Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Fatal Drug ODs Hit Record Last Year, Senate Majority Leader Rolls Out Draft Marijuana Legalization Bill, More... (7/14/21)

There is now a marijuana legalization bill from the Senate majority leader, New York prisons face a second lawsuit over their crackdown on pain pill prescribing for inmates, and more.

CDC preliminary data has drug overdose deaths at more than 90,000 last year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Majority Leader Rolls Out Draft Marijuana Legalization Bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and colleagues Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) held a press conference Wednesday to unveil their first draft of a bill to federally legalize marijuana. The bill would federally legalize marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act, let states set their own marijuana policies, expunge prior convictions and allow people to apply for resentencing, and end collateral consequences, such as people being deported for marijuana possession offenses. The bill, known as the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, faces uncertain prospects in the narrowly divided Senate, and just minutes after the Wednesday press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the President Biden remains opposed to marijuana legalization. If the bill were to pass, it would have to be reconciled with the marijuana legalization bill passed by the House in December, the MORE Act (HR 3884). Look for out feature article on the rollout coming shortly.

Missouri Activists Take Initial Steps for 2022 Marijuana Legalization Initiative. A group calling itself Fair Access Missouri filed a petition Tuesday for a marijuana legalization initiative aimed at the 2022 ballot. The initiative would take the form of a constitutional amendment that would legalize the possession of up to eight ounces for people 21 and over and allow residents to cultivate up to 25 square feet of flowering marijuana. It would also set up a system of licensed cultivation, manufacturing, and sales. Previous marijuana legalization initiative campaigns in the state have failed to meet signature-gathering requirements. This one is at the very beginning of the process, with the state now having 65 days to review the initial petition.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Former New York Prison Doctor Sues Over Restrictive Painkiller Policy. A doctor who formerly worked in the state prison system and says he faced harassment and was forced to quit for seeking appropriate pain relief for his inmate patients has filed a federal lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections, saying its policies leave patients suffering unnecessary agony. Four years ago, the department tightened its opioid prescribing policies amidst the ongoing opioid crisis, requiring prison doctors to get permission from medical administrators for prescribing certain medications, including not just opioids, but all gabapentine, Claritin-D, Robitussin DM, and the diarrhea drug Imodium. Dr. Michael Salvana charges in the lawsuit that the department violated his right to speak out against the policy and said his superiors' "inhumane” interference in his patients' care caused him to leave his role as facility director in central New York at Walsh Regional Medical Unit in Rome, New York, that has 125 beds for prisoners with complicated medical needs." The policy led to the "abrupt" cut off of "effective treatments for hundreds of inmates." Inmates in the state prison system have also failed a lawsuit charging they are being forced to live with untreated chronic pain because medications are now so difficult to obtain.

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Wins Another Committee Vote. Sen. Scott Wiener's (D-San Francisco) psychedelic decriminalization bill, SB 519, has won a second committee vote in the Assembly after successfully passing out of the Senate. The Assembly Public Health Committee voted 8-4 Tuesday to advance the measure, which would remove criminal penalties for possessing psychedelics including psilocybin. But the committee amended the bill to set specific personal possession limits, leading the pro-psychedelic group Decriminalize Nature to call for it to be tabled, arguing that it is 'just a creative way to say when can law enforcement arrest you." The bill now awaits an Assembly floor vote.

Drug Policy

Drug Overdose Deaths Jumped to More Than 90,000 Last Year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released preliminary statistics Wednesday showing that drug overdose deaths totaled more than 90,000 last year, the largest single-year increase ever recorded. Drug overdoses increased in every state except New Hampshire and South Dakota, with big jumps in the South and the West. The year also saw the most fatal opioid overdoses in a year, the most fatal methamphetamine overdoses in a year, and the most deaths from fatal fentanyl overdose deaths in a year. "It’s huge, it’s historic, it’s unheard of, unprecedented, and a real shame," said Daniel Ciccarone, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies heroin markets. "It’s a complete shame." Social isolation, disrupted drug markets, and hampered access to drug treatment during the pandemic are getting some of the blame, but the pre-pandemic increase in fentanyl availability is also playing a role, as is the country's refusal to embrace harm reduction measures, such as safe injection sites and safe drug supplies.

British Columbia Set to Begin "Safe Supply" of Drugs for Street Users, Biden Nominates New Drug Czar, More... (7/13/21)

Marijuana protections are advancing in congressional appropriations bills, former Drug Police Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelman starts a provocative new podcast on drugs, and more.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, nominated by President Biden to serve as drug czar. (March of Dimes)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Committees Advance Marijuana Protections for Medical Programs and Universities in New Spending Bills. The House Appropriations Committee will take up a spending bill Thursday that includes riders that provide protections for states with medical marijuana programs and universities that conduct marijuana research after they were approved in subcommittee on Monday. The rider protecting has been approved in each Congress since 2014. The House in 2019 and 2020 also approved a rider protecting state recreational marijuana programs, but it is not clear yet whether that will be the case this year. Meanwhile, the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill now includes a longstanding provision barring the DEA from interfering in hemp programs and a new provision that bars certain law enforcement grants to states and localities if they allow no-knock searches in drug cases.

Drug Policy

Biden Nominates Former West Virginia Health Official Rahul Gupta as Drug Czar. Ending months of speculation, President Biden has nominated Dr. Rahul Gupta to lead the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office). Currently the top health official at March of Dimes, Gupta is a primary care physician who previously served as West Virginia health commissioner. Drug reformers applauded his role in implementing and overseeing that state's medical marijuana program as head of the state Bureau for Public Health, but some harm reductionists have criticized him for overseeing the decertification of a needle exchange program that aimed to reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases, such as Hepatitis C and AIDS. Others, though, do not hold him responsible for the circumstances that led to the shutdown. He has not taken a public position on marijuana legalization.

Ethan Nadelman's New Podcast on Drugs Set to Begin. Ethan Nadelman, the founder and former longtime executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance before stepping down in 2017, is rolling out a new podcast series on drug policy, Psychoactive. The aim of the podcast is to open a deep national conversation about drugs, drug policy, and the human experience. The podcast, on IHeartRadio, launches on Thursday.

International

British Columbia Will Provide "Safe Supply" of Illicit Drugs to Street Users. A provincial policy directive in British Columbia will require all local health authorities to develop programs to provide pharmaceutical quality opioids and stimulants to street drug users in a bid to reduce overdose deaths. But which drugs are offered and who gets them will be at the discretion of local programs and doctors, which could be a barrier to expanding access. And they can only be provided in clinical or programmatic settings—no takeaway drugs. There are also signs some health care providers are reluctant to participate. 'Some key partners, including some prescribers, have expressed reservations about the approach outlined in this document, and others have noted that an approach that begins with programmatic settings will not provide broad access for people who use substances," the directive says. "We recognize that we have been unable to address all concerns, but we also recognize that we must start somewhere." The drugs will be covered by the province's prescription drug plan and will not be forced to enter into drug treatment. Safe supply is the idea that health care providers can lower or eliminate a person's dependence on illicit black market drugs and thus reduce overdose deaths and other harms.

US Seeks Meeting with WADA on Athletes' Marijuana Bans, Ukraine to Vote on MedMJ, More... (7/12/21)

South Dakota's attorney general flip-flops on the validity of tribal medical marijuana cards, a Tennessee lawmaker files a bill to put marijuana ballot questions before voters next year, and more.

Marijuana Policy

White House to Seek Meeting with WADA on Restrictions on Athletes' Marijuana Use. In the wake of the huge blow-up over US track sensation Sha'Carri Richardson being banned from Olympic competition because of a positive drug test for marijuana, the Biden administration is reportedly seeking a meeting with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) about easing the bar against marijuana use for athletes. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office), which has a seat on WADA's board, is taking the lead. WADA, for its part, has made it clear that the US has long supported, indeed, even demanded, that marijuana be included on its list of prohibited drugs: "At no time since the first Prohibited List was published in 2004 has WADA received any objection from US stakeholders concerning the inclusion of cannabinoids on the Prohibited List. On the contrary, as has been reported by some media, the US has been one of the most vocal and strong advocates for including cannabinoids on the Prohibited List," a letter from Witold Banka, WADA’s president, said. "The meeting minutes and written submissions received from the US over nearly two decades, in particular from [the US Anti-Doping Agency], have consistently advocated for cannabinoids to be included on the Prohibited List."

Tennessee Lawmaker Files Bill to Put Marijuana Legalization on 2022 Ballot. State Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-District 75) has filed legislation, House Bill 1634, that would put three non-binding questions regarding marijuana legalization on the 2022 ballot. One question asks about legalizing medical marijuana, a second asks about decriminalizing marijuana, and the third asks about legalizing and regulating marijuana. If the bill were to pass, the results of the ballot questions would be transmitted to the legislature, which could use them as a guide for future legislation but would not be bound by them. The bill comes after the legislature for years has refused to enact marijuana law reforms, with the only exception being a limited low-THC medical marijuana program approved in 2018 and slightly expanded this year..

Medical Marijuana

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 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.

International

Ukraine Ruling Party to Support Medical Marijuana Legalization. The ruling Servant of the People Party, which holds an overwhelming majority in the Ukrainian parliament, is set to debate a bill to legalize medical marijuana on Tuesday. "It seems that colleagues from other factions support it. Our faction will support, not unanimously, it is obvious: there are those who are against it," First Deputy Head of the Servant of the People faction Oleksandr Korniyenko said. "But I think we will give 200 votes," said. The parliament has 348 members. The members are meeting in a special session called by President Volodymyr Zelensky.

