the potential penalties. Possession of more than 50 but less than 100 grams would still be a violation, except for the two prior felony folks, who would then face a misdemeanor. Possession of more than 100 grams but less than 500 would still be a violation, except for people with one or more previous felonies, who again would face a misdemeanor. Possession of more than 500 grams but less than a kilogram would be a misdemeanor for all. It would take possessing more than two kilograms to earn a felony charge for all.

Similarly, unlicensed sales of up to 50 grams or 10 doses would not be a crime but a violation punishable only by a fine-- unless that person has two or more prior felony convictions, in which case, he would be hit with a misdemeanor. Penalties gradually stiffen, but under the initiative, it would take the sale of more than 15 kilograms to trigger felony charges for anyone regardless of prior criminal history.

Under federal law, possession of any amount of psilocybin is a felony. Under Oregon state law, though, possession of small amounts is only a misdemeanor, although possession of "substantial amounts" (more than 60 grams) is a felony, as is distribution.

But while the changes in the state's criminal code would be significant, the primary goal of the petitioners is to clear the way for the therapeutic use of psilocybin via licensed and regulated producers, processors, and therapists.

"The intent of the 2020 Psilocybin Service Initiative of Oregon is to advance a breakthrough therapeutic model currently being perfected in research settings at top universities around the world," chief petitioners Tom and Sheri Eckert wrote on the campaign web site. "The service model involves a sequence of facilitated sessions, including assessment and preparation, psilocybin administration, and integration afterward. We envision a community-based framework where licensed providers, along with licensed producers of psilocybin mushrooms, blaze trails in Oregon in accordance with evolving practice standards."

The move comes as both the public and the scientific community are shifting their opinions on marijuana and psychedelics. Recent studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of therapeutic use, including reducing anxiety in people with cancer and as a treatment for depression and alcoholism. There is also new evidence that magic mushrooms are among the safest recreational drugs.

Study: Crackdowns on Heroin, Pain Pills Gave Rise to Fentanyl Overdose Epidemic [FEATURE]

A new report on illicit US drug markets from researchers at the University of San Francisco has found that that the spread of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid implicated in nearly 29,000 overdose deaths last year alone, is tied to enforcement-driven shortages of heroin and prescription opioids, as well simple economics for drug distributors -- not because users particularly desire the drug.

meet the law of unintended consequences (Creative Commons)
Illicit fentanyl has swept through American drug markets in waves -- the super strong "China white" heroin of the 1970s was actually a heroin-fentanyl mixture -- most recently in the past decade after rising levels of opioid addiction and the spread of "pill mills" prompted multifaceted moves to restrict opioid prescribing.

From a drug distributor's perspective, fentanyl is a most excellent substitute for heroin or prescription pain pills. Produced entirely in labs or chemical factories, it is far more powerful and cheaper to produce than heroin. Because it's more potent, it is easier to smuggle -- often coming into the US via postal and delivery service parcels, not by the semi load. And it doesn't require months of growing time and period of intense peasant labor in lawless regions of weak states.

Fentanyl is typically sold deceptively -- marketed as heroin or prescription drugs such as OxyContin or Xanax -- and users and street-level dealers often don't even know that the drugs they are using or selling contain fentanyl, the researchers found. Fentanyl is making its way into the supply chain at the wholesale, not the retail level. That, the researchers said, suggests that demand is not the key driver in the drug's spread.

"Fentanyl is rarely sold as fentanyl," said Sarah Mars, PhD, a researcher in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at UCSF. "The dealers selling fentanyl directly to the users often don't know what's in it. Not only is this particularly dangerous, but it also means penalizing low-level dealers isn't going to make any difference in the fentanyl poisoning epidemic."

According to Mars, users are split on fentanyl, which produces a more sudden and powerful high than heroin, but one that fades faster. Some said fentanyl brought back the euphoria they had lost the ability to feel with long-term heroin use, but others said they feared fentanyl and found its effects too harsh.

"Whether or not they prefer fentanyl, users don't have any influence over what drugs are being sold," Mars said. "Without accurate information about these drugs, they can't make an informed choice about what they are buying. Also, very little drug slang has developed to describe fentanyl, which lends support to the notion that this is not a demand-driven epidemic."

The presence of drugs adulterated with fentanyl is uneven, Mars said.

"Most of the illicit fentanyl has been in the Northeast and Midwest," she specified. And that's where opioid overdose death rates are the highest.

Another contributing factor to the fentanyl overdose toll is that it has dozens of analogs with wildly varying potency. Some, like carfentanil, are amazingly powerful, as much as 10,000 times as potent as morphine. Some are so new they have not yet been made illegal.

"We believe it's the fluctuation in the potency of the drugs containing fentanyl that makes them so dangerous," said Daniel Ciccarone, MD, MPH, a professor of family and community medicine at UCSF and senior author of an ongoing National Institutes of Health-funded study, Heroin in Transition. "You might have one dose that had hardly any fentanyl in it or none at all. Then, you might have one with a different fentanyl analog, of different potency, or even mixtures of multiple fentanyls and heroin."

