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WA to Make Drug Possession a Misdemeanor, FL Supreme Court Throws Out Legal Pot Initiative, More... (4/26/21)

The Philadelphia City Council votes to bar most pre-employment drug testing for marijuana, leading Democratic senators call on the attorney general to undo a Trump-era ruling that federal prisoners freed because of the pandemic must return to prison once it ends, and more.

Prisons in Washington could be a bit emptier once the state makes drug possession a misdemeanor. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down 2022 Marijuana Legalization Initiative. The state Supreme Court last Thursday threw out a proposed voter initiative constitutional amendment, holding that the measure's ballot summary was misleading because it says it "permits" the possession, production, and sale of marijuana when marijuana is still illegal under federal law. The state's Republican attorney general challenged the initiative on those grounds last year and the state's all Republican-appointed court justices agreed. Now, its back to the drawing board for legalization supporters in the state.

Philadelphia City Council Votes to Prohibit Pre-Employment Drug Screening for Cannabis. The city council voted overwhelmingly to approve a municipal ordinance, Bill No. 200625, that "prohibits employers from requiring prospective employees to undergo testing for the presence of marijuana as a condition of employment, under certain terms and conditions." Some safety-sensitive positions, such as police officers or those who supervise children or medical patients will be exempted, as well drug testing mandated under federal law. Mayor Jim Kenney (D) is expected to sign the measure into law.

Drug Policy

Washington Legislature Passes Bill to Make Drug Possession a Simple Misdemeanor. The legislature on Saturday gave final approval to a bill designed to overhaul the state's drug sentencing scheme after the state Supreme Court in February threw out the state's felony drug possession law. The bill, Senate Bill 5476, passed the Senate with language making drug possession a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, but the House amended it to make possession a simple misdemeanor punishable by only up to 90 days in jail. The House also amended the bill so that it expires in two years, leaving the state with no drug possession law unless the legislature acts again.

Incarceration

Leading Democratic Senators Call on Attorney General to Rescind Trump-Era Ruling That Federal Prisoners Released Because of Pandemic Must Return to Prison When Pandemic Ends. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism, last Friday sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting that he rescind the Office of Legal Counsel's January 15, 2021, memorandum opinion entitled "Home Confinement of Federal Prisoners After the COVID-19 Emergency" (OLC opinion). In their letter, Durbin and Booker write that the OLC opinion, issued during the Trump Administration, incorrectly finds that following the emergency period of the pandemic, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) must recall federal inmates released to home confinement pursuant to the CARES Act and require these inmates to complete their sentences at BOP facilities. In fact, the CARES Act neither requires nor permits BOP to recall these prisoners, according to the letter.

NC Black Man Killed By Cops Was Fleeing Drug Raid, CA Senate Approves Safe Injection Sites, More... (4/23/21)

US-Mexico law enforcement cooperation in battling Mexican drug cartels is at a standstill, a Montana marijuana legalization implementation bill is heading for House and Senate floor votes, and more.

Andrew Brown. Unarmed man killed by North Carolina police as he fled drug raid. (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Implementation Bill. The Senate Select Committee on Marijuana Law has approved House Bill 701, which is aimed at implementing the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization law. The committee approved more than 30 amendments to the bill addressing multiple aspects of legalization implementation. The bill will now head to House and Senate floor votes.

Harm Reduction

California Senate Approves Safe Injection Site Bill. The state Senate on Thursday approved Senate Bill 57, sponsored by Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco). The bill would legalize safe injection sites as pilot programs in Los Angeles County, Oakland, and San Francisco. The bill now heads to the Assembly, and even if approved there and signed into law, it still faces federal hurdles too.

Law Enforcement

Unarmed Black Man Killed By North Carolina Cops Died Fleeing Drug Raid. Andrew Brown, the Elizabeth City, North Carolina, man killed by sheriff's deputies on Tuesday, died after being shot as he attempted to flee the scene in his vehicle. His killing by Pasquotank County deputies has sparked continuing protests, and the sheriff's office is being pressed to release deputies' body cam footage. Witnesses said deputies began shooting at Brown as he started to drive away from law enforcement. The sheriff said all three deputies on the scene fired their weapons.

US Investigations into Drug Cartels Paralyzed by Standoff with Mexico. Former and current officials in both the US and Mexico told Reuters that the fight against Mexican drug trafficking organizations has "ground to a halt" because of strained relations between the two counties. The freeze came after DEA agents arrested a Mexican general who was later released under pressure from Mexico, but that raid sparked the Mexican Congress to enact a new law requiring US drug agents to report their law enforcement contacts in the country to Mexican officials, whom the Americans regard as corrupt. As a result, investigators from both countries have paused their cooperation out of fear that cases could be compromised or informants killed.

International

Colombia Indigenous Community Attacked for Anti-Coca Stance. An indigenous community in the township of Caldono in Cauca province is under attack from armed leftist and rightist groups tied to the coca and cocaine trade. Last Tuesday, indigenous governor Sandra Liliana Peña Chocue, who opposed coca crops in indigenous lands, was assassinated, and last Thursday, at least 31 members of the community were wounded when one of the armed groups opened fire on them as they manually eradicated coca crops.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act gets refiled, a move to block the legalization of any illicit drug in Idaho gets quashed as lawmakers cite the popularity of medical marijuana, and more.

National

Bipartisan Bill to Legalize Medical Marijuana for Military Vets Filed in Congress. A bill that would federally legalize medical marijuana for veterans was refiled in Congress Thursday. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Dave Joyce (R-OH), both co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and nine other original cosponsors filed the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act on the House side, while in the Senate, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) is leading the proposal, and he's joined by five other lawmakers, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The bill would allow vets in states with legal medical marijuana programs to use it with a physician's recommendation, and it would allow doctors at Department of Veterans Affairs to make such recommendations.

Idaho

Idaho House Kills Bill That Would Have Blocked Medical Marijuana. The House on Thursday defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that would have blocked the state from ever legalizing any illicit drug by requiring a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to do so. House Joint Resolution 4 failed after a half-dozen House Republicans voted against it saying Idahoans want medical marijuana.

Iowa

Iowa Lawsuit Challenges Governor's Delay in Seeking Federal Exemption for Medical Marijuana. Veteran activist Carl Olsen has filed a lawsuit against Governor Kim Reynolds (R) after she has failed to move forward with an effort to win an exemption from federal drug laws. The legislature passed and Reynolds signed a bill to do that last year but has failed to act. The lawsuit is an attempt to prod her to move on it.

Louisiana

Louisiana Bill to Allow Smokable Medical Marijuana Advances. A bill to allow and tax smokable marijuana for medical marijuana patients, House Bill 514, passed the House Ways and Means Committee unanimously last Friday. The measure would apply the state's 4.45% sales tax to such products. The bill is now ready for a House floor vote.

Tennessee

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill to allow for the use of medical marijuana, Senate Bill 667, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday and now heads for the Senate Calendar Committee. Companion legislation, House Bill 880, is also moving, having passed out of one House Health subcommittee and scheduled for a House Health Committee vote net week.

VA Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization Into Law, IL House Approves Drug Defelonization Bill, More... (4/22/21)

A Lebanese hash field. Other farmers are now turning to hash to survive. (Cannabisculture.com)
The House votes to temporarily keep fentanyl analogues in Schedule I, the Minnesota pot legalization bill wins an eighth (!) committee vote, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Eighth House Committee Vote. A bill to legalize marijuana, House File 600, won its eighth committee vote Thursday, advancing out of the House Education Finance Committee on an 8-6 vote. It still has at least one more committee to clear before heading for a House Floor vote. It now goes to the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee.

North Carolina Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Four House members have filed a bill to legalize marijuana, House Bill 617. "We all know someone or have a constituent that has contacted House Member's offices for help with a relative or friend being jailed for possession of small amounts of marijuana," Rep. Pricey Harrison said. "We took great care in writing this bill to include items to encourage bipartisan support. This bill will ensure appropriate guidelines and restrictions." The bill includes a provision allowing up to 12 plants for personal cultivation.

Virginia Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization Into Law. Marijuana will become legal on July1 after Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed the bill into law. People will be allowed to possess up an ounce of pot and can grow up to four plants at home. Legal sales will follow once rules and regulations are established.

Birmingham, Alabama, to Issue Blanket Pardons for 15,000 Marijuana Convictions. Mayor Randall Woodfin announced Tuesday that the city will issue blanket pardons for some 15,000 people with misdemeanor pot convictions dating back to 1990. The pardons will be automatic, he said, adding that the move would help people rejoin the work force.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Bill to Allow Smokable Medical Marijuana Advances. The House Health and Welfare Committee voted 12-1 Thursday to advance House Bill 391, which would allow medical marijuana patients to smoke their medicine. Louisiana's dispensaries sell medical marijuana in liquids, topical applications, inhalers and edible gummies. But they are barred from offering raw marijuana in smokable form. The proposal heads next to the full House for debate and a vote.

