Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: CA Safe Injection Site Blocked for Now, No Toronto Pot Lounges, More... (9/19/17)

The California safe injection bill comes up two votes short of passing this year, Toronto authorities ignore the pleas of pot lounge operators for a place under legalization, Virginia's Democratic attorney general comes out with a plan to fight opioid overdoses, and more.

No safe injection sites for California this year. Maybe next year. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates Want to Legalize It; Republicans Not So Much. Three leading Democratic contenders for the party's gubernatorial nomination support legalization, while the sole Republican in the race does not. Democrat Peter DeBenedittis released a statement Monday calling for legalization, prompting Democrats Jeff Apodaca and US Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham to come out for it as well. The sole Republican, U.S. Rep Steve Pearce opposes legalization, as does one Democrat, state Rep. Joseph Cervantes. But Cervantes noted the he has sponsored legislation reducing penalties for pot possession.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Deadline Sees Rush of Applicants for Grower, Distributor Licenses. A Monday deadline for grower and distributor applications saw applicants flood the state office building where the paperwork is delivered. Firm numbers weren't available, but applicants overwhelmed the clerks on duty and faced hours-long waits to get processed.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Virginia Attorney General Releases Plan to Fight Opioid Epidemic. State Attorney General Mark Herring (D) on Monday released a plan to address the growing number of deaths caused by the use of heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioids. Among the proposals: harsher laws for people dealing in fentanyl, enhanced electronic prescription monitoring, requiring health insurers to cover alternative treatments for pain, teaching schoolchildren about opioids beginning in middle school, and an investigation into price gouging by companies selling naloxone. News accounts don't indicate any discussion in Herring's plan of the need to ensure the availability of opioid pain relievers to those patients who do need them, nor any critical examination of his proposal for increased sentences.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Falls Short in State Senate. A bill that would have opened the way to safe injection sites in the state has come up two votes short in the state Senate. The measure, Assembly Bill 186, is not dead, however. Even though the Senate did not vote to pass it, it did vote to reconsider it next year.

International

Toronto Just Says No to Marijuana Lounges. Despite the pleas of pot consumption lounge owners, some of whom have been open for years, the city's municipal standards and licensing committee voted 4-1 to limit marijuana businesses to government-run stores. The committee also voted to increase penalties for businesses that allow on-site consumption. The city is staying within the parameters set by the Ontario provincial government, which recently announced plans for a government monopoly on pot sales.

Lesotho Becomes First African County to Issue Medical Marijuana License. The country's health ministry has licensed a South African company, Verve Dynamics, to manufacture medical marijuana products, marking a first for the continent.

Peru Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. Spurred by a recent raid on a makeshift medical marijuana facility that mothers were using to soothe their sick children, the Peruvian congress is advancing a medical marijuana bill. The bill has now passed the congressional Committee on National Defense and heads to the full Congress for debate and a final vote. President Pablo Kucyzinski has supported the legislation.

Amnesty International Criticizes Indonesia Turn to Harsh Drug War. The government's tough stance against drug dealers is leading to an increasing death toll, the human rights group said. Amnesty's Indonesian affiliate said some 80 people had been killed by police in the drug war so far this year, more than four times as many as last year.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, 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.)

Colorado County's Marijuana Tax Program Will Provide $420,000 in College Scholarships This Fall

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

More than 200 graduating high school students in Colorado's Pueblo County will head off to college in a few weeks thanks to legal marijuana. The 210 students will receive scholarships worth $2,000 each for a total of $420,000 -- a very appropriate aggregate figure, given that the scholarships are being funded by excise taxes on state-legal marijuana grown in the county.

CSU Pueblo will see the nation's first pot tax college scholarships. (CSU Pueblo)
>Happy local officials described the pot-fueled Pueblo County Scholarship Fund as "the country's first cannabis-funded college scholarship." It was created after voters in the sun-filled county, which is building a reputation as a center of the outdoor and greenhouse-grown pot trade,approved an excise tax on commercial cannabis cultivation in 2015.

Colorado pot taxes have already provided funding for the state's public school system and homeless population, and the Pueblo County scholarships are demonstrating once again the economic and fiscal benefits accruing to states that have legalized marijuana.

And for Pueblo County high school students, there's more to come. The pot cultivation excise tax was 2% last year, but will increase by 1% annually until it tops out at 5%. With rising commercial cultivation and a rising tax rate, the scholarship fund appears set to expand, allowing even more students in the county, where nearly 20% live below the poverty line and where more than 40% of residents are Hispanic, to take advantage of educational opportunities.

But they'll have to stay near home. The scholarships only pay for tuition and fees at Pueblo Community College or Colorado State University-Pueblo. That latter school is also benefiting from marijuana in other ways: Thanks to $900,000 from the state's marijuana tax fund and $270,000 in county pot excise taxes to be used for "community enhancement," CSU-Pueblo last year opened the Institute of Cannabis Research to study topics such as the impact of legalization on local economies, industrial hemp cultivation, and the efficacy of cannabidiol.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace gave the credit to weed. He told the Cannabist in June the county's abundant sunshine was its greatest natural resource, and taxes on sun-grown weed made both the institute and the scholarships possible.

"There are vast opportunities in cannabis -- from growing to research -- and we want to make sure all Coloradans benefit, not just a select few," he said. "For years, our community has discussed creating local scholarships that could provide opportunity and help break cycles of poverty. The Pueblo County Scholarship Fund will change lives, families and benefit generations to come."

Smoking weed may not help your academic career, but the taxes on growing it are helping some Colorado kids have an academic career. That's one economic impact of legalization you don't need an institute to figure out for you.

Pueblo, CO
United States

New Hampshire Just Decriminalized Marijuana Possession

As of noon last Saturday, the possession of small amounts of marijuana is decriminalized in New Hampshire. Now, nowhere is New England will someone caught with a joint or two be subject to arrest.

All of New England is now a minor pot bust-free zone. (Wikimedia)
Two New England states -- Maine and Massachusetts -- have legalized marijuana, and all the others have now decriminalized it.

Decriminalization came when, after years of effort, the legislature passed House Bill 640 in June, and Republican Gov. Jon Sununu signed it into law the following month.

Under the state's old law, people caught with small amounts of pot faced up to a year in prison and a $2,000 fine. Under the new law, the penalty for possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce is reduced to a $100 fine for a first or second offense and a $300 fine for a third offense within three years. A fourth offense within three years could be charged as a Class B misdemeanor, but there would be no arrest or jail time.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which has been deeply involved in the state for years, congratulated state political leaders for going this far, but urged them to go further.

"The governor and Legislature both deserve a lot of credit for moving the state forward with this commonsense reform," said Matt Simon, MPP's Manchester-based New England political director. "Unlike his predecessors, who opposed similar proposals, Gov. Sununu appears to understand that "Live Free or Die' is more than just a motto on a license plate.

"A lot of credit also goes to the House, which has been supporting decriminalization bills since 2008," Simon said. "It was refreshing to see the Senate finally come to an agreement with the House on this issue in 2017. This is a big step toward a more sensible marijuana policy for New Hampshire."

The next step would be outright legalization, Simon said, pointing to an August Granite State poll that showed more than two-thirds (68%) of state residents supported freeing the weed.

"There is no good reason to continue arresting and prosecuting people for marijuana possession. Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and Granite Staters are ready to see it treated that way. A very strong majority of state residents support ending marijuana prohibition altogether," Simon said.

"New Hampshire lawmakers should continue to follow their constituents' lead on this issue," Simon said. "Every state in New England is either implementing or strongly considering legislation to regulate marijuana for adult use. It is time for the legislature to develop a realistic marijuana prohibition exit strategy for New Hampshire."

Chronicle AM: Bill to End Federal Man Mins Filed, CA Calls for Pot Rescheduling, More... (1/18/17)

Bostonians celebrate marijuana legalization, California calls for its rescheduling, state attorneys general urge health insurers to reduce opioid prescriptions, Maxine Waters files a bill to end mandatory minimums for drug sentences, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Officially Calls for Marijuana Rescheduling. The Assembly last Thursday passed a resolution calling on the federal government to reschedule marijuana. The Senate had approved the resolution earlier. "The Legislature urges the Congress of the United States to pass a law to reschedule marijuana or cannabis and its derivatives from a Schedule I drug to an alternative schedule, therefore allowing the legal research and development of marijuana or cannabis for medical use," reads the joint resolution.

