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Drug War Chronicle

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Chronicle AM: Jail Populations Drop, ME Pot Social Clubs Go Up in Smoke, More... (2/22/18)

An Arizona pot poll has good numbers, asset forfeiture reform bills move in a couple of states, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports on declining jail population numbers, Maine lawmakers appear ready to do away with pot social clubs the voters voted for, and more.

Jail populations have been declining for a decade. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new poll from OH Predictive Insights and the Consumer Choice Center had support for marijuana legalization at nearly two-thirds. Some 62.9% of respondents supported taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol, with 40.9% strongly supporting it. Voters in the state narrowly rejected a legalization initiative in 2016; efforts are underway to get one on the ballot this year.

Illinois Will Put Non-Binding Legalization Question on November Ballot. The Senate Executive Committee voted Wednesday to put a non-binding question on the ballot asking voters whether they would support marijuana legalization. Meanwhile, a legalization bill awaits action in the legislature.

Maine Lawmakers Erase Social Consumption. Lawmakers working to get the state's legal marijuana industry off the ground have eliminated any reference to social clubs where people can use marijuana, even though the initiative passed by voters in 2016 included them. "No other state has licensed social clubs," said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, co-chairman of the implementation committee. "This is clearly the law, but it passed by the narrowest of margins. We ought to go slow and be conservative." The move came in a straw vote Wednesday; a final committee vote is set for Friday.

West Virginia Legalization Bill Filed. A Democratic congressional candidate who is also a current state senator filed a legalization bill Monday. Sen. Richard Ojeda (D-Logan) filed Senate Bill 593, which would allow adults to possess up to four ounces at home and two ounces in public and grow up to four seedlings and four mature plants. The bill does not contemplate a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana CBD Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Courts and Criminal Code Committee voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 52, which would allow the legal sale of CBD cannabis oil with low THC levels. The bill is one of a number filed to address the state's CBD mess, which was created when the legislature passed a bill last year allowing for its use, but which left no means to legally obtain it.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Maryland Bill to Lengthen Prison Sentences for Opioid Overdose Deaths of Minors Gets Hearing. The House Judicial Committee held a hearing Tuesday on House Bill 649, which would impose a prison sentence of up to 30 years for anyone convicted of selling or giving heroin, fentanyl, or other opioids to a minor who then overdoses and dies. Under the bill, even sharing drugs that result in a fatal overdose by a minor could result in a conviction. No vote was taken. Similar bills have been introduced in recent years, but went nowhere.

Asset Forfeiture

Idaho House Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The House voted unanimously Wednesday to approve House Bill 447, which does not eliminate civil asset forfeiture, but does restrict it. The bill would ban police from seizing cash or property merely because it is in close proximity to an illegal substance and it would ban the seizure of vehicles unless they are connected to trafficking offenses. It also imposes new reporting requirements. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Kansas House Gives Preliminary Approval to Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The House voted Wednesday to give preliminary approval to House Bill 2459, which doesn't end civil asset forfeiture, but would impose stricter reporting requirements on all law enforcement agencies. The bill was set for a final House vote Thursday.

Incarceration

Jail Incarceration Rate Has Declined. The Bureau of Justice Statistics announced Thursday that the percentage of US residents in jail has declined since 2012. At midyear 2016, the jail incarceration rate was 229 per 100,000 residents, down 3.4% from 2012 and down 11.2% from 2008, the year jail populations peaked. There were some 740,700 inmates in jails at midyear 2016. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of those in jail had not been convicted of a crime, but were awaiting trial.

Philadelphia DA Will Stop Jailing People Accused of Low-Level Crimes Who Can't Afford Cash Bail. District Attorney Larry Krasner said Wednesday his office will stop jailing people who can't afford to pay cash bail in minor criminal cases, including drug cases. The move is the latest in a growing movement that argues that the practice unfairly targets poor Americans. "There is absolutely no reason why someone who will show up for court, is not a risk of flight, is not a threat to their neighbors and community should sit in jail for days or weeks or months or years because they can't post a small amount of bail," said Krasner, a civil rights lawyer who ran on a liberal platform last year opposing mass incarceration. "We do not imprison the poor in the United States for the so called crime of poverty."

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana foes in Arizona take aim at pot doctors, a Michigan judge strikes down Detroit's medical marijuana initiative, Ohio's medical marijuana rollout hits a bump, and more.

Arizona

Last Thursday, a House committee advanced a bill to make felons of lax pot docs. The House Health Committee voted 6-3 on party lines to approve a bill that would make doctors who sidestep rules for medical marijuana recommendations guilty of a felony. Under the bill, doctors who violate any rule or law could get up to a year in prison. Under current law, they face only discipline from county medical boards. The measure, backed by arch-foe of medical marijuana Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, is House Bill 2067.

Michigan

Last Friday, a state judge struck down a Detroit medical marijuana initiative. A Wayne County circuit court judge overturned a voter-approved initiative that would have relaxed restrictive local controls on medical marijuana businesses in the city. Proposal B would have allowed pot shops and processing businesses in all business and industrial districts, including downtown and Midtown. The judge cited state court precedent that zoning questions could not be decided by voter initiatives.

Ohio

On Tuesday, a lawsuit challenged the grow license process. A lawsuit filed by would-be medical marijuana grow operators who weren't picked for the large grow licenses issued by the state Department of Commerce threatens to disrupt the rollout of the program. The growers are suing the department, the officials involved in grading application, and all the businesses that won licenses. They charge they weren't treated fairly in the licensing process.

West Virginia

On Tuesday, state regulators will recommend allowing smokeable medical marijuana. The state medical marijuana board announced that it plans to recommend to lawmakers that some patients be allowed to use marijuana in a smokeable form. The board will also recommend removing or increasing the cap on the number of growers, processors, and dispensaries in the state and allowing one company to take on more than one of those roles.

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

Chronicle AM: DC Demo on Philippine Drug War Next Week, BC Drug Decrim March, More... (2/21/18)

Ohio's medical marijuana program may have just hit a bump, hemp could be coming to Utah, drug users march for decriminalization in Vancouver, demonstrators will gather in DC next week to protest the Philippines drug war, and more.

Demonstrators call for an end to the Philippines drug war and the freedom of of one of Duterte's leading critics. (Facebook)
Medical Marijuana

Ohio Lawsuit Challenges Grow License Process. A lawsuit filed Tuesday by would-be medical marijuana grow operators who weren't picked for the large grow licenses issued by the state Department of Commerce threatens to disrupt the rollout of the program. The growers are suing the department, the officials involved in grading application, and all the businesses that won licenses. They charge they weren't treated fairly in the licensing process.

West Virginia Regulators Will Recommend Allowing Smokeable Medical Marijuana. The state medical marijuana board announced Tuesday that it plans to recommend to lawmakers that some patients be allowed to use marijuana in a smokeable form. The board will also recommend removing or increasing the cap on the number of growers, processors, and dispensaries in the state and allowing one company to take on more than one of those roles.

Industrial Hemp

Utah Hemp Bill Advances. A bill that would allow the production and sale of hemp products in the state is headed for a House floor vote after being approved Tuesday by the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee. House Bill 302 authorizes the state Department of Agriculture and Food to provide a hemp-growing license to "a person who wishes to participate in an industrial hemp research pilot program," according to a summary attached to the bill. The bill also allows those who would like to produce and sell hemp-based products "to distribute the registered hemp product in the state" if they obtain the license from the state to do so.

Asset Forfeiture

Wisconsin Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Passes Senate. The state Senate has approved Senate Bill 61, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but puts limits on how long police can hold property before someone is charged and reduce the amount of money police can keep when they sell seized property. The measure now heads for the Assembly.

Foreign Policy

Trump Budget Would Cut Aid to Colombia in Half. The White House's proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget would slash foreign assistance to Columbia by nearly half, even as the country struggles to implement a peace deal with leftist FARC rebels and address a record-breaking level of coca planting and cocaine production. The budget would reduce funds "to implement sustainable peace" in the "most affected zones" of the country's drug prohibition-fueled armed conflict from $180 million to $100 million. The budget also seeks a reduction of one-third in funding for the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement program. Colombia is a major recipient of aid under that program, too. The Washington Office on Latin America said the budget proposal would "squander an historic opportunity to help Colombia avoid a resurgence of criminal violence, while Insight Crime noted that "large cuts in aid could prove detrimental to efforts aimed at improving security conditions in … crime-wracked countries" like Colombia.

International

Vancouver Drug Users March to Demand Drug Decriminalization. Several hundred drug users and supporters took to the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to demand that the federal government change its drug policies and embrace drug decriminalization. The protest, part of a national day of action across the country, was organized by the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs (CAPUD), the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and other groups. Decriminalization would "allow people to use drugs more safely without fear of arrest and detention," said Caitlin Shane, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society who specializes in drug policy.

DC Demonstration Against Philippine Drug War Killings Set for Next Wednesday. On Wednesday, February 28th, please join Filipino Americans, drug policy reformers and other human rights defenders to call for an end to extrajudicial killings and for Senator de Lima to be freed. We will rally from noon to 1:00pm in front of the Philippines Embassy, 1600 Massachusetts Avenue NW in Washington, DC. Among other things, the event will feature a street theater performance in which attendees will symbolically free a Senator de Lima figure from a realistic mobile model of a prison cell. Please email David Borden at [email protected] to get involved in preparations for this demonstration or for other information, and please spread the word!

Chronicle AM: Call to End New Medicaid Work Requirement, Israeli Pot Decrim Advance, More... (2/20/18)

Public health, mental health, and drug reform groups call for an end to a new policy requiring Medicaid recipients to work, a key congressional Democrat calls for a progress report from Trump's opioid commission, Israeli marijuana decriminalization crosses a major hurdle, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would Bar Pot Shops From Selling Customer Data to Third Parties. Assemblyman Evan Low (D-San Jose) has filed Assembly Bill 2402, which would ban retail marijuana shops from selling customer data to third-party vendors without the customer’s consent."The focus of this piece of legislation is around privacy," Low said. "So, while now cannabis is legal in California, there are many individuals who want to make sure that cannabis and their use of cannabis is not made public for many reasons. If you shop at retail stores, you magically start to get emails and snail mail from other similarly focused retail stores," Low added. "And so we wanted to make sure that we don’t do that with cannabis without consent."

Maryland Legalization Constitutional Amendment Gets Hearing Today. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held a hearing today on House Bill 1264, which, if approved, would set up a statewide referendum on marijuana legalization. The House bill was filed by Delegate David Moon (D-Takoma Park); the Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Bob Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), who heads the Senate committee hearing the bill.

Massachusetts Lawmaker Blasts Some Draft Regs. State Rep. Mark Cusack (D-Braintree), who helped write the state's legalization implementation law, has criticized the Cannabis Control Commission and some of its proposed draft regulations. He wrote to the commission saying he has "grave concerns" over draft regulations around social consumption, local control, and licensing for delivery services and micro-businesses. The local control regulations ignore state law requiring localities to first seek voter approval, he said. He also lambasted proposals for on-site consumption, saying a new referendum would have to be passed. Voters legalized marijuana in the state nearly 15 months ago now.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Judge Strikes Down Detroit Medical Marijuana Initiative. A Wayne County circuit court judge last Friday overturned a voter-approved initiative that would have relaxed restrictive local controls on medical marijuana businesses in the city. Proposal B would have allowed pot shops and processing businesses in all business and industrial districts, including downtown and Midtown. The judge cited state court precedent that zoning questions could not be decided by voter initiatives.