Drug Policy

House Votes to Approve Temporarily Keeping Fentanyl Analogues in Schedule I. With a voice vote, the House on Wednesday approved an extension of an emergency designation that places fentanyl-like substances in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. The emergency designation is set to expire May 6. In both the House and Senate, there are various bills extend the scheduling of fentanyl analogues for varying lengths of time. This vote gives legislators some time to reach a more permanent agreement. Organizations have criticized the designation as effectively extending the use of mandatory minimum sentencing -- which President Biden has said should be abolished -- and circumventing the science-based process intended to be used in drug scheduling.

Drug Testing

Michigan Senate Approves Bill to Ban "Drug Masking" to Defeat Drug Tests. The state Senate on Wednesday approved Senate Bill 134, which would criminalize using someone else's urine or taking a pill or vitamin to mask the presence of drugs in one's system. The bill makes the offense a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Sentencing

Illinois House Approves Bill to Defelonize Drug Possession. The House on Wednesday approved a bill that would turn drug possession felonies into misdemeanors, House Bill 3447. "This approach not only strengthens communities across Illinois but addresses fundamental problems in our criminal legal system, rejecting decades of failed policy under the moniker of the War on Drugs," said Ben Ruddell, criminal justice policy director with the ACLU of Illinois. "We know that taking a proven public health approach to reducing harms associated with drug use will benefit everyone in the State of Illinois."

International

Lebanese Farmers Turn to Hash Amidst Economic Crisis. Buffeted not only by the coronavirus pandemic but also by the country's deep economic crisis, farmers who for years grew potatoes and other crops are now turning to hashish. "It's not for the love of hashish", explained one farmer. "It's just less expensive than other crops... and allows you to live with dignity."

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A sticky-fingered, pill-popping North Carolina police chief goes down, a Baton Rouge narcotics cop already under indictment for corruption gets another charge, and more. Let's get to it:

In Philadelphia, a Philadelphia police officer was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly lying under oath about observing two Latino men engaging in a drug deal and arresting one of them with no legal justification. Officer James Saxton, 34, now faces charges of perjury, unsworn falsification (for lying on the arrest report), and official oppression.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a Baton Rouge police officer was arrested last Wednesday for the second time in two months. Corporal Jason Acree, a 12-year veteran of the force, was first arrested in February on charges of possession with intent to distribute Schedule I narcotics and official malfeasance as part of a broader takedown of corrupt Baton Rouge narcotics cops. He is now charged also with obstruction of justice.

In Phenix City, Alabama, a Russell County jail guard was arrested last Friday for allegedly smuggling marijuana and other contraband into the jail. Guard Alicia Laury went down after the sheriff's office got information that one of the jailers was in an inappropriate relationship with an inmate and smuggling contraband for him. After being confronted, Laury admitted smuggling a pair of cell phone on one occasion and marijuana, tobacco, and rolling papers on another. She is charged with promoting prison contraband in the second degree, which is a class C felony.

In Chadbourn, North Carolina, the recently-resigned former chief of police was arrested Monday for allegedly stealing drugs, cash, and firearms from the department evidence locker. Former Chief William Anthony Spivey, 35, had resigned two weeks ago amid an investigation into the missing evidence. Spivey went down after the district attorney notified that town manager that the department had not submitted any drug evidence for months, and the ensuing investigation pointed toward him. Among the items reported missing from the evidence room were more than $32,000 in cash, two handguns and a rifle, 367 doses of Xanax and varying amounts of hydrocodone, Oxycontin and methadone. Spivey faces 73 charges, including 31 counts each of stealing or destroying evidence and embezzlement by a public official, as well as trafficking heroin or opium and three counts of trafficking by fraudulent or forging prescriptions.

Biden Won't Commit On Marijuana Legalization Bill, Alabama Forfeiture Reform Advances, More... (4/21/21)

Asset forfeiture reform stalls in Hawaii but advances in Alabama, the Denver city council votes to approve marijuana deliveries and consumption lounges, and more.

Denver. Marijuana deliveries and consumption lounges are coming to the Mile High City. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Biden Won't Commit to Sign Marijuana Legalization Bill If Passed by Congress, Press Secretary Says. President Biden's stance toward a forthcoming marijuana legalization bill is noncommittal, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. She declined to say whether he would sign or veto such a bill. "The president supports leaving decisions regarding legalization for recreational use up to the states, rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts and, at the federal level, he supports decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records," she said. "He also supports legalizing medicinal marijuana so that's his point of view on the issue." When pressed, Psaki added: "He'll look at the research once that's concluded. Of course we understand the movement that's happening toward it. I'm speaking for what his position is and what long, consistently has been his position. He wants to decriminalize, but again, he'll look at the research of the positive and negative impacts."

Denver to Get Marijuana Deliveries and Consumption Lounges. The city council voted Monday night to allow marijuana deliveries and consumption lounges, and Mayor Michael Hancock says he supports the move. Once signed into law, some of the changes could go into effect immediately, but it could take a few months to get delivery services up and running.

Asset Forfeiture

Alabama Senate Approves Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The state Senate on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve a bill that reforms but does not end civil asset forfeiture, Senate Bill 210. The bill, passed with support from prosecutors and law enforcement, would bar the seizure of less than $250 in cash or cars worth less than $5,000, require a finding of probable cause before a forfeiture can occur, require a post-seizure seizure order for property seized without a warrant, bar law enforcement from inducing or requiring a person to waive his interest in a property, and prohibit "disproportionate" seizures. The bill now heads to the House.

Hawaii Asset Forfeiture Reform Effort Fails. A move to reform asset forfeiture procedures and eliminate civil asset forfeiture, Senate Bill 294, has stalled amid disagreements between House and Senate legislators. Under the bill, property cold still be seized without a conviction, but not sell it. House leadership was demanding that the entire section on civil asset forfeiture reform be removed, leading Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Karl Rhoads to say: "The House's position on this issue has changed fairly substantially. I think I still have a very difficult time with the fundamental fairness of having someone's property taken away in a criminal context when they haven't been convicted of anything. "I don't see a way forward."

Will the SAFE Marijuana Banking Act Break Through to the Senate? [FEATURE]

For the second time in as many years, the House of Representatives passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (H.R. 1996) on Monday. The bill is designed to allow state-legal marijuana businesses access to banking and financial services. The bill would bar federal regulators from imposing civil or even criminal penalties on financial institutions that serve those businesses.

In an indication of broad political support for normalizing marijuana, the bill was approved on a bipartisan vote of a 321 to 101, with 91 Republicans and one Independent joining with the Democratic majority. It is not at all clear, however, whether any Republicans in the Senate can be persuaded to follow the lead of their House colleagues when they are presented with a chance to vote on companion legislation, S. 910, in the evenly-divided Senate.

Still, the measure is endorsed by a wide variety of groups, including the National Association of State Treasurers and governors from 21 states and territories.

The bill was authoredby US Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), who has been introducing it since 2013, sponsored by Reps. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Steve Stivers (R-OH), and Warren Davidson (R-OH), and cosponsored by 180 members.

"After years of bringing up this issue, I'm thrilled to see overwhelming support for this bipartisan, commonsense legislation in the US House once again. I feel optimistic about the path forward for the SAFE Banking Act and, more broadly, reforms to our federal cannabis laws," said Perlmutter in a statement after the vote.

"Congress needs to act in order to catch up with the will of the majority of voters across this county and to ensure we are reducing the public safety risk for our constituents and communities," he continued. "I look forward to working with [Senate cosponsors] Senators Merkley and Daines to get the SAFE Banking Act passed in the Senate and signed into law."

For years, state-legal marijuana businesses have been hampered by the lack of access to such business necessities as checking accounts, payroll accounts, and lines of credit because of the financial services industry's fear of running afoul of federal law enforcement. That has required a multi-billion-dollar industry to operate in cash, which poses obvious security problems, as well as depriving banks and other lending institutions access to that capital to invest it productively.

"This bill would finally allow business in states that have legalized cannabis to access to the banking system, just as any other business currently enjoy," said Velasquez. "Doing so will help create jobs in communities throughout America, while stimulating the economy as we recover from the fallout of the pandemic."

"This bill is not about being for or against marijuana, but rather being for the safety and wellbeing of our communities," said Stivers.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) was pleased with the vote.

"This vote marks a meaningful first step in establishing a more equitable cannabis industry and improves the likelihood that other cannabis legislation will advance at the federal level," MPP executive director Steve Hawkins said in a statement.

"Restricting cannabis businesses from accessing financial services creates an unnecessary burden for the industry and limits economic growth," Hawkins added. "If enacted into law, the SAFE Banking Act would strengthen efforts to increase the diversity of the cannabis industry by providing resources for those with limited access to capital and increasing the chances of success for state-level social equity initiatives. Further, it would protect the 321,000 employees directly affected by the cannabis industry's lack of access to financial services."

Now it is up to the Senate. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is working with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) on a full marijuana legalization bill, and there are indications he is concerned that passing more modest reforms before that could undermine that push. But there is also considerable pressure to move on the SAFE Banking Act. Stay tuned.

