Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Horrible Wisconsin "Cocaine Mom" Law Could Finally Be Repealed

For 20 years, Wisconsin prosecutors have used a state law, the Unborn Child Protection Act of 1998 (Act 292), to jail adult pregnant women suspected of using drugs or alcohol. Supporters claim the "cocaine mom" law protects fetuses from maternal drug abuse, but critics say the law's language is vague, that it deters pregnant women from seeking prenatal and other health care, and that it unnecessarily and unconstitutionally forces some pregnant women into treatment and state supervision.

The law was found unconstitutional by a federal court last year, but state Attorney General Brad Schimel appealed, and the US Supreme Court allowed the law to stay in effect until the case was decided. But in June, the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that the plaintiff, Tammy Loertscher, had left the state.

Loertscher was 14 weeks pregnant and residing in Medford in 2014 when she tested positive for methamphetamine. Although she told her doctor she had stopped using the drug when she realized she was pregnant, a judge ordered her into inpatient drug treatment. She was then jailed until she agreed to be drug tested throughout her pregnancy. She gave birth to a healthy male child in 2015.

Loertscher was by no means alone -- hundreds of pregnant women have been accused of "unborn child abuse" under the law -- and the dismissal of the case means pregnant women in the state remain in jeopardy.

At the time of the dismissal, attorney Nancy Rosenbloom, director of legal advocacy for National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), decried the ruling.

"Today's decision means that all women in Wisconsin have to worry that when they seek health care, if there's even a chance they might be pregnant, the state can take them into custody, lock them up in a drug treatment program, a mental hospital or a jail -- whether or not drug treatment is really needed," she said.

Now, Rosenbloom and NAPW are taking the fight to a new arena: the court of public opinion. They have joined forces with a three-year-old national group, Reproaction, to take on the law. The group is forthright about what it wants: "Reproaction is a new direct action group forming to increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice. We are proud of our left-flank analysis, and are not in this fight to protect the past or maintain the status quo," the group says on its web site.

Reproaction has created the #WIFights 292 campaign to take the fight to the public. The campaign is planning educational fora across the state, a social media campaign, and information pickets, among other tactics.

"All people who experience pregnancy, including pregnant women in Wisconsin, deserve access to appropriate, confidential health care without fear of losing their rights to medical decision making, privacy, and liberty," #WIFight292 explains on its web site.

"At Reproaction, we center our work around the women in Wisconsin who may be targeted by enforcement of Act 292. We are organizing activists and community leaders across Wisconsin to demand action from those in power and channel community into a movement to advance reproductive justice that will ultimately dismantle Act 292. We know that direct action gets the job done, and we will take bold action to educate the public about and put a stop to enforcement of Act 292."

For Rosenbloom and the medical and public health groups that oppose the law, the hope is that the campaign can do what the courts have failed to do: kill a bad law.

"This law only harms women and children," she said.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter , a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Saying Goodbye to Mr. Methadone: Dr. Bob Newman Dead at Age 80

Dr. Robert Newman died earlier this month after being struck by an automobile earlier this summer. He was 80 years old.

Bob Newman at a Beth Israel staff meeting in 1985 (Arthur H. Aufses Jr. MD Archives at Mt. Sinai)
If any one man can be credited with carving out a space for the use of methadone as a treatment for heroin addiction, he is that man. Working as a New York City public health doctor in the 1960s, he was given the task of ensuring that heroin addicts who wanted treatment could get treatment with methadone. His boss, city health department head Gordon Chase, told him he would be known as "Mr. Methadone."

While he did not achieve the goal of providing treatment to everyone who wanted it, Newman oversaw the rapid expansion of the city's fledgling methadone program in the early 1970s. The number of patients on methadone went from a handful to more than 10,000 in two years, and 35,000 by 1975.

And he stood up for those patients. When the NYPD wanted Newman to turn over patients' methadone records, he refused. Instead, he took to the courts to defend his patients' right to privacy -- and he won.

After that, he devoted his career to advocating for evidence-based treatment, traveling the country and the world and picking up a second moniker, "the methadone pope," as he advanced harm reduction ideas decades before they became popularized.