Here is the paradox of drug prohibition: Trying to crack down on drugs tends to lead not to less drug use but to more dangerous drugs, and in the case of opioids, tens of thousands of dead drug users. There is an inexorable logic at play: The more law enforcement comes down on a drug, the greater the tendency for suppliers to make it more potent and compact -- and dangerous.

Perhaps that's why we now see mainstream calls for a radically different approach, such as the one from Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle earlier this week. In her column "The Incredibly Unpopular Idea That Could Stem Heroin Deaths," McArdle argues that current drug policy is only running up the overdose death toll and that we need "to start talking about ways to make safe, reliable doses of opiates available to addicts who aren't ready to stop."

That would involve increasing access to opioid substitutes such as methadone and buprenorphine, "but lowering the death toll may require a more drastic step: legalizing prescriptions of stronger opiates," McArdle writes.

"Prescription heroin?" she continues. "Remember, I said you might not like the solution. I don't like it, either -- and frankly, neither do the drug policy researchers who told me it may be necessary. But when fentanyl took over the US illicit drug markets, it also got a lot of addicts as hostages. We'll never be able to rescue them unless we can first keep them alive long enough to be saved."

There is a better way to deal with the opioid crisis than relegating tens of thousands of American opioid users to early, preventable deaths. We know what it is. Now it's a matter of implementing smarter, more humane policies, and that's an ongoing political struggle -- one where lives are literally at stake.

Chronicle AM: Prospects Dim for First Step Act, UT MedMJ Advocates File Suit, More.... (12/7/18)

The surgeon general suggests it's time to revise federal drug schedules, the First Step Act is being held hostage by Mitch McConnell, Utah patient advocates sue to block a legislative gutting of the voter-approved medical marijuana law, and more.

A prison and sentencing reform bill is running out of time on Capitol Hill. Blame Mitch McConnell. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Brandon Ellington (D) has pre-filed House Bill 157, which would allow adults to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants, with three plants flowering at one time. The bill does not create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Advocacy Groups Sue to Block Compromise Agreement on Medical Marijuana. A pair of patient advocacy groups filed suit Thursday to block a legislative agreement that supersedes the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative passed in November. The groups accuse the Mormon Church of unconstitutional interference in a process that led to the gutting of the measure approved by voters. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to set aside the revised medical marijuana law approved by the legislature and to keep the original version in the initiative.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Lame Duck GOP Legislature Pushes Through Food Stamp Drug Testing. As part of the GOP-dominated legislature's effort to weaken the incoming Democratic governor and other state officials, the legislature passed a sweeping measure imposing restrictions on welfare recipients, including a requirement for drug screening and testing of people apply for food stamps. If outgoing Gov. Scott Walker (R) signs the bill, Wisconsin will be the first and only state that requires drug testing for many non-felon food stamp applicants.

Law Enforcement

Surgeon General Says Federal Drug Classification Scheme Needs Changes. The country's drug classification needs an overhaul, but that doesn't mean drugs should simply be decriminalized, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Thursday. "Our scheduling system is functioning, but not as ideally as it could," he said of the federal schedule for controlled substances maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration. "Things aren't static. We have to continue to evolve. Just as we need to look at our criminal justice laws, we need to look at our health laws and regulations, and that includes the scheduling system," Adams said.

Sentencing Reform

The Door is Closing on the Federal Prison and Sentencing Reform Bill. Prospects for passage of the First Step Act (S. 3649) grow dimmer as the clock ticks down on the end of the congressional session later this month. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn't made it official, but he has told Republicans there is almost no time left to take up the bill, and Senate Republicans left town Thursday afternoon without taking up the topic at two party lunches this week. "Each passing day they get less," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) of the bill's chances. "We're still lobbying Sen. McConnell. He has all the power to allow it or not allow it."

Chronicle AM: Feds Warn on Denver Safe Injection Site, It's J-Day in Michigan, More... (12/6/18)

Michigan became the first legal marijuana state in the Midwest today, the feds send a shot across the bow of an effort to get a safe injection site up and running in Denver, cartel violence challenges Mexico's new president, and more.

[Errata: This article initially reported incorrectly that driving under the influence of marijuana under MIchigan's legalization law would result in a ticket. DUI remains a felony in Michigan.]

Today Michigan becomes the first legal marijuana state in the Midwest.
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Marijuana Legalization Now in Effect. As of today, it is legal to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants in Michigan. There is no public smoking allowed and driving under the influence remains a crime. The state's system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales, however, is not expected to be up and running until 2020. [This article initially reported incorrectly that marijuana DUIs would result in getting a ticket. DUI remains a felony in Michigan.]

New Yorkers Want to Legalize Marijuana to Fix the Subway. Lawmakers are eyeing legal marijuana tax revenues as a means of helping to modernize New York City's subway system. Subway officials say they'll need $40 billion to upgrade, and legal weed could help. "The biggest issue we hear about as elected officials is the state of the subway system," said Corey Johnson, the New York City Council speaker. "To be able to tie these things together is something that could be highly impactful and potentially transformative."