House Passes SAFE Banking Act, NJ AG Says No Mandatory Minimums for Nonviolent Drug Crimes, More... (4/20/21)

Dallas police will no longer arrest people possessing small amounts of pot, a North Carolina bill seeks to restrict needle exchange programs, and hemp is now legal in all 50 states.

(Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

House Passes Marijuana Banking Bill (Again). The House on Tuesday approved the SAFE Banking Act (House Resolution 1996), which would allow state-legal marijuana businesses to access banking and other financial services. The House also passed the bill last session, but it went nowhere in the then Republican-led Senate.

Alabama Democratic Party Endorses Marijuana Legalization. The state Democratic Party announced Tuesday that it supports the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana in the state. "Nearly 100 years of marijuana prohibition and criminalization has trapped thousands of Alabamians, mostly Black, in our broken criminal justice system," said state Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa). "Reforming policy surrounding cannabis not only serves our state in producing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues, but is an important step in reducing arrests and expunging records. Nobody should be sitting in jail for carrying a little bit of weed."

Dallas Cops Will Finally Stop Charging People for Small Amounts of Pot. Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia has ordered his officers to stop charging people found with small amounts of marijuana. Garcia revealed the policy change in a memo to the City Council last Friday. Under the new policy, people will be arrested only if they possess more than two ounces or if there is evidence of sales. Those caught with between two and four ounces will be ticketed, but not jailed.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Lawsuit Challenges Governor's Delay in Seeking Federal Exemption for Medical Marijuana. Veteran activist Carlo Olsen has filed a lawsuit against Governor Kim Reynolds (R) after she has failed to move forward with an effort to win an exemption from federal drug laws. The legislature passed and Reynolds signed a bill to do that last year but has failed to act. The lawsuit is an attempt to prod her to move on it.

Hemp

With Idaho Governor's Signature on Hemp Bill, Hemp is Now Legal in All 50 States. Gov. Brad Little (R) last Friday signed into law House Bill 126, which legalizes industrial hemp production in the state. Idaho was the last state to legalize hemp after it was federally legalized in 2018.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina NIMBY Bill Would Hamper Needle Exchanges. Spurred by an Asheville neighborhood group that has tried for years to put restrictions on an Asheville needle exchange program, friendly lawmakers have filed Senate Bill 607, which would ban mobile needle exchanges and require engraved needles, background checks, and forced drug treatment. The bill is currently before the Senate Rules and Operations Committee.

Sentencing

New Jersey Attorney General Orders End to Mandatory Minimum Prosecutions in Noviiolent Drug Cases. Calling mandatory minimum sentencing "outdated policy," state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a directive Monday telling prosecutors not to seek such sentences in nonviolent drug cases. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy applauded the new directive in a statement. The policy change means that mandatory minimums are "off the table" in current and future nonviolent drug cases. It also allows people currently serving mandatory minimums for such offenses to seek early release.

SAFE Banking Act House Floor Vote Today, Texas Governor Wants Cartel Terrorist Designation, More... (4/19/21)

Another poll reaffirms marijuana legalization's popularity, the push for legalization in Connecticut has hit a roadblock over social equity, a bill to allow smokable medical marijuana advances in Louisiana, and more.

US Capitol (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Pew Poll Has Nine Out of Ten Americans Supporting Some Form of Marijuana Legalization. A new Pew poll has 91% of Americans in favor of legalizing either recreational marijuana or medical marijuana or both. Sixty percent favored legalizing both, while another 31% said they supported legalizing only medical marijuana.

House to Vote on Marijuana Banking Bill Today. House Majority Leader Stony Hoyer (D-MD) has confirmed that the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, House Resolution 1996, will get a House floor vote on Monday. This will be the first floor action on any marijuana-related legislation this session.

Connecticut Marijuana Legalization Hits Roadblock Over Social Equity. Efforts to legalize marijuana this year are in danger after Gov. Ned Lamont (D) and key lawmakers reached an impasse over social equity provisions that the legislators say Lamont's bill is lacking. They said last week they could not support Lamont's bill without stronger social equity provisions. Lamont, for his part, appears ready to wait until next year if necessary. "I think [legalization is] in the best interest of public health and I don't want to surrender this to the underground market and I don't want to surrender it to outside markets. That said, if you get a bill that you think doesn't meet some basic requirements, you'll put it off another year just like they have for many years in the past. You can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," he said Friday.

Wisconsin GOP Senate Leader Rules Out Action on Marijuana Legalization. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) said last Thursday that the Republican-controlled state legislature will not legalize recreational or medical marijuana. "We don't have support from the caucus. That's pretty clear, that we don't have 17 votes in the caucus for medicinal purposes or recreational purposes [to] legalize it," LeMahieu said. He added that states should not pass laws that are "in conflict with the federal government."

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Bill to Allow Smokable Medical Marijuana Advances. A bill to allow and tax smokable marijuana for medical marijuana patients, House Bill 514, passed the House Ways and Means Committee unanimously last Friday. The measure would apply the state's 4.45% sales tax to such products. The bill is now ready for a House floor vote.

Foreign Policy

Texas Governor Demands Biden Add Cartels to Terrorist List but Didn't Demand the Same of Trump. Governor Greg Abbott (R) has accused the Biden administration of just "standing by" as Mexican cartels "terrorize" South Texas and is demanding that President Biden add the cartels to the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations. In doing so, he cited the November 2019 killing of nine US citizens in a cartel attack in northern Mexico, which occurred during the Trump presidency. Abbott never made any such demand of Trump, nor did he complain when Trump, who had threatened such a move, backed down under pressure from Mexico.

MedMJ for Vets Bill in Congress, Pfizer Donating One Million Naloxone Doses, More... (4/16/21)

A medical marijuana bill moves in Tennessee, Idaho lawmakers defeat an anti-drug legalization constitutional amendment, and more.

the opioid overdose antidote naloxone (gov.pa)
Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Bill to Legalize Medical Marijuana for Military Vets Filed in Congress. A bill that would federally legalize medical marijuana for veterans was refiled in Congress Thursday. Reps. Barbara lee (D-CA) and Dave Joyce (R-OH), both co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and nine other original cosponsors filed the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act on the House side, while in the Senate, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) is leading the proposal, and he's joined by five other lawmakers, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The bill would allow vets in states with legal medical marijuana programs to use it with a physician's recommendation, and it would allow doctors at Department of Veterans Affairs to make such recommendations.

Idaho House Kills Bill That Would Have Blocked Medical Marijuana. The House on Thursday defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that would have blocked the state from ever legalizing any illicit drug by requiring a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to do so. House Joint Resolution 4 failed after a half-dozen House Republicans voted against it saying Idahoans want medical marijuana.

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill to allow for the use of medical marijuana, Senate Bill 667, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday and now heads for the Senate Calendar Committee. Companion legislation, House Bill 880, is also moving, having passed out of one House Health subcommittee and scheduled for a House Health Committee vote net week.

Harm Reduction

Pfizer to Donate One Million Doses of Naloxone in a Bid to Blunt Overdose Deaths. Responding to a record number of drug overdose deaths in the United States, Pfizer has made a commitment to Direct Relief to donate 1 million doses of the drug naloxone, which saves lives by reversing opioid overdoses.The newly committed 1 million doses are in addition to the more than 1 million doses Pfizer has donated since 2017, which Direct Relief has distributed at no cost to nonprofit, community-based organizations across the United States. Deaths and emergency room visits from opioid overdoses have accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to preliminary data released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 87,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in September 2020 -- the highest number of deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.

Drug Policy

Washington Senate Approves Bill to Make Drug Possession a Misdemeanor. The Senate voted Thursday to approve Senate Bill 5476, which would make drug possession a misdemeanor. The bill comes after the state Supreme Court threw out the state's felony drug possession law, leaving drug possession decriminalized. Some legislators argued for decriminalizing drug possession; others argued for refelonizing it but making it a misdemeanor is what the Senate passed.

International

Canada Opposition MP Files Drug Decriminalization Bill. New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Don Davies, who also serves as the party's health critic, has filed a private member's bill to remove provisions criminalizing drug possession from the Criminal Code. "Decades of criminalization, a toxic illicit street supply and a lack of timely access to harm reduction, treatment and recovery services have caused this ongoing catastrophe. It's time to treat substance use and addiction as the health issues they truly are," he said at a news conference. A Liberal bill to reform drug laws filed in February doesn't go far enough, Davies said.

Biden's Drug Policy Priorities Are a Small Step in the Right Direction, But Old Attitudes Linger [FEATURE]

On April 1, the Biden administration gave us the first big hint of what its drug policy will look like as it released the congressionally-mandated Statement of Drug Policy Priorities for Year One. The result is a definite mixed bag: a heavy dose of drug prevention, treatment, and recovery, along with an acknowledgement of harm reduction and a nod in the direction of racially-sensitive criminal justice reform, but also a reflexive reliance on prohibitionist drug war policies both at home and abroad.