Boston Freedom Rally Draws Thousands to Celebrate Legalization. For the first time since voters legalized marijuana last November, the annual event demanding legalization was held this past weekend. Thousands flocked to Boston Common for the 28th Annual Boston Freedom Rally for live music, speeches, educational panels, and -- of course -- plentiful pot-smoking. Even though public marijuana use is illegal, police reported no arrests.

Nevada Supreme Court Throws a Wrench in Marijuana Distribution Licensing. The state's highest court issued a temporary injunction last Friday barring the Department of Taxation from granting any more pot distribution licenses. This means supply chain issues will continue to plague pot shops in the near term. The initiative that legalized pot in the state reserved such licenses for liquor distributors for the first 18 months, but the Tax Commission had voted to allow other distributors to get in on the action after determining that the booze distributors couldn't keep up with demand. The liquor distributors took legal action to block the new licenses, and here we are. Oral arguments in the case are set for October 3.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

State Attorneys General Urge Insurers to Seek Alternatives for Opioids. Attorneys general from 35 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico announced a bipartisan coalition to fight opioid addiction on Monday and rolled out their effort by jointly calling on health insurers to review pain management treatment policies in a bid to promote more use of alternatives to prescription opioids. The AGs said they didn't want health insurers to unintentionally contribute to the crisis. News articles didn't indicate whether the AGs noted the need to ensure that patients who do need opioids receive them.

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia DA Candidates Are Open to Safe Injection Sites. Larry Krasner, the Democratic frontrunner to be the next district attorney, has come out in support of city-sanctioned safe injection sites for drug users. His Republican foe, Beth Grossman, wouldn't go that far, but said she is open to discussion on the issue. Safe injection sites were mentioned in Mayor Jim Kenney's opioid task force report in May, but they were the most controversial of the report's 18 recommendations. Although efforts are underway in several cities, including New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, no officially-sanctioned safe injection sites operate in the US, although one unsanctioned one is reportedly operating in an unnamed US city.

Sentencing

Maxine Waters Files Bill to End Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) has filed House Resolution 3800 "to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offenses." The bill text is not yet available on the congressional web site.

International

Toronto Pot Lounges Want Right to Exist Under Legalization. Faced with a provincial plan to impose a government monopoly on retail marijuana sales, Toronto's existing pot consumption lounges, some of which have been around since before the turn of the century, are asking the city's Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee to regulate them instead of shutting them down. They argue that the shops are needed in the city, which bans public pot smoking and where many renters and apartment dwellers have no legal place to indulge.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, 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.)

The Only Legal Marijuana State to Ban Personal Pot Grows Could Be About to Change Its Mind

Eight states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and of those, only Washington does not allow people to grow their own plants. But that could be about to change.

young marijuana plant during vegetative growth phase (Wikipedia)
The state's marijuana regulatory agency, the State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB), has announced that it will consider allowing personal home grows. The impetus for the move comes from the state legislature, which passed a bill this year directing the agency to study options for allowing personal cultivation.

Currently, the only people who can grow their own marijuana in Washington are registered medical marijuana patients. But allowing home grows under the recreational marijuana law would potentially vastly increase the number of people able to grow their own supply.

While the state is moving toward allowing home cultivation, it is contemplating a more highly regulated approach than other legal states. In its presss release announcing an October 4 public hearing on the issue, the LCB laid out three options for moving forward:

Option 1: Tightly Regulated Recreational Marijuana Home Grows

Would allow up to four plants per household, but would require home growers to obtain a state permit and enter their plants with the state traceability system.

Option 2: Local Control of Recreational Marijuana Home Grows

Would allow up to four plants per household, but would require a local permit. Plants would not have to be entered in the state traceability system. Local authorities could limit home cultivation to fewer than four plants if they wished.

Option 3. Recreational Home Grows are Prohibited

That would be the status quo. Recreational marijuana consumers would be forced to rely on the state-regulated market to obtain their pot. Or the black market.

There is a fourth option, which the LCB didn't offer up, but which is the case in the other legal pot states: Allowing people to grow their own small number of pot plants without the necessity of obtaining a permit from either the state or local authorities. After all, we're talking about growing a plant in your house or yard here. When it comes to growing your own, the attitude of many Washington marijuana consumers is likely to be: "Permits? We don't need no stinking permits."

Chronicle AM: WA Ponders Personal NJ Grows, Trump Chastises Colombia Over Coca, More... (9/15/17)

The only legal marijuana state that doesn't allow personal cultivation will revisit the issue, the president chides Colombia and Colombia reacts, there's strong support for legalization in New Jersey, and more.

Colombian cocaine exports are on the increase. (Spanish police)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Vetoes Marijuana Packaging Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has vetoed Senate Bill 663, which would have specified conditions under which cannabis packaging would be deemed attractive to children and therefore banned. Although the bill was approved unanimously by the Assembly and Senate. Brown does not want new marijuana regulations except those developed through his office and regulatory agencies.

New Jersey Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for legalization at 59% among state voters. But the poll questions didn't ask about regulated and taxed sales; it only asked whether respondents supported "allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for recreational use." The state is expected to see a strong push for legalization in the legislature next year.

Washington to Consider Whether to Allow Personal Pot Grows. The state Liquor and Cannabis Control Board announced Thursday that it will hold a hearing on October 4 to seek public input on whether to allow residents to grow pot plants for their own use. Washington is the only legal pot state that bars personal grows, but the state legislature approved a bill telling the agency to look into options for allowing personal grows.

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Governor Signs PTSD Bill. Gov. John Carney (D) has signed into law a bill that allows people with PTSD to more easily qualify for medical marijuana. The new law allows PTSD patients to get a recommendation from any licensed physician; the old law required they receive recommendations only from licensed psychiatrists.

International

Trump Threatens to Decertify Colombia as Drug War Partner. In comments Wednesday as the State Department rolled out its annual list of reliable drug war partners, President Trump delivered not so veiled threats to Colombia over increased coca cultivation. Trump said he "seriously considered" decertifying the country because of the "extraordinary" growth in coca cultivation and cocaine production last year. He said he decided against decertification this year because the Colombian military is close partners with the US, but that he would keep it as an "option" and that he expected "significant progress" from Colombia in reducing output.

Colombia Rejects Trump Criticism. The government of President Juan Manuel Santos took issue with Trump's comments: "Colombia is without a doubt the country which most has fought drugs, and which has had the most success on that front," the government said in an early morning statement. "No one has to threaten us to confront this challenge."

Ontarians Are Liking the Notion of Government-Run Pot Shops. A Campaign Research poll released Thursday found that the province's plan to restrict marijuana sales to a government monopoly has fairly strong public support. Some 51% backed the idea, with 35% opposed and 14% with no opinion.

While Trump Moves Backward on Drug Sentencing, California Heads for More Reforms

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

The Trump Justice Department under prohibitionist Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reviving some of the drug war's worst sentencing practices -- mandatory minimum sentences, charging low-level defendants with the harshest statutes -- but that doesn't mean the states have to follow suit.

Harsh drug sentences are overcrowding California jails. (supremecourt.gov)
And, as has been the case with climate change, environmental protection, trade, and the protection of undocumented residents, California is charting its own progressive path in the face of the reactionaries in Washington.

The latest evidence comes from Sacramento, where the state Assembly passed a bill to stop sentencing drug offenders to extra time because they have previous drug convictions. The measure, Senate Bill 180, also known as the Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements (RISE) Act, passed the state Senate in June and now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

The bill would end a three-year sentence enhancement for prior drug convictions, including petty drug sales and possession of drugs for sales. Under current law, sale of even the tiniest amounts of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine can earn up to five years in prison, and each previous conviction for sales or possession with intent add three more.

State sheriffs complain that the drug sentencing enhancement is the leading cause of 10-year-plus sentences being served in their county jails, which now shoulder more of the burden of housing drug war prisoners after earlier reforms aimed at reducing prison overcrowding shifted them to local lock-ups. As of 2014, there were more than 1,500 people in California jails sentenced to more than five years and the leading cause of these long sentences was non-violent drug sales offenses.

