Drug War Chronicle #1088 - January 22, 2020

1. Taking It to the Streets: States That Could Vote on Marijuana in November [FEATURE]

There's a whole heap of marijuana legalization and medical marijuana initiatives out there this year.

2. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More prison guards break bad, an Ohio trooper's pill habit got the best of him, an ongoing Paterson, NJ, police corruption scandal snares another cop, and more.

3. Chronicle AM: Another MORE Act Vote, Austin Decrim, FL Init Shifts to 2022, More... (1/13/20)

The MORE Act should get another committee vote this week, the Florida marijuana legalization initiative campaign has shifted its sights to 2020, Illinois' governor sketches out criminal justice reforms, and more.

4. Chronicle AM: MT Legalization Initiatives, NJ Forfeiture Reform, More... (1/14/20)

Montana activists have rolled out a pair of marijuana legalization initiatives, a Colorado bill aims to protect workers who use marijuana during their time away from work, New Jersey becomes the latest state to reform its civil asset forfeiture laws, and more.

5. Chronicle AM: MI Jail Task Force Recommendations, Congress Wants Answers on Meth and Cocaine ODs, More... (1/15/20)

The Czech Pirate Party reaches for the stars, House members want answers from the administration about rising meth and cocaine deaths, and more.

6. Chronicle AM: NM Governor Says Legalize This Year, KY Justice Reform Push, More... (1/16/20)

New Mexico could legalize marijuana next month, Virginia activists says marijuana decriminalization is not enough, Kentucky prepares to go to work on criminal justice reforms, and more.

7. Chronicle AM: Federal Marijuana Prosecutions Drop, Drug Czar Touts Reduced Overdoses, More... (1/17/20)

A New Mexico marijuana legalization bill gets filed, Rhode Island's governor calls for pot legalization, the drug czar touts a drop in drug overdose deaths, and more.

8. Chronicle AM: NY MJ Legalization Poll Shows Strong Support, Tulsi Gabbard Calls for Drug Legalization, More... (1/21/20)

A New York poll shows strong support for marijuana legalization, Dutch opinion-shapers push for a new drug policy, a US presidential calls for drug legalization and more.

1. Taking It to the Streets: States That Could Vote on Marijuana in November [FEATURE]

Last year wasn't a great one for advancing marijuana legalization at the state level. Despite high hopes for New Jersey and New York, state legislatures in Trenton and Albany couldn't quite get their acts together and promising efforts petered out. Illinois was the only state to approve marijuana legalization in 2019.

Power to the people. Right on.
It's tough to push a legalization bill through the state legislative process. A single recalcitrant committee head can kill a bill, and even committed proponents can fail to reach agreement, squabbling over issues such as taxation, which agencies will have regulatory power, and ensuring social justice in the industry. And so the bill ends up dying. Of the 11 states that have so far legalized marijuana, only Illinois and Vermont have done it via the legislature, and in Vermont, they only legalized possession and cultivation, not a taxed and regulated market.

It could be different this year because this is an election year, and that means residents of a number of states will or could have a chance to vote directly on whether to legalize marijuana without having to wait for the politicos at the state house to support the will of the people.

In the case of marijuana prohibition, it is state legislatures that refuse to act that are out of step with the times. National opinion polls, such as Gallup and Pew, show support for legalization nationwide in the mid-60s, and even in states where legislatures haven't yet approved full medical marijuana, let alone legalization, there is majority support for freeing the weed. In Georgia, for instance, 55 percent say legalize it, and in Texas, the figure is 53 percent.

While there are serious prospects for legalization at the state house in a handful of state this year -- think Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, and Rhode Island -- a number of other states are seeing marijuana legalization or medical marijuana initiative campaigns get underway, and a couple of states in each category have already qualified for the ballot.

That an initiative campaign is underway is no guarantee it will make it onto the ballot -- a well-funded legalization initiative in Florida just came up short on signatures for this year -- but it is a signal that it could be. Here's where things stand on 2020 marijuana reform initiatives as of mid-January.