He faced opposition from abstinence and 12-step proponents, as well as from elected officials like New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who in 1998 tried to shut down the city's methadone program on the moralistic grounds that it merely substituted one addiction for another. The diplomatic Newman didn't challenge Giuliani head on but instead used interviews to make his case that methadone treatment allowed addicts to lead productive lives.

Newman also advocated for a humane approach toward addicted mothers and pregnant women, supporting groups such as National Advocates for Pregnant Women in their fight against the demonization and criminalization of those women. He was a drug policy reformer who served for decades on the board of the Drug Policy Foundation and then its successor the Drug Policy Alliance.

As this century's opioid epidemic deepened, Newman was cautiously optimistic that the work he had begun decades earlier would help further destigmatize addiction. "I'm hoping that pragmatism will win out," he said. "As more and more Congresspeople, people in the general community and physicians have children who develop a problem with prescription drug use and can't get treatment for it, I think it will make people more receptive to opening doors to treatment."

Newman was not only an influential physician in addiction issues, he was a giant in the hospital world as a whole. He served as President of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, and then of the entity that acquired Beth Israel along with other facilities -- and then of the entity that acquired that entity. But one could still talk him at a drug policy conference, or send him an email, and you'd get an email back.

Dr. Robert Newman's contribution to an enlightened approach to addiction cannot be overstated. He will be missed, but his legacy lives on.

(Read Bob Newman's 1998 interview with this newsletter here.)

Medical Marijuana Update

A new bill in Guam would allow home cultivation, Oklahoma officials still have issues with the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, and more.

Guam

Guam Bill Would Allow Home Cultivation. Five years after the US territory legalized medical marijuana, access issues have prompted Sen. Louis Muna to file a bill that would allow patients to grow their own at home. The bill got a public hearing Tuesday night, with mostly positive testimony. No word yet on it will get a committee vote.

Michigan

Michigan Lawmakers Call on Governor to Prevent Shutdown of Unlicensed Dispensaries. Temporarily operating dispensaries have permission to stay open until September 15 as they try to obtain state licenses, but a group of state legislators says the state is moving too slowly with licensing and are asking Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to prevent the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation from sending out cease and desist orders to unlicensed businesses on September 16. More than 637 businesses have applied for licenses, but only 16 have been issued so far, and there is only one more licensing board meeting before the deadline. The legislators are calling for the deadline to be extended so patients aren't left in the lurch.

Ohio

Ohio Deadline for Getting Program Up and Running Goes Up in Smoke. The state's medical marijuana program is supposed to be up and running by September 8, but that isn't going to happen. The state Department of Commerce is still selecting businesses that will be issued cultivation licenses. The department says it can issue up to 18 of those licenses before September 8, but that means the first crops won't be ready until November.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Agencies Still Have "Concerns" Over Legal Medical Marijuana. Interim health commissioner Tom Bates told lawmakers last Wednesday that the Health Board still had concerns about how medical marijuana will be implemented and that a special session of the legislature may be needed to see the program properly implemented. The board wants lawmakers to amend the law so that, among other changes, commercial grows are indoor only, patient home grows are prohibited or require a special license, smokable marijuana is prohibited, THC levels are limited to 12% or less, a pharmacist is required on-site at dispensaries, and that a list of qualifying conditions for patients be created. Some of the changes are among those recommended in the Health Board's first try at setting interim rules, which were retracted in the face of loud public opposition. Any effort to re-adopt them is certain to lead to renewed clamor.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: ND Governor Opposes Pot Initiative, Ohio MedMJ Delays, More... (8/15/18)

The dog days of summer continue with little going on in the world of drug policy. But North Dakota's Republican governor comes out against the legalization initiative, the Ohio medical marijuana program is behind schedule, and more.

A bill filed in Guam would allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own. (pixabay.com)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Governor Comes Out Against Legalization Initiative. Gov. Doug Burgum (R) has come out in opposition to the Legalize ND marijuana legalization initiative, saying he is against "the full, unfettered legalization of recreational marijuana." He told local media, "I encourage voters to educate themselves on the specific wording and far-reaching implications of all ballot measures. My personal stance against full, unfettered legalization of recreational marijuana has not changed."