"People are realizing that it is time to reform the criminal justice system so that there's more emphasis on justice and rehabilitation," Mitchell said after the final vote on SB 180, which is supported by nearly 200 business, community, legal and public-service groups. "By repealing sentencing enhancements for people who have already served their time, California can instead make greater investments in our communities. Let's focus on putting 'justice' in our criminal-justice system."

"This sentencing enhancement has been on the books for 35 years and failed to reduce the availability or sales of drugs within our communities," said Eunisses Hernandez of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supported the bill. "These extreme and punitive polices of the war on drugs break up families and don't make our communities any safer."

The bill is part of a set of bills known as the #EquityAndJustice package aimed at reducing inequities in the system. Authored by state Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach), the package also includes Senate Bill 190, which would end unreasonable fees on the families of incarcerated children and also sits on the governor's desk, as well as Senate Bill 355, which will end the requirement that innocent defendants reimburse the counties for the cost of appointed counsel. Brown has already signed that into law. "Harsh sentencing laws have condemned a generation of men of color, and with SB 180 and other bills in the Equity and Justice package we are on our way to restoring the values of rehabilitation to the criminal justice system," Lara said.

When Washington is in the hands of authoritarian, law-and-order politicians like Trump, Sessions, and the Republican Congress, it's time for the states to step up. California is showing how it's done.

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Chronicle AM: Orrin Hatch Punningly Files MedMJ Bill, DOJ #2 Speaks Out on Pot, More... (9/14/17)

What got into Orrin Hatch? Plus, Nevada could be the first state to allow pot lounges, the US Deputy AG says DOJ is still pondering marijuana policy, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Deputy Attorney General Says DOJ Still Reviewing Marijuana Policy. In an appearance at the conservative Heritage Foundation Thursday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the department was still looking at its options on marijuana policy. "We are reviewing that policy. We haven't changed it, but we are reviewing it. We're looking at the states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, trying to evaluate what the impact is," he said in remarks reported by Tom Angell for Forbes. "And I think there is some pretty significant evidence that marijuana turns out to be more harmful than a lot of people anticipated, and it's more difficult to regulate than I think was contemplated ideally by some of those states," he said.

Maine Draft Legalization Bill Would Let Dispensaries, Caregivers Sell to Recreational Market. The bill legislators have drafted to rewrite the state's voter-approved pot legalization law includes a provision that would let the state's eight licensed medical marijuana dispensaries apply for a license to sell in the recreational market. But they would have to have separate entrances and sales counters for medical and recreational customers. State-certified caregivers could also apply for recreational sales licenses.

Nevada Regulators Clear Way for Pot Clubs and Lounges. The state Legislative Counsel Bureau said on Monday that state law does not prohibit counties or municipalities from allowing clubs or lounges where patrons can use marijuana. It's up to the localities, the bureau said. Doing so would allow tourists and visitors to have a place to indulge. While pot is legal in the state, it cannot be consumed in public, in casinos, or in hotel rooms, leaving visitors with no place to take advantage of the pot law.

Medical Marijuana

Orrin Hatch Files Medical Marijuana Research Bill, Makes Bad Weed Puns. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act of 2017, or MEDS Act, to improve the process for conducting scientific research on marijuana as a safe and effective medical treatment. In introducing this legislation, Senator Hatch was joined by Senator Schatz (D-HI) and cosponsors Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC). "It's high time to address research into medical marijuana," Hatch said. "Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration, and quality of medical marijuana. All the while, the federal government strains to enforce regulations that sometimes do more harm than good. To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I've decided to roll out the MEDS Act. I urge my colleagues to join Senator Schatz and me in our joint effort to help thousands of Americans suffering from a wide-range of diseases and disorders. In a Washington at war with itself, I have high hopes that this bipartisan initiative can be a kumbaya moment for both parties." [Bolding done by Drug War Chronicle.]

Arizona Supreme Court Won't Let State Officials Use Federal Law to Get Around State Law. The high court on Tuesday declined to review a Court of Appeals ruling that federal law does not trump the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. The lower court had ruled that even though marijuana remains illegal federally, federal law does not preempt the state from allowing patients to use it. The case had been filed by recalcitrant Maricopa County Bill Montgomery (R), who didn't want to heed the will of the voters.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An Illinois DA gets indicted for asset forfeiture abuses, a Boston cop pleads guilty to extorting cocaine from a drug dealer, and more. Let's get to it:

In Ottawa, Illinois, a LaSalle County prosecutor was indicted last Tuesday on 17 charges, including paying personal expenses with money seized under the asset forfeiture program. Brian Towne had run his own police force, which he dubbed the State's Attorney's Felony Enforcement Unit (SAFE), out of his office. The unit seized vehicles, cash, and other assets worth hundreds of thousands of dollars before being ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court earlier this year. The indictment charges that Towne used some of that money to pay for a GMC Yukon and internet service for his personal use.

In Las Lunas, New Mexico, a state prison guard was arrested last Thursday for allegedly smuggling drugs into the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility. Guard Manuel Romero, 21, went down after an inmate died of a drug overdose and surveillance video showed Romero bringing items to his cell. Romero admitted providing drugs on at least three occasions. It's not clear what the precise charges are.

In Putnamville, Indiana, a state prison guard was arrested last Sunday after he admitted smuggling drugs into the Putnamville Correctional Facility. Officer Justin Ray Johnson, 25, went down after prison officials got word he was up to no good. He admitted smuggling drugs to inmates on several occasions. He is now charged with Level 5 felony trafficking with an inmate.

In Boston, a former Lawrence police officer pleaded guilty August 31 to extorting cocaine from a drug dealer by threatening to arrest him. John DeSantis Jr., 45, a 16-year veteran of the force, bought small amounts of cocaine from the dealer for a year without identifying himself as a cop, then in May 2016, showed him his gun and badge, took his cocaine, and threatened to arrest him if he not did continue to supply more coke. DeSantis pleaded guilty to extortion and attempted extortion under color of official right and through the use of threatened force and fear. He's looking at up to 18 months in prison when sentenced in November.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana is getting some attention in Congress, Arizona PTSD patients are still out of luck, Michigan dispensaries have three months to shut their doors and get licensed, and more.

National

Last Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators reintroduced the CARERS Act. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Rand Paul (R-KY) refiled the CARERS Act (Senate Bill 1764). The bill aims to "extend the principle of federalism to State drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana."

Last Thursday, the House GOP leadership blocked a vote to protect medical marijuana states. House GOP leaders won't allow a vote on an amendment to a spending bill that bars the Justice Department from spending money to go after state-compliant medical marijuana programs, several lawmakers said. The Farr-Rohrabacher amendment has protected those state programs for the past four years, but House leaders said "it splits the conference too much so we're not going to have a vote on it," The Hill reported. The move came despite pleas from Rep. Rohrabacher (R-CA) to allow the vote.

Last Friday, the budget deal Trump agreed to preserved medical marijuana protections -- for now. The budget deal agreed to between President Trump and congressional leaders extends federal protections to state-legal medical marijuana programs through December 8. This provides an opportunity for House GOP leaders to rectify their decision last week not to allow a vote on the amendment that for the past four years has blocked the Justice Department from spending federal funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

Arizona

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court refused to lift restrictions on medical marijuana for PTSD. The state Supreme Court rejected without comment an argument from the Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association that the former state health director had illegally imposed restrictions on when doctors can recommend the drug for PTSD. The high court's decision leaves intact an earlier Court of Appeals ruling upholding the restrictions. Attorneys for the association say they may take the case to federal court on equal protection grounds.

Iowa

Last Friday, the attorney general cited fed fears to block CBD from out of state dispensaries. The attorney general's office has advised the Department of Public Health not to implement a part of the state's CBD medical marijuana law that would have licensed two dispensaries from bordering states to supply CBD to Iowa patients. "It is possible that state's program may come under increased scrutiny from the federal government," a spokesman told the Des Moines Register, adding that the halt would remain "until the federal government provides further guidance regarding state medical marijuana programs."

Michigan

On Monday, dispensaries were given three months to shut their doors. Existing unlicensed dispensaries must shut their doors by December 15, the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said. On that date, the department begins accepting applications to operate under new medical marijuana regulations approved this year. While closing up shop and then applying for a license isn't exactly a thrill for existing dispensary owners, it's better than an alternative proposal that called for the dispensaries to be shut down immediately.

