Drug War Chronicle #1138 - July 23, 2021

1. Senate Democrats Roll Out Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition [FEATURE]

The push to pass a federal marijuana legalization bill is now on in the Senate, although the immediate prospects are cloudy.

2. Medical Marijuana Update

Stay tuned to find out if a South Dakota tribe's medical marijuana cards are valid for non-members, and more.

3. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Texas Border Patrol agent waves the cocaine-laden car through, a Florida depiuty is headed to prison for planting dope on innocent drivers and arresting them, and more.

4. Free Drugs Handed Out in Vancouver, NJ Dismisses Nearly 88,000 Marijuana Cases with More to Come, More... (7/15/21)

Ohio sees its first full-fledged marijuana legalization bill, Mississippi is moving toward a legislative special session to address medical marijuana, legalization in Israel gets stalled, and more.

5. CA Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Gets Underway, House Spending Bill Includes Needle Exchange Funding, More...7/16/21)

Maryland legislative leaders are lining up to support a voter referendum on marijuana legalization next year, the House Appropriations Committee is passing spending bills that include marijuana and other drug provisions, and more.

6. Surgeon General Say Don't Jail People for Pot, ME Law Ends Civil Asset Forfeiture, More... (7/19/21)

The AMA Advocacy Update chronicles one doctor's problems trying to prescribe for chronic pain and addicted patients, Maine becomes the fourth state to end civil asset forfeiture, and more.

7. CO Releases Annual Report on Marijuana Legalization, SC Governor Candidate Says Legalize It, More... (7/20/21)

A bill to protect the 2nd Amendment rights of state-legal marijuana users languishes in the House Judiciary Committee, South Carolina Democratic guberatorial candidate Joe Cunningham unveils a plan to legalize marijuana, and more.

8. DEA Agent Arrested for Role in US Capitol Riot, NC MedMJ Bill Advances, More... (7/21/21)

A new Republican bill would bar food stamp recipients from using their cards for any marijuana purchases -- even medical, a Mississippi city reaches a settlement in the death of a man hog-tied by police while under the influence of LSD, and more.

9. US Prison, Parole, Probation Population Continues Slow Decline; $26 Billion Opioid Settlement, More... (7/22/21)

Florida's Republican establishment may not be ready for marijuana legalization but the public is, the Justice Department drops an effort to send some First Step Act releasees back to prison, and more.

10. Biden Vows to Continue Pressure on China over Opioids, Chiapas Militia Emerges to Fight Cartels, More... (7/23/21)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez files an amendment to encourage psychedelic research, President Biden says he will stay tough on Chinese opioid exports, and more.

1. Senate Democrats Roll Out Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition [FEATURE]

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and his colleagues Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) rolled out an initial draft of their legislation to end federal marijuana prohibition, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.

Similar legislation, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (HR 3617), sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) is pending in the House, but prospects for the Senate bill are hazy. It would need 60 votes to pass, no Republicans have spoken in favor of it, and it is not even clear that all Democrats would vote for it.

And even if it were to pass, moments after a Wednesday press conference announcing the bill, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters had opposed marijuana legalization in the past and "nothing has changed."

Still, the Senate Majority Leader putting his name on a marijuana legalization bill is a big deal, a sign of how far the issue has come.

According to a summary of the 163-page draft bill, the measure would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act and shift regulatory authority over it from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Food and Drug Administration. Each state would determine its own marijuana policies, and federal criminal penalties would remain for growing, possessing, or distributing more than 10 pounds in violation of state or federal law.

The bill would set the legal age for purchase at 21 and limit purchases to 10 ounces "to prevent illegal actors from purchasing large quantities of cannabis at retail in a cannabis-legal state and illegally trafficking that cannabis into other states with the purpose of circumventing state-level laws relating to the sale, production, or taxation of cannabis."

The measure addresses social equity concerns by creating three grant programs -- one in the Justice Department and two in the Small Business Administration (SBA) -- to channel resources to people and communities adversely impacted by marijuana prohibition. The SBA grants to states and localities will be conditioned on the passage of state laws that expunge previous marijuana convictions.

The bill also calls for the automatic expungement of non-violent federal marijuana convictions and would give people currently serving federal sentences for marijuana convictions a sentencing review hearing that would essentially set them free: "After the sentencing hearing, courts shall expunge each arrest, conviction, or adjudication of juvenile delinquency for a non-violent federal cannabis offense, vacate the existing sentence or disposition of juvenile delinquency, and seal all records relating to a conviction or adjudication that has been expunged."

