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Chronicle AM: Good NJ, TX Pot Polls; Mexican Cartels Kill Political Candidates, More... (4/19/18)

Democratic presidential contenders hop on the pot legalization bandwagon, New Jersey and Texas polls have good news for marijuana legalizers, Mexico's election campaign season is getting very bloody, and more.

Marijuana Policy

House GOP Again Blocks Action on Marijuana Policy. The House Rules Committee on Monday blocked an amendment that would have allowed marijuana businesses to deduct business expenses from their federal taxes—like all other businesses do. The amendment from Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) was defeated on a party line vote. It was just business as usual for the committee and its chair, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), who has blocked any marijuana amendments from advancing since 2016.

Bernie Sanders Signs on to Marijuana Justice Act. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has signed on as a cosponsor of Sen. Cory Booker's (D-NJ) Marijuana Justice Act, Senate Bill 1689. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is also a cosponsor, meaning three leading 2020 Democratic presidential contenders are backing marijuana legalization.

New Jersey Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Monmouth University poll shows strong public support for freeing the weed, even as the legislature ponders the issue. The poll found 59% supported legalizing small amounts for personal use. That's up 11 points since 2014.

New Mexico Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Calls for Legalizing Pot. Democratic gubernatorial contender Jeff Apodaca is calling for an expansion of the state's medical marijuana program and the legalization of marijuana for adult use. Another Democratic contender, US Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, has also said she would support legalization—if it included adequate measures to prevent youth use and workplace problems.

Texas Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Quinnipiac poll finds that more than six out of 10 Texans are ready to free the weed. The poll had 61% in favor of allowing the possession of small amounts for personal use.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois House Approves Medical Marijuana for Students at School. The House voted Wednesday to approve House Bill 4870, which would allow parents to administer infused marijuana to their children in elementary and secondary schools. The bill passed by a margin of 99-1. It now goes to the Senate.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee voted 14-3 Thursday to approve House Bill 3521, the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act. The bill would allow seriously ill patients to use marijuana to treat their conditions with a recommendation from their doctors. The legislature’s crossover deadline has already passed, but this vote, combined with approval by the Senate Medical Affairs Committee on March 29, builds momentum for full passage next year.

International

Mexican Election Campaign Sparks Wave of Political Assassinations. Drug trafficking organizations are getting the blame for a record number of killings of candidates running for political office in Mexico. At least 82 candidates and office holders have been killed since the electoral season began last September. As Newsweek reported: "Drug lords are hoping to install lawmakers they know and trust to ensure that their lucrative trade is allowed to continue."

Antigua and Barbuda Move Toward Marijuana Legalization. Just a month after decriminalizing marijuana, the tiny Caribbean island nation is drafting legislation to legalize recreational and medical marijuana sales. The bill could be brought before parliament within the next six months.

 (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 web site. 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.)

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

There must be something in the water in Memphis, a Massachusetts dope squad is under investigation for thuggery, more prison guards go down, and more. Let's get to it:

In Springfield, Massachusetts, the Springfield Narcotics Unit is under investigation. City leaders and representatives of the US Attorney's Civil Rights Division met last Friday to discuss opening a federal investigation into the department's former narcotics unit. The investigation is prompted by public reports and will look into whether the former unit engaged in a pattern or practice of using excessive force in violation of the Constitution.

In Bismarck, North Dakota, a Burleigh County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Tuesday on drug and theft charges while on the job. Deputy Kerry Komrosky, 31, allegedly stole a pound of methamphetamine and 13 cell phones from the Metro Area Task Force. Komrosky went down after he failed to return from a lunch break and his sergeant went to his home to look for him. There he found evidence linking Komrosky to the missing drugs and phones. He ischarged with three felonies and a misdemeanor — possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, two charges of theft of property and possession of drug paraphernalia.

In St. John, US Virgin Islands, a USVI prison guard was arrested last Thursday on charges he smuggled drugs into the Golden Grove Correctional Facility. Darren Giddings is charged with promoting prison contraband and introduction of narcotics or an addictive drug into the prison. He's currently out on bail.

In Memphis, Tennessee, two Memphis police officers were arrested last Thursday after getting ensnared in an undercover drug sting. Officers Terrion Bryson and Kevin Coleman went down after an investigation that begin in February into reports the two were stealing money and drug during traffic stops. Memphis Police deployed an undercover agent, who was stopped twice by the pair. Both times they stole money from him. Later, Bryson contacted the undercover agent to tell him he could help ensure his drug shipments made it safely through the city, while Coleman threatened to harm his family if the deal was a set-up. Last Thursday, the pair agreed to guard a shipment of what they thought was heroin, and were arrested on the scene. They are both charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture, delivery and sell, along with criminal attempt felony and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

In Memphis, Tennessee, a former Shelby County sheriff's deputy was sentenced last Wednesday to 63 months in federal prison for stealing money from a drug dealer and tampering with a witness. Jeremy Drewery, a 17-year veteran, arrested a drug dealer and tried to convince him to become an informant, but when the dealer refused, Drewery demanded a cash payment to let him go free. The dealer then contacted a lawyer, who turned to the FBI, which then recorded interactions between Drewery and the dealer. After Drewery was arrested for that, he then offered another confidential informant $2,000 to kill the dealer.

In Fall River, Massachusetts, a former state prison guard was sentenced Tuesday to 3 ½ years in state prison for dealing heroin. Stephen Lebreaux, 43, had copped to a multi-count indictment for trafficking and distributing heroin. The prison guard went down after selling heroin four times to an undercover officer.

In Bicknell, Indiana, a Bicknell police officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he gave a heads-up to a drug suspect, jeopardizing an undercover drug operation. Officer Kevin Carroll, 47, is charged with official misconduct and criminal recklessness. He's now out on bail.

Medical Marijuana Update

Folks in Congress are growing tired with Trump administration obstructionism on medical marijuana, the Arkansas program is on hold after a court ruling, Pennsylvania okays vaping--but not smoking--flowers, and more. 

National

Last Thursday, a bipartisan pair of senatos called on Jeff Sessions to stop blocking medical marijuana research. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to demand that he stop blocking efforts to ramp up research on marijuana's medical benefits. "The benefits of research are unquestionable," Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) wrote, taking Sessions to task for blocking applications for new research grows. "Nineteen months have elapsed since the DEA announced its request for expanded marijuana research," they noted, demanding that Sessions respond by May 15 about the status of the research application reviews.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan bill to let the VA study medical marijuana was filed. A group of House Democrats and Republicans filed HR 5520, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act. The bill would clarify that the Veterans Administration has the authority to study medical marijuana and encourages the agency to do so. The bill would require the VA to report regularly to Congress about its progress on medical marijuana research. The bill is being championed by leaders in the House Veterans Affairs Committee and has 34 cosponsors.

Arkansas

Last Wednesday, medical marijuana business evaluations were halted after a court ruling. The Department of Finance and Administration said that the Medical Marijuana Commission's review of dispensary evaluations has been put on hold. The stoppage is the result of a ruling last week from a state circuit court judge that the licensing process for cultivators violated the 2016 voter-approved initiative legalizing medical marijuana. We are under an injunction that voids the method of cultivation scoring. Therefore, dispensary application review is on hold as we review the situation," Scott Hardin with DFA told KATV in Little Rock.

Louisiana

Last Thursday, the House approved expansion of the medical marijuana program. The House approved House Bill 579, which expands the list of qualifying conditions to include Parkinson's Disease, chronic pain, severe muscle spasms, and PTSD. That means the number of qualifying conditions would rise from 10 to 14. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the state's high court urged lawmakers to clarify the law on home cultivation. In an opinion in a case of a medical marijuana patient arrested for growing 22 pot plants, the state's Supreme Judicial Court has urged lawmakers to revisit the law around home grows by patients. The law allows patients to grow enough marijuana to create a 60-day supply, defined in the state as 10 ounces. But the justices found the current law problematic and suggested a plant-based limit would be clearer. "Statutory and regulatory clarification would be most beneficial," wrote Justice Scott Kafker in the opinion in the case, Commonwealth vs. Richardson.

Pennsylvania

On Monday, the health secretary approved vaping flowers. State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine announced Monday she will approve the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board's recommendation to allow the sale of medical marijuana in in leaf or flower form. State law forbids patients from smoking it, but vaping would be okay.

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

Chronicle AM: DOJ to Clamp Down on Pain Pills, Sanders Files Opiod Bill, More... (4/18/18)

Maine lawmakers pass another legal marijuana implementation bill; this time with veto-proof majorities; the Justice Department eyes a crackdown on pain pill production, Bernie Sanders takes aim at opioid makers and distributors, and more.

The Justice Department wants to crack down on pail pill production. And Congress is eyeing action, too. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legislature Passes Legal Marijuana Implementation Bill, Governor Vows Veto. The state Senate on Tuesday approved the bill that would finally allow retail marijuana sales. The bill passed the House earlier and now goes to the desk of Gov. Paul LePage, who has threatened to veto it because it doesn't combine the state's adult use marijuana and medical marijuana regimes. LePage vetoed a similar bill last year. But this time around, the bill passed with enough support to overcome a veto. LePage has 10 days to sign, veto, or let the bill become law without his signature.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Bill to Let VA Study Medical Marijuana Filed. A group of House Democrats and Republicans have filed HR 5520, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act. The bill would clarify that the Veterans Administration has the authority to study medical marijuana and encourages the agency to do so. The bill would require the VA to report regularly to Congress about its progress on medical marijuana research. The bill is being championed by leaders in the House Veterans Affairs Committee and has 34 cosponsors.

Massachusetts High Court Urges Lawmakers to Clarify Law on Home Cultivation. In an opinion in a case of a medical marijuana patient arrested for growing 22 pot plants, the state's Supreme Judicial Court has urged lawmakers to revisit the law around home grows by patients. The law allows patients to grow enough marijuana to create a 60-day supply, defined in the state as 10 ounces. But the justices found the current law problematic and suggested a plant-based limit would be clearer. "Statutory and regulatory clarification would be most beneficial," wrote Justice Scott Kafker in the opinion in the case, Commonwealth vs. Richardson.