EVENT: SDG 16: The Global War on Drugs vs. Rule of Law and Human Rights

SDG 16: The Global War on Drugs vs. Rule of Law and Human Rights

parallel event to the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development
Tuesday July 13, 2020 / 8:00-9:00am ET

online via Zoom, registration at https:/stopthedrugwar.org/global/ or https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZcldOutqjwoGtWDjicFsLfqM4QJhkTmc6YM

In countries throughout the world, drug war excesses violate rights, and in some cases challenge the rule of law itself. This session will discuss extrajudicial killings, fair trial issues, the death penalty, as well as the use of legal harassment against critics of governments. We will also discuss recent applications of international rule of law mechanisms including the ICC and Global Magnitsky Act.

This is a parallel event coinciding with the 2021 UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, focusing on Goal 16 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Email [email protected] or call +1 202-236-8620 for further information.

"SDG 16: The Global War on Drugs vs. Rule of Law and Human Rights" is organized by DRCNet Foundation, a US-based NGO in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/global and https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines for information on our international programs.

speakers:

  • Justine Balane, Secretary General Akbayan Youth, Philippines
  • Iftitahsari, Researcher, Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, Indonesia
  • Scott Johnston, Human Rights First, US
  • others may be announced

co-moderated by:

  • David Borden, Executive Director, DRCNet Foundation AKA StoptheDrugWar.org
  • Marco Perduca, Associazone Luca Coscioni & former Senator, Italy

– END –

Chicago to Take Drug Diversion Program Citywide, ACLU Sues AZ County over Coercing Drug Defendants, More... (7/9/21)

A group of US senators is seeking some help for state-legal marijuana businesses, Chicago moves to expand a program that diverts drug arrestees into treatment citywide, and more.

Chicago police are expanding a drug diversion program so they can devote resources to fighting violent crime. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senators Ask That Marijuana Businesses Get Access to Federal SBA Loans. A group of 10 senators led by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) have sent a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that language allowing marijuana businesses to access loans and other aid through the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) be included in an upcoming spending bill report. Allowing such loans to marijuana businesses "would fill gaps left by the private sector and help mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic." They are asking that Senate Appropriations Committee and the Appropriations Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) issue a report that specifically includes such language and stop the Small Business Administration (SBA) to stop "denying loan applications for the 7(a) Loan Guarantee Program, Disaster Assistance Program, Microloan Program, and 504/Certified Development Company Loan Program to legally operating cannabis small businesses in states that have legalized cannabis sale and use."

Law Enforcement

Chicago to Expand Drug Diversion Program. The Chicago Police Department and Public Health Department have announced they will expand the city's Narcotics Arrest Diversion Program to include the entire city by the end of the year. Under the program, people arrested on drug possession charges who meet certain qualifying criteria can be diverted from the criminal justice system toward rehabilitation programs instead. The program began in one district in 2018 and has expanded to 11 of the city's 22 districts already. More than 700 people have been diverted from the arrest track so far, and city officials say the move helps police focus on issues such as violent crime instead.

The program appears to be similar to Law Enforcement Diversion Programs (LEAD), which began in Seattle in 2014 and has now expanded to at least 42 cities nationwide. LEAD uses a harm reduction and community-based model; the Chicago program includes social service programs among its alternatives, not just drug treatment, according to reports. The Chicago program offers walk-in access to drug treatment; one doesn't have to face arrest or its prospect first. The LEAD Bureau web site says that they have added purely voluntary access to its programs as well, in response to recent movement in the issue.

While drug reformers generally see diverting drug users out of the criminal justice system as an important step, the devil is in the details -- not every program presented as diversion does a convincing job of it, and how for example treatment programs respond to relapses or continued drug use by some clients determines how many people ultimately will be helped.

Prosecution

ACLU Sues Arizona County over Threats of Harsher Sentences for Drug Defendants to Force Guilty Pleas. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal class-action lawsuit Wednesday charging that the Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney's Office routinely threatens people arrested for drug possession with "substantially harsher" punishments in order to coerce them into pleading guilty before prosecutors even have to turn over evidence. The threat is typically issued in writing, the lawsuit alleges, and explicitly warns that defendants who reject initial plea deals will face substantially worse plea offers in the future. The ACLU argues that the policy is unconstitutional because it punishes people for exercising their rights to a preliminary hearing and a jury trial and that it illustrates the '"vast racial and economic discrepancies in plea bargaining techniques used across the county."

RI Becomes First State to Approve Safe Injection Sites, Federal Pot Prosecutions Plummet, More... (7/8/21)

The Congressional Black Caucus wants some justice for marijuana deportees, South Dakota's state governmnt is at war with itself over medical marijuana cards from a reservation dispensary, and more.

You can now become an FBI agent if it has been at least a year since you last toked up. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Black Caucus Members Ask Biden to Reverse Marijuana Deportation Cases. In a Wednesday letter to President Biden authored by Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) and signed by 30 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the federal representatives urged him to reopen some deportation cases, including those involving marijuana. "We are grateful for President Biden's commitment to redressing racial injustice, particularly after the last four years of the Trump Administration's racist and xenophobic immigration agenda," the lettert says. "One critical step toward honoring that commitment is ensuring that people who were unjustly deported can be fairly and efficiently considered for return to their families and communities in the United States." The letter cited the cases of two military veterans who served honorably but were deported over years-old marijuana convictions. But it's not just veterans: "Untold numbers of others have been similarly wronged, from US veterans who served their country to longstanding neighbors who found themselves deported because of contact with the US criminal legal system -- a system acknowledged to unfairly and disproportionately target and discriminate against Black and Brown people," they wrote.

FBI Loosens Marijuana Employment Policy for Agents. In a sign of changing attitudes toward marijuana, the FBI has quietly loosened its employment restrictions for new agents who have used marijuana in the past. Under previous agency rules, marijuana use within the past three years was disqualifying; under the new rules, only marijuana use within the past one year is disqualifying. Neither will past underage use be automatically disqualifying, but "adjudicative personnel will evaluate the candidate by using the 'whole-person concept.'" For other drugs, the FBI's rule that use within the past 10 years is disqualifying remains unchanged.

Federal Marijuana Trafficking Convictions Have Fallen Dramatically Following Enactment of Statewide Legalization Laws. A new fact-sheet from the US Sentencing Commission shows a dramatic drop in federal marijuana trafficking convictions since 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the herb. Just over 1,000 people were sentenced on federal marijuana trafficking, down 67% since 2016 and down more than 80% since 2012. "These trends illustrate the fact that state-legal domestic cannabis production has supplanted the foreign market and that marijuana law enforcement is becoming less of a federal priority in an age where the majority of Americans believe that cannabis ought to be legal," NORML's Deputy Director Paul Armentano said."

Medical Marijuana

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."

Harm Reduction

Rhode Island Becomes First State to Approve Safe Injection Sites. Gov. Daniel McKee (D) has signed into law a bill, 2021-H 5245A/2021-S 0016B, to authorize a two-year pilot program to create "harm reduction centers" where people could "safely consume pre-obtained substances," otherwise known as a safe injection site. The bill would require local approval before such a site could open, but it could also face a federal challenge. An earlier effort to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia was blocked by the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled it would violate the Controlled Substance Act. But that case was brought by a conservative US attorney during the Trump administration. To sue to block this bill would require a Biden administration US attorney to bring a case, and it's not clear that would happen. Also, Rhode Island sits in the 1st US Circuit Court district, not the 3rd, so that Philadelphia decision is not binding there.

International

Scotland to Provide Heroin Addiction Drug in Prisons Countrywide after Successful Pilot Program. A once-monthly injectable form of buprenorphine marketed a Buvidal will be available for heroin-addicted prisoners across the country after a pilot program using the drug proved overwhelmingly successful. The shot will replace daily doses of methadone. The Scottish Health and Social Care Analysis Hub reported positive results from the pilot program, which began as a response to the pandemic, and now the government is allocating $5.5 million to expand it.

CA Safe Injection Site Bill Delayed to Next Year, Drug Czar's Office Seeks Input on Harms of Drug Policies, More... (7/7/21)

The punishment of Olypmic athlete Sha'carri Richardson for testing positive for marijuana draws intense interest and criticism, New Mexico drug dogs are getting laid off in the wake of legal pot, and more.

New Mexico drug dogs are being forced into retirement by marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Drug Dogs Face Retirement in Wake of Marijuana Legalization. Drug-sniffing police dogs in the state are being forced into retirement because they have been trained to alert on any drug, including marijuana, and cannot be retrained. As the Tucumcari Police Department noted as it announced the retirement of its drug dog, Aries: "With the legalization of recreational marijuana, K9 Aries is unable to continue his function as a narcotics detection dog." Other cities and towns are doing the same thing, and so is the State Police, which will be retiring all nine of its current drug dogs. "Once the new canines are trained, the handlers will have the option of retiring their current assigned canine to their home, or we will look at other options to the likes of donating them to other law enforcement entities outside of the state of New Mexico who have yet to legalize marijuana," the State Police said.