The act would see marijuana commerce federally taxed and regulated, with federal taxes beginning at 10% in year one and increasing to 25% by year five. In a boost to small producers, the first $20 million in sales would be eligible for a 50% rebate.

"I am proud to introduce our discussion draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, a legislative proposal aimed at finally putting an end to the federal prohibition of cannabis and addressing the over-criminalization of cannabis in a comprehensive and meaningful way," said Majority Leader Schumer in a statement announcing the bill. "The War on Drugs has too often been a war on people, and particularly people of color. Not only will this legislation remove cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances, but it will also help fix our criminal justice system, ensure restorative justice, protect public health, and implement responsible taxes and regulations."

"Cannabis prohibition, a key pillar of the failed War on Drugs, has caused substantial harm to our communities and small businesses, and especially for communities of color," said Senate Finance Committee Chair Wyden. "It's as simple as this: Senators Booker, Schumer and I want to bring common sense to the federal government, end prohibition and restore the lives of those hurt most and set them up for opportunity."

"For decades, our federal government has waged a War on Drugs that has unfairly impacted low-income communities and communities of color," said Senator Booker. "While red and blue states across the country continue to legalize marijuana, the federal government continues to lag woefully behind. It is time for Congress to end the federal marijuana prohibition and reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs. I am proud to introduce this landmark piece of legislation with Senator Wyden and Majority Leader Schumer that will finally turn the page on this dark chapter in American history and begin righting these wrongs."

Marijuana and drug reform activists were generally pleased, although there were some quibbles. And since this is a first draft, now is the time for those quibbles to be heard.

"The days of federal prohibition are numbered," said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri in a statement, adding that "the supermajority of Americans are demanding that Congress take action to end the cruel and senseless policy of federal prohibition."

"For justice reform, for equity, for individual liberty, and countless other reasons, it is time to respect the will of the American people and legalize cannabis. I am heartened by the Booker, Schumer, Wyden bill draft, which is a promising first step towards Senate passage, and hopeful that it will lead to negotiations and bipartisan support for an inclusive and equitable legal cannabis industry," said Steven Hawkins, executive director at the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement.

But the Drug Policy Alliance, while pronouncing itself "grateful" for the bill emphasizing social equity, reparative justice and reinvestment, said in a statement more work needed to be done.

"[W]ork remains to ensure justice does not fall short, said Maritza Perez, Director of the Office of National Affairs for DPA. "To our dismay, the Senate draft contains exclusionary language that ended up getting added to the House-passed MORE Act last year that would continue to subject federal employees to drug testing and deny certain individuals -- who have already paid the highest price -- the opportunity to expunge their records. In order for this bill to truly end marijuana prohibition in a comprehensive way and begin to repair the egregious harms of the past, we cannot continue to make room for some to be left out because of laws that were unjust and racist to begin with. We call on the House to remove exclusionary language from the MORE Act and swiftly pass the bill and implore the Senate to also remove this language ahead of bill introduction."

The wall of federal marijuana prohibition may or not fall this year, but its foundations are rapidly decaying, and the issue is squarely before the Congress.

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2. Medical Marijuana Update

Stay tuned to find out if a South Dakota tribe's medical marijuana cards are valid for non-members, and more.

Missouri

Missouri Governor Vetoes Tax Relief Bill for Medical Marijuana Businesses. Gov. Mike Parsons (R) last Friday vetoed Senate Bill 226, which, among other things, would have lifted a bar on medical marijuana companies claiming business expenses on their taxes. Parsons didn't mention the medical marijuana provision in his veto message, but instead cited a provision that would have provided tax relief to businesses that suffered losses because of public health restrictions, which he said could have "significant unintended consequences that could greatly harm localities." The bill would not have altered federal tax law, which currently does not allow for such deduction by state-legal marijuana companies, but would have reduced state tax for such companies.

South Dakota

South Dakota Attorney General at Odds with Highway Patrol over Medical Marijuana Cards from Reservation Dispensary. Although the state Department of Public Safety, which oversees the state Highway Patrol, said last week that it would still arrest non-tribe members with tribal medical marijuana cards, the state's top law enforcement official disagrees: "The tribe's right to self-governance also gives it the authority the set the parameters of its medical marijuana program," said Tim Bormann, chief of staff in the South Dakota Attorney General's Office. "It appears, at this time, that South Dakota law enforcement would have to accept a tribal-issued card." The position of the office is that arresting non-tribal members would violate the state's nascent medical marijuana law, which says that until the state Health Department makes applications available, "a valid written certification issued within the previous year shall be deemed a registry identification card for a qualifying patient."