Hemp

Oklahoma Hemp Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. The Senate on Tuesday approved House Bill 2913, which would legalize industrial hemp production. The measure has already passed the House, so it now goes to the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin (R).

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Justice Department Proposes New Regulations to Limit Prescription Opioid Production. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday proposed new regulations for how the DEA sets opioid production quotas that could severely limit the amount of pain pills produced. "Under this proposed new rule, if DEA believes that a company’s opioids are being diverted for misuse, then they will reduce the amount of opioids that company can make," Sessions said in prepared remarks. The proposed change must still go through the federal rule-making process before going into effect. It will be published in the Federal Register and opened to public comment in coming days.

Bernie Sanders Files Bill to Rein in Big Pharma on Opioids. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Tuesday filed Senate Bill 2961, which would ban drug companies from marketing opioids as non-addictive and fines them 25% of their profits if they violate the rule. The bill also seeks to stop pharmaceutical companies from distributing amounts of opioids "not medically reasonable," in a bid to stop distributors from flooding small towns with pills. "We know that pharmaceutical companies lied about the addictive impacts of opioids they manufactured," Sanders said in a statement. "They knew how dangerous these products were but refused to tell doctors and patients," he said. "Yet, while some of these companies have made billions each year in profits, not one of them has been held fully accountable for its role in an epidemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year."

Harm Reduction

Maine Bill to End Age Restrictions on Naloxone Heads to Governor's Desk. Both houses of the legislature have approved Legislative Document 1892, which ends age restrictions on the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. Gov. Paul LePage (R) wants to limit naloxone access without a prescription to people 21 and over and has vetoed other naloxone access bills, but this bill has passed with a veto-proof majority. LePage has 10 days to act.

International

 

. The Bangladeshi Department of Narcotics Control has proposed new drug legislation for the country which includes the use of the death penalty for people caught selling more than 200 grams of methamphetamine. Under current law, the maximum punishment is 15 years in prison. Bangladeshi law already allows the death penalty for some other drug offenses, including heroin trafficking, but its use is actually very rare in the country. The last execution for a drug offense was in 2009.

Chronicle AM: Federal Hemp Bill Gets Fast-Tracked, Google to Vet Drug Rehab Ads, More... (4/17/18)

Google is restoring drug treatment advertising, but only after vetting; the federal hemp bill is moving fast, fighting over coca results in a state of emergency in a Colombian province, and more.

Sometimes it pays to be the Senate Majority leader. Mitch McConnell's hemp bill has been fast-tracked. (Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska House Votes to Limit Access to Old Marijuana Convictions. The House voted Monday to approve House Bill 316, which would not expunge old pot convictions, but would restrict access to those records. Bill sponsor Rep. Harriet Drummond (D) said she filed the bill to ensure that Alaskans are not passed over for jobs or promotions for possessing a substance that is now legal. Convictions that would be hidden would be those for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana by people 21 and over. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Approves Vaping Flowers and Buds. State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine announced Monday she will approve the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board's recommendation to allow the sale of medical marijuana in in leaf or flower form. State law forbids patients from smoking it, but vaping would be okay.

Hemp

McConnell's Hemp Bill Gets Fast-Tracked. Sometimes it pays to be the Senate Majority leader. Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) hemp bill, Senate Bill 2667, is getting fast-tracked. Using a procedural move known as Rule 14, the bill introduced last week was placed on the Senate calendar on Monday. The move allows the bill to skip the committee process and head directly to the Senate floor. Companion legislation has been filed in the House.

Drug Treatment

Google to Vet Drug Rehab Ads. Nearly a year after it suspended advertising for drug treatment centers because of numerous deceptive and misleading ads, Google announced Monday that it would resume accepting such ads. But they will first have to be vetted by an outside firm, LegitScript of Portland, Oregon. The new rules apply to in-person treatment facilities, crisis hotlines, and support groups. They will have to pass scrutiny on numerous criteria, including criminal background checks and license and insurance verification, as well as providing written policies and procedures demonstrating a commitment to best practices, effective recovery and continuous improvement."

International

The Hague Bans Pot Smoking in the City Center. For the first time, a Dutch city has banned public pot smoking. The Hague has banned pot smoking around its city center, central railway station, and major shopping areas. The move came about because of "many complaints" from residents and visitors, a spokesman for The Hague Mayor Pauline Krikke said. Amsterdam and Rotterdam ban pot smoking near schools, but do not have general bans.

Colombian Province in State of Emergency as Rebel Groups Fight Over Coca. William Vallamizar, governor of Norte de Santander province, has declared a state of emergency because fighting between two rebel groups over control of a coca-growing region. He said a thousand families had to flee the fighting, and 4,000 children were blocked from going to school. The dispute is between leftist guerrillas of the EPL (Popular Liberation Army) and ELN (Army of National Liberation), both of which hope to take over an area that had formerly been under control of the FARC. The FARC has transformed from a guerrilla army to a political party, but its demobilization has left power vacuums in the countryside.

Australian Federal Government Rejects Green Party Call for Marijuana Legalization. The federal government isn't interested in the Green Party's call for marijuana legalization, the health minister said Tuesday, resorting to discredited myths as he did so. Health Minister Greg Hunt said the party should withdraw its suggestion because it risks the health of Australians. "Marijuana is a gateway drug. The risk of graduating to ice or to heroin from extended marijuana use is real and documented," he said.

Chronicle AM: Trump Undercuts AG on Pot, Key GOP Pol Nixes Food Stamp Drug Tests, More... (4/16/18)

The president appears to leave his attorney general out to dry on marijuana policy, New York's governor is being pushed left on pot by a celebrity challenger, a key GOP lawmaker opposes the Trump push to drug test food stamp recipients, and more.

Donald Trump looks like he's hung Jeff Sessions out to dry when it comes to marijuana policy. (Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

Trump Appears to Undercut Jeff Sessions' War on Weed. President Trump last week signaled a dramatic turnaround in administration marijuana policy, telling Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner that the Justice Department would not go after state-legal marijuana in Colorado and that he would support moves to address the contradiction between legal marijuana states and federal pot prohibition. That puts Trump in line with his own campaign statements that marijuana should be a states' rights issue, but at odds with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization and who has explicitly told federal prosecutors they are free to go after the legal marijuana industry. Sessions, who is much abused by Trump for failing to protect him from the Mueller investigation, now finds himself on the outs on pot policy, too.

Maine Governor Says Legal Marijuana Implementation Bill Faces "Automatic" Veto. Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage is threatening an "automatic" veto of a compromise bill designed to get the state's legal marijuana commerce system up and running. He said he was unhappy with a provision that allows registered medical marijuana patients to avoid paying excise taxes, suggesting that people would register as patients just to avoid taxes. But the House has already passed the bill by a veto-proof majority and the Senate could do so this week.

Sex in the City Challenger Pushes New York Governor to the Left on Pot Policy. Actress Cynthia Nixon, best known for her role in Sex in the City, is pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to the left on marijuana policy. Nixon has announced her candidacy for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and she has made marijuana legalization a banner issue. Cuomo has opposed legalization, although he shifted slightly in January, when he announced he would form a panel to explore freeing the weed. But now, with Nixon getting lots of attention for her pot stance, Cuomo is hinting at more movement. "The situation has changed drastically with marijuana," he said at a news conference last Thursday. "It's no longer a question of legal or not legal. It's legal in Massachusetts. It may be legal in New Jersey, which means for all intents and purposes, it's going to be here anyway. The majority of the legislature is, I would say, against legalizing it," he continued. "I said it's a new day; let's look at the facts. I know people have opinions -- and it's hard to get people to change opinions -- but opinions should be based on facts. So let's talk to the experts, let's put together the facts."

Drug Testing

Key GOP Lawmaker Opposes Drug Testing for Food Stamps. Rep. Mike Conway (R-TX), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said last Friday that he "generally opposes" drug testing food stamp recipients. The remarks were in reaction to a plan floated last week by the Trump administration to allow states to do just that. The Agriculture Committee has authority over the food stamp program and is currently crafting a bill that includes an overhaul of the program, but contains no provision for drug testing. "I'm generally opposed to drug testing because I think it hurts the children," Conway said. "Most of these folks who are on the program, if they've got children involved, the children would still get their SNAP benefits but the parents wouldn't, and you're hurting the kid." Conway said he'd rather "figure out a way to help them."

International

Australian Greens Call for Marijuana Legalization. The Australian Green Party has called for the full legalization of marijuana, with a new government agency to act as the sole wholesaler of packaged pot. The Green proposal also includes a provision for growing up to six plants at home. The Greens aren't considered a major party in Australia, but they do have federal representation. The call for legalization differentiates the Greens from Labor and the Liberal/National Coalition, both of which support a 2016 plan to legalize only medical marijuana.

Irish Greens Call for Marijuana Decriminalization, Dutch-Style Coffee Shops. The Irish Green Party has called for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana. The current law has "made criminals out of decent people," the party says. The Green proposal would decriminalize the possession of up to five grams, as well as contemplating a Dutch-style coffee shop system. The Irish Greens aren't considered a major political party, but they do have two people in the Dail, the Irish parliament.

(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 web site. 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.)

Trump Cuts the Legs Out from Under Sessions' War on Weed [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

President Trump last week signaled a dramatic turnaround in administration marijuana policy, telling Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner that the Justice Department would not go after state-legal marijuana in Colorado and that he would support moves to address the contradiction between legal marijuana states and federal pot prohibition.

Donald Trump goes all states' rights on Jeff Sessions when it comes to pot policy. (Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
That puts Trump in line with his own campaign statements that marijuana should be a states' rights issue, but at odds with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization and who has explicitly told federal prosecutors they are free to go after the legal marijuana industry. Sessions, who is much abused by Trump for failing to protect him from the Mueller investigation, now finds himself on the outs on pot policy, too.

And Trump didn't even bother to tell Sessions he was about to cut the legs out from under him, an almost unprecedented slight from a president to his attorney general.

