Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

WA Supreme Court Throws Out Felony Drug Possession Law, Clock Ticking on VA Pot Legalization, More... (2/26/21)

Asset forfeiture reform is moving in Arizona, the Connecticut governor's marijuana legalization bill gets a hearing, the Nevada legislature looks at ending the federal ban on food stamps for drug offenders, and more.

The Washington Supreme Court has just thrown out the state's felony drug possession law. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets Hearing; Police Chiefs Oppose. The Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on a marijuana legalization bill supported by Gov. Ned Lamont (D), SB 888. At the same time, the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association is formally opposing the bill, saying it is worried legalization would make the highways less safe and invoking the opioid crisis.

Montana Lawmakers Consider Tightening Limits on Legal Marijuana. The House Business and Labor Committee on Wednesday heard testimony of HB 568, which would impose numerical and distance restrictions on legal marijuana businesses. The bill would cap the number of adult sales shops to one per 10,000 residents, with only one shop in counties with fewer than 10,000 residents. The bill would also require pot shops to be 1,000 feet away from places of worship, schools, preschools, day care facilities, parks, recreational facilities and playgrounds. The committee took no action on Wednesday.

South Dakota Lawmakers Advance Marijuana Banking Bill. The Senate Commerce and Energy Committee voted Thursday to approve HB 1203, which would let state-chartered banks do business with legal marijuana and industrial  hemp businesses. The bill has already passed the House and now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Virginia House, Senate Seek Compromise on Marijuana Legalization as Saturday Deadline Looms. Legislators have about 24 hours to come to agreement on competing marijuana legalization bills passed by the House and Senate before a Saturday deadline. It looks like lawmakers will go with the House on timing, agreeing to defer legalization until January 1, 2024, while the Senate bill called for legalization on July 1. The two chambers remain split, though, on whether five current medical marijuana operators will be allowed to sell recreational weed. The House opposes such vertical integration, but the Senate would allow it if the operators pay $1 million into a Cannabis Equity Business Fund. The clock is ticking.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota House Approves Bill Delaying Implementation of Medical Marijuana Legalization. The House voted to approve a bill delaying implementation of voter-approved medical marijuana, HB 1100. The bill was the brainchild of Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who sought a one-year delay, but the bill was amended in the House to create only a six-month delay "in the spirit of compromise."

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona House Passes Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. The House on Wednesday approved a bill to end civil asset forfeiture in the state, HB 2810, which would require that the state actually convict somebody of a crime before seizing their property. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Drug Policy

Nevada Lawmakers Take Up Bill to End Food Stamp Ban for Drug Offenders. The Assembly is considering a bill that would let the state opt out of a federal 1996 "welfare reform" that banned people convicted of drug offenses from being able to receive assistance such as food stamps. AB 138, which was heard Wednesday, removes the prohibition. The bill would have originally required persons to show they were not “currently possessing, using or distributing controlled substance,” but Assemblywoman Susie Martinez (D-Las Vegas), the primary sponsor for the legislation, eliminated that section. No vote was taken.

Washington Supreme Court Strikes Down Strikes Down State's Drug Possession Law. The state Supreme Court on Thursday throw out the state's felony drug possession law because it did not mandate that prosecutors prove that someone knowingly or intentionally possessed drugs. The ruling came in the case of a Spokane woman who was given a pair of jeans that had a small bag of meth in one pocket. "Attaching the harsh penalties of felony conviction, lengthy imprisonment, stigma, and the many collateral consequences that accompany every felony drug conviction to entirely innocent and passive conduct exceeds the legislature’s powers, Chief Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud wrote for the majority.

NM Legalization Bill Passes Senate, Honduran Prez Warns US on Trafficking Allegations, More... (2/25/21)

A bipartisan marijuana legalization bill gets filed in Pennsylvania, a medical marijuana bill wins approval in the Alabama Senate, and more.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, accused by US prosecutors of involvement in drug trafficking. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. A marijuana legalization bill, HB 12, is now headed for a House floor vote after passing the House Taxation and Revenue Committee on an 8-4 vote. The bill has been amended to remove some specific tax revenue designations for medical marijuana patients and for communities disparately affected by drug prohibition. The amended bill also removes fines for juveniles, adjusts tax rates on marijuana sales, strengthens employers' rights to have a drug-free environment, and delays the start date for a legal marijuana market.

Pennsylvania Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed with Bipartisan Support. State Senators Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) and Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) filed a marijuana legalization bill Wednesday. In a statement Senator Laughlin wrote, "While my colleague Senator Street and I come from different political parties, we see a bipartisan way forward on marijuana legalization that is premised on safety and social equity, said Senator Laughlin. As the marijuana movement reaches Pennsylvania, legalization must be done the right way. This bill ensures a legalized market in the Commonwealth is implemented safely and responsibly, with a thoughtful approach that provides opportunities to medical and recreational consumers, farmers, and small, medium and minority-owned businesses." The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate approved a medical marijuana bill, SB 46, Wednesday and sent it to the House for approval there. The bill would allow patients with specified medical conditions to receive marijuana with a physician's approval.

Missouri Bill Would Protect Patients' Privacy, Gun Rights. Rep. Nick Schroer (R-O'Fallon) has filed HB 501, which would make disclosing patient information to the federal government a criminal offense. "I just want to make sure that we're protecting our Second Amendment rights and law abiding citizens who may have medical marijuana, but then they also have a weapon in their house to defend their family when necessary, Schroer said during his testimony on the bill in committee Wednesday. While the measure won support on the committee, no vote was taken.

Psychedelics

Missouri Bill Would Add Some Psychedelics to State's Right to Try Law. Rep. Michael Davis (R-Kansas City) has filed a bill, HB 1176 that would allow state residents with debilitating, life-threatening or terminal illnesses to use drugs such as MDMA, psilocybin, LSD, and DMT. The bill would build on a 2014 state right to try law that lets patients with terminal illnesses have access to investigational drugs not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Foreign Policy

Honduran President Warns US That Allegations He Is Involved with Drug Trafficking Could Hurt Anti-Drug Ties with Washington. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said Wednesday that US prosecutors' allegations that he is involved with drug trafficking could affect his country's cooperation with Washington to fight drug trafficking. In a federal court filing February 4, prosecutors in New York City accused Hernandez of using Honduran law enforcement and military officials to protect traffickers, and that he took a million-dollar bribe from former Mexican Sinaloa Cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

With Sweeping Criminal Justice Reform Bill, Canada Seeks an Off-Ramp from the War on Drugs [FEATURE]

On February 16, Canada's governing Liberal Party finally moved to enact long-promised reforms to criminal justice by introducing a sweeping new bill that would make arrests for drug possession only one option for police, end all mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, end some other mandatory minimums, and open the way for conditional (probationary) sentences for a variety of offenses. But is it enough?

Canadian parliament building, Ottawa (Creative Commons)
The government's move comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces mounting pressure for reform on two fronts. First, Canada is facing an unprecedented drug overdose crisis, with the province of British Columbia especially hard-hit. Last year, the provincial Coroners Service reported, BC saw a whopping 1,716 drug overdose deaths, up a startling 74 percent over 2019. The province has always been on the cutting edge of drug reform in Canada, and spurred by the crisis, BC formally asked the federal government in early February for an exemption to the country's drug laws to allow it to decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of drugs. That request is still being considered by Ottawa.

But the pressure for drug decriminalization isn't just coming from British Columbia, it's coming from inside the criminal justice system. In July 2020, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police called for drug decriminalization, recommending the "current enforcement-based approach for possession be replaced with a health-care approach that diverts people from the criminal justice system." The following month, the federal prosecution service issued a directive permitting prosecution of drug cases only in the most serious cases.

And public opinion supports decriminalization. An Angus Reid poll released after the government announced the new bill found that seven out of 10 Canadians felt the country's opioid crisis had worsened in 2020, and 59 percent supported the decriminalization of all illegal drugs.

Second, just as last summer's massive protests in the United States channeled and amplified long-standing demands for racial and social justice here, so they echoed north of the border. Canada has its own not-so-noble history of racism and discrimination, and the number of Black and Indigenous people swept up in the country's criminal justice system demonstrates that the legacy of the past continues to this day.

Indigenous people make up 5% of the Canadian population but accounted for 25% of all federal prisoners in 2019. Similarly, Black Canadians accounted for about 3% of the population but more than 7% of prisoners that year. As the Justice Ministry noted in a 2017 report, after Conservatives passed tough anti-crime measures early this century, Black and Indigenous were disproportionately targeted for mandatory minimum sentencing in the decade ending in 2017. And as the Office of the Correctional Investigator reported, non-white inmates are more likely to sent to maximum security prisons, have forced used against them, and be denied parole.

As the government rolled out the bill, C-22, "An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act," Justice Minister David Lametti made clear that not just public health but also racial justice was on its mind.

Trudeau had asked him to "address systemic inequities in the criminal justice system," he told a press conference. "We are turning the page on a failed Conservative criminal justice policy," he added. "It was an approach that did not make our communities safer. It did not deter criminals. It did not make the justice system more effective or more fair. Its singular accomplishment has been to incarcerate too many Indigenous people, too many Black people and too many marginalized Canadians."

The bill envisions reforms in policing, prosecuting, and sentencing drug offenders and sets out statements of principle for dealing with drug offenses, including "problematic drug use should be addressed primarily as a health and social issue," state actors should recognize human rights and harm reduction imperatives, and criminal sanctions are stigmatizing and not consistent with public health practice.