Harm Reduction

Denver DEA, US Attorney Warn City on Safe Injection Sites. As city and county officials move toward establishing a safe injection site for drug users, representatives of the federal government are warning that they are illegal and anyone involved could be looking at years in federal prison. In a joint statement, the feds were blunt: "Foremost, the operation of such sites is illegal under federal law. 21 U.S.C. Sec. 856 prohibits the maintaining of any premises for the purpose of using any controlled substance. Potential penalties include forfeiture of the property, criminal fines, civil monetary penalties up to $250,000, and imprisonment up to 20 years in jail for anyone that knowingly opens, leases, rents, maintains, or anyone that manages or controls and knowingly and intentionally makes available such premises for use (whether compensated or otherwise). Other federal laws likely apply as well." The feds also argued that safe injection sites don't actually produce claimed harm reduction benefits and that "these facilities will actually increase public safety risks" by "attracting drug dealers, sexual predators, and other criminals." Those claims are, at best, debatable.

International

Mexican Cartel Gunmen Kill Six Cops in Deadliest Attack of the AMLO Era. In the deadliest attack since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) took office last Saturday, gunmen of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel attacked police transporting a prisoner in Jalisco state, leaving six police officers dead. The attackers came in three vehicles and escaped, setting up roadblocks of burning vehicles they had commandeered. AMLO came into office pledging to quell widespread cartel violence.

Medical Marijuana Update

Dispensaries come to Iowa, Utah's voter-approved medical marijuana law gets modified in the legislature, and more. 

Iowa

Iowa Sees First Medical Marijuana Dispensaries. The Hawkeye State's first medical marijuana dispensaries opened over the weekend. Five were authorized under a law passed last year and licenses were awarded earlier this year. The state's law only allows for the use of CBD products.

Minnesota

Minnesota Adds Alzheimer's to List of Qualifying Conditions. The state Department of Health announced Monday that it was adding the degenerative neurological disorder to the medical marijuana program, despite concerns about the effectiveness of treatment with marijuana. "Any policy decisions about cannabis are difficult due to the relative lack of published scientific evidence," said state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. "However, there is some evidence for potential benefits of medical cannabis to improve the mood, sleep and behavior of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease." Minnesota will become the 13th state to okay medical marijuana for Alzheimer's.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania to Consider Adding Qualifying Conditions. The state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board has approved a new process for expanding the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana and in coming weeks will begin accepting petitions for new qualifying conditions to be added to the list. Patient advocates are expected to petition for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia, among others.

Utah

Utah's Voter-Approved Medical Marijuana Law Amended. Lawmakers on Monday passed sweeping changes to the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law and Gov. Gary Herbert (R) immediately signed them into effect. The changes ban many marijuana edibles, prevent people from growing their own marijuana if they live far from a dispensary, and narrow the list of eligible medical conditions for which the drug can be obtained. Smoking medical marijuana wasn't allowed under the original ballot measure and still isn't. Opponents of the meddling with measure said the changes will create major obstacles for patients and are planning to sue to block the changes. "It's an almost complete disregard for the will of the people," attorney Rocky Anderson said.

 

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

Chronicle AM: Denver to Expunge Pot Convictions, Columnist Calls for Prescription Heroin, More... (12/5/18)

 A Washington Post columnist calls for prescription heroin, the federal hemp bill will apparently ban the participation of people with drug felonies, Denver joins the movement to expunge old pot convictions, and more.

Prescription heroin--Washington Post columnist suggests it could save lives in the face of fentanyl. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Denver Becomes Latest City to Expunge Low-Level Marijuana Offenses. Mayor Michael Hancock announced Tuesday that his administration will "move to vacate low-level marijuana convictions for Denver residents." The move comes after months of preliminary work by the Office of Marijuana Policy and the City Attorney's Office. "For too long, the lives of low-income residents and those living in our communities of color have been negatively affected by low-level marijuana convictions," Hancock said in a press release. "This is an injustice that needs to be corrected, and we are going to provide a pathway to move on from an era of marijuana prohibition that has impacted the lives of thousands of people."

Industrial Hemp

Federal Bill to Legalize Hemp Bans Drug Felons from Participating. Congressional negotiators have agreed on compromise language for the hemp provision of the farm bill that would ban people with felony drug convictions from participating in the hemp industry. The ban was inserted into the Senate version of the bill late in the process and over the objections of drug policy reformers. It's not quite a done deal—the language could be changed in conference committee—but at this point, it looks like the ban is in.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Washington Post Columnist Calls for Prescription Heroin. In a piece published Tuesday, Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle has called for access to prescription heroin in a bid to prevent fentanyl-related overdose deaths. In the column titled An Incredibly Unpopular Idea That Could Stem Heroin Deaths, McArdle notes that "most people don't want addiction made safer or easier; they want it stopped, cold…but you don’t free slaves by killing them, and as long as fentanyl suffuses the illicit drug markets, that’s what a 'tough love' policy amounts to." Harm reduction measures and increased access to treatment would help, McArdle writes, but "lowering the death toll may well require a more drastic step: legalizing prescriptions of stronger opiates. Prescription heroin? Remember, I said you might not like the solution. I don’t like it, either — and frankly, neither do the drug policy researchers who told me it may be necessary. But when fentanyl took over the U.S. illicit drug markets, it also got a lot of addicts as hostages. We’ll never be able to rescue them unless we can first keep them alive long enough to be saved."