Gardner, a Republican up for reelection in a pot-friendly state, had placed a hold on Justice Department nominees since Sessions rescinded the Obama-era policy in January and announced the apparent policy shift with a Friday afternoon press release after a phone call with Trump earlier in the week.

"Since the campaign, President Trump has consistently supported states’ rights to decide for themselves how best to approach marijuana," Gardner said. "Late Wednesday, I received a commitment from the President that the Department of Justice’s rescission of the Cole memo [Obama-era guidance] will not impact Colorado’s legal marijuana industry. Furthermore, President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all."

Gardner said Trump's comments had convinced him to remove his remaining holds on Justice Department nominees, and that he would continue to work on a bipartisan legislative solution to pass Congress so Trump can "deliver on his campaign position."

"The president did speak with Sen. Gardner yesterday and again today," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Friday. She said "the president is a firm believer" in states' rights and confirmed Gardner's account of the assurances he received from the president was accurate.

Once again, the attorney general finds himself out of step with his boss. (senate.gov)
While Trump is notorious for seat-of-the-pants policy shifts and for lack of follow-through on policy pronouncements, some activist groups were quick to laud the apparent shift.

"Sen. Gardner has done a great service for his constituents by standing up for federalism regarding marijuana policy," said Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Everyone who knew about President Trump’s statements on this issue during the campaign was hoping he would uphold those values and support states’ abilities to enact laws regulating marijuana for medical or adult use while in office. This news should make states more comfortable implementing their legalization programs. It should also serve as a rallying cry for lawmakers to pass comprehensive legislation that leaves marijuana policy to the states permanently."

Congress renewed spending restrictions that prevent federal interference in state medical marijuana in March, but no such protections exist for states that have regulated marijuana for adults. Trump’s statements suggest that the same policy will apply to both medical and adult use providers, but the Dept. of Justice could still legally pursue cases against state-legal adult use operations if federal prosecutors choose to do so.

"With the support of the president, the American public, and mounting evidence that regulating marijuana similarly to alcohol is much preferable to prohibition, there is no reason for Congress to delay any longer," continued Murphy. "There are several pieces of marijuana policy legislation being considered right now, and every one of them should get hearings immediately."

But Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson was more cautious. As the head law enforcement officer in a legal marijuana state, Ferguson is adopting a wait-and-see position.

"I understand President Trump has offered his support for states to have the right to regulate marijuana and for legislation to enshrine this right in law," he said in a Friday statement. "I am cautiously optimistic that the president appears to have heard the will of the people on this issue. But this president has demonstrated a willingness to go back on his word. Until there is a formal agreement protecting Washington’s well-regulated marijuana industry, I will continue to stand ready to defend it."

Given this president, that is probably the prudent position.

Chronicle AM:Mitch McConnell Files Hemp Bill, Mexico Minister Says Legalize It, More... (4/13/18)

A pair of senators demand that Jeff Sessions quit blocking marijuana research, Mitch McConnell files a federal hemp bill, Mexico's tourism minister says his country should allow states to legalize weed, and more.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell files a bill to allow for domestic hemp cultivation. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Pair of Senators Call on Sessions to Stop Blocking Marijuana Research. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) sent a letter Thursday to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to demand that he stop blocking efforts to ramp up research on marijuana's medical benefits. "The benefits of research are unquestionable," Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) wrote, taking Sessions to task for blocking applications for new research grows. "Nineteen months have elapsed since the DEA announced its request for expanded marijuana research," they noted, demanding that Sessions respond by May 15 about the status of the research application reviews.

Louisiana House Approves Expansion of Medical Marijuana Program. The House on Thursday approved House Bill 579, which expands the list of qualifying conditions to include Parkinson's Disease, chronic pain, severe muscle spasms, and PTSD. That means the number of qualifying conditions would rise from 10 to 14. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Hemp

Mitch McConnell Files Federal Hemp Bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has filed Senate Bill 2667, which aims to allow for domestic hemp production by removing non-psychoactive marijuana varieties known as hemp from the Controlled Substance Act. Cosponsoring the bill are Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). Companion legislation in the House was filed by McConnell's home state homeboy Rep. Jim Comer (R-KY).

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Making Opioids Tougher to Abuse Led to Spike in Heroin Deaths, Study Finds. A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that a 2010 effort to deter opioid abuse led to a jump in heroin overdoses. The paper studied what happened after OxyContin was reformulated to be more abuse-resistant and found that "each prevented opioid death was replaced with a heroin death."

Law Enforcement

DEA Gouged Taxpayers, Benefited Ex-Employees, Audit Finds. A report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General has found that the DEA's Asset Forfeiture Program farmed out contracts to recently retired former employees, paying them more than half a million dollars more than they would have been paid if they had remained at the agency. The former employees worked for a private contractor called Maximus Inc., which was paid $85 million between 2013 and 2017 to handle asset forfeiture cases. Many of the ex-employees went to the same offices they had worked at as DEA employees, and former DEA employees accounted for 40% of Maximus's asset forfeiture workforce.

International

Mexico Tourism Minister Says Country Should Let States Begin to Legalize Weed. Tourism Minister Enrique de la Madrid said Wednesday that Mexico should allow states to begin legalizing marijuana, in part to address record cartel violence. "I think in Mexico we should move towards regulating it at state level," he said, calling it "illogical" to divert funds from fighting kidnapping, rape and murder to arrest people using marijuana.

Chronicle AM: ME Lawmakers Pass MJ Sales Bill, Amnesty Death Penalty Report, More... (4/12/18)

It's time to let the FDA know what you think about marijuana scheduling, Maine lawmakers pass a veto-proof pot sales bill, the Trump administration wants to drug test some food stamp recipients, Amnesty International reports on drug death penalty countries, and more.

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox calls for the legalization of opium poppy cultivation in Mexico. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

FDA Accepting Public Comment on Marijuana Classification for Next Two Weeks. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is accepting public comment from "interested parties" regarding the classification of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. (CSA). The CSA places marijuana in Schedule I, a category reserved for drugs with no accepted medical use and high abuse potential. The FDA is acting now because the World Health Organization is set to review its own classification of marijuana and is seeking input from member nations, of which the US is the most influential. Public comment is open until April 23.

Former GOP House Speaker Boehner Now Supports Marijuana Legalization. Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said Wednesday he has had a change of heart regarding marijuana and will help promote marijuana legalization nationwide. He also announced that he and former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld (R) are joining the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, a national marijuana company. "I decided to get involved because of the struggles of our country's veterans and the opioid epidemic, after learning how descheduling the drug can potentially help with both crises," said Boehner.

Maine Legislature Passes Marijuana Legalization Implementation Plan by Veto-Proof Margin. After Gov. Paul LePage (R) vetoed a first effort to implement regulated and taxed marijuana commerce, the legislature has now approved a new measure to do so, this time by a veto-proof margin. The House passed the bill on Tuesday and the Senate followed on Wednesday. The bill will limit home cultivation to three plants, impose a 10% sales tax, as well as a $335 per pound tax on producers. It will also mandate that localities proactively opt-in before sales will be allowed.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Business Evaluations Halted after Court Ruling. The Department of Finance and Administration said Wednesday that the Medical Marijuana Commission's review of dispensary evaluations has been put on hold. The stoppage is the result of a ruling last week from a state circuit court judge that the licensing process for cultivators violated the 2016 voter-approved initiative legalizing medical marijuana. We are under an injunction that voids the method of cultivation scoring. Therefore, dispensary application review is on hold as we review the situation," Scott Hardin with DFA told KATV in Little Rock.

Drug Testing

Trump Administration Ponders Plan to Impose Drug Testing for Some Food Stamp Recipients. The administration is pondering a plan that would let states require that certain food stamp recipients undergo drug testing. The nose-under-the-tent proposal would mainly target able-bodied adults without children who apply for certain specialized job categories. That would be about 5% of all food stamp recipients. The move has long been desired by conservatives who seek ways to curb the safety net program.

International

Amnesty International Report: Four Countries Executed Drug Offenders in 2017. At least four countries executed people for drug offenses last year, Amnesty International said in a new report. Those countries are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore. "Despite strides towards abolishing this abhorrent punishment, there are still a few leaders who would resort to the death penalty as a 'quick-fix' rather than tackling problems at their roots with humane, effective and evidence-based policies," said Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty.

Former Mexican President Calls for Legalization of Opium Production. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox called Wednesday for the legalization of opium production in the country as a means of weakening drug cartels. "The plants themselves are not harmful, we make them harmful, (especially) the criminals who use them for evil purposes," Fox said at a pro-marijuana event in the capital. Fox said legalizing poppies would curtail cartel profits and boost public safety in the violence-wracked southern state of Guerrero, which has been hit hard by prohibition-related violence in recent years. Fox also implored candidates in the July presidential election to openly debate drug legalization before the vote.

Four Ways Using Even Legal Marijuana Makes You a Second Class Citizen [FEATURE]

Marijuana is now legal in nine states constituting about one-fifth of the US population, and medical marijuana is recognized in a total of 29 states. That means people in those states can possess and use marijuana without fear of criminal prosecutions (if they have a doctor's recommendation in the medical marijuana-only states).

people enjoying marijuana (Darrin Frisby Harris/Drug Policy Alliance)
But even in legal marijuana states, pot smokers face restrictions that in effect turn them into second-class citizens, unable to do things non-drug users or users of legally sanctioned drugs, such as alcohol, can do, or somehow punished for doing them. While legalizing marijuana is a giant breakthrough, as long as marijuana users face stigma, discrimination, and worse over their choice of substances, the job is only half-done.

Here are four ways even legal marijuana users get screwed:

1. Employment Rights

You may be able to smoke pot legally, but it can still cost you your job. Even in legal marijuana states, legalization laws generally are careful not to intrude on the rights of employers to conduct drug testing for pot and to fire people who test positive -- even if they're not high or impaired at work.

Legal cases in California, Colorado, Montana, and Washington have all upheld the right of employers to fire or refuse to hire workers who test positive for marijuana even if they have a medical marijuana recommendation. But the law is rapidly evolving, and a recent case from Connecticut, a nursing home that refused to hire a medical marijuana patient after he tested positive for THC was ordered to reinstate the job offer.

