Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

McConnell Puts Kibosh on Sentencing Reform [FEATURE]

Prospects for a major federal sentencing reform bill brightened on Wednesday with President Trump's announcement that he would support the effort, but by week's end, those prospects dimmed as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told the president he wouldn't bring the bill to a floor vote this year.

The grinch who stole sentencing reform. (Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)
The bill is known as the First Step Act. The House passed a version of this spring, but the House version was limited to reforms on the "back end," such as slightly increasing good time credits for federal prisoners and providing higher levels of reentry and rehabilitation services.

The Senate bill crafted by a handful of key senators and pushed hard by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner incorporates the language of the House bill, but also adds actual sentencing reforms. Under the Senate bill:

·         Thousands of prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 (the date of the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced, but did not eliminate sentencing disparities) would get the chance to petition for a reduced sentence.

·         Mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses would be lowered.

·         Life sentences for drug offenders with three convictions ("three strikes") would be reduced to 25 years.

Even though the bill has been a top priority of Kushner's and had the support of numerous national law enforcement groups and conservative criminal justice groups, as well as the support of key Democrats, such as Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), McConnell told Trump at a White House meeting Thursday that there wasn't enough time in the lame-duck session to take it up.

"McConnell said he didn't have the time, that's his way of saying this isn't going to happen," said Michael Collins, interim director of the Drug Policy Alliance's (DPA) Office of National Affairs. "McConnell was a roadblock under Obama and he's a roadblock now. He likes to hide behind the process but I think he just doesn't like or care about this issue."

McConnell's move upset what should have been a done deal, said Collins.

"Once First Step passed the House, some key figures on the Senate side, such as Sens. Durbin and Grassley, said it wouldn't move without sentencing reform, and then Kushner facilitated negotiations between the Senate and the White House and they reached broad agreement this summer," he recounted. "Then the question was can we get this to the floor? McConnell sat down with Grassley and Durbin and said after the elections, and Trump agreed with that. The idea was that if Trump would get on board, McConnell would hold a vote, would whip a vote. He wanted 60 votes; there are 60 votes. Then McConnell said the Senate has a lot to do. At the end of the day, it's up to McConnell. When Trump endorsed people thought it would move McConnell, but he just poured cold water on it."

That means sentencing reform is almost certainly dead in this Congress. And as long as Mitch McConnell remains Senate Majority Leader, he will be an impediment to reform.

"McConnell is the obstacle—it's not Tom Cotton (R-AR) or Jeff Sessions—it's McConnell, and he's going to be there next year and the year after that," said Collins. "He is the prime obstacle to criminal justice reform, even though a lot of groups on the right are in favor of this. Since he isn't going to listen to us, it's going to be up to them to figure this out."

"If McConnell doesn't prioritize this, it doesn't happen," said Kara Gotsch, director of strategic initiatives for the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. That's a shame, she said, because "I'm optimistic both parties would support this if they got the chance."

But now it doesn't look like they will get that chance. That's the downside. But there is a possible upside: Failure to pass limited criminal justice reform this year may lead to a bill next year that goes further than limited sentencing reforms.

"It's been a long, hard slog to get to where we are," said Collins, "but now some people are saying this compromise stuff gets us nowhere and we should be doing things like enacting retroactivity for sentencing reforms, eliminating all mandatory minimums for drug offenses, and decriminalizing all drugs."

"My job is to continue to beat the drum for change," said Gotsch. "It's always hard, and we don't get those opportunities a lot. Momentum doesn't come very often, regardless of who is in power, and we can't let these small windows close without doing our best to move the ball forward. This has been my concern for 20 years—the conditions these prisoners face, the injustice—and we will keep pushing. The federal prison system is in crisis."

The federal prison population peaked at 219,000 in 2013, driven largely by drug war prosecutions, and has since declined slightly to about 181,000. But that number is still three times the number of federal prisoners behind bars when the war on drugs ratcheted up under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. There is still lots of work to be done, but perhaps next time, we demand deeper changes. 

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

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug Reporter.

Chronicle AM: NJ Gov Still Ready to Legalize It, Court Rejects OH MedMJ Racial Justice Provision, More... (11/16/18)

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is still committed to marijuana legalization, the Albany DA announces an end to low-level pot prosecutions, an Ohio court throws out a racial justice requirement in the state's medical marijuana licensing plan, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Governor Reiterates Support for Legalization. In remarks to the state League of Municipalities Thursday, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said he remains in favor of marijuana legalization. "I remain equally committed to sensible legislation to legalize adult use of marijuana, and to continue to expand our medical marijuana program, which can also be an important tool for fighting our opioid epidemic…. "Legalization is the right thing to do, for safer communities, for protecting our kids, for erasing the stain that is keeping so many of our fellow New Jerseyans from a better future. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of New Jerseyans agree. We should listen to them. I am ready to work alongside the Legislature, and each of you, to get this done."

Albany NY DA Stops Prosecuting Low-Level Pot Cases. Albany County District Attorney David Soares has announced that as of December 1, his office will no longer prosecute anyone accused of possessing up to two ounces of marijuana. "We've been feeling the need to make this change for quite some time," Soares told reporters. But Soares warned that he would still prosecute low-level charges when someone is smoking in public, in a vehicle, or in front of children.

Vermont Advisory Commission Recommends 26% Marijuana Tax. A subcommittee of the governor's Marijuana Advisory Commission has recommended that if marijuana commerce is legalized, there should be a 20% excise tax on retail sales in addition to the state's 6% sales tax. The subcommittee also recommended earmarking marijuana tax revenues to the state education fund.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Governor-Elect Supports Medical Marijuana. Laura Kelly, the Democrat who won a surprise victory in conservative Kansas, is ready to take the state down the path toward legal medical marijuana. "I think that there is some momentum in the legislature to pass, to legalize medical marijuana," she said. "I think we would do it Kansas-style, where it would be well-regulated. With a supporter in the governor's mansion, legislators no longer have to worry about coming up with supermajorities to overcome a gubernatorial veto.

Ohio Court Rules Racial Justice Requirement for Grow Licenses Unconstitutional. An Ohio district court has ruled unconstitutional the state's "racial quota" for selecting medical marijuana business licenses. The state's medical marijuana law requires 15% of all licenses to be awarded to businesses owned by racial minorities, and the state awarded two of 12 available licenses to minority-owned firms even though they scored lower than other applicants. One of the applicants who did not get a license sued. The ruling could prompt the state to award a provisional license to the plaintiff in order to make the case go away.

Utah Medical Marijuana Backers Threaten to Sue Over Mormon Church Involvement in Bill to Replace Prop 2. Medical marijuana supporters said Thursday they are exploring legal action to challenge the legislature's move to replace the voter-approved Prop 2 medical marijuana initiative "at the behest" of the Mormon Church. Even though voters approved Prop 2 this month, lawmakers plan to meet in a December special sessions to replace the measure with a proposal more acceptable to opponents, including the church. "Although initiative statutes may be amended or repealed by the Legislature, the almost immediate extreme undermining of numerous provisions of Proposition 2 at the behest of The Church of Jesus Christ is anti-democratic and contemptuous of the... recognition in the Utah Constitution that the people are to have the power to enact legislative changes," attorney Rocky Anderson, former Salt Lake City mayor, wrote.

Mexico's Supreme Court Effectively Legalizes Marijuana Possession, Cultivation, and Use [FEATURE]

In an earth-shaking development, Mexico's Supreme Court ruled last Wednesday that the country's prohibition of marijuana use, possession, and personal cultivation is unconstitutional. The decision came in a pair of cases challenging the ban on weed, and because these rulings mark the fifth time the court has ruled similarly, the opinions are now legal precedent in the country.

The high court in Mexico City based its decision on constitutional protections of individual autonomy.

"The fundamental right of the free development of the personality allows adults to choose -- without any interference -- what recreational activities they desire to undertake and protects all the activities necessary to make that choice… The effects of marijuana consumption do not justify an absolute prohibition of its use," the court held.

But the court also noted explicitly that the right to grow, possess, and consume marijuana "is not absolute and the consumption of certain substances can be regulated."