South Dakota Attorney General Changes Mind About Validity of Tribal Medical Marijuana Cards. Only two days after he said state law enforcement would have to accept tribal-issued medical marijuana cards regardless of the cardholder's tribal status, putting him at odds with the Highway Patrol, Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg has changed his mind. In a statement last Friday, his office said: "Contrary to current media reports, the Attorney General's Office agrees with the South Dakota Highway Patrol's framework for implementation of Initiated Measure 26," and people with tribal medical cards who are not tribe members are still subject to arrest for marijuana possession. A word to all non-tribal medical marijuana cardholders: Obey all traffic laws.

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3. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Texas Border Patrol agent waves the cocaine-laden car through, a Florida deputy is headed to prison for planting dope on innocent drivers and arresting them, and more. Let's get to it:

In McAllen, Texas, a Border Patrol agent was arrested last Thursday for allegedly trying to aid and abet cocaine smuggling through a Border Patrol checkpoint. Agent Oberlin Cortez Pena, Jr., 22, is accused of accepting $1,000 cash to let a vehicle with at least five kilos of cocaine through the Falfurrias checkpoint. He faces up to 10 years in federal prison if convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.

In Portsmouth, Ohio, a Scioto County jail guard was arrested last Friday for smuggling drugs and tobacco into the facility. Guard John Aeh went down after someone informed authorities, and a subsequent sweep of the jail turned up 17 grams of heroin or fentanyl and two grams of methamphetamine. He is charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of trafficking drugs and one count of conveyance into a detention center, all of which are felonies.

In Henderson, Kentucky, a Henderson County jail guard was arrested Monday for smuggling drugs into the facility. Deputy Jailer Jason Evans, 47, went down after an investigation by the Pennyrile Narcotics Task Force. He had been approached by an inmate and agreed to smuggle meth and tobacco into the jail in return for $200. He got caught with the package before he could hand it off. The exact charges he faces were not specified.

In Marianna, Florida, a former Jackson County sheriff's deputy was sentenced Tuesday to 12 ½ years in prison for fabricating evidence and arresting innocent people. Zachary Webster was found guilty of 19 charges in cases where he planted drugs on people. He was convicted of racketeering, three counts of official misconduct, three counts of perjury, three counts of fabricating evidence, four counts of possession of a controlled substance, three counts of possession of drug paraphernalia, and two counts of false imprisonment.

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4. Free Drugs Handed Out in Vancouver, NJ Dismisses Nearly 88,000 Marijuana Cases with More to Come, More... (7/15/21)

Ohio sees its first full-fledged marijuana legalization bill, Mississippi is moving toward a legislative special session to address medical marijuana, legalization in Israel gets stalled, and more.

Welcome to the land of expungement. Nearly 88,000 old pot cases dismissed so far, with more to come. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Dismisses Nearly 88,000 Marijuana Cases. In accordance with the state's marijuana legalization law approved by voters last November, the New Jersey Courts announced Monday that they have vacated or dismissed nearly 88,000 marijuana cases, and that is only the first batch. Superior and municipal courts have identified another 270,000 cases eligible to be vacated, dismissed, and expunged.

Ohio Sees First Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Bill Filed. For the first time, the state legislature has a marijuana legalization bill before it after Reps. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) and Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland) have filed a bill that would allow for both personal and commercial cultivation, regulate marijuana commerce, and expunge the records of people previously convicted of low-level marijuana offenses. It's been five years since the Republican-dominated legislature passed a medical marijuana law to head off a proposed legalization initiative. Another bill filed this year, House Bill 210, would have allowed personal cultivation of marijuana plants and expungement of certain marijuana offenses, but not taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. That bill has not moved. Gov. Mike DeWine (R) remains opposed to legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Legislature Could Hold Special Session on Medical Marijuana Next Month. Mississippi House Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White (R-District 48) said Wednesday that the legislature could be ready as early as next month to go into a special session to pass a medical marijuana bill. The legislature is acting after the state Supreme Court threw out a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative because of a technical issue the legislature has failed to address for 20 years, essentially invalidating the state's initiative process. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) has said he would call a special session only after lawmakers have reached an agreement on a bill in advance. White said both the House and the Senate have been working on the issue, and he believes they would have an agreement by mid-August.