A thriving economy and growing social acceptance of marijuana may also bring some solace to pot smokers. As Bloomberg noted just last month, we are now seeing a "slow decline in pre-employment drug screening," with some major employers abandoning the practice in the face of a tight job market. That trend, unsurprisingly, is being led by companies in the marijuana legal states. In Colorado, for instance, the percentage of employers using pre-employment drug tests declined from 77% in 2016 to 66% last year.

But still, if you smoked a joint on Friday night, Walmart still doesn't think you're fit to stock their shelves on Monday morning.

2. Gun Rights

If you smoke pot, you can't legally purchase or own a gun. As more states move toward legalization, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) has clarified its Form 4473, the federal Firearms Transaction Record that purchaser must fill out to buy a gun: "Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?" the form asks.

And just so you stoners get it, ATF has added the following language: "Warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside."

That means marijuana users who want to legally purchase a weapon have to lie on Form 4473. And that's a federal crime. (Unlikely to be caught and prosecuted, but still.)

In August 2016, a federal appeals court upheld the ban on gun sales to medical marijuana patients. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the federal government's ban on gun sales to medical marijuana cardholders does not violate the 2nd Amendment. The decision came in the case of a Nevada woman turned away from a gun shop after obtaining a medical marijuana card. The ruling sets precedent for all nine states in the circuit, including California, Oregon, and Washington.

There have been proactive efforts by law enforcement in a handful of states to, for example, order registered medical marijuana patients to turn in their guns, but those have so far been aborted in the face of loud opposition. In Pennsylvania, the state Health Department is no longer providing the names of patients to law enforcement after newspapers there reported the patients would not be able to buy firearms; in Illinois, regulators removed a rule that would have barred legal gun owners from becoming patients; and in Hawaii, police had to walk back a plan to force patients to hand in their guns.

Still, as long as the federal government maintains marijuana prohibition and as long as ATF considers marijuana a controlled substance, pot smokers' gun rights are at risk. And the NRA doesn't seem to care.

3. Parental Rights

In both medical marijuana states and full-blown legal pot states, parents have lost custody of their children over their marijuana use. Part of the problem is that marijuana remains federally illegal, turning the pot-using parent into a criminal in the eyes of courts of child protective services workers. Another part of the problem is discrimination and subjectivity about what constitutes "the best interest of the child." If a child protective bureaucracy or even an individual case worker harbors anti-marijuana sentiments, even non-problematic recreational use of pot can be used to take children from the home or deny custody to the offending parent.

Marijuana use is especially likely to pop up in divorces where custody of the child or children is contested. If your spouse griped about your pot-smoking while you were married, be prepared for him or her to try to use it against you in a nasty divorce case. Divorce attorneys warn parents facing this prospect to quit smoking pot now, well ahead of any court dates and court-ordered drug tests.

That's another way pot-smoking parents get hammered. Courts may demand onerous drug testing for months or year or require that visits with children be supervised.

Medical marijuana support groups report hundreds of cases of parents losing custody of their kids, some merely for having registered as medical marijuana patients. But there are small signs of positive change on the horizon: California's Prop 64, for instance, includes a provision saying courts can no longer rescind or restrict a parent's custodial rights solely because they have a medical marijuana recommendation.

That's a start, but we still have a long way to go before pot-smoking parents can rest easy.

4. Housing Rights

You can be kicked out of your home for using marijuana if you are poor and live in HUD, Section 8, or other federally-subsidized housing. Under a 1999 HUD Memorandum Regarding Medical Marijuana in Public Housing still in effect, any activity relating to controlled substances, including even medical marijuana, can get you evicted.

And it doesn't have to be just you. If you live in federally-subsidized housing and your grandson gets caught smoking a joint in the parking lot, you can find yourself tossed out on the street.

Even people who don't live in federally-subsidized housing face problems, especially if they live in rental housing. Landlords can prohibit tenants from using marijuana, and rental apartment industry associations typically counsel their members that "banning the use or possession of marijuana on site does not violate any landlord/tenant or fair housing laws, even when marijuana has been legalized by local ordinance or state statute." Nor, they argue, is allowing the use or cultivation of medical marijuana a "reasonable accommodation" required by law, even if it's been medically recommended.

Marijuana is increasingly legal and accepted, but the progress is uneven, and the battle to be treated like normal citizens remains unfinished.

Medical Marijuana Update

A Maryland medical marijuana expansion bill aimed at addressing racial inequities is on the governor's desk, there will be no joy in Tennessee this year, the Mormon Church opposes a Utah medical marijuana initiative, and more.

Maryland

On Monday, the legislature gave final approval to a medical marijuana expansion bill. The Senate on Monday gave final approval to a bill that would increase the number of licenses for medical marijuana growers from 15 to 20 and the number of licenses for processors from 15 to 25 -- largely in a bid to increase minority business ownership in the industry. None of the companies licensed so far has a black owner. House Bill 0002 has already passed the House and goes now to the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

Pennsylvania

On Monday, Pennsylvania regulators recommended allowing the dry leaf and plant forms of medical marijuana. The medical marijuana advisory board voted to allow the use of "dry leaf or plant form for administration by vaporization." The vote is only a recommendation; the final decision is up to state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine. The vote was 11-0.

Tennessee

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana bill died. The sponsor of a medical marijuana bill has pulled it, saying he didn't have the support to move it in the Senate. Senate Bill 1710 sponsor Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) was blunt: "Unfortunately, I do not have the votes." A companion measure is still alive in the House, but there will be no medical marijuana in the Volunteer State this year.

Utah

On Tuesday, the Mormon Church came out against the medical marijuana initiative. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' First Presidency issued a statement Tuesday opposing the medical marijuana initiative, which is still in the signature gathering phase: "We commend the Utah Medical Association for its statement of March 30, 2018, cautioning that the proposed Utah marijuana initiative would compromise the health and safety of Utah communities. We respect the wise counsel of the medical doctors of Utah," the statement reads. "The public interest is best served when all new drugs designed to relieve suffering and illness, and the procedures by which they are made available to the public, undergo the scrutiny of medical scientists and official approval bodies."

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

Chronicle AM: DEA Seized $3.2 Billion from People Never Charged With a Crime, More... (4/11/18)

Maine moves a step closer to implementing legal pot sales, the Mormon Church takes a stand against a medical marijuana initiative, the DEA has seized tons of money from people it never charged with a crime, and more.

Seized money from a drug investigation. The DEA has seized $4 billion in the past decade, most of it with no criminal charges.
Marijuana Policy

Maine House Approves New Compromise on Legal Pot Sales. The House voted Tuesday to approve a measure designed to get the state's legal pot sales system up and running, and it did so with a veto-proof majority. Under the compromise legislation, the number of plants that individuals could grow at home would drop from six to three, there would be a 10% sales tax on legal weed, and there would be a $335 per pound tax imposed on growing facilities. The bill is expected to be on the Senate calendar today. An earlier effort to legislate implementation of the voter-approved 2016 law was vetoed by Gov. Paul Le Page.

Tennessee Poll Has Surprising Support for Marijuana. More than eight out of 10 Tennesseans believe marijuana should be legal in some form, a new Middle Tennessee State University poll finds. Some 44% said marijuana should be legal for medicinal use only, while another 37% said it should be legal for personal use. A medical marijuana bill was withdrawn earlier this month after its sponsor said it lacked the support to pass in the legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Officially Opposed by Mormon Church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' First Presidency issued a statement Tuesday opposing the medical marijuana initiative, which is still in the signature gathering phase: "We commend the Utah Medical Association for its statement of March 30, 2018, cautioning that the proposed Utah marijuana initiative would compromise the health and safety of Utah communities. We respect the wise counsel of the medical doctors of Utah," the statement reads. "The public interest is best served when all new drugs designed to relieve suffering and illness, and the procedures by which they are made available to the public, undergo the scrutiny of medical scientists and official approval bodies."

Asset Forfeiture

DEA Has Taken More Than $3 Billion from People Never Charged With a Crime. A March report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General finds that the DEA has seized more than $4 billion from drug suspects since 2007 --but that four out of five of the seizures were done administratively and did not lead to either civil or criminal charges. That means the DEA seized about $3.2 billion from people never charged with a crime. The report also scolded DEA, noting that it "does not collect or evaluate the data necessary to know whether its seizures and forfeitures are effective, or the extent to which seizures present potential risks to civil liberties." Also, the report warned: "When seizure and administrative forfeitures do not ultimately advance an investigation or prosecution, law enforcement creates the appearance, and risks the reality, that it is more interested in seizing and forfeiting cash than advancing an investigation or prosecution."

International

Colombia Arrests FARC Peace Negotiator on Drug Charges. Colombian federal police agents arrested one of the former rebel group's peace negotiators on Monday, sparking an angry reaction from the FARC. Seuxis Paucis Hernández Solarte, alias "Jesús Santrich," and three others face extradition to the U.S. on charges they conspired to import cocaine. The FARC, which has now transformed itself into a political party -- the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC, in its Spanish acronym) -- called the arrest "the worst moment" of the peace process. "This is a very delicate and dangerous situation. This, yet again, underscores what we have been complaining about in relation to the legal insecurity and lack of guarantees that we have as members of the FARC political party," former FARC commander Victoria Sandino said in a statement. "This is sabotage and an obstacle for those that have committed wholeheartedly to this process, starting with one of the main negotiators and signatory of the peace accord."

Hondurans Seize Second Coca Plantation, Raising Fears Cocaine Production is Shifting North. Last weekend, Honduran police seized a 70 acre coca plantation, the second one found in the country. Honduran authorities speculated that drug trafficking groups are experimenting with growing there in order to save on smuggling costs from South America. The country has long been a key transit point for cocaine headed north; now it could become a producer, too.