Under these principles, when encountering people using or possessing drugs, police would be granted the discretion to "consider whether it would be preferable... to take no further action, or warn the individual, or, with the consent of the individual, to refer the individual to a program or to an agency or other service provider in the community that may assist the individual."

Similarly, the bill mandates the prosecutors open drug possession cases only when a warning, referral, or alternate measures are "not appropriate, and a prosecution in appropriate in the circumstances." And it gives judges much broader discretion to order probationary sentences instead of confinement.

C-22 looks as if it were designed to cut off inputs to the Canadian prison system at every level of the system. Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who has represented Toronto's Beaches-East York riding (district) since 2015 and is a longtime proponent of full drug decriminalization, says that is exactly what it is supposed to do.

He filed private member's bills this session for decriminalization (C-235) and for an evidence-based diversion model (C-236) to reduce drug arrests and prosecutions. It is that latter bill that the government has now largely adopted as C-22.

"I favor drug decriminalization because the war on drugs is an absolute failure that harms the people we want to help," he told the Chronicle. "Our opioid crisis has taken more than 16,000 lives since 2016, and there is systemic racism in the criminal justice system, including around drug charges."

"My goal was to call for full decriminalization, with a second bill to show the government if they weren't inclined to favor decriminalization, here's an alternative that would get us closer to the goal and would be more politically feasible. This bill seriously restricts the discretion of police and prosecutors to proceed, according to a set of principles that will ensure a stronger focus on human rights and harm reduction," he said. "It doesn't go as far as I want it to go, but it is unquestionably a step forward. It will be virtually impossible for the state to move forward with drug possession charges and prosecutions."

Donald MacPherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and author of Vancouver's groundbreaking Four Pillars drug strategy in the 1990s, has a more jaundiced view of both the Liberals and C-22.

"The things that are in this bill are all things the Liberals promised when they were elected in 2015, and if they had done this then it would have been seen as a good move, getting rid of egregious stuff the Harper government had implemented," he told the Chronicle. "But now, the discussion has moved so far that even police chiefs are calling for decriminalization. It's too little, too late."

Even the limited support he gave the bill was filled with caveats.

"Overall, though, it is a good thing, it is incremental progress, getting rid of the mandatory minimums is probably the most powerful aspect in terms of criminal law," McPherson conceded. "But the bill was supposed to deal with the disproportionate impact of drug law enforcement on people of color, and it won't do it. There will be more probationary sentences and more alternatives to imprisonment, but arrests and prosecutions will be 'at the discretion of' and Black and Indigenous people will now be caught up in kinder, gentler diversion programs."

Still, passage of C-22 would be a step in the right direction, MacPherson said.

"It is preparing the ground for the next step, full decriminalization, which I think is now inevitable. The harms of criminalization in Canada are now so evident to everyone that the question now is not whether to but how to," he said. "We saw this with cannabis -- at a certain point, the change in the discourse was palpable. We're now at that point with drug decriminalization."

Long-time Vancouver drug user activist Ann Livingston, cofounder of the pioneering Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and currently executive project coordinator for the BC-Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, had an even more jaundiced view than MacPherson, scoffing at more police discretion and expanded probationary sentences.

"I'm glad to see the mandatory minimums gone, but the Liberals want more police, and we say don't do us any more favors," she told the Chronicle. "And the police have always had discretion to not make drug arrests; they just never exercise it. And probation -- many of the people in jail are there for probation violations, even administrative ones, like missing appointments."

For Livingston, the cutting edge is now no longer criminal justice reforms or even decriminalization but creating a safe supply of currently illegal drugs. Limited opioid maintenance programs, including heroin, are available in the city, but they aren't enough, she said.

"Here in British Columbia, we had 900 COVID deaths last year and 1,700 overdose deaths. What we need is a safe drug supply," she argued. "We have to have clear demands and what we are demanding is a pure, safe supply of heroin, cocaine, and crystal meth. This is a crisis; this is the time to do this drug law stuff right. And to get serious. The feds tell us they place no barriers on heroin prescribing, but then they fight about who is going to pay for it."

If Justin Trudeau and the Liberals think passing C-22 is going to quiet the clamor for more fundamental change in Canadian drug policies, they should probably think again.

Canada

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A sticky-fingered Michigan detective finally faces justice, a Minnesota narcotics officer gets nailed for driving doped up, and more. Let's get to it:

In Hazel Park, Michigan, a former Hazel Park police detective was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly embezzling more than $68,000 in seized drug money. Sean Boucher, 45, is accused of filching the funds between 2013 and 2017. He was suspended from the department in 2017 and resigned shortly thereafter. He is now finally being charged with conducting a criminal enterprise, embezzlement between $50,000 and $100,000, and five counts of embezzlement of more than $50 as a public official.

In Pelham, Georgia, a state prison guard was arrested last Thursday after coworkers detected a strong odor of marijuana as she attempted to enter the facility. Officer Kimbrya Almond then consented to a search, which revealed marijuana, rolling papers, pajamas, and a package of gummi bears with an odor of alcohol. She was then arrested by the Mitchell County Sheriff's Office.

In Lyons, New York, a Wayne County Jail guard was arrested last Thursday for allegedly peddling drugs to prisoners. Guard Seth Welch, 26, went down after an internal investigation at the jail, and now faces charges of first-degree promoting prison contraband and second-degree receiving reward for official misconduct, as well as misdemeanor counts of second-degree promoting prison contraband, official misconduct, and fourth-degree criminal sale of marijuana.

In Farmington, Missouri, a former Desloges police officer was arrested last Thursday on multiple drug charges. George Bradley "Brad" Judge Jr., 49, had been the subject of in investigation by a state drug task force and the FBI and resigned from the force after his home was raided in October. During the raid, police found more than 30 grams of methamphetamine, as well as heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, morphine, alprazolam, diazepam, clonazepam, lorazepam, tramadol, chlordiazepoxide, and zolpidem. Some pills were in prescription bottles with other people's names on them. A total of 14 counts of possession of a controlled substance and one count of second-degree trafficking drugs were included in the charging documents.

In Fergus Falls, Minnesota, an Ottertail County police narcotics investigator was arrested Monday after he got caught driving his squad car while under the influence of fentanyl. Sheriff's Deputy Kelly Blackman, 43, was on the job when he engaged in a pursuit with a fugitive, who eventually crashed into another car, killing an elderly couple. Blackman refused to submit a voluntary blood sample, but one was eventually taken, and it came back positive for fentanyl. He now faces one count of fourth-degree DWI and one count of public officer misconduct. And some cases he was involved in are now being looked at anew after an investigation showed he did not log some seized drug paraphernalia into evidence.

Medical Marijuana Update

A New Jersey appeals court clears the way for dealing with pending medical marijuana license applications, and there's lots of action in the states this week.

New Jersey

New Jersey Medical Marijuana Licensing to Resume After Appellate Court Ruling. The state's appellate court ruled last Thursday to uphold the denial of seven medical marijuana licenses, clearing the way for the state to begin dealing with nearly 150 license applications that have piled up while the case was being contested.

North Dakota

North Dakota House Approves Medical Marijuana Edibles. The House has approved a measure, House Bill 1391, that would allow medical marijuana patients to use edibles. The bill would limit edibles to 10 milligrams of THC and allow patients to possess edibles with up to 500 milligrams.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma House Approves Expanding Non-Resident Medical Marijuana Patient Licenses. The House voted last Thursday to approve House Bill 2022, which would extend the length of medical marijuana licenses granted to out-of-state residents. The bill would lengthen the licenses' period of validity from 30 days to two years. The bill also would open up licenses to resident of all 50 states, not just those with existing medical marijuana. The bill must still be approved by the Senate.

South Dakota

South Dakota House Votes to Deny Telehealth for Medical Marijuana. The House voted 38-30 last Wednesday to defeat House Bill 1147, which would have allowed medical marijuana patients to use telehealth to consult with practitioners in order to obtain recommendations. One Republican opponent called the idea "premature," while another called it "not ready for prime time." South Dakota okayed medical marijuana with 69% of the vote in November.

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Supporters Float Compromise to Forestall GOP Effort to Delay Implementation. Supporters of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law are seeking to scale back Republican efforts to delay the implementation of the medical marijuana program. Lawmakers are considering House Bill 1100, which would form an interim committee to essentially rewrite the voter-approved law. The proposal moves back the deadline for implementing much of the measure to next January during the 2022 legislative session.

Virginia

Virginia General Assembly Approves Sales of Buds for Medical Marijuana Patients. A bill that would allow medical marijuana patients to buy flowers, House Bill 221, has passed the General Assembly. Currently, only highly processed oils, tinctures and edibles are allowed to be sold. The bill now goes to Gov. Ralph Northam (D).

NJ AG Ends Most Marijuana Arrests & Prosecutions, Mexico Coca Plantation Discovered, More... (2/24/21)

A North Dakota marijuana legalization bill passes the House, Nebraska medical marijuana advocates demand action from the legislature, and more.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has ordered an end to most marijuana arrests and prosecutions in the state. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Second House Committee Vote. The House Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee voted to approve a marijuana legalization bill, House File 600, on a 7-5 vote. That's the second committee to approve the bill in the past week. It now heads for a third vote in the House Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee.