Drug Policy

Drug Czar's Office Seeks Comment on How Drug Policies Create Systemic Barriers for Underserved Communities. In a notice published in the Federal Register Wednesday, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) said it is seeking comment on whether existing federal drug control policies create "systemic barriers to opportunities for underserved communities" and to better promote equity in future programs. Although the agency has embraced some progressive drug policy positions, such as pushing for broader access to buprenorpine, this level of acknowledgment of harms caused by drug policy marks a change of direction.

The agency didn't take the action independently. Rather, it is part of a broader executive order requiring agencies to seek feedback and "assess whether, and to what extent, its programs and policies perpetuate systemic barriers to opportunities and benefits for people of color and other underserved groups. Such assessments will better equip agencies to develop policies and programs that deliver resources and benefits equitably to all," ONDCP explained. Comments on how ONDCP can better achieve equity are being accepted at [email protected] through August 6.

Drug Testing

Sha'Carri Richardson Out of Olympics After Positive Marijuana Test. Star athlete Sha'Carri Richardson was disqualified last week from the Tokyo Olympics' women's 100 meter race after testing positive for marijuana after the qualifying run, and now will completely miss the games after being left off the team chose for the women's relay race. Her disqualification has caused howls of outrage, with some commentators calling it racist, and even President Biden, who initially responded with "the rules are the rules," suggesting the rules need to change. Richardson said she smoked marijuana to cope with the death of her biological mother and did so in Oregon, where it is legal, but she took responsibility for her actions: "I know what I did," Richardson said. "I know what I'm supposed to do... and I still made that decision."

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Delayed to Next Year. The Assembly Health Committee has informed Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) that his bill to allow a safe injection site pilot program, Senate Bill 57, which is billed as an "overdose prevention program," will not get a hearing until January. The state is in the first year of its two-year legislative session, so the bill is not dead, just delayed. "While I'm extremely disappointed that we are experiencing another delay in passing this life-saving legislation -- which has passed both the Senate and Assembly twice in different forms over the past five years -- I continue to be optimistic that we'll pass SB 57 and get it signed into law," said Weiner. "San Francisco and other California cities are experiencing record overdose deaths, and safe consumption sites are a proven strategy to save lives and help people into recovery. I am deeply committed to this legislation -- as is our broad coalition -- and I look forward to moving SB 57 forward in January." The bill has already passed the Senate.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A South Carolina prison guard gets caught smuggling dope in a Rice Krispies treat, a Birmingham cop is facing some problems, and more. Let's get to it:

In Columbia, South Carolina, a state prison guard was arrested last Thursday after being caught smuggling pills into the prison hidden in a Rice Krispies treat. Correctional Officer Marcy T. Shaffer faces charges of possession of narcotics with intent to distribute, furnishing prisoners with contraband, and misconduct in office. And she was fired.

In Birmingham, Alabama, a Birmingham police officer was arrested last Saturday on rape and drug possession charges. Officer Matthew Wilcox, 37, went down after police received a complaint about him and executed a search warrant at his home, where they found illegal drugs and guns. Police did not release any details on the alleged sexual assault, other than to say it did not occur on duty. He walked out of jail on a $26,000 bond on Sunday. There was no further information at press time.

In Lawrenceville, Virginia, a Brunswick County prison guard was arrested Monday after being caught carrying around a bag with dope in it at work. Guard Jakela Shanice Armstrong, 32, went down after she was observed carrying the bag around during her shift. A prison investigator stopped her and made her surrender the bag, which contained "a white powder wrapped in clear plastic and black tape." She is charged with drug possession with intent to distribute. And she's been fired.

Medical Marijuana Update

South Dakota gingerly enters the medical marijuana age, governors in New Jersey and Pennsylvania sign bills that will ease burdens on patients, and more.

New Jersey

New Jersey Governor Okays Telehealth Prescriptions for Medical Marijuana. Governor Phil Murphy (D) has finally signed a bill allowing health care providers to recommend medical marijuana via telehealth. He originally vetoed SD 619/A 1635 back in April after criticizing it for including a 270-day waiting period before going into effect. The legislature then amended the bill and got rid of that waiting period so it will go into effect immediately. The amended bill also removed language requiring an in-person doctor visit before initiating telehealth.

North Carolina

North Carolina Compassionate Use Act Wins First Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 711, the Compassionate Use Act. The measure would allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes and set up a system of taxed and regulated medical marijuana cultivation and distribution. It must also pass the Senate finance, health care, and rules and operations committees before heading for a floor vote.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Wednesday signed into law House Bill 1024, which updates the state's medical marijuana law to protect patient safety standards and product quality, as well as empowering the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board to consider adding new qualifying medical conditions. "It's been five years since Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana, and in that time the Department of Health has examined the program's successes and challenges and made important recommendations on improving the law," Gov. Wolf said. "This legislation provides important updates to our state's medical marijuana program to ensure that patients have improved access to medication."

South Dakota

South Dakota State Troopers Will No Longer Arrest People with Less Than Three Ounces of Weed -- If It's Medical. With medical marijuana becoming legal in the state as of July 1, the office of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has announced that state Highway Patrol troopers will no longer arrest people possessing up to three ounces of "natural and unaltered marijuana" as long as they have a patient card, or even if they don't, if they claim the marijuana is for medical use and offer some sort of documentation. Meanwhile, the state's largest city, Sioux Falls, has announced it will no longer make arrests for small-time pot possession. "Even if you don't have a medical marijuana card, the decision was made that on low level, low quantity offenses, it's a waste of resources to try and enforce the very, very complicated version of medical marijuana that was passed by the voter," Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said. In a state where people are still arrested for testing positive for marijuana, this is progress.

South Dakota Tribe Opens First Medical Marijuana Dispensary in the State. While the state's medical marijuana program, approved by voters last November, is not set to go into operation until next year, medical marijuana became legal in the state on July 1, and the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe isn't waiting for state regulators. The state's first medical marijuana dispensary opened on the reservation that same day. The tribe requires customers to first obtain a medical marijuana ID card through its medical marijuana program, which is independent of the program being crafted by the state Health Department. That is leading some skeptics to fear that non-tribe members could face problems with state law enforcement even though the Noem administration last week released Highway Patrol guidelines saying troopers would not arrest people with unexpired medical marijuana cards provided they possessed less than the legally allowed three ounces.

NJ Governor Signs MedMJ Telehealth Bill, SD Activists Prepare 2022 Legalization Initiatives, More... (7/6/21)

A Rhode Island marijuana legalization bill gets a hearing but appears doomed this year, a South Dakota Native American reservation opens the state's first medical marijuana dispensary, and more.

South Dakota's Badlands. The state saw its first medical marijuana dispensary last week, and the fight for legali pot continues.
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets House Committee Hearing. The House Finance Committee held a hearing on a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 6370, sponsored by Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence). While the Senate has already passed a legalization bill, Senate Bill 568, Slater's bill includes some features the Senate bill does not, including automatic expungement for past marijuana offenses and oversight and impact fees to be paid to municipalities where retail stores open. It would legalize possession of up to an ounce and includes a home cultivation provision allowing for up to 12 plants. No committee vote was taken, and House Speaker Joseph Sjekarchi (D-Warwick) has said the House would not consider the bill until the next legislative session.

South Dakota Activists Move to Put Marijuana Measures on 2022 Ballot. South Dakota voters approved a marijuana legalization initiative with 54% of the vote last November, but now, after the administration of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) challenged the constitutionality of the initiative in court, with a decision pending at the state Supreme Court, backers of the original initiative are back with a new package of legalization initiatives in case the high court rules against them. Last Friday, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws filed paperwork for four ballot measures dealing with marijuana policy and one that would repeal a single-subject amendment that voters approved in 2018. The court challenge to last November's initiative argues that it violates the single-subject requirement. That argument was upheld by a circuit court judge earlier this year.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Governor Okays Telehealth Prescriptions for Medical Marijuana. Governor Phil Murphy (D) has finally signed a bill allowing health care providers to recommend medical marijuana via telehealth. He originally vetoed SD 619/A 1635 back in April after criticizing it for including a 270-day waiting period before going into effect. The legislature then amended the bill and got rid of that waiting period so it will go into effect immediately. The amended bill also removed language requiring an in-person doctor visit before initiating telehealth.

South Dakota Tribe Opens First Medical Marijuana Dispensary in the State. While the state's medical marijuana program, approved by voters last November, is not set to go into operation until next year, medical marijuana became legal in the state on July 1, and the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe isn't waiting for state regulators. The state's first medical marijuana dispensary opened on the reservation that same day. The tribe requires customers to first obtain a medical marijuana ID card through its medical marijuana program, which is independent of the program being crafted by the state Health Department. That is leading some skeptics to fear that non-tribe members could face problems with state law enforcement even though the Noem administration last week released Highway Patrol guidelines saying troopers would not arrest people with unexpired medical marijuana cards provided they possessed less than the legally allowed three ounces.

RI Legislature Passes Safe Injection Site Bill, CA Coerced Treatment Bill Advances More... (7/2/21)

The Mississippi Supreme Court continues to smack down the will of the people on medical marijuana, a coerced drug treatment bill advances in California to the dismay of reformers, and more.