Chronicle AM: MD MedMJ Bill Passes, Israeli MedMJ Sales to Begin on 4/20, More... (4/10/18)

New Mexico's largest city ends civil asset forfeiture, a Maryland medical marijuana expansion bill has passed the legislature, select Israeli pharmacies will soon begin selling medical marijuana products, and more.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate on Monday gave final approval to a bill that would increase the number of licenses for medical marijuana growers from 15 to 20 and the number of licenses for processors from 15 to 25 -- largely in a bid to increase minority business ownership in the industry. None of the companies licensed so far has a black owner. House Bill 0002 has already passed the House and goes now to the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

Asset Forfeiture

Albuquerque to End the City's Civil Asset Forfeiture Program. New Mexico's largest city will quit seizing people's property unless there is a criminal conviction first. This decision brings the City in compliance with New Mexico state law and comes on the heels of a decision by a US District Court Judge James Browning that said that "the city's ordinance violated federal due process protections and the 2015 state law which said governments can't seize a person's property unless there is a criminal conviction in the case." The state passed asset forfeiture reform in 2015, but the city of Albuquerque refused to obey the state law -- until now.

International

Canadian Conservative Senators Want to Kill Home Cultivation. As a vote looms in the Senate on the Liberals' marijuana legalization bill, some Conservative senators are talking about filing an amendment to ban home cultivation, as well as other nibbling at the edges of the bill. "Senate Conservative Caucus will be looking at making recommendations on various legislative voids, including: driving under the influence; public consumption; home grow; outdoor grow; detection of high concentration of marijuana; border crossing …," wrote Sen. Larry Smith. Any amendments from the Tories would need support from independent counterparts to pass any amendments. The Senate currently has 12 Liberals, 43 independents, 33 Conservatives and five nonaffiliated members. The vote on the legalization bill is set for June 7.

Israeli Pharmacies to Begin Selling Medical Marijuana Products on 4/20. Surely it's just a coincidence, but select Israeli pharmacies will begin selling prescription medical marijuana products beginning April 20. Some 20 pharmacies will participate in the pilot program for regulated medical marijuana sales. The move is the result of marijuana reforms led by the Ministry of Health and approved by the government in 2016.

Chronicle AM: Hash Bash Looks to November, Philly Safe Injection Site Proposed, More... (4/9/18)

Marijuana social consumption gets delayed in Alaska and rebuffed in Colorado, Ann Arbor's annual Hash Bash draws politicians this year, the US is ramping up its bombing campaign against Taliban drug labs, and more.

Vancouver's InSite safe injection site. Could one be coming to Philadelphia? (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators Postpone Discussion on Social Consumption. The state's Marijuana Control Board has postponed until June any further discussion of draft rules that would allow people to consume marijuana at authorized pot shops. Although the Alcohol and Marijuana Office had recommended that the board release the draft rules for public comment, the board decided to wait until it was back to full strength. One of the board's five members resigned last month.

Colorado Social Consumption Bill Killed. The General Assembly last week killed Senate Bill 211, which would have allowed businesses to obtain a marijuana consumption club license. The move came after both the Department of Revenue and the Marijuana Enforcement Division lobbied against it because of what they called "significant law enforcement challenges and health and safety risks." But the city of Denver is going ahead with licensing social consumption clubs.

Michigan's Hash Bash Becomes a Campaign Event. The 47th annual Hash Bash had a slightly different flavor this year: With a legalization initiative poised to appear on the November ballot and with opinion polls showing majority support for legalization, this year's event was all about imminent legalization -- and getting on the right side of the issue. Two Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Gretchen Whitmer and Abdul El-Sayed showed up to support the issue, as did Democratic attorney general candidate Dana Nessel.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Advisory Board Recommends Allowing Dry Leaf or Plant Form Medical Marijuana. The medical marijuana advisory board voted Monday to allow the use of "dry leaf or plant form for administration by vaporization." The vote is only a recommendation; the final decision is up to state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine. The vote was 11-0.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Democratic Senators Want to Know What Happened to Trump's Opioid Commission. Democratic Sens. Patty Murry (WA) and Elizabeth Warren (MA) sent a letter to the White House Monday asking the administration to update on progress made on implementing recommendations made by its opioid commission last November. "We are concerned by reports that in spite of the opioid epidemic's devastating impact on American communities, your Administration has failed to act aggressively to combat it," Warren and Murray wrote. "You declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency on October 26, 2017, but there has been little evidence that your Administration has taken advantage of the supplemental executive branch authorities and resources provided by this designation."

Foreign Policy

US Expands Air Strikes Aimed at Taliban Drug Labs. US and Afghan government forces have expanded their campaign of air strikes aimed at Taliban opium processing labs, hitting 11 sites in the past week. These latest strikes were in Farah and Nimroz provinces in western Afghanistan and were the first in the region. So far this year, the about of bombs dropped is triple the number dropped in the first part of last year. The strikes are aimed at hurting Taliban finances, but analysts warn the could kill or injure civilians and are unlikely to have a major impact on the Taliban.

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia Joins List of Cities Pondering Safe Injection Sites. City officials are moving to make the city one of the first in the country to have a safe injection site. A public hearing to discuss the notion took place last Wednesday. "We have a crisis here in Philadelphia," said Dr. Tom Farley, Philadelphia Health Commissioner. "These facilities look sort of like a clinic. If they're simply there to inject, they bring in their own drugs that they have bought on the street, they're given sterile equipment and they inject at the site. If they were to overdose on site, there are medical staff on site who can revive them." But this is just a first step; actually getting one or more up and running in the city could take months or years. Other US cities pondering the harm reduction move include Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.

(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 web site. 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: 11K Tainted MA Drug Cases Thrown Out, Chronic Pain Patients to Rally, More... (4/6/18)

Chronic pain patients will be rallying at state capitals Saturday to demand they not be sacrificed on the altar of the war on opioids, Massachusetts throws out 11,000 drug cases linked to a disgraced state lab chemist, and more.

For the second time, a disgraced state drug lab chemist has cost Massachusetts thousands of drug convictions. (af.mil.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Group Pushes for More Minorities in Marijuana Business. The New Jersey Minority Alliance has been in talks with Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D), the lead sponsor of the marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 30, about revising it to expand minority inclusion. The group has a Social Equity Program under which communities adversely affected by the drug war would be given special consideration to establish marijuana operations. The plan would also remove barriers to entry related to prior drug arrests. Scutari says he finds the plan "interesting."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Chronic Pain Patients to Rally on Saturday. Concerned that the crackdown on prescription opioids in the midst of the country's opioid problem is leaving them without sufficient access to pain medications, chronic pain patients will be rallying in 45 state capitals on Saturday. The Don't Punish Pain Rally aims to fight the stigma against people with chronic or intractable pain and bring awareness to the many suffering under new prescription guidelines. "Our government really doesn't belong intruding into the physician-patient relationship and that's what's happening, said Deborah Toucheshawks, one of the senior rally organizers. "When I get a message [that] my family member has end-stage cancer and they won't give him anything for pain and now he wants to kill himself, that's a problem."

Criminal Justice

Massachusetts Court Throws Out 11,000 Drug Convictions Tainted By State Chemist. The state's highest court on Thursday threw out more than 11,000 drug convictions where evidence was tainted by being analyzed by disgraced state chemist Sonja Farak. Farak had worked as a chemist at the state's Amherst drug lab from 2004 until 2013, when she was arrested for stealing cocaine from the facility. She later admitted that during that entire period, she treated the drug lab's evidence supply as her own personal stash and tested seized drugs while under the influence of meth, cocaine, ketamine, ecstasy on a daily basis. Farak isn't the first state lab chemist to flame out and cost the state thousands of convictions. Last year, more than 21,000 convictions were thrown out in cases linked to Annie Dookhan, who admitted doctored the results of about one is six drug cases tried in the state between 2003 and 2012.

Seven Occupations That Don't Require You to Take a Drug Test to Get Hired [FEATURE]

Widespread workplace drug testing -- a uniquely American phenomenon -- has generated controversy ever since Ronald Reagan pushed hard for it back in the 1980s. On the one hand, opponents see it as an invasion of workers' privacy protections; on the other, advocates believe it is the best means of preventing injuries that might occur when a worker is intoxicated.

Although workplace drug testing was rare prior to Reagan, 56% of all employers now require pre-employment drug tests, according to Statistic Brain. Some of this is mandated by law: Truck drivers, airline pilots and some other public transport positions face federal drug-testing requirements. But much pre-employment drug testing and random, suspicionless drug testing is not required by law; it is instead the employers' choice.

High levels of drug testing are to be found in industries such as health care, heavy manufacturing and construction, where being impaired on the job can lead to loss of life or limb or endanger the health and well-being of others. But drug testing is also popular in industries with no such apparent risk, such as retail. Whether that guy at the camera counter at Walmart smoked a joint over the weekend probably has no discernible impact on public safety.

Speaking of smoking joints, marijuana is by far the most commonly used illicit drug (though it's now legal in nine states). Positive workplace drug tests for marijuana are on the rise, reflecting broader popular acceptance of the drug, which is also leading some companies to quit testing for pot. In a low unemployment economy, employers may be increasingly reluctant to lose potential workers over a positive test for marijuana.

And some potential workers are reluctant to seek employment at places that are going to subject them to drug testing. Fortunately for them, there are some economic sectors where facing a pre-employment or random at-work drug test is not a real risk -- in fact, it's a rarity. But most of these jobs require a university degree. Like so many things in America, drug testing is a class thing.

That said, if you want to work in a field where you don't have to worry about peeing in a bottle to get or keep a job, here, thanks to Insider Monkey, are some options.

1. Management Positions

These relatively well-paying professional gigs tend to have drug testing levels approaching absolute zero. On the high end, if you can call it that, were general managers (1.8%) and project managers (1.6%), but office managers, business managers, and retail managers all came in under 1%, with event managers besting them all at a minuscule 0.01%. Average pay for these positions ranged from the mid-40s for retail and office managers to more than $70,000 for project managers. Ironically, the administrative assistant position, which can be an excellent entry-level job for people seeking careers as managers, is more likely to be subject to drug testing than any managerial position. Still, it's only 1.9% of administrative assistants.