States Where Marijuana Legalization Will Be on the Ballot

New Jersey. A constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana is on the ballot. It would legalize the possession, cultivation, processing, transport, and distribution of marijuana under the purview of the already-existing Cannabis Regulatory Authority, with sales subject to the state's sales tax.

This is not a citizens' initiative -- the state doesn't have those -- but a legislative one. After the governor and the legislature couldn't manage to come to agreement on a legalization bill last year, the state's elected officials punted, instead passing a resolution in December that refers the question to the state's voters.

Prospects for passage in November appear good. The most recent polling -- now nearly a year old -- had support for legalization at 62 percent and trending upward over previous years.

South Dakota. With support from the Marijuana Policy Project and the New Approach PAC, Constitutional Amendment A has qualified for the November ballot. It would legalize the personal possession of up to an ounce and the cultivation of up to three plants by adults, as well as setting up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales. The measure would also compel the legislature to come up with regulations for medical marijuana and hemp by 2022.

The state has some of the harshest pot laws in the country, including a draconian "internal possession" law that criminalizes testing positive for marijuana, even if it was consumed in a legal marijuana state.

It could also be a tough nut to crack. While the campaign says the initiative has "significant support among a majority of voters," it has not publicly released any polling data, and there are no recent polls on voter attitudes toward weed. What is known is that this socially conservative rural state is the only one to twice defeat a medical marijuana initiative. A medical marijuana initiative is also on the ballot this year (see below), leading to the prospect that voters there could "split the difference," showing their reformist bona fides by finally approving medical marijuana, but leaving approval of legalization for another day.

States Where Marijuana Legalization Could Be on the Ballot

Arizona. Four years after a marijuana legalization initiative was narrowly defeated, there are not one, not two, but three different campaigns trying to put legalization on the ballot this year. They have until July 2 to come up with the requisite number of valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. Two of them need 237,645 valid signatures to qualify; the third, which has a higher bar as a constitutional amendment, needs 356.467.

The best positioned initiative is the industry-led Smart and Safe Arizona Act, which would legalize the use, possession, and cultivation of marijuana and allow for a system of state-regulated sales with a 16% excise tax. Those tax revenues would fund education, public health, and infrastructure programs. The campaign says it already has 100,000 raw signatures and expects to hand in 400,000 by June to ensure it has enough valid signatures to get past 237,645.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce is promoting the Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative, which would also legalize adult-use possession, use, and cultivation and tax sales at 16%, but rather than aiming directly at voters, its organizers are hoping to persuade the legislature to vote to put it on the ballot.

And then there's the Marijuana Legalization, Ban on Taxes, and Automatic Pardons Initiative, which would legalize the use of marijuana, provide automatic pardons to people convicted of marijuana-related charges, and prohibit the government from taxing or regulating marijuana commerce. This is a constitutional amendment requiring 356,467 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. It's the brainchild of a group called Relegalize All Drugs, which is also circulating a Legalization of All Drugs Initiative.

If one or more of these measures make the ballot, the polling looks promising, if not overwhelmingly favorable. A February 2019 poll had support for legalization at 52 percent; a September poll had it at 50 percent; and a November poll had it at 54 percent. Initiative campaign organizers aren't really comfortable, though, unless they're polling in at least the high 50s months out because they expect opposition campaigns to eat into earlier support.

Arkansas. Arkansans for Cannabis Reform is gathering signatures for a pair of initiatives, the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment to allow the use of recreational marijuana and the Arkansas Marijuana Expungement Amendment, which would let people convicted of marijuana offenses to petition courts for relief, including release from prison and expungement of their convictions.

Also, a single individual, William Barger, filed the Arkansas Recreational Marijuana Initiative, which would similarly free the weed, but does not appear to be doing much.

Initiatives in Arkansas this year need 89,000 valid voter signatures by July 3 to qualify for the ballot, but that will be an uphill battle. As of January, the Arkansans for Cannabis Reform Group reported it had only 10,000 raw signatures and $10,000 in the bank. It really needs about 120,000 raw signatures to have a cushion for ones that could get thrown out as invalid. It is getting token support from the Marijuana Policy Project, but not staffing or funding.