And nothing about the most widely used illicit drug by far: marijuana. The word "marijuana" appears not once in the heavily annotated 11-page document, and the word "cannabis" only once, in the title of an academic research paper about the onset of teen drug use in the footnotes. That's perhaps not so surprising, given that, in response to a reporter's question, Vice President Harris said last week the administration was too busy dealing with other crises to worry about making good its campaign pledges about marijuana reform.

What is on the administration's mind is "the overdose and addiction crisis." Citing ever-increasing drug overdose deaths, the statement says "addressing the overdose and addiction epidemic is an urgent priority for [the] administration." But the solution is not to imprison drug users, with the statement noting that "President Biden has also said that people should not be incarcerated for drug use but should be offered treatment instead." (Underlying that seemingly humane approach is the errant presumption that all or most drug users are addicts in need of treatment when, depending on the drug, only between one in five and one in 10 drug users fit that dependent or problematic drug user description.)

Here are the Biden administration's drug policy priorities, all of which are gone into in detail in the statement:

  • Expanding access to evidence-based treatment;
  • Advancing racial equity issues in our approach to drug policy;
  • Enhancing evidence-based harm reduction efforts;
  • Supporting evidence-based prevention efforts to reduce youth substance use;
  • Reducing the supply of illicit substances;
  • Advancing recovery-ready workplaces and expanding the addiction workforce; and
  • Expanding access to recovery support services.

Prioritizing treatment, prevention, and recovery is bound to be music to the ears of advocacy groups such as Faces and Voices in Recovery (FAVOR), whose own federal policy and advocacy priorities, while focusing on specific legislation, lean in the same direction. But the group also advocates for harm reduction practices the administration omits, particularly supervised consumption sites. FAVOR noted the administration's statement without comment.

As with the failure to even mention marijuana, the Biden administration's failure to include supervised consumption sites in its embrace of harm reduction -- it is wholeheartedly behind needle exchanges, for example -- is another indication that the administration is in no hurry no rush down a progressive drug reform path. And its prioritizing of supply reduction implies continued drug war in Latin America ("working with key partners like Mexico and Colombia") and at home, via support of High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) and "multi-jurisdictional task forces and other law enforcement efforts to disrupt and dismantle transnational drug trafficking and money laundering organizations." Prohibition is a hard drug to kick.

Still, naming advancing racial equity issues as a key priority is evidence that the Biden administration is serious about getting at some of the most perverse and corrosive outcomes of the war on drugs and is in line with its broader push for racial justice, as exemplified by Executive Order 13985, "Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government," issued on Biden's first day in office. And it is in this context that criminal justice system reform gets prioritized, although somewhat vaguely, with the promise of the creation of an "interagency working group to agree on specific policy priorities for criminal justice reform."

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has some specific policy priorities for criminal justice reform, too, and they go far beyond where the administration is at. In its 2020 Roadmap for the incoming administration released in November, the group calls for federal marijuana legalization, drug decriminalization, and a slew of other criminal justice and policing reforms ranging from ending mandatory minimum sentencing and the deportation of non-citizens for drug possession to barring no-knock police raids, ending the transfer of military surplus equipment for counter-narcotics law enforcement, and dismantling the DEA. And the federal government should get out of the way of supervised consumption sites, or in DPA's politically attuned language "overdose prevention centers."

"We're glad the administration is taking important steps to address the overdose crisis -- by increasing access and funding to harm reduction services and reducing barriers to life-saving medications -- especially as people are dying at an alarming rate. We also appreciate their commitment to studying how to advance racial equity in our drug policies and best implement innovative practices on the ground. But it's clearly not enough. We need action," DPA Director of the Office of National Affairs Maritza Perez said in a statement responding to the administration's statement. "Black, Latinx and Indigenous people continue to lose their lives at the hands of law enforcement in the name of the drug war, and yet, the administration has chosen to prioritize increased funding for law enforcement. We need supervised consumption sites, not more money for police."

"And while we commend the Administration for taking steps to reduce employment discrimination, unless we address the biggest barrier for people trying to get a job -- past drug convictions and arrests -- we will still be left with significant inequities and racial disparities in the workplace," Perez continued. "It's time we get serious about saving lives and repairing the damage that has been caused by the drug war, particularly on Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities. We can start by passing federal marijuana reform and ending the criminalization of people for drugs in all forms."

Young drug reformers also had a few bones to pick with the administration's priorities. In their own statement in response to the administration, Students for Sensible Drug Policy applauded priorities such as more access to treatment and more research on racial equity, it complained that the administration priorities "fail to provide adequate support to Young People Who Use Drugs (YPWUD) in this country" -- especially those who use drugs non-problematically.

"There are no steps being taken to support YPWUD that do not want to and will not stop using drugs," SSDP said. "Young people have feared and faced the consequences of punitive drug policies and shouldered the burden of caring for their peers who use drugs for far too long. Young leaders calling for drug policy reform recognize that simply using drugs is not problematic and that we can support the safe and prosperous futures of People Who Use Drugs (PWUD) without forcing them to stop as a pre-condition for compassion, care, and opportunity."

Although only time will tell, for drug reformers, the Biden administration is looking like a step in the right direction, but only a step, and its policy prescriptions are limited by a vision of drug use rooted in the last century. Perhaps they can be pressured and prodded to plot a more progressive drug policy path.

Record Support for MJ Legalization in Quinnipiac Poll, CA Psychedelic Decrim Bill Advances, More... (4/15/21)

A Minnesota marijuana legalization bill continues to move in the House, the acting drug czar pledges more funds for drug treatment and greater access to overdose reversal drugs, and more.

Coca and cocaine are on the mind of the Colombian government this week. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Quinnipiac Poll Has Record High Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Quinnipiac University poll has support for marijuana legalization at 69%, the highest number ever reported in the poll. That's an increase of 18 points since Quinnipiac first polled the question in 2012. There was majority support for legalization in every demographic group, even people over 65 (51%) and Republicans (62%).

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins 6th Committee Vote. A marijuana legalization bill, House File 600, won a sixth House committee vote Wednesday in the Judiciary Finance and Criminal Law Committee. It now goes to the State Government Elections and Finance Committee.

Drug Treatment

Acting Drug Czar Pledges to Expand Drug Treatment as Overdose Deaths Rise. Regina M. LaBelle, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) told House lawmakers Wednesday the administration is moving to muster significant federal resources to close gaps in drug treatment availability and make overdose reversing medications more available. She noted that the administration last week submitted its proposed budget to Congress, which included more than $10 billion for addiction programs, an increase of 57% from current funding levels.

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Wins Another Committee Vote. The Senate Health Committee voted 6-2 Wednesday to a bill to decriminalize the possession of a variety of psychedelics, Senate Bill 519. The legislation sponsored by Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

International

Colombia Government Issues Decree Setting the State for Resumption of Aerial Fumigation of Coca Crop. In a joint message this week, Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz and Defense Minister Diego Molano announced Presidential Decree 380, which sets guidelines for the "program for the eradication of illicit crops by aerial spraying." While ministers clarified that the framework "does not automatically reactivate the Program," it is another step in Conservative President Ivan Duque's long-desired effort to reactivate the program, which was halted by former President Juan Manuel Santos in 2015 after the World Health Organization (WHO) deemed it "probably carcinogenic to humans."

Colombia Congress Debates Bill to Regulate Coca and Cocaine. The Congress has begun debate on a bill that would regulate coca and its derivatives. The bill is from two opposition parties, the Green Alliance and the Indigenous and Social Alternative Movement (MAIS). "Ending the drug trafficking business implies turning drug trafficking into a bad business for the mafias, and this is achieved by regularizing the business by the State. Let's remove it from the logic of violence," said Liberal Senator Luis Fernando Velasco. The debate continues.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Busy, busy, busy. Crooked pot-robbing California deputies, a pervy Pennsylvania DARE officer, a gun-stealing heroin addict Connecticut cop, and more. Let's get to it:

In Columbia, South Carolina, a jail guard at the MacDougall Institution was arrested March 24 for allegedly conspiring with inmates to smuggle cellphone, cigarettes, and marijuana into the jail. Guard Jatuane Malik Huggins, 24, supposedly got $1,500 for his efforts, but now faces a charge of furnishing contraband to inmates. And he's been fired.

In Houston, a Harris County deputy constable was arrested last Tuesday for allegedly laundering more than $300,000 in drug money. Deputy Constable Alexander Reyes faces charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. He's looking at 10 years to life in prison.

In Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a former Warrington Township DARE officer was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly molesting at least four boys who were in the DARE program between 1996 and 2009. James Carey, 52, is accused of molesting the boys during camping trips and at a local recreation center. He's been charged with 122 counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, unlawful contact with a minor, statutory sexual assault, official oppression and related offenses.

In Fort Myers, Florida, a guard at the Charlotte Correctional Institution was arrested last Thursday for plotting to smuggle drugs into the jail. Guard Leslie Spencer, 48, allegedly agreed to smuggle three ounces of methamphetamine, three ounces of MDMA, a small amount of synthetic marijuana, and two cellphones into the prison and provide it to an inmate in exchange for a payment of $400. It was a sting operation by the FBI, and now Spencer faces a charge of attempted possession with the intent to distribute controlled substances. If convicted, he's looking at up to 20 years in federal prison.