Pennsylvania

Last Friday, a lawsuit put the roll-out of the medical marijuana program in peril. A would-be medical marijuana operator who failed to win a permit to operate in an initial round of permit-issuing filed a lawsuit last challenging the process and seeking an injunction that would require the state to rescind all awarded permits and start over. That's raising concerns about medical marijuana supporters that it could cause needless suffering.

Texas

Last Thursday, the sttate issued its first CBD medical marijuana license. The state has issued a license to Cansortium Texas to grow, process, and sell CBD medical marijuana products to patients. Two other companies have applications in the pipeline. The move comes two years after the legislature approved a bill allowing for CBD use for epilepsy.

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

Chronicle AM: House Blocks Sessions Civil Asset Forfeiture Move, More... (9/13/17)

The House votes to defund Attorney General Sessions' newly revived Equitable Sharing asset forfeiture program, Maine lawmakers want a 20% sales tax on weed, Duterte allies in the Philippines vote to defund the country's human rights commission over its critique of the drug war, and more.

The attorney general isn't smiling over the House's asset forfeiture vote. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Lawmakers Want to Double Pot Sales Tax. In a draft bill released Tuesday, the legislature's marijuana legalization committee is recommending a 20% sales tax on recreational marijuana. Earlier, the committee had supported a 10% excise tax and a 10% sales tax, but now it's going all sales tax.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Supreme Court Refuses to Lift Restrictions on Medical Marijuana for PTSD. The state Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected without comment an argument from the Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association that the former state health director had illegally imposed restrictions on when doctors can recommend the drug for PTSD. The high court's decision leaves intact an earlier Court of Appeals ruling upholding the restrictions. Attorneys for the association say they may take the case to federal court on equal protection grounds.

Asset Forfeiture

House Slaps Down Sessions' Move to Reinstate Equitable Sharing Program. In a surprise move, the House voted virtually unanimously Tuesday to curb federal asset forfeitures, a slap in the face to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions had reinstated a federal civil asset forfeiture program that allowed state and local law enforcement to evade state forfeiture restrictions by handing their cases over to the feds, with the feds then returning 80% of the money to the seizing agency. The move came in a voice vote on an amendment to the Justice Department appropriations bill, which was sponsored by strange bedfellows Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Mark Sanford (R-SC), Raúl Labrador (R-ID), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Don Beyer (D-VA).

Foreign Policy

Feinstein, Grassley Fret Over Colombian Cocaine. The two senior senators, chair and co-chair of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Affairs, expressed worries Tuesday that a peace deal between Colombia and the leftist rebels of the FARC had led to a surge of cocaine being imported into the US. Feinstein also used the Senate hearing to express concern that the Trump administration will not adequately fund interdiction law enforcement efforts.

International

Philippine Congress Budgets Measly $20 to Fund Human Rights Commission. No, that's not a typo, and no, we didn't forget some zeroes. Lawmakers allied with President Rodrigo Duterte voted Tuesday to allocate just 1,000 pesos (USD $20) for the Commission on Human Rights, which has repeatedly criticized Duterte's bloody drug war, which has left thousands dead at the hands of police and vigilantes. The funding move was explicit retaliation for the commission's criticism of the human rights disaster. In a Facebook post responding to the move, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Agnes Callamard said Filipinos deserved an independent organization that could hold the government accountable for its misdeeds. "Instead they are getting a 'war on drugs' which, by the president's own account, has failed to curtail addiction rates, while creating a climate of fear and insecurity, feeding impunity, and undermining the constitutional fabrics of the country," she wrote. "If the Philippines Congress is looking for public money being wasted, damaging and hurting the Philippines society, this is it."

Surprise! House Votes to Curb Sessions' Asset Forfeiture Revival

In a surprise move, the House voted virtually unanimously Tuesday to curb federal asset forfeitures, a slap in the face to Attorney General and former Senator Jeff Sessions. Sessions had reinstated a federal civil asset forfeiture program that allowed state and local law enforcement to evade state forfeiture restrictions by handing their cases over to the feds, with the feds then returning 80% of the money to the seizing agency.

In response to a rising clamor over civil forfeiture reform abuses, Obama Attorney General Eric Holder had reined in the program, known as Equitable Sharing. Now, Sessions' attempt to bring it back has been blocked by a congressional coalition of progressives and the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus.

The move came in a voice vote on an amendment to the Justice Department appropriations bill, which was sponsored by strange bedfellows Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Mark Sanford (R-SC), Raúl Labrador (R-ID), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Don Beyer (D-VA).

The amendment aims directly at "adoptive forfeiture," the process by which the federal government agrees to take cases brought to it by local law enforcement agencies attempting to skirt state-level restrictions, which can include an outright ban on civil asset forfeiture (seizure without a criminal conviction) or designating that seized funds are to go the general fund or other designated fund -- not the cops.

Critics of civil asset forfeiture argue that the search for lucre distorts policing priorities, creates perverse incentives, and amounts to policing for profit. Numerous states have moved to end civil asset forfeiture outright, while others have imposed various restrictions on the practice.

While Sessions claims the program is needed so that criminals "are not allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime," a whopping 87% of federal asset forfeiture cases take place in cases where there has been no criminal conviction.

The House has acted. Now, it's up to the Senate to act. If the Senate fails to pass a similar measure, the amendment could still become law if it gets adopted by the conference committee that will attempt to sort out differences between the two bills. In the meantime, Sessions has been put on notice that his gift to profit-hungry state and local cops has serious opposition.

Roger Stone Yanked as Cannabis Conference Keynoter

Long-time Republican political trickster and Donald Trump advisor Roger Stone's gig as the keynote speaker at Los Angeles and Boston marijuana expos has been canceled after news of his participation roiled the cannabis community.

Roger Stone is persona non grata to many in the pot industry. (Wikimedia)
The Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition (CWCBExpo) had selected the white-haired provocateur to address the two marijuana business conferences after Stone came out for legalization early this summer. But Stone's pro-legalization stance wasn't enough to protect him from charges of racism, misogyny, and being too close to Trump, who rode his own racist dog whistles to the White House.

Once the announcement of Stone's participation was made, numerous speakers and exhibitors announced a boycott of CWCBExpo led by the Minority Cannabis Business Alliance, whose members loudly withdrew from the conference.

By last Wednesday, CWCBExpo had had enough of the controversy.

"Following collaborative discussions with numerous partners, participants and interested parties who support the legalization of cannabis in an inclusive manner, Cannabis World Congress & Business Expositions, (CWCBExpo) is announcing that Roger Stone will no longer be featured as a keynote speaker at the upcoming CWCBExpo events in Los Angeles and Boston," the organizers announced in a news release.

Stone's presence would work counter to the expo's goals, they said. The conference's forums "are crucial to the growth and legalization of the cannabis industry and they supersede the distractions that have surrounded the events," the release said.

Stone, of course, wasn't taking the snub lying down. He told the LA Weekly he would sue CWCBExpo.

"Sad day for the First Amendment," Mr. Stone told the newspaper. "The expo is in breach of contract. I will be suing them for $1 million. I will not be deterred from my efforts to persuade the president to preserve access to legal medicinal marijuana consistent with his pledge to the American people."

Don't be too worried about the prankster, though: Stone already has another gig lined up. He just started a new internet and radio program on InfoWars, home of Trump supporter and far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Chronicle AM: Democratic Senators Call Out Trump on Opioid Inaction, More... (9/12/17)

Democratic senators want Trump to do more than say pretty words about the opioid epidemic, California's second largest city gets on board with marijuana legalization, Canadian cops seek a delay in rolling out legalization north of the border, and more.