Industrial Hemp

Alaska House Passes Hemp Bill. The House on Monday approved Senate Bill 6, which legalizes industrial hemp and establishes a pilot program for its growth and production. The Senate has already approved the bill, but since the House amended the bill, it now goes back to the Senate for a final concurrence vote.

Drug Testing

Massachusetts Lab Forfeits $1 Million for Unnecessary Drug Tests. State Attorney General Martha Healey (D) announced last Friday that Precision Testing Laboratories, Inc. will forfeit more than a million dollars to settle claims it billed for medically unnecessary drug tests. It paid $400,000 to Massachusetts and will pay more than $650,000 to Connecticut. The lab will also be barred from participating in the two states' Medicaid programs for the next 10 years. The company had promoted itself as providing urine drug testing services to people in recovery, but that it used very expensive drug tests and "aggressively marketed an expensive and unnecessarily complex drug testing package to sober houses, despite the fact that they knew that the tests were for residential sobriety monitoring, a violation of MassHealth regulations."

Missouri Bill Would Criminalize Synthetic Urine. State Rep. Nate Tate (R-St. Clair) has filed a bill that would make the sale of synthetic human urine a criminal offense. Under House Bill 1810, all drug test-cheating products would be banned, and anyone who provides them with the intent to defraud a drug test would be subject to a Class B misdemeanor. Prosecutors like the bill.

Drug Treatment

Public Health, Drug Reform Groups Protest Federal Policy Imposing Work Requirements on Medicaid Recipients. More than 160 organizations in the public health, mental health, addiction treatment, and drug reform fields have sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Aszar decrying the new federal policy. They argue the policy would hinder access to Medicaid by people with chronic health problems, especially those fighting substance abuse and mental health disorders. "This is deeply troubling given the devastating and escalating opioid overdose crisis that President Trump has designated as a national public health emergency," the letter said.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Leading Congressional Democrat Wants Hearing on Trump's Opioid Panel's Progress. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-NC) last Friday urging him to request that presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway brief the committee on the work done by the president's opioid commission."I understand that President Trump has designated Kellyanne Conway as his point person on this issue, so her input would help the Committee with its ongoing efforts to evaluate the status of the Commission’s recommendations," Cummings wrote.

International

Israeli Marijuana Decriminalization Advances. The Ministerial Committee for Legislation has approved a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the bill, people caught with pot would pay a $282 fine and would not be subject to arrest until a fourth offense. Legalizatin advocate MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), who heads the Knesset Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, was pleased: "When we started our struggle, people disrespected us, but the Ministerial Committee’s decision today is proof that a real, persistent struggle succeeds in the end," said Zandberg."This bill is far from being perfect, but it is a foot in the door on the way to full legalization."

Chronicle AM: Canada Legal Marijuana Delayed, Federal Sentencing Reform Bill Advances, More... (2/16/18)

Conservative senators slow down Canada's move to marijuana legalization, the Senate Judiciary Committee passes the sentencing reform bill, an Arizona bill would make felons of doctors who are lax about medical marijuana rules and laws, and more.

We'll have to put that flag back in the closet for a few more weeks. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

GOP Senator Ends Hold on DOJ Nominees Over Sessions Policy. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) announced Thursday he had ended a two-month hold on some Justice Department appointments he began to protest Attorney General Jeff Sessions' move to rescind Obama-era policies largely leaving state-legal marijuana alone. The announcement came after Gardner received unspecified assurances from DOJ officials about the enforcement of federal drug law. When asked what he got for lifting the holds, Gardner told the Denver Post: "We've had very good, positive conversations about protecting states' rights and protecting the voters of Colorado's wishes."

Philadelphia DA Enacts No Prosecution Policy for Small-Time Possession. District Attorney Larry Krasner has dropped about 50 outstanding marijuana possession cases and announced that he will no longer charge people caught with small amounts. Krasner cited racial disparities in making the move: "Because we all know that these laws are not getting enforced at the Wawa in Chestnut Hill. These laws are getting enforced in neighborhoods that are poor and predominately black and brown," said Krasner.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona House Committee Approves Bill to Make Felons of Lax Pot Docs. The House Health Committee voted 6-3 Thursday on party lines to approve a bill that would make doctors who sidestep rules for medical marijuana recommendations guilty of a felony. Under the bill, doctors who violate any rule or law could get up to a year in prison. Under current law, they face only discipline from county medical boards. The measure, backed by arch-foe of medical marijuana Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, is House Bill 2067.

Sentencing Reform

Federal Sentencing Reform Bill Wins Committee Vote. In a rebuff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who on Wednesday urged the bill's defeat, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved the federal sentencing reform bill, S. 1917. The question now is whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will allow a floor vote.

International

Canada Postpones Marijuana Legalization a Few Weeks. The Pierre Trudeau government's plan to have legal marijuana up and running by July 1 has hit a bump, and the anticipated date for legal commerce to begin has been pushed back by a matter of a few weeks. The bump occurred in the Senate, which set a schedule to consider the legalization bill that would not allow the government to hit the July 1 date.

Chronicle AM: Senate Sentencing Reform Bill Under Attack, DEA Threatens SIJs, More... (2/15/18)

The Marijuana Justice Act gets a third cosponsor, the DEA threatens to go after safe injection sites, the attorney general and leading law enforcement groups target the Senate sentencing reform bill, and much, much more.

Jeff Sessions and major law enforcement groups are trying to kill the Senate sentencing reform bill. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Judge Suggests He Will Defer to DEA, Congress on Rescheduling Lawsuit. At a hearing Wednesday over a lawsuit seeking to have marijuana de- or rescheduled from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, US District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein suggested he would rule in the government's favor. He dismissed plaintiffs' claims that marijuana prohibition was motivated by racism and political concerns when it was passed 80 years ago and he said he didn't think he had the authority to reschedule the drug. "The law is the law," the judge said. "I'm sworn to enforce the law."

Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act Gets Third Sponsor. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced Wednesday that she had signed on as a cosponsor of Sen. Cory Booker's (D-NJ) Marijuana Justice Act (S. 1689). The bill is also cosponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Federal Bill Filed to Protect Legal Marijuana States and Businesses. Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) has filed the Sensible Enforcement Of Cannabis Act (no bill number yet), which would essentially codify the protections for state-legal marijuana embodied in the now-rescinded Cole memo. "To date, eight states have legalized recreational cannabis, and twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia, representing more than half of the American population, have enacted legislation to permit the use of cannabis," Correa said. "Attorney General Sessions' decision to rescind the 'Cole Memo' created great uncertainty for these states and legal cannabis businesses, and put citizens in jeopardy for following their state laws."

Connecticut Legalization Bills Filed. Twenty-two lawmakers filed a marijuana legalization bill Wednesday. The bill, House Bill 5112, would authorize the retail sale and taxation of the herb. Separately, House Deputy Majority Leader Rep. James Albis (D-East Haven) filed another legalization bill, House Bill 5111. Similar bills last year failed to get a floor vote in either chamber. Both bills were referred to the Joint Committee on General Law.

Massachusetts Legalization Advocates Protest "Intimidation Campaign" Aimed at Forcing Restrictive Regulations. Legalization advocates are criticizing Gov. Charlie Baker (R) and other officials, saying they have conducted a "coordinated intimidation campaign" against the state body charged with crafting rules and regulations, the Cannabis Control Commission. In a series of letters to the commission, officials from the governor's office have raised public health and safety concerns and recommended it scale back its framework of rules. Advocates took their concerns to the State House Thursday, where they held a press conference.

New Jersey Lawmakers, Wary of Legalization, File Decriminalization Bill Instead. A bipartisan group of legislators urging caution on pot legalization has filed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Senate Bill 472 would make the possession of up to 15 grams a civil offense. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on legalizing marijuana, and legalization bills have already been filed in the Assembly and Senate.

Jackson, Mississippi, City Council Votes to Decriminalize Weed. The city council voted unanimously Tuesday to decriminalize the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana. Violators would face no more than a $100 fine. Under current Mississippi state law, marijuana possession is illegal, so effective implementation will depend on local law enforcement discretion. The possession of any amount of marijuana can result in up to 60 days in jail, a fine of up to $250, and a litany of collateral consequences that impacts employment, housing, family and life opportunities.

Asset Forfeiture

Alabama Senate Committee Votes to End Civil Forfeiture by Police. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to approve a bill that would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. Senate Bill 213 would require a criminal conviction before cash or property could be seized. Senators said they expected the bill to face additional negotiations before it goes to a Senate floor vote.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Bill to Block Employers from Testing for Marijuana to Be Filed. Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) said he plans to introduce a bill that would block employers from drug testing for THC or disqualifying people from jobs because of a drug test with positive results for marijuana. The bill would apply to both public and private sector workers, but not those operating heavy equipment. "Consuming THC weeks or months out from a job interview should not disqualify someone from finding employment any more than someone who drank a few beers on another date should be kept out of work" Bowen told the Isthmus in an email. "While I am in favor of the safe legalization and regulation of marijuana for both recreational and medicinal use, until that happens, people should not be stigmatized for using a substance whose effect on society is less negative than society's reaction to it."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Congressional Republicans Try to Blame Sanctuary Cities for Opioid Crisis. GOP lawmakers used a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security to try to scapegoat sanctuary cities for the country's opioid crisis. "We have heard countless stories of sanctuary practices and the havoc they wreck on public safety, national security, and the sanctity of the rule of law," said Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID), the committee chair. "Our public safety and our public health are tied to eradicating opioids, which can never be accomplished when the force multiplier that is ICE is sidelined." But committee Democrats and analysts rejected the link. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said There was no "factual basis in connecting so called sanctuary city policies with the opioid crisis," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). "It would be laughable if it weren't so serious," she said. "If it weren't so hurtful to the characterization of immigrants across this country." Last month, Republicans tried to blame Obama's expansion of Medicaid for worsening the epidemic.

Harm Reduction

Trump Administration Threatens to Go After Safe Injection Sites. Several US cities are moving forward with plans to open safe injection sites, but the DEA has just fired a shot across the bow. In an interview with Buzzfeed, DEA spokeswoman Katherine Pfaff said the agency may take action against the facilities because they are federally prohibited. "Supervised injection facilities, or so-called safe injection sites, violate federal law," Pfaff said. "Any facilitation of illicit drug use is considered in violation of the Controlled Substances Act and, therefore, subject to legal action." She cited a 1980s crack house law that could be used. But in Seattle, at least, local prosecutors say they welcome a legal challenge and think they can convince the courts that public health powers are superior to criminal laws against drug dens run for profit.

New Mexico Passes Legislation to Examine Administering Pharmaceutical-grade Heroin or Other Opioids by Medical Practitioners to People Struggling with Long-term Addiction. The state House Tuesday approved House Memorial 56, which charges the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee to take testimony on supervised injectable opioid treatment as a feasible, effective and cost-effective strategy for reducing drug use and drug-related harm among long-term heroin users who have not been responsive to other types of treatment. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Deborah Armstrong (D-Albuquerque), chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee. This memorial does not need to pass the Senate or be signed by the governor.