International

Vancouver City Councilwoman, Activists Hand Out Free Drugs to Highlight Problem of "Safe Supply." Vancouver Councilwoman Jean Swanson and a pair of drug user advocacy groups, Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), joined forces Wednesday to hand out free cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine to drug users in the city's Downtown Eastside. The drugs had been pre-tested to ensure they did not contain contaminants such as fentanyl. The move was undertaken to highlight the problem of the city's toxic illicit drug supply. Between January and May of this year, 851 people died of drug overdoses in the city, the highest number ever reported in the first five months of a calendar year. The city and the province of British Columbia are moving toward drug decriminalization and providing a "safe supply" of drugs to users, but activists accuse them of not doing enough. In a statement handed out at the event, the groups said the free drug handout was to "raise awareness of the deeply flawed aspects of the Vancouver Model of decriminalization, including disproportionate influence of the Vancouver Police Department, unreasonably low drug thresholds, and lack of provisions for safe supply."

Israel Marijuana Legalization Bill Vote Postponed as Arab Coalition Party Says It is Not Yet Ready to Support It. Israel's fractious and narrowly divided politics is having an impact on marijuana legalization legislation, as the ruling coalition has had to put off a Wednesday vote on a marijuana legalization bill after the Islamist Ra'am Party, which for the first time is part of a governing coalition, has said it needed more time to study the bill. Ra'am head Mansour Abbas asked bill sponsor New Hope Member of the Knesset Sharren Haskel for a two-week delay while his party studies the bill. It has been approved Sunday by Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, but now faces at least the two-week delay and, if Ra'am cannot be convinced to support it, dying in the Knesset.

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5. CA Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Gets Underway, House Spending Bill Includes Needle Exchange Funding, More...7/16/21)

Maryland legislative leaders are lining up to support a voter referendum on marijuana legalization next year, the House Appropriations Committee is passing spending bills that include marijuana and other drug provisions, and more.

Psilocybin mushrooms could be legalized under a California initiative now getting underway. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Appropriations Committee Approves Spending Bills with Marijuana, Other Drug Provisions. The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday passed spending bills and related reports that include several marijuana and other drug policy provisions. The bill would extend a provision that blocks the Justice Department from intervening in state-legal medical marijuana programs, and advocates hope to broaden that to include state recreational marijuana programs later in the process. The bill also includes language to protect universities conducting marijuana research from being penalized and to encourage research on Schedule I drugs, as well as reports noting the pain-relieving qualities of kratom, the life-saving potential of safe injection sites (see below), and urging further work on developing THC impairment testing.

Key Maryland Politician Supports Marijuana Legalization Voter Referendum Next Year. State House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-District 10) has announced she will support a proposed voter referendum on marijuana legalization next year. In a statement, she said voters should decide on whether to legalize it. And she announced the formation of bipartisan working group to hash out details: "The House will pass legislation early next year to put this question before the voters but we need to start looking at changes needed to state law now," she said. Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore) has also expressed interest in legalization and previously chaired a joint House-Senate committee to explore the nitty-gritty of legalization.

Psychedelics

California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Gets Underway. Activists with the group Decriminalize California submitted a petition to state authorities Monday to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for "personal, medical, therapeutic, religious, spiritual, and dietary use" for adults 21 and older. The California Psilocybin Initiative would set no limits on personal possession -- an issue that has bedeviled the psychedelic decriminalization bill currently before the Assembly -- and would allow no sales or excise taxes except for mushrooms sold for dietary purposes. The initiative would also allow for full-fledged commerce in psilocybin mushrooms, including on-site consumption sites and would mandate that magic mushrooms be regulated as much as possible like other mushrooms, except for specialized labeling, and not subject to fees or licensing requirements beyond other mushrooms.

The state Attorney General's Office now has 30 days to review the initial petition. If and when it is accepted and assigned a ballot title and summary, the campaign will have 180 days to gather 623,212 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2002 ballot.