That means it will be up to lawmakers to come up with rules around the legal use of marijuana, as well as any move toward a regulated, legal marijuana market in the country. And that is likely to happen: Parties backing President-Elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), who is supportive of marijuana legalization and open to considering broader legalization, control absolute majorities in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

In its rulings, the high court ordered the federal health regulatory agency, COFEPRIS, to authorize the use of marijuana by adults who choose to do so, but it also added: "albeit without allowing them to market it, or use other narcotics or psychotropic drugs."

Mexico has already decriminalized both pot possession and the possession of personal use amounts of other illicit drugs.

Coming less than two weeks after Canada's marijuana legalization came into effect, the striking decision by the Mexican Supreme Court is only going to add to the pressure to advance federal marijuana legalization here in the US.

"This is extraordinary because it is taking place in one of the countries that has suffered the most from the war on drugs," said Hannah Hetzer, senior international policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "With marijuana already legal in Canada, now both of the US's neighbors will have legal marijuana, making the US federal government's prohibition of marijuana even more untenable."

If the Democrats take control of the House this week, expect to see a strong push for federal legalization, along the lines that Congressional Cannabis Caucus founder Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) laid out earlier this month. If the Republicans retain control of the Senate, as is widely expected, the upper chamber would be a tougher nut to crack -- but GOP senators may want to reflect on the fact that, according to the most recent Gallup poll, support for legalizing weed is at an all-time high of 66 percent, and even 53 percent of Republican voters now are on board.

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

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of both Drug War Chronicle and Drug Reporter.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Los Angeles sheriff's deputy gets caught in a brazen ripoff, a Maryland prison guard is the last of 16 to head to prison for their roles in a massive racketeering scheme, and more.

In Kingman, Arizona, a Mohave County jail guard was arrested last Tuesday for allegedly smuggling heroin and other contraband into the county jail. Guard Ashley Desiree Aquino, 24, went down after someone informed authorities a guard was smuggling drugs. Upon questioning, Aquino admitted smuggling the drugs. She faces various charges including promoting prison contraband.

In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a former Rutherford County narcotics detective was arrested last Wednesday for stealing a riding lawnmower and official misconduct. Former Lt. Jason Mathis allegedly stole the mower from the sheriff's impound lot. He's charged with theft of property over $2,500 and felony official misconduct.

In Los Angeles, an LA County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Thursday for allegedly claiming to be executing an official search warrant in order to rob a marijuana warehouse. Deputy Marc Antrim and two others stole 600 pounds of pot and two safes containing $100,000 in cash from the distribution warehouse. Federal prosecutors allege that Antrim and his co-conspirators "were &armed and falsely portrayed themselves to be LASD deputies executing a search warrant or conducting other official business at the warehouse." Warehouse workers called police, but when LAPD officers arrived, Antrim "falsely represented that he was conducting a legitimate search," and the LAPD officers left. Antrim is also suspected of stealing 31 handguns from a safe at Compton City Hall and assault rifles from the Sheriff's Department. It's not clear what the exact federal charges are.

In Baltimore, a former state prison guard was sentenced last Friday to six years in federal prison for his part in a racketeering ring where prison guards were bribed to smuggle in contraband. Jessica Vennie was convicted of smuggling in narcotics and using a cell phone to communicate with inmates about what they wanted to be smuggled. Vennie is one of 77 people convicted in the scheme and the last of 16 guards to be sentenced.

Medical Marijuana Update

There's a push in Congress to provide protections for veterans who want to use medical marijuana, and more.

National

Bipartisan Lawmaker Group Files Three Veterans' Medical Marijuana Bills. A bipartisan group of legislators on Wednesday announced plans to file a trio of bills aimed at making the Department of Veterans Affairs a more marijuana-friendly agency. The Department of Veterans Affairs Policy for Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018 would clarify the already existing policy of protecting patients who discuss their marijuana history. The Department of Veterans Affairs Survey of Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018 would conduct a nationwide survey of all veterans and VA healthcare providers regarding medicinal cannabis. And the Department of Veterans Affairs Medicinal Cannabis Education Act of 2018 would have the VA work with medical universities to further develop medicinal cannabis education programs for primary healthcare providers.

Connecticut

Connecticut Adds Chronic Neuropathic Pain to List of Qualifying Conditions. The General Assembly's Regulations Review Committee has agreed that chronic neuropathic pain associated with degenerative spinal disorders is eligible for treatment with the drug. That makes it the 31st specific condition considered a qualifier for medical marijuana.

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

Chronicle AM: "Dozens" of Underground Safe Injection Sites in Seattle, NJ Pot Votes Coming, More... (11/15/18)

A local activist reveals that "dozens" of unpermitted safe injection sites are operating in the Seattle area, New Jersey legislative leaders say marijuana legalization will see votes this month, and more.

Vancouver's (legal) Insite safe injection site (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

GAO Scolds DEA over Marijuana Eradication Program. In a report released Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over failings in its marijuana eradication program. GAO charged that DEA failed to collect sufficient documentation from state and local law enforcement agencies that partnered with DEA in the program, a fault that could prevent DEA from accurately assessing program performance. Furthermore, DEA "has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals," the report found.

New Jersey Legislative Leaders Say Vote on Marijuana Legalization Coming This Month. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney said Wednesday the legislature would move on marijuana legalization this month. Coughlin said he had the votes in committee to pass legislation, while Sweeney said he needed help from Gov. Phil Murphy (D) to pick up necessary votes in the Senate. "The only way something like this gets passed legislatively is if all three of us work together," Sweeney said. "If (the governor's office is) not going to lobby any votes for us then it won't get done."

Wisconsin Legislator Will Be Back With a Legalization Bill Next Year. State Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) said Wednesday that she will once again file a marijuana legalization bill when the legislature convenes in January. Sargent has filed legalization bills every year since 2014 but has renewed momentum after voters in 16 counties and two towns voted for legalization in non-binding referenda in the midterms. "The facts clearly show that legalization is right for Wisconsin and that the most dangerous thing about marijuana is that it's illegal," she said.

Harm Reduction

"Dozens" of Underground Safe Injection Sites Are Operating in the Seattle Area. Harm reduction activist Shilo Jama has told a local media outlet that "dozens" of unpermitted safe injection sites are operating in Seattle and surrounding King County. "They're slowly developing their own culture and their own service. It's a lot like the speakeasies of old where you've got to know someone to be invited in. You need the password or some kind of information that you're not, kind of, out to get them," Jama said. Seattle and King County authorities are moving toward officially allowing such facilities, but local harm reduction activists aren't waiting.

Chronicle AM: Trump Endorses Prison Reform Bill, Cities Call for MJ Rescheduling, More... (11/14/18)

President Trump has given his endorsement to a limited bipartisan prison reform bill, the National League of Cities calls for marijuana rescheduling, and more.

President Trump has given his endorsement to the First Step Act. (Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

National League of Cities Calls For Federal Marijuana Rescheduling. The National League of Cities, representing more than 19,000 cities, towns, and villages across the country, has passed a pair of resolutions on marijuana policy. The first calls on the Trump administration and Congress to "resolve the conflict between state and federal cannabis laws" and "provide guidance to financial institutions that results in the cannabis market having access to the federally regulated banking system," while the second calls for marijuana to be removed from the list of Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Lawmaker Group Files Three Veterans' Medical Marijuana Bills. A bipartisan group of legislators on Wednesday announced plans to file a trio of bills aimed at making the Department of Veterans Affairs a more marijuana-friendly agency. The Department of Veterans Affairs Policy for Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018 would clarify the already existing policy of protecting patients who discuss their marijuana history. The Department of Veterans Affairs Survey of Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018 would conduct a nationwide survey of all veterans and VA healthcare providers regarding medicinal cannabis. And the Department of Veterans Affairs Medicinal Cannabis Education Act of 2018 would have the VA work with medical universities to further develop medicinal cannabis education programs for primary healthcare providers.

Law Enforcement

Trump Endorses Prison Reform Bill. In a press conference Wednesday, President Trump gave his support to a limited prison and sentencing reform bill, the First Step Act (HR 5682). The bill invests heavily in anti-recidivism efforts and lowers some mandatory minimum sentences, but has not gone as far as some Democrats would like. In the House, 57 Democrats voted against it because it did not more substantially address sentencing reform. Now, in the Senate, it will face opposition from some conservative Republican senators, but the president's endorsement should help propel it forward.