Last month, President Trump said the opioid epidemic was a national emergency. Since then...nothing. (Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia)
Marijuana Policy

San Diego City Council Votes to Legalize Marijuana Cultivation, Manufacturing. California's second most populous city has gotten on board with legalization. The city council voted 6-3 Monday night to approve a regulatory framework for the looming legal recreational pot industry instead of trying to ban it.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Dispensaries Given Three Months to Shut Doors. Existing unlicensed dispensaries must shut their doors by December 15, the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said Monday. On that date, the department begins accepting applications to operate under new medical marijuana regulations approved this year. While closing up shop and then applying for a license isn't exactly a thrill for existing dispensary owners, it's better than an alternative proposal that called for the dispensaries to be shut down immediately.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program Roll-Out Imperiled by Lawsuit. A would-be medical marijuana operator who failed to win a permit to operate in an initial round of permit-issuing filed a lawsuit last Friday challenging the process and seeking an injunction that would require the state to rescind all awarded permits and start over. That's raising concerns about medical marijuana supporters that it could cause needless suffering.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Democratic Senators Demand Trump Take Action on Opioid Epidemic. On Monday, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and nine Democratic senatorial colleagues sent a letter to President Trump asking the administration what it is doing about the recommendation that it declare an emergency around the opioid epidemic. Trump called it a national emergency more than a month ago, but nothing has happened since. "Regardless of whether you choose to declare a state of emergency, continued inaction on this issue is deeply concerning," the senators wrote. "Your lack of action -- coupled with your support of policies that would make access to substance use disorder care more difficult for millions of Americans -- causes us to question your commitment to ending the opioid use disorder and overdose crisis," the letter said.

International

Canadian Cops Want Delay in Marijuana Legalization Rollout. Representatives of various Canadian police forces testifying before the House of Commons said they would not be ready for the roll-out of marijuana legalization next summer and urged a delay. They also urged lawmakers to think again about allowing personal home cultivation, because it would be hard to police.

Colombia Clashes Leave One Coca Grower Dead, Two Wounded. The casualties occurred as coca growers in Morales, Cauca, clashed with soldiers taking part in forced eradication of coca crops. Farmers began throwing rocks at the soldiers, who apparently opened fire on the protestors. This is the second clash between angry coca growers and government forces in the past month, and reflects growing tensions over forced eradication.

UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Slams Philippines Drug War. Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called out President Rodrigo Duterte for his "lack of respect for due process rights for all Filipinos" and his "open support for a shoot-to-kill policy." Al Hussein added that he was "gravely concerned" not only about the killings, but also about the lack of credible investigations into them.

Chronicle AM: Ontario Goes With State-Owned Pot Shops, DEA Agent's Sordid Affair, More... (9/11/17)

Canada's most populous province is going with a state monopoly on legal marijuana sales, the CARERS Act is back, last week's surprise budget deal preserves protections for legal medical marijuana states for a few more months, and more.

Medical Marijuana

Congressional Budget Deal Preserves Medical Marijuana Protections -- For Now. The budget deal agreed to last week between President Trump and congressional leaders extends federal protections to state-legal medical marijuana programs through December 8. This provides an opportunity for House GOP leaders to rectify their decision last week not to allow a vote on the amendment that for the past four years has blocked the Justice Department from spending federal funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

Bipartisan Group of Senators Reintroduce CARERS Act. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Rand Paul (R-KY) refiled the CARERS Act (Senate Bill 1764) last Wednesday. The bill aims to "extend the principle of federalism to State drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana."

Iowa Attorney General Cites Fed Fears to Block CBD from Out of State Dispensaries. The attorney general's office has advised the Department of Public Health not to implement a part of the state's CBD medical marijuana law that would have licensed two dispensaries from bordering states to supply CBD to Iowa patients. "It is possible that state's program may come under increased scrutiny from the federal government," a spokesman told the Des Moines Register, adding that the halt would remain "until the federal government provides further guidance regarding state medical marijuana programs."

Drug Policy

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi Joins Trump's Drug Task Force. A Republican and Trump supporter, Bondi has been appointed to the Presidential Commission on Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, her office announced last Friday. The other commission members are chairman and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), North Carolina Roy Cooper (D), former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-MA), and Harvard professor Dr. Bertha Madras. The commission is supposed to issue a final report by October 1.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Congressman Files Bill to Broaden Medication Assisted Treatment. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) has filed House Resolution 3692 to "amend the Controlled Substances Act to provide additional flexibility with respect to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders."

Law Enforcement

DEA Agent's Scandalous Affair Unveiled. A Justice Department inspector general's report released last Thursday revealed one bit of juicy scandal: A DEA agent carried on a wild affair with a convicted drug criminal for five years, and let her listen to active wiretaps, roam the evidence room unattended, and had sex with her in his office and official vehicle. The whole thing unraveled when she got pregnant, he reacted unfavorably, and she ratted him out to superiors. The unnamed agent was originally only suspended for 45 days, but was eventually fired.

International

Ontario Will Only Allow Legal Pot Sales in Government Monopoly Shops. Canada's most populous province announced last Friday that it will open 150 standalone pot shops operated by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), as well as eventually allowing an online order service. Dispensaries that have sprouted up in the province are out of luck: "Illicit cannabis dispensaries are not and will not be legal retailers," the province explained in a news release. "The province will pursue a coordinated and proactive enforcement strategy, working with municipalities, local police services, the OPP and the federal government to help shut down these illegal operations."

Canadian Prime Minister Just Says No to Drug Decriminalization. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has rejected calls from British Columbia public health and political figures to embrace drug decriminalization as part of a solution to the country's opioid crisis. "We are making headway on this and indeed the crisis continues and indeed spreads across the country but we are not looking at legalizing any other drugs than marijuana for the time being," Trudeau told a news conference in BC last Thursday.

German Poll Finds Solid Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A Mafo Market Research Institute poll has found signs of a rapid shift in support for freeing the weed in Germany. Polls going back to 2001 have had support hovering around 19%, but things began to change around 2014. That year, a poll had 30% supporting legalization. In November 2015, another poll had support at 42%. The new Mafo poll has support at 57.5%.

Chronicle AM: Trouble in the Philly Narc Squad, TN Cops Misused Seizure Funds, More... (9/8/17)

We're seeing progress on pot policy in gubernatorial candidates in Minnesota and Virginia, Tennessee cops get scorched for asset forfeiture spending abuses, black Philly narcs charge their bosses are racist and corrupt, and more.

"Honor, Service, Integrity"
Marijuana Policy

California Lawmakers Propose Allowing Integrated Pot Operations. An Assembly Budget Committee "clean up" bill aimed at addressing inconsistencies and confusion caused by previous efforts to regulate marijuana in the state includes a provision that would allow growers and sellers to group multiple permitted operations together. Under the bill, a dispensary could also sell for recreational use if properly licensed, a pot shop would be to run a same-site manufacturing operation, and multiple groups could be licensed to grow marijuana at the same facility.

Minnesota DFL Gubernatorial Candidates Line Up for Legalization. Five out of six Democratic Farm Labor candidates for governor have come out for marijuana legalization. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, state Reps. Erin Murphy, Tina Liebling and Paul Thissen, and US Rep. Tim Walz are all ready to free the weed. Among the major DFL candidates, only State Auditor Rebecca Otto isn't ready to go there.

Virginia GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Calls for Decriminalization. Virginia Republican candidate for governor Ed Gillespie has come out for the decriminalization of small-time pot possession. He said he would try to persuade the General Assembly to adjust the pot laws so that a "person arrested for simple possession of marijuana would not be charged with possession until the third instance." Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam has already called for decriminalization.

Asset Forfeiture

DOJ Report Finds Tennessee Cops Misused Asset Forfeiture Funds. A report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General found that state law enforcement misused funds from the department's Equitable Sharing asset forfeiture program. In one case, police spent $110,000 on catering services, which is not an allowed use of the funds. The report also cited lax tracking and reporting requirements and recommended the state get on the ball. It also said the state should "remedy" that catering expense.

Law Enforcement

Black Philly Narcs Charge Supervisors With Racism, Corruption. Six black Philadelphia Police narcotics officers have filed complaints with the state Human Relations Commission charging that two white supervisors, Chief Inspector Anthony Boyle and Inspector Raymond Evers, are racist and corrupt and should be removed from their positions. The complaints included allowing a white narc to park his car adorned with a confederate flag on city property, encouraging officers to file false documents and falsify evidence, and denying black officers overtime opportunities and choice work assignments. Boyle is also accused of referring to black citizens as "scum" and referring to the deaths of blacks as "thinning the herd." The black narcs said a civil lawsuit is being considered.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, 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: House GOP Leaders Block MedMJ Vote, Roger Stone Out at Pot Expos, More... (9/7/17)

It's all marijuana news today, with Delaware and Illinois lawmakers pondering legalization, the Vermont governor setting out a two-year road map to legalization, the House leadership blocking a vote on an amendment protecting medical marijuana, and more.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) pleaded with the House leadership to allow a vote, to no avail. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Task Force Meets. A legislative task force charged with studying how to implement legalization met for the first time Wednesday. Members hope to address issues including taxation, banking, and health and public safety concerns.