The InSite safe injection site in Vancouver has been operating successful for years. Now, Rhode Island wants to emulate it.
Medical Marijuana

Maine Legislature Approves Bill to Give Caregivers, Patients Input in Medical Marijuana Regulations. A bill that would require the state's Office of Marijuana Policy, which regulates both medical and recreational marijuana, to work with patients, caregivers, and medical marijuana enterprises in crafting regulations has passed both houses of the legislature. LD 1242 was passed as an emergency measure and has been enacted as law without the signature of Gov. Janet Mills (D), effective July 1. The bill was a response to proposed rules changes announced earlier this year by the Office of Marijuana Policy, which caregivers and the industry found onerous, including 24/7 surveillance and requiring growers to use the state's inventory tracking system, as is done with adult use marijuana. "This gives the people that are in the industry the real power in making and designing the laws and the rules that we will work around," said Susan Meehan, a medical marijuana caregiver, and chairperson of the Maine Cannabis Coalition.

Mississippi Supreme Court Refuses to Reconsider Ruling Throwing Out Medical Marijuana Initiative Victory. In a two-page decision released Thursday, the state Supreme Court has rejected a call for it to reconsider its May decision throwing out a voter-approved initiative to legalize medical marijuana in the state. In that decision, which essentially invalidated the state's initiative process, the court held that because the state constitution called for signatures to be gathered in all five of the state's congressional districts, the initiative was unconstitutional because the state has had only four congressional districts since redistricting in 2000. In its decision this week, the court said that the parties asking for a reconsideration should have done so last November and that "the present motion for leave to intervene is not well take and should be denied." There is pressure on Gov. Tate Reeves (R) to call a special session to enact the will of the voters, but he has yet to do so.

Drug Treatment

California Coerced Drug Treatment Bill Advances. A bill that would let Yolo County create a locked drug treatment facility for people convicted of "drug-motivated felonies" has already passed the Assembly and this week was approved nearly unanimously by the Senate Public Safety Committee. Assembly Bill 1542 would not be used for people simply convicted of drug possession or other misdemeanors, and those eligible would be "assessed by treatment providers who would decide the level and length of treatment." Those found suitable "would be given a choice of serving time in jail or prison or entering the soft secured facility where they would receive treatment to help them get well." While the bill has strong political support in Sacramento, there is strong opposition in the treatment and reform community. Even Human Rights Watch has weighed in, writing:"It [the bill] runs directly counter to the principle of free and informed consent to mental health treatment, which is a cornerstone of the right to health. Conflating health treatment and jailing, as envisioned by AB 1542, risks substantial human rights abuse, is ineffective as a treatment, and takes resources and policy focus away from initiatives that are much more likely to help people." The bill is now headed to the Senate Health Committee.

Harm Reduction

Rhode Island Legislature Approves Safe Injection Site Pilot Program. With a final vote Thursday, the state legislature has approved a bill, 2021-H 5245A/2021-S 0016B, to authorize a two-year pilot program to create "harm reduction centers" where people could "safely consume pre-obtained substances," otherwise known as a safe injection site. The bill would require local approval before such a site could open, but it could also face a federal challenge. An earlier effort to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia was blocked by the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled it would violate the Controlled Substance Act. But that case was brought by a conservative US attorney during the Trump administration. To sue to block this bill -- if enacted into law -- would require a Biden administration US attorney to bring a case, and it's not clear that would happen. Also, Rhode Island sits in the 1st US Circuit Court district, not the 3rd, so that Philadelphia decision is not binding there.

ME Senate Defeats Drug Decrim Bill, House Approves Marijuana Research Language, More... (7/1/21)

Medical marijuana is now legal in South Dakota, Austin activists roll out a municipal marijuana decriminalization initiative, and more.

You can expect to see these continue in Maine after the Senate defeated drug decriminalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Passes Bill to Let Researchers Access Marijuana from State-Legal Dispensaries. The House on Thursday approved an omnibus transportation bill that also includes language allowing researchers to get marijuana from state-legal dispensaries in order to study impaired driving. The measure would mandate a federal report with recommendations for creating a national clearinghouse with different marijuana samples for researchers from non-legal states. A transportation bill with similar marijuana research language is also moving in the Senate. The passage of the bill would be especially significant given the federal government's long history of stymying medical research through its historic monopoly on marijuana for research purposes, which puts medical marijuana in the Catch-22 of not winning FDA approvals becuase there has not been enough research.

Texas Activists Unveil Austin Marijuana Decriminalization Ballot Initiative. A new progressive group, Ground Game Texas, on Wednesday rolled out a campaign to put an initiative to decriminalize marijuana possession and ban no-knock warrants on the ballot in the state capital, Austin. The city currently handles small-time pot busts by issuing tickets, but the proposed initiative would end both arrests and citations, as well as barring citations for paraphernalia or residues. "Marijuana reform is a winning issue and local efforts will drive voter engagement. State lawmakers -- Democrats and Republicans -- failed us during the legislative session," said Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. "Maybe this level of political pressure will get their attention and bring them on board with meaningful reform statewide." To get on the November ballot, advocates will need 20,000 valid voter signatures by July 20.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Compassionate Use Act Wins First Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 711, the Compassionate Use Act. The measure would allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes and set up a system of taxed and regulated medical marijuana cultivation and distribution. It must also pass the Senate finance, health care, and rules and operations committees before heading for a floor vote.

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Wednesday signed into law House Bill 1024, which updates the state's medical marijuana law to protect patient safety standards and product quality, as well as empowering the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board to consider adding new qualifying medical conditions. "It's been five years since Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana, and in that time the Department of Health has examined the program's successes and challenges and made important recommendations on improving the law," Gov. Wolf said. "This legislation provides important updates to our state's medical marijuana program to ensure that patients have improved access to medication."

South Dakota State Troopers Will No Longer Arrest People with Less Than Three Ounces of Weed -- If It's Medical. With medical marijuana becoming legal in the state as of July 1, the office of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has announced that state Highway Patrol troopers will no longer arrest people possessing up to three ounces of "natural and unaltered marijuana" as long as they have a patient card, or even if they don't, if they claim the marijuana is for medical use and offer some sort of documentation. Meanwhile, the state's largest city, Sioux Falls, has announced it will no longer make arrests for small-time pot possession. "Even if you don't have a medical marijuana card, the decision was made that on low level, low quantity offenses, it's a waste of resources to try and enforce the very, very complicated version of medical marijuana that was passed by the voter," Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said. In a state where people are still arrested for testing positive for marijuana, this is progress.

Drug Policy

Maine Senate Votes Down Bill to Decriminalize Drug Possession. The Senate on Wednesday voted to kill a drug decriminalization bill, LD 967. The bill was opposed by Gov. Janet Mills (D) and by both some Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who argued that arresting and prosecuting drug users can help them get into treatment and stay straight. The bill had already passed the House amidst a drug overdose epidemic that saw deaths at a record rate in 2020 and early this year. "The Senate had an opportunity to provide people with desperately needed relief, and it failed," said Courtney Allen, policy director at the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project. "We need to change our drug laws if we want to save lives. LD 967 would have saved the state money and reinvested resources from the criminal system into access to recovery services. People need treatment and support to enter sustained recovery, not arrest and a criminal record."

CA Psychedelic Decrim Bill Advances, Marijuana Gets Legalized in Three States This Week, More... (6/30/21)

South Dakota gingerly enters the medical marijuana age, governors in New Jersey and Pennsylvania sign bills that will ease burdens on patients, and more.

New Jersey

New Jersey Governor Okays Telehealth Prescriptions for Medical Marijuana. Governor Phil Murphy (D) has finally signed a bill allowing health care providers to recommend medical marijuana via telehealth. He originally vetoed SD 619/A 1635 back in April after criticizing it for including a 270-day waiting period before going into effect. The legislature then amended the bill and got rid of that waiting period so it will go into effect immediately. The amended bill also removed language requiring an in-person doctor visit before initiating telehealth.

North Carolina

North Carolina Compassionate Use Act Wins First Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 711, the Compassionate Use Act. The measure would allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes and set up a system of taxed and regulated medical marijuana cultivation and distribution. It must also pass the Senate finance, health care, and rules and operations committees before heading for a floor vote.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Wednesday signed into law House Bill 1024, which updates the state's medical marijuana law to protect patient safety standards and product quality, as well as empowering the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board to consider adding new qualifying medical conditions. "It's been five years since Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana, and in that time the Department of Health has examined the program's successes and challenges and made important recommendations on improving the law," Gov. Wolf said. "This legislation provides important updates to our state's medical marijuana program to ensure that patients have improved access to medication."

South Dakota

South Dakota State Troopers Will No Longer Arrest People with Less Than Three Ounces of Weed -- If It's Medical. With medical marijuana becoming legal in the state as of July 1, the office of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has announced that state Highway Patrol troopers will no longer arrest people possessing up to three ounces of "natural and unaltered marijuana" as long as they have a patient card, or even if they don't, if they claim the marijuana is for medical use and offer some sort of documentation. Meanwhile, the state's largest city, Sioux Falls, has announced it will no longer make arrests for small-time pot possession. "Even if you don't have a medical marijuana card, the decision was made that on low level, low quantity offenses, it's a waste of resources to try and enforce the very, very complicated version of medical marijuana that was passed by the voter," Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said. In a state where people are still arrested for testing positive for marijuana, this is progress.

South Dakota Tribe Opens First Medical Marijuana Dispensary in the State. While the state's medical marijuana program, approved by voters last November, is not set to go into operation until next year, medical marijuana became legal in the state on July 1, and the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe isn't waiting for state regulators. The state's first medical marijuana dispensary opened on the reservation that same day. The tribe requires customers to first obtain a medical marijuana ID card through its medical marijuana program, which is independent of the program being crafted by the state Health Department. That is leading some skeptics to fear that non-tribe members could face problems with state law enforcement even though the Noem administration last week released Highway Patrol guidelines saying troopers would not arrest people with unexpired medical marijuana cards provided they possessed less than the legally allowed three ounces.