2. Personal Services

You're not going to get rich in these jobs, but you're not likely to get drug tested, either. Because of the transient nature of jobs in these careers or because many people in these fields are self-employed, gig economy workers just don't get that drug test scrutiny. Cosmetologists, hairstylists and fitness trainers all face testing less than 1% of the time, while pet groomers and massage therapists come in under 3%. These jobs have median pay ranging from around $25,000 to $30,000.

3. Information Technology

These are the fields that are stereotypically the domain of the nerdy stoner. You wouldn't expect employers in the industry to turn down a budding genius because he gets high at home, and you would be right. Only 3% of web designers and IT consultants face the empty cup, and fewer than 3% of Java developers and front-end developers do. While not quite as drug testing-free as cosmetologists or pet groomers, IT workers make a lot more money. On the low end, web designers are pulling in a median $48,000, while pay is around $70,000 for the other positions listed.

4. Marketing

Those bright, shiny people trying to make us buy stuff are also largely exempt from drug testing, especially on the bottom rungs. Only 0.3% of marketing assistants are subject to pre-employment drug screens, and only 3.8% of marketing coordinators. The former positions average $36,000 a year, while the latter average $41,500.

5. Real Estate, Insurance and Financial Services

These white-collar jobs are all unlikely to see drug testing requirements. Fewer than 3% of loan processors and insurance agents face the prospect of peeing in a cup to win a job, while a minuscule 0.5% of real estate agents do. Real estate agents are also the highest paid in this group, averaging $47,000, while both loan processors and insurance agents come in at under $40,000.

6. Bartender

People whose job it is to mix and sell legal psychoactive substances are very unlikely to be tested for illegal ones. With only 3.2% of employers demanding pre-employment drug tests, bartenders are the least likely of restaurant and bar workers to be tested. Chefs face testing at a rate of 6.2%, while 4% of hostesses are likely to face it. The median salary for bartenders is $29,240.

7. Creative White Collar

Neither graphic designers nor copywriters are likely to face a pre-employment drug test. A big reason is that many of these are freelance gigs: No boss = no drug test. But even when working for employers, drug testing is unlikely in these fields. Copywriters came in at 3.2%, while graphic designers were at 3.9%.

Europe's Top Five Cities for Cocaine, Ecstasy, and Speed Use

Do you want to know Europe's true party capitals? The European Monitoring Commission on Drugs and Drug Abuse (EMCDDA) is here to help. Last month it released its latest annual report on drug use levels in 56 European cities in 19 countries.

Raving in Vienna (Wikimedia)
The report relied not on survey results or extrapolations from drug seizures, but a much more direct method: an analysis of daily wastewater samples in the catchment areas of wastewater treatment plants over a one-week period. Researchers analyzed the wastewater from approximately 43 million people, looking for traces of four illicit drugs: amphetamine, methamphetamine, cocaine, and MDMA (ecstasy).

The epidemiological analysis of wastewater is "a rapidly developing scientific discipline with the potential for monitoring close to real-time, population-driven trends in illicit drug use," the EMCDDA points out. Their researchers can now use it to estimate levels of drug use by measuring the levels of drugs and their metabolites excreted into the sewers by urine.

So, which cities are doing the most drugs? We'll give you the top five for each drug, as well as a bit of discussion below:

Amphetamines (milligrams/1,000 people/day)

Eindhoven (Netherlands)     271.7

Antwerp Zuid (Belgium)      268.8

Saarbrucken (Germany)        242.0

Oostende (Belgium)               236.4

Mainz (Germany)                    226.9

The loads of amphetamine detected varied considerably across study locations, with cities in the north and east of Europe reporting much higher levels than in the south. Amphetamine, a working man's drug, was also found more evenly throughout the week than the party drugs, which tend to show up more in weekend samples. Of the top 15 cities, nine were in Germany, three each in Belgium and the Netherlands, and one in Iceland. Berlin came in 10th, Amsterdam 11th.

Cocaine (milligrams/1,000 people/day)

Barcelona (Spain)                  965.2

Zurich (Switzerland)             934.4

Antwerp Zuid (Belgium)      822.9

St. Gallen Hofen (Switzerland)      821.7

Geneva (Switzerland)           794.8

Cocaine use is highest in western and southern European cities, particularly in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK, but Switzerland, with three of the top five and five of the top 10 cokiest cities, certainly deserves mention. Year-to-year figures show that an upward trend first reported in 2016 continues.

MDMA (Ecstasy)(milligrams/1,000 people/day)

Amsterdam (Netherlands)    230.3

Eindhoven (Netherlands)     165.1

Antwerp Zuid (Belgium)      95.3

Zurich (Switzerland)             85.2

Utretcht (Netherlands)          59.8

The Dutch really love their E, taking three of the top five spots, and nearby Antwerp is really starting to look like an unsung drug hotspot, appearing in all three top fives so far. Berlin, Barcelona, Geneva, and Paris are all in the top 10, but at use levels only about one-fifth of Amsterdam.

Methamphetamine (milligrams/1,000 people/day)

Chemnitz (Germany)            240.6

Erfurt (Germany)                 211.2

Budweis (Czech Republic)      200.2

Brno (Czech Republic)            105.7

Dresden (Germany)              180.2

Like plain old amphetamine, meth use generally concentrated in northwest Europe, although the Czech Republic is certainly cranking, too, as it traditionally has. It is most popular in eastern Germany, Finland, and Norway.

One city worth mentioning is notable for its absence from these top fives: Lisbon. Portugal is the only country in Europe to have decriminalized the use and possession of all drugs, but its capital and largest city consistently ranked low-to-middling in drug use levels: The wastewater in Lisbon contained zero methamphetamine, came in 11th for Ecstasy use, 45th for amphetamine use, and 28th for cocaine use.

Those figures from Lisbon strongly suggest that other countries can decriminalize drug use and possession without seeing their populations turned into deranged party animals. In the meantime, the real party animals might want to head to Antwerp.

Chronicle AM: AZ Bill Would Speed Adoption of Drug-Exposed Babies, CT Pot Bill Advances, More... (4/5/18)

A Connecticut legalization bill advances, Michigan GOP lawmakers are worried a legalization initiative there will drive turnout and drive them from office, Tennessee lawmakers pass a bill to end civil asset forfeiture, and more.

In a historic first, a marijuana legalization bill wins a committee vote in Connecticut. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Legalization Bill Advances in Historic Committee Vote. For the first time, a marijuana legalization bill has won a committee vote in Hartford. The Assembly Appropriations Committee voted 27-24 Thursday to approve House Bill 5394, which calls for a developing a plan for legalization and regulation of sales, along with funding for drug prevention and treatment programs. The bill will now go before the full General Assembly.

Michigan's Looming Initiative Prompts GOP Lawmakers to Ponder Passing Preemptive Legalization Bill. There is a specter haunting the state's Republican lawmakers: The fear that a legalization initiative likely to appear on the ballot will encourage voter turnout and depress their chances of retaining control of the legislature. So now, GOP lawmakers are muttering about the possibility of approving marijuana legalization before the November election to thwart that possibility. Stay tuned.

Oregon County Sues State to Invalidate Legalization Law. Josephine County filed a lawsuit in US district court in Medford Tuesday challenging the state's marijuana legalization laws. The county seeks to invalidate the laws on the grounds they conflict with strict federal drug laws.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Medical Marijuana Bill Killed in Committee. The Legislative Oversight Committee voted Wednesday to kill a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1554. The bill would only have allowed some people suffering from terminal illnesses to use medical marijuana, but even that was too much for the committee. Show Me State residents will likely be able to vote directly on medical marijuana come November; a medical marijuana initiative campaign is now in the final stages of signature gathering and should qualify for the ballot.

Asset Forfeiture

Tennessee Legislature Passes Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. The House on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday have approved an asset forfeiture reform bill, Senate Bill 316. The bill ends civil asset forfeiture, requires "clear and convincing evidence" the asset is linked to a crime, and provides that all forfeited goods go into the state general fund. The bill now goes to the governor's desk.

Families

Arizona Legislature Passes Bill to Cut Off Parental Rights for Drug-Exposed Babies After One Year. The legislature has approved Senate Bill 1473, which would allow babies born exposed to drugs and whose parents have substance abuse problems to be put up for adoption by the first birthday. The bill would also let courts consider foster parents who have cared for an infant or toddler for at least nine months as equal to the child's family members when deciding who gets custody. Current law only allows adoption to take place after they are two years old. The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Doug Ducey (R).

International

France Apologizes to Italy Over Migrant Drug Test Incident. France apologized to Italy Wednesday after French border patrol agents used a train station in an Italian border town to conduct a drug test on a Nigerian immigrant. "I'm sorry for the misunderstanding," France's Budget Minister Gérald Darmanin, who is also responsible for customs, said in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. "It was an unfortunate incident, which arose over a misunderstanding between French customs and Italian railways about the use of a facility located at Bardonecchia railway station."

Medical Marijuana Update

Busy, busy, busy. Legislatures across the land grapple with medical marijuana, an Arkansas judge puts that state's program on hold, and more.

Arkansas

Last Wednesday, an Arkansas judge put a hold on the state medical marijuana program. A state judge put the state's program on hold because of objections to the licensing process, but was apologetic for imposing the delay. "Amendment 98 to the Constitution of Arkansas, an initiative by the people, exists because Arkansans want to provide medical marijuana to persons who suffer from chronic, debilitating, and life-threatening health challenges," Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen wrote in his order last week. "The prospect that Arkansans must now endure more delay before gaining much needed access to locally grown medical marijuana should be unpleasant to anyone concerned about providing relief to people who suffer from serious illnesses."

Georgia

Last Thursday, lawmakers approved adding PTSD and intractable pain to the list of qualifying disorders. The legislature has approved a measure, House Bill 65, that would add PTSD and intractable pain to the list of disorders that can be treated under the states CBD cannabis oil law.The bill now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal (R) for his approval or veto.