In New York City, an NYPD officer was arrested Monday for selling weed and another, unspecified drug. Officer Catherine Soto, 31, is charged with criminal sale of a controlled substance, criminal sale of marijuana, official misconduct, criminal possession of a controlled substance and unlawful possession of marijuana, police said.

In Pensacola, Florida, an Escambia Road Prison guard was arrested Monday for allegedly smuggling drugs into the jail. Guard Byron Jermaine Banks, 29, was a camera operator at the prison and allegedly used his knowledge of the surveillance system to find blind spots where he could pass drugs to inmates. He went down after the inmate he gave drugs to got caught and gave him up. He's facing two felony counts of smuggling contraband into a detention facility.

In Greenwich, Connecticut, a former Greenwich police officer pleaded guilty Monday to stealing guns from another police department to help feed his heroin habit. In two separate incidents, Joseph Ryan, 57, stole five guns from one department and three guns from another and gave them to his dealer. He pleaded guilty to once count of possession of firearms by an unlawful user of a controlled substance. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

In Houston, a former Houston police officer was sentenced March 25 to 87 months in federal prison for stealing drugs during a traffic stop. Julissa Diaz, 41, went down during an internal affairs sting in 2017. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

In Los Angeles, a former LA County sheriff's deputy was sentenced Monday to seven years in federal prison for staging a fake drug raid of a warehouse and stealing more than 1,200 pounds of marijuana and $600,00 in cash. Marc Antrim, 43,pleaded guilty two years ago to five felonies, including conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, and deprivation of rights under color of law. He also agreed to forfeit a Mercedes-Benz sedan, and cash and money orders taken in the October 2018 robbery. He is the last of six people charged in the scheme. All of the others have been sentenced to various prison sentences of up to 14 years.

Medical Marijuana Update

Some Delaware dispensaries are under fire from legalization activists, South Dakota's Republican governor still wants to change the voter-approved medical marijuana law, there's progress in the South, and more.

Alabama

Alabama Medical Marijuana Bill Wins House Committee Vote. A medical marijuana bill that has already passed the Senate, Senate Bill 46, was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last Wednesday. The bill now goes to the House Health Committee before heading for a House floor vote. The bill would allow the use of marijuana by people with specified qualifying conditions.

Delaware

Delaware Marijuana Activists Stage Boycott of Medical Dispensaries That Testified Against Legalization Bill. Marijuana legalization advocates have called a boycott of four medical marijuana dispensaries after their representatives testified against a marijuana legalization bill last month. The four companies are Columbia Care, Fresh Delaware, CannTech and EZY Venture. They testified that allowing legalization would oversaturate the market, with some even talking about how it could hurt their bottom lines. The Delaware Cannabis Policy Coalition accused the companies of "simply obstructing the progress of adult-use legislation" and added that "some patients are now staging a boycott of the regulated dispensaries."

Georgia

Georgia Legislature Approves Bill to Allow Marijuana Oil Dispensaries. With a final vote in the Assembly, the legislature has passed House Bill 738, which will allow for the production and distribution of marijuana oil. The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Brian Kemp (R).

North Carolina

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. A medical marijuana bill with bipartisan has been filed in the Senate. Senate Bill 711, the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act, would protect doctors and patients from civil and criminal penalties for using or recommending medical marijuana and would allow the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana in the state. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations.

South Dakota

South Dakota Governor Still Wants Changes in Medical Marijuana Program. Despite being rebuffed by lawmakers during the last legislative session, Gov. Kristi Noem (R) says she wants a special session convened to address the same proposed changes lawmakers just rejected. She wants to set the maximum number of plants grown at three, she wants the Department of Health to be the rule-making authority for the program, and she wants to bar people under 21 from being eligible to use medical marijuana.

Texas

Texas Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Advances. A bill that would expand the state's compassionate use program for medical marijuana, House Bill 1535, has passed the House Public Health Committee. The bill would expand the program, which currently only applies to terminal cancer patients, to include other cancer patients, veterans with PTSD, and chronic pain that would otherwise be treated by an opioid.

OD Deaths Hit Record High During Pandemic, Campaign to End Crack Cocaine Sentence Disparity, More... (4/14/21)

Washington's governor commutes some drug possession sentences after the state's Supreme Court voids its felony drug possession law, the St. Louis County Council votes to decriminalize pot possession, the Orleans Parish prosecutors is not going to try most drug possession cases anymore and more.

There's a move afoot in Congress to finally end the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Poll Finds Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization, Expungement. As legislators ponder whether to make Connecticut the next state to legalize marijuana, a new poll from Sacred Heart University shows strong popular support for the move. The poll had support at 66%, with 62% saying that if marijuana is legalized, those with prior marijuana convictions should have their records expunged.

St. Louis County Council Votes to Decriminalize Pot Possession. The council Tuesday night approved a resolution reducing the penalty for possessing less than 35 grams of marijuana to a fine of less than $100. The previous penalty had been up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.The Maplewood City Council also passed legislation Tuesday night to decriminalize marijuana possession.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. A medical marijuana bill with bipartisan has been filed in the Senate. Senate Bill 711, the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act, would protect doctors and patients from civil and criminal penalties for using or recommending medical marijuana and would allow the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana in the state. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations.

Drug Policy

Orleans Parish District Attorney Will No Longer Charge Small-Time Drug Possession Offenses, Except for Heroin and Fentanyl. The Orleans Parish District Attorney's office has adopted a policy of refusing to prosecute charges for possession of small amounts of drugs. New Orleans police may continue to arrest people for small-time possession, but they will not be prosecuted for "an amount intended for personal use." But there is one big exception: Heroin and fentanyl charges will continue to be prosecuted.

Pardons and Commutations

Washington Governor Commutes Sentences After Felony Drug Possession Law Thrown Out. In the wake of a state Supreme Court decision voiding the state's felony drug possession law, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced Tuesday that he had commuted the sentences of 13 prisoners who were incarcerated on drug possession charges. More commutations are coming, his office said.

Sentencing

Coalition Asks Judiciary Committee Chairs to Eliminate Crack-Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. More than two dozen think tanks and advocacy groups from across the political spectrum have banded together to call on the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees to end the crack-powder cocaine federal sentencing disparity by passing Senate Bill 71, the EQUAL Act. Sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), the bill would eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and make that change retroactive.

Biden Administration Supports Temporary Extension of Ban on Fentanyl Analogues. The Justice Department said Monday it would support a bill that would extend a temporary ban on fentanyl analogues for another seven months. The Trump-era ban is set to expire next month without action by Congress. The department said it would "work with Congress to seek a clean, seven-month extension to prevent this important law enforcement tool from lapsing." The move has been opposed by criminal justice reform groups some researchers, who worry it could incite mass incarceration and make research more difficult. The department acknowledged these concerns, saying it intends to "address legitimate concerns related to mandatory minimums (prison terms) and researcher access to these substances."

Public Health

Drug Overdoses Hit Record High During Pandemic. Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that more than 87,000 people died of drug overdoses in the 12-month period that ended in September. That's the largest number for any year since the opioid epidemic began in the mid-1990s. The biggest jump in deaths took place in April and May, in the depths of pandemic lockdowns and attendant fear and stress.

Marijuana Activist and Strategist Steve Fox Dead at 53

Longtime marijuana legalization activist and strategic thinker Steve Fox has died way too young. Below, we reprint verbatim the following notice from his colleagues at Vicente Sederberg, the nation's most prominent marijuana law firm:

RIP Steve Fox (Vicente Sederberg LLP)
Dear Family, Friends, and Colleagues,

We are truly heartbroken to share news of the passing of our partner and dear friend Steve Fox. Steve served as managing partner of VS Strategies since co-founding it in 2013, and was a leader at Vicente Sederberg LLP since its formation in 2010.

We welcome the celebration of Steve's life through the sharing of thoughts and memories, and we ask for respect and privacy for his family, friends, and coworkers who are still reeling from this loss. We have also started a GoFundMe page to support Steve's wife and daughters as they navigate their way through this extremely difficult time (Visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-the-family-of-steve-fox to contribute.)

With wisdom beyond his years and a pioneering spirit, Steve was an "old soul" with a knack for seeing things in a new light. He was strongly principled, deeply empathic, and fiercely kind. And despite his usually soft-spoken and lighthearted demeanor, his opinions rarely went unheard and always carried significant weight. His passion for politics and policy was exceeded only by his passion for people--his family, friends, and colleagues, as well as the multitude of strangers that he knew were being affected every day by politics and policy. He had a burning desire and uncanny ability to envision and effect positive change, both societally and in those closest to him. He was not just a remarkable human being, but a truly transformational leader.