Chronicle AM: Fed Sentencing Reform Bill Looms, HHS Recommends Kratom Ban, More... (11/13/18)

Congress could move on both sentencing reform and industrial hemp in the lame duck session, HHS recommends banning kratom, Thailand moves to legalize and regulate both kratom and medical marijuana, and more.

Despite spending $8 billion to suppress the poppy crop, the situation in Afghanistan is "worse than ever," a new report finds.
Sentencing Reform

Federal Sentencing Reform Bill Set to Advance. Key senators have reached a tentative agreement on a major criminal justice reform bill that is being supported by presidential advisor and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. The proposed legislation would boost rehabilitation efforts for federal prisoners and give judges more discretion when sentencing nonviolent offenders, particularly for drug offenses. The measure has support from both liberal and conservative groups, ranging from the ACLU to the Fraternal Order of Police and groups supported by the Koch brothers.

Marijuana Policy

Michigan Prosecutors Start Dropping Marijuana Cases. Local prosecutors are beginning to announce the dropping of charges in pending marijuana cases after voters last week voted to legalize the drug. Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said last Friday that "there will no longer be any prosecutions for possession or use of marijuana" in his jurisdiction, and other DAs are expected to follow suit.

Texas Lawmaker Files Marijuana Decriminalization Bill. State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) has prefiled a marijuana decriminalization bill for the 2019 legislative session. "Civil penalty legislation is the first thing I've filed on the first day of filing for the 86th Session. There's been an incredible swell of bipartisan support since last session, and the official Texas Republican and Democratic platforms both approve of this kind of reform now," Moody said in a press release. "I'm optimistic that this will be the session we finally see smarter, fairer marijuana laws in Texas."

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Adds Chronic Neuropathic Pain to List of Qualifying Conditions. The General Assembly's Regulations Review Committee has agreed that chronic neuropathic pain associated with degenerative spinal disorders is eligible for treatment with the drug. That makes it the 31st specific condition considered a qualifier for medical marijuana.

Industrial Hemp

McConnell Says Hemp Provision Will Be in Farm Bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Friday that completing work on a new farm bill is a top priority and that a provision to fully legalize hemp cultivation will be included.

Kratom

HHS Recommends Banning Kratom. The Department of Health and Human Services has recommended that kratom be placed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. HHS sent a letter to the DEA saying that two chemicals in the herbal supplement should be Schedule I. The recommendation is in line with past public statements from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who calls kratom "an opioid" and says it has been "associated" with dozens of deaths.

International

Thai Congress Proposes Legalizing Kratom, Medical Marijuana. The National Legislative Assembly has officially proposed allowing the licensed use of medical marijuana and kratom. The two drugs would be placed in a legal category that would allow their licensed possession and distribution. The Health Ministry will review the proposal before submitting it to the cabinet, which could amend it before returning it to the legislature. The entire process could be completed by year's end.

Foreign Policy

Afghan Opium Problem "Worse Than Ever," Inspector General's Report Finds. Despite the US spending more than $8 billion to reduce opium cultivation in Afghanistan, the problem is "worse than ever," a new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) finds. "No counterdrug program undertaken… by the United States, its coalition partners, or the Afghan government resulted in lasting reductions in poppy cultivation or opium production," the report stated.

Good Riddance! Drug Reformers Applaud Sessions’ Departure from DOJ [FEATURE]

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced out of office Wednesday after less than two years in office, and while there is intense concern about the impact the move could have on ongoing investigations of Trump campaign and administration misdeeds, for drug and criminal justice reform advocates that concern is leavened by joy and relief at the forced exit of a man who staunchly promoted harsh and repressive drug and criminal justice policies.

Jeff, we hardly knew ye. (senate.gov)
Even as marijuana reform spread across the land and support for the tough sentencing practices of last century's drug war waned, Sessions strode bravely backward as attorney general. Among the lowlights of his tenure:

  • He escalated the war on drugs by ordering federal prosecutors to seek the toughest charges and sentences for drug offenses, a harsh return to some of the worst excesses of the drug war, one quite out of the mainstream of even Republican sentencing policy thinking these days.

  • He escalated the war on drugs by undoing Obama-era restrictions on federal asset forfeiture and restarting destructive asset forfeiture practices. His actions on asset forfeiture basically gave state and local law enforcement agencies a green light to evade state forfeiture laws by handing cases off to the feds in return for a massive cut of the proceeds.

  • He at least formally reversed the Obama administration's "live and let live" approach to marijuana reforms in the states, undoing the Cole memo that directed federal prosecutors to leave state law-compliant pot operations alone. But Sessions' anti-marijuana crusade ended up a quixotic quest, with even President Trump suggesting an openness to legal weed and leaving Sessions spinning in the wind.

  • He ignored harm reduction principles and best practices aimed at reducing drug overdoses and the spread of blood-borne disease by threatening to crack down on safe injection sites, facilities where drug users can shoot up under medical supervision that also serve as a nexus between problematic users and treatment and social services.

  • He undermined the work of the department's Civil Rights Division, particularly by moving to end the use of consent decrees that subject police departments troubled by brutality or discrimination to federal oversight.

Even some key Republican senators rejected his retrograde approach on marijuana and sentencing reform and have criticized his resort to civil asset forfeiture. While in the Senate, Sessions was one of the biggest obstacles to sentencing reform, and since he left, bipartisan support for drug policy reform has continued to grow. It's probably too much to expect progressive policies from anyone Trump appoints to replace Sessions, but it's hard to see getting someone more regressive.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) minced no words in its assessment of Sessions.

"Attorney General Jefferson Sessions was a national disgrace," said NORML director Erik Altieri. "NORML hopes that he finds the time during his retirement to seek treatment for his affliction of 1950s reefer madness."

The Trump administration needs to replace Sessions with someone more in tune with popular sentiment on marijuana, added NORML deputy director Paul Armentano.

With 33 states now recognizing the medical use of cannabis, and with 10 states having legalized the use and sales of marijuana for all adults, it is pivotal that the next US Attorney General be someone who recognizes that most Americans want cannabis to be legally regulated and that they oppose any actions from the Justice Department to interfere with these state-sanctioned efforts," he said.

The Drug Policy Alliance echoed that call.

"While Trump's dismissal of Sessions raises questions about the president's motivations, the Justice Department and Senate should seize this opportunity to right Sessions' wrongs," said DPA executive director Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno. "The US public understands that the drug war has failed spectacularly and needs to be replaced with a health-centered approach. It is critically important that the next attorney general be committed to defending basic rights and moving away from failed drug war policies."

Jeff Sessions: A man whose time has come -- and gone.

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

Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of both Drug Reporter and Drug War Chronicle.

Chronicle AM: NYC Marijuana Busts Way, Way Down; New Federal Fentanyl Sentences in Effect, More... (11/9/18)

New York City marijuana possession arrests plummet (finally), Utah patients will have some legal protection beginning next month, federal fentanyl sentences just increased, and more.

a lethal dose of fentanyl (DEA.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan US Attorneys Warn That Federal Prohibition Remains in Force. In a joint statement released Thursday, US Attorneys for Michigan Matthew Schneider and Andrew Birge warned that even though voters there legalized marijuana on Tuesday, "marijuana continues to be an illegal drug under federal law" and that they "will not unilaterally immunize anyone from prosecution for violating federal laws simply because of the passage of Proposal 1." That said, the federal prosecutors then conceded "our offices have never focused on the prosecution of marijuana users or low-level offenders" and that "as we weigh the interests in enforcing a law, we must also consider our ability to prosecute with our limited resources."