Kansas

Last Wednesday, the House voted down medical marijuana. As they debated changes to the state's drug laws, lawmakers in the House voted down an amendment that would have allowed the use of medical marijuana. The amendment was offered by Rep. Cindy Holscher (D-Lenexa), who said her own daughter, who suffers from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, could benefit from access to the medicine. "Please don't make us lawbreakers," Holscher said. "Give us an option for something that has been proven to work." But the underlying bill contains a provision that allows for the limited use of CBD cannabis oil.

Louisiana

Last Wednesday, a House committee approved medical marijuana for autism. The House Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would add certain types of autism to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The move comes as dispensaries are set to open in the state just four months from now. The measure, House Bill 627, now goes to the full House.

Maryland

Last Friday, a Senate committee approved a medical marijuana expansion bill. The Senate Finance Committee voted last Friday to approve a bill that would increase the number of licenses for medical marijuana growers from 15 to 20 and the number of licenses for processors from 15 to 25 -- largely in a bid to increase minority business ownership in the industry. None of the companies licensed so far has a black owner. House Bill 0002 has already passed the House and now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the state ordered more than 200 dispensaries to close their doors. State regulators said Thursday they had ordered 210 medical marijuana dispensaries to shut down in the past two weeks largely because they failed to apply for a state license by mid-February or because they were not authorized by local authorities. More than 150 of the shops are in Detroit.

New Hampshire

Last Wednesday, thee Senate approved a bill to add more dispensaries. The state Senate last week approved a bill that would allow for two additional dispensaries in the state. The state currently has four medical marijuana outlets. The bill now goes to the House.

South Carolina

Last Thursday, a Senate committee advanced a medical marijuana bill. The Senate Medical Affairs Committee approved a medical marijuana bill on Thursday. The measure, Senate Bill 212, now heads for a Senate floor vote. But advocates worry the bill will die for lack of action in the House. The House has declined to hear its own medical marijuana bill so far this year, and the deadline for doing so is April 10.

Tennessee

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuaan bill won a second House committee vote. The House Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday approved House Bill 1749, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana for a dozen qualifying conditions. The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

On Tuesday, the effort to pass a medical marijuana bill died for the year. The sponsor of a medical marijuana bill has pulled it, saying he didn't have the support to move it in the Senate. Senate Bill 1710 sponsor Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) was blunt: "Unfortunately, I do not have the votes." A companion measure is still alive in the House, but there will be no medical marijuana in the Volunteer State this year.

Utah

Last Thursday, another poll showed enduring strong support for medical marijuana. More than three-quarters (77%) of Utahns "strongly" or "somewhat" favor legalizing medical marijuana, according to a new poll from Dan Jones & Associates. The poll is in line with other recent state polls show high levels of support, undaunted by the legislature's passage of a bill that allows for a "right to try" medical marijuana for terminally ill patients. An initiative that would create a full-blown medical marijuana system in the state will likely be on the ballot in November.

Last Friday, the governor announced his opposition to the medical marijuana initiative. Gov. Gary Herbert (R) has come out against a medical marijuana initiative that has broad popular support and is likely to be on the November ballot. Herbert argued that a limited bill he signed this year was "an important first step," but that the initiative could "potentially open the door to recreational use."

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

Rollin' With the Dragon: Opioids Are Gaining Popularity in the Club Scene

The club kids have found a new high. According to a new study from electronic dance music (EDM) drug use watcher Dr. Joseph Palamar, opioids are becoming increasingly popular among people in the throbbing beat scene.

Nearly 10% of them reported using opioids in the past year, a rate 2 ½ times the national average, and 5% reported using them in the past month.

Oxycontin was the most commonly used opioid in the EDM scene, followed by Vicodin, Percocet, codeine, and Purple Drank (also known as Sizzurp or Leans), which also contains codeine.

In the study, researchers surveyed nearly a thousand fans (ages 18 to 40) as they were about to enter EDM parties at nightclubs and festivals in New York City. Attendees were asked about their nonmedical use of 18 different opioids, from prescription pain pills to black market heroin and fentanyl.

The EDM scene has long been known for drug use, but the researchers warned that the turn to opioids is a dangerous trend that should not be ignored.

"'We've always known that electronic dance music party attendees are at high risk for use of club drugs such as ecstasy or Molly, but we wanted to know the extent of opioid use in this population," said Dr. Palamar, the study's lead author and an associate professor of population health at NYU School of Medicine.

The most popular prescription opioid reported in this scene was OxyContin, which, like many prescription opioids, is used to relieve pain, but also produces euphoric effects, inducing relaxation and happiness. Following close behind were Vicodin, Percocet, codeine, and Purple Drank. About 15% of opioid users reported snorting them, while 11% reported injecting them, both forms of ingestion more likely to result in dependence.

People who had already used opioids reported a much higher propensity for using them again than did people who had never used them. Among previous users, nearly three-quarters (73.4%) said they would do them again, while only about 6% of non-users said they would try them if offered.

'This population of experienced drug users needs to be reached to prevent initiation and continued use, which can lead to riskier and more frequent use, dependence, and deleterious outcomes such as overdose - particularly if opioids are combined with other drugs,"Palamar warned. "Many individuals in this population are experienced with drugs such as ecstasy, but due to their experience with various drugs, they may underestimate the addictive potential of opioids, which are typically not used as 'club drugs,' Palamar added.

The study comes as the US finds itself in the midst of an opioid crisis where nearly two million people are dependent and more than a hundred are dying of overdoses every day.

'The population in general needs better education about opioids," said Palamar. 'Taking opioid pills is much different from taking ecstasy and it needs to be understood that opioids are not party drugs."

Culture Shock: American Activists Confront Compassionate Portuguese Drug Policy [FEATURE]

The American activists couldn't wrap their heads around it. Sitting in a dingy office in a nondescript building in central Lisbon, they were being provided a fine-grained explanation of what happens to people caught with small amounts of drugs in Portugal, which decriminalized the possession of personal use amounts of drugs 17 years ago.

partial view of Lisbon, looking toward the Tagus River (Wikimedia)
The activists, having lived the American experience, wanted desperately to know when and how the coercive power of the state kicked in, how the drug users were to be punished for their transgressions, even if they had only been hit with an administrative citation, which is what happens to people caught with small quantities of drugs there.

Nuno Capaz was trying to explain. He is Vice Chairman of the Lisbon Dissuasion Commission, the three-member tribunal set up to handle people caught with drugs. He had to struggle mightily to convince the Americans that it wasn't about punishment, but about personal and public health.

"The first question," he explained, "is whether this person is a recreational user or an addict."

If the person is deemed only a recreational user, he may face a fine or a call to community service. If he is deemed an addict, treatment is recommended -- but not required.

"But what if they don't comply?" one of the activists demanded. "Don't they go to jail then?"

No, they do not. Instead, Capaz patiently explained, they may face sanctions for non-compliance, but those sanctions may be little more than a demand that they regularly present themselves to a hospital or health center for monitoring.

In a later hallway conversation, I asked Capaz about drug users who simply refused to go along or to participate at all. What happens then? I wanted to know.

Capaz shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing," he said. "I tell them to try not to get caught again."

Welcome to Portugal. The country's low-key, non-headline-generating drug policy, based on compassion, public health, and public safety, is a stark contrast with the US, as the mind-boggled response of the activists suggests.

Organized by the Drug Policy Alliance and consisting of members of local and national groups that work with the organization, as well as a handful of journalists, the group spent three days in-country last month seeing what an enlightened drug policy looks like. They met with high government officials directly involved in creating and implementing drug decriminalization, toured drug treatment, harm reduction, and mobile methadone maintenance facilities, and heard from Portuguese drug users and harm reduction workers as well.

The Portuguese Model and Its Accomplishments

They had good reason to go to Portugal. After nearly two decades of drug decriminalization, there is ample evidence that the Portuguese model is working well. Treating drug users like citizens who could possibly use some help instead of like criminals to be locked up is paying off by all the standard metrics -- as well as by not replicating the thuggish and brutal American-style war on drugs, with all the deleterious and corrosive impacts that has on the communities particularly targeted for American drug law enforcement.

Here, according to independent academic researchers, as well as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the European Monitoring Center of Drugs and Drug Abuse, is what the Portuguese have accomplished:

Drug use has not dramatically increased. Rates of past year and past month drug use have not changed significantly or have actually declined since 2001. And Portugal's drug use rates remain among the lowest in Europe, and well below those in the United States.

Both teen drug use and "problematic" drug use (people who are dependent or who inject drugs) have declined.

Drug arrests and incarceration are way down. Drug arrests have dropped by 60% (selling drugs remains illegal) and the percentage of prisoners doing time for drug offenses has dropped from 44% to 24%. Meanwhile, the number of people referred to the Dissuasion Commission has remained steady, indicating that no "net-widening" has taken place. And the vast majority of cases that go before the commission are found to be non-problematic drug users and are dismissed without sanction.

More people are receiving drug treatment -- and on demand, not by court order. The number of people receiving drug treatment increased by 60% by 2011, with most of them receiving opiate-substitution therapy (methadone). Treatment is voluntary and largely paid for by the national health system.

Drug overdose deaths are greatly reduced. Some 80 people died of drug overdoses in 2001; that number shrunk to just 16 by 2012. That's an 80% reduction in drug overdose deaths.

Drug injection-related HIV/AIDS infections are greatly reduced. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of new HIV cases shrank from nearly 1,600 to only 78. The number of new AIDS cases declined from 626 to 74.

"We came to the conclusion that the criminal system was not the best suited to deal with this situation," explained Capaz. "The best option should be referring them to treatment, but we do not force or coerce anyone. If they are willing to go, it's because they actually want to, so the success rate is really high. We can surely say that decriminalization does not increase drug usage, and that it does not mean legalizing drugs. It's still illegal to use drugs in Portugal, it's just not considered a crime. It's possible to deal with these users outside the criminal system."

Dr. Joao Goulao, who largely authored the decriminalization law and who is still General Director for Intervention on Addictive Behaviors -- the Portuguese "drug czar" -- pointed to unquantifiable positives resulting from the move: "The biggest effect," he said, "has been to allow the stigma of drug addiction to fall, to let people speak clearly and to pursue professional help without fear."