Steve was always the first to volunteer and the last to seek credit. He was beyond generous with his time and patience, and perpetually understanding. He relished opportunities to provide counsel and guidance, and the feeling was mutual for those who received it. He was warmly regarded as a mentor by no fewer than a dozen current and former members of our firm, including all seven of us.

Steve was one of the first political professionals to enter the marijuana advocacy space. At a time when cannabis policy was just a blip on the political radar and most savvy up-and-comers were unwilling to dip a toe into the space, Steve dove in headfirst. While many viewed it as a losing cause that wasn't worth the fight, he saw it as a cause worth fighting for until it was won.

And in working to legalize and regulate cannabis for medical and adult use, he found a way to fight simultaneously for several of his core values: To promote justice and compassion, to advance freedom and liberty, and to nurture and inspire the human spirit. Humbly righteous, judiciously aggressive, and relentlessly ethical, he was committed to doing the right thing, doing it the right way, and doing whatever it takes to get it done.

When he joined the Marijuana Policy Project in 2002, Steve was the only full-time cannabis lobbyist on Capitol Hill. He would remain at the forefront of the cannabis policy reform movement for nearly two decades, playing pivotal roles in several major victories at the federal and state levels. Steve was a lead drafter of Colorado's historic Amendment 64, which legalized cannabis for adult use, and he managed all aspects of the successful campaign behind its passage and implementation.

He also conceptualized and co-founded Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), which laid a lot of groundwork for the legalization effort and contributed to a seismic shift in the U.S. cannabis policy debate. In 2009, he co-authored the book :Marijuana Is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink," which is based on the SAFER strategy.

Long before cannabis was legalized, he envisioned a legal, organized, and responsible cannabis industry. He played leading roles in conceptualizing and establishing several of the nation's largest and most influential cannabis trade organizations, including the National Cannabis Industry Association, the Cannabis Trade Federation, and the U.S. Cannabis Council. He regularly led working group meetings and calls, and he was a frequent speaker at cannabis conferences.

Steve's role in cannabis community cannot be overstated. He was a trailblazer in the movement to end prohibition, and he was an architect and caretaker of the legal industry that is quickly replacing it. He beat the path, built the shelter, and worked tirelessly to make it as welcoming, accessible, and beneficial as possible. He always put the mission--the wellbeing of others and the betterment of society-- ahead of himself. No one was more reluctant tosing their own praises while being so deserving of a louder refrain.

In 2013, Steve received a highly esteemed award from the Drug Policy Alliance in recognition of his long-term spearheading of the Colorado legalization effort. With an audience of hundreds and the spotlight squarely on him, he used the better part of his brief acceptance speech to give recognition to the people and organizations who had supported and worked alongside him.

He reserved only the final thought for his own personal message and dedication. It was to his parents, for raising him to believe in the Jewish philosophy "Tikkun olam" to repair or heal the world through beneficial and constructive acts. That is what drove Steve to take on the cause of cannabis policy reform. And it was what drove Steve to be the person he was.

Tikkun olam. Mission accomplished, dear friend.

Shawn Hauser
Josh Kappel
Andrew Livingston
Christian Sederberg
Mason Tvert
Brian Vicente
Jordan Wellington

And the entire VSS and VS family

NM Legalizes Marijuana, Criminal Justice Reformer Named DEA Chief, More... (4/13/21)

A simple policy change causes a massive drop in pot arrests in San Antonio, the Maryland legislature has approved the legalization of drug paraphernalia, Vancouver sets proposed drug decriminalization quantities, and more.

New Mexico becomes the latest state to legalize marijuana, and the third in the past few weeks. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances Again. A marijuana legalization bill, House File 600, passed a fifth House committee Monday. The bill was approved by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee on an 11-7 vote. It now heads to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee, which is scheduled to take up the measure on Wednesday.

New Mexico Legalizes Marijuana. With the signature Monday of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) on a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2, New Mexico has legalized marijuana, becoming the 17th state to do so, the third to do so in the past few weeks, along with New York and Virginia, and the seventh to do since last November's elections.

San Antonio Pot Prosecutions Down 99% Since 2018. Under a cite and release policy instituted by Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales (D), the number of people arrested for marijuana possession has dropped dramatically. In 2018, the DA's office prosecuted 4,515 misdemeanor marijuana possession cases, but in 2020, that number had dropped to 15. That's a 99.6% decrease.

Drug Policy

Biden Names Criminal Justice Reform Advocate Anne Milgram to Head DEA. President Joe Biden (D) has selected former New Jersey attorney general Anne Milgram, a longtime criminal justice system reform advocate, to head the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the White House said Monday. The agency has been without a Senate-confirmed leader since the Obama administration.

Maryland Legislature Approves Bill to Legalize Drug Paraphernalia. The General Assembly on Monday approved a bill to legalize the possession of drug paraphernalia, Senate Bill 420. The bill has already passed the Senate, so it now heads to the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan (R). The House passed the bill by a veto-proof margin, but the Senate tally was one short of the number needed to override a veto.

Sentencing

California Bill to End Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenses Passes Senate. A bill that seeks to end mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, Senate Bill 73, passed the Senate Monday on a 25-10 vote. The bill now heads to the California State Assembly.

International

Vancouver Outlines Personal Possession Amounts for Drug Decriminalization Proposal. As part of its application to Health Canada for a federal exemption from federal drug laws to decriminalize drug possession in the city, Vancouver has outlined its recommendations for what amounts should be decriminalized. The city is recommending the decriminalization of one gram or 10 rocks for crack cocaine, 1.5 grams for amphetamines, two grams for opioids such as heroin and fentanyl, and three grams for cocaine. Mayor Kennedy Stewart said Monday the goal is remove criminal penalties and reduce stigma by focusing on a health-centered approach.

MD Lawmakers Pass Major Police Reforms Through Veto Override, Tijuana Travel Warning Issued, More... (4/12/21)

An American citizen in Dubai faces three years in prison after testing positive for marijuana, Delaware marijuana legalization activists urge boycott of dispensaries that testified against legalization bill, and more.

Tijuana street scene. The State Department has issued a travel warning because of cartel violence. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Delaware Marijuana Activists Stage Boycott of Medical Dispensaries That Testified Against Legalization Bill. Marijuana legalization advocates have called a boycott of four medical marijuana dispensaries after their representatives testified against a marijuana legalization bill last month. The four companies are Columbia Care, Fresh Delaware, CannTech and EZY Venture. They testified that allowing legalization would oversaturate the market, with some even talking about how it could hurt their bottom lines. The Delaware Cannabis Policy Coalition accused the companies of "simply obstructing the progress of adult-use legislation" and added that "some patients are now staging a boycott of the regulated dispensaries."

Drug Testing

Mississippi Ban on Sale of Urine, Fake or Real, to Beat Drug Tests Signed into Law. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) signed into law Senate Bill 2569 last Friday. The bill makes it a crime to sell, market, or give away real or fake human urine to produce negative results on a drug test. A first offense can earn up to six months in jail, with a second offense earning up to a year and a third offense earning up to three years in prison.

Law Enforcement

Maryland Passes Sweeping Police Reform Legislation. Overriding a veto by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), the legislature last Saturday passed a package of three bills -- Senate Bill 71, Senate Bill 178, and House Bill 670 -- that restrict the use of no-knock warrants, limits police officers' use of force, and repeals the country's first Bill of Rights for law enforcement. Passage of the package was impelled by the nationwide protests that followed the death of George Floyd in police custody. "This is what the community wants -- they want reform, they want transparency, and they want accountability," said Caylin A. Young, public policy director of the ACLU of Maryland, which was part of a coalition of 90 groups that had backed the bills. "There needs to be a reimagining of what policing in Maryland looks like."

International

US Citizen Detained in Dubai for Marijuana-Positive Drug Test. An American man who was hospitalized in Dubai for an attack of pancreatitis and who subsequently tested positive for marijuana at the hospital has been detained for violating the drug laws of the United Arab Emirates, which consider a positive drug test as equating with possession. Peter Clark, 51, had smoked marijuana in Las Vegas before flying to Dubai. He was jailed for three days in foul conditions before being released to a hotel. He is facing up to three years in prison.

State Department Issues Travel Alert for Tijuana, Mexicali Valley. The US Embassy in Mexico City has issued a security alert warning citizens to take care when traveling in Tijuana and the nearby Mexicali Valley because of violent conflict between drug trafficking groups in Tijuana. "Travelers should exercise extra caution when traveling in and around Mexicali, the Mexicali Valley, and the western part of the state of Sonora due to the potential for increased violence between rival cartel factions. Members of the embassy community have been warned to avoid the Mexicali area until further notice," the US embassy said. The Sinaloa Cartel is attempting to fend off a takeover attempt of the Tijuana plaza by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), which has recently threatened the state governor and members of his cabinet.

Mexico MJ Legalization Hits Senate Snag, CDC OKs Fed Funds for Fentanyl Test Strips, More... (4/9/21)

A bill to decriminalize buprenorphine is heading for the Vermont Senate, New Zealand makes a pilot pill testing program permanent, and more.