Sentencing Reform

Attorney General Sessions Slam Senate Sentencing Reform Bill. Attorney General Jeff Sessions came out against a painstakingly cobbled-together Senate sentencing reform bill Wednesday, sparking a public food fight with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the very face of dour Corn Belt conservatism.In a letter reported by Reuters, Sessions warned the committee not to approve the sentencing reform bill, S. 1917, claiming it would reduce sentences for "a highly dangerous cohort of criminals." Passage of the bill would be "a grave error," Sessions said. The measure is actually a mixed bag, a product of lengthy discussions among senators seeking a compromise that could actually pass the Senate. While it has a number of progressive sentencing reform provisions, mainly aimed at nonviolent drug offenders, it also includes new mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes, including some drug offenses. Those provisions provide political cover to conservatives fearful of being tagged "soft on crime," but tired of perpetuating failed drug war policies.

Police Groups Slam Senate Sentencing Reform Bill. The National Sheriffs' Association and the Fraternal Order of Police have both come out against the Senate sentencing reform bill, calling on President Trump to reject the bill and saying it will put violent drug dealers back out on the street. "Sheriffs will have to arrest most of them again at the county level and that will shift the cost and responsibility to us without fixing the underlying problems of violent crime and drug and human trafficking in the country," said a letter to Trump from the National Sheriffs' Association. "At a time when our nation is being ravaged by an epidemic of overdoses from the use of heroin and opioids, it seems at variance with common sense and sound policy to drastically reduce sentences for drug traffickers and then apply these reduced sentences retroactively," said the National Fraternal Order of Police.

Sessions vs. Grassley -- Sentencing Reform Sparks Fight on the Conservative Right

Attorney General Jeff Sessions came out against a painstakingly cobbled-together Senate sentencing reform bill Wednesday, sparking a public food fight with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the very face of dour Corn Belt conservatism.

When Chuck Grassley is coming after you from the left, you know you're pretty far right. (senate.gov)
In a letter reported by Reuters, Sessions warned the committee not to approve the sentencing reform bill, S. 1917, claiming it would reduce sentences for "a highly dangerous cohort of criminals." Passage of the bill would be "a grave error," Sessions said.

The measure is actually a mixed bag, a product of lengthy discussions among senators seeking a compromise that could actually pass the Senate. While it has a number of progressive sentencing reform provisions, mainly aimed at nonviolent drug offenders, it also includes new mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes, including some drug offenses. Those provisions provide political cover to conservatives fearful of being tagged "soft on crime," but tired of perpetuating failed drug war policies.

Sessions has no qualms about hardline drug war policies, and his voicing opposition to the sentencing reform bill doesn't come as a shock. But Grassley, who has been shepherding the bill along for months, took it personally.

In an interview with Bloomberg Politics Wednesday afternoon, the rock-ribbed Republican ripped into Sessions, accusing him of being ungrateful after Grassley protected him from Democratic demands for public hearings on his contacts with the Russians and supported him when President Trump wanted to fire him.

"I think it's legitimate to be incensed and I resent it, because of what I've done for him. He had a tough nomination, a tough hearing in my committee," Grassley said. "They wanted to call him back every other day for additional hearings about his Russian connection, and I shut them off of that until we had the normal oversight hearing in October I believe it was, see? And the president was going to fire him, and I backed him, you know? So why wouldn't I be irritated?"

Grassley also took to Twitter to express his umbrage at his former colleague, tweeting: "Incensed by Sessions letter An attempt to undermine Grassley/Durbin/Lee BIPARTISAN criminal justice reforms This bill deserves thoughtful consideration b4 my cmte. AGs execute laws CONGRESS WRITES THEM!"

For Grassley and the bipartisan coalition attempting to move the bill forward, Sessions' intervention is little more than last-minute backstabbing. A hearing to mark up the draft bill is set for today (Thursday).

Again, that Sessions would try to derail sentencing reforms is no surprise. He helped kill a predecessor sentencing reform bill that also had broad bipartisan support when he was in the Senate. And since he has taken over as attorney general, he has pursued an undeviating conservative "law and order" agenda.

He regularly takes rhetorical aim at violent crime, illegal immigration, and drugs, and he also puts his policy where his mouth is. Last year, he crafted a memo to federal prosecutors instructing them to charge people with the most serious chargeable offense, a move designed to trigger mandatory minimum sentences. He also crafted another memo to prosecutors undoing Obama's laissez faire approach to state-legal marijuana, and he blames marijuana for fueling the opioid epidemic.

Grassley didn't attack Sessions for his draconian policy prescriptions; only for his ingratitude and what he saw as his usurpation of congressional prerogatives. Still, this battle of the dinosaurs shows how the Trump/Sessions crime agenda is creating fissures at the heart of the Republican Party.

Trump's Drug Budget Doubles Down on the War on Drugs

The Trump administration released its proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget Monday, and it looks like a return to last century's failed law-and-order drug war policies. While paying lip service to the nation's opioid crisis, the administration shows its priorities by asking for more money for Trump's quixotic border wall than to actually address opioids.

In contrast with the Obama administration, which sought to tip the balance between law enforcement and treatment and prevention by tilting funding toward more counselors than cops, the Trump budget tilts back toward law enforcement.

The budget would also gut the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, the drug czar's office), a move that is alarming mainstream critics of Trump's drug policies, but one that more radical critics of drug prohibition -- on both the left and the right -- have mixed views about.

But overall, the Trump budget is doubling down on the drug war. Here are some of its lowlights:

"Trump's budget proposes new funds for addressing the opioid overdose crisis, but far more money is being sought by the president to escalate the war on drugs," said Grant Smith, interim director of Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "We know from decades of locking people up for drugs that it doesn't work to curb drug use, but Trump's budget proposes wasting billions of dollars to do exactly that. That money would be much better spent on harm reduction and treatment interventions that actually prevent overdoses and save lives."

The Trump budget does include $900 million in increased funding for the Department of Health and Human Services to address the opioid epidemic, and it claims it would allocate a total of $13 billion to "combat the opioid epidemic," but that figure mixes treatment, prevention and war on drugs funding. And it's still less than what Trump wants to spend on his border wall.

The bright side is that the Trump FY 2019 budget is likely dead on arrival. It's a wish list, likely to be shredded and reconstructed during budget negotiations, and unlikely to look much like the proposal by the time things get done. Still, it demonstrates Trump's priorities with cold clarity.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A massive Baltimore corruption case comes to an end, a former Homeland Security agent heads to prison for taking bribes from a Cali cartel capo, and more. Let's get to it:

In Hogansville, Georgia, a Hogansville police officer was arrested last Monday after he was caught red-handed in an apparent drug deal. Daniel-Cameron William Kemp, 23, was spotted passing a gun and a container to a man in a car. When deputies pulled over the vehicle, they smelled marijuana, and the driver admitted buying a weapon and some weed from Kemp, adding that he'd bought drugs from him before. Police also found marijuana in Kemp's squad car. It's not clear what the precise charges are.

In Baltimore, two members of the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force were convicted Monday of robbing citizens behind the protection of their badges and claiming massive overtime for unworked hours. Six other members of the squad had already pleaded guilty in the broad-ranging corruption scandal before Detectives Daniel T. Hersl, 48, and Marcus R. Taylor, 31, were found guilty of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy and robbery. Squad members specialized in robbing drug dealers of both cash and drugs.

In Miami, a former federal Homeland Security agent was sentenced last Friday to three years in prison for taking bribes from a Colombian drug lord. Christopher Ciccione II, 52, admitted taking $18,000 in cash, prostitutes, restaurant meals, and hotel rooms in return for getting Cali cartel boss Jose Bayron Piedrahita removed from a cocaine smuggling indictment. He pleaded guilty to a conspiracy of "deceit, craft, and trickery" against the US government.

Medical Marijuana Update

State legislatures are in session and things are getting busy on the medical marijuana front, from CBD bills in Iowa to employment protection bills in California.

California

Last Wednesday, a bill that would provide employment protections for medical marijuana patients was filed. Assemblymen Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) have filed Assembly Bill 2069, which would "prohibit an employer from engaging in employment discrimination against a person on the basis of his or her status as, or positive drug test for cannabis by, a qualified patient or person with an identification card." The bill could get a hearing next month.

Florida

On Monday, lawmakers shamed regulators over the medical marijjuana program. A joint legislative oversight committee tore into state medical marijuana czar Christian Bax. The Joint Administrative Procedures Committee used four separate unanimous votes to clarify its displeasure with rules and regulations promulgated by the Office of Medical Marijuana Use. Lawmakers are also unhappy that the office failed to respond to more than a dozen letters from lawmakers over the past four months identifying problems with the rules.

Illinois

Last Wednesday, a bill to let opioid patients get temporary medical marijuana cards advanced. The Senate Executive Committee approved Senate Bill 336. The bill would allow people who have been prescribed opioids to apply for a temporary medical cannabis card. If passed, those prescribed opioids would be able to participate in the program if their applications are approved by the state. The background check and fingerprinting process normally required for applicants of the program would also be waived that first year because of the urgency of the crisis.

Iowa

On Monday, a new poll had overwhelming support for medical marijuana. A new Selzer & Company poll has 78% in favor of medical marijuana, with 19% opposed, figures that are roughly unchanged over the past couple of years. What has changed is support for recreational marijuana, now at 39%, up from 28% four years ago.

On Tuesday, a CBD medical marijuana expansion bill advanced.The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve Senate Study Bill 3106, which would grant the state Medical Cannabidiol Board the authority to broaden the definition of medicinal CBD and to expand the list of qualifying conditions to use it. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Nebraska

On Monday, a new poll had strong support for medical marijuana. A new Nebraska poll has 77% of respondents saying they would support allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana. Some 52% said they would definitely vote yes, while 22% would probably vote yes, and 3% were undecided but leaning toward yes. The poll comes as the legislature ponders a bill that would allow voters to weigh in on a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana.

New Mexico

On Monday, lawmakers rallied to support medical marijuana in the fight againt opioids. Lawmakers and supporters gathered at the state capitol in Santa Fe to urge state officials to add opioid addiction to the list of disorders qualifying for medical marijuana. And advisory panel has twice considered petitions seeking to add medical marijuana as a tool against opioid abuse, the most recent last November, but the state Health Department has yet to act.

Pennsylvania

On Tuesday, the governor announced when the first dispensary sales would begin. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced Tuesday that the state's first medical marijuana dispensary, in Butler County, will begin sales tomorrow. Five other dispensaries will open their doors by weeks' end, he added.

Texas

Last Thursday, the state got its first dispensary, but it's CBD only. Compassion Cultivation opened in Austin. It's the first dispensary to open under the state's CBD cannabis oil medical marijuana law. The state saw its first cannabis oil delivery to a patient earlier this week.

Utah

Last Friday, the House failed to pass a crucial medical marijuana measure. The House voted to pass one medical marijuana bill, but failed to pass a crucial companion bill. The House passed House Bill 195, allowing terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana, but then failed to pass House Bill 197, which would have actually implemented the law by instructing the state Department of Agriculture and Food to write rules on growing marijuana and contract with a third party grower to grow the plant. "One is dependent on the other," said the bills' sponsor, Rep. Brad Daw (R-Orem), who is now second-guessing his decision to file the two bills separately. "Maybe it was the wrong policy, maybe it was the wrong decision." Meanwhile, a campaign to put a medical marijuana initiative before the voters in December is well underway.