There is no recent formal polling of support for legalization.

Missouri. With support from the national New Approach PAC, Missourians for a New Approach has filed a constitutional amendment, the Marijuana Legalization Initiative, that would allow people 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of weed purchased from a legal retailer and/or grow up to three plants. The initiative has been cleared for signature gathering, but organizers are still deciding whether to move ahead on what would be a costly effort. If they do, they have until mid-May to come up with about 160,000 valid voter signatures.

Another constitutional amendment, the Marijuana Legalization and Expungement Initiative, is a product of Colorado-based cannabis educator Mark Pedersen. It would legalize marijuana by removing all state restrictions on its cultivation, possession, consumption, and sales -- regardless of age -- and legally allow driving under the influence of marijuana. It would also destroy all state records of nonviolent marijuana-related crimes. It, too, has been cleared for circulation.

Voters just approved medical marijuana in 2018, and there is no recent polling we know of on the issue (although the Marijuana Policy Project recently claimed "polls indicate there is broad support"), but let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Signature gathering hasn't even gotten underway, and the clock is ticking.

Montana. In mid-January, activists with New Approach Montana filed a pair of marijuana legalization initiatives with the state attorney general's office. One is a constitutional initiative that would set 21 as the legal age when people can use marijuana, while the other is a statutory initiative that would set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. It also includes a provision for individuals to grow up to four plants. Both initiatives have until June 27 to qualify for the November ballot, but the constitutional initiative faces a higher signature gathering hurdle than the statutory initiative. The former will need 50,000 valid voter signatures, while the latter will need only 25,000.

The national New Approach PAC and the Marijuana Policy Project are backing the campaign, which is prepared to spend up to $3 million. A May 2019 poll had support for legalization at just 51 percent, suggesting that they're going to need every cent of that money to get over the top.

Nebraska. Filed in August 2018 by Bill Hawkins of the Nebraska Hemp Company and Fred Shoemaker, the Nebraska Cannabis Legalization Initiative would create a constitutional right for people to grow, sell, and use any part of the cannabis plant.

The measure has been cleared for signature gathering, and proponents have until July 2nd to come up with enough valid voter signatures -- but because of a bizarre feature in state law, they wont know what that figure is until that July 2nd deadline, when it must exceed 10% of voters registered on that date.

There has been no recent polling on Cornhusker support for marijuana legalization.

North Dakota. The campaign committee ND for Freedom of Cannabis Act has filed a proposed constitutional initiative to legalize marijuana and allow for up to 12 plants for personal cultivation. It has until February 10th to come up with 26,904 valid voter signatures. The group said last month it is "roughly about halfway" to getting the 30,000 raw signatures it's seeking.

That's not the only game in town, though. The group Legalize ND has filed a marijuana legalization initiative that was approved for signature gathering in December. Now, the group needs 13,500 valid voter signatures by July 6 to get the measure on the 2020 ballot. It would allow any person over the age of 21 to use, possess, and transport up to two ounces of prepared marijuana, but it would ban home growing of the plant.

Oklahoma. State activists backed by the national New Approach PAC have filed State Question 808, which would allow people 21 and over to possess, cultivate, and purchase marijuana from licensed retailers. Possession would be capped at one ounce, and individuals could grow up to six plants.

A previous version of the measure was withdrawn after objections from the medical marijuana community, but this version specifies that a 15% excise tax on sales would not apply to medical marijuana and says only existing medical marijuana dispensaries would be eligible for recreational licenses for the first two years after implementation.

Once the measure is cleared for signature gathering, proponents will have 90 days to come up 177,598 valid voter signatures. If the latest survey data -- an August 2019 poll -- is any indication, the measure face an uphill battle if it qualifies for the ballot. That poll had opposition to legalization at 50 percent.