Harm Reduction

House Appropriations Committee for First Time Approves Funding for Needle Exchanges. The House Appropriations Committee has voted to allocate $69.5 million for needle exchange programs under the CDC[s Infectious Diseases and Opioid Epidemic Program, marking the first time it has explicitly funded such programs. The funding for the CDC program has also been boosted four-fold over the $13 million it was allocated last year. The move comes as the CDC announced this week that drug overdose deaths in the past year reached a record high of 93,000. Syringe services and harm reduction programs effectively help prevent drug overdoses. They have the knowledge, contacts, and ability to reach people who use drugs and provide naloxone and other overdose prevention resources. They also connect people to medical care and support, including substance use disorder treatment. This funding would assist these programs in preventing and reducing overdose deaths nationwide.

Here is what the committee said in an accompanying report:> "Overdose Prevention Centers. -- The Committee recognizes that overdose prevention centers, or supervised consumption sites, are part of a larger effort of harm reduction interventions intended to reduce the risk of drug overdose death and reduce the spread of infectious disease. The Committee directs NIH, in consultation with CDC, to provide a report to the Committee no later than 180 days after the enactment of this Act that provides an updated literature review and evaluation on the potential public health impact of overdose prevention centers in the US."

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6. Surgeon General Say Don't Jail People for Pot, ME Law Ends Civil Asset Forfeiture, More... (7/19/21)

The AMA Advocacy Update chronicles one doctor's problems trying to prescribe for chronic pain and addicted patients, Maine becomes the fourth state to end civil asset forfeiture, and more.

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says it is time to stop locking people up for marijuana. (hhs.gov)
Marijuana Policy

US Surgeon General Says Time to Stop Locking People Up for Marijuana. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Sunday that it is time to stop locking up people for using marijuana. "When it comes to decriminalization, I don't think that there is value to individuals or to society to lock people up for marijuana use," Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in a CNN appearance. "I don't think that serves anybody well." His comments came in response to a question about a new draft marijuana legalization bill, and are in line with President Biden, who supports marijuana decriminalization, but not commercial legalization. "When it comes to marijuana, I think we have to let science guide us," Murthy said in the CNN interview. "And we know that the science tells us that there are some benefits to marijuana from a medical perspective but there are also some harms that we have to consider -- and we have to put those together as we think about the right policy."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

AMA on a Doctor's Trials Trying to Treat Pain Patients in the Context of Arbitrary Policies. The American Medical Association (AMA) Advocacy Update has published a piece on the travails of southern Illinois family medicine and addiction medicine specialist Dr. Aaron Newcomb, whose patients found themselves unable to refill prescriptions after he was "blacklisted" by a pharmacy chain citing 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines aimed at reducing opioid prescribing in the face of a rising opioid overdose death toll.

"When the CDC guidelines came down in 2016 basically saying we needed to take as many people as we could off opioids, I knew that my patients were in for a world of trouble," said Dr. Newcomb. "I was particularly concerned about my patients who were stable on low-dose opioid therapy for years. And my concerns have translated into an even worse reality for both me and my patients. Getting blacklisted by a national chain who had no clue about my practice was professionally wrong, but it also hurt my patients and my community."

Newcomb had to explain the nuances of pain prescribing to the pharmacy chain: "When they got back to us, they basically questioned a specific formulation of buprenorphine I was prescribing for stable patients with cost or tolerability problems that isn't a preferred type unless there is a clinical reason," Dr. Newcomb explained. "They were also concerned about opioid therapy in general as well as the dose of buprenorphine used to effectively treat patients, and their algorithm out of context painted a misrepresentative picture of my controlled-substance prescribing habits."

Newcomb was eventually able to get back in the chain's good graces and his patients are now receiving their medication, but his case illustrates the challenges faced by pain physicians and their patients in a time where the opioid-prescribing pendulum has swung so dramatically back to the conservative side.

Asset Forfeiture

Maine Becomes 4th State to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. A new law barring asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction went into effect without the signature of Gov. Janet Mills (D), making Maine the fourth state to abolish the practice of civil asset forfeiture. The legislature earlier this year passed LD 1521, which fully repeals the state's civil forfeiture laws, while also strengthening the criminal forfeiture process. While touted as a tool against drug dealers, one report found that half of all forfeitures in the state were under $1,670 dollars. The other three states that have ended civil asset forfeiture are North Carolina (1985), New Mexico (2915) and Nebraska (2016).

International

Mexico President Makes Rare Call for Dismissal of a State Attorney General. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called last Friday for the resignation of Guanajuato state Attorney General Carlos Zamarripa after the state registered 1,562 murders in the first five months of this year. That figure is higher than any other state, even though Guanajuato is only the country's sixth most populous states. He also suggested there was corruption or collusion with some of the drug cartels battling to control the state. "If he [Zamarripa] were the manager of a company, with this kind of performance they would have fired him," López Obrador said Friday. "When officials do not act with honesty, with rectitude, when there is no division between criminals and the authorities, no progress can be made." López Obrador said.