Illinois Marijuana Legalization Bills Get Hearing. A joint House-Senate appropriations committee heard starkly differing testimony from drug policy experts and law enforcement officials at a hearing on legalization bills Wednesday. Police and prosecutors worried about youth use, driving under the influence, and discredited gateway theories, while experts said legalization would allow a widely used substance to be regulated.

Vermont Governor Forms Marijuana Advisory Commission, Would Put Legalization Two Years Down the Road. Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed an executive order Thursday creating the Governor's Marijuana Advisory Commission to study issue around marijuana legalization. Earlier this year, Scott vetoed a legalization bill that reached his desk, citing public safety concerns. Although legislators amended the bill to win his signature, legislative Republicans blocked a vote on the amended bill during a special session. Scott envisions the advisory commission coming up with a final report by December 2018, setting the state for the legislature to act in 2019, but there are signs legislators may not want to wait.

Manhattan DA Lessens Pot Penalties in Bid to Avoid Immigrant Deportations. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has issued new plea guidelines for small-time pot possession cases that would help protect immigrants from being deported for criminal offenses, no matter how minor. The prosecutor's office has a deferred adjudication program in place that drops charges if the defendant is not arrested again within 12 months, but now Vance has reduced that period to three months for a first offense and six months for a second offense. Vance's office estimates this will end criminal prosecutions for nearly 20,000 people each year.

Trump Ally and Political Dirty Trickster Roger Stone Bumped from Pot Expo Speaker Slot. Bowing to pressure from marijuana industry members infuriated by the inclusion of a man they see as a racist, misogynist, Donald Trump enabler, the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo (CWCBExpo) announced Wednesday that it has rescinded the invitation for Stone to be the keynote speaker at looming expos in Los Angeles and Boston. The expo had faced a boycott of speakers and exhibitors led by the Minority Cannabis Business Alliance. Now it faces a lawsuit from an angry Stone.

Medical Marijuana

House GOP Leadership Blocks Vote to Protect Medical Marijuana States. House GOP leaders won't allow a vote on an amendment to a spending bill that bars the Justice Department from spending money to go after state-compliant medical marijuana programs, several lawmakers said Thursday. The Farr-Rohrabacher amendment has protected those state programs for the past four years, but House leaders said "it splits the conference too much so we're not going to have a vote on it," The Hill reported. The move came despite pleas from Rep. Rohrabacher (R-CA) to allow the vote.

Texas Issues First CBD Medical Marijuana License. The state has issued a license to Cansortium Texas to grow, process, and sell CBD medical marijuana products to patients. Two other companies have applications in the pipeline. The move comes two years after the legislature approved a bill allowing for CBD use for epilepsy.

Trump BS Alert: The Border Wall Won't Stop Drug Smuggling [FEATURE]

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

The president doesn't let reality get in the way of rhetoric. (Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)
President Trump sure loves his border wall. It was a staple of his campaign rhetoric, and despite Mexico's firm insistence that there is no way it's ever going to pay for it, Trump's desire for it is unabated. Now, he's threatening to shut down the government unless he can persuade the Congress to make American taxpayers pay for it.

Last week, Trump claimed that "building the wall will stop much of the drugs coming into the county." That claim is yet another example of what CNN contributor Fareed Zakaria pungently referred to as Trump's primary political product: bullshit.

Here's what Trump claimed during his joint press conference last Monday with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto:

"The wall will stop much of the drugs from pouring into this country and poisoning our youth. So we need the wall. It's imperative… The wall is needed from the standpoint of drug -- tremendous, the drug scourge, what's coming through the areas that we're talking about… So we will build the wall, and we will stop a lot of things, including the drug -- the drugs are pouring in at levels like nobody has ever seen. We'll be able to stop them once the wall is up."

And here's the reality: Trump's own DEA and outside experts agree that building a wall along the 1,700 mile land border with Mexico will have little impact on the drug trade. Not only do drugs from Latin America enter America by sea and air as well as across the Mexican border, but the vast majority of drugs crossing the land border do so not in unfenced desert expanses, but through official ports of entry.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations "transport the bulk of their drugs over the Southwest Border through ports of entry (POEs) using passenger vehicles or tractor trailers," the DEA said in its 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment. "The drugs are typically secreted in hidden compartments when transported in passenger vehicles or comingled with legitimate goods when transported in tractor trailers."

Here's how the DEA detailed trafficking methods for various drugs:

Methamphetamine: "Traffickers most commonly transport methamphetamine in tractor trailers and passenger vehicles with hidden compartments. In addition, traffickers send methamphetamine through various mail services or by couriers traveling via bus or commercial airline.

Heroin: "Most heroin smuggled across the border is transported in privately-owned vehicles, usually through California, as well as through south Texas."

Cocaine: "Tractor trailers and passenger vehicles are frequently used to transport multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine. Cocaine is hidden amongst legitimate cargo or secreted inside of intricate hidden compartments built within passenger vehicles."

Marijuana: "Large quantities of marijuana are smuggled through subterranean tunnels."

A May 2017 DEA intelligence report obtained by Foreign Policy echoed the 2015 assessment. It, too, found that drugs coming from Mexico went indeed cross the border, but they mainly do so concealed in vehicles using ports of entry -- not those unfenced expanses. That report also noted that drugs headed for the Northeast United States, especially from Colombia -- the world's leading cocaine producer, as well as source of opium and heroin second only to Mexico in the US market -- come more often by plane and boat.

Drug traffickers "generally route larger drug shipments destined for the Northeast through the Bahamas and/or South Florida by using a variety of maritime conveyance methods, to include speedboats, fishing vessels, sailboats, yachts, and containerized sea cargo," the report found. "In some cases, Dominican Republic-based traffickers will also transport cocaine into Haiti for subsequent shipment to the United States via the Bahamas and/or South Florida corridor using maritime and air transport."

That report did not address the border wall, but its examples of how and where drugs enter the country show that in many cases, building a wall wouldn't make a scintilla of difference: "According to DEA reporting, the majority of the heroin available in New Jersey originates in Colombia and is primarily smuggled into the United States by Colombian and Dominican groups via human couriers on commercial flights to the Newark International Airport," the report found.

The report concluded with recommendations for reducing the drug trade, but none of them were about building a border wall. Instead, targeting foreign drug trafficking networks within the US "would be an essential component to any broad strategy for resolving the current opioid crisis."

It's not just his own DEA that is giving the lie to Trump's bullshit. His own chief of staff, John Kelly contradicted the president's position at a congressional hearing in April. Illegal drugs from Mexico "mostly come through the ports of entry," he said. "We know they come in in relatively small amounts, 10, 15 kilos at a time in automobiles and those kinds of conveyances."

Drug trafficking experts agreed with Kelly and the DEA -- not Trump.

Brookings Institution senior fellow and long-time analyst of drug production and trafficking Vanda Felbab-Brown summed things up bluntly in an essay earlier this month: "A barrier in the form of a wall is increasingly irrelevant to the drug trade as it now practiced because most of the drugs smuggled into the US from Mexico no longer arrive on the backs of those who cross illegally."

"The wall won't stop the flow of drugs into the United States," she told Fact Check last week.

Other experts contacted by Fact Check concurred. University of Maryland criminal justice professor and founder of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center Peter Reuter pronounced himself skeptical that a wall would have any impact on the drug trade.

"The history is that smugglers eventually figure a workaround," he said. "There have been many promising interdiction interventions -- none of them have made more than a temporary dent."

And Middle Tennessee State University political science professor Stephen D. Morris, whose research has largely focused on Mexico, came up with two reasons the border wall would not stop drugs.

"First, as you say, most drug shipments come disguised as commerce and are crossing the border by truck or in cargo containers. Human mules, to my knowledge, bring in a small fraction," he said. "Second, smugglers adapt. Whether it is tunnels, submarines, mules, drones, etc., they are good at figuring out new ways to get drugs to those in the US who will buy them."

It is a shame that Donald Trump's ascendency has so coarsened and vulgarized our national political discourse. But his lies demand a forthright response. Bullshit is bullshit.

Debunking a Republican Myth About Medicaid and Opioids

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

Obamacare foes desperate for a new angle of attack on the increasingly popular health care program have come up with an intriguing new theory: The expansion of Medicaid to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may be driving the opioid epidemic.