Asset Forfeiture

Nashville Bends to Police Pressure, Extends Federal "Equitable Sharing" Program. Under pressure from local law enforcement and seeking to avoid raising taxes, the Nashville Metro Council voted 25-5 to renew its participation in the federal asset forfeiture equitable sharing program, which allows state and local law enforcement agencies to divert drug-related cash seizures to the federal government, which in turn returns 80% of the booty back to the seizing agency. 

Chronicle AM: Trump's Chinese Fentanyl Flub, UT MedMJ Law Amended, More... (12/4/18)

There's a bunch of medical marijuana news today, and President Trump misstates a Chinese position on fentanyl.

The president was unclear on just what China promised regarding fentanyl and synthetic opioids. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Adds Alzheimer's to List of Qualifying Conditions. The state Department of Health announced Monday that it was adding the degenerative neurological disorder to the medical marijuana program, despite concerns about the effectiveness of treatment with marijuana. "Any policy decisions about cannabis are difficult due to the relative lack of published scientific evidence," said state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. "However, there is some evidence for potential benefits of medical cannabis to improve the mood, sleep and behavior of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease." Minnesota will become the 13th state to okay medical marijuana for Alzheimer's.

Pennsylvania to Consider Adding Qualifying Conditions. The state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board has approved a new process for expanding the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana and in coming weeks will begin accepting petitions for new qualifying conditions to be added to the list. Patient advocates are expected to petition for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia, among others.

Utah's Voter-Approved Medical Marijuana Law Amended. Lawmakers on Monday passed sweeping changes to the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law and Gov. Gary Herbert (R) immediately signed them into effect. The changes ban many marijuana edibles, prevent people from growing their own marijuana if they live far from a dispensary, and narrow the list of eligible medical conditions for which the drug can be obtained. Smoking medical marijuana wasn't allowed under the original ballot measure and still isn't. Opponents of the meddling with measure said the changes will create major obstacles for patients and are planning to sue to block the changes. "It's an almost complete disregard for the will of the people," attorney Rocky Anderson said.

Foreign Policy

Trump Misstated Changes in China's Fentanyl Policy. This past weekend, President Trump claimed he had persuaded the Chinese to make fentanyl a controlled substance, but he was mistaken. Fentanyl is already a controlled substance in China. What the Chinese announced was that they would shift the way it regulates synthetic opioids. Now, "China has decided to list all the fentanyl-like substances as controlled substances and start working to adjust related regulations," China's foreign ministry clarified.

Chronicle AM: Dark Web Dealers Banning Fentanyl, Luxembourg Moves to Legalize Weed, More... (12/3/18)

China agrees to make fentanyl a controlled substance, Dark Web dealers begin banning fentanyl sales, Luxembourg could become the first European country to legalize marijuana, and more.

Fentanyl--too dangerous for the Dark Web? (DEA.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Bill Would Free Prisoners Doing Time for Marijuana Crimes. Democratic lawmakers have filed a bill, House Bill 6508, that would allow prisoners convicted of certain marijuana offenses to get out of prison. The release would apply to people imprisoned for use, possession, or distribution of marijuana if they meet certain conditions. It would also reduce sentences for other marijuana crimes.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Sees First Medical Marijuana Dispensaries. The Hawkeye State's first medical marijuana dispensaries opened over the weekend. Five were authorized under a law passed last year and licenses were awarded earlier this year. The state's law only allows for the use of CBD products.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Dark Web Drug Dealers Voluntarily Ban Fentanyl Sales. The British National Crime Agency reports that major dark web drug sellers have begun voluntarily banning the sale of fentanyl because it is both too dangerous and too likely to provoke police crackdowns. That would put the powerful opioid in the company of mass casualty firearms and explosives as commodities too dangerous to trade on the dark web.

Foreign Policy

China Agrees to Make Fentanyl a Controlled Substance After Talks With US. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it had "decided to schedule the entire category of fentanyl-type substances as controlled substances, and start the process of revising relevant laws and regulations" after the meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires on Saturday. The two countries have "agreed to take active measures to strengthen cooperation on law enforcement and narcotics control," including the control of fentanyl-type substances, the statement said. The White House called the move "a wonderful humanitarian effort."