New Jersey Attorney General Orders End to Marijuana Possession, Small-Time Distribution Arrests. In the wake of Governor Phil Murphy's (D) signing into law three bills that set up a legal marijuana marketplace, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Monday ordered police to immediately stop arresting people for possessing less than six ounces of weed or distributing up to an ounce. He also ordered prosecutors to immediately dismiss charges for any pending marijuana offense that is no longer illegal under state law. Although Grewal had issued guidance urging an end to marijuana arrests and prosecutions after voters approved a legalization referendum in November, police still made 6,000 pot arrests since then. Now, no more.

North Dakota House Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The House voted Tuesday to approve a marijuana legalization bill, HB 1420. Some lawmakers said they voted to approve the bill because they feared if they didn't, voters would do it themselves through the initiative process. The bill now heads to the Senate. It would allow adults to buy up to 20 grams every two weeks, with purchases tracked. There is no provision to allow home cultivation.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Advocates Rally to Urge Support for Bill. Nebraska Families for Medical Cannabis held a rally at the statehouse Tuesday to urge legislators to pass a medical marijuana bill, LB 474. It is sponsored by Senator Anna Wishart (D-Lincoln), who was one of the leaders of last year's initiative that qualified for the ballot only to be disqualified by the state Supreme Court.

South Carolina Poll Has Overwhelming Support for Medical Marijuana. As legislators ponder whether to approve a medical marijuana bill this year, a new poll finds overwhelming support for it. The survey released by the advocacy groups SC Compassionate Care Alliance and Compassionate SC had support at 72%, with just 15% opposed.

International

Mexican Soldiers Discover 10-Acre Coca Crop in Guerrero. The Mexican military announced Monday it had discovered and destroyed a 10-acre coca crop growing in the southwestern state Guerrero. They also found a cocaine manufacturing lab nearby. It's the first time a coca crop has been found in the state, which is known for marijuana and opium poppy cultivation, but it's not the first time coca has been discovered being grown in Mexico. The army uncovered a coca field in the southern state of Chiapas in 2014.

Biden AG Nominee Addresses Marijuana & Mandatory Minimums, El Chapo's Wife Busted at Dulles, More... (2/23/21)

Republcan legislators continue to try to wreak havoc with voter-approved marijuana initiatives, Judge Merrick Garland speaks out on marijuana and sentencing policy at his confirmation hearing, and more.

Attorney General nominee Judge Merrick Garland, here chatting with Sen. Chuck Schumer. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Biden Attorney General Nominee Sets Gentler Line on Marijuana, Cites Discriminatory Enforcement. Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden's pick as attorney general, said Monday that prosecuting people complying with state marijuana laws is not "a useful use of limited resources" and that there is "a question of prioritization about resources and discretion" around the issue. Garland was responding to a question from Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. He also said during the hearing that the enforcement of marijuana prohibition is a "perfect example" of how the criminal justice system is racially biased and imposes disproportionate impacts on communities of color.

Montana GOP Bill Would Delay Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization. Saying the voters' decision to legalize marijuana with a quick timeline "doesn't make any sense," State Representative Bill Mercer (R) has filed a bill that would push back the October 1 deadline until sometime in 2023. The bill is set to be heard this week in the House Business and Labor Committee.

Medicial Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Supporters Float Compromise to Forestall GOP Effort to Delay Implementation. Supporters of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law are seeking to scale back Republican efforts to delay the implementation of the medical marijuana program. Lawmakers are considering House Bill 1100, which would form an interim committee to essentially rewrite the voter-approved law. The proposal moves back the deadline for implementing much of the measure to next January during the 2022 legislative session.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Illinois Bill Would Give Protection to Overdose Victims. Representative Janet Yang Rohr (D-Napierville) has filed House Bill 3445, which would mandate that people seeking assistance for a drug overdose would not be criminally charged or prosecuted if they make a good faith effort to seek drug treatment. It also includes language protecting parolees from having their status revoked in case of an overdose. The bill would expand a Good Samaritan law passed in 2012 to include the person who is actually overdosing.

Law Enforcement

El Chapo's Wife Busted on Drug Trafficking Charges at DC Airport. Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of imprisoned Mexican drug trafficking kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was arrested Monday night after flying into Dulles International Airport. She faces federal charges of conspiring to help distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana in the US. She is accused of helping El Chapo continue to run his enterprise while behind bars. She is a joint US and Mexican citizen.

Sentencing

Biden Attorney General Nominee Endorses Ending Mandatory Minimums. Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden's nominee for attorney general, said Monday that he agrees with a Biden administration policy of ending the use of mandatory minimum sentences. His comments came in response to a question from Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and can be heard at the 28-minute mark of the linked video.

NJ Governor Signs Marijuana Bills, VA Considers Mandatory Minimum Repeal, More... (2/22/21)

New Jersey finally gets marijuana legalization done, Virginia lawmakers are trying to do the same, a Massachusetts drug decrim bill is filed, and more.

The Nevada legislature is considering legislation that would limit but not ban raids with no-knock warrants. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Makes It Official; Governor Signs Marijuana Decriminalization, Legalization Bills. Governor Phil Murphy (D) on Monday signed into law a pair of bills implementing voter-approved marijuana legalization (A21) and decriminalizing marijuana possession (A1897). He also signed into law a bill setting penalties for underage use, S3454, an issue that had held up legalization for more than two months after the legislature passed the first two bills.

Virginia Legislators Meet in Conference Committee to Reconcile Marijuana Legalization Bills. House and Senate negotiators are meeting this week to try to reconcile marijuana legalization bills passed by the respective chambers, HB 2312 an SB 1406. They need to thrash out differences over local authority, licensing rules, and timing to reach a consensus.

Drug Policy

Massachusetts Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Reps. Liz Miranda (D) and Mike Connolly (D) have filed HD 3439, which would remove all criminal penalties for personal amount drug possession and replace them with a maximum fine of $50. People caught with drugs could avoid the fine by attending a "needs screening to identify health and other service needs, including but not limited to services that may address any problematic substance use and mental health conditions, lack of employment, housing, or food, and any need for civil legal services." A bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. Julian Cyr (D), SD 2248, is virtually identical.

Psychedelics

Massachusetts Bill to Study Psychedelic Legalization Filed. State Rep. Mike Connolly (D) has filed HD 3829, which would create an interagency task force to "study the public health and social justice implications of legalizing the possession, consumption, transportation, and distribution of naturally cultivated entheogenic plants and fungi." The task force would be charged with developing recommendations on how to legalize natural psychedelics "in a manner that maximizes equitable access and sustainable manufacture of these plants."

Law Enforcement

Nevada Bill to Restrict No-Knock Warrants Gets Hearing. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing last week on Senate Bill 50, which would restrict but not entirely ban no-knock arrest warrants. The bill would ban no-knock warrants for misdemeanors, property crimes or simple drug possession. In other cases, law enforcement would have to show a risk to public safety by not using a no-knock warrant, explain why just knocking on the door isn't appropriate, and certify that a no-knock warrant is the last resort. A proposed amendment from the ACLU of Nevada and defense attorneys and public defenders would exclude evidence gathered in no-knock raids if police don't follow the guidelines for no-knock warrants. But that amendment threatens to derail law enforcement support for the bill.

Sentencing

Virginia Legislature Ponders Ending Mandatory Minimums. The House has passed a bill that ends mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses, HB 2331. Meanwhile, the Senate has passed another bill, SB 1443, which ends all mandatory minimum sentencing under state law. A conference committee of lawmakers from the Senate and House will try to hash out the significant differences between the bills, though it remains to be seen whether a compromise can be struck.

Norway Government Proposes Depenalization, ND House Approves MedMJ Edibles, More... (2/19/21)

Medical marijuana is receiving attention at various state houses, a trio of US senators warn the Philippine government on imprisoned drug war critic Sen. Leila De Lima, the Iowa Senate looks resolutely backwards, and more.

Medical marijuana is on people's minds in various state legislatures right now. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

North Dakota House Approves Medical Marijuana Edibles. The House has approved a measure, House Bill 1391, that would allow medical marijuana patients to use edibles. The bill would limit edibles to 10 milligrams of THC and allow patients to possess edibles with up to 500 milligrams.

New Jersey Medical Marijuana Licensing to Resume After Appellate Court Ruling. The state's appellate court ruled Thursday to uphold the denial of seven medical marijuana licenses, clearing the way for the state to begin dealing with nearly 150 license applications that have piled up while the case was being contested.

Virginia General Assembly Approves Sales of Buds for Medical Marijuana Patients. A bill that would allow medical marijuana patients to buy flowers, House Bill 221, has passed the General Assembly. Currently, only highly processed oils, tinctures and edibles are allowed to be sold. The bill now goes to Gov. Ralph Northam (D).

Oklahoma House Approves Expanding Non-Resident Medical Marijuana Patient Licenses. The House voted on Thursday to approve House Bill 2022, which would extend the length of medical marijuana licenses granted to out-of-state residents. The bill would lengthen the licenses' period of validity from 30 days to two years. The bill also would open up licenses to resident of all 50 states, not just those with existing medical marijuana. The bill must still be approved by the Senate.

Drug Paraphernalia

Iowa Senate Approves Bill to Crack Down on Meth Pipes. The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved Senate File 363, which aims to crack down on businesses selling glass pipes for smoking meth by requiring them to pay a $1,500 licensing fee and charging a 40% surcharge tax on each pipe sold. The bill carries civil penalties for selling without a license and makes using the devices as drug paraphernalia a serious misdemeanor. The bill now goes to the House.