Clarence Thomas Questions Federal Marijuana Prohibition, ONDCP Reports on Colombia Coca, More... (6/28/21)

A major pharmaceutical company settles with the state of New York over opioid distribution, Minnesota lawmakers are on the verge of passing policing reforms, and more.

US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas questions the viability of federal marijuana prohibition. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Clarence Thomas Says Federal Marijuana Prohibition May No Longer Make Sense. One the Supreme Court's most conservative justices said Monday that because marijuana is already legalized either medically or recreationally in a growing number of states, federal pot prohibition may no longer make sense. "A prohibition on interstate use or cultivation of marijuana may no longer be necessary or proper to support the federal government's piecemeal approach," wrote Justice Clarence Thomas as the high court declined to hear the appeal of a Colorado medical marijuana dispensary that was denied federal tax breaks. "Federal policies of the past 16 years have greatly undermined its reasoning," he said. "The federal government's current approach is a half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Johnson & Johnson Settles With New York for $230 Million, Agrees to Stop Selling Opioids. Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson has agreed to a $230 million settlement with the state of New York over its role in the country's opioid crisis, which has led to nearly half a million dead of overdoses in the past two decades. As part of the settlement, the company agreed to not promote opioids and confirmed it has quit distributing them in the US. Pharmaceutical companies and distributors have faced a barrage of lawsuits over opioids, with governments arguing that the companies pushed the drugs and caused people to become addicted and then turn to illegal opioids as states and the federal government cracked down. The companies argued that they were distributing medically necessary opioids for people who need them. The crackdowns on opioid prescribing have left one group of people in particular in the lurch: chronic pain patients, who must seek opioids and doctors willing to prescribe them in large quantities in the midst of the retrenchment.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Lawmakers Reach "General Agreement" on Policing Reforms. Legislative leaders of both the Democratic Farm Labor Party and the Republicans have reached "general agreement" on a broad-ranging police reform bill, leaders of both parties said late Saturday. Among other things, the bill would restrict the use of no-knock warrants, civil asset forfeiture reforms (but not an outright ban), reforms of fines and fee structures, restrict the use of confidential informants to better protect them, and make modifications to state police misconduct database to create an early warning system to keep bad cops off the street. The legislature is working under a deadline: If the broader public safety bill that includes the policing reforms is not passed by Wednesday, key government public safety functions, such as running state prisons and the State Patrol, would theoretically face shutdowns. But Gov. Tim Walz (DFL) said he will keep those operations functioning, even if that is legally questionable.

International

US Drug Czar's Office Says Colombia Coca Cultivation Expanded Last Year. Colombian coca cultivation increased 15% last year and potential cocaine production rose 7.9% to around a thousand metric tons, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), said Friday. The report from ONDCP differed from a report issued by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released on June 9, which had a lower figure for crop cultivation but a higher figure -- 1,228 metric tons -- for potential cocaine production. In either case, Colombia remains the world's largest coca and cocaine producer, ahead of second place Peru and third place Bolivia.

Cuba Reiterates Zero Tolerance Drug Policies. Cuba used the occasion of the UN's International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on Saturday to make clear that its zero tolerance policy toward drug use, production, and trafficking remains unchanged. In a tweet, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez vowed that the island nations will never be a place to use, store, or traffic illicit drugs.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A DEA agent and his task force buddy get convicted of thievery, a Louisiana town cop gets busted for taking bribes from a drug dealer, and more. Let's get to it:

In Pearl, Mississippi, a state prison guard was arrested June 10 for smuggling drugs into the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. Guard Brenda Denise Hicks is charged introducing contraband, possession of methamphetamine, trafficking methamphetamine and extortion.

In Kaplan, Louisiana, a Kaplan police officer was arrested and fired June 17 for taking bribes from a drug dealer. Former Officer Mitchell Guidroz allegedly took $500 from a local drug dealer to ignore his activities. He now faces charges of public bribery and malfeasance in office.

In Cordele, Georgia, a Crisp County sheriff's detention officer was arrested Tuesday for allegedly smuggling drugs and cigarettes into the Crisp County Detention Center, Jhayvion Smith, 20, now a former guard, went down after he was spotted "exchanging items" with a person in the detention center parking lot. He is charged with bringing contraband across guard line to inmates, possession of a controlled substance, and violation of oath by public officer.

In New Orleans, a former DEA agent  and a former DEA task force officer were found guilty June 15 in a long-running scheme to rip-off cash and personal property from people he had arrested on drug charges Former Agent Chad Scott, 53, and task force member Rodney Gemar, 45, repeatedly stole the personal property of arrestees instead of logging it in as evidence. They also took money from the pockets of arrestees, lifted it out of wallets, and skimmed money off cash seizures made by the DEA. Two other former Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies who had been serving as DEA task force officers in New Orleans have pleaded guilty in this investigation. Karl Emmett Newman, 54, pleaded guilty to unlawfully carrying a firearm in furtherance of an August 2015 robbery, which was disguised as the execution of a search warrant, as well as misappropriating money confiscated by the DEA during another search. Johnny Domingue, 32, pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine and misappropriating money confiscated by the DEA.

In Spokane, Washington, a former state prison guard was sentenced June 10 to two months in prison after being convicted of smuggling drugs into the Airway Heights Correction Center last July. Former guard Michael Mattern, 46, got caught with 200 strips of Suboxone, the prescription medication used to treat opioid addiction that can also be abused. Investigators also found him in possession of 14.6 grams of methamphetamine and 2.9 grams of heroin at the prison. The drugs were hidden in a tobacco tin inside his lunch box.

Medical Marijuana Update

Alabama

Alabama Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill into Law. Governor Kay Ivey (R) has signed into law a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 46. The new law allows people suffering from a specified list of medical conditions to use medical marijuana with a physician's recommendations. The state had enacted a law allowing for the use of CBD in 2014 and broadened that law in 2016, but now has enacted a full-fledged medical marijuana law. But patients will not be allowed to use smokable marijuana nor grow their own. Instead, 12 commercial growers and 12 dispensaries will be authorized to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana. The system is expected to be up and running by the fall of 2022.

Colorado

Colorado Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Restrictions Bill. Gov. Jared Polis (D) on June 7 signed into law House Bill 1317, which includes added medical and mental health reviews during patient applications, an expanded medical marijuana tracking system, and a required dosage amount.

Louisiana

Louisiana Governor Signs Bill Allowing Smokable Medical Marijuana. Governor John Bel Edwards (D) has signed into law House Bill 391, which will allow patients to use smokable medical marijuana. The bill passed non-controversially, and its sponsor, Rep. Tanner Magee (D-Houma) said its purposes was to drive down costs and respond to popular demand. "Having the raw form of it, which the public has shown they really want, will allow them to drive down their costs so they can pass on to the consumer and have a real alternative to opioids,” Magee said. Smokable medical marijuana will not be available for purchase until January because of time lags with the two state universities who are currently the only institutions authorized to produce medical marijuana.

New Jersey

New Jersey Patient Sues Former Employer for Firing Him for Off-Duty Medical Marijuana Use. A medical marijuana patient, Jamal Campbell, is suing his former employer, Watco Companies and Watco Transloading LLC, in federal court for firing him for using doctor-recommended medical marijuana to treat an injury he got at work. Campbell says the state's medical marijuana law should protect him. The state's top court ruled last year that employers cannot fire medical marijuana patients for marijuana use as long as they don't use it at work.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania House Approves Making Medical Marijuana Pandemic Revisions Permanent. The House on June 7 approved a bill which would make permanent changes temporarily put in place during the coronavirus pandemic. Under the bill, patients could continue to pick up their medicine outside a dispensary instead of coming into the building and could purchase a three-month supply instead of a one-month supply. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Pennsylvania Court Okays Unemployment Claim After Medical Marijuana Firing. A state appeals court ruled June 8 that a warehouse worker fired from his job testing positive for marijuana is entitled to unemployment benefits because his employer was aware he was a medical marijuana patient. With its ruling, the court upheld an earlier decision by the state Unemployment Compensation Board of Review.

Texas

Texas Governor Signs Bill Modestly Expanding Medical Marijuana Program. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on June 15 signed into law a bill, House Bill 1535, that adds cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions that qualify patients to legally access cannabis and doubles the amount of THC concentration that is allowed, from 0.5 percent to one percent. to produce medical marijuana.

RI Marijuana Legalization Push Hits Bump, UN Warns Pandemic Could Propel Drug Use, Cultivation, More... (6/25/21)

There's progress on medical marijuana this week in the South, a key Rhode Island lawmaker slams the brakes on a marijuana legalization push, and more.