International

Luxembourg Moves Toward Legalizing Marijuana. In a joint press conference, the three political parties that constitute the country's governing coalition announced plans to legalize marijuana, including legal marijuana sales. The announcement came after an online petition calling for legalization generated enough support to be discussed in parliament. The petitioners asked for marijuana to be regulated, pointing to Canada as an example. A final agreement on the exact structure of legalization is expected to be finalized this week. 

Chronicle AM: Harborside Loses Pot Tax Case, Hemp in Final Version of Farm Bill, More... (11/30/18)

The US Tax Court has ruled against Harborside being able to deduct standard business expenses, a hemp provision is in the final version of the farm bill, Mexico and the US disagree over Mexican heroin production levels, and more.

Pot shops can't deduct standard business expenses, the US Tax Court ruled in a case Thursday. (Sonya Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

California Dispensary Loses in US Tax Court. In a decision Thursday, the US Tax Court rejected a bid from Harborside Health Center to be able to declare normal business expenses on its taxes. The court held that Harborside was "engaged in only one trade or business, which was trafficking in a controlled substance" and since Section 280E of the internal revenue code bars criminal enterprises from taking the expense deduction, "Section 280E prevents [Harborside] from deducting ordinary and necessary business expenses."

Michigan Republican Lawmaker Files Bill to Ban Home Growing. Republican Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) on Thursday filed a measure, SB 1243, which would ban the home grows included in the marijuana legalization initiative approved by voters earlier this month. Under the initiative, adults can grow up to 12 plants for personal use in their homes, but that's got Meekhof worried: "People don’t get to make alcohol and serve it in unregulated bars to anyone they want to. Homegrown marijuana is basically unregulated," he said. "It should be in some regulated form, so we have consistency and safety. It’s a mind-altering substance like alcohol. It should be somehow controlled." Meekhof seems to have forgotten that Michigan allows the unregulated home production of up to 200 gallons of beer a year.

Industrial Hemp

Hemp Legalization Included in Final Farm Bill. A provision to legalize industrial hemp will be included in the 2018 farm bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and top figures in the House Agriculture Committee confirmed Thursday. Legislators in the House and Senate agricultural committees said they had reached an agreement on principle on the bill and are now finalizing the language.

Law Enforcement

Houston Drug Sting Leaves Two Dead, Seven Arrested. A drug sting operation involving a multi-jurisdictional task force including the DEA, Houston Police, and a SWAT team left two men dead and seven under arrest. Task force agents met with several known drug dealers, one of whom allegedly fired on SWAT officers moving in to make arrests. He was shot and killed by a SWAT officer. A second man fled the scene, but was found by a police dog and brought back to the scene, where he complained of problems breathing and then died despite efforts by tactical medics to revive him. The seven men arrested face federal drug charges.

International

Mexico Disputes US Heroin Production Estimates. The Mexican government and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said Thursday that opium poppy production in the country last year encompassed some 75,000 acres, far less than the 110,000 acres estimated by the US earlier this month. The Mexicans also said they had eradicated more than 90% of the crop, which would leave only enough for about 900 kilograms of heroin. The US estimated that Mexico produces 111 tons of heroin last year. 

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Hears IN Seizure Case, Filipino Cops Jailed for Drug War Crimes, More... (11/29/18)

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in an Indiana asset forfeiture case, outgoing marijuana reform roadblock Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) has done it again, a North Carolina "decrim" bill gets filed, and more.

Three Philippine police are jailed for murder, marking a first in Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pete Sessions Blocks Another Federal Pot Bill. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) has consistently used his position as chair of the House Rules Committee to block marijuana reform measures, and he did it again Wednesday. This time he blocked an amendment from Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) that aimed at providing tax relief for legal marijuana businesses. But Sessions' career as reform roadblock is coming to an end; he was defeated in the November midterms. Incoming Rules Committee Chairman Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) has already promised to allow marijuana amendments to move when he takes over in January.

North Carolina Legislators File Bill to Decriminalize Up to Four Ounces. Four legislators have co-sponsored a bill, S 791, which would essentially decriminalize the possession of up to four ounces of marijuana. Possession would remain a misdemeanor, but with no possible jail sentence, and the bill includes language that would allow people convicted of possessing less than four ounces to petition for expungement, which would be automatic if the amount actually was under four ounces.

Asset Forfeiture

Supreme Court Oral Arguments Suggest Indiana Will Be Slapped Down in Asset Forfeiture Case. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in the case of an Indiana man whose $42,000 Land Rover was seized after he pleaded guilty to small-scale heroin sales, and the justices' questioning strongly suggested they would rule against the state. The legal argument is whether the 8th Amendment's provisions against "excessive fines" applies to civil asset forfeiture at the state level. The case is Timbs v. Indiana.

Harm Reduction

San Diego Judge Orders Preliminary Injunction Closing Orange County Needle Exchange Program. A San Diego judge has issued a temporary injunction to shut down a mobile syringe exchange program run by the Orange County Needle Exchange Program (OCNEP), which is being sued by Orange County. A ruling issued in California Superior Court on Tuesday bars the mobile program from operating until a trial is held sometime in January 2019.