Drug Testing

Iowa Senate Approves Bill to Make Using Synthetic Urine to Defeat a Drug Test a Crime. The Senate voted on Wednesday to approve House File 283, which would make it a criminal offense for an employee to use synthetic urine to "defraud" a workplace drug test. A first offense would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. The bill now goes to the House.

Foreign Policy

US Senators Urge Full Exoneration and Release of Philippines Drug War Critic Senator Leila De Lima. On Thursday, Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) top Democrat on the East Asia and Pacific Subcommittee, Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), released a statement regarding the acquittal of Senator Leila de Lima in one of three bogus charges filed against her by the Government of the Philippines. Senator de Lima has been unjustly detained for four years next week on politically-motivated charges, widely condemned by human rights organizations and governments around the world as an illegitimate response meant to punish her for criticizing the policies of President Rodrigo Duterte. "While we are pleased that one of the three illegitimate charges against Senator De Lima has been dropped, it is clearly not enough." said the Senators. "The Duterte administration has wrongfully detained Senator De Lima for four years under false charges because she is willing to speak out and stand up to the egregious abuses of the government. President Duterte has tried to silence his critics and the independent press through false and politically motivated charges, but his disdain for human rights, free speech, and democracy is on clear display to the world. We will continue to hold the Duterte government responsible for its abuses until Senator De Lima is released, all of the fabricated charges against her and other prisoners of conscience are dismissed, and the victims of President Duterte's campaign of abuse against the Filipino people have obtained justice."

International

Norwegian Government Proposes Drug Depenalization. Norway's center-right government proposed Friday a dramatic restructuring of its drug laws to focus on treatment rather than jail or fines for people found in possession of small quantities of drugs. "Decades of criminal punishment has not worked," said Liberal Party leader and Education Minister Guri Melby. "We will no longer stand by and watch people being stigmatised and called criminals when they are in fact ill." Drugs would remain illegal, but possession of small quantities would no longer be punished. Instead people would face mandatory drug counseling, and a fine for refusing to participate. The move comes as the government faces a rising challenge in the September parliamentary elections from the Center Party, which has criticized the plans as leading to more drug use, not less.

CA Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Filed, NJ Marijuana Mess Continues, More... (2/18/21)

A Minnesota marijuana legalization bill moves, Wisconsin's governor calls for legal marijuana, the South Dakota House quashes telehealth for medical marijuana patients, and more.

(Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins First Committee Vote. The House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee voted 10-7 Wednesday to approve a marijuana legalization bill, House File 600. The bill advanced on a partisan vote, with all Republicans opposed. Republicans control the state Senate, making the bill's prospects cloudy.

New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Standoff. Efforts to advance marijuana legalization implementation legislation remained stymied Thursday after a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on a "cleanup" bill was cancelled for the second day in a row. Legislators and Gov. Phil Murphy (D) remain at loggerheads over how to handle underage marijuana possession. Now, Murphy will likely have to decide whether to approve two pending bills or veto them, which would contradict his campaign promise to legalize marijuana, as well as contradicting the will of the voters, who approved it in a referendum in November. "The governor has two bills on his desk that he has articulated problems with, and it doesn't appear that the Legislature is going to solve those problems," said Bill Caruso, an attorney and founding member of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform. The governor's deadline to act is noon Friday, although that could be pushed back to Monday.

Wisconsin Governor's Budget Plan Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Tony Evers (D) on Tuesday released a budget plan that includes legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana. The move comes despite strong resistance in the Republican-controlled state legislature. "The Governor believes it is time to join other states, including two of our neighbors, who have legalized recreational marijuana," an explanatory document from his office said. The proposal would allow adults to possess up to two ounces and grow up to six plants at home.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota House Votes to Deny Telehealth for Medical Marijuana. The House voted 38-30 on Wednesday to defeat House Bill 1147, which would have allowed medical marijuana patients to use telehealth to consult with practitioners in order to obtain recommendations. One Republican opponent called the idea "premature," while another called it "not ready for prime time." South Dakota okayed medical marijuana with 69% of the vote in November.

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) filed Senate Bill 519, which would decriminalize the use and possession of psychedelic drugs in the state. "People should not be going to jail for possessing or using drugs," Wiener said. "It's a health issue, not a criminal issue, and I hope that we get all the way there." The bill would also expunge criminal records for people convicted of psychedelic possession offenses and create a task force to address regulatory issues.

Asset Forfeiture

South Dakota Bill Would Limit Asset Forfeiture in Drug Cases. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 164, which would bar asset forfeiture in drug cases where the amount of the drug in question was no more than a personal use amount. The bill would originally have banned asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction but was amended in committee to strip out that section. Under the bill, it would take at least half a pound of marijuana to trigger asset forfeiture. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Harm Reduction

Arizona Senate Committee Approves Legalizing Drug Testing Strips. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee has approved Senate Bill 1486, which would legalize the use of test strips that can detect the presence of fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid which accounts for a majority overdose deaths in the US, mostly by people who didn't know they were taking it. The test strips are currently considered illegal drug paraphernalia. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Book Review: Drug Use for Grown-Ups

Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, by Carl Hart (2021, Penguin Press, 290 pp., $28.00 HB)

Dr. Carl Hart is a one-man drug and drug user destigmatization machine. In his new book, Drug Use for Grown-Ups, the Columbia University psychology professor blasts drug prohibition as both an affront to the American dream of the pursuit of happiness and as a tool of racial oppression. And he makes a strong, informed argument that recreational drug use can be, and usually is, a good thing.

You could hardly find someone more qualified to make the case. Hart has spent years in the trenches of neuropsychopharmacology research, handed out drugs (or placebos) to thousands of research subjects, published numerous scientific papers and popular articles in the field, and risen to the top of his profession along the way. And here is his bottom line:

"[O]ver my more than 25-year career, I have discovered that most drug-use scenarios cause little or no harm and that some responsible drug-scenarios are actually beneficial for human health and functioning. Even 'recreational' drugs can and do improve day-to-day living... From my own experience -- the combination of my scientific work and my personal drug use, I have learned that recreational drugs can be used safely to enhance many vital human activities."

Hart is refreshingly -- and deliberately -- open about his own recreational drug use. Given the stigmatization and persecution of people identified as "drug users," he feels that justice demands privileged partakers come out of the closet and give voice to their own, non-destructive drug use histories as a necessary remedy for that demonization. He certainly does so himself, revealing a disciplined yet curious mind most definitely not averse to sampling various substances.

Those substances include heroin, which he describes as his current favorite drug, one that he's been using episodically for years now: "There aren't many things in life that I enjoy more than a few lines by the fireplace at the end of the day... Heroin allows me to suspend the perpetual preparation for battle that goes on in my head... The world is alright with me. I'm good. I'm refreshed. I'm prepared to face another day, another faculty meeting, another obligatory function. All parties benefit."

But Hart is not quite so mellow when it comes to people and institutions he sees as helping to perpetuate overly negative depictions of various drugs or the persecution of drug users. He rips into Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA) over her "addiction is a brain disease" mantra and the rigid ideological control she has over research funding. He rips into journalists for uncritically and sensationally reporting salacious scientific findings about the evils of drugs that he argues are not supported by the evidence they are supposedly based on. He even calls Bernie Sanders "ignorant" (that word shows up more than a few times) for complaining that marijuana shouldn't be in the same drug schedule as "killer drugs like heroin."

Dr. Carl Hart (Columbia University)
Hart doesn't deny the potential dangers of drug use but makes the case that they are dramatically overstated. In that sense, Drug Use for Grown-Ups is a corrective to more than a century of anti-drug propaganda. In a deep dive into opioids, for instance, he notes that most opioid overdose deaths are actually opioid/benzodiazepines/alcohol deaths, and that a large number of them are due to ignorance (there's that word again) -- in that, in the black market that currently exists, drug users do not and cannot know what exactly is in that pill or powder they purchased.

As long as we are in a prohibition regime, the least we can do is widespread drug testing for quality control, as is done at some European music festivals, Hart argues. But that's the only kind of drug testing he's down with; he calls the urine drug testing industry "parasitic," a sobriquet he also applies to the drug treatment industry.

But hang on, he's not done yet. Although he is an advocate for harm reduction practices, he has a bone to pick with the term itself: It's too damned negative! Drug use doesn't typically involve harm, he argues, but pleasure-seeking. As I pondered this, I came up with "benefit enhancement" as an upbeat alternative to harm reduction, but Hart went with "health and happiness."

And he's got a bone to pick with "psychedelic exceptionalism," the notion, dear to folks like Decriminalize Nature, that psychedelics, or better yet, "plant entheogens," are somehow "better" than dirty old drugs like meth or heroin and thus deserve to be treated differently, more gently. He also snarks at the notion that taking drugs for spiritual or religious purposes is of a higher order than taking them for fun and rebels at the notion of having a shaman or guide during a tripping session: "Some people find this comforting. I find it creepy and have never done so myself."

Drug Use for Grown-Ups is bracing, informative, and provocative contribution to the literature. Even the most ardent drug reformers and defenders would benefit from reading it and reexamining their own assumptions. Maybe Carl Hart is onto something.