On Tuesday, the House revived and passed a crucual medical marijuana bill. Just days after it killed House Bill 197, the House brought it back and passed it Tuesday. The bill was part of a two-bill package aimed at creating a viable medical marijuana program in the state. The other bill in the package, House Bill 195, was approved last week.

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

Chronicle AM: MJ Rescheduling Lawsuit Hearing, IA Bill Seeks Medicaid Drug Screens, More... (2/14/18)

A legal challenge to marijuana's Schedule I status gets a hearing, some 18 senators call for protections for state-legal marijuana, Berkeley becomes a marijuana sanctuary city, and more.

Marijuana Policy

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Looking for Medicaid? You'd have to pass a drug screen first under an Iowa bill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Rescheduling Suit Gets Hearing Today. A lawsuit challenging the placement of marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act was being heard in federal court in New York City Wednesday. The suit names Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the DEA as defendants. Legal efforts to force the de- or rescheduling of marijuana have been underway since the 1970s; none have worked so far.

Bipartisan Group of Senators Call for Protections for State-Legal Marijuana. A bipartisan group of 18 senators sent a letter Tuesday to Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Vice Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) calling for protections for state-legal marijuana to be inserted into federal budget bills. "Doing so will provide the opportunity to pursue federal legislation that both protects the legitimate federal interests at stake and respects the will of the states -- both those that have liberalized their marijuana laws and those that have not," the letter said. The senators want language similar to the House's Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment inserted into Justice Department funding bills.

Berkeley Declares Itself a Marijuana Sanctuary City. The city council voted Tuesday to designate Berkeley as a "sanctuary city" for marijuana users. With that vote, city agencies and employees are now barred from providing information about legal marijuana use by adults or from helping to enforce federal marijuana laws. "I believe we can balance public safety and resisting the Trump administration," Mayor Jesse Arreguin (D) said at the council meeting Tuesday. "We're keeping with the strong position Berkeley is a sanctuary for people in our community."

St. Louis Aldermen Debate Lessening Pot Penalties. The city's governing body held a hearing on Alderwoman Megan Green's proposal to bar the city from expending resources to enforce marijuana laws. Public comment was overwhelmingly in favor, but some of Green's colleagues were less than enthused. No vote was taken.

Medical Marijuana

California Bill Would Provide Employment Protections for Medical Marijuana Patients. Assemblymen Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) have filed Assembly Bill 2069, which would "prohibit an employer from engaging in employment discrimination against a person on the basis of his or her status as, or positive drug test for cannabis by, a qualified patient or person with an identification card." The bill could get a hearing next month.

Iowa CBD Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to approve Senate Study Bill 3106, which would grant the state Medical Cannabidiol Board the authority to broaden the definition of medicinal CBD and to expand the list of qualifying conditions to use it. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Pennsylvania's First Dispensary Sales Begin Thursday. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced Tuesday that the state's first medical marijuana dispensary, in Butler County, will begin sales tomorrow. Five other dispensaries will open their doors by weeks' end, he added.

Utah House Revives, Passes Medical Marijuana Bill. Just days after it killed House Bill 197, the House brought it back and passed it Tuesday. The bill was part of a two-bill package aimed at creating a viable medical marijuana program in the state. The other bill in the package, House Bill 195, was approved last week.

Drug Testing

Iowa Bill Would Mandate Medicaid Drug Screens, Tests. Sen. Tom Greene (R-Burlington), who rode the Trump wave to office last year, has introduced Senate File 2158, which would impose special requirements on Medicaid recipients, including a requirement that if drug use is suspected, they "shall agree to participate in testing for illegal drugs."

In Trump and Sessions' Drug War, It's Bad Cop/Bad Cop [FEATURE]

The omens are not good. In a pair of speeches last week, the president and his attorney general made some very menacing comments about drug policy. While their last-century drug warrior rhetoric has not, for the most part, translated into regressive, repressive drug policy prescriptions -- yet -- it's probably not safe to assume that will continue to be the case.

Donald Trump, bad cop (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)
At the same time, the Trump White House appears to be approaching key aspects of the country's opioid crisis, which contributed mightily to a record 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016, with a mixture of indifference and incompetence.

Trump wants to drastically slash the budget of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), his White House opioid response is laughably led by pollster and counselor -- not drug policy or addiction expert -- Kellyanne Conway, and his budget proposals are for spending substantially less -- not more -- money on treatment and prevention.

An Obama-era law that designated a billion dollars to help states fight opioids runs out of money this year, with no sign Trump intends to ask Congress to renew it, and Trump's 2018 budget request has a $400 million cut to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the lead federal agency for treatment.

Instead of proactive responses aimed at ameliorating the crisis, Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are falling back on drug war rhetoric that would have been at home in Nixon's 1970s or Reagan's 1980s. (And the budget wouldn't even have flown under Nixon.)

Trump spent barely a minute talking about the opioid crisis in his State of the Union speech last week, and now he says he's focused on law enforcement, not treatment and prevention.

In a speech last week in Cincinnati, Trump said the opioid epidemic "has never been worse. People form blue ribbon committees. They do everything they can. And frankly, I have a different take on it. My take is you have to get really, really tough, really, really mean with the drug pushers and drug dealers."

Jeff Sessions, bad cop (senate.gov)
Attorney General Sessions, for his part, was on the same page this week. In a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation for an event honoring Ronald Reagan's birthday, Sessions could have been channeling the Gipper himself, blaming the media, not enough drug war, and "permissive rhetoric" for problems with drug use in the US.

"We don't think illegal drug use is 'recreation,'' he said. "Lax enforcement, permissive rhetoric, and the media have undermined the essential need to say no to drug use. Don't start. That's what President Trump said to us the other day in a meeting. What did Nancy Reagan say? Just say no."

Sessions also reiterated his opposition to state-legal marijuana resorted to the discredited "gateway theory" to try to blame marijuana for the opioid epidemic.

"The DEA said that a huge percentage of heroin addictions starts with prescriptions. That may be an exaggerated number -- they had it as high as 80 percent -- we think a lot of this is starting with marijuana and other drugs," Sessions ventured.

"We are not going to pretend that there is not a law against marijuana. There is a federal law against marijuana," he said. "And we're not going to pretend that marijuana is good for you, either. I don't think it is."

bad cops
Drug war rhetoric is one thing; actual policy shifts is another. So far, despite the tough talk, about the only concrete action aimed at driving us back to the failed drug war policies of the past is Sessions' move last May to reverse an Obama-era policy of moving away from harsh mandatory minimum sentences in drug cases. Other than that, there's been a lot of sound and fury, but little in the way of actual policy proposals. Still, the remarks this week from the president and his chief law enforcement officer ought to be setting off alarm bells.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has a better idea. The independent Vermont senator and 2016 Democratic presidential contender on Wednesday announced a petition calling on Congress to "end the failed war on drugs." "The criminal justice system is not the answer to drug abuse. Addiction is a health problem and we should start treating it that way," Sanders wrote. "While communities all across the country lack adequate resources for treatment or prevention, we are spending approximately $50 billion a year on the war on drugs. That's absurd. We need to get our priorities right."

Here is Sessions at the Heritage Foundation:

Chronicle AM: Trump Drug Budget, NH Marijuana Bill Hearing, OR Opioid Emergency, More... (2/13/18)

The proposed FY 2019 Trump budget features more drug war and cutting the drug czar's office, a legal marijuana bill gets a hearing in New Hampshire, Oregon's governor declares a public health emergency over opioids, and more.

The president's proposed budget has billions for more drug war. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Georgia Bills to Reduce Penalties Filed. A pair of bills filed in the legislature seek to reduce the criminalization of marijuana users. House Bill 865 would make possession of up to two ounces a misdemeanor. Under current law, possession of more than one ounce is a felony. Senate Bill 105 would decriminalize the possession of up to a half ounce. Legalization bills were filed earlier in the session, but they are not expected to go anywhere.

New Hampshire Legalization Bill Gets Hearing Today. The House Ways and Means Committee is holding a hearing on a limited legalization bill today. House Bill 656 would legalize the possession of up to a quarter ounce of weed and grow up to six plants, but would not set up a system of legal marijuana commerce.

Virginia Senate Approves Arrest Expungement Bill. The Senate voted 38-2 on Monday to approve Senate Bill 954, sponsored by Sen. Tommy Noment (R-James City). The bill would allow people charged with first-time possession to later pay $150 to have the charge expunged. The measure must now be approved by the House.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Poll Has Overwhelming Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Selzer & Company poll has 78% in favor of medical marijuana, with 19% opposed, figures that are roughly unchanged over the past couple of years. What has changed is support for recreational marijuana, now at 39%, up from 28% four years ago.

New Mexico Lawmakers Eye Marijuana in Fight Against Opioids. Lawmakers and supporters gathered at the state capitol in Santa Fe Monday to urge state officials to add opioid addiction to the list of disorders qualifying for medical marijuana. And advisory panel has twice considered petitions seeking to add medical marijuana as a tool against opioid abuse, the most recent last November, but the state Health Department has yet to act.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Oregon Governor Declares Addiction a Public Health Crisis. Gov. Kathleen Brown (D) on Tuesday released an executive order declaring opioid addiction to be a public health crisis in the state. She said she would soon set a deadline for the state Alcohol and Drugs Policy Commission to come up with a plan to fight the problem.

Drug Policy

Trump Budget Doubles Down on Drug War. The Trump administration's proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget is heavy on drug war spending, with an additional $400 million for the DEA, $334 million in the law enforcement-oriented Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, $50 million for the once-discarded anti-drug media campaign, $43 million for drug courts, and a cut of $20 million in offender reentry programs. The budget includes $18 billion over two years for the Mexico border wall, which Trump justifies on both drugs and immigration grounds, which is more than the $13 billion the administration says it is allocating to fight opioid abuse.

Trump Budget Would Gut Drug Czar's Office. The Trump FY 2019 budget would also dramatically slash funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), primarily by moving two grant programs elsewhere. Under the proposal, the Drug Free Communities Support Program and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program would be moved into the Health and Human Services Department and Justice Department, respectively. The move is opposed by some lawmakers and a coalition of more than 150 advocacy organizations, but more radical critics on both the left and the right would like to see the agency go away altogether.

Sentencing

New Jersey Governor Revives Sentencing Commission. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is reviving the Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission, which was created by the legislature in 2009 to examine racial disparities in sentencing, but remained dormant under former Gov. Chris Christie (R). Christie never appointed any members to the commission. "We can and must do better," Murphy said in a statement. "A Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission can undertake the important review of our sentencing laws and recommend reforms necessary to ensure a stronger, fairer, and more just state." Murphy has already appointed two people to the commission's 13-member board, which must issue a report within a year of its first meeting.

Chronicle AM: New Drug Czar Nominee, Purdue Pharma Stops Marketing Opioids to Docs, More... (2/12/18)

Good marijuana polling in Florida and New York, record marijuana sales in Colorado, the White House nominates a new drug czar, Purdue Pharma makes a big announcement, and more.

Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxycontin says it will no longer market its opioid products to doctors. (Wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Sessions Slams Colorado GOP Senator in Fight Over Marijuana. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) has been sticking up for his state by blocking Department of Justice nominees from consideration until Attorney General Sessions backs away from his decision to rescind Obama-era guidance to prosecutors allowing states to generally implement marijuana legalization without federal interference. And Jeff Sessions doesn't like it. He went after Gardner -- without mentioning his name -- in a speech at the National Sheriffs' Association Monday. "Too often, we've seen bad judgements, even politics enter into the work that we do," Sessions complained. "We're trying to confirm a number of important component heads at the Department of Justice. It's just getting to be frustrating, I've gotta tell you. Our nominee to the National Security Division -- the anti-terrorism division -- was approved unanimously in the committee. But because right now one senator's concerns over unrelated issues -- like reversing federal law against marijuana -- we can't even get a vote."

Colorado Sold a Billion and Half Dollars' Worth of Marijuana Last Year. It was a record-breaking year for the Rocky Mountain State. The Department of Revenue reported last Friday that legal marijuana sales topped $1.51 billion last year, with $1.09 billion coming from adult use sales and $416.52 million coming from medical marijuana sales. Those sales generated more than $247 million in taxes and fees for the state.

Florida Poll Has Healthy Majority for Legalization. A new poll from the University of North Florida finds that 62% of registered voters would back a state law regulating marijuana like alcohol, and 45% said they would "strongly support" such a law. The poll comes weeks after backers of a legalization initiative in the state conceded they did not have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Massachusetts DAs Want Licenses Delayed for Cannabis Cafes, Delivery Services. In a letter last Friday to the Cannabis Control Commission, the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association called on the commission to hold off on issuing licenses for cannabis social clubs and delivery services. "We have security concerns for these businesses, their employees and their customers," the prosecutors wrote. "Moreover, these businesses heighten our concerns relative to such issues as operating under the influence, increased marijuana access by persons under the age of 21, theft and diversion to the black market." The DAs also warned that immediately licensing such businesses would be "irresponsible, ill-informed, and dangerous."

Michigan Legalization Initiative Campaign Sees Organized Opposition. A political action committee has been formed to oppose the state's legalization initiative, which is currently awaiting confirmation that it has met signature-gathering requirements to appear on the November ballot. The Healthy and Productive Michigan Committee has $150,000, courtesy of a donation from anti-legalization crusader Kevin Sabet and his group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. Sabet says there could be more money coming, too.

New York Poll Has Healthy Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A Siena College released Monday has support for marijuana legalization at 56%. The figure was 60% for New York City, 55% for downstate suburbs, and even 52% in conservative upstate. Three-quarters of voters under 35 supported legalization, while voters 55 and older were evenly split. The poll comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is proposing a study to examine whether the state should legalize the weed.

Medical Marijuana

Utah House Fails to Pass Crucial Medical Marijuana Measure. The House last Friday voted to pass one medical marijuana bill, but failed to pass a crucial companion bill. The House passed House Bill 195, allowing terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana, but then failed to pass House Bill 197, which would have actually implemented the law by instructing the state Department of Agriculture and Food to write rules on growing marijuana and contract with a third party grower to grow the plant. "One is dependent on the other," said the bills' sponsor, Rep. Brad Daw (R-Orem), who is now second-guessing his decision to file the two bills separately. "Maybe it was the wrong policy, maybe it was the wrong decision." Meanwhile, a campaign to put a medical marijuana initiative before the voters in December is well underway.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Oxycontin Maker Will Quit Marketing Opioids to Doctors. Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxycontin, announced last Friday that it will stop marketing its opioid products to doctors. The move has been a key demand of numerous lawsuits blaming the company for helping to trigger the current wave of opioid misuse. Purdue said it had eliminated more than half its sales staff and will no longer send sales people to doctors' offices to discuss opioid drugs.

Drug Policy

Trump Nominates White House Staffer to Head Drug Czar's Office. The White House confirmed last Friday that White House staffer Jim Carroll has been nominated to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Carroll has been a top aide to White House chief of staff John Kelly. Before that, he was an executive at Ford Motor Company, and before that, he was an assistant state prosecutor in Fairfax, Virginia, where he prosecuted some drug cases. He appears to have no public health experience. The drug czar's office has been empty throughout the Trump administration -- a previous nominee, Tom Marino, was forced to step down after he was linked to a bill DEA officials said limited their ability to prosecute corporate opioid cases -- and just last week, the administration once again threatened to drastically cut its budget.

International

Philippine Senator Jailed for Opposing Duterte's Drug Crackdown Calls on Him to Support ICC Probe of Drug War Deaths. Sen. Leila de Lima, who has been imprisoned for a year now on trumped up charges for opposing President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war, challenged Duterte in a statement Saturday to support a probe by the International Criminal Court into "the rash of extrajudicial killings" unleashed by Philippines police. "Thousands of Filipinos are getting killed, and sadly, President Duterte remains unperturbed," said De Lima. "He chooses to ignore reports of glaring human rights violations and abuses by police and security forces who put law in their hands instead of facing the issue head-on. If he has nothing to hide, then it's high time for the President to support the independent investigation into the human rights violations and abuses incessantly happening under his regime," she added.

Britain's West Midland Police Announce Plan for Prescription Heroin, Safe Injection Sites. West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson has proposed allowing the provision of medicinal heroin to users unresponsive to other treatments, as well as a panoply of harm reduction measures, including "special consumption rooms," or safe injection sites. Jamieson said he hoped to see the proposals implemented by 2020.

Trump's Afghanistan "Taliban Heroin Lab" Bombing Campaign is Just More Drug War Theater [FEATURE]

On the night of November 19, small-time Afghan opium trader Hajii Habibullah finished his day's business at the local opium bazaar in Musa Qala, in Helmand province, and headed home to his family. He never saw the sunrise.

Afghan poppy fields account for about 90% of the global opium crop. (UNODC)
Helmand province is a poppy-growing powerhouse that for years has been hotly contested terrain in the battle between Taliban insurgents and the Afghan government and NATO forces. Under new authority from the Trump White House allowing the US military to "attack the enemy across the breadth and the depth of the battle space, and also functionally, to attack their financial networks, their revenue streams," US and Afghan warplanes mounted bombing raids on "Taliban drug labs," targeting three districts in Helmand. That night, Musa Qala was target one in a dramatic escalation in US Afghanistan policy.

In a press briefing two days later, Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan guided reporters through videos documenting the attacks, with bomb blasts destroying small structures as the general narrated strikes by US B-52s and F-22 Raptors. The raid in Musa Qala destroyed "millions" in "opium cooking at the time of the strike," repeatedly emphasizing how careful the raids were to minimize "collateral" casualties.

But the first bombs to fall on Musa Qala didn't fall on a "Taliban narcotics production facility." They fell on Hajii Habibullah's house, killing him, his wife, his seven-year-old daughter, four sons aged between three and eight, as well as a visiting adult daughter and her year-old daughter. Only the son-in-law sleeping in a guest house on the property survived.

That's according to on-the-scene field research contained in a report released last month by the London School of Economics International Drug Policy Unit. The analysis, written by Dr. David Mansfield, who has been conducting research on rural economies and poppy cultivation in Afghanistan for the past two decades, is sharply critical of the Trump administration's aggressive new turn. Mansfield isn't the only one sounding alarms. Warnings that the policy is expensive and unlikely to achieve its objectives while having serious negative consequences are coming from other academic analysts, too, and even from the watchdog agency charged with overseeing the US Afghan war.

Last month, in a Pentagon briefing, spokesmen claimed the campaign of airstrikes, which have continued after that first attack in November, was crippling the Taliban's ability to fund itself though the drug trade. Defense officials claimed the raids had destroyed $80 million worth of heroin, resulting in a $16 million loss for the Taliban, who make money taxing the trade.

But Mansfield demolishes that claim:

"At current prices for heroin, the losses USFOR-A refer to would amount to almost 73 metric tons of heroin, that's nearly 3 metric tons of heroin in each lab destroyed," he wrote.

With a conversion rate of between 9 and 13.5 kilograms of fresh opium per kilogram of heroin, this would require between 27,000 and 40,500 kilograms of fresh opium per lab. It would mean that the 25 labs destroyed were responsible for converting between 8 to 11 percent of the entire 2017 crop of 9,000 metric tons. There is little evidence from the nine buildings destroyed [in Musa Qala] to support such a claim.

Going on the tax rates levied on the [Musa Qala] labs, were the aerial campaign to have actually destroyed 73 metric tons of heroin, the loss in revenue to the Taliban would have been around $1.2 million, considerably less than the amount reported by USFOR-A.

Were the air attacks to have destroyed a series of houses rented out to cook opium in much smaller batches, as the case would appear to be in [Musa Qala], the loss in revenue to the Taliban would have been negligible. In fact, the 50 barrels of opium cooking at the time of the strike that [USFOR-A commander] General [John] Nicholson referred to as being worth 'millions of dollars' would have been worth at most $190,750 if converted to heroin and no more than $2,863 to the Taliban.

Brookings Institute senior fellow in the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on international and internal security threats and nontraditional security threats, including insurgency, illicit economies, and organized crime who has done fieldwork and research in Afghanistan, was also skeptical.

"The Pentagon has made various claims about the size of the impact on Taliban finances, but that is all highly speculative," said Felbab-Brown. "The logic is that a certain amount of heroin is destroyed per target and that heroin is assigned that same value per unit price, but we can't assume that. It could be there was no processed heroin there at all, only opium. The only value might be that it eliminated one Taliban financier who happened to present, or maybe disrupted one link in the trade, but we can't even assume that."

"By and large, the campaign will not make a significant dent in Taliban financing," argued Felbab-Brown. "They will have to be extremely lucky to destroy large portions of opium stockpiles that have been growing for years. And the Taliban has different local arrangements -- sometimes they tax the labs, sometimes they're further downstream -- so I don't expect any significant financial losses for them."

In its latest quarterly report, issued January 31, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a government watchdog agency, also took issue with the military's claims about the damage it was inflicting on Taliban finances -- and questioned the cost-effectiveness of the campaign.

In a special section on the drug lab bombing campaign, SIGAR says that the methodology the military uses to assess the value of the labs it destroys leaves it "unclear whether the DOD figure is an accurate estimate of how much revenue is eliminated by air strikes on drug labs."

What is known, SIGAR reports, is how much it costs to fly the planes dropping the bombs:

According to the latest DOD financial management report, an F-22 costs between $35,294 and $36,799 per hour to operate; a B-52 between $32,569 and $34,341 per hour; and an F/A-18 between $9,798 and $16,173 per hour, depending on the model. By contrast, the labs being destroyed are cheap and easy to replace. Afghans told Reuters it would take three or four days to replace a lab in Afghanistan. According to UNODC, the morphine/heroin labs need only simple equipment such as a stove, iron barrel, and locally made pressing machines.

SIGAR was also cognizant of the potential political risks involved in dropping bombs in the middle of settlements: "One danger of a sustained air campaign is civilian casualties, which could erode support for the Afghan government and potentially increase support for the insurgency," the report noted.

That was the case in Musa Qala, where Mansfield noted that Helmand members of parliament had voiced objections and where a local informant angrily declared: "These are not Taliban. They killed women and children, NATO killed them."