States Where Medical Marijuana Will Be on the Ballot

Mississippi. Ballot Initiative 65 is on the November ballot. If approved, it would allow patients with any of 22 specified medical conditions to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

The most recent polling data is a year old, but it's very encouraging: That poll had support for legalizing medical marijuana at 67 percent.

South Dakota. Maybe the third time will be the charm. South Dakota is the only state to twice defeat medical marijuana initiatives, in 2006 and by an even bigger margin in 2010.Initiated Measure 26, another New Approach-supported campaign, would allow patients from a list of qualifying conditions possess up to three ounces and grow up to three plants, as well as create a system of dispensary sales.

We couldn't find any recent public polls on local attitudes, but the Marijuana Policy Project said recently that polling suggests it holds "majority support among South Dakota voters."

States Where Medical Marijuana Could Be on the Ballot

Idaho. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition has filed a medical marijuana initiative that would set up a system of licensed dispensaries, growers, processors, and testers, as well as allowing qualified patients to possess up to four ounces. Patients could not grow their own medicine unless they qualify under a hardship exemption, for physical, financial, or geographic reasons. In that case, they could grow up to six plants.

The coalition needs to gather 55,057 valid voter signatures by May 1 to qualify for the ballot. If it manages to make the ballot, the most recent polling, from March 2019, suggests it could win. That Idaho Weekly poll had 73 percent either "strongly" or "somewhat" supporting medical marijuana, with only 26 opposed.

Nebraska. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana is sponsoring the Nebraska Medical Marijuana Constitutional Amendment, which would give Nebraskans the right to grow, consume, and purchase marijuana for medical reasons, subject only to "reasonable laws, rules, and regulations."

This is another effort supported by the New Approach PAC and the Marijuana Policy Project. It has until July 2 to come up with a signature count equal to 10 percent of registered voters on that date, a figure estimated to be around 122,000. Back in July 2019, organizers said they had already collected 15,000 without using any paid signature gatherers, but they've been mum since then.

Although the most recent polling is ancient -- from 2017 -- the numbers are good: 77 percent said they would vote "yes" on a medical marijuana initiative. That's a good place to start from.

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2. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More prison guards break bad, an Ohio trooper's pill habit got the best of him, an ongoing Paterson, NJ, police corruption scandal snares another cop, and more. Let's get to it:

In Hazard, Kentucky, a Perry County sheriff's deputy was arrested January 1 during a traffic stop and charged with trying to smuggle drugs into the jail. Deputy Shannon Adams, 42, went down after jail staff monitoring inmate phone calls heard incriminating information and contacted the local drug task force. Local reporting did not make clear precisely which criminal charges he faces.

In Mansfield, Ohio, a former Highway Patrol trooper was arrested January 7 for stealing pain pills. Preston Brooks, 33, went down after an internal investigation found he had mishandled "seized prescription drugs" and lied about it. He is charged with theft of drugs and tampering with evidence.

In Paterson, New Jersey, a Paterson police officer was arrested last Tuesday in an ongoing corruption probe that has already scooped up seven other Paterson police officers. Sgt. Michael Cheff participated in stealing money and drugs from suspects along with the other officers, and was charged in a case where police illegally searched a vehicle and arrested a man, then went to his home and lied to his mother to gain consent for a search. He found a safe with $2,700 and took it, divvying some of it up to other officers involved. He is charged with conspiring to violate the civil rights of an individual and with falsifying a corresponding police report.

In Moberly, Missouri, a state prison guard was arrested Saturday for sneaking synthetic cannabinoids and tobacco into the prison where he worked. Guard Timothy Davis, 23, went down after investigators searched his car in the parking lot of the Moberly Correctional Center found 174 grams of synthetic cannabinoids and several unopened bags of tobacco. He is charged with delivery of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.