Arrests for Low-Level Marijuana Possession have Decreased 90 Percent Following New NYPD Marijuana Guidelines. Arrests for low-level marijuana possession have plummeted 90 percent since new NYPD marijuana enforcement guidelines took effect in September. There were 151 arrests for low-level marijuana in the entire city of New York in September 2018, less than 10 percent of the 1,500+ arrests last September and 3 percent of the 4,300+ arrests that took place in September 2010. However, racial disparities in enforcement still persist, with Blacks and Latino people comprising around 80 percent of the 1,000 summonses issued for marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Patients Will Have Legal Protections Beginning December 1. Although it could take months or years for the state to get a medical marijuana cultivation and distribution system up and running, medical marijuana patients will win some protections from arrest and prosecution beginning on December 1. That's because the Prop 2 initiative approved by voters includes an "affirmative defense" provision protecting them from a criminal conviction. It doesn't explicitly protect patients from arrest, but the hope is that with little likelihood of a successful prosecution, police will have little incentive to actually arrest patients.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Harsher Federal Penalties for Selling Fentanyl-Laced Drugs Are Now in Effect. New federal sentencing guidelines that went into effect November 1 significantly increase the possible prison sentence faced by people who sell heroin or cocaine laced with fentanyl. The new guidelines "create a four-level enhancement for a defendant who knowingly misrepresents or knowingly markets as another substance a mixture containing fentanyl or a fentanyl analog," which translates into sentences nearly twice as long as previously. While the guidelines only apply to someone who intentionally sought to deceive buyers, the realities of the federal criminal justice system -- where the vast majority of cases end with plea bargains -- mean that prosecutors will rarely have to prove the intent to deceive.

Chronicle AM: Sessions Out at DOJ, MA Pot Shop Sales to Begin in Mere Days, More... (11/8/18)

Jeff Sessions is no longer the attorney general, elections have consequences in New York and DC, and more.

A prohibitionist dinosaur bites the dust. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Marijuana Sales Likely Only Days Away After Regulators OK Labs. The state Cannabis Control Commission has cleared two licensed marijuana testing laboratories for operations, paving the way for sales to begin within a matter of days. CDX Analytics and MCR Labs received "commence full operations" notices Wednesday. The move is critical since pot shops can only sell marijuana that has been tested for purity and potency.

New York's Path to Legalization Just Got a Whole Lot Easier. Democrats took control of the state Senate in Tuesday's elections, removing a Republican-controlled Senate as a major obstacle to pushing a legalization bill through the legislature. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who also won a third term in the elections, is now a proponent of legalization, and Democratic lawmakers in Albany have already proposed bills that would legalize weed. Marijuana should move next year at the statehouse.

DC Could Finally Allow Legal Pot Sales After Democrats Take House. With Democrats back in control of the House after Tuesday's elections, the path has become more promising for the District of Colombia to embrace full commercial legalization of marijuana. DC residents voted for legalization in 2014, but the Republican House has consistently blocked any moves toward creating a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. At a post-Election Day news conference, Mayor Muriel Bowser reiterated her commitment to establishing a regulatory scheme for marijuana sales early next year. City council members cautioned, though, that removing congressional riders and setting up a legal weed market in the city could take at least a year.

Law Enforcement

Jeff Sessions Out as Attorney General. Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned at President Trump's request Wednesday after less than two years in office. Sessions pursued an aggressive agenda to escalate the war on drugs by ramping up sentencing for drug offenses, restarting destructive asset forfeiture practices, and threatening crackdowns on marijuana legalization and supervised consumption services. Sessions also undermined the work of the Department's Civil Rights Division, opposing steps to hold police accountable for abuses, including killings of African Americans. Trump appointed Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general and will now select a new AG, who must be approved by the Senate.

Green Wave Update: Marijuana Initiatives Go Three for Four in Midterms, and More [FEATURE]

The expansion of legal marijuana continued apace in Tuesday's elections, with medical marijuana initiatives winning in Missouri and Utah and recreational marijuana winning in Michigan. The only loss for weed came in North Dakota, where voters approved medical marijuana two years ago but weren't ready to take the next step this year.

a glorious day in Michigan (and Missouri and Utah) (Creative Commons)
Michigan becomes the 10th state to legalize marijuana and the first one in the Midwest. With Missouri and Utah now joining the ranks, medical marijuana is now legal in 32 states.

In Michigan, the Proposal 1 legalization initiative was winning with 55.8 percent of the vote, with 96 percent of the vote counted as of Wednesday morning. The measure will legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in Michigan for adults aged 21 and older. It allows for the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and cultivation of up to 12 plants for personal use, while also establishing a legal framework for the licensing and regulation of marijuana businesses and products.

"The passage of Proposal 1 is a major milestone for marijuana policy reform in the US," said Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and campaign director for the Yes on 1 campaign. "Michigan will be the first state in the Midwest to end marijuana prohibition and replace it with a system in which marijuana is regulated for adult use. Adults will no longer be punished for consuming a substance less harmful than alcohol, and rather than having to resort to the illegal market, they will be able to access it safely and legally from licensed businesses. In addition to the public health and safety benefits associated with regulating marijuana, the state will have a significant new stream of tax revenue. Michigan is going to demonstrate that regulating marijuana works, and it will set a strong example for other states in the region and around the country."

"Western and northeastern states have led the way on legalizing marijuana, but the victory in Michigan powerfully demonstrates the national reach of this movement," said Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which through its lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, helped fund and played a significant role in drafting the initiative. "With such overwhelming public support for marijuana legalization, even including majorities of Republicans and older Americans, there's only so long that the federal government can continue to hold out."

In the past decade, Michigan has seen more than 200,000 marijuana arrests, the vast majority (84 percent) for simple possession. Those arrests won't be happening anymore.

In Missouri, two of three medical marijuana initiatives won. Amendment 3, which would have imposed a 15 percent tax and set up a research institute benefiting its author, was easily defeated, while Amendment 2 had 65.5 percent support, and Proposition C had 56.5 percent. Amendment 2 was backed by both MPP and DPA.

"Thanks to the unflagging efforts of patients and advocates, Missourians who could benefit from medical marijuana will soon be able to use it without fear of being treated like criminals," said MPP's Schweich. "We hope lawmakers will implement the measure efficiently and effectively to ensure qualified patients can gain access to their medicine as soon as possible."

In North Dakota, the cold wind of prairie conservatism and the Red Wave that swamped Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) was strong enough to overwhelm the Measure 3 legalization initiative. It managed to garner only 40.5 percent of the vote. Measure 3 was a grassroots effort with little outside support and strong and deep-pocketed opposition.

In Utah, despite the machinations of the Mormon Church and the state's Republican political establishment, which sought to blunt support for Proposition 2 by promising to pass some sort of medical marijuana bill later this year, voters weren't willing to wait. Prop 2 had 53.2 percent of the votes, with 76 percent of precincts reporting. Even in Deep Red Utah, medical marijuana wins.

Drug reformers pronounced themselves pleased with the results and pressed for federal action to end marijuana prohibition.

"This is yet another historic election for the movement to end marijuana prohibition. Voters have once again sent a message loud and clear that it is time to legalize and regulate marijuana," said MPP executive director Steve Hawkins. "Marijuana has now been legalized for adult use in one out of every five states, so I think it's safe to say federal laws are in need of an update. We hope the results of this election will inspire Congress to finally start addressing the tension that exists between state and federal marijuana laws in our nation."

But wait, there's more. Voters in a number of Wisconsin localities, including the population centers of Madison and Milwaukee, overwhelmingly approved non-binding referenda calling for marijuana legalization, while voters approved decriminalization in five out of six Ohio cities where it was on the ballot, including Dayton.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates embracing marijuana legalization (and broader drug reform), including Gavin Newsom (CA), Jared Polis (CO), J.B. Pritzker (IL), and Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM), all emerged victorious. The last two are especially notable since, as chief executives of as yet pot prohibitionist states, they can guide their states to legalization.

And in one of the sweeter outcomes of the Democrats' retaking of the House, one of the biggest obstacles to marijuana reform in Congress, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), lost to Democrat Colin Allred, a supporter of marijuana reform. As chairman of the House Rules Committee, Sessions repeatedly blocked reform measures from advancing. But his time has come and gone.

All in all, election day was a pretty good day for weed.

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

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of both Drug Reporter and Drug War Chronicle.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana initiatives win in Missouri and Utah, the FDA approves the first marijuana-based drug, and more.

National

First FDA-Approved Marijuana-Based Drug Now Available by Prescription. As of last Thursday, the marijuana-based drug Epidiolex is now available by prescription in all 50 states. The FDA approved the drug in June, but manufacturer GW Pharmaceuticals had to wait for the DEA to reclassify its compounds out of Schedule I before it could begin selling it. That has now happened. Epidiolex is used for treating a rare form of epilepsy and a genetic brain dysfunction called Dravet syndrome, both of which can cause seizures.