In rural Afghanistan, where opium is the backbone of the economy, it isn't just the Taliban involved. It's peasant farmers and field-workers, traders and middlemen, local officials and warlords. And that makes using military force to attack what is essentially a criminal problem especially problematic.

"That's one of the challenges of the campaign," said Felbab-Brown. "The military can go after 'Taliban-linked' targets, but what does that mean? In some cases the lab might belong to a trader, a local criminal actor, but in other cases, it will be operated by peasants. The tendency in the drug markets is to move away from very large labs and have many dispersed labs precisely to prevent significant disruption. These are mainly small labs operated by low-level peasants who have acquired the skills to do the processing," she added.

"There is a very significant risk of hitting a lot of very low-level people, while those with political connections get away with it," the Brookings scholar pointed out. "The risk is of pushing people into the hands of the Taliban and making them more dependent on the Taliban."

The Trump White House is pressing the "Taliban heroin lab" bombing campaign because things aren't going so well in Afghanistan, in terms of either counternarcotics or counterinsurgency. Nearly 17 years after the US first invaded to drive the Taliban from power, the insurgency is stronger than ever, with the Taliban reportedly controlling more than a third of the population, rising civilian and military death tolls, and a US-backed government in Kabul seemingly incapable of either fighting or governing effectively.

"Afghan government control or influence has declined and insurgent control or influence has increased overall since SIGAR began reporting control data in January 2016," the watchdog said in its report, while also noting that for the first time, the Pentagon prohibited it from publicizing the full district and land area under the control of the government and insurgent groups or reporting on the strength and capabilities of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

Similarly, the war on drugs in Afghanistan isn't exactly being won, either. Since 2002, SIGAR reported, the US has spent $8.7 billion on counternarcotics efforts in the country, only to see it remain responsible for the great bulk of the world's opium production throughout the period. Last fall, just before the bombs began falling on the labs, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported in its Afghanistan Opium Survey 2017 that opium planting was at an all-time high, up 63% over 2016, with strong increases reported in almost all poppy-planting provinces.

For the Trump administration, going after opium and the Taliban seems like a natural, and going aggressive fits with Trump's militaristic bent, but all the sound and fury is unlikely to accomplish much.

"There is action for the sake of action because the White House and Sessions want to see action," said Felbab-Brown. "There is this domestic image being created about opiates, and various government officials and Republicans have been obliquely linking the US opiate epidemic to global markets, but there is no evidence whatsoever that the US market is in any significant way supplied by Afghanistan. Still, the Pentagon had to demonstrate that it was doing something, and the thing it can do most easily is bomb interdiction sites, those so-called heroin labs."

Although the county accounts for around 90% of the global opium supply, very little Afghan opium ends up as heroin consumed by American drug users. According to the DEA's annual 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment, only about 1% of heroin in the US comes from Afghanistan. Instead, Mexico accounts for 80% and Colombia and Guatemala make up the remainder.

Brookings Institution counternarcotics and counterinsurgency expert Vanda Felbab-Brown (YouTube)
"There is far more pressure from Trump on actors in Afghanistan to demonstrate results and far less comprehension that demonstrating results for its own sake with significant negative side effects is counterproductive," said Felbab-Brown. "Obama had much more comprehension of the risks of things like eradication, and Trump is more far more determined to revive doctrinaire old counternarcotics approaches, many of which harken back to the drug dogma of the 1980s and 1990s."

But trying to suppress the Afghan opium economy is a loser's game for the foreseeable future, she argued.

"There are real limits on what interdiction or eradication can do. There is much greater insecurity than at any point since 2002-2003, there are fewer US troops available for ground action, and Afghans can't provide adequate security for US personnel on ground interdiction, much less an air interdiction campaign that can demonstrate some numbers," she said. "There can never be a winning situation with respect to drugs unless and until conflict has ended and the state has a presence throughout the country," said Felbab-Brown. "It's extraordinarily difficult to replace a vast illicit economy, and in Afghanistan, where the opium trade accounts for 30% of GDP, it would be an enormous undertaking."

Effectively going after the opium economy would also involve going after people other than the Taliban, she pointed out.

"We should think about interdiction in the same way we think about interdicting high value targets," she said. "Use it to target those who pose the greatest threat to the Afghan state, and that's not just Taliban actors. There are Afghan politicians clamoring to bring down the government, and they have heroin assets. Interdiction shouldn't be seen just as a tool of limiting the Taliban, but as a broader stabilization tool. But that would require far greater authorization, which the US military doesn't currently have -- it can only go after Taliban financing."

The situation is unlikely to get better in the medium term, with the Taliban and other insurgent groups seemingly striking at will, the Afghan military seemingly unable to stop them, and the Afghan government focused on hotly contested presidential elections set for next year and oft-postponed parliamentary elections set for later this year.

"Things could become much worse," said Felbab-Brown, "and with any significant instability it will become that much more difficult to conduct counter-narcotics operations."

But that's where US policy in Afghanistan appears to be heading.

"Trump and Sessions have the inclination and the desire for many of the same doctrinaire drug war policies both domestically and internationally," she said. "There is huge pressure from them on Colombia to ramp up coca eradication, and we could get in a situation where there will be huge pressure from the White House to conduct aerial spraying of opium poppies. That would be the last nail in the coffin of Afghan counterinsurgency."

Chronicle AM: Bernie Sanders Marijuana Petition, Dutch Bank Gets Huge Money Laundering Fine, More... (2/9/18)

A Bernie Sanders petition calls for marijuana legalization and an end to the drug war, a Dutch bank gets hit with a massive fine for cartel money laundering, New York's governor takes flak from drug reform groups on a couple of fronts, and more.

Bernie Sanders launches a petition calling for marijuana legalization and end to the drug war. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Petition Asks Congress to Legalize Marijuana. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has sent out an online petition to his email list subscribers asking Congress to legalize marijuana and "end the war on drugs." In 2015, Sanders filed the first ever marijuana legalization bill in Congress. Even though the petition is unlikely to lead to any results while Republicans control the Congress, it will help Sanders burnish his credentials as a leader of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

Arizona Legalization Bill Filed. Reps. Mark Cardenas (D-Phoenix) and Todd Clodfelter (R-Tucson) filed a marijuana legalization bill Thursday. HCR 2037 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot, allow for the cultivation of up to six plants, and create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana production and sales. Voters narrowly rejected a legalization initiative there in 2016.

New Jersey Legalization Hearing Set for Next Month. Assemblyman Joseph Danielsen (D-Somerset), chairman of the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Reform and Federal Relations Committee, said Thursday the committee will hold a hearing on marijuana legalization on March 5. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on marijuana legalization and reiterated that pledge during his inaugural address last month.

Seattle to Expunge Past Marijuana Convictions. Following the lead of San Francisco, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said Thursday the city is moving to automatically clear past misdemeanor convictions for marijuana possession. "For thousands of people in Washington state, a misdemeanor marijuana conviction had huge implications: It could be a barrier to housing, to getting credit, to getting good jobs and education," Mayor Jenny Durkan told a news conference. "It is a necessary step to right the wrongs of what was a failed war on drugs." Voters in Washington state approved marijuana legalization in 2012.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Bill to Let People Prescribed Opioids Get Temporary Medical Marijuana Cards Advances. The Senate Executive Committee approved Senate Bill 336 on Wednesday. The bill would allow people who have been prescribed opioids to apply for a temporary medical cannabis card. If passed, those prescribed opioids would be able to participate in the program if their applications are approved by the state. The background check and fingerprinting process normally required for applicants of the program would also be waived that first year because of the urgency of the crisis.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Drug Reform, Harm Reduction Groups Criticize Governor's Move to Stiffen Fentanyl Analog Penalties. The Harm Reduction Coalition, the Drug Policy Alliance, and VOCAL-NY are among the organizations calling out Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) over his move to add 11 fentanyl analogs to the state's controlled substances schedule, a change that would increase the number of fentanyl varieties that would garner top felony charges. "The governor boasts about giving law enforcement the tools they need to make more arrests, but says nothing about providing people at risk of overdose the tools they need to survive," Daniel Raymond of the Harm Reduction Coalition said Thursday. "We won't end the overdose crisis by filling up jail cells."

New Synthetic Substances

New York Drug Reform Groups Criticize Governor's Move to Further Criminalize Synthetic Cannabinoids. The Manhattan-based Drug Policy Alliance and the drug user group VOCAL-NY are opposing Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) call to further criminalize the sale of synthetic cannabinoids, also referred to as "synthetic marijuana" or "K2." Such laws do little to curb use, do nothing to increase public health and safety in New York State, and undermine the ability of the state to effectively prevent minors from obtaining the substances, the groups said. The state should just legalize marijuana instead, the groups said.

International

Dutch Bank Hit With $369 Million Fine for Laundering Mexico Drug Cartel Money. The Dutch bank Rabobank has been fined $369 million by the US government after it admitted handling millions in illicit funds, the Justice Department announced Wednesday. The bank also pleaded guilty to obstructing the investigation in trying to avoid repeating sanctions imposed on it in 2006 and 2008 for "nearly identical failures," DOJ said. "When Rabobank learned that substantial numbers of its customers' transactions were indicative of international narcotics trafficking, organized crime, and money laundering activities, it chose to look the other way and to cover up deficiencies in its anti-money laundering program," Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan said. A former Rabobank vice president, George Martin, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the US concerning his role in the case, according to the DOJ. He admitted -- in a federal court in San Diego in December -- to playing a role in setting up the policies that prevented additional controls. The bank will also have to pay a $50 million penalty to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Chronicle AM: Trump Nixed Israeli MedMJ Exports, Duterte Faces ICC Investigation, More... (2/8/18)

Israeli Prime Minister says he barred medical marijuana exports because of Donald Trump, the International Criminal Court begins a "preliminary examination" of the Philippines' bloody drug war, and more.

Israeli PM Netanyahu says he barred medical marijuana exports at Trump's request. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Lawmakers Shame Regulators Over Medical Marijuana Program. A joint legislative oversight committee tore into state medical marijuana czar Christian Bax on Monday. The Joint Administrative Procedures Committee used four separate unanimous votes to clarify its displeasure with rules and regulations promulgated by the Office of Medical Marijuana Use. Lawmakers are also unhappy that the office failed to respond to more than a dozen letters from lawmakers over the past four months identifying problems with the rules.

Nebraska Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Nebraska poll has 77% of respondents saying they would support allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana. Some 52% said they would definitely vote yes, while 22% would probably vote yes, and 3% were undecided but leaning toward yes. The poll comes as the legislature ponders a bill that would allow voters to weigh in on a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana.

Texas Sees First Dispensary, But CBD Only. Compassion Cultivation opened Thursday in Austin. It's the first dispensary to open under the state's CBD cannabis oil medical marijuana law. The state saw its first cannabis oil delivery to a patient earlier this week.

Harm Reduction

Iowa Needle Exchange Bill Advances. A three-member panel of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a bill that would legalize needle exchanges in the state. Senate File 219 now heads for a vote of the whole committee.

San Francisco Regulators Back Safe Injection Site. The city's Health Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a resolution supporting supervised injection services. The resolution endorses the recommendations of the Safe Injection Services Task Force, which calls for safe injection sites in the city. The matter does not need to go before the Board of Supervisors. The first two supervised injection sites could open as soon as July 1, Health Director Barbara Garcia said.