In New York City, six Rikers Island prison guards were arrested Monday for allegedly smuggling drugs into the jail. They were among 21 people indicted in a scheme to import and distribute marijuana, synthetic marijuana (K2) and the narcotic suboxone into jail facilities on the island since early 2019. The indicted guards were Queens residents Darrington James, 30, Patrick Legerme, 29, and Aldrin Livingston, 31; Brooklyn's Michael Murray, 28, and Christopher Walker, 28; and Bellport, NY resident Angel Rodriguez, 23. According to the charges, each of them allegedly accepted thousands of dollars in bribes to get the contraband items past security checkpoints.

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3. Chronicle AM: Another MORE Act Vote, Austin Decrim, FL Init Shifts to 2022, More... (1/13/20)

The MORE Act should get another committee vote this week, the Florida marijuana legalization initiative campaign has shifted its sights to 2020, Illinois' governor sketches out criminal justice reforms, and more.

Austin, Texas (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

MORE Act Set for Another Congressional Committee Vote Wednesday. The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3884) goes before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Wednesday. The bill would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act's schedules and encourage states to expunge prior low-level convictions. It has already passed the House Judiciary Committee and the House Small Business Committee has waived jurisdiction, leaving five committees to go.

Florida Marijuana Legalization Initiative Effort Shifts to 2022. Sunshine State residents will not vote on a marijuana legalization initiative this year after the Make It Legal Florida campaign announced it was giving up on efforts to get the measure on the 2020 ballot. The campaign cited a looming February 1 deadline for signature gathering. The state had certified only 295,000 valid voter signatures on Monday; less than 40% of the total needed. The signatures it has already gathered are valid for two years, and the campaign said it will use them for a 2022 effort.

Florida Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. On the same day an initiative campaign called it quits for 2020, state Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) filed SB 1860, a bill that would legalize marijuana for adult use and replace the current vertical integration structure by allowing growers to wholesale to independent processors or retailers. The bill would also expunge low-level criminal records and study the impact of home-grown marijuana.

Austin, Texas, May End Marijuana Arrests and Fines. In the wake of hemp legalization and the wrench that has thrown into enforcing marijuana laws, the Austin city council will consider a resolution next week that would effectively end arrests and fines for simple marijuana possession. City Council Member Gregorio Casar introduced the resolution last Friday. It would bar the city of Austin from using funds to develop testing procedures for THC or pay for lab tests in minor possession cases and direct police to not take any enforcement actions against people solely suspected of marijuana possession. In July, Travis County (Austin) prosecutors dropped dozens of marijuana cases, but Austin police have continued to arrest people for minor pot busts anyway.

Criminal Justice

Illinois Governor Sketches Out Criminal Justice Reform Plans. Gov. JB Prtiztker (D) laid out plans for criminal justice reform last Thursday. He and Lt. Gov. Julia Stratton (D) said they would "work to end cash bail for low-level crimes, push drug offenders towards treatment, and reduce mandatory sentencing" as part of a Justice, Equity, and Opportunity Initiative. The two said they wanted to build a "fair" criminal justice system and cited current racial bias, especially in the war on drugs.

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4. Chronicle AM: MT Legalization Initiatives, NJ Forfeiture Reform, More... (1/14/20)

Montana activists have rolled out a pair of marijuana legalization initiatives, a Colorado bill aims to protect workers who use marijuana during their time away from work, New Jersey becomes the latest state to reform its civil asset forfeiture laws, and more.

Could legal marijuana be coming to Big Sky Country? Stay tuned. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill Would Protect Employees Who Use Marijuana on Their Own Time. State Rep. Jovan Melton (D-Aurora) has filed a bill, HB 20-1089, to protect workers who use marijuana when they're off the clock. The bill would block businesses from firing employees for engaging in legal activities on their own time, even if such activities are only legal under state law. He anticipates having to make some compromises to address expected objections from the business community.

Montana Activists File Pair of Marijuana Initiatives. Activists with New Approach Montana filed a pair of marijuana legalization initiatives with the state attorney general's office Tuesday. One is a constitutional initiative that would set 21 as the legal age when people can use marijuana, while the other is a statutory initiative that would set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. It also includes a provision for individuals to grow up to four plants. Both initiatives have until June 27 to qualify for the November ballot, but the constitutional initiative faces a higher signature gathering hurdle than the statutory initiative. The former will need 50,000 valid voter signatures, while the latter will need only 25,000.