For the right, tying "failed socialist" Obamacare to the drug epidemic is a two-fer. They get to decry the very notion of government programs as something good for society and they get to link "bleeding heart" efforts to help poor people with outcomes that actually hurt them.

It would be a nice little argument for cutting Medicaid -- if only it were true. But there's little evidence to suggest it is true and a lot of evidence to suggest it isn't.

The notion began circulating in the conservative media echo chamber after the Health and Human Services Department did a private analysis for Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) that said the opioid overdose rate rose nearly twice as much in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA than those that didn't.

"These data appear to point to a larger problem," Johnson wrote. "Medicaid expansion may be fueling the opioid epidemic in communities across the country." Johnson pulled up just short of blaming Medicaid, saying more research is needed.

But if Johnson was looking for help from fellow Obamacare foe and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, it wasn't exactly forthcoming. HHS wouldn't address questions about Johnson's analysis and instead issued a statement saying "correlation does not necessary prove causation," but that, yes, more research would be helpful.

But based on what we know so far, here are four reasons the charge that Medicaid is fueling the opioid epidemic is bogus:

1. Medicaid is actually increasing treatment for opioid addiction.

That's according to Temple University economist Catherine Maclean and Brendan Saloner of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who recently published a paper on Medicaid expansion and drug treatment: "Medicaid-reimbursed prescriptions for medications used to treat Substance Use Disorders in outpatient settings increased by 33% in expanding states relative to non-expanding states. Among patients admitted to specialty SUD treatment, we find that in expanding states Medicaid insurance and use of Medicaid to pay for treatment increased by 58% and 57% following the expansion. In an extension to the main analyses we find no evidence that the expansions affected fatal alcohol poisonings or drug-related overdoses," they wrote.

"Medicaid is doing its job," she told the Associated Press last week. "As more time passes, we may see a decline in overdoses in expansion states relative to non-expansion states."

2. States that expanded Medicaid did so in part because they already suffered higher overdose rates.

That same research by Maclean and Saloner also found that overdose rates were higher to begin with in states that expanded Medicaid. That suggests that pre-existing drug problems may have played a role in states deciding to expand Medicaid so they could leverage more federal money to fight addiction.

Republican labor economist Craig Garthwaite of Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management told the AP that such a desire helped propel Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich toward expanding Medicaid. When Kasich talks about why, he said, "it has a lot to do with mental health and substance use disorders." The claim that Medicaid is fueling opioid overdoses is "fundamentally flawed," Garthwaite added.

In other words, overdoses aren't increasing because of Medicaid; instead, Medicaid is expanding in part because of an effort to reduce overdoses.

3. Counties where insurance coverage has expanded the most have seen smaller increases in overdose deaths than those with smaller coverage gains.

A recent analysis by Vanderbilt University economist Andrew Goodman-Bacon and Harvard researcher Emma Sandoe compared trends in drug-related deaths at the county level, contrasting counties that had high levels of uninsured residents pre-ACA with those that didn't. Under the theory that Medicaid expansion is causing increased overdose deaths, we would expect to see the largest increase in deaths in those high-insured counties because that's where more people took advantage of expanded Medicaid. But that wasn't the case:

"Drug-related deaths increased at a lower rate in high-uninsurance counties than in low-uninsurance counties," the researchers found. "This does not support the notion that the ACA worsened the opioid epidemic."

In other words, the more people on expanded Medicaid, the lower the rate of increase in overdose deaths.

4. The Medicaid theory lumps all opioid overdose deaths together when many are not caused by prescription opioids.

This is bad science. If you want to measure prescription opioid deaths, you need to measure only prescription opioid deaths. But the HHS analysis for Sen. Johnson didn't do that. Instead, it lumped in deaths from non-prescription street drugs, such as heroin or illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Having a Medicaid card doesn't provide access to street drugs, and it is precisely heroin and illicit fentanyl that are driving the surge in opioid deaths since 2010.

"It's worrisome because this is the type of numerical evidence that's used to propose bad policy," Garthwaite told the AP.

Medical Marijuana Update

The feds poking about in California and Colorado is raising hackles, Maryland's first commercial medical marijuana grows get underway, Montana's largest city bans dispensaries, and more.

California

On Wednesday, a federal request for patient data was raising hackles, but getting nowhere. An official with the National Marijuana Initiative, a project of the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, last month asked state officials for data on the age, gender, and stated affliction -- but not the name -- of every state resident who received a medical marijuana card between 2012 and 2016. The Initiative official said they wanted the data only to study "usage rates" among different age groups, but was nonetheless rebuffed by an employee of the state Medical Marijuana Program, who said the program only administers the ID card program and "does not have information regarding dispensaries." The program also clarified that it does not keep records of ID card application after they are issued.

Colorado

Last Thursday, a lawsuit claimed the Justice Department was using the IRS to do criminal investigations of pot businesses. The owners of a medical marijuana business in the town of Silt have filed a lawsuit challenging IRS subpoenas to the state's Marijuana Enforcement Division that seek information about how much marijuana the businesses have grown, who they sold it to, and when. The lawsuit alleges that the information is being sought for possible use in criminal investigations by the Justice Department. The IRS says it is simply trying to verify financial records.

Iowa

Last Wednesday, Ithe governor named members of a medical marijuana board. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) named eight members to serve on the Medical Cannabidiol Board. The board is charged with overseeing the state's newly expanded, but still extremely restrictive, CBD medical marijuana law. Click on the link for the appointees' names.

Maryland

As of Monday, licensed medical marijuana grows were underway.The first two licensed medical marijuana cultivators in the state have begun growing their first crop. Both ForwardGro and Curio Wellness report they now have plants growing. But at this point, there's only one dispensary licensed to sell it to. The state could see up to a hundred dispensaries, which have until December to show final documentation and prove they are ready to do business.

Montana

On Tuesday, the state's largest city banned dispensaries. The Billings city council voted on Tuesday to ban dispensaries. Although the city enacted an ordinance in 2011 prohibiting dispensaries, a couple are operating in the city anyway. At least one of them, Montana Advanced Caregivers, has said it isn't going anywhere and will continue serving patients.

Pennsylvania

Last Thursday, Pstate officials agreed it must reveal the names of members on a secret application-vetting panel. The state Office of Open Records concluded that the state must name the members of a panel that scored applications for medical marijuana permits. The Health Department had argued that keeping the names secret protected panel members from undue pressure or threats to their safety. But the secrecy also blocked panel members from being scrutinized for conflicts of interest.

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

Chronicle AM: Angela Merkel in No Rush to Free the Weed, MD MedMJ Grows Underway, More... (9/6/17)

The feds continue to seek marijuana data from states, a Philippines senator stands up to Duterte, Angela Merkel isn't worrying too much about weed, and more.

Philippines Sen. Risa Hontiveros is standing up to President Duterte and his bloody drug war. (Wikipedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

Federal Request for Patient Data Raises Hackles in California. An official with the National Marijuana Initiative, a project of the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, last month asked state officials for data on the age, gender, and stated affliction -- but not the name -- of every state resident who received a medical marijuana card between 2012 and 2016. The Initiative official said they wanted the data only to study "usage rates" among different age groups, but was nonetheless rebuffed by an employee of the state Medical Marijuana Program, who said the program only administers the ID card program and "does not have information regarding dispensaries." The program also clarified that it does not keep records of ID card application after they are issued.

Maryland Medical Marijuana Grows Are Underway.The first two licensed medical marijuana cultivators in the state have begun growing their first crop. Both ForwardGro and Curio Wellness report they now have plants growing. But at this point, there's only one dispensary licensed to sell it to. The state could see up to a hundred dispensaries, which have until December to show final documentation and prove they are ready to do business.

International

Philippines Senator Rejects Duterte Claim There is No Policy to Kill Drug Offenders. A day after President Rodrigo Duterte called her "stupid" for questioning his claim that there was no state policy of killing drug suspects, Sen. Risa Hontiveros reiterated her disbelief: "I am not a genius but I know that while two deaths do not make a policy, thousands of dead, without remorse, regret, or action from the government do," she said in a statement. "Eight thousand to 13,000 people have already died in this bloody war on drugs, mostly from the ranks of the poor."