Iowa

Iowa Regulators Reject Bid to Raise THC Cap on New Medications. The state's Medical Cannabinoid Board voted unanimously last Friday to rebuff an effort to raise the 3% THC cap on new medications. Proponents argued that more THC is more effective in treating some conditions, while critics worried that lifting the limit could encourage abuse. "I'd like to get another year or two under our belts and see how people respond with the current THC cap," said board member Lonny Miller, a family physician from Creston.

Missouri

Missouri Votes to Legalize Medical Marijuana. Two of three medical marijuana initiatives won on Tuesday. Amendment 3, which would have imposed a 15 percent tax and set up a research institute benefiting its author, was easily defeated, while Amendment 2 had 65.5 percent support, and Proposition C had 56.5 percent. Amendment 2 was backed by both the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance.

Utah

Utah Voters Approve Medical Marijuana. Despite the machinations of the Mormon Church and the state's Republican political establishment, which sought to blunt support for Proposition 2 by promising to pass some sort of medical marijuana bill later this year, voters weren't willing to wait. On Tuesday, Prop 2 had 53.2 percent of the votes, with 76 percent of precincts reporting. Even in Deep Red Utah, medical marijuana wins. Under this measure, people with designated qualifying conditions can obtain a medical marijuana recommendation from a doctor, but patients whose conditions aren't listed have to go through a more rigorous process. Patients won't be allowed to smoke their medicine, either. It remains to be seen what will happen with medical marijuana in the legislature.

[Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of the organization that publishes this newsletter.]

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

Chronicle AM: Three of Four MJ Inits Win, Mexico Legal MJ Bill, FL Felony Disenfranchisement Repealed, More... (11/7/18)

Three out of four marijuana initiative pass, so does restoring the vote to ex-felons in Florida, but Ohio drug defelonization fails.

Marijuana Policy

 

Michigan Becomes First Midwest State to Legalize Marijuana. The Proposal 1 legalization initiative had 55.8 percent of the vote with 96 percent of the vote counted as of Wednesday morning. The measure will legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in Michigan for adults aged 21 and older. It allows for the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and cultivation of up to 12 plants for personal use, while also establishing a legal framework for the licensing and regulation of marijuana businesses and products.

North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Measure Fails. The Measure 3 legalization initiative was decisively defeated. It managed to garner only 40.5 percent of the vote. Measure 3 was a grassroots effort with little outside support and strong and deep-pocketed opposition.

Ohio Towns and Cities Vote to Decriminalize Pot Possession. Five out of six Ohio localities that had decriminalization measures on their local ballots approved them. Decriminalization won overwhelmingly in Dayton, Fremont, Norwood, Oregon, and Windham. It lost in only one town: Garrettsville.

Wisconsin Voters Approve Non-Binding Marijuana Advisory Questions. Voters in localities across the state signaled their support for medical marijuana, marijuana legalization, and decriminalization in a series of local non-binding advisory questions. In all 10 counties one city where voters were asked if marijuana should be legal, they said yes, by margins of better than two-to-one. Medical marijuana got even stronger support, and in Racine, a question on decriminalization won by a margin of two-to-one.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Votes To Legalize Medical Marijuana. Two of three medical marijuana initiatives won. Amendment 3, which would have imposed a 15 percent tax and set up a research institute benefiting its author, was easily defeated, while Amendment 2 had 65.5 percent support, and Proposition C had 56.5 percent. Amendment 2 was backed by both the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance.

Utah Voters Approve Medical Marijuana. Despite the machinations of the Mormon Church and the state's Republican political establishment, which sought to blunt support for Proposition 2 by promising to pass some sort of medical marijuana bill later this year, voters weren't willing to wait. Prop 2 had 53.2 percent of the votes, with 76 percent of precincts reporting. Even in Deep Red Utah, medical marijuana wins. Under this measure, people with designated qualifying conditions can obtain a medical marijuana recommendation from a doctor, but patients whose conditions aren't listed have to go through a more rigorous process. Patients won't be allowed to smoke their medicine, either. It remains to be seen what will happen with medical marijuana in the legislature.

Sentencing

Ohio Drug Defelonization Initiative Defeated. Voters soundly rejected Issue 1, which would have made drug possession felonies into misdemeanors, by a margin of 65 percent to 35 percent. The move, aimed at reducing the state's prison population, was opposed by prosecutors, judges, coroners, and Republican Gov. John Kasich. Issue 1 had other proposals as well: reducing prison sentences by up to 25 percent for most prisoners if they complete educational, work or rehabilitative programs. Probation violations that weren't new crimes would not have resulted in prison.

Voting Rights

Florida Votes to Restore Voting Rights to Felons. There will be nearly 1.5 million potential new voters in the Sunshine State for the next election after voters Tuesday approved Amendment 4, which restores voting rights for people in the state convicted of felonies as long as they have completed their sentences, although anyone convicted of murder or felony sex offenses would be excluded. About 9.2 percent of the state voting-age population.

International

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. A key ally of incoming President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday filed a bill to legalize marijuana cultivation and sales. Senator Olga Sanchez Cordero, who is expected to be named interior secretary, filed the General Law for the Regulation and Control of Marijuana. The move comes just days after the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition of marijuana for personal use is unconstitutional.

[Drug Policy Alliance is a publisher of the organization that publishes this newsletter.]

Green Wave: Marijuana Initiatives Go Three for Four in Midterms

The expansion of legal marijuana continued apace in Tuesday's elections, with medical marijuana initiatives winning in Missouri and Utah and recreational marijuana winning in Michigan. The only loss for weed came in North Dakota, where voters had approved medical marijuana two years ago, but weren't ready to take the next step this year.

In Michigan, the Proposal 1 legalization initiative was winning with 57.2% of the vote with 48% of the vote counted.

In Missouri, all three medical marijuana initiatives were winning with more than 2/3 of the votes counted. Amendment 3 had 68.5% support, Amendment 2 had 64.5% support, and Proposition C had 57.2%. If two amendment on the same subject both pass, the one with the most votes wins. 

[Update: I misread the Missouri results. Amendment 3 actually lost, with 68.5% opposed.]

In Utah, the Proposition 2 medical marijuana initiative was winning with 54.6% of the vote with more than half the votes counted late Tuesday night.

In North Dakota, the cold wind of prairie conservatism was strong enough to snuff out the Measure 3 legalization initiative. With nearly 90% of the votes counted, the initiative was losing 60%-40%.

Come back tomorrow for a deeper dive into the results. 

Chronicle AM: Weed on the Ballot in 4 States This Election Day, OH Sentencing Reform, Too, More... (11/6/18)

Marijuana policy initiatives are on the ballot in four states today, so is sentencing reform in Ohio, the FDA approves a powerful new opioid, El Chapo goes on trial in New York, and more.

Do your civic duty today. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana on the Midterm Ballot Today. It's not just about control of the Congress. Four states are seeing statewide marijuana policy initiatives: In Michigan and North Dakota, legalization is on the ballot; in Missouri and Utah, medical marijuana in on the ballot. Also, a number of Ohio localities are voting on decriminalization, and in Wisconsin, a number of localities will be voting on non-binding referenda on whether to legalize marijuana. Come back tomorrow for results.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

FDA Approves Opioid Pain Reliever 1,000 Times Stronger Than Morphine. The Food & Drug Administration has approved a new opioid pain reliever that is a thousand times stronger than morphine and ten times stronger than fentanyl. The new drug, Dsuvia, will be used as a fast-acting alternative to intravenously administered opioids in hospitals. Critics warned that the new drug could be abused, but FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that it will only be used with "very tight restrictions."

Law Enforcement

El Chapo Goes on Trial in New York City. Longtime Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has gone on trial in New York City this week. El Chapo was extradited to the US in 2017 after escaping from a Mexican prison and being recaptured months later, and now faces a 17-count federal indictment for his role heading the cartel, including money laundering, firearms, and multiple murder charges. Although El Chapo has been out of circulation for more than a year, the Sinaloa Cartel remains arguably the most powerful of Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

Sentencing

Ohio Votes on Whether to Defelonize Drug Possession Today. Voters in the Buckeye State will have a chance to approve the Issue 1 sentencing reform initiative. The initiative would move most drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors. It would also allow some nonviolent offenders to receive 25% sentence reductions and would also prohibit jail time as a sentence for using or possessing drugs until the third offense within 24 months. Come back tomorrow for results.