Medical Marijuana Update

An Idaho initiative campaign aimed at 2022 gears up, a court rules that Michigan probationers can use medical marijuana, and more.

National

Biden Administration Opposes Marijuana Dispensary's Tax Fight for Supreme Court Review. In one of the first actions regarding marijuana in the Biden administration, the IRS has argued against a Denver-based dispensary, Standing Akimbo LLC, having its case heard in the US Supreme Court. The dispensary is seeking to challenge an IRS rule that business tax deductions cannot be taken by marijuana businesses because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Connecticut

Connecticut Bill Would Require "Labor Peace" for Marijuana Businesses. A bill now before the Labor and Public Employees Committee, HB 6377, would require that marijuana businesses enter into labor peace agreements with a union before being granted licenses. The bill would require an agreement "between a cannabis establishment and a bona fide labor organization that protects the state's interests by, at minimum, prohibiting the labor organization from engaging in picketing, work stoppages or boycotts against the cannabis establishment." Under the bill, marijuana employers would give up some rights, including the right to speak to employees about union organizing efforts.

Idaho

Idaho Campaigners Cleared to Begin Signature Gathering for 2022 Medical Marijuana Initiative. Kind Idaho, the group leading the campaign for a 2022 medical marijuana initiative, has been cleared to begin signature gathering. A 2020 signature-gathering campaign was disrupted by the coronavirus and ultimately failed to back the ballot. This move comes as a medical marijuana bill has just been introduced in the legislature and as the legislature also considers legislation that would prevent the state from legalizing any currently illicit drugs.

Michigan

Michigan Appeals Court Upholds Right of People on Probation to Use Medical Marijuana. The state Court of Appeals has ruled that judges cannot prevent people from using medical marijuana as a condition of probation. The ruling came after a Traverse County district court judge barred Michael Thue from using medical marijuana while on probation, saying it was a policy of circuit court judges in the county. But the appeals court ruled that anyone who has a state-issued medical marijuana card is immune to such penalties.

South Dakota

South Dakota Governor Seeks Delay in Implementing Medical Marijuana Initiative. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) said Wednesday that while she will not stand in the way of implementing a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, the state will need more time to get the program up and running. "We are working diligently to get IM 26 implemented safely and correctly," Noem said. "The feasibility of getting this program up and running well will take additional time." Under state law, voter-approved ballot measures are supposed to take effect the following July 1, but Noem and the state's Republican legislative leadership say they will delay implementation until July 1, 2022.

AZ "Drug Trafficking Homicide" Bill Filed, HI Marijuana Legalization, Decrim Bills Advance, More... (2/17/21)

Hawaii legislators take up marijuana reform bills, Maryland legislators take up marijuana legalization, and more.

Fentanyl and its analogues are the object of a harsh new drug sentencing proposal in Arizona. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Hawaii Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances. The Senate Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee voted on Tuesday to approve a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 767. It would legalize possession of one ounce of marijuana or less by anyone who is 21 years old or older.

Hawaii Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Advances. The Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs also voted on Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 758 would increase from 3 grams to 1 ounce the minimum amount of marijuana that a defendant must possess to be charged with a petty misdemeanor. It would also permit persons previously convicted of possessing 1 ounce or less of marijuana to have the conviction expunged from their criminal record.

Maryland Legislators Hold First Committee Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday on a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 32. No vote was taken. Another marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 708, is set to be heard in committee on March 4. HB 32 would legalize up to four ounces of pot by adults, allow home cultivation, allow an unlimited number of microbusiness licenses. That is the main difference with SB 708.

Sentencing Policy

Arizona Bill Would Charge Those Who Provide Drugs Linked to Overdoses with Murder. People who sell or share drugs linked to overdose deaths could face as much as 25 years in prison under a measure, House Bill 2779, that would create the crime of "drug trafficking homicide." The bill would also make people convicted under the charge ineligible for probation or early release. And it would create tougher mandatory minimum sentences for people caught selling or even possessing small amounts of heroin, fentanyl, and fentanyl analogues.

NM Legalization Bill Advances, WA Drug Decrim Bill Advances, NY Legalization Fight Continues, More... (2/16/21)

A marijuana legalization bill moves in New Mexico, a bill to expand marijuana decriminalization advances in North Dakota, a drug decriminalization bill advances in Washington, and more.

Gov. Cuomo's plan to legalize marijuana faces an alternative in the NY legislature. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Health and Human Services Committee voted on Monday to approve House Bill 12, one of four marijuana legalization bills filed in the state this year. In addition to setting up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales, the bill would lift some restrictions on the state's medical marijuana program and some limits on the number of plants producers can grow. The bill now goes before a tax policy committee before heading for a House floor vote.

New York Governor Says He Will Amend Marijuana Legalization Plan. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Monday he will amend his marijuana legalization proposal after leading legislators and marijuana reform advocates harshly criticized his original proposal. "I'm sending an amended bill. Legalizing recreational marijuana is something we've tried to do for several years," the governor said. "It is overdue in my opinion -- you have people who are incarcerated for crimes that, frankly, they shouldn't have a record on." Cuomo said he and lawmakers "don't have an agreement yet," but "we're making progress." Critics have charged that Cuomo is too concerned with revenues and not concerned enough with social equity provisions.

Drug Policy Alliance Reacts to Cuomo Amendment Message. The Drug Policy Alliance released the following statement on Cuomo's move: "After advocates highlighted shortcomings in Gov. Cuomo's marijuana legalization plan, the Governor has announced amendments to his proposal," said Melissa Moore, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance and member of Start SMART NY Coalition (Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade). "By reducing criminal penalties and allowing marijuana delivery services, the Governor has taken steps to address decades of disparate marijuana criminalization. There's no question this shift comes in response to powerful organizing for marijuana justice across the state and in the Legislature. While these changes are a move in the right direction, they are not a substitute for the more comprehensive Marijuana Reform and Taxation Act (MRTA) (Senate Bill 854), which remains the gold standard reform bill in the Legislature. That must be the starting point as it has stronger equity and community reinvestment provisions and a more balanced governance structure for the Office of Cannabis Management than the Governor's proposal. We urge its swift passage to secure justice, jobs, equity, and true community investment for millions of New Yorkers."

North Dakota Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Advances. A bill to expand marijuana decriminalization was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Under current state law, possession of a half-ounce or less is an infraction punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. This bill would make possession of up to an ounce an infraction punishable by a fine of no more than $50. The bill would also make possession of up to 250 grams an infraction with a higher fine.

Drug Policy

Washington Drug Decriminalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill to decriminalize drug possession and expand drug treatment, House Bill 1499, was approved by the House Public Safety Committee on Monday. The bill now heads to the House Appropriations Committee.

Biden IRS Doesn't Support Pot Shop's Tax Fight, Myanmar Opium Down But Meth Is Up, More... (2/15/21)

South Dakota's Republican attorney general won't defend the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization amendment any further, a Michigan court rules people on probation can use medical marijuana, and more.

Meth is making big bucks for Asian crime syndicates, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Biden Administration Opposes Marijuana Dispensary's Tax Fight for Supreme Court Review. In one of the first actions regarding marijuana in the Biden administration, the IRS has argued against a Denver-based dispensary, Standing Akimbo LLC, having its case heard in the US Supreme Court. The dispensary is seeking to challenge an IRS rule that business tax deductions cannot be taken by marijuana businesses because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming Soon. State Rep Ed Osienski (D-Newark) says he plans to submit a marijuana legalization bill by the time lawmakers return from their February break on March 9 and that he is optimistic about its prospects. "It's close, it's close," he said. "We're talking one or two votes" away from approval in the House." Gov. John Carney (D) has consistently opposed legalization, but Osienski is suggesting Carney could let the bill become law without signing it.

South Dakota Attorney General Will Not Join Appeal of Ruling That Marijuana Legalization Amendment Is Unconstitutional. Although the attorney general's office generally defends state laws when they are challenged in court, SD Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg's (R) office will not help appeal a state judge's ruling that the marijuana legalization amendment passed by voters last November is unconstitutional. Ravnsborg's boss, Gov. Kristi Noem (R) opposes marijuana legalization. A deputy attorney general defended the amendment in lower court, and Ravnsborg's office says that satisfies the state law's requirements. An appeal to the state Supreme Court by attorneys associated with the campaign is ongoing.

(The South Dakota code states that ""... the attorney general shall... appear for the state and prosecute and defend all actions and proceedings, civil or criminal, in the Supreme Court, in which the state shall be interested as a party.")

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Appeals Court Upholds Right of People on Probation to Use Medical Marijuana. The state Court of Appeals has ruled that judges cannot prevent people from using medical marijuana as a condition of probation. The ruling came after a Traverse County district court judge barred Michael Thue from using medical marijuana while on probation, saying it was a policy of circuit court judges in the county. But the appeals court ruled that anyone who has a state-issued medical marijuana card is immune to such penalties.

Criminal Justice

Key Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Gets Booker, Cotton as Chair, Ranking Member. The Senate Judiciary Committee announced Sunday that the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism, where issues extremely relevant to drug and sentencing policy are the focus, will be chaired Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), with Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) named ranking member. Booker is a criminal justice and drug law reform stalwart; Cotton is one of the most regressive members of the Senate on criminal justice.