Zammaripe, who has been attorney general for 12 years, has been accused by businessmen and local experts of being close to the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel, which had such control over an oil refinery that it could brazenly steal fuel in and around the plant, leading to a federal troop deployment. "Carlos Zamarripa for many years protected El Marro," the leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima gang who was arrested in 2020," said security expert David Saucedo. But now, said Saucedo, Zamarripa seems to have changed sides, expecting the Santa Rosa gang to fall apart as the Jalisco New Generation cartel moved in. Instead, the Sinaloa cartel sent reinforcements to assist the Santa Rosa gang, and the death toll has skyrocketed. "Definitely, Zamarripa is part of the problem," Saucedo said.

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7. CO Releases Annual Report on Marijuana Legalization, SC Governor Candidate Says Legalize It, More... (7/20/21)

A bill to protect the 2nd Amendment rights of state-legal marijuana users languishes in the House Judiciary Committee, South Carolina Democratic guberatorial candidate Joe Cunningham unveils a plan to legalize marijuana, and more.

The sky still hasn't fallen since Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012, the latest state report finds. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

GOP Congressman's Bill Would Protect State-Legal Marijuana Users' 2nd Amendment Rights. Rep. Don Young (R-AK) has this session filed a bill, HR 2830, aimed at protecting the gun rights of marijuana users in states where it is legal. The bill, also known as the Gun Rights and Marijuana (GRAM) Act, takes on the question on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) firearms transaction record that asks: "Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?" The question also includes a warning which states "the use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medical or recreational purposes in the state where you reside." The bill would amend US code by adding "unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance" is not to include a person who uses state-legal marijuana. The bill was filed in late April and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it has not moved.

Colorado Division of Criminal Justice Publishes Report on Impacts of Marijuana Legalization. The state Division of Criminal Justice's Office of Research and Statistics has published its latest legislatively-mandated "Impacts on Marijuana Legalization in Colorado" report, which presents data on marijuana-related topics including crime, impaired driving, hospitalizations, ER visits, usage rates, effects on youth, and more. Among other findings: Marijuana arrests have dropped by 68% since legalization, but Blacks remain twice as likely to be arrested on marijuana charges. Also, there have been increases in the prevalence of marijuana or marijuana in combination with other substances among drivers accused of DUI (but marijuana alone accounted for only 8.7% of all DUIs in 2020). There is a lot more in the report; click the link above to dive in.

South Carolina Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Democratic Party gubernatorial contender Joe Cunningham has unveiled a proposal to legalize marijuana as part of his campaign to unseat Gov. Henry McMaster (R). The plan would legalize both medical and recreational marijuana for people 21 and over, raise revenues through taxation and regulation, and expunge records of prior marijuana offenses. "This will be a game changer in South Carolina," Cunningham said. "There are many reasons why you need to do this, but now is the time. This is what people want. If our politicians do not reflect the will of the people, we need to start with Governor McMaster and change politicians." The state has had Republican governors for decades and the legislature is controlled by Republicans. On marijuana policy, it is a laggard, having approved only one marijuana reform bill to allow for the use of low-THC CBD oils.

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8. DEA Agent Arrested for Role in US Capitol Riot, NC MedMJ Bill Advances, More... (7/21/21)

A new Republican bill would bar food stamp recipients from using their cards for any marijuana purchases -- even medical, a Mississippi city reaches a settlement in the death of a man hog-tied by police while under the influence of LSD, and more.

Then DEA-Agent Mark Sami Ibrahim was packing heat as he unlawfully entered the Capitol during the January 6 uprising. (DOJ)
Marijuana Policy

DC Delegate Files Amendment to Allow Marijuana Use in Public Housing, Protect Legal Medical Marijuana States. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) on Tuesday filed an amendment to the House appropriations bill dealing with the Department of Housing and Urban Development that would prohibit the department from using its funds to enforce the prohibition on marijuana in federally assisted housing in jurisdictions where recreational marijuana is legal. A second amendment would prohibit HUD from using its funds to enforce the prohibition on medical marijuana in jurisdictions where medical marijuana is legal. Cannabis Caucus Co-Chairs Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) are cosponsors of both amendments.