International

Brazilian Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Bill. A bill that would allow the cultivation and use of marijuana for medical reasons was approved by a Senate committee on Wednesday. Patients with doctors' prescriptions would be able to grow, possess, and consume the drug. The Senate Social Affairs Committee advanced the bill, but it now has to be approved by the Commission on Constitution and Justice before going to a Senate floor vote. If it passes the Senate, it must then be approved by the Chamber of Deputies and signed by incoming President Jair Bolsonaro, who opposes legalization and has espoused a harsh approach to drugs.

Philippine Court Sentences Three Cops for Drug War Murder of Teen. The Caloocan City regional trial court on Thursday sentenced three police officers found guilty of murdering a 17-year-old high school student to 40 years in prison. They were the first police to be convicted in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs. "A shoot first, think later attitude can never be countenanced in a civilized society. Never has homicide or murder been a function of law enforcement. The public peace is never predicated on the cost of human life," said the ruling by Judge Roldolfo Azucena.

Watch: Undercover Detroit Narc Squads Brawl As They Try to Arrest Each Other

In a caper right out of the Keystone Cops, two different squads of armed undercover Detroit narcotics officers clashed earlier this month in a buy-bust operation gone badly awry. No one was hurt or seriously injured, so the primary damage is that done to the already tattered reputation of the Detroit police.

Just since the turn of the century, the department labored under a Justice Department consent decree from 2003 to 2016 because of its reputation for excessive force and brutality, thousands of untested rape kits were found in a police warehouse in 2009, two consecutive police chiefs were forced to resign over sex scandals in 2011 and 2012, and six Detroit cops including an assistant police chief were charged last year with extortion and bribery in a scandal around steering towed car business to repair shops.

Still, even Detroit Police Chief James Craig was shaking his head over this latest incident. "This is probably one of the most embarrassing things I've seen in this department," Craig said at a news conference called after the clash.

Things went south on the night of November 9, when two officers from the 12th Precinct were posing as drug dealers in order to arrest would-be buyers. Two potential customers showed up, but they turned out to be undercover officers from the 11th Precinct out to bust drug dealers.

And those 11th Precinct narcs had backup and a search warrant waiting for once the buy went down. That's "when it started to go horribly wrong," Craig said.

Body camera video shows the two groups of cops shouting, shoving, and throwing punches at each other.

"They appeared to be like Keystone cops," Craig said of his narc squads.

The department is undertaking an internal investigation into what went wrong. Two officers accused of punching each other have been placed on restrictive duty and a supervisor has been reassigned out of special operations pending the outcome of the departmental investigation. Wayne County prosecutors are also taking a look to see if criminal charges will be filed.

There is good reason to take this police screw-up seriously. It should call into question Detroit police tactics, especially aggressive drug law enforcement, as well as police procedures that allowed the mishap to occur in the first place.

But there's another reason, too: These kinds of screw-ups get cops killed. In 1986, Detroit Police Officers Giacomo Buffa and Mark Radden were killed when Buffa and his partner, both in plainclothes, were doing a drug raid at a home and Radden and his partner, also in plainclothes, responded to a report of shots fired at the home. Both officers died in a hail of friendly fire.

Here you can see Detroit's finest at less than their finest:

Medical Marijuana Update

Michigan's unlicensed dispensaries get a break, New Jersey is set to expand its medical marijuana program, and more.

Michigan

Michigan Unlicensed Dispensaries Can Stay Open Until Year's End. Medical marijuana dispensaries will be able to continue operating until at least December 31 as they await state licenses, the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation announced Tuesday. Some 40 dispensaries have received state licenses so far; another 98 await licenses.

New Jersey

New Jersey Senate Health Committee Votes in Support of Medical Marijuana Expansion. The Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee voted Monday to expand the state's medical marijuana program. But advocates had concerns: "Today's vote in support of expanding New Jersey's medical marijuana program is a step in the right direction," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "However, we have concerns about the impact of this legislation on patients, as it will transfer oversight of medical marijuana from the New Jersey Department of Health, which has a long established, patient-centered program, to a new and relatively undefined commission."

Utah

Utah Medical Cannabis Act Revised Again. A bill aimed at replacing the voter-approved Prop 2 medical marijuana law has now been revised for a third time as legislators prepare to meet in special session to pass it. The newest version removes renter protections for patients, but increases the number of license for "cannabis pharmacies." Under the bill, a central pharmacy would ship marijuana to local health departments for patients to pick up, or patients could use the "cannabis pharmacies."

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

Chronicle AM: First Step Act Fight Continues, MI Gets Legal Marijuana December 6, More... (11/28/18)

Senate Republicans are trying to find a way to keep the First Step Act alive, marijuana use and possession becomes legal in Michigan next week, and more.