The coronavirus pandemic could propel new cultivation of illegal drug crops, the UNODC reports. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Key Lawmakers Slams Brakes on Legalization Effort. On the day after the state Senate passed a marijuana legalization bill, an amended version of Senate Bill 568, House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Warwick) signaled he was in no hurry to finish the job. He said the state could afford to wait to legalize it while authorities consider diverging proposals, that a proper regulatory structure needed to be created, and that he wanted to ensure that the state gets adequate revenues from legalization. "If we're going to legalize recreational use of marijuana, we want to make sure that the state gets its fair share," he said. He said he had seen "six or seven legitimate proposals" for marijuana legalization that are "very divergent." But the Senate has only passed the one.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill into Law. Governor Kay Ivey (R) has signed into law a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 46. The new law allows people suffering from a specified list of medical conditions to use medical marijuana with a physician's recommendations. The state had enacted a law allowing for the use of CBD in 2014 and broadened that law in 2016, but now has enacted a full-fledged medical marijuana law. But patients will not be allowed to use smokable marijuana nor grow their own. Instead, 12 commercial growers and 12 dispensaries will be authorized to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana. The system is expected to be up and running by the fall of 2022.

Louisiana Governor Signs Bill Allowing Smokable Medical Marijuana. Governor John Bel Edwards (D) has signed into law House Bill 391, which will allow patients to use smokable medical marijuana. The bill passed non-controversially, and its sponsor, Rep. Tanner Magee (D-Houma) said its purposes was to drive down costs and respond to popular demand. "Having the raw form of it, which the public has shown they really want, will allow them to drive down their costs so they can pass on to the consumer and have a real alternative to opioids," Magee said. Smokable medical marijuana will not be available for purchase until January because of time lags with the two state universities who are currently the only institutions authorized to produce medical marijuana.

International

UNODC Releases Annual Report, Warns That Fallout from Pandemic Could Last for Years. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released the 2021 World Drug Report Thursday and warned that the coronavirus pandemic is propelling more people into drug use, has caused drug trafficking groups to adapt to changed conditions, and sowed economic hardship that could lead to increased cultivation of illicit drug crops. "[D]rug markets have swiftly resumed operations after the initial disruption at the onset of the pandemic; a burst that has triggered or accelerated certain pre-existing trafficking dynamics across the global drug market," UNODC said. "Among these are: increasingly larger shipments of illicit drugs, a rise in the frequency of overland and water-way routes used for trafficking, greater use of private planes for the purpose of drug trafficking, and an upsurge in the use of contactless methods to deliver drugs to end-consumers. The resilience of drug markets during the pandemic has demonstrated once again traffickers' ability to adapt quickly to changed environments and circumstances." On the potential increase in drug crops, UNODC said: "While the impact of COVID-19 on drug challenges is not yet fully known, the analysis suggests that the pandemic has brought increasing economic hardship that is likely to make illicit drug cultivation more appealing to fragile rural communities. The social impact of the pandemic -- driving a rise in inequality, poverty, and mental health conditions particularly among already vulnerable populations -- represent factors that could push more people into drug use."

UN For First Time Engages with Marijuana Regulations. In the 2021 World Drug Report released Thursday, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime called for a global ban on marijuana advertising, saying "a comprehensive ban on advertising, promoting and sponsoring cannabis would ensure that public health interests prevail over business interests." While the call is in line with the UN's long-standing opposition to marijuana legalization, it also marks the first time the anti-drug agency has engaged with the notion of regulating -- not merely prohibiting -- marijuana use and production.

House Democrats Advance Marijuana Banking, DC Pot Sales Bill, NC MedMJ Bill Advances, More... (6/24/21)

The Veterans Administration comes out against a medical marijuana research bill for veterans, House Democrats move a bill that would provide protection to banks doing business with marijuana firms and allow pot sales in DC, and more.

Marijuana Policy

House Democrats Advance Funding Bill with Marijuana Banking Protection and DC Marijuana Sales. The House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee voted Thursday to advance a massive funding bill that includes language protecting financial institutions that work with state-legal marijuana firms and allowing Washington, DC, to go ahead with legal marijuana sales. The move puts the subcommittee at odds with the Biden administration, which in its budget proposal supported continuing a 2014 congressional rider to the DC appropriations bill sponsored by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD). The full House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to take up the legislation on Tuesday.

Medical Marijuana

Veterans Administration Does Not Want to Conduct Medical Marijuana Research9. During a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday, VA Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Health for Community Care Mark Upton made it plain the administration opposes a bill that would require the VA to conduct clinical trials on the therapeutic potential of marijuana for vets with chronic pain and PTSD. The agency "does not support this bill," Upton told the committee. He said the legislation was unnecessary because the VA is "already dedicating resources and research expertise to study the effects of cannabis on conditions affecting veterans."

North Carolina Senate Committee Moves on Medical Marijuana. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday adopted and passed a substitute version of a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 711. The bill would allow medical marijuana use for a list of specified debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis. Under the substitute adopted by the committee, a 13-member Medical Cannabis Advisory Board would be empowered to add new conditions to the list. The bill must now also get through the Senate finance, health care, and rules and operations committees being getting a floor vote.

Federal Appeals Court Taps the Brakes on Drug Induced Homicide Prosecutions of Drug Users [FEATURE]

A woman who bought heroin with a pair of friends, one of whom shortly afterward suffered a fatal overdose on the drug, is not a murderer, at least according to the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. That was the June 1 ruling in US v. Semler, a case that may not set binding precedent, but does send a signal to the prosecutors and the judiciary that the federal courts do not want to see a federal law aimed at so-called drug kingpins applied to mere drug users.

As described in the decision, the case began when two heroin-addicted Philadelphia women, Emma Semler and her old drug rehab buddy Jennifer Werstler, went to score heroin together at Wertsler's request. They were joined by Semler's sister Sarah, who drove them to the West Philadelphia locale where they bought their heroin. It is unclear who actually purchased and then shared the heroin. The trio then shot up in the restroom of a nearby KFC restaurant. Werstler began to show signs of overdosing, and the Semler sisters "attempted to revive Werstler by splashing cold water on her, then left the bathroom and called their mother for a ride home. They did not call 911 or alert anyone to Werstler's condition."

Werstler was later discovered by a KFC employee, who called 911, but EMTs arrived too late to save her and she was pronounced dead. Her official cause of death was "adverse reaction to heroin."

Semler was then indicted by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania with "distribution of heroin resulting in death," punishable by a 20-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. As an added bonus, she was also charged with doing so within 1,000 feet of a school, as well as aiding and abetting on both counts. She was found guilty at trial and sentenced to 21 years in prison.

Semler appealed, arguing that friends sharing jointly procured drugs did not qualify as drug distribution and that the district court had erred in refusing to allow a jury instruction to that effect, as well as erring in failing to instruct the jury that there had to be a "proximate cause" for it to convict.

Scott Burris, JD, is a professor of both law and public health at Temple University and directs Temple's Center for Public Health Law Research. He is also Semler's appellate counsel and coauthor of an amicus curiae brief supporting Semler, which nicely laid out the issues at play.

"This case presents the Court with an opportunity to determine the proper scope of the Drug Distribution Resulting in Death (DDRD) sentencing enhancement provision," the abstract explains. "The provision, its parent statute, and the totality of modern federal law and policy to stem the overdose crisis are intended to target major drug traffickers. Research suggests that DDRD prosecutions routinely pervert this intent, indiscriminately deploying DDRD and similar provisions to target end consumers of illicit drugs affected by addiction. Rather than deterring drug trafficking, such prosecutions deter help-seeking during overdose events and interfere with overdose prevention measures. This cuts at cross purposes to overdose crisis response, leading to more, not fewer deaths."

The 3rd District Court of Appeals agreed, vacating Semler's conviction and sending her case back for retrial using proper legal instructions for jurors. "We hold that the definition of 'distribute' under the Controlled Substances Act does not cover individuals who jointly and simultaneously acquire the possession of a small amount of a controlled substance solely for their personal use," wrote Judge Jane Richard Roth.

It was a victory, if not a complete exoneration, for Emma Semler and any other drug user federal prosecutors in the 3rd Circuit might have been thinking about charging under that statute. Hopefully it also serves as a distant early warning signal for states that have passed drug induced homicide laws, as well as for state-level prosecutors, who are zealously embracing them to convict low-level drug users as murderers.

The Health in Justice Action Lab at Northeastern University School of Law reported that the number of states with such laws jumped from 15 to 25 in from 2009 to 2019, while the number of drug induced homicide prosecutions hovered at near zero from the 1970s until the early 2000s. Then, as overdose deaths jumped, so did prosecutions, rising to 100 per year by 2011 before skyrocketing to nearly 700 per year by 2018.

In a 2019 Utah Law Review article, Northeastern law professor and faculty director of the Health in Justice Action lab faculty adviser Leo Beletsky found while the laws are ostensibly aimed at drug dealers, "half of those charged with drug induced homicide were not, in fact, 'dealers' in the traditional sense, but friends and relatives of the deceased." He also found that in cases that involved a traditional "drug dealer," half of those prosecuted were black or brown people who sold drugs to whites -- a fact he noted does not fit the demographics of the United States or of drug dealers.

"In view of that context," he wrote, "these findings suggest that drug-induced homicide charges are being selectively and disproportionately deployed to target people of color. This disparate application can further reinforce already dire racial disparities, particularly in the enforcement of drug laws and the length of sentencing for drug-related crimes."

And, as the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) pointed out in its 2017 report, An Overdose Death is Not a Murder: Why Drug Induced Homicide Laws Are Ineffective and Inhumane, those laws don't work to reduce overdoses: "Prosecutors and legislators who champion renewed drug induced homicide enforcement couch the use of this punitive measure, either naively or disingenuously, as necessary to curb increasing rates of drug overdose deaths. But there is not a shred of evidence that these laws are effective at reducing overdose fatalities. In fact, death tolls continue to climb across the country, even in the states and counties most aggressively prosecuting drug-induced homicide cases."