They Take the Kids! (with them to treatment)

The American activists know all about fear and stigma. And the cultural disconnect -- between a country that treats drug users with compassion and one that seeks to punish them -- was on display again when a smaller group of the activists met with Dr. Miguel Vasconcelos, the head psychologist at the Centro Taipa, a former mental hospital that now serves as the country's largest drug treatment center.

As Dr.Vasconcelos explained the history and practice of drug treatment in Portugal, one of his listeners asked what happened to drug users who were pregnant or had children.

"They take the kids," Vasconcelos said, smiling. But his smile turned to puzzlement as he saw his listeners react with resignation and dismay.

For the Americans, "they take the kids" meant child protective services swooping in to seize custody of the children of drug-using parents while the parents go to jail.

But that's not what Vasconcelos meant. After some back and forth, came clarity: "No, I mean they take the kids with them to treatment."

Once again, the Americans, caught firmly in the mind set of their own punishing society, expected only the worst of the state. But once again, light bulbs came on as they realized it doesn't have to be like that.

Now that cadre of activists is back home, and they are going to begin to try to apply the lessons they learned in their own states and communities. And although they had some abstract understanding of Portuguese drug decriminalization before they came, their experiences with the concrete reality of it should only serve to strengthen their desire to make our own country a little less like a punitive authoritarian state and bit more like Portugal.

Chronicle AM: NJ Opioid Fight Plan, WI Forfeiture Bill Signed, NJ Pot Poll, More... (4/4/18)

Alaska regulators return to the issue of social use, a Tennessee medical marijuana bill dies, New Jersey's governor outlines a plan to fight opioid abuse, and more.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) outlines a plan to take on the opioid crisis. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators Take Up Social Clubs Again. The state's Marijuana Control Board will be meeting the rest of this week to discuss whether to allow on-site marijuana use at authorized retail stores. The board adopted rules in 2015 to allow for such use, but never finalized them. Under the current proposal, use could only take place in a designated area of the store, and people could only use marijuana purchased at the store.

New Jersey Poll Shows Residents Evenly Split on Legalization. A new poll from the Stockton Polling Institute of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy has Garden Staters split nearly down the middle on pot legalization. The poll had 49% in favor, with 44% opposed. The poll also found that one out of four respondents would try the herb if it were legal, or continue to use it if they currently do.

Medical Marijuana

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. The sponsor of a medical marijuana bill has pulled it, saying he didn't have the support to move it in the Senate. Senate Bill 1710 sponsor Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) was blunt: "Unfortunately, I do not have the votes." A companion measure is still alive in the House, but there will be no medical marijuana in the Volunteer State this year.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New Jersey Governor Outlines Plan to Fight Opioids. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced a plan to spend $100 million on a range of anti-addiction programs, including new funding for community-based treatment providers, as well as more housing and job training for residents with -- or without -- drug dependency problems. In terms of dollars, the proposal includes $56 million for front-line prevention, treatment and recovery programs; $31 million for job training and to address social risk factors like homelessness; and $13 million to improve data collection and other state infrastructure.

Asset Forfeiture

Wisconsin Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill into Law. Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday signed into law 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.

Chronicle AM: Decrim Vote in Albuquerque, Bad "Fake Weed" in Illinois, More... (4/3/18)

A legalization bill fails in Arizona, another one sputters in Connecticut, a bad batch of synthetic cannabinoids is wreaking havoc in Illinois, and more.

Apparently contaminated synthetic cannabinoids in Illinois have left two dead, dozens injured. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Fails Dies in Statehouse. There will be no legalization via the legislature in Phoenix this year after lawmakers refused to act on a measure that would have put the issue before the voters. HCR 2037 had been assigned to three different committees, but never got any action in any of them. Sponsors Reps. Todd Clodfelter (R-Phoenix) and Mark Cardenas (D-Phoenix) vow to try again next year.

Connecticut Legalization Bill Gets Committee Hearing. The House Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee held a hearing on a legalization bill, House Bill 5582, on Monday, making it the fourth committee to hold a hearing on marijuana legalization this session. But the bill is unlikely to pass this year since one committee has already rejected it and another will not be voting on whether to advance it. At the hearing, the Office of Fiscal Analysis reported that the state could expect tax revenues from pot at between $30 million and $63 million, depending on the tax model used.

Albuquerque City Council Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession. City council members voted Monday night on a party line vote to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Offenders would be hit with a $25 fine on a first offense. A similar measure passed in 2015, only to be vetoed by the mayor. But now there's a new mayor, so stay tuned.

New Psychoactive Substances

Illinois Sees Bad Synthetic Cannabinoids Kill Two, Leave Dozens Bleeding. Synthetic cannabinoids apparently cut with rat poison have killed two people in Illinois and left 56 others experiencing severe bleeding. The bad dope has shown up in Chicago and the central part of the state, the Department of Public Health said Monday.

Asset Forfeiture

Kansas Governor Signs Minor Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Jeff Colyer (R) has signed into law House Bill 2459, which would make small reforms in the state's civil asset forfeiture law. Under the bill, police who seize property will have to report on what they took and how they used the seized property.

Chronicle AM: Opioid 'Scrips Decline in Legal Weed States, Swiss Consider Legal MJ Sales Pilot Program, More... (4/2/18)

Two new studies find that opioid prescriptions and daily doses decline in legal marijuana states, the Swiss are on the verge of a legal marijuana sales pilot program, and more.

Southern California's Coachella music festival will have to allow marijuana, a state judge has ruled. (Flickr/Feverblue)
Marijuana Policy

After States Legalize Weed, Opioid Prescriptions Decline, Studies Find. Two papers published Monday in the JAMA Internal Medicine that analyzed more than five years of Medicare Part D and Medicaid prescription data found that the number of opioid prescription and the daily dose of opioids declined after states legalized marijuana. "In this time when we are so concerned -- rightly so -- about opiate misuse and abuse and the mortality that's occurring, we need to be clear-eyed and use evidence to drive our policies," said W. David Bradford, an economist at the University of Georgia and an author of one of the studies. "If you're interested in giving people options for pain management that don't bring the particular risks that opiates do, states should contemplate turning on dispensary-based cannabis policies."

Medical Marijuana

 

Maryland Senate Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate Finance Committee voted last Friday to approve a bill that would increase the number of licenses for medical marijuana growers from 15 to 20 and the number of licenses for processors from 15 to 25 -- largely in a bid to increase minority business ownership in the industry. None of the companies licensed so far has a black owner. House Bill 0002 has already passed the House and now heads for a Senate floor vote.

International

Swiss Legislature Considers Legal Marijuana Sales Pilot Program. The country is the verge of approving a trial program that could allow up to a thousand people to purchase weed legally from government approved establishments. The measure has already passed the lower house with unanimous approval and is now headed to the National Council for final approval. Switzerland decriminalized the possession of small amounts five years ago.

Italy, France in Diplomatic Spat Over Forced Drug Test of Migrant. Armed French border patrol agents used an Italian train station to force a Nigerian passenger to provide a urine sample for a drug test, provoking the Italians to summon the French ambassador for consultations. The Italians said they had launched a "firm protest" and that border cooperation between the two countries was now undermined. France claimed it had the right to use the facility at the train station under a 1990 agreement, but Italy said it had told French authorities last month that the station was now off limits because it was being used by a humanitarian aid group.

Chronicle AM: Pot-Friendly States Want Sessions Meeting, Indonesia Regressing on Drugs, More... (3/30/18)

Treasurers from a handful of marijuana-friendly states ask for a meeting with Attorney General Sessions, Massachusetts pot shops can seek licenses beginning next week, Indonesia's latest draft criminal code reform is not exactly progressive on drug policy, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Marijuana-Friendly States Want Meeting With Sessions. State treasurers from California, Illinois, Oregon, and Pennsylvania sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions Thursday seeking a meeting in hopes of resolving conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws. The state treasurers are particularly concerned with the lack of clarity for businesses and banks. The absence of federal rules "leaves the industry and financial institutions in the dark," the treasurers said.

Massachusetts Pot Shops Can Start Applying for Licenses on Monday. The state Cannabis Control Commission made it official Thursday: Prospective marijuana purveyors can begin the process of applying for state licenses as of next Monday. "Starting on April 2, prospective licensees may begin applying for Priority Certification as Registered Marijuana Dispensaries (RMD) or Economic Empowerment Applicants, which provides eligibility to apply for a marijuana establishment license on April 17. All other license types will start the application process on May 1 or June 1, depending on the category," the commission announced Thursday. Retail stores will be able to open starting July 1, depending on whether local regulatory ordinances have been finalized.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Lawmakers Approve Adding PTSD, Intractable Pain to List of Qualifying Disorders. The legislature has approved a measure, House Bill 65, that would add PTSD and intractable pain to the list of disorders that can be treated under the states CBD cannabis oil law.The bill now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal (R) for his approval or veto.

Michigan Orders More Than 200 Dispensaries to Close Their Doors. State regulators said Thursday they had ordered 210 medical marijuana dispensaries to shut down in the past two weeks largely because they failed to apply for a state license by mid-February or because they were not authorized by local authorities. More than 150 of the shops are in Detroit.

Utah Governor Announces Opposition to Medical Marijuana Initiative. Gov. Gary Herbert (R) has come out against a medical marijuana initiative that has broad popular support and is likely to be on the November ballot. Herbert argued that a limited bill he signed this year was "an important first step," but that the initiative could "potentially open the door to recreational use."

International

Indonesia Moving Firmly Backwards on Drug Policy. The country is revising its criminal code, and in doing so, is continuing to embrace drug war dogma, with proposed revisions that promote harsh penalties for drug use and possession, up to and including the death penalty for some drug offenses. The draft bill contains 22 articles on the use, possession, couriering, and smuggling of narcotics, all of which are treated as criminal offenses punishable with jail time, or in severe cases, death by firing squad. This isn't new for Indonesia, but it's not progressive change, either.

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