International

UNODC Reports That Myanmar Opium Production Drops While Meth Surges. A UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report released last Thursday finds that opium production has dropped in Myanmar, the world's second-larges poppy producer after Afghanistan has dropped to around 405 metric tons, about half the amount recorded in 2013. Instead, the Golden Triangle drug trade is now dominated by methamphetamine production. "Opium production is down 11 to 12% on the previous year," said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Southeast Asia and the Pacific Regional representative. "This decline is intimately linked to the surge of synthetic drugs."

Drug Companies Seek Big Tax Write-Offs for Opioid Settlements, VA Legal Pot Bill Advances, More... (2/12/21)

South Dakota's obstinate governor continues to get in the way of marijuana legalization, a freshman Kansas state representative files a drug decriminalization bill, and more.

Pills, pills, pills. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Kentucky Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Rachel Roberts (D-Campbell County) has filed a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 467. The bill would legalize the possession of up to an ounce, provide free expungement of marijuana-related offenses, and dedicate up to 25% of the state's marijuana tax revenues to funding addiction treatment. Personal cultivation of up to five plants would be allowed but would require a $250 permit.

North Carolina Poll Has Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization. An Elon University poll released Thursday has support for marijuana legalization at 54%, with 34% opposed. That's a big swing in favor of legalization since 2017, when another Elon University poll had 51% opposed.

South Dakota Bill to Expunge Some Marijuana Convictions Advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to approve Senate Bill 141, which would expunge some misdemeanor marijuana convictions from background checks. The bill would provide for the automatic expungement of marijuana possession convictions from public background reports. It still faces a Senate floor vote and action in the House.

South Dakota Governor Likely to Veto Any Marijuana Legalization Bills This Year. Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who has already moved to invalidate a voter-approved marijuana legalization initiative, said Thursday she would probably veto any effort to achieve legalization through the legislature. She said at a news conference she would "not be inclined" to sign such a bill. Some legislators have indicated support for a legalization bill, saying it would reflect the will of the voters.

Virginia Marijuana Legalization Effort Advances. With both chambers having already approved marijuana legalization bills last week, the House General Laws Committee this week approved Substitute Senate Bill 1406, which amends the Senate bill to conform with the House's legalization bill. The Senate bill had allowed localities to opt-out of retail marijuana sales, the House bill doesn't.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Drug Companies Seek Billions in Tax Deductions from Opioid Settlement. A major pharmaceutical company and three drug distribution companies who have agreed to pay $26 billion to settle claims related to their role in stoking the opioid epidemic are now seeking to write off some of those costs from their taxes and pocket about $1 billion each. The companies are drug maker Johnson & Johnson and distributors Cardinal Health, Amerisource-Bergen, and McKesson.

Psychedelics

Texas Bill to Study Therapeutic Potential of Psychedelics Filed. Rep. Alex Dominguez (D-Brownsville) has filed a bill, HB 1802, that would mandate a state study of the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine in the treatment of certain mental health conditions. The Department of State Health Services would conduct the study along with the Texas Medical Board and issue a report by December 2022.

Drug Policy

Kansas Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Aaron Coleman (D-Kansas City), a 20-year-old freshman legislator, has filed a bill to decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of illicit drugs. HB 2288 would make drug possession a civil offense punishable by a fine of $100, but it would also create the offense of "failure to comply with drug abuse treatment." The bill is currently before the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice.

CT Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization in Budget Proposal, Baltimore Announces Policing Reform, More... (2/11/21)

The appetite for busting pot smokers grows weaker in Fort Lauderdale and Milwaukee, Idaho could this year finally legalize hemp, and more.

Baltimore police are reforming some of their stop and search practices. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization Plan in Budget Proposal. Gov. Ned Lamont (D) on Wednesday released his budget request, which includes a plan to legalize marijuana. His plan would involve creating a "comprehensive framework for the cultivation, manufacture, sale, possession, use, and taxation of cannabis that prioritizes public health, public safety, and social justice," Lamont said. "The proposal builds on the significant work that the Legislature has done on adult-use cannabis in recent sessions and ensures alignment with the approaches pursued by regional states," a summary of the plan says.

Florida's Broward County Gives Up on Misdemeanor Pot Prosecutions. Broward County (Ft. Lauderdale) State Attorney Harold Pryor has told county police agencies not to bother referring misdemeanor marijuana possession cases for prosecution. "Prosecuting these cases has no public safety value and is a costly and counterproductive use of limited resources," Pryor wrote in a memo to the law enforcement agencies. He asked them to refer violators to drug-treatment programs instead of the criminal justice system. Possession of up to 20 grams is a misdemeanor under state law. Neighboring Miami-Dade County enacted a similar policy six months ago. Dade and Broward are the state's two most populous counties.

Milwaukee County Board to Consider $1 Fine for Pot Possession. Board Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez has proposed an ordinance that would make the maximum penalty for possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana a $1 fine. Currently, possession is punished with fines of between $250 and $500. The board's Judiciary Committee will take up the ordinance on March 11.

Hemp

Idaho House Committee Files Hemp Bill. Acting on the behest of the state Farm Bureau, the House Agriculture Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to file legislation to legalize industrial hemp in the state -- the only state yet to do so. The committee vote sets the stage for a full hearing on the bill, which agriculture leaders say they hope will end years of debate on legalizing the crop.

Drug Testing

Utah Bill Would Ban Hair Follicle Drug Tests in Child Welfare Cases. Rep. Christine Watkins (R-Price) has filed House Bill 73, which would ban the use of hair follicle drug tests in child welfare cases. "It discriminates against people with dark hair," she said in a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday. "This is very, very disturbing," Watkins said. "Melanin in dark hair binds with the drugs for a longer time." That means Black and Hispanic parents disproportionately test positive in those tests, she added. The bill has the support of the state Department of Child and Family Services, which said it had been moving away from using the tests.

Law Enforcement

Baltimore Police Unveil New Stop and Search Policies to Comply with Federal Consent Decree. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison announced Wednesday that the department has implemented a new "stops, searches and arrests" policy as the department seeks to comply with a federal consent decree and eliminate unconstitutional interactions with the public. Under the policy, officers will be trained in what constitutes "reasonable, articulable suspicion" for stopping a citizen. The new policy makes clear that someone fleeing when he sees police is not an adequate reason to stop and investigate him. Police had frequently resorted to "jump outs at corners," jumping out of their vehicles at corners known for drug trafficking and detaining anyone who ran away. No more.

SD Judge Throws Out Marijuana Legalization Init, IL Drug Defelonization Bill Coming, More... (2/10/21)

A South Dakota court throws out the voter-approved marijuana legalization amendment, Idaho medical marijuana campaigners can begin signature-gathering for 2022, and more.

A bill to requiring reporting on COVID in federal prisons is about to be filed. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New National Poll Has Three-Fifths Saying Marijuana Legalization is a "Good Idea." A new national survey from Emerson College Polling has 61% of respondents saying marijuana legalization is a "good idea." The poll asked about various issues -- new pathways for citizenship, raising the minimum wage, for example -- but none had as much support as marijuana legalization.

Connecticut Bill Would Require "Labor Peace" for Marijuana Businesses. A bill now before the Labor and Public Employees Committee, HB 6377, would require that marijuana businesses enter into labor peace agreements with a union before being granted licenses. The bill would require an agreement "between a cannabis establishment and a bona fide labor organization that protects the state's interests by, at minimum, prohibiting the labor organization from engaging in picketing, work stoppages or boycotts against the cannabis establishment." Under the bill, marijuana employers would give up some rights, including the right to speak to employees about union organizing efforts.

South Dakota Judge Rejects Amendment Legalizing Marijuana. A circuit court judge in Pierre appointed by marijuana legalization opponent Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has thrown out the constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana that was approved by 54% of the voters in November. The judge held that the measure violated the state's requirement that constitutional amendments deal with just one subject and would have created broad changes to state government. Amendment sponsors led by former US Attorney Brendan Johnson said they would appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho Campaigners Cleared to Begin Signature Gathering for 2022 Medical Marijuana Initiative. Kind Idaho, the group leading the campaign for a 2022 medical marijuana initiative, has been cleared to begin signature gathering. A 2020 signature-gathering campaign was disrupted by the coronavirus and ultimately failed to back the ballot. This move comes as a medical marijuana bill has just been introduced in the legislature and as the legislature also considers legislation that would prevent the state from legalizing any currently illicit drugs.

South Dakota Governor Seeks Delay in Implementing Medical Marijuana Initiative. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) said Wednesday that while she will not stand in the way of implementing a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, the state will need more time to get the program up and running. "We are working diligently to get IM 26 implemented safely and correctly," Noem said. "The feasibility of getting this program up and running well will take additional time." Under state law, voter-approved ballot measures are supposed to take effect the following July 1, but Noem and the state's Republican legislative leadership say they will delay implementation until July 1, 2022.

Incarceration

Progressive Lawmakers Will Reintroduce COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act. United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), along with Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) will reintroduce of the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act, bicameral legislation that would require the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the United States Marshals Service (USMS), and state governments to collect and publicly report detailed data about COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and vaccinations in federal, state, and local correctional facilities. "As a result of their confinement, incarcerated people are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, and reports show that COVID-19 has spread like wildfire in correctional facilities across the country. This bill takes a necessary step towards containing the pandemic and supporting the health and safety of incarcerated individuals, correctional staff, and the general public by strengthening data collection, reporting, and transparency," Senator Warren said.