Medical Marijuana

Guam Bill Would Allow Home Cultivation. Five years after the US territory legalized medical marijuana, access issues have prompted Sen. Louis Muna to file a bill that would allow patients to grow their own at home. The bill got a public hearing Tuesday night, with mostly positive testimony. No word yet on it will get a committee vote.

Ohio Deadline for Getting Program Up and Running Goes Up in Smoke. The state's medical marijuana program is supposed to be up and running by September 8, but that isn't going to happen. The state Department of Commerce is still selecting businesses that will be issued cultivation licenses. The department says it can issue up to 18 of those licenses before September 8, but that means the first crops won't be ready until November.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Mississippi sheriff is in a heap of trouble, a Mississippi prison guard gets caught with contraband, and more.

In Oakland, Mississippi, the Tallahatchie County sheriff was arrested last Friday on federal drug trafficking and extortion charges. Sheriff William Brewer, 58, is charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and extortion and bribery under color of official right in violation of the Hobbs Act. He's looking at up to 20 years in prison on each count.

In Brandon, Mississippi, a state prison guard was arrested last Friday after being caught with a cell phone, marijuana, and synthetic cannabinoids as she reported to work. Guard Kimberly Diana Scott, 35, went down when a regular search turned up the contraband. She is charged with introducing controlled substances into a correctional facility.

In Polkton, North Carolina, a state prison guard was arrested Monday for allegedly trying to bring drugs into the prison. Sgt. Casonja Crowder, 34, is charged with felony conspiracy to deliver marijuana and suboxone to an inmate and felony possession of marijuana and suboxone. She has now resigned her position.

Chronicle AM: MPP Gets New Director, Ontario Pot Shops to Be Private Not State-Run, More... (8/14/18)

The Marijuana Policy Project picks a veteran criminal justice advocate as its new head, Canada's most populous province makes a last-minute switch from state-run to privately-run pot shops, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy Project Names New Head. The nation's most well-funded marijuana advocacy group has named Steve Hawkins as its new executive director. Hawkins previously served as the executive director of Amnesty International USA, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and executive vice president of the NAACP. "Steve has a strong track record in the field of criminal justice reform, and he knows how to build a movement toward meaningful social change," said Troy Dayton, the chair of MPP's board of directors. "We were not only impressed by his expertise and experience, but also his strong convictions regarding the injustice of marijuana prohibition." Hawkins replaces Rob Kampia, who had led the group since its founding in 1995. Kampia resigned late last year and now runst a consulting group called the Marijuana Leadership Campaign.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Lawmakers Call on Governor to Prevent Shutdown of Unlicensed Dispensaries. Temporarily operating dispensaries have permission to stay open until September 15 as they try to obtain state licenses, but a group of state legislators says the state is moving too slowly with licensing and are asking Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to prevent the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation from sending out cease and desist orders to unlicensed businesses on September 16. More than 637 businesses have applied for licenses, but only 16 have been issued so far, and there is only one more licensing board meeting before the deadline. The legislators are calling for the deadline to be extended so patients aren't left in the lurch.

International

Ontario Suddenly Switches from State-Run Marijuana Stores to Private Ones. Canada's most populous province has at the last minute discarded plans for state-run pot shops in favor of allowing private businesses to run the stores and allowing consumers to purchase marijuana online for delivery. The late switch means people in Ontario will not be able to go to pot shops when they become legal nationwide on October 17, but will now have to wait for the province's new target date of April 1, 2019. But online sales will begin on day one.

Chronicle AM: ND MJ Init Makes November Ballot, Colombia to Forcibly Uproot Coca, More... (8/13/18)

North Dakota becomes the second state (after Michigan) to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative this year, Denver's mayor comes around on legal pot, the UN will review marijuana's status under international law, and more.