A deadly amount of fentanyl. The White House has approved federal funds for test strips to prevent overdoses. (DEA)
Harm Reduction

Biden Administration Allows Federal Funds to Be Used to Buy Rapid Fentanyl Test Strips. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) announced Thursday that federal funds can now be used to purchase rapid fentanyl test strips. According to a press release, organizations previously awarded funding through the CDC's Overdose Data to Action cooperative agreement program can use funds to purchase the test strips. SAMSHA grants can be used to buy the strips so long as doing so aligns with "the purpose of the grant," a CDC spokesperson explained. "This is a major step forward in the ongoing and critical work to prevent overdose and connect people who have substance use disorders to evidence-based treatment options," said Tom Coderre, the interim leader at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA). "This will save lives by providing tools to identify the growing presence of fentanyl in the nation's illicit drug supply."

Vermont House Approves Bill Decriminalizing Buprenorphine. The House on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to approve House Bill 225, which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid dependence. The bill would people to possess up to 224 milligrams of the drug -- about two weeks' worth -- even if they don't have a doctor's prescription. The bill now heads to the Senate.

International

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Hits Last-Minute Snag, Another Extension May Be Sought. The bill, which is just a Senate vote away from passage after being approved in the Senate and then amended in the Chamber of Deputies, has run into opposition from senators unhappy with the revised version of the bill. Senate Majority Leader Ricardo Monreal said Thursday he may seek an extension of the Supreme Court's latest deadline to end marijuana prohibition, which the court has held is unconstitutional. Under the current deadline, lawmakers only have until the end of the month to get it done. Now, action could be delayed until the legislature meets again in September.

New Zealand Makes Pill Testing Program Permanent. Pleased with the results of a one-year pilot program to allow drug users to get their drugs tested without penalty, the government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Friday that it is making the program permanent. During the pilot program, nearly half of all samples tested contained contaminants, with cathinones being especially common in pills marketed as MDMA. The pill (or powder) testing has most commonly taken place at music festivals.

Virginia Legalizes Marijuana, California Safe Injection Site Bill Advances, More... (4/8/21)

Medical marijuana bills advance in several states, Virginia legalizes marijuana, a West Virginia bill to continue mandatory drug screening and testing of welfare recipients passed the House, and more.

California could see pilot safe injection site programs if a bill in the state Senate passes. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Legalizes Marijuana. With a tie-breaking vote by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), the state Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to Senate Bill 1406, which legalizes marijuana in the state. The legislature also approved amendments by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) that included moving up the date of the legalization of pot possession from 2024 to this coming July. Virginia now becomes the 16th state to have legalized marijuana (New Mexico has passed a bill but it has not been signed into law yet.)

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Medical Marijuana Bill Wins House Committee Vote. A medical marijuana bill that has already passed the Senate, Senate Bill 46, was approved by the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. The bill now goes to the House Health Committee before heading for a House floor vote. The bill would allow the use of marijuana by people with specified qualifying conditions.

Georgia Legislature Approves Bill to Allow Marijuana Oil Dispensaries. With a final vote in the Assembly, the legislature has passed House Bill 738, which will allow for the production and distribution of marijuana oil. The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Brian Kemp (R).

South Dakota Governor Still Wants Changes in Medical Marijuana Program. Despite being rebuffed by lawmakers during the last legislative session, Gov. Kristi Noem (R) says she wants a special session convened to address the same proposed changes lawmakers just rejected. She wants to set the maximum number of plants grown at three, she wants the Department of Health to be the rule-making authority for the program, and she wants to bar people under 21 from being eligible to use medical marijuana.

Texas Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Advances. A bill that would expand the state's compassionate use program for medical marijuana, House Bill 1535, has passed the House Public Health Committee. The bill would expand the program, which currently only applies to terminal cancer patients, to include other cancer patients, veterans with PTSD, and chronic pain that would otherwise be treated by an opioid.

Hemp

Idaho Legislature Approves Hemp Bill. With a final vote in the Senate Wednesday, the legislature approved a bill to legalize hemp production in the state, House Bill 126. The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Brad Little (R). Idaho is the only state that has yet to legalize hemp production.

Drug Testing

West Virginia House Approves Bill to Extend Drug Testing Requirement for Welfare Recipients. The House of Delegates on Wednesday approved Senate Bill 387, which would keep in place a requirement that first time applicants of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) pass a drug test if a drug screening suggests they may be drug users. The Senate version of the bill would only extend the program for one year, so the bill is going to have to go back to the Senate to resolve the difference.

Harm Reduction

California Bill to Allow Safe Injection Site Pilot Programs Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Public Safety Committee on Wednesday approved Senate Bill 57, sponsored by Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco). The bill would legalize safe injection sites as pilot programs in Los Angeles County, Oakland, and San Francisco. The bill still needs to be approved by the Senate Health Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee before heading for a Senate floor vote. If passed, it may have to overcome federal hurdles too.

CA Psychedelic Decrim Bill Advances, CT Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances, More... (4/7/21)

New York police will no longer be able to search vehicles based solely on the smell of marijuana, the Montana House passes a trio of competing legalization implementation bills, a cartel massacre in Mexico leaves more than two dozen dead, and more.

LSD and other psychedelics would be decriminalized under a bill advancing in California. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Governor's Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances. A marijuana legalization bill supported by Governor Ned Lamont (D), House Bill 5853, passed the General Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. But lawmakers cautioned that changes are coming to the bill as it winds through the committee process. The bill awaits further action in the Senate.

Montana House Advances Three Marijuana Legalization Implementation Bills. The House on Tuesday approved three competing Republican-backed bills for regulating legal marijuana after voters approved it in November. The bills all departed from the voter-approved initiative, which called for legal sales to begin next January and for many revenues to be used for conservation efforts. Republican legislative leaders urged lawmakers to approve all three, arguing that doing so would give the Senate more options as it considers its course of action.

New York Police Will No Longer Be Able to Search Vehicles Solely Because of the Smell of Marijuana. With the legalization of marijuana possession now in effect, police in the state will no longer be able to search vehicles based solely on the smell of weed. More than three ounces of marijuana -- the personal possession limit -- will have to be visible to create the probable cause required to do a search. "While law enforcement across the state are continuing to review and discuss the ramifications of the new laws, what is clear is the fact we cannot search vehicles based on the odor of cannabis or even witnessing small quantities of cannabis," said Chautauqua County Sheriff James Quattrone.

New Orleans City Council to Take Up Marijuana Decriminalization Resolution. Council President Helena Moreno and five council members have filed a resolution to support an effort in the state legislature to decriminalize marijuana possession in the state. "This is just common sense at this point, from criminal justice reform to job creation to funding critical needs," said Moreno. "It addresses a fundamental source of racial and economic inequity in our criminal justice system. Public support for decriminalization is finally catching up to the truth: black and brown communities bear the brunt of marijuana enforcement, disrupting lives and reinforcing existing biases while failing to make any appreciable effect on public safety. And because of this reality, the taxation piece must be a thoughtful one. Investment in communities of color must be prioritized… Let's do this, the time is now."

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Advances A bill that would decriminalize the use and possession of several psychedelic drugs, Senate Bill 519, passed its first legislative hurdle Tuesday as it won approval in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. It now heads for the Assembly Health Committee before going for an Assembly floor vote. "By decriminalizing we're not inviting people to use. We're taking, instead of a criminal approach to drug use, a health-minded approach," bill sponsor state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) told the committee before the vote.

Harm Reduction

Nevada Naloxone in Schools Bill Advances. A bill to allow schools to get overdose reversal drugs has passed the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee. The measure, Assembly Bill 205, amends an existing law allowing school officials to have Epi-Pens on hand to prevent anaphylactic shock to add auto-injector devices containing drugs such as naloxone.

Vermont Buprenorphine Decriminalization Bill Advances. The House Human Services Committee on Tuesday approved House Bill 225, which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of the opioid-addiction medication buprenorphine. The bill passed unanimously in committee and now heads for a House floor vote.

International

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Second Committee Vote in As Many Days. The Second Legislative Studies Committee approved a rapidly-advancing marijuana legalization bill Tuesday, one day after it won approval in the Justice Committee. It must still get through the Health Committee, which could happen as early as Wednesday, clearing the way to a final Senate vote as early as Thursday.

Mexico Cartel Massacre Leaves 27 Dead in Michoacan. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) is being blamed for the mass killing of rival gang members in the municipality of Aguililla, Michoacan, last week. The Citizens' Intelligence Unit said that member of United Cartels had surrendered to the CJNG and were subsequently executed. And now, someone has stolen 26 of their bodies and eight decapitated heads from the local morgue.

Mexico MJ Legalization Nears Final Vote, NIJ on MJ Impairment Tests, More... (4/6/21)

A Louisiana Republican state representative has filed a marijuana legalization bill, an effort to advance even minor asset forfeiture reforms hits law enforcement opposition, and more.