Sentencing Policy

Illinois Drug Defelonization Bill Coming. Criminal justice reform advocates were thwarted in getting a drug defelonization bill passed in 2019, and now they are preparing to try again. The proposed bill would not only defelonize drug possession, it would also seek to divert drug users from the criminal justice system.

Medical Marijuana Update

Some of the remaining non-medical marijuana states are moving to get on the bandwagon, the NLRB says medical marijuana workers in Pennsylvania can't unionize, and more.

Alabama

Alabama Senate Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill. A bill to legalize medical marijuana, Senate Bill 46, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last Wednesday. Sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R), the bill would set up a state medical marijuana commission, but would limit access to patients who have been diagnosed with one of about 20 qualifying conditions.

Idaho

Idaho Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state won a vote in the House Health and Welfare Committee Monday. Although sponsored by the committee, the bill was actually written by Sgt. Jeremy Kitzhaber, a US Air Force veteran with terminal cancer, who testified before the vote Monday. "I'm here to talk with you about my desire for medical cannabis to be legalized here in Idaho, with specific limitations and controls," Kitzhaber said. "I've spent years writing and editing this legislation, to make it something that would allow medical cannabis to reach those who need it, but not necessarily reach those who just want it."

Kansas

Kansas Governor Pushes for Medical Marijuana to Pay for Medicaid Expansion. Governor Laura Kelly (D) called February 1 for lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana as a means of paying for the expansion of Medicaid in the state. The move comes after Republican legislators blocked Medicaid expansion last year. You have heard many of the comments coming from the opposition have been we can't afford it," Kelly said. "We have just designed a bill that pays for itself and more. There's never been any good argument against expansion other than we can't afford it."

Mississippi

Mississippi Supreme Court Set to Hear Oral Arguments in Medical Cannabis Case. The state Supreme Court has set a date of April 14 to hear oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the medical marijuana initiative approved by voters in November. Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler filed the lawsuit, which seeks to invalidate the will of the voters because the state's initiative law is outdated. Under the state constitution, initiative petitioners must collect an equal number of signatures from five congressional districts, but the state now has only four congressional districts, which, Butler argues, makes the initiative vote invalid.

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Bill Moves. The Senate Finance Committee has approved Senate Bill 2765, which would make medical marijuana available to people with specified debilitating and chronic diseases. Last November, voters approved a broader medical marijuana initiative, but it is being challenged in court. The bill sponsor says if the court strikes down the initiative, there will be a bill ready to replace it.

New Jersey

New Jersey Court Hears Oral Arguments in Medical Marijuana Expansion Case. A panel of three appellate court judges heard oral arguments February 2 in a case where rejected medical marijuana applicants sued the state over its licensing procedures. The rejected business applicants argue that the state incorrectly rejected their applications. The case has stalled the expansion of the state's medical marijuana program.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Marijuana Workers Can't Unionize, NLRB Rules. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has squashed an attempt to unionize workers at a medical marijuana facility near Philadelphia. Workers at the AgriKind growing operation cannot be unionized because they are agricultural workers, the NLRB held. Agricultural and farm workers are usually considered to be exempt from federal labor law. The NLRB has ruled in favor of unionizing marijuana workers if their work includes packaging or delivering marijuana.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Yet another Baltimore cop heads to prison in the Gun Trace Task Force scandal, a small-town Maine cop gets popped peddling pills to a female high school student, and more. Let's get to it:

In Jeffersonville, Georgia, a former Twiggs County sheriff's deputy was arrested February 2 for stealing more than $1,500 in cash being held as evidence in a drug case. William "Chip" Samuel Stokes, 51, a major in the sheriff's office until he was fired February 1, allegedly made off with money seized in a December traffic stop after it went missing from the evidence room. He is charged with theft and violating his oath of office.

In Harrington, Maine, a former Calais police officer was arrested last Friday for allegedly giving drugs to a teenage girl near a local high school. Jeffrey Bishop, 53, went down after a basketball coach found hydrocodone pills and three bags of fentanyl powder on a 17-year-old female student. Bishop was arrested days later and is charged with five separate drug-related offenses. He resigned two days before he was arrested and at last report was being held at the Aroostook County jail with bail set at $30,000 cash.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, a Lincoln Correctional Center guard was arrested last Friday after getting caught delivering marijuana to an inmate. Officer Xavier Palomares, 24, allegedly conveyed the weed into the prison on the promise of being paid $1,000. He's charged with one felony count: unlawful conveyance of an article to an inmate.

In Baltimore, a former Baltimore police officer was sentenced Monday to 14 months in federal prison for lying to federal agents about his role in a broad-ranging scandal where numerous officers have been arrested and convicted for selling cocaine seized by the police department. Former detective Ivo Louvado, 47, participated in a drug bust where 44 kilos of cocaine were seized, but only 41 turned into evidence. The rest was sold by police informants on the black market. He pleaded guilty to intentionally misleading a federal agent.

Lawmakers Urge Biden to Allow Buprenorphine Expansion, Honduran President Target of US Drug Investigation, More... (2/9/21)

A major new marijuana reform coalition has formed, a Hawaii asset forfeiture reform bill advances, so does an Idaho medical marijuana bill, and more.

buprenorphine (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Major Marijuana Coalition Forms to Coordinate Legalization Push, But Some Key Advocacy Players Are Not Involved. A bunch of industry and advocacy groups have formed a new coalition, the United States Cannabis Council, to press forward on marijuana legalization. But while the group is headed by Marijuana Policy Project executive director Steven Hawkins on an interim basis, it does not include major advocacy groups such as NORML and the Drug Policy Alliance. It does include marijuana enterprises such as Acreage Holdings, Canopy Growth, Columbia Care, Cronos Group, Curaleaf, Eaze, iAnthus Capital Holdings, LivWell Enlightened Health, MedMen, PAX Labs, Schwazze, Scotts Miracle-Gro Company and Vireo.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state won a vote in the House Health and Welfare Committee Monday. Although sponsored by the committee, the bill was actually written by Sgt. Jeremy Kitzhaber, a US Air Force veteran with terminal cancer, who testified before the vote Monday. "I'm here to talk with you about my desire for medical cannabis to be legalized here in Idaho, with specific limitations and controls," Kitzhaber said. "I've spent years writing and editing this legislation, to make it something that would allow medical cannabis to reach those who need it, but not necessarily reach those who just want it."

Asset Forfeiture

Hawaii Senate Advances Asset Forfeiture Reform Measure. The state Senate has approved Senate Bill 294, which would end civil asset forfeiture by requiring a conviction on a felony count before seized property could be sold or otherwise disposed of. The bill would also direct proceeds from the sale of seized property to the state's general fund instead of a fund controlled by law enforcement. Gov. David Ige (D) vetoed a similar bill in 2019, citing concerns it would hinder law enforcement.

Drug Testing

Illinois Bill Would Require Drug Screening to Receive Food Stamps. A downstate Republican, Rep. Blaine Wilhour, filed HB 658 last Friday. The bill would require recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to undergo a drug screening upon being approved for benefits. The bill would also require them to agree to random drug screening while they are receiving the benefits. The bill has not yet been referred to a committee.

Drug Treatment

Lawmakers Urge Biden to Back Buprenorphine Expansion. A group of lawmakers led by led by Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and joined by four members in the House is calling on President Biden to allow more doctors to prescribe buprenorphine, a drug used for the treatment of opioid addiction. The Trump administration had loosened rules for buprenorphine prescribing, but in an early move, the Biden administration reversed that move, saying it was premature. The lawmakers are now reintroducing legislation to eliminate restrictive rules and are calling on Biden to "deliver on your promise to expand access to medication-assisted treatment."

Foreign Policy

US Prosecutors Are Investigating the Honduran President on Drug Trafficking Charges. In new court filing last Friday in the case of an indicted Honduran drug trafficker, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York said that Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and other "high-ranking officials" were targets of a drug trafficking investigation. In another filing last month, prosecutors said that by 2013 Hernandez had "accepted millions of dollars in drug trafficking proceeds" and in return had "promised drug traffickers from prosecutors, law enforcement, and extradition to the United States." Hernandez has been a key US ally in the region.

NJ Governor Signs Bill to Reduce Psilocybin Penalties, VA Drug Decrim Bill Killed, More... (2/8/21)

New Jersey reduces penalties for possession of psychedelic mushrooms, an Idaho medical marijuana bil lis filed, a Minnesota asset forfeiture reform bill advances, and more.

psilocybin molecule (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Deadline for Marijuana Legalization Legislation Extended. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) last Friday bumped back a procedural deadline for gubernatorial action on two already-passed marijuana legalization implementation and decriminalization measures from Monday to February 18. Governor Phil Murphy (D) and legislative leaders are making progress on changes to those bills to address concerns raised by the governor.

South Dakota Bill to Ban Smoking Marijuana in a Motor Vehicle Gets Hearing. A bill that would ban smoking marijuana in a motor vehicle got a hearing Monday. The bill, House Bill 1061, is a response to the voter-approved marijuana legalization initiative that passed in November.

Wisconsin Governor Proposes Legalizing Marijuana. Governor Tony Evers (D) announced Sunday that he is proposing that the state legalize marijuana. Evers' plan would allow people 21 and over to possess up to two ounces and grow up to six plants, as well as set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. Medical marijuana would be available for people 18 and over.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. The House Health and Welfare Committee has filed a bill to allow for medical marijuana in the state. In a hearing Friday, witnesses including a prominent medical oncologist urged support for the legislation. No action was taken.