Denver's mayor opposed marijuana legalization, but now has seen the light. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. The secretary of state's office announced Monday organizers of a marijuana legalization initiative had handed in enough valid voter signatures to qualify their measure for the November ballot. That makes North Dakota the second state to qualify a legalization initiative for November: Michigan activists did so earlier this year.

Denver Mayor Changes Tune on Legalization. Mayor Michael Hancock campaigned against the state's successful 2012 legalization initiative, but after five years of legal weed, he's singing a different tune. Prompted by a recent report that touted the city's accomplishments with legal marijuana, Hancock now says the city's approach "is working." He noted that the city was the first large city in the country to take on the "daunting challenge" of legalization, "and we are having success."

International

UN Launches First-Ever Full Review Of Marijuana's Status Under International Law. The World Health Organization's (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) will launch a first-ever in-depth review of whether marijuana is properly scheduled under international drug control treaties. The group held a "pre-review" earlier this year. "A pre-review is the first step of the ECDD's assessment process, where it is determined whether there is enough robust scientific information to proceed to the next step, called a critical review. This initial evaluation is also an opportunity to identify gaps in the available scientific data. A critical review is carried out when there is sufficient scientific evidence to allow the ECDD to make an informed recommendation that the substance be placed under international control, or if its level of control should be changed."

Canada's British Columbia Begins Drug Testing in Provincial Cities. Responding to a large number of opioid overdose deaths in the province, BC Interior Health has begun funding full-time drug testing services in seven cities in the province. The program provides fentanyl testing strips to local service providers.

Colombia's Defense Minister Says Government Will Forcibly Eradicate Coca Crops. Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said last Friday the government has decided to forcibly eradicate coca crops in the country. Former President Juan Manuel Santos had ended forced eradication in a bid to reduce associated violence, but new President Ivan Duque will go ahead despite the potential for violence in a move that is sure to please the United States.

Chronicle AM: Norway Heroin-Assisted Treatment Plan, NJ Pol Says Marijuana Legalization "Soon," More... (8/10/18)

New Jersey's Senate president says marijuana legalization is coming "soon," the Norwegians begin moving toward heroin-assisted treatment, and more.

diacetylmorphine AKA pharmaceutical heroin -- coming soon to Norway to treat hardcore addicts (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Key New Jersey Pol Says Legalization Coming "Soon." "I think it's gonna happen soon," State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) told NJ Advance Media Thursday, saying it could happen as early as next month. "We'll have the legislation done. Then you have to do the regulations and everything else." He said he hoped to see a final draft of the bill, next week, hold hearings quickly, and vote in September. "We're getting much closer," Sweeney said.

International

British Police Commissioner Calls for Marijuana Freedom. Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales Arfon Jones has called for marijuana users to be able to grow and sell the plant without fear of arrest in cannabis clubs. He is calling for the country to adopt Spanish-style marijuana "collectives" where members sell homegrown weed to each other. At least 75 cannabis clubs currently exist in Britain, all operating with a wink and a nod from local police.

Norway to Begin Providing Free Heroin to Hardcore Addicts. Norwegian Health Minister Bent Hoie has asked the Directorate of Health to create a list of heroin addicts must suitable for receiving heroin-assisted treatment and to assess the economic consequences of creating such a program. "We want to help those addicted who are difficult to reach, those who are not part of LAR (drug-assisted rehabilitation) and who are difficult to treat," he said. The pilot program is set to start in 2020 or 2021. Local governments in Oslo and Bergen are reportedly applying to participate.

Chronicle AM: PA Gov Says State Not Ready for Legal Pot, New FDA Guidelines on MATS, More... (8/9/18)

The FDA has issued new draft guidance aimed at expanding the use of medication-assisted treatments (MATs) for opioid addiction, Pennsylvania's governor says the state isn't ready for legal weed, the Oklahoma medical marijuana fight isn't over yet, and more.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) isn't on the same page as his counterparts in New York and New Jersey. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Governor Says State Not Ready for Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said during a radio interview on Tuesday that he doesn't think the state is ready to legalize marijuana. "There are, what, six states that have legalized recreational marijuana in the United States," Wolf said. (The actual number is nine.). "I don't think the citizens of Pennsylvania are ready for it, and so the answer I would say is no… I don't think Pennsylvania's actually ready for recreational marijuana." The position puts Wolf at odds with two neighboring Democratic governors, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, who is strongly pushing legalization, and Andrew Cuomo of New York, who just signed off on the notion.