International

Israeli Finance Minister Criticizes Delay in Approving Medical Marijuana Exports. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon blamed the Public Security Ministry for foot-dragging on allowing exports of the herb, thus "harming Israel's economy, farmers and local industry," and called for the cabinet to act to approve exports and advance legislation. "For more than six months, the Public Security Ministry has been preventing the plan from being put on the cabinet's agenda, thereby harming Israel's economy, farmers and local industry," Kahlon wrote in a memo Monday to the cabinet secretary. "During these months a number of countries around the world, including Australia and Canada, began to export medical cannabis."

Chronicle AM: Legal MJ Shortages, Mexico to Move Toward Legal MJ Market, More... (11/3/18)

The Granite State has a new guide to marijuana legalization, ONDCP releases coca cultivation and cocaine production figures for Peru and Bolivia, Canada suffers legal pot shortages, and more.

North America is becoming a very weed-friendly continent. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Commission Issues Marijuana Legalization Report. The Commission to Study the Legalization, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana has released its report, complete with 54 separate recommendations on how legalization should be implemented. Among them are creating a state-level Cannabis Commission to regulate it, similar to the way the state regulates alcohol. The group estimated that legalization could bring in revenue of $36.6 million a year once the market stabilizes, and possibly reaching $47 million. The report is designed to help guide any legislative moves toward legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Regulators Reject Bid to Raise THC Cap on New Medications. The state's Medical Cannabinoid Board voted unanimously last Friday to rebuff an effort to raise the 3% THC cap on new medications. Proponents argued that more THC is more effective in treating some conditions, while critics worried that lifting the limit could encourage abuse. "I'd like to get another year or two under our belts and see how people respond with the current THC cap," said board member Lonny Miller, a family physician from Creston.

Foreign Policy

ONDCP Releases Data on Coca Cultivation and Cocaine Production in Peru and Bolivia. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) released the US government's annual estimates of coca cultivation and cocaine production for Bolivia and Peru last Friday. Although Peru produces more coca and cocaine than Bolivia, and although Peru's coca cultivation and potential cocaine production are trending up while Bolivia's are trending down, ONDCP was more critical of Bolivia. "The ongoing coca --cultivation in both Peru and Bolivia pose a threat for us as a nation, and aggravates our domestic drug addiction crisis," said ONDCP Deputy Director Jim Carroll. "It is important that our governments work together to take action against cultivation and production, and to save lives of those affected by drug trafficking. Peru continues to be a great partner and we have a shared responsibility to address this problem. In Bolivia, we would like to see real efforts against cultivation and production."

International

Canada Struggles to Meet Huge Demand for Legal Marijuana. Just two weeks after legal retail marijuana sales began, Canadian pot retailers -- both physical and online -- are having problems dealing with unexpectedly high demand. In much of the country, the legal supply has almost entirely dried up. "There is not enough legal marijuana to supply all of recreational demand in Canada," said Rosalie Wyonch, a policy analyst at the CD Howe Institute. "The shortages are happening faster than I would have expected, but our research suggested quite strongly that there would be shortages in the first year of legalization."

Colombia Announces New Strategy to Disrupt Drug Trade. Last Thursday, Colombian Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez announced a new "disruption policy" of going after the cocaine trade by cutting access to alkaloids and power sources in rural areas. He called for "petrochemical innovation" so that fuels stop yielding the factors needed to create cocaine hydrochloride, as well as restricting the sale of government-subsidized gasoline in cocaine and marijuana producing regions. But one analysis says the proposals "might sound innovative on paper but are unlikely to have a major impact on the drug trade and may end up hurting long-suffering residents."

Mexico's Ruling Party Plans Legislation To Legalize Marijuana Sales. Less than a week after the country's Supreme Court ruled that laws barring the personal use, possession, and cultivation of marijuana are unconstitutional, key figures in the ruling MORENA Party are already moving to craft legislation to create a legal marijuana market. First, they say, they will move to repeal the now null and void criminal laws against marijuana, and then, "We are going to take a step forward in the regulation that may already involve the production, marketing and distribution of marijuana," said Olga Sánchez Cordero, a senator who is expected to become interior secretary in the incoming government of President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador. "I say it from the heart: we celebrate it, the Court is setting a marvelous precedent for us to walk in that direction," Sánchez added.

Chronicle AM: MA Pot Shops to Open This Month, Coca Comes to Central America, More... (11/2/18)

A record number of gubernatorial candidates are endorsing marijuana legalization, Bay State pot shops will be open this month, cartels are experimenting with coca production in Central America, and more.

A cocaine lab discovered by Honduran authorities last year. (Honduran Prosecutor's Office)
Marijuana Policy

Record Number of Governor Candidates Call for Marijuana Legalization. A new analysis from Marijuana Moment finds that at least 21 major party gubernatorial candidates support legalizing marijuana, far more than any previous election cycle. But there are differences: Some candidates make legalization a centerpiece of their campaigns, while others embrace it only reluctantly or if pressed on the issue. For a list of those pro-legalization would-be governors, click on the link.

California Cities, Counties to Vote on Marijuana Taxes. More than two dozen cities and counties will have marijuana taxation proposals on their local ballots next week. Among the most controversial proposals is a San Francisco move to impose a 5% tax on gross sales receipts. That would come on top of the 15% state retail tax and the city's 8.75% sales tax, meaning pot sales would be taxed at a whopping 28.75%. The fear is the high levels of taxation will drive potential purchasers to the black market.

Massachusetts Legal Marijuana Sales to Begin This Month, State Says. The chairman of the state's Cannabis Control Commission said Thursday that legal marijuana sales would get underway "within the next week or two" after final inspections of pot shops are performed. "Everything is happening as quickly as we can," Chairman Steven Hoffman said. "There are no lags. We're working closely with the licensees so they understand the process. We're getting very close." It's been two years next week since Bay State voters approved marijuana legalization.

Medical Marijuana

First FDA-Approved Marijuana-Based Drug Now Available by Prescription. As of Thursday, the marijuana-based drug Epidiolex is now available by prescription in all 50 states. The FDA approved the drug in June, but manufacturer GW Pharmaceuticals had to wait for the DEA to reclassify its compounds out of Schedule I before it could begin selling it. That has now happened. Epidiolex is used for treating a rare form of epilepsy and a genetic btylerain dysfunction called Dravet syndrome, both of which can cause seizures.

International

Cocaine Production Beginning to Pop Up in Central America. Cocaine production is starting to pop up in Central America, a development that could bring the supply of the drug closer to the US. Officials in Guatemala and Honduras have found at least four separate coca plantings this year and last year. Although the total acreage involved -- about 125 acres -- is a tiny fraction of total coca planting, local officials said the fields constituted pilot projects by drug cartels exploring whether they can reduce transportation costs and risk by moving their product from major cocaine-producing countries to Central America.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Bad News from Brazil: The Right Populist President-Elect Will Be Absolutely Horrid on Drug Policy [FEATURE]

The far rightist Jair Bolsonaro won Sunday's presidential election with 55 percent of the vote. His victory promises to push Latin America's largest democracy to the right in many arenas, including drug policy, where his past pronouncements place him firmly in the camp of murderous anti-drug reform authoritarians such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has presided over a war on drug sellers and users that has left more than 20,000 dead at the hands of police and shadowy vigilante death squads.

Jair Bolsonaro (Creative Commons)
Despite a highly divisive candidacy that included repeated derogatory comments aimed at gays, women, black people, and indigenous peoples, his victory over the Workers Party, which has been tarnished by corruption scandals, was decisive. Bolsonaro seems likely to act as if he has a mandate from the voters to enact his extremist policies, among them extraordinarily repressive drug policies.

Thanks to London-based Talking Drugs, we have a very clear idea of just how extreme Bolsonaro's rhetoric on drug policy has been. Saying the bloody-handed Duterte "did the right thing for his country," Bolsonaro seeks to emulate him, saying repeatedly that police should kill people suspected -- not convicted -- of drug trafficking.