International

International Criminal Court Begins Moving on Philippines Drug War Complaints. The ICC has begun "preliminary examinations" to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to establish a case before the court in connections with the thousands of killings perpetrated in the course of President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs. The preliminary examination is the first step in the ICC prosecution process. Duterte said he welcomed the examination because he is "sick and tired of being accused," a spokesman said.

Israel Put Hold on Medical Marijuana Exports Because of Trump, Netanyahu Says. The Israeli prime minister said President Trump called him and expressed his objection to marijuana exports. Netanyahu nixed exports earlier this week, putting potential export earnings of $1 to $4 billion a year at risk.

Lesotho Becomes First African Nation to Allow Legal Marijuana Cultivation. Lesotho has granted the first licenses for commercial marijuana cultivation, but the licenses are restricted to two foreign-owned companies. On Tuesday, Corix Bioscience announced that it received "the first license issued by the Government of Lesotho that enables them to import and export cannabis and cannabis resin in various forms." The product would be exported to any country that permits it.

Statement of ICC Prosecutor on Opening Preliminary Investigations in the Philippines and in Venezuela

The ICC is a long and uncertain road.  But this is an important first step for stopping the drug war killings, restoring rule of law, and seeking justice. We commend Ms. Bensouda for her leadership.

More soon, but in the meanwhile, an article in Rappler, and many more. Read about our own work on the Philippines here.

 

International Criminal Court
The Hague
Netherlands

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Florida cop with his very own forfeiture program heads to prison, a Maryland cop gets nailed peddling pain pills, and more. Let's get to it:

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a former Fort Lauderdale police officer was sentenced last Friday to 16 months in prison for stealing more than $310,000 from the department's asset forfeiture fund. Gerard Brady, 34, had been named forfeiture coordinator in 2010 and started skimming cash in December 2012. He also has to repay more than $225,000.

In Marksville, Louisiana, an Avoyelles Parish jail guard was arrested last Friday after he was caught bringing drugs and other contraband to work. Corrections Officer Requan Steven Mingo was carrying synthetic cannabinoids, meth, and cell phones. He is charged with introduction of contraband into a penal institution, possession of schedule I CDS with intent to distribute, possession of schedule 2 CDS with intent to distribute and malfeasance in office.

In Hagerstown, Maryland, a Hagerstown police officer was arrested last Friday for allegedly peddling pain pills. Sgt. Christopher Barnett went down after he was caught on video giving narcotic pills to another person. He is charged with distribution of controlled dangerous substance, possession of a controlled dangerous substance, malfeasance in office and theft under $100.

Medical Marijuana Update

CBD cannabis oil bills have gotten though legislatures in Indiana and Virginia, Texas sees the first delivery of CBD cannabis oil to a patient, and more.

Indiana

On Monday, Ithe Senate passed a CBD bill. The Senate voted 35-13 to approve Senate Bill 294, which would allow any state resident to purchase and use CBD cannabis oil. Similar legislation passed the House last week on a unanimous vote.

Kentucky

Last Thursday, a second medical marijuana bill was filed. Sen. Stephen West (R-Paris) has filed Senate Bill 118, which would allow patients with certain specified medical conditions to use any form of marijuana. A companion bill has been filed in the House. Last month, Democratic Secretary of State Allison Grimes filed another medical marijuana bill, House Bill 166.

Texas

Last Thursday, the state saw its first deliver of CBD cannabis oil to a patent . A six-year-old girl suffering from epilepsy became the first patient in the state to receive CBD cannabis oil Thursday -- more than two years after Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed a law legalizing its use. The delivery came from Knox Medical in Schulenburg.

Virginia

Last Friday, the House passed a CBD bill. The House has passed a bill, House Bill 1215, which would allow doctors to prescribe CBD cannabis oil for any medical condition. A companion measure is up for a vote in the Senate next week and is expected to pass.

On Monday, the Senate passed a companion bill. The Senate voted unanimously to approve Senate Bill 726, which would allow doctors to recommend the use of CBD cannabis oil or THC-A oil. The House passed a companion bill, also unanimously, last Friday. The bill now awaits the governor's signature.

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

Chronicle AM: DEA Emergency Ban on Fentanyl Analogs, Fox Legalization Poll, More... (2/7/18)

A Fox poll has support for legalization at an all-time high, Colorado's governor ponders freeing marijuana prisoners, the DEA emergency bans fentanyl analogues, New York's governor bans synthetic cannabinoids, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Fox News Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at Record High. A new Fox News poll has the poll's highest numbers yet in support of freeing the weed. Some 59% said legalize it, up from 51% in 2015, 46% in 2013, and 26% in 2001. The Fox poll results are in line with other national polls, which are now typically showing support for legalization in the high 50s or low 60s.

Colorado Governor Ponders Freeing Marijuana Prisoners. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is considering releasing nearly 40 prison inmates serving time for nonviolent marijuana offenses. "Right now, we have not enough room left in our prisons. So if what these people are serving serious time for wasn't violent -- is no longer illegal -- maybe we should be looking at (whether) it safe to release them," he said in an interview with The Denver Post. "We are talking about going out and finding people who are still in prison, and saying, 'If you want to apply we think your application will have favor,'" Hickenlooper said.

Virginia Poll Has Strong Support for Decriminalization. A new poll from the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University has support for decriminalization at 76%, with even 60% of Republicans in favor. The poll comes a week after Republicans in the state Senate killed a decriminalization bill.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Emergency Schedules All Illicit Fentanyl Analogs. The US Drug Enforcement Administration this week placed all illicit fentanyl analogues not already regulated by the Controlled Substances Act into Schedule I -- the category for substances with no currently accepted medical use -- for two years, with the possibility of a one-year extension. The action is intended to reduce these substances' flow into the country and slow the alarming increase in overdose deaths linked to synthetic opioids, but time will tell.

Kratom

FDA Ramps Up Warnings on Kratom, Calls It "Opioid." The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday ramped up its warnings about kratom, saying that new research says the herb has "opioid properties" and is linked to 44 deaths. "We feel confident in calling compounds found in kratom, opioids," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. New data has reinforced the agency concerns about kratom's "potential for abuse, addiction and serious health consequences, including death."

New Synthetic Substances

New York Governor Uses Temporary Budget Amendment to Ban Sales of Synthetic Cannabinoids. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Wednesday a 30-day budget amendment to add 36 different synthetic cannabinoids to the state's controlled substance list. While the substances are banned federally, only some New York counties had banned them. "As the manufacturers of this poison continue to evolve and find new and insidious ways to skirt the law, New York's statutes must continue to keep pace," Cuomo said. "With this action, we'll continue to identify and crack down on hazardous compounds that emerge in our communities, and give law enforcement the tools they need to end this public health threat."

International

Canada Legalization Rollout Could Be Delayed. Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said Tuesday that recreational marijuana sales will only begin a few months after legalization later this year because the new legal sales system will take time to begin working properly. The Liberal government wants the new law in place by July 1, but if it takes until that date, legal sales could be pushed back to the fall.

Israel Prime Minister Blocks Medical Marijuana Exports, Calls for More Studies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suspended plans to allow Israeli medical marijuana growers to export their crops pending new reviews by the Health Ministry and the chairman of the National Economic Council. The move came after a Sunday meeting where Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan presented data on the diversion of medical marijuana into recreational markets.

Six States That Could Pass Marijuana Initiatives This Year [FEATURE]

While marijuana reform efforts continue at an excruciatingly slow pace in state legislatures -- Vermont became the first state to free the weed at the statehouse just last month -- the initiative and referendum process continues to serve as a direct popular vote alternative to the crap shoot that is trying to get a pot bill through two houses and signed by a governor.

There are at least six states with a serious shot at legalizing either recreational marijuana or medical marijuana via the initiative process this year. In one state, a medical marijuana initiative has already qualified for the ballot; in another, plentiful signatures have already been handed in for a legalization initiative; in three others, signature gathering campaigns are well underway; while in the last, a legalization initiative hasn't been officially filed yet, but already has serious financial backing.

By the time we get past election day, we should be looking at a legalization victory in at least one more state and medical marijuana victories damned near anywhere an initiative manages to get on the ballot. In the last election cycle, marijuana reform initiatives won in eight out of nine contests.

Here are the 2018 contenders:

1. Michigan -- Legalization

The Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has already completed a petition campaign and handed in more than 365,000 raw signatures in November for its legalization initiative. It hasn't officially qualified for the ballot yet, but it only needs 250,000 valid voter signatures to do so, meaning it has a rather substantial cushion. If the measure makes the ballot, it should win. There is the little matter of actually campaigning to pass the initiative, which should require a million or two dollars for TV ad buys and other get-out-the-vote efforts, but with the Marijuana Policy Project on board and some deep-pocketed local interests as well, the money should be there. The voters already are there: Polling has shown majority support for legalization for several years now, always trending up, and most recently hitting 58% in a May Marketing Resource Group poll.

2. Missouri -- Medical

New Approach Missouri's Right to Medical Marijuana initiative would legalize the use of medical marijuana for specified medical conditions and create a system of taxed and regulated medical marijuana cultivation, distribution, and sales. The campaign is well into its signature gathering phase and reported this week that it already has 175,000 raw signatures. It only needs 160,000 verified valid voter signatures, but has set a goal of 280,000 raw signatures to provide a comfortable cushion. Signature gathering doesn't end until May 6. There is no recent state polling on the issue, but medical marijuana typically polls above 80% nationally.

3. New Mexico -- Legalization

The Land of Enchantment has a unique path to a popular vote on marijuana legalization: A measure before the legislature, Senate Joint Resolution 4, would, if approved, take the issue directly to the voters in November. New Mexicans would vote on a constitutional amendment to legalize weed, and if they approved it, the legislature would meet next year to promulgate rules and regulations. The measure passed one Senate committee on Friday, but still faces another Senate committee vote, a Senate floor vote, and action in the House, and the clock is ticking. Supporters have only about two weeks to move this bill before the session ends. If it can get before the voters, it could win: A poll last week had support at 61%.

4. Ohio -- Legalization

Responsible Ohio tried to legalize marijuana in 2015 via a "pay to play" initiative that would have created a growers' oligopoly limited to cash-heavy early supporters who financed the entire campaign. Ohio voters didn't buy that, so some of the players are back again with what they're calling the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Amendment. It hasn't been officially filed yet, but would reportedly have a "free market" approach to a system of taxed and regulated cultivation, distribution, and sales, and it would allow for personal cultivation. Organizers say they have $3 million already for signature gathering and campaigning. They will need 305,592 valid voter signatures and they have a goal of July 4 for getting them.

5. Oklahoma -- Medical

The Oklahoma medical marijuana initiative, State Question 788, has already qualified for the ballot and will go before the voters during the June 26 primary election. The initiative legalizes the use, cultivation, and distribution of medical marijuana to qualified patients. A January Sooner poll had support at 62%, a fairly low level of support for medical marijuana, which typically polls above 80% nationwide. But this is Oklahoma.

6. Utah -- Medical

The Utah Medical Cannabis Act would allow patients with certain qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana. It limits the numbers of dispensaries and growers, and patients could only grow their own if they reside more than 100 miles from the nearest dispensary. Patients could not smoke their medicine, but they could vaporize it. The Utah Patients Coalition is currently in the midst of its signature gathering campaign. It needs 113,000 verified voter signatures by April 15, and it has the money in the bank, including $100,000 from the Marijuana Policy Project, to get it done. A series of polls last year had support levels ranging from 69% to 78%.