Tests that seek to determine impairment based on THC levels are not reliable, the NIJ reports. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

National Institute of Justice Finds Field Sobriety Tests and THC Levels Are "Unreliable" Indicators of Impairment. In a report issued Monday, the National Institute of Justice found despite a growing resort toward "per se" laws that use the level of THC in bodily fluids to determine impairment, "there is little evidence correlating a specific THC level with impaired driving, making marijuana per se laws controversial and difficult to prosecute." Researchers concluded that "although THC has been proven to affect areas of the brain that control movement, balance, coordination, memory, and judgment -- skills required for safe driving -- THC levels in biofluids were not reliable indicators of marijuana intoxication for their study participants."

Louisiana Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. State Rep. Richard Nelson (R-89) has filed House Bill 564, "for the decriminalization of marijuana and the regulation of marijuana for recreational use." The bill is a constitutional amendment, which means that if it passes out of the legislature, it would then have to be approved by voters. It is currently before the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee.

Asset Forfeiture

Nevada Asset Forfeiture Reform Measure Facing Law Enforcement Opposition. An effort to reform the state's asset forfeiture laws has already been scaled back, but law enforcement Monday strongly opposed even the limited reforms proposed in Assembly Bill 425. The bill would make forfeiture occur at the end of a criminal case rather than forcing defendants to start a separate civil proceeding to keep their property. But law enforcement and local government interests, which derive proceeds from seized goods, are still opposed.

International

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Key Senate Committee Vote, Floor Vote Expected This Month. The bill that would legalize marijuana was approved Monday by the Senate Justice Committee, bringing it one step closer to a final Senate floor vote. The bill had already passed the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies but has gone back to the upper chamber to ratify amendments made in the lower chamber. It still faces two more committee votes before that final floor vote.

Federal Drug Cases Continue to Decline, Schumer Ready to Move Ahead With Legalization, More... (4/5/21)

DC's mayor is ready to move ahead with legalizing marijuana sales, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is ready to move ahead with federal marijuana legalization, and more.

Magic mushrooms and other natural entheogens are now deprioritized in a third Massachusetts city. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Majority Leader Says Democrats Are Ready to Push Ahead on Marijuana Legalization Whether President Supports It or Not. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that even though President Joe Biden (D) only supports marijuana decriminalization, "we will move forward" even if the president doesn't get on board. "He said he's studying the issue," Schumer said. "I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will. But at some point, we're going to move forward, period." Schumer also clarified that: "I am personally for legalization. And the bill that we'll be introducing is headed in that direction."

Nevada Bill Would Allow for Marijuana Consumption Lounges. Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) has filed a bill that would allow for marijuana consumption lounges to operate in the state. While marijuana is legal, it is illegal to consumer it in public or in hotel rooms, and Yeager said that presents a conundrum for residents and tourists. "They can't bring it into their hotel rooms. They can't consume it outside," Yeager said. The bill, introduced Friday, is not yet available on the state legislative web site.

DC Mayor Says City is Ready to Legalize Marijuana Sales Once Congress Gets Out of the Way. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said last Friday that city officials are ready to move forward with implementing legal marijuana sales once Congress removes a rider that has prevented the city from doing so. "We have a tax-and-regulates scheme. We've prepared our alcohol and beverage office to be prepared to implement regulation," she said. "And we have to we have to get the hurdle of Congress out of the way."

NYPD Says You Can Now Smoke a Joint in Public. In the wake of Governor Andrew Cuomo's (D) signing marijuana legalization into effect, with the legalization of possession of small amounts in effect immediately, the NYPD has issued a memo noting that people can smoke marijuana in public anywhere they can smoke a cigarette in public. Smoking marijuana on sidewalks or front stoops is no longer "a basis for an approach, stop, summons, arrest, or search" the department memo said. But the city bans smoking in parks and at beaches, so there is no marijuana smoking allowed there, either.

Psychedelics

Third Massachusetts City Approves Psychedelic Decriminalization. Last Thursday night, the Northampton City Council approved a resolution calling for the deprioritization of drug law enforcement against natural psychedelics. Included are psilocybin, ayahuasca, and a number of other entheogenic plants and fungi. The measure passed on a unanimous vote, making Northampton the third city in the state to enact such reforms, after Somerville and Cambridge.

Drug Treatment

ACLU, NYCLU Sue New York County over Methadone Access in Prison. The ACLU and its state affiliate, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Monday against Jefferson County seeking to compel the Jefferson County Correctional Facility to provide access for methadone treatment for opioid use disorder. The county bans methadone treatment for prisoners, which plaintiffs argue violates state civil rights law, the US Constitution, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Law Enforcement

Sentencing Commission Report Decline in Drug Prosecutions Last Year. During Fiscal Year 2020, federal prosecutors filed some 64,565 criminal cases, a decline of 15.6% over the previous year, "reflecting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the work of the courts." Drug possession cases continued a five-year decline, dropping 22%, while drug trafficking cases, which had gone up slightly in Fiscal Year 2019, had declined 17% in FY 2020. The most common federal prosecutions were immigration cases, accounting for 41% of all federal prosecutions.

ONDCP Says Overdoses Spiked During Pandemic, Poll Has 75% Opposed to Marijuana Prohibition, More... (4/2/21)

North Dakota lawmakers reject a bid to let voters decide on marijuana legalization, a West Virginia medical marijuana expansion bill remains alive, drug overdose deaths are up during the pandemic, and more.

(Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Poll Has Three-Quarters of Americans Opposing Pot Prohibition. A new The Hill/HarrisXDaily poll has only 25% supporting marijuana prohibition, while opponents of prohibition divided evenly between those who thought the federal government should legalize it (38%) and those who said leave it up to the individual states (37%).

Montana Marijuana Legalization Implementation Bills Head for House Floor Vote. House committees advanced three different bills aimed at creating a regulatory system for legal marijuana, House Bill 670, House Bill 701, and House Bill 707. The three bills all have different visions of what legal pot is going to look like, and all three would make significant changes from what voters approved if November. If none of them passes, the language of the successful legalization initiative would go into effect.

North Dakota Senate Kills Bid to Let Voters Decide Marijuana Legalization. After knocking back efforts to legalize or decriminalize marijuana, the state Senate on Thursday also rejected a resolution that would have put the issue directly before voters on the 2022 ballot and required legislators to create a legal marijuana program if they passed it. That opens the door to at least one, possibly two, legalization efforts through the citizen initiative process.

Medical Marijuana

West Virginia Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. On the last day to move bills out of their chambers of introduction, the Senate approved Senate Bill 231, which would expand the number of dispensaries in the state and the number of acceptable forms of medical marijuana. It also creates reciprocity with other medical marijuana states. The bill now moves to the House.

Drug Policy

Drug Overdose Deaths Spiked During Pandemic, ONDCP Says. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) said Thursday that fatal drug overdoses jumped dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic. "We lost 88,000 people in the 12-month period ending in August 2020," acting ONDCP director Regina LaBelle told reporters during a morning briefing. "Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and synthetic opioids are the primary drivers of this increase." That was up 27% over the previous 12-month period.

NY Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization into Law, Biden White House Sets Drug Policy Priorities, More... (4/1/21)

The Biden administration has filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting an effort to expand sentencing reductions under the 2018 First Step Act, the New Mexico legislature has voted to legalize marijuana, and more.

New York State Capitol
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization, Governor Will Sign Bill. New Mexico has become the second state in as many days to see lawmakers approve marijuana legalization. New York did it on March 30, and with the approval of House Bill 2, the Cannabis Regulation Act, and Senate Bill 2, the Expungement of Certain Criminal Records Act, by legislators in Santa Fe, New Mexico got it done on March 31. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) supported the effort and says she will sign the bills into law.

New York Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization Bill into Law. One day after the legislature passed Senate Bill 854, the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed it into law Wednesday. That makes the state the 15th to legalize marijuana.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota Legislature Approves Asset Forfeiture Reporting Bill. The state Senate on Wednesday approved House Bill 1480, which would impose new reporting requirements for property seized by police. The bill would require more information be provided in courts' forfeiture judgments, including where the seizure took place, the alleged crime, and the outcome of the case. The bill now goes to the desk of Governor Doug Burgum (R), who has three legislature days to either sign or veto it.

Drug Policy

Biden Administration Releases First Year Drug Policy Priorities. Citing the nation's "overdose and addiction crisis," the Biden administration on Thursday laid out a set of drug policy priorities for its first year. "President Biden has made clear that addressing the overdose and addiction epidemic is an urgent priority for his administration… President Biden has also said that people should not be incarcerated for drug use but should be offered treatment instead. The President has also emphasized the need to eradicate racial, gender, and economic inequities that currently exist in the criminal justice system."

Sentencing

Biden Administration Urges Leniency for Harsh Crack Sentences. The Biden administration on Wednesday filed a brief with the Supreme Court endorsing an effort by low-level crack cocaine offenders to obtain reduced sentences. The brief urged the court to widen eligibility for sentence reductions for some drug offenses under the 2018 First Step Act. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case, Tarahrick Terry v. U.S., No. 20-10482, on May 4.

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