"The Semler case is one more example of how the Drug War has warped our legal system and led to mass incarceration," DPA senior staff attorney Grey Gardner told the Chronicle in an email exchange. "Prosecutors twisted the law to criminalize this young woman and subject her to a more than 20-year sentence after several friends bought drugs to use together and one suffered a tragic fatal overdose. Urging the jury to convict one of them of drug distribution when each of these users were suffering from substance use disorder and using together was not only overreaching, it highlights the arbitrary nature of our drug laws."

It is also counterproductive, he added: "This prosecution and those like it do nothing to make people safer, but instead put people in greater danger. By elevating the threat of prosecution, they make it less likely that people close to an overdose victim will call for help," he pointed out.

"Thankfully in this case the Court of Appeals rejected the prosecution's overbroad definition of distribution, but what's clear is that we need an entirely new approach," said DPA's Gardner. "Instead of the failed War on Drugs, we need to stop turning to the criminal legal system and spending billions on these ineffective policing strategies. Instead we need better approaches -- such as investments in drug checking, overdose prevention centers, and expanded access to naloxone -- to protect those who are experiencing addiction and are at the greatest risk."

"The court seemed sympathetic to the view that criminal law is not the best way to get at substance use disorder and the behavior of people coping with it," Burris told the Chronicle in an email exchange.

The appeals court labeled its decision as non-precedential, meaning it is not binding on federal district courts in its region, but it still may have a broader impact in the federal courts, Burris explained.

"I think her lawyers are going to ask the court to reconsider that," he said. "It is at least what we call 'persuasive authority' in that its reasoning may be adopted voluntarily by other courts."

As for impact on state and local prosecutions, not so much, he added.

"It has no impact other than as persuasive authority," Burris said. "The state attorney general and local district attorneys pursuing these cases seem to think they are sensible and just, and they are hard to shake," he confessed.

"The overdose crisis is just one symptom of the fundamental disease of inequality and inequity in our country," was Burris's bottom line. "Getting at that root cause requires a sea change in policy such that government at all levels -- and the people who elect the government -- commit to ensuring the basics of decent life to everyone: good work, good housing, good education, good transportation, and a place of respect in the community. In this the 'deaths of despair' idea seems to be to get the problem just right. Of course, short of that, there are many things to do: stop criminalizing drug use; create safe injection sites everywhere they are needed; eliminate regulations that make methadone and buprenorphine harder to get than the drugs whose use they are meant to reduce."

CT Becomes Latest State to Legalize Marijuana, DEA Denies FL Church's Ayahuasca Exemption, More... (6/23/21)

House Democrats look to end the ban on legal marijuana sales in the nation's capital, the Rhode Island Senate approves a marijuana legalization bill, and more.

The InSite safe injection site in Vancouver. The Los Angeles city council supports a similar effort in California. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

House Democrats File Bill to End DC Marijuana Sales Ban. House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Subcommittee Chairman Mike Quigley (D-IL) filed a wide-ranging bill Wednesday that would lift the ban on legal marijuana sales in the District of Columbia, as well as providing protection to financial institutions doing business with state-legal marijuana firms. The ban, in the form of a rider to the annual DC appropriations bill in Congress, was imposed in 2014, with the effort led by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), before city residents even voted for marijuana legalization later that year. It has remained in place ever since.The move comes even though President Biden specifically did not remove the congressional rider banning sales in his budget proposal last month. The bill is set to be voted on in the subcommittee Thursday, with the full Appropriations Committee taking it up next Tuesday, setting up a potential conflict with the Biden administration.

Connecticut Legalizes Marijuana. Gov. Ned Lamont (D) on Tuesday signed a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 1201, making the state the 19th to end marijuana prohibition and the fourth to do this year, after New Mexico, New York, and Virginia. The bill legalizes the possession of up to one and a half ounces by people 21 and over, as well as setting up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce with strong social equity provisions. The law takes effect on July 1, when using recreational marijuana becomes legal, but marijuana business licenses are not expected to be issued until the end of next year.

Rhode Island Senate Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The state Senate voted Tuesday night to approve an amended version of Senate Bill 568, which would legalize the possession, purchase, and cultivation of cannabis for personal use for adults 21 and older.The bill would also create a Cannabis Control Commission to regulate the legal marijuana market, tax marijuana sales at 20%, and create a social equity program to aid communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition. A House marijuana legalization bill filed at the end of May remains stuck in the House Judiciary Committee. The clock is ticking: The session ends in one week on June 30.

Ayahuasca

DEA Denies Religious Use Exemption to Florida Ayahuasca Church. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has officially denied the Soul Quest Church's request for a religious exemption allowing it to continue to legally provide ayahuasca, a substance containing the Schedule I drug DMT, for religious purposes. The church has been distributing ayahuasca and other substances to paying customers and gained unwanted scrutiny after a man died during an ayahuasca retreat in 2018. After that death, the DEA ordered the church to shut down its ayahuasca distribution, but the church has refused, instead fighting the order in the courts. Now, after the DEA decision, a federal judge is expected to rule soon on that decision, which could end the church's run. The church is relying on a generous interpretation of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, under which both peyote use by the Native American Church and ayahuasca use by the Brazil-based church the Union of the Vegetable has been allowed. 

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Harm Reduction

Los Angeles City Council Endorses Statewide Safe Injection Site Bill. The city council on Tuesday approved a resolution supporting a bill that would legalize pilot safe injection sites in a number of California cities, Senate Bill 57. The support comes as the city faces a drug overdose crisis, especially among the homeless, for whom the overdose rate jumped 33% in the first six months of last year. The bill has already passed the state Senate and is now before the Assembly Public Safety and Health committees. Even if the bill were to become law, it faces possible federal obstacles. When harm reductionists in Philadelphia sought to open a safe injection site, the Trump administration successfully blocked them in federal district court. The Biden administration has not made clear what its stance on the issue is.

White House Supports Bill Ending Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, Mexico Marijuana Mess, More... (6/22/21)

A New York City DA drops thousands of pending marijuana cases, an Ohio's judge's courtroom temper tantrum will get him off the bench for a year, and more.

There's a move underway in Congress to finally do away with the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

New York City Sees More Than 3,000 Marijuana Cases Dismissed by Queens DA. Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz moved to dismiss some 3,255 pending marijuana cases, citing the "disproportionate impact" of marijuana enforcement on people of color, and a judge immediately granted the motion. The move comes after the state legalized marijuana earlier this year and is in line with similar decisions in district attorney's office across the state. Since legalization, New Yorkers have been able to possess up to three ounces. All of the cases dismissed were for possession of less than three ounces.

Drug Testing

Ohio Judge Faces Justice for Jailing Courtroom Attendee for Refusing to Take Drug Test. Seneca County District Court Judge Mark Repp is facing a year-long suspension from the bench after Repp called the girlfriend of a defendant who was observing his case "a drug addict," ordered her to take a drug test, and then jailed her when she refused. Repp ordered the woman, who had no criminal record, jailed for 10 days, but she was released the following day when prosecutors declined to file any charge against her. She and her attorney complained to the state Board of Professional Conduct, which recommended the one-year suspension. Repp has now waived his objections to the findings and is set to be suspended. A possible civil lawsuit is pending, but the US Supreme Court has ruled in the past that judges are immune from lawsuits if they are acting in an official capacity within the courtroom.

Sentencing

Biden Administration Endorses Bill to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. At a Tuesday hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Regina LaBelle, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office), said the Biden administration supported passage of the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act, or Equal Act, S, 79. Sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), the bill would end the disparity between sentences in federal crack and powder cocaine cases. Biden helped create that disparity decades ago, has been ready to end it since at least 2008, when he sponsored the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Act of 2008 (S.1711). "The current disparity is not based on evidence, yet has caused significant harm for decades, particularly to individuals, families and communities of color," LaBelle testified. "The continuation of this sentencing disparity is a significant injustice in our legal system, and it is past time for it to end. Therefore, the administration urges the swift passage of the ‘Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act.’" Biden championed a 100:1 disparity in a 1986 anti-drug bill, but that disparity was reduced to 18:1 in 2010. 

International

Mexico Supreme Court Moves to End Marijuana Prohibition After Lawmakers Fail to Act. After the Mexican congress has missed repeated Supreme Court-imposed deadlines to end marijuana prohibition, the high court is moving toward ending it on its own. Court member Norma Lucia Pina Hernandez has filed a general declaration of unconstitutionality on the country's marijuana laws, and the whole court is expected to take up the issue this week. The court deemed marijuana prohibition unconstitutional in 2018 and ordered the congress to legalize marijuana, but the congress has been slowed by political infighting and the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, if the politicians continue to fail to get it done, the court is hinting it will just nullify the law.

FL Supreme Court Strikes Down Second Pot Initiative, ME Legislature Passes Drug Trafficking Reform Bill, More... (6/21/21)

Possession of more than two grams of heroin or fentanyl would no longer be considered prima facie evidence of drug trafficking in Maine after the legislature passes a reform bill, the Decriminalize Nature movement gets a Vermont chapter, and more.