Angela Merkel Not in Any Rush to Legalize Weed. Don't hold your breath waiting for German Chancellor Angela Merkel to lead the way on marijuana law reform. "I do not think of it," she told Neue Osnabrucker Zeitung. "We allow a very limited medical application, and I do not intend to make any changes."

The 2017 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, October 11-14, Atlanta

DPA conference vigil, Albuquerque, 2009
The 2017 International Drug Policy Reform Conference will convene in Atlanta, Georgia on October 11-14. More than 1,500 people who believe the war on drugs has failed will be in attendance to network, to strategize and to lift up policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.

Attendees will join a broad range of drug policy stakeholders -- activists, academics, healthcare and public health advocates, veterans, formerly incarcerated people, elected officials, students, and many others from around the country and across the globe!

This year, attendees will have the opportunity to spend three days deepening connections with people committed to finding alternatives to the war on drugs while participating in sessions facilitated by leading experts.

Visit http://www.reformconference.org to register. Get updates on the Reform Conference on Facebook and Twitter, and follow hashtag #NoMoreDrugWar.

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Atlanta, GA
United States

Chronicle AM: Fed MJ Amendments Coming, Trump to Name Marino as Drug Czar, More... (9/5/17)

Trump nominates a drug czar, federal drug prosecutions are down, Obama's clemency program barely scratched the surface, British nitrous oxide prosecutions get laughed out of court, and more.

Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) is Trump's pick for job czar. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Representatives File Marijuana Banking Amendments. Congressional supporters of legal marijuana have filed two amendments to the House Treasury appropriations bill. One would prohibit Treasury from spending money to punish banks that service the legal marijuana sector; the other bars Treasury from altering FinCEN's guidance to banking institutions. If passed, the bills would allow marijuana businesses in compliance with state laws to have access to the banking system.

Rep. Ted Lieu Files Amendment to Cut DEA Eradication Funding. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) has reintroduced an amendment to slash funding for the DEA's marijuana eradication program by half. Last year, the budget for eradication was $18 million, spent mainly on uprooting low-THC feral hemp in the Midwest. The program "is a ridiculous waste of precious federal resources, especially when multiple states and jurisdictions have already legalized marijuana… it is time for the federal government to stop making marijuana use or possession a federal crime," Lieu said.

California Regulation Bills Die As Legislature Gets Out of the Way. The Senate Appropriations Committee last Friday bottled up ten bills aimed at regulating legal marijuana commerce, leaving the way clear for the state's new Bureau of Cannabis Control to finish its own rulemaking process before lawmakers come back with additional restrictions. "Legislative leaders are working with the administration on a budget trailer bill to resolve cannabis-related issues. It makes sense to take a comprehensive approach," Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) chairman of the committee, told the Marin Journal.

Colorado Lawsuit Claims DOJ Using IRS to Do Criminal Investigations of Pot Businesses. The owners of a medical marijuana business in the town of Silt have filed a lawsuit challenging IRS subpoenas to the state's Marijuana Enforcement Division that seek information about how much marijuana the businesses have grown, who they sold it to, and when. The lawsuit alleges that the information is being sought for possible use in criminal investigations by the Justice Department. The IRS says it is simply trying to verify financial records.

Delaware Task Force on Marijuana Legalization Will Meet Wednesday. A state legislative task force charged with studying how marijuana might be legalized and making recommendations on doing so will meet for the first time on Wednesday. The task force was created by legislative resolution after a bill to legalize marijuana failed earlier this year.

Drug Policy

Trump to Name Pennsylvania Republican Congressman as Drug Czar. The White House announced Friday that President Trump will nominate Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Marino had been mentioned as a possible drug czar earlier, but withdrew from consideration in May, citing family illness.

Law Enforcement

Federal Drug Prosecutions Fall Under Trump. Despite all the tough talk about cracking down on crime coming from the White House and the Justice Department, the latest data from the department show that overall criminal conviction and drug conviction are both down during the first 10 months of Fiscal Year 2017. Overall criminal convictions were down 12.3% over last year and are now lower than at any time since 2008. Federal drug convictions were also down by 4.0%, reaching their lowest level since 1997. Of all DOJ prosecutions, immigration offenses accounted for 53.1%, followed by drug conviction at 18.6%.

Sentencing

Report on Obama's Clemency Initiative Finds Only a Small Percentage of Those Eligible Actually Got Clemency. The US Sentencing Commission has released an analysis of the implementation of the Obama administration's 2014 clemency initiative, which encouraged long-serving, nonviolent drug offenders to apply for sentence cuts. The report found that while President Obama granted more commutations than any other president (1,928) and that most of them (1,696) were sentence commutations under the 2014 Clemency Initiative, the initiative only saw sentence cuts for only 3.4% of all federally imprisoned drug trafficking offenders who appeared to meet all the clemency criteria. On the other hand, those who did get sentence cuts saw an average reduction of nearly 12 years.

International

Philippines Drug War Has Nation's Jails Creaking Under the Pressure. While the horrid killings of thousands of suspected drug users and dealers had grabbed the world's attention, President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war has also seen nearly 100,000 people arrested on drug charges, with almost all (94%) of them still in jail awaiting trial. As a result, the country's jails are now tremendously overcrowded, with one prison with an official capacity of 262 inmates now holding 2,975 -- three-fourths of them for drug offenses. It's not just the jails that are feeling the pinch; the Public Attorney's Office, which defends the cases, reports a backlog of 303,000 drug cases, nearly 2 ½ times the backlog when Duterte took office.

British Courts Throw Out Laughing Gas Prosecutions. In the past few days, two cases in which the government attempted to prosecute people for supplying nitrous oxide (laughing gas) have collapsed, with courts ruling that that the stuff is a medicine and thus exempt from last year's Psychoactive Substances Act. This is no surprise to drug experts, including the government's own drug advisors, who warned the law was overly broad and unworkable.

Chronicle AM: House GOP Reps Will Try to Block Sessions Forfeiture Expansion, More... (9/1/17)

The Massachusetts marijuana commission is being top-loaded with legalization foes, Obama's former drug czar comes out for a ban on high-potency prescription opioids, House GOP members prepare amendments to a budget bill to block expanded asset forfeiture, and more.

Attorney General Sessions wants to expand civil asset forfeiture. Some GOP reps want to block him. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Names Legalization Foe to Head Marijuana Commission. State Treasurer Deb Goldberg has named former Bain and Company executive Steven Hoffman to chair the state's Cannabis Control Commission, which is charged with regulating legal marijuana. Hoffman voted against the legalization initiative last November. The only other member of the five-member commission who has been named so far is Gov. Charlie Baker's (R) nominee, former state Sen. Jen Flanagan (D-Leominster), another legalization foe. Attorney General Maura Healey (D) also gets to pick a member, while the other two members will be named on agreement by the governor, the attorney general, and the treasurer. (Update: Longtime reform activist Shaleen Title was named to the commission late Friday.)

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Governor Names Medical Marijuana Board Members. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) named eight members to serve on the Medical Cannabidiol Board on Wednesday. The board is charged with overseeing the state's newly expanded, but still extremely restrictive, CBD medical marijuana law. Click on the link for the appointees' names.

Montana's Largest City Bans Dispensaries. The Billings city council voted on Tuesday to ban dispensaries. Although the city enacted an ordinance in 2011 prohibiting dispensaries, a couple are operating in the city anyway. At least one of them, Montana Advanced Caregivers, has said it isn't going anywhere and will continue serving patients.

Pennsylvania Must Reveal Names on Secret Marijuana Application-Vetting Panel. The state Office of Open Records concluded Thursday that the state must name the members of a panel that scored applications for medical marijuana permits. The Health Department had argued that keeping the names secret protected panel members from undue pressure or threats to their safety. But the secrecy also blocked panel members from being scrutinized for conflicts of interest.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Obama's Former Drug Czar Calls for Ban on High-Grade Opioids. Former Office of National Drug Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Michael Botticelli has come out in support of a citizen petition calling on the Food & Drug Administration to ban high-potency opioid pain medications.

Asset Forfeiture

House Republicans Prepare Amendments to Block Sessions Asset Forfeiture Expansion. A number of congressional Republicans will propose amendments to an omnibus funding bill aimed at blocking Attorney General Sessions' recent move to expand the federal civil asset forfeiture plan. At least four separate amendments are being proposed, each trying in a slightly different way to do the same job of killing the move.

Drug War Issues

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