Will the First Step Act get a Senate vote this year? And if it does, will it pass? Stay tuned. (ussc.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Marijuana Legalization Goes into Effect December 6. As of a week from tomorrow, it will be legal to possess and use small amounts of marijuana. But it will probably take until sometime in 2020 for pot shops to open for business. The state says it will start taking business applications late in 2019.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Unlicensed Dispensaries Can Stay Open Until Year's End. Medical marijuana dispensaries will be able to continue operating until at least December 31 as they await state licenses, the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation announced Tuesday. Some 40 dispensaries have received state licenses so far; another 98 await licenses.

Psychedelics

Oregon Attorney General Approves Psilocybin Ballot Measure Language. An initiative that would allow licensed medical professionals to administer psilocybin for therapeutic purposes has had its ballot language approved. The next step is signature-gathering to get the measure on the 2020 ballot. The measure will need 140,000 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Drug Treatment

Massachusetts Federal Court Judge Orders Jail to Provide Methadone. A federal court in Massachusetts granted a preliminary injunction this week, requiring that the plaintiff in the case be provided continued access to methadone treatment for his opioid use disorder while incarcerated. The ruling requires a jail in Essex County to provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to a man who is about to be sentenced for conduct that occurred two years ago, before he first started his recovery. The court held that the plaintiff is likely to succeed on his claim that the jail's refusal to provide methadone treatment violates both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the 8th Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

Sentencing Reform

Senate Republicans Seek Way to Get Sentencing Reform Bill Moving Again. Senate Republicans are pondering changing the First Step Act (S.2795) to make it more palatable for some conservatives, but which could blow up the bipartisan compromise that supports the bill as is. Some of the changes being discussed include tightening the safety valve provision, getting tougher on fentanyl offenders, and backing away from an ending the "stacking" regulation, which adds more time to sentences of people convicted of drug offenses while possessing a firearm. President Trump, meanwhile, continues to push Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring the bill to a Senate vote.

Georgia Nightmare: Jailed Four Months for Possession of Cotton Candy [FEATURE]

A Georgia woman has filed a federal lawsuit after she spent nearly four months in jail because a roadside drug test administered by untrained police officers falsely identified a bag of cotton candy as methamphetamine.

Meth or cotton candy? Georgia cops couldn't tell the difference. (Creative Commons)
Monroe County resident Dasha Fincher filed the lawsuit in mid-November against Monroe County, the two deputies who arrested her, and the company that makes the drug test. The lawsuit argues that the Monroe County Sheriff's Office was reckless and negligent and violated her civil rights.

According to the lawsuit, the car Fincher was riding in was pulled over on New Year's Eve 2016 because of a dark window tint, the deputies said, even though they later admitted the windows were legal. Deputies Cody Maples and Allen Henderson spotted a large open plastic bag inside the vehicle, and Fincher explained that it was cotton candy.

The deputies didn't believe Fincher and used a roadside field drug test which they said indicated there was meth in the bag. She was then arrested, hauled off to jail, and charged with meth trafficking and possession of meth with intent to distribute. Her bond was set at $1 million, which she was unable to come up with, so she sat in jail for the next four months.

In March 2017, Georgia Bureau of Investigation lab test results revealed that the substance was not an illegal drug, but Fincher sat in jail for another month before prosecutors finally dropped the charges.

The lawsuit says the drug test is the Nark II, manufactured by North Carolina-based Sirchie Acquisitions. That particular field drug test is known for producing errant results. In Georgia alone, police using the Nark II to field test drugs have wrongfully arrested at least 30 people, including a man with breath mints (positive for crack), a teacher with Goody's Headache Powder (positive for cocaine), and a couple with vitamins (positive for ecstasy).

In all those cases, as in Fincher's, lab test results from the Bureau of Investigation found no presence of illegal substances. But in all those cases, the exonerating results came only weeks or months later, after the harm to innocent Georgians had already been done.

The Nark II is still in wide use in Georgia. The manufacturer, Sirchie, defends itself by saying: "Our NARK presumptive drug tests are presumptive only. All samples should be sent to a crime lab for confirmation." But too many Georgia law enforcement agencies clearly don't bother to wait for confirmation before making life-changing arrests. And the state of Georgia doesn't even require police officers to be trained on how to do the tests. As a result, innocent Georgians are being wrongfully arrested and jailed. And now, perhaps, at least one of these law enforcement agencies, will have to pay for its wrongdoing.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Chronicle AM: NJ Legalization Bill Advances, NYC Times Square Ads Target Governor Over Overdoses, More... (11/27/18)

New Jersey's marijuana legalization bill is finally moving, activists in New York City target the governor over safe injection sites, South Korea becomes the first East Asian nation to approve medical marijuana, and more.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/times-square-overdose-campaign-november-2018-200px.jpg
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Bill Advances. The long-awaited marijuana legalization bill, S2703, is moving in the legislature. It was voted out of a joint committee on Monday, with a 7-4 vote in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and a 7-3 vote in the Assembly Budget Committee. Now the bill goes to the Senate and Assembly floors for any amendments and final votes. The measure would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults and set up a statewide system of taxed and regulated production and sales.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Senate Health Committee Votes in Support of Medical Marijuana Expansion. The Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee voted Monday to expand the state's medical marijuana program. But advocates had concerns: "Today's vote in support of expanding New Jersey's medical marijuana program is a step in the right direction," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "However, we have concerns about the impact of this legislation on patients, as it will transfer oversight of medical marijuana from the New Jersey Department of Health, which has a long established, patient-centered program, to a new and relatively undefined commission."