"The Department of Housing and Urban Development should not be allowed to remove people from their homes or otherwise punish them for following the marijuana laws of their jurisdictions," Norton said. "More and more states are moving toward legalization of marijuana, especially of medical marijuana. It is time for HUD to follow the rest of the country and allow marijuana use in federally assisted housing in jurisdictions where it is legal. This should especially be the case for individuals living in jurisdictions that have legalized medical marijuana. Nobody should be evicted for following the law and the advice of their doctors."

Medical Marijuana

GOP Lawmakers File Bill to Block Even Medical Marijuana Marijuana Purchases by People Getting Federal Assistance. In the latest iteration of a continuing Republican push in recent legislative sessions to block people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF -- the food stamp program) funds from using them to buy marijuana, Reps. Tom Rice (R-SC) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN) filed a bill Monday that would bar TANF recipients from using their benefit cards for medical marijuana purchases. Similar measures already bar the use of such cards casinos, strip clubs, and liquor stores. But activists say the bill unfairly targets the most vulnerable people and perpetuates marijuana stigmas. "Millions of Americans living with chronic, debilitating conditions rely on cannabis to manage their symptoms and significantly increase their quality of life. For millions of patients, cannabis IS a need,"said Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "Instead of introducing a bill to ensure that under-resourced individuals, including veterans, have access to cannabis' medical benefits, Representative Tom Rice chooses to exemplify how far reaching the drug war apparatus goes in surveilling and policing under-resourced people." It is woth noting that other Republican congressmembers have supported marijuana reform bills.

North Carolina Compassionate Care Act Wins Another Committee Vote. The Senate Finance Committee on Monday approved Senate Bill 711, the Compassionate Care Act, on a voice vote. Under the bill, patients with specified medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis, would be allowed to use medical marijuana. The bill also sets up a system of taxed and regulated medical marijuana production and distribution. The bill now heads to the Senate Health Care Committee before moving toward a floor vote if successful there.

Law Enforcement

DEA Agent Arrested for Participating in Capitol Riot. A man who on January 6 was a probationary DEA agent (on the job for less than a year) has been arrested for allegedly participating in the January 6 riot at the US Capitol. Then-Agent Mark Sami Ibrahim faces federal charges of unlawfully entering the capitol building, and the Department of Justice provided photos that show him flashing his DEA badge and DEA-issued handgun during the riot. Ibrahim had submitted his resignation notice from the DEA weeks before the riot but was still an employee. The DEA clarified that he was off-duty at the time. One of Ibrahim's friends told FBI agents he went to the protest "to promote himself" as he considered launching a podcast and a cigar brand. [Editor's Note: No comment.]

Mississippi City Settles Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Case of Man Who Died After Being Restrained by Police While Under Influence of LSD. The city of Southaven announced Tuesday it had reached a settlement with the family of Troy Goode, 30, who died in police custody six years ago after flipping out on LSD after attending a Widespread Panic concert. Goode died after police hog-tied him and placed him face down on a stretcher while being transported to a hospital. A preliminary autopsy report attempted to argue that he died from a heart related issue, possibly related to LSD, but LSD has no known links to heart failure. The details of the settlement were not released.

International

 

 

Belize Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced. Kareem Musa, the Minister of New Growth Industries, has filed a bill to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana production and sales. The bill also has the support of the leader of the opposition party, the Honorable Shyne Barrow. Belize decriminalized possession of up to 10 grams in 2017, but there is no place to legally purchase it. This bill would change that. Belize borders Mexico, which is poised to enact marijuana legalization itself, and that could be propelling advances in the much smaller neighbor.

 

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9. US Prison, Parole, Probation Population Continues Slow Decline; $26 Billion Opioid Settlement, More... (7/22/21)

Florida's Republican establishment may not be ready for marijuana legalization but the public is, the Justice Department drops an effort to send some First Step Act releasees back to prison, and more.

Drug distributors agree to pay out big-time for their role in the opioid crisis. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Public Policy Polling has support for marijuana legalization at 59%. Two different efforts to get an initiative before the voters last year were quashed by the state Supreme Court, and the Republican-led state legislature this year passed a bill making it more difficult to finance initiatives, which Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law. Translating public support into marijuana reform is going to be more difficult than ever now.