Pennsylvania Marijuana Workers Can't Unionize, NLRB Rules. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has squashed an attempt to unionize workers at a medical marijuana facility near Philadelphia. Workers at the AgriKind growing operation cannot be unionized because they are agricultural workers, the NLRB held. Agricultural and farm workers are usually considered to be exempt from federal labor law. The NLRB has ruled in favor of unionizing marijuana workers if their work includes packaging or delivering marijuana.

Psychedelics

New Jersey Governor Signs Bill to Reduce Penalties for Psilocybin Possession. Governor Phil Murphy (D) has signed into law A 5084 / S 3256, which reduces the penalty for people caught with small amounts of psilocybin from up to five years in state prison to a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D), who first introduced the mushroom amendment, said Thursday the change mushrooms are still illegal in New Jersey, "but it's not going to ruin lives for a first offense."

Asset Forfeiture

Minnesota Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would limit cash seizures to amounts greater $1,500 unless drug trafficking is alleged and bar the seizure of vehicles except for repeat drunk driving offenders or vehicles used for drug trafficking -- not possession -- passed the House last Friday. HF 75 passed the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee and will now be considered by the House State Government Finance and Elections Committee.

Sentencing

Virginia Drug Defelonization Bill Killed in Committee. A bill that would have eliminated felony drug possession charges and shift the focus toward drug treatment instead of punishment, House Bill 2303, was defeated in the Committee on Courts and Justice last Friday.

Virginia is on the Verge on Legalizing Marijuana [FEATURE]

The Old Dominion is set to notch a pair of marijuana firsts after both chambers of the state legislature approved marijuana legalization bills last Friday. While the bills, HB 2312and SB 1406 have minor differences that still have to be worked out in conference committee and while Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has yet to sign the bills into law, Virginia is now poised to be the first state to legalize marijuana in 2021 and the first state in the Old South to do so.

Richmond State House (Creative Commons)
Lawmakers need to move fast, though: The legislature is scheduled to adjourn on Thursday.

The pair of bills would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by persons 21 and over and would allow for the personal cultivation of up to four plants -- two mature and two immature. Possession of more than an ounce would merit only a $25 fine, unless it is more than five pounds, which could result in a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

The legislation also provides for the automatic expungement of certain past marijuana-related offenses and sets up a regulatory framework for legal marijuana commerce. The bills also mandate that some marijuana tax revenues go to pre-kindergarten programs for at-risk youth and public health programs.

The passage of the bills was hailed by marijuana policy reform groups, who had worked with legislators to push them forward.

"Virginia appears poised to join 15 other states that have adopted sensible laws that legalize and regulate marijuana for adults," Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) said in a press release. "MPP is proud to have played an important role in all three states where the House and Senate have voted to legalize cannabis, in Vermont, Illinois, and now, Virginia."

"Virginians have been clear in their support for this issue and Governor Northam agrees, it is time to legalize the responsible use of cannabis by adults in the Commonwealth," National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini said in a statement last Friday. "And while today's historic votes seek to put this majority public opinion into practice, there still remains much work to be done by NORML and others to ensure that Virginia gets it right and implements legislation that is expeditious and just."

So far, 15 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana. Virginia is set to become the 16th state. And while marijuana legalization bills have been filed in a number of states, there are at least four more -- Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, and Rhode Island -- that are particularly well-positioned to get it done this year as well.

VA House Votes to Legalize Marijuana, WA Drug Decrim Bill Filed, NJ Psilocbyin Penalties Eased, More... (2/5/21)

Virginia is on the verge of legalizing marijuana, San Antonio's prosecutors will reject especially small-time marijuana and other drug possession charges, and more.

magic mushrooms (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia House Votes to Legalize Marijuana. The Old Dominion took a giant step toward marijuana legalization Friday as the House of Delegates voted 55-52 to approve House Bill 2312, which would do just that. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure shortly. Governor Ralph Northam (D) supports the effort.

Psychedelics

New Jersey Governor Signs Bill Easing Penalties for Magic Mushrooms. Governor Phil Murphy (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 3256, which downgrades the possession of up to an ounce of psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) from a third degree crime to a disorderly persons offense. That means people caught with 'shrooms face only six months in jail and a $1,000 fine instead of three to five years in state prison. The new law goes into effect immediately.

Asset Forfeiture

Mississippi Civil Asset Forfeiture Bill Dies. After failing to move ahead of a legislative deadline this week, a mild civil asset forfeiture reform bill has died. Senate Bill 2326 would have required proceeds from civil asset forfeitures be used to supplement and not supplant the existing budget of the participating law enforcement agency. It was sponsored by state Senator Jeremy England (R-Vancleave).

Drug Policy

Washington State Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Representatives Lauren Harris (D) and Kirsten Harris-Talley (D) filed a drug decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 1499, on Thursday. The bill would also expand treatment services for people with substance abuse disorders. "Substance disorder is among the only health conditions for which a person can be arrested for displaying symptoms," the bill says. "Treating substance disorder like a crime through arrests and incarceration further disrupts and destabilizes the lives of these individuals." The amounts of various drugs to be decriminalized is not set in the bill, but will be set by state officials later.

Law Enforcement

San Antonio DA to Reduce Drug Cases. Bexar County (San Antonio) District Attorney Joe Gonzales is enacting new policies aimed at reducing the number of drug prosecutions. Under the new policies, his office will reject any marijuana cases involving less than an ounce of marijuana as well as any other drug cases involving less than a quarter gram of the controlled substance -- unless the defendant is a danger to the community. Also, prosecutors will not accept any misdemeanor drug cases without a lab report.

Purdue Consultant to Pay $573 Million in Settlements, Idaho Bill to Ban Marijuana Legalization Advances, More... (2/4/21)

Another massive settlement resulting from Purdue Pharma's aggressive marketing of OxyContin, a Maryland marijuana legalization bill gets filed with support from the leadership, South Dakota lawmakers begin working to implement their marijuana legalization initiative, and more.

(Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Idaho Senate Passes Constitutional Amendment to Ban Marijuana Legalization.The state Senate on Wednesday approved a constitutional amendment that would make it impossible for voters or legislators to legalize marijuana -- or any other drug not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. The measure, Senate Joint Resolution 101, now heads to the House, where it must be approved by a two-thirds majority. If it passes the House, it would then have to be approved by a simple majority of voters in the November 2022 election.

Maryland Senate President Cosponsors Marijuana Legalization Bill. Senate Majority Leader Nancy King (D) is cosponsoring a marijuana bill, Senate Bill 708, that was introduced this week. Senate Finance Committee Vice-Chair Brian J. Feldman (D) is the lead sponsor, and he has several other powerful cosponsors, including Budget and Taxation Chair Guy J. Guzzone (D), Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair William C. Smith Jr (D), Vice-Chair Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher (D) and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D). The bill would tax and regulate marijuana sales, but also include several social equity provisions.

Oregon Marijuana Social Equity Bill Filed. A coalition of legislators has filed House Bill 3112, which is also backed by numerous marijuana companies, the NuLeaf Project, the Oregon Cannabis Association, the Oregon Retailers of Cannabis Association, the City of Portland, Urban League, and law students from Willamette University. The bill would use marijuana tax revenues to invest in communities adversely affected by decades of marijuana prohibition. The bill includes automatic expungement of past marijuana convictions, direct investment in marijuana businesses owned by minorities and people with marijuana convictions, and equity licenses with reduced fees and modified requirements for those communities.

South Dakota Lawmakers Take Up Bill to Implement Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization. A bill designed to implement taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, House Bill 1225, was filed Wednesday. Titled "An Act to establish provisions concerning the sale of adult-use retail marijuana," the bill contains 72 separate sections addressing a wide range of rules and regulations related to recreational marijuana. Also, a bipartisan group of legislators has formed a Cannabis Caucus to study issues around managing legalization. Meanwhile, a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the voter-approved marijuana legalization initiative backed by Governor Kristi Noem (R) remains pending.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Bill Moves. The Senate Finance Committee has approved Senate Bill 2765, which would make medical marijuana available to people with specified debilitating and chronic diseases. Last November, voters approved a broader medical marijuana initiative, but it is being challenged in court. The bill sponsor says if the court strikes down the initiative, there will be a bill ready to replace it.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Big Pharma Consulting Company Agrees to Pay $573 Million for Role in "Turbocharging" Prescription Opioid Sales, McKinsey & Company, a high-end consulting firm for big corporations, including major pharmaceutical companies, has agreed to pay $573 million to settle lawsuits that charged it with "turbocharging" the sale of prescription opioids. Attorneys general in 47 states, five US territories, and the District of Columbia sued the firm, unearthing documents showing how McKinsey worked to drive up the sales of Purdue Pharma's OxyContin -- even after Purdue pleaded guilty to federal charges of misleading doctors and regulators about OxyContin's risks.

Psychedelics

Cambridge Becomes Second Massachusetts City to Move to Decriminalize Psychedelics. The Cambridge city council voted Wednesday to decriminalize a broad range of psychedelics, following in the footsteps of Somerville, which passed a similar measure last month. The Cambridge resolution called for making enforcement of laws against the use and possession the city's lowest law enforcement priority, and it calls on police to stop arresting people for possessing or using any illicit drugs.

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