He has also vowed to intensify an already militarized crackdown on drug offenses, deepening the human rights and public health crises that drug prohibition has already inflicted on the country. Police and the military already work together to raid, arrest, and, too often, kill people allegedly involved in drug trafficking, especially in the favelas, the urban slums home to millions of the country's poor.

Brazil's murder rate is 27 per 100,000 people, four times the global average and higher than the rates of neighbors such as Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru -- all cocaine-producing countries. Brazil is the world's second largest cocaine-consuming country, after the United States.

Domestic drug consumption has been on the rise for years in Brazil, and although there have been legislative attempts to decriminalize drug use, drug users continue to be criminalized, contributing mightily to Brazil's ranking as the country with the world's fourth-largest prison population.

Bolsonaro wants to heighten the repressive approach. He has detailed plans to increase the involvement of the military in drug law enforcement, including targeting school children. "It would be good to have the military in the schools," he said, because "in the streets, in the schools even, the bandidos [bandits] sell drugs and smoke marijuana openly."

Speaking of maconha [Brazilian slang for marijuana], Bolsonaro isn't too fond of that, either. In fact, he sounds positively deranged on the issue. Legalizing marijuana, as neighboring Uruguay has done, would "benefit traffickers, rapists, and hostage takers," he charged, without bothering to cite any supporting evidence of his claims and in direct contradiction of the Uruguayan experience.

And in a bizarre interview with El Pais, the homophobic Bolsonaro even claimed that using drug makes people gay. When the journalist who interviewed him published the piece, Bolsonaro accused him of being gay, too.

He demonstrates a very Trumpian tendency to play fast and loose with the facts to try to score ideological points. He has linked illegal drug use to liberal governments, claiming that "drug use is prominent in countries under liberal administrations, such as Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Mexico, and Venezuela." But Honduras has been ruled by rightists since 2010 and Mexico's outgoing president is a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), since the 1980s viewed as center-right.

All of this doesn't bode well for progress on progressive drug policies in Brazil. In the past, there have been strong public health-based initiatives to provide harm reduction services to drug users, including a very successful program created by then Sao Paolo Mayor Fernando Haddad. His With Open Arms program provided drug users with housing, daily meals, access to health care, and the opportunity to earn money by doing cleaning work. The program was a success in reducing drug-related harms but has been dramatically slashed by his successor.

Haddad was the last candidate standing between Bolsonaro and the presidency, but the country's swing to the right overwhelmed him. While the immediate future for progressive drug reform in Brazil looks grim, the one bright spot is that, like Trump, Bolsonaro tends to make bold, yet vague, pronouncements, often with little follow-through. Let's hope his tough talk on drugs is more bluster than actual concrete policy shifts to the right, but hope isn't going to win the day. Brazilians interested in human rights, public safety, harm reduction, and drug law reform are going to have to mobilize to protect what limited gains they have one and to prevent sliding backward by embracing harsh, failed, last century drug policies.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Supreme Court Ends Marijuana Prohibition, Feds Reject WI Medicaid Drug Tests, More... (11/1/18)

Mexico's Supreme Court strikes a fatal blow against marijuana prohibition, medical marijuana is now available by prescription in the United Kingdom, a Colorado jury rejects an effort to blow up the state's legal marijuana system, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Colorado Federal Jury Throws Out RICO Case Threatening State Marijuana Law. That didn't take long. A Denver federal court jury took only a few hours Wednesday to reach a verdict against a couple who claimed a marijuana cultivation operation was ruining their property values and threatening their lifestyle. The couple, aided by anti-marijuana attorneys, had attempted to use federal RICO statutes to undermine the state law, arguing that because marijuana is still federally illegal, its production violates federal racketeering laws. But the jury didn't buy it.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor's Plan to Require Drug Testing for Medicaid Rejected. The federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has rejected a proposal from Gov. Rick Scott (R) to require drug testing as a condition for receiving Medicaid benefits. Walker had proposed several changes to the state program, known as BadgerCare, and the administration approved requiring childless adults to work or lose coverage, but not the proposed drug testing. Instead of requiring drug screening and testing, Medicaid applicants will now have to complete a health assessment with questions about drug use. If the assessment indicates concerns about drug use, the applicant will be referred to treatment, but not required to go.

Harm Reduction

New York City Legislation Would Expand Opioid Treatment at Homeless Shelters. City Councilman Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn) Wednesday filed legislation to increase access to opioid treatment at city homeless shelters. The bill would allow for easier access "We can't continue to sit by and do nothing," said Levin. "As we've seen in New York City and throughout the country, the status quo is not working. People are overdosing on opioids every day in New York City -- more than homicides and traffic fatalities combined."

International

Mexico Supreme Court Strikes Down Marijuana Prohibition. In a pair of rulings Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Mexico ruled that the country's ban on marijuana violates individual autonomy protections in the Mexican constitution. The court said adults have the right to grow, possess, and use marijuana, but that the government retains the right to regulate consumption. It also directed the federal health agency to begin to develop regulations reflecting the decision. The ruling does not legalize marijuana commerce; it would be up to the Mexican congress to take up that issue.

Medical Marijuana Now Legal in Great Britain. As of Thursday, November 1, some medical marijuana patients will be able to legally seek and obtain their medicine. Legal access to medical marijuana will be limited to patients who have "an unmet special clinical need that cannot be met by licensed products." It will be up to a special panel to determine who meets that condition, but there are worries that the system may prove too unwieldy to satisfy the needs of hundreds of thousands of potential patients.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Border Patrol agent gets in trouble, and so do a crooked trio of Miami cops. Let's get to it:

In Miami, three Miami police officers were arrested last Tuesday on an array of federal drug and corruption charges from distributing dozens of kilos of cocaine to protecting drug dealers. Veteran officers Schonton Harris and Kevin Harris and new recruit James Archibald. Among other charges, the trio are accused of collecting a total of $33,500 in cash from sales of opioids like Percocet, selling and transporting dozens of kilos of cocaine, selling a police uniform and a badge to an undercover detective who claimed to be a cartel assassin wanting to use it in a hit. After being alerted to questionable activities in April, the FBI set up a sting operation that has now apparently thoroughly ensnared the trio.

In Tucson, Arizona, a Border Patrol agent was indicted Monday for allegedly conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the country. Agent Ramon Antonio Monreal Rodriguez, 32, is accused of exchanging $334,000 in cash for 41 kilograms of cocaine near the San Miguel border crossing and a few days later transferring $317,000 in cash to a smuggler at the border. Authorities said Rodriguez received $66,000 and six pounds of cocaine for his efforts. They have seized the cash and the drugs. He is charged in federal court with conspiracy to distribute more than five kilos of cocaine.

Medical Marijuana Update

It's been a whipsaw week for Michigan's unlicensed dispensaries, Oklahoma sees its first legal medical marijuana sales, and more.

Michigan

Michigan Regulators Say More Than 200 Unlicensed Michigan Dispensaries Must Close Down By Wednesday. The state's Medical Marijuana Licensing Board has approved 14 more dispensary licenses, but some 215 pot businesses that have not obtained licenses, most of them in Detroit, received cease and desist letters Tuesday and must close their doors by Wednesday if they want any chance at getting a license in the future.

Michigan Judge Blocks Halloween Shutdown of Unlicensed Dispensaries. The same day state regulators ordered more than 200 unlicensed dispensaries to shut down by Wednesday, a Michigan judge blocked that order. Court of Claims Judge Stephen Borello granted a motion Tuesday that kills the state's latest attempt to shut down any medical marijuana dispensaries operating without a license. Borello issued a temporary injunction blocking the shutdowns and barring the state from imposing any other licensing deadlines until the court rules again.

North Dakota

North Dakota Patients and Caregivers Can Now Register. The state Department of Health began accepting applications Monday for medical marijuana patients and caregivers, with registry cards to begin being mailed out in December. It costs $50 to apply. The move comes just under two years after voters there approved a medical marijuana initiative.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Celebrate First Day of Legal Sales. The Sooner State saw its first legal medical marijuana dispensary sales last Friday. Some 600 dispensary licenses have already been approved, but only a handful of stores were actually open on opening day. That will change in the coming months.