Maine lawmakers move to rein in the state's harsh drug trafficking law. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down Second Marijuana Legalization Initiative; Only One Remains Alive. The state Supreme Court last Thursday struck down a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by Sensible Florida, the second time it has blocked a proposed 2022 initiative. The court held the initiative's ballot language was misleading because it said recreational use would be limited, but the actual language would allow for state and local governments to remove those restrictions. The state's Republican attorney general, Ashley Moody, petitioned the court to block the initiative. An earlier initiative was struck own because it failed to mention marijuana would remain illegal under federal law. A third initiative, from Floridians for Freedom, remains alive. It includes language about marijuana remaining federally illegal and it is very short, leaving less room for the Supreme Court to rule it deceives voters. It needs a million valid voter signatures by February to qualify for the 2022 ballot.

Drug Policy

Maine Bill to Restrict Drug Trafficking Law Passes Legislature. A bill that would amend the state's harsh drug trafficking law to require that the state actually prove drug trafficking instead of charging a person with trafficking for merely possessing an amount of drugs above a certain limit, LD 1675, won final floor votes in the House and Senate last Friday and now heads to the desk of Gov. Janet Mills (D) . Current law makes possession of more than two grams or 90 wraps of heroin or fentanyl evidence of drug trafficking. The bill would also end the 3.5-to-1 state sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses.

Psychedelics

Vermont Decriminalize Nature Chapter Forms Amid Push to Decriminalize Natural Psychedelics. As the state legislature ponders a bill to decriminalize natural entheogens, House Bill 309, psychedelics advocates have formed a state chapter of the nationwide group Decriminalize Nature to help prod lawmakers to act. And they need the prodding: The bill has languished in the House Judiciary Committee since it was filed in February. "People are all about nature in Vermont and healing with beautiful nature," Decriminalize Vermont leader Carly Nix said. "And also, I already believe that people should be able to grow their own cannabis and heal with cannabis so this seems like a pretty natural next step."

International

Mexican Border Town of Reynosa Sees 14—Or is it 18?—People Killed by Presumed Cartel Gunmen. Gunmen in SUVs ranged across the border town of Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, leaving a toll of at least 14 and as many as 18 dead. The likely perpetrators were warring factions of the Gulf Cartel, which has long dominated drug trafficking in Reynosa but has recently been riven by splits. The last two years have been the bloodiest yet in Mexico's drug war, with more than 34,000 people being killed in both 2019 and 2020, and the toll this year shows no signs of slowing. By contrast, when Mexico's prohibition-related violence earned sustained international attention during the 2012 presidential election year in the US and Mexico, the death toll was around 15,000. It has steadily increased ever since.

Marijuana Equity Advocates Propose Changes in MORE Act, CT Governor Ready To Sign Legal Pot Law, More... (6/18/21)

Legislation to make it easier for scientists to get access to marijuana for research purposes is moving in Congress, marijuana equity advocates suggest changes in the MORE Act, and more.

Marijuana was on the agenda at the US Capitol this week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Equity Advocates Propose Changes in MORE Act. Activists who want stronger equity protections and to avoid corporate control over the legal marijuana markets have submitted a pair of potential amendments to the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, HR 3617. The proposals are coming from the Parabola Center, a new group fighting for social justice-centered reforms. One would switch federal authority for marijuana permitting from the Treasury Department to the MORE Act-envisioned Office of Cannabis Justice to "regulate interstate commerce and enforce anti-cartel restrictions, preventing the creation of a national oligopoly similar to the state-level oligopolies that current exist," according to a summary, while the other would end the federal criminalization of marijuana possession, cultivation, and sharing under the Controlled Substances Act, but would not formally deschedule marijuana in order to "protect individual cannabis consumers from federal arrest and prosectution while allowing states to continue to experiment with different typse of equitable cannabis markets."

Marijuana Research Expansion Legislation Moves in Congress. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved an omnibus bill that includes language that would allow scientists greater access to marijuana for research purposes on Wednesday. The measure would allow researchers in legal marijuana states to use marijuana from dispensaries. A House panel last week approved a transportation bill that includes similar provisions. The legislation comes after decades of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) blocking access to research marijuana and then using the lack of research to oppose rescheduling it

Connecticut Governor Ready to Sign Marijuana Legalization Bill into Law. Marijuana could be legal in the state as early as July 1 after the legislature approved Senate Bill 1201. The bill awaits the signature of Gov. Ned Lamont (D), and Lamont has signaled he will do exactly that: "It’s fitting that the bill legalizing the adult use of cannabis and addressing the injustices caused by the war of drugs received final passage today, on the 50-year anniversary of President Nixon declaring the war," Lamont said in a statement. "The war on cannabis, which was at its core a war on people in Black and brown communities, not only caused injustices and increased disparities in our state, it did little to protect public health and safety." The bill legalizes the possession of up to one and a half ounces by people 21 and over, as well as setting up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce with strong social equity provisions. 

 

 



CT Set to Become 19th Marijuana Legalization State, Another Filipino "Narco Politician" Gunned Down, More... (6/17/21)

A minor civil asset forfeiture bill advances in Michigan, another new poll has strong support for drug decriminalization, and more.

A bill to legalize marijuana in Connecticut is now before the governor. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for Governor's Desk. With final votes in the House and Senate approving Senate Bill 1201, Connecticut is set to become the 19th state to legalize marijuana. Gov. Ned Lamont (D) had aired concerns about whether an equity program went too far in prioritizing marijuana business licenses for people with marijuana arrests or convictions—even if they were now wealthy—but late amendments in the legislature addressed those concerns, and he is now expected to sign the bill.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan House Approves Minor Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. On a vote of 108-1, the House on Tuesday approved House Bill 4240, which mandates the funds derived from civil asset forfeitures will be distributed "through the treasurer of the unit of government overseeing the law enforcement unit, so that they may be appropriated for uses that enhance enforcement of criminal laws." The bill comes after a scandal last year in which the former Macomb County prosecutor was charged with official misconduct and embezzlement of civil asset forfeiture funds while in office. The bill does not otherwise restrict civil asset forfeiture.

Drug Policy

Second Recent Poll Finds Strong Support for Ending War on Drugs. A new poll from Data for Progress and The Lab found that 71% of respondents said federal anti-drug policies aren't working and reform is needed, 59% supported decriminalizing drug possession, 60% support moving regulatory authority of drugs from the DEA to HHS, and even 55% support decriminalizing small-time drug sales. An ACLU/Drug Policy Alliance poll last week had even stronger results, with 83% saying the war on drugs had failed and 66% supporting drug decriminalization.

Law Enforcement

Wisconsin Assembly Approves Limited Policing Reforms. The Assembly has passed a package of bills approving police reform measures, including barring chokeholds unless an officer's life is under threat, requiring police who shoot someone to take a drug test, and tracking the use of no-knock warrants. But some Democrats said that failing to enact a complete ban on chokeholds and no-knock search warrants meant the Assembly was not seriously addressing the issue. Legislative leaders countered that the bills were a step in the right direction.

International

Another Filipino Accused of Being "Narco Politician" Shot Dead in Police Custody. Former Talitay Mayor Montasser Sabal was shot and killed by police Wednesday after they arrested him on drug trafficking charges. Police said he tried to grab a gun from officers while being brought to Manila. In May 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte identified 44 mayors and other elected officials as "narco politicians." More than 20 on the list have already been killed in similar circumstances. In cases where police ackowledge killing people in anti-drug operations during the Duterte drug war -- 6,117, a figure far lower than the 30,000 estimated by NGOs watching the situation, police claim those killed were resisting arrest ("nanlaban") in all but a few cases. In its request for authorization to investigate announced this week, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court wrote there is "a reasonable basis to believe that between at least 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019, members of Philippine security forces... deliberately killed thousands of civilians..."

CT Senate Passes Marijuana Legalization Bill, CA Bill to End Drug Mandatory Minimums Advances, More... (6/16/21)

Connecticut edges ever closer to marijuana legalization, Texas sees a modest expansion in its medical marijuana program, and more.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will, unsurprisingly, not cooperate with an ICC investigation into drug war killings. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Senate Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill, But Governor Threatens Veto Over Equity Provision. The state Senate on Tuesday approved a marijuana legalization bill Tuesday, but it faces a veto threat from Gov. Ned Lamont (D) over a social equity provision that allowed anyone with a prior marijuana arrest or conviction priority for a marijuana business license. Lamont's office objected because even wealthy people with a past conviction would get priority. The Senate subsequently amended the bill to set an income limit, but it's unclear if that will satisfy the governor. The bill now heads to the House.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Governor Signs Bill Modestly Expanding Medical Marijuana Program. Gov. Greg Abbott ® on Tuesday signed into law a bill, House Bill 1535, that adds cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions that qualify patients to legally access cannabis and doubles the amount of THC concentration that is allowed, from 0.5 percent to one percent.

Sentencing

California Bill to End Mandatory Minimums for Non-Violent Drug Offenses Wins Assembly Committee Vote. The Assembly Public Safety Committee voted Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 73, which would end mandatory jail and prison sentences for people get convicted of drug possession for a second or subsequent time. This restriction also applies for the sentencing of probation for first-time offenders for a number of nonviolent drug charges. The bill now heads for the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

International

Philippines Will Not Cooperate in International Criminal Court Investigation of Drug War Killings. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will not cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into thousands of killings committed in the course of his bloody war on drugs and drug users, a presidential spokesman said Tuesday. The comment comes a day after the ICC prosecutor asked the court to order a full investigation of the killings, which Duterte unleashed when he took office back in 2016.

Drug War Issues

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