Chronicle AM: San Francisco SIJs Coming Soon, House Dems Want Pot Hearing, More... (2/6/18)

Safe injection sites are coming to San Francisco, House Democrats want a hearing on Sessions' backwards-looking marijuana policies, CBD bills pass in Indiana and Virginia, and more.

Kellyanne Conway. This is who is effectively running White House opioid policy. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

House Judiciary Committee Democrats Demand Hearing on Sessions Marijuana Policy. In a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), eleven Democratic members of the committee called on him to hold a hearing of the full committee to discuss recent moves by Attorney General Sessions to roll back laissez-faire Obama-era policies regarding enforcement of federal drug laws in marijuana-legal states. In the letter, the Democrats said they feared new Justice Department policies "will promote an inefficient use of limited taxpayer resources and subvert the will of voters who have clearly indicated a preference for legalized marijuana in their states."

Delaware's Governor Remains Opposed to Marijuana Legalization. After months of meeting with legalization supporters, Gov. John Carney (D) has rebuffed their efforts to get him on board. "There are a lot of people who are pushing that. I don't think it's a good idea to be out ahead of that, [to be] one of the lead states there," Carney told WHYY-TV. "I've talked to my colleagues, governors from Colorado and the state of Washington, and they talk about some of the unintended negative consequences." While he did not say he would veto a legalization bill, he remains strongly opposed: "I just don't think we ought to be a leader there. Again, as we're trying to strengthen our workforce, create an environment where companies can be successful to make Delaware stronger, I don't think that will do it."

California Bill Would Allow For Consumption at Special Events. Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) has filed a bill that would allow for the sale and consumption at temporary special events. Assembly Bill 2020 would allow a state agency to issue temporary event licenses allowing sales and consumption. "These events support local economies and small businesses," Quirk said in a statement. "Despite the fiscal and communal benefits such events bring to a city or local community, current law prohibits local governments from approving applications for cannabis sales at special events if they are held anywhere but county property," he added. The measure is also sponsored by the city of Oakland.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Senate Joins House in Passing CBD Bill. The Senate voted 35-13 Monday to approve Senate Bill 294, which would allow any state resident to purchase and use CBD cannabis oil. Similar legislation passed the House last week on a unanimous vote.

Virginia Senate Passes CBD Bill. The Senate voted unanimously Monday to approve Senate Bill 726, which would allow doctors to recommend the use of CBD cannabis oil or THC-A oil. The House passed a companion bill, also unanimously, last Friday. The bill now awaits the governor's signature.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Drug Czar's Office Frozen Out of Trump Administration's War on Opioids. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has effectively taken control of the administration's opioids agenda, largely sidelining the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), according to a report in Politico. The report says Conway is "quietly freezing out drug policy professionals and relying instead on political staff to address" the opioid crisis. The main response so far has been to demand a border wall and to suggest a sort of "just say no" program. The administration is expected to propose massive cuts in the drug czar's office this month.

West Virginia Governor Sets New Plan, Names New Drug Policy Director. Gov. Jim Justice (D) said Monday the state will take a different approach to the opioid crisis by focusing a pilot program on two of the state's hardest hit counties. Justice said there wasn't enough funding to fight the crisis in all 55 counties, but that statewide efforts would continue. "We know that everything we've tried so far has failed," he said. Justice also announced the appointment of Dr. Michael Brumage as the new director of the state Office of Drug Control Policy.

Drug Testing

Vermont GOP Bill Would Require Drug Screening, Testing for Public Assistance. House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) has filed a bill, House Bill 866, that would require people seeking public assistance to undergo screening for substance abuse and undergo drug testing if the screening process suggests drug use. Those who failed drug tests cold still receive assistance if they agreed to and completed drug treatment, but refusing treatment or failing to complete it would result in loss of benefits.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco Should See Safe Injection Sites by July.San Francisco Department of Public Health Director Barbara Garcia said Monday the city is on track to open its first two safe injection sites around the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1. She said she is working with six to eight nonprofits that already operate needle exchanges and other drug addiction services and will choose two of them to open safe injection sites. The sites will initially be privately funded, which will help the city avoid liability, since intravenous drug use is a crime under both state and federal law. Opening the sites will not require the approval of the city's Board of Supervisors or other city officials, she said.

International

British Columbia Sets More Legal Pot Rules. The provincial government announced Sunday that marijuana will not be sold in the same stores as alcohol and that in urban areas, licensed retailers would only be able to sell marijuana and accessories -- not other products, such as food, gas, clothing, and lottery tickets. Rural areas will qualify for exceptions to the general rule. Also, people 19 and over will be able to possess up to 30 grams in public, and smoking will generally be allowed in public spaces where smoking is allowed. Adults will be able to grow up to four plants per household, but landlords will be able to bar tenants from growing.

Colombia Says Armed Groups Impeding Coca Crop Substitution. Colombian Post-Conflict Minister Rafael Pardo said Sunday that illegal armed groups are impeding the country's efforts to replace illicit coca crops with legal ones. The comments came after a United Nations verification team was attacked last week by dissident FARC guerrillas. Pardo also pointed a finger at Marxist ELN guerrillas. Both groups, as well as rightist paramiitaries, continue to try to benefit from the illicit coca and cocaine trade.

Chronicle AM: Trump Vows Foreign Aid Cuts Over Drugs, German Cops Says Legalize It, More... (2/5/18)

The president accuses Mexico and Central American countries of not doing enough to fight our drug war, a group of senators joins the call to save ONDCP, the German police association calls for marijuana legalization, and more.

The president singled out Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras for criticism over illegal drug imports. (Wikimedia)
Medical Marijuana

Virginia House Passes CBD Bill. The House has passed a bill, House Bill 1215, which would allow doctors to prescribe CBD cannabis oil for any medical condition. A companion measure is up for a vote in the Senate next week and is expected to pass.

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Senate Passes Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The Senate has unanimously approved Senate Bill 99, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but does require prosecutors to file an affidavit for probable cause within seven days after a seizure and file asset forfeiture motions within 21 days if the owner of the property has objected in writing, 90 days if he has not. Under current state law, property can be held up to six months before the state decides to file a forfeiture claim. The bill now heads to the House.

Drug Policy

US Senators Call on Trump Administration to Keep Drug Czar's Office Intact. A dozen senators have written to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and to the Senate leadership urging them to block proposed changes to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) that would essentially gut it. OMB has proposed moving two major grant programs -- HIDTA and the Drug-Free Communities -- out of ONDCP, which would reduce the office's budget by 95% as the nation confronts an opioid crisis.

Foreign Policy

Trump Threatens to Cut Aid to Mexico, Central America Over Drugs. President Trump last Friday threatened to cut off aid to countries from which illicit drugs are imported into the United States. "I want to stop the aid. If they can't stop drugs from coming in, 'cause they can stop them a lot easier than us. They say, 'oh we can't control it.' Oh great, we're supposed to control it," the President said. "So we give them billions and billions of dollars, and they don't do what they're supposed to be doing, and they know that. But we're going to take a very harsh action. We want strong borders. We want to give you laws. We want to stop the catch and release nonsense that goes on. You catch somebody and you release them. You know they're bad," he said. "They're pouring in from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, all over. They're just pouring into our country. These countries are not our friends, you know. We think they're our friends, and we send them massive aid, and I won't mention names right now," he said. "But I look at these countries, I look at the numbers we send them, we send them massive aid and they're pouring drugs into our country and they're laughing at us."

International

German Police Call for Marijuana Legalization. The Association of German Criminal Officers (BDK) has come out in favor of ending marijuana prohibition. "The prohibition of cannabis has historically been seen as arbitrary and has not yet been implemented in an intelligent and effective manner," the head of BDK, André Schulz, told Bild newspaper on Monday. "in the history of mankind there has never been a society without the use of drugs; this is something that has to be accepted," he added. "My prediction is cannabis will not be banned for long in Germany." The BDK thus calls for a"complete decriminalization of cannabis use," Schulz said, adding that the current legal system is stigmatizing people and promoting criminal careers.

Philippines Drug War Killing Ratchet Up Again. The Philippine National Police announced last Friday that nearly 50 people suspected of using or selling drugs had been killed by police in the past two months. That's the period that the National Police have been back on the job in the drug war -- after President Duterte temporarily pulled them away last year after officers were found to have killed three teenagers and lied about their deaths.

Chronicle AM: WV "Free College" Bill Requires Drug Testing, NM MJ Init Bill Moves, More... (2/2/18)

It's a longshot, but New Mexican could get a chance to vote on marijuana legalization this fall, an Iowa bill to lower pot penalties advances, so does a New Jersey hemp bill, and so does a West Virginia bill that would make community college free -- but only if students first pass drug tests.

Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Initiative Comes Up Short on Signatures. Regulate Florida, the group behind an effort to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot, says it doesn't have nearly enough signatures to qualify this year. The group needed 300,000 signatures to qualify, but has only gathered 40,000. The group says it is now eyeing 2020.

Iowa Bill to Reduce Marijuana Penalties Advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill lowering the penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Senate File 432, sponsored by Sen. Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) would classify a first offense for possession of five grams or less of marijuana as a simple misdemeanor, punishable by no more than 30 days in jail and a fine of $625.

New Mexico Legalization Initiative Bill Advances. The Senate Rules Committee on Friday approved Senate Joint Resolution 4, which if passed by the legislature would place the question of marijuana legalization before the voters in November. But there are only two weeks left in the session, and the bill must still get through the Senate Judiciary Committee, the full Senate, and the House before then.

Oregon US Attorney Holds Summit on Pot Surplus, Issues Subtle Threat. Oregon US Attorney Billy Williams convened a marijuana summit Friday with state, law enforcement, and tribal and industry leaders about how to address what he says is surplus marijuana that has ended up in the black market. He also warned that how state actors address this issue could influence his prosecutorial decisions: "I have significant concerns about the state's current regulatory framework and the resources allocated to policing marijuana in Oregon," Williams wrote in The Oregonian, adding that the summit and the state's response to his concerns would "inform our federal enforcement strategy."

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Sees a Second Medical Marijuana Bill. Sen. Stephen West (R-Paris) has filed Senate Bill 118, which would allow patients with certain specified medical conditions to use any form of marijuana. A companion bill has been filed in the House. Last month, Democratic Secretary of State Allison Grimes filed another medical marijuana bill, House Bill 166.

Texas Sees First Delivery of CBD Cannabis Oil to Patient. A six-year-old boy suffering from epilepsy became the first patient in the state to receive CBD cannabis oil Thursday -- more than two years after Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed a law legalizing its use. The delivery came from Knox Medical in Schulenburg.

Hemp

New Jersey Hemp Bill Advances. The Assembly Agriculture Committee voted Thursday to approve a bill that would allow farmers to grow hemp. The measure, Assembly Bill 1330, is sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer County).

Drug Testing

West Virginia Bill for Free Community College Would Require Drug Testing of Students. The state Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 284, which would create a benefit to cover community college education costs not covered by Pell grants or other student aid. But there is a catch: Prospective students would have to pay for, take, and pass, a drug test before they would be eligible. The bill now goes to the House.

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