Opioids

Major Drug Distributors Reach Agreement on $26 Billion Opioid Settlement. The three largest US pharmaceutical drug distributors -- McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen -- and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson have reached an agreement with a group of state attorneys general to pay out $26 billion to settle lawsuits related to their roles in the widespread prescribing of prescription opioids and the subsequent wave of addiction and overdose deaths. "The numerous companies that manufactured and distributed opioids across the nation did so without regard to life or even the national crisis they were helping to fuel," said New York Attorney General Letitia James, one of the attorneys general from 15 states involved in the deal. "Today, we are holding these companies accountable and infusing tens of billions of dollars into communities across the nation." Responding to that wave of addiction and overdoses, the states and the federal government have moved to restrict opioid prescribing, even though chronic pain patients have found their access to their medications more difficult.

Sentencing

US Correctional Population Drops for 12th Straight Year. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that in 2019, the number of people in the US in jail or prison or on probation or parole was 6,344,000, down 65,200, or 1%, over the previous year and marking the 12th year in a row that that figure has declined. At the end of 2019, 4,357,700 people were under community supervision (probation or parole), while there were 2,086,000 people behind bars in jails or prisons. The BJS report did not discuss the types of offenses for which people were under correctional supervision, but a 2020 Prison Policy Initiative report found 190,000 doing time for drug offenses in state prisons, 157,000 in local jails, and 78,000 in the federal prison system, meaning drug prisoners account for about one-fifth of the US incarcerated population.

Justice Department Drops Appeal of First Step Act Releases. The Justice Department has dropped an effort to re-imprison four New Jersey men who were released from prison under the First Step Act's retroactive crack cocaine sentencing provision. The men had been released in November 2019 after serving more than 20 years on crack charges, but the Trump Justice Department then sought to send them back to prison. The Biden Justice Department had been under pressure from groups such as Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), which applauded the decision, saying: "We raised this case among others with the Biden transition team as an appeal that should be dropped right away. It would have been cruel and unjust it would be to send these guys back."

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10. Biden Vows to Continue Pressure on China over Opioids, Chiapas Militia Emerges to Fight Cartels, More... (7/23/21)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez files an amendment to encourage psychedelic research, President Biden says he will stay tough on Chinese opioid exports, and more.

President Biden vows to keep pressuring China on opioids, but a better approach may be to ramp up harm reduction here.
Psychedelics

AOC Files Amendment to Promote Psychedelic Research in Omnibus Appropriations Bill. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has for the second time filed an amendment to a multi-agency appropriations bill that aims to promote research into psychedelics such by removing a rider than has been in effect since 1996 that bars the use of federal dollars "any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance in Schedule I." A description of the amendment says it is designed to allow "United States researchers to study and examine the potential impacts of several schedule I drugs, such as MDMA, psilocybin, and or ibogaine, that have been shown to be effective in treating critical diseases. She introduced an earlier version of the amendment in 2019 only to see it voted down in a bipartisan and overwhelming fashion, but has a lot has changed in the realm of psychedelics since then.

Foreign Policy

Biden Vows to Continue Pressure on China over Opioids. At a town hall meeting in Cincinnati Wednesday, President Joe Biden vowed to continue "this encounter with China" over opioids, saying that his administration is "addressing the opioid issue" by increasing the number of people in the Justice Department. Biden has repeatedly criticized China, which is a major source of fentanyls and precursor chemicals that go into Mexico and from there into the US, accusing it of failing to crack down on drug trafficking. China banned two fentanyl precursors in 2018, but has not taken additional steps since then.

"I don't think we can do much to delay the export of these drugs in these countries, said Ben Westhoff, author of Fentanyl, Inc., arguing instead for enhanced harm reduction measures at home. In that book, Westhoff put the number of Chinese chemical companies at more than 400,000.

International

Mexico's Chiapas State Sees Formation of Militia to Counter Drug Cartels. A newly formed and heavily armed indigenous militia announced its presence by marching masked and armed through the streets of Pantelho in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas last weekend. The militia, calling itself "El Machete," said in an online manifesto that it is a "David" fighting against the "Goliath" of drug cartels and their assassins, and that it seeks peace, democracy, and justice. While self-defense militias to fend off organized crime have been sporadically active in states such as Michoacan and Guerrero for years, "El Machete" is the first such group to emerge in Chiapas, which attracts competing drug trafficking groups because of its location on the Guatemalan border, and which was the birthplace of the Zapatista uprising back in 1994.

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Permission to Reprint: This issue of Drug War Chronicle is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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