Tennessee Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Rick Staples (D-Knoxville) filed a marijuana decriminalization bill, HB 1610, on Monday. The bill would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, but it would also authorize counties to hold referendum elections to allow marijuana growing, manufacturing, delivery and retail sales within their boundaries.

Asset Forfeiture

New Jersey Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday (D) signed into law a bill mandating comprehensive disclosure and transparency requirements for the system of civil asset forfeiture. Under the bill, county prosecutors will submit quarterly reports to the Attorney General detailing seizure and forfeiture activities by law enforcement agencies within their county. The new law will also require specifying the law enforcement agency involved in a confiscation; date, description, and details of a seizure; the amount of funds or estimated value of a property; the alleged criminal offense associated with a seizure; and whether the defendant was charged with an offense and if those charges were ultimately dismissed or the defendant was acquitted, among other information.

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5. Chronicle AM: MI Jail Task Force Recommendations, Congress Wants Answers on Meth and Cocaine ODs, More... (1/15/20)

The Czech Pirate Party reaches for the stars, House members want answers from the administration about rising meth and cocaine deaths, and more.

A Michigan task force releases recommendations on cutting jail populations in the state. (Creative Commons)
Stimulants

Congressional Concern Over Rising Cocaine, Meth Overdose Deaths. The leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee are calling on the Trump administration to brief them on rising cocaine and methamphetamine deaths and what it is doing about them by early next month. Deaths involving both drugs increased by more than 30% in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We are concerned that while the nation, rightly so, is devoting much of its attention and resources to the opioid epidemic, another epidemic -- this one involving cocaine and methamphetamine -- is on the rise," wrote Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), Greg Walden (R-OR), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Michael Burgess (R-Texas), Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Brett Guthrie (R-KY). The lawmakers requested briefings from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Criminal Justice

Michigan Jail Task Force Releases Recommendations. A bipartisan task force created last year by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has released its recommendations for reducing the state's jail populations. The Jail and Pretrial Incarceration Task Force report came up with 18 recommendations, including reducing the number of driver's license revocations for people dealing with crimes unrelated to traffic safety; expanding police discretion to write tickets instead of arresting and taking people to jail; providing crisis response training for law enforcement; and incentivize programs; creating partnerships between law enforcement and treatment providers to divert people with behavioral health needs from the system both before and after arrest, strengthening the presumption of pre-trial release on personal recognizance, and releasing people arrested on certain nonviolent charges prior to arraignment.

Drug Policy

Idaho Bill Would Decriminalize Drug Use, Allow Civil Commitment for Drug Abuse. State Sen. Grant Burgoyne (D-Boise) has introduced SB 1222, which would decriminalize drug use in private places while at the same time allowing civil commitments for drug abuse. The bill would change the state's criminal code by amending the penalties for drug possession so that they only apply to drug possession with intent to deliver, effectively decriminalizing drug possession. The bill is a private member's bill and unlikely to even get a committee hearing, but Burgoyne said he was "hopeful that my legislation will start the conversation with lawmakers, law enforcement, and others about how we treat Idahoans, especially young Idahoans, who are suffering from drug addiction."

International

Czech Pirate Party to Push for Legalization of Marijuana; Prescribed Access to Ecstasy, Magic Mushrooms, LSD. Opposition MP Tomas Vymazal of the Pirate Party has announced plans to file legislation that would legalize recreational use of marijuana and allow doctors to prescribe psychedelics such as LSD, MDMA, and psilocybin. "Similar to the current practice of cannabis prescriptions, specialized medical workplaces would be able to prescribe the [above] substances," Vymazal said. The plan is opposed by the Health Ministry. The Pirate Party holds 22 seats in the 200-seat chamber of deputies.