Harm Reduction

Times Square Billboards Urge New York Governor to "Give the Gift of Life" by Authorizing Overdose Prevention Centers. Advocates and family members who have lost loved ones to overdose blasted Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in a series of electronic billboards that began airing throughout Times Square on Giving Tuesday, pressing the Governor to "Give the Gift of Life" this holiday season by authorizing Overdose Prevention Centers. The centers, also known as safer consumption spaces (SCS), are a proven tool for preventing unnecessary and tragic overdose deaths. As overdose deaths continue to increase across New York -- a New Yorker dies every 6 hours of a preventable overdose -- advocates in the EndOverdoseNY coalition are calling on Governor Cuomo to show his leadership and take immediate action to establish Overdose Prevention Centers.

International

South Korea Becomes First East Asian Nation to Approve Medical Marijuana. The South Korean National Assembly has voted to approve an amendment to the country's drug laws that will pave the way for the use of medical marijuana by prescription. Potential patients would be required to apply to the Korea Orphan Drug Center and approval would be granted on a case-by-case basis.

Chronicle AM: Trump Pressures McConnell on Sentencing Reform, NJ Marijuana Bill Gets Hearing, More... (11/26/18)

The president wants to see criminal justice reform move in the Senate, New Jersey lawmakers take up marijuana legalization today, and more.

Mitch McConnell is getting pressured by the president to move on the First Step Act. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Governor-Elect Says Legalize It. Incoming Democratic Governor Tim Walz says it's time for the state to get on the legalization bandwagon. "I just think the time is here and we're seeing it across the country," he said. "Minnesota has always been able to implement these things right." Wise's Democratic allies control the state House, but Republicans control the Senate.

New Jersey Legislature Takes Up Legalization Bill. Hearings are underway at the statehouse for the long-awaited marijuana legalization bill, S2703. The bill would legalize up to an ounce for adults and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana production and distribution. The bill sets a 12% tax rate on marijuana sales, which includes the state's 6.625% sales tax, but also would allow localities to seek up to 2% in additional marijuana taxes.

North Dakota Lawmaker Will File Decriminalization Bill. In the wake of November's failed legalization initiative, one lawmaker says he will file a decriminalization bill during the coming legislative session. State Rep. Shannon Roers Jones (R-Fargo) said her bill would probably decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce. Possession is currently a Class B misdemeanor.

North Dakota Initiative Campaigners Will Try Again in 2020. Legalize ND, the folks behind November's failed legalization initiative says it will be back in 2020. Group leader David Owen said he is "100% certain" the group will try again but with some changes. Next time, the proposal will contain provisions for tax revenues from sales and limits on how much individuals can grow and possess. This year's initiative lost 59%-41%.

Law Enforcement

Detroit Narcs Try to Arrest Each Other in Drug Bust Gone Awry. It was Keystone Cops in the Motor City earlier this month when a group of undercover Detroit narcs posing as drug dealers attempted to arrest another group of undercover Detroit narcs posing as drug buyers. The end result: A shouting match and shoving and punch-throwing brawl among more than two dozen armed police officers. "This is probably one of the most embarrassing things I've seen in this department," Detroit Police Chief James Craig said Monday. Two Detroit police officers were killed in a similar incident in 1986.

Sentencing Reform

Trump Urges McConnell to Act on Criminal Justice Reform. In a tweet last Friday, President Trump urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to allow a prison and sentencing reform bill, the First Step Act (S.2795) to be voted on in the Senate. McConnell said last week there wasn't time to get the measure through this session, but he has faced intense lobbying pressure, not only from the president but also other Republican senators and the religious right. "Really good Criminal Justice Reform has a true shot at major bipartisan support," Trump said in the tweet. "@senatemajldr Mitch McConnell and @SenSchumer have a real chance to do something so badly needed in our country. Already passed, with big vote, in House. Would be a major victory for ALL!"

International

French National Assembly Approves Fines for Drug Use. The National Assembly last Friday approved a bill that introduces a fixed fine of 200 Euros for the use of drugs, and marijuana in particular. Since 1970, illegal drug use has been subject to up to a year in prison and up to a 3,750 Euro fine, but such sentences were rarely imposed, especially for marijuana. Some ministers on the left criticized the measure as disproportionately affecting poor young people and condemned the lack of involvement of health authorities.

Thai National Assembly Gives Preliminary Approval to Legal Medical Marijuana, Kratom. The National Legislative Assembly has accepted "in principle" amending the country's drug law to allow for the medicinal use of five substances, including marijuana and kratom. Under the amended law, the Office of the Narcotics Control Board will be assigned to designate areas to be used for the production of the drugs and the quantity to be produced.

Drug War Issues

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