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

Chronicle AM: NJ MJ Poll Shows Strong Support, IN Forfeiture Case Goes to Supreme Court, More... (10/31/18)

A new poll has support for marijuana legalization in New Jersey at 58%, Kansas gubernatorial candidates debate marijuana policy, truck drivers will face hair drug testing one of these years, and more.

Hair drug tests for truck drivers could be coming soon under an opioids bill signed into law this month. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Gubernatorial Debate Highlights Sharp Differences on Marijuana Policy. In a pre-election debate Tuesday, gubernatorial candidates Kris Kobach (R) and Laura Kelly (D) differed on marijuana policy. Kobach said he opposed both medicinal and recreational marijuana while expressing some openness to using CBD. "With medical marijuana, I don't think the time is right," he said. Kelly said she supports marijuana legalization, and especially the legalization of medical marijuana. "There are many benefits for young children with severe seizure disorders and for end-of-life use," said Kelly. "It would also be incredibly helpful in helping to reduce the opioid crisis." She also called for sentencing reform for marijuana offenses. "We are destroying our families and costing the state of fortune," said Kelly. "We need treatment options, not incarceration." Independent candidate Greg Orman also said he supported legalization. The latest polls have the race between Kelly and Kobach too close to call.

New Jersey Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new Rutgers Eagleton poll has support for marijuana legalization at 58% with only 37% opposed. Nearly four out of five of those supporting legalization said they viewed it as a social justice issue. The poll comes as the legislature tries to get its act together to advance marijuana legalization legislation next month.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Judge Blocks Halloween Shutdown of Unlicensed Dispensaries. The same day state regulators ordered more than 200 unlicensed dispensaries to shut down by Wednesday, a Michigan judge blocked that order. Court of Claims Judge Stephen Borello granted a motion Tuesday that kills the state's latest attempt to shut down any medical marijuana dispensaries operating without a license. Borello issued a temporary injunction blocking the shutdowns and barring the state from imposing any other licensing deadlines until the court rules again.

Asset Forfeiture

Supreme Court to Hear Indiana Asset Forfeiture Case Next Month. The US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on November 28 on whether Indiana officials in effect imposed "excessive fines" on a man who pleaded guilty to selling heroin by seizing his vehicle, which was valued at more than the maximum fine for his offense. Cops seized a $42,000 Land Rover belonging to Tyson Timbs, which he bought with an inheritance after his father's death. The maximum fine for dealing heroin in Indiana is $10,000..

Drug Testing

Congressional Opioid Bill Demands Hair Drug Testing for Truck Drivers. The omnibus opioid bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump earlier this month calls for making progress on standards for hair drug testing of truck drivers. Drug testing of hair samples provides a much longer window to detect drug use than urine or blood tests. Hair testing was okayed in the 2015 FAST Act, but the Department of Homeland Security has so far failed to provide hair drug testing protocols. The new law requires DHS to provide guidelines and for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to report to Congress on progress in creating and issuing guidelines for hair drug testing.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Brazil's New Leader is Bad News on Drug Policy, CO Legalization Faces RICO Suit, More... (10/30/18)

A lawsuit using federal RICO statutes to challenge Colorado marijuana legalization got underway today, North Dakota medical marijuana patients and caregivers can now apply to the registry, Brazil's president-elect is a giant step backward on drug policy, and more.

Brazilian President-Elect Jair Bolsonaro favors harshly repressive drug policies. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Lawsuit Challenging State's Marijuana Law Goes to Trial. A lawsuit filed by two landowners who claim that a nearby marijuana grow has reduced their property values -- in part because the smell allegedly makes horse riding less attractive -- got underway in federal court in Denver Tuesday. The case is based on federal racketeering laws, and an adverse decision could have significant disruptive effects on the state's marijuana industry. The lawsuit was filed by Safe Streets Alliance, a national anti-marijuana group.

New Jersey Lawmakers Aim for Marijuana Hearings Next Month. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3rd District) told reporters Monday he had been meeting with Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-22nd District) on advancing marijuana legalization legislation, and "I think we're real close." While Sweeney did not offer any firm timelines, Scutari said he has been looking at holding a hearing on November 26.

Medical Marijuana

More Than 200 Unlicensed Michigan Dispensaries Must Close Down By Wednesday. The state's Medical Marijuana Licensing Board has approved 14 more dispensary licenses, but some 215 pot businesses that have not obtained licenses, most of them in Detroit, received cease and desist letters Tuesday and must close their doors by Wednesday if they want any chance at getting a license in the future.

North Dakota Patients and Caregivers Can Now Register. The state Department of Health began accepting applications Monday for medical marijuana patients and caregivers, with registry cards to begin being mailed out in December. It costs $50 to apply. The move comes just under two years after voters there approved a medical marijuana initiative.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Massachusetts Governor Seeks $5 Million for Opioid Drug War. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) will file legislation seeking $5 million for a pilot program for a "regional, multi-agency approach to fentanyl interdiction and crime displacement," he said Monday. He said his proposal targets drug dealers who move from town to town to evade police crackdowns. "We want to give departments the resources to coordinate with each other across their districts, essentially flooding the zone against the drug dealers who are peddling addiction and death in their communities," Baker said. "We want to go after the dealers who too often evade authorities by moving to another nearby location in a different municipality." The $5 million would be used to "supplement surveillance work and overtime costs for units," he said.

International

Brazil's Presidential Election Winner is Bad News on Drug Policy. Jair Bolsonaro, the winner of Sunday's Brazilian presidential election and known as "the Trump of Brazil" for his right-wing populist views, is bad news for drug reform in Latin America's most populous country. He favors intensifying ongoing bloody crackdowns on people involved with drugs, he has said on repeated occasions that police should kill people suspected of drug trafficking, and he has openly praised Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war, saying "he did the right thing for his country." He opposes marijuana legalization, saying it would "benefit traffickers, rapists, and hostage takers." And Bolosonaro isn't just bad on drug policy; he gets downright weird. He has also claimed, in a bizarre homophobic rant, that smoking pot makes people gay.

There is an "Elegant Way" to End Global Prohibition Agreements

Uruguay legalized marijuana in 2013. Canada legalized it last week. In doing so, both countries put themselves in clearly violation of the UN anti-drug treaties that are the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. The US arguably continues to do so through state-level legalization accommodated by federal practice.

Not much has happened. That's because the treaties are toothless; they have no effective enforcement mechanisms that apply to most countries. If a country that grows opium for the global medicinal market, the International Narcotics Control Board can threaten to revoke its rights under the global quota system, for example. But while the global anti-drug bureaucrats at the INCB can write irate memos criticizing Ottawa and Montevideo, that's about it. They have done so, and Canada and Uruguay have blithely ignored them.

Still, the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and its 1971 and 1988 follow-ups are global agreements, and while an argument can be made that countries that want to legalize marijuana or other drugs should just ignore that provision -- say, on the basis that they are prioritizing the human rights treaties -- there is a counterargument to be made that it is better to modify or creatively interpret the existing global framework than to merely brush aside the anti-drug treaties.

The good folks at the Transnational Institute's (TNI) Drugs and Democracy program have come up with what they call "an elegant way" to end global prohibition agreements. It's called inter se modification. Instead of ignoring the tension between national-level legalization and the treaties, using this strategy would "resolve those treaty tensions and enable progressive and sustainable change at the global level."

What inter se modification does is allow two or more signatory states to the UN conventions to enter into an agreement among themselves alone. As TNI explains in the video below, a group of countries -- say Canada, the Netherlands, and Uruguay -- could agree to an inter se modification agreement on how marijuana cultivation should take place, how international commerce should be conducted, and education and public health policies, among others.

"These three countries would basically create a mini-treaty of their own, while at the same time respecting the rights and obligations of all state parties that do adhere to the UN drug control conventions," TNI explains. "If other countries wish to legally regulate cannabis after this mini-treaty is agreed on, they are free to join the group and enjoy the benefits accordingly."

Here we have a way to legalize marijuana or other drugs at the national level which at least acknowledges what the UN treaties say about that, and which seeks to minimize the tension that legalization generates in the treaty system. The treaties' provisions calling for prohibition would simply be hollowed out over time as country after country eventually joins the inter se modification agreement. Maybe then there will come a tipping point where the treaties themselves can be amended to reflect the new global reality.

Here's how TNI explains it all:

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