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6. Chronicle AM: NM Governor Says Legalize This Year, KY Justice Reform Push, More... (1/16/20)

New Mexico could legalize marijuana next month, Virginia activists says marijuana decriminalization is not enough, Kentucky prepares to go to work on criminal justice reforms, and more.

The Virginia state capitol in Richmond. Activists and legislators are jousting over marijuana reforms. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill to Protect Marijuana Financial Services Providers Advances. The Assembly Committee on Business and Professions unanimously approved Assembly Bill 1525 on Tuesday. The measure would protect financial institutions and accountants serving the legal marijuana industry by clarifying that they aren't committing crimes under state law. The measure now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

New Mexico Governor Calls for Marijuana Legalization In 2020. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has made marijuana legalization part of her formal agenda for the year. In the agenda she sent to legislators Wednesday, she said she wants a bill "legalizing the use of recreational cannabis in New Mexico and establishing a regulatory framework for its use, including public safety considerations, public health safeguards, and the protection of the state's existing medical cannabis program." A similar effort came up short in the legislature last year, and Grisham created a working group to come up with recommendations in the interim. The legislature comes back for a 30-day session next week, so if all goes well, the state could be the next to free the weed.

Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Advances, Even as Protestors Demand More. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday sent a marijuana decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 2, to a subcommittee to be amended and then returned to Judiciary for further consideration. But the action came amid protests led by the state ACLU, which is calling for full legalization, and says decrim alone doesn't do enough to protect the state's minority communities.

Asset Forfeiture

Kentucky Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Rep. Reginald Meeks (D-Louisville) has filed House Bill 250, which would require law enforcement agencies to reveal more details about cash and property seized through asset forfeiture or face financial penalties. The bill does not seek to end civil asset forfeiture but would impose stiffer reporting requirements than currently exist. Under current law, agencies are required to make annual reports on asset forfeitures, but only 11% have actually done so.

Criminal Justice

Kentucky Governor and Legislators Make Criminal Justice Reform a Priority. Gov. Andy Beshear (D) and the legislature have committed to advancing criminal justice reform this year and have several proposals for reducing the state's prison population to consider. Among them: defelonization of simple drug possession, increasing the threshold for moving a theft from a misdemeanor to a felony from $300 to $500, and probation and parole reform.

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7. Chronicle AM: Federal Marijuana Prosecutions Drop, Drug Czar Touts Reduced Overdoses, More... (1/17/20)

A New Mexico pot legalization bill gets filed, Rhode Island's governor calls for legalization, the drug czar touts a drop in drug overdose deaths, and more.

Federal marijuana prosecutions declined significantly last year, a new report finds. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Prosecutions Decline. Federal marijuana prosecutions declined by 28% from September 30, 2018 to September 30, 2019, according to a report from Supreme Court Justice John Roberts. The year-end report also found that total federal filings for drug crimes was up 5% over the same period, with some 83,000 cases.

New Mexico Legalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D) and Rep. Javier Martinez (D) have filed a bill, Senate Bill 115, that would allow adults in the state to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. The move comes just a day after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signaled that she supported legalizing marijuana this year. The bill would also automatically expunge prior possession convictions and promote participation by small and tribal-owned businesses. The bill would not allow home cultivation, but would decriminalize the growing up of to three plants and six seedlings.

Rhode Island Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization Proposal in State Budget Plan. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has included marijuana legalization as a priority in the state budget plan she released Thursday. The plan envisions state-contracted private marijuana retailers with the state controlling location, price, potency, and quantity of sales. Revenues would be divvied up among the state (61%), the private contractors (29%), and local communities (10%). This is the second year Raimondo is including adult-use cannabis legalization in the state budget; she introduced a similar proposal last year, which was ultimately unsuccessful.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Drug Czar Touts Decline in Overdose Deaths. Jim Carroll, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), said Friday that the country had seen a decline in drug overdose deaths for the first time in 30 years. "For the first time in almost 30 years, we've seen a decline in the number of Americans dying from an overdose -- it's a 5 percent reduction," he said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 70,000 people died of a drug overdose in 2017, with synthetic opioids such as fentanyl being the main driver behind those deaths.