Los Angeles Won't Vote on Raising Pot Tax in November. The city council has reversed a decision to place a 1% marijuana tax increase on the November ballot. The city estimated it would raise approximately $30 million per year from the tax increase, but faced immediate blowback from industry groups who said pot taxes were already too high and are driving consumers to the black market.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Agencies Still Have "Concerns" Over Legal Medical Marijuana. Interim health commissioner Tom Bates told lawmakers Wednesday that the Health Board still has concerns about how medical marijuana will be implemented and that a special session of the legislature may be needed to see the program properly implemented. The board wants lawmakers to amend the law so that, among other changes, commercial grows are indoor only, patient home grows are prohibited or require a special license, smokable marijuana is prohibited, THC levels are limited to 12% or less, a pharmacist is required on-site at dispensaries, and that a list of qualifying conditions for patients be created. Some of the changes are among those recommended in the Health Board's first try at setting interim rules, which were retracted in the face of loud public opposition. Any effort to re-adopt them is certain to lead to renewed clamor.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

FDA Seeks to Expand Use of Medication-Assisted Therapies for Addiction. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday released new draft guidance aimed at promoting the creation and more widespread use of medication-assisted therapies (MATs) for opioid use disorder. The guidance adjusts how FDA evaluates new treatments for opioid addiction. Instead of only determining whether a treatment lowers opioid use, the agency will now assess whether the medication could help lower overdose rates and limit the spread of infectious disease. "We must consider new ways to gauge success beyond simply whether a patient in recovery has stopped using opioids, such as reducing relapse overdoses and infectious disease transmission," said Scott Gottlieb, FDA commissioner.

WATCH: Michigan Cop Jails 80-Year-Old Grandma Over Expired Medical Marijuana Card

A Clare County, Michigan, sheriff's deputy arrested an 80-year-old grandmother for small-time medical marijuana possession after going to her home on an unrelated matter and smelling it. The grandma, Delores Saltzman, is a patient whose card had expired. She spent a night in jail and had to deal with a court case because the deputy's zero-tolerance approach to marijuana precluded a sensible resolution to the matter.

As local TV station Fox 17 reported, on the evening of June 13, Deputy Ashley Gruno knocked on Saltzman's door. She was trying to find Saltzman's granddaughter to return a lost phone and ID. Things went haywire when Deputy Gruno smelled marijuana from the front porch.

The deputy asked who the marijuana belonged to, and Saltzman explained it was hers and that she was a medical marijuana patient. Deputy Gruno then searched the house, seizing several pipes, four joints, and a purple jar with a small amount of marijuana. Saltzman said the total amount of marijuana seized was less than an eighth of an ounce.

Deputy Gruno then handcuffed Saltzman, place her in a patrol car, and took her to jail, where the arthritic grandmother spent a long night.

"That''s ridiculous what they do to people, they don't need to make you that cold," she said. "Old Arthur was screaming at me" -- a reference to arthritis, her son Mark clarified. Saltzman also suffers from diverticulitis and muscle and bone aches.

Saltzman and her son credit marijuana with saving her life. It helped her appetite when she was sick, helped her heal after surgeries, and eases her pain from health conditions, they said.

"After I smoke, I go down to a one, pain-wise," she said. "Before I smoke, I would say I'm an eight right now. Marijuana saved my life because I had a bad bleed about four years ago, and Mark took care of me," she explained, adding that when doctors prescribed her opioids, she suffered stomach pains and vomiting.

Saltzman said she went public with her story in the hope it will help others. "That's what I want people to do: Don't be ashamed of something that's going to make you feel better."

The deputy was overzealous, said Mark Saltzman. "I just thought it was absolutely ridiculous to put her through this like that. They could have just given her a ticket, and [said] just show us your card later. Reapply for your [medical marijuana] card, show us this, and