Foreign Policy

US, Mexico Agree on Plan to Reduce Illegal Guns, Drug Trade. The Mexican government said Thursday it had reached agreement with the United States on a plan to combat the illicit trafficking of arms, drugs, and money. The announcement came after a meeting between US Attorney General William Barr and Mexican officials. The two countries said they agreed to cooperate on reducing drug consumption and combating addiction. The agreement came after President Trump threatened in November to designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations, prompting Mexican officials to quickly seek talks.

International

Canadian Health Minister Says Time Not Right for Drug Decriminalization. Health Minister Patty Hadju said Thursday that talk about decriminalizing drugs to deal with the country's opioid crisis is premature until people have enough help to fight their addictions. "My personal perspective on decriminalization is that it can't be done in a broad sweep," she said. "I think that having a comprehensive kind of approach that includes things like prevention, treatment, harm reduction, enforcement, housing, those are the kind of things that are actually going to start to move the needle," Hajdu said. "It's too premature to have a conversation about full decriminalization of substances until we get to the place where we have comprehensive support for people to get well."

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8. Chronicle AM: NY MJ Legalization Poll Shows Strong Support, Tulsi Gabbard Calls for Drug Legalization, More... (1/21/20)

A New York poll shows strong support for marijuana legalization, Dutch opinion-shapers push for a new drug policy, a US presidential candidate calls for drug legalization and more.

Dutch drug policy is tolerant but incomplete. (Amsterdam canal image via pixabay.com)
Marijuana Policy

California Lawmakers Ponder Temporary Tax Cut for Legal Weed. Lawmakers last Friday revived a measure to temporarily cut taxes on marijuana in a bid to boost the state's legal marijuana market. The bill would cut the state excise tax on marijuana from 15% to 11% and eliminate a cultivation tax for the next three years. The effort foundered last year when Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) objected, but it now appears he is open to changing his mind. Lawmakers estimated that up to 75% of the state's marijuana is still sold in the black market.

New York Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. As the state legislature prepares to try to pass marijuana legalization again this year, a new Sienna College poll finds the public is ready. The poll had support for legalization at 58%.

Drug Policy

Tulsi Gabbard Endorses Legalizing Drugs. Longshot Democratic presidential contender Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HA) has come out for legalizing currently illicit drugs. "If we take that step to legalize and regulate, then we're no longer treating people who are struggling with substance addiction and abuse as criminals and instead getting them the help that they need," she at a campaign stop in Merrimack, New Hampshire on Friday. Her comments came in response to a voter's question about whether she intended to emphasize harm reduction and treatment or move instead to legalization. "All of the above," she said. "The costs and the consequence to this failed war on drugs is so vast and far reaching, socially and fiscally, that if we take these necessary steps, we'll be able to solve a lot of other problems that we're dealing with in this country."

International

Dutch Push for New Drug Policy. Parliamentarians, TV celebrities, health experts, lawyers, and dance scene personalities are among the 79 people who have signed a new manifesto calling for a major shift in Dutch drug policy. "The need for a new and realistic drugs policy is greater than ever. The international drug trade has taken root in the Netherlands and with serious consequences," the online manifesto states. "Mayors are receiving death threats, a lawyer was murdered, and ecstasy waste dumping is threatening the environment. But the manifest powerlessness in the face of drug-related crime is making for ever greater repression." The aim, signatories said, is to reduce drug harms and increase public safety, and that should be done by tackling black market drug revenues. "A regulated -- not a free -- drugs market [is] the starting point of a new drugs policy. lllegality fuels crime. That is why we must tackle the revenue model of the criminals and make a regulated -- not a free -- drug market the starting point of a new drugs policy."

Mexican Murders Hit All-Time High. The country saw some 34,582 murders in 2019, demonstrating the challenge President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador faces while waging war on drug cartels. The 2019 figure is a 2.5% increase over 2018, despite Lopez Obrador's less confrontational approach to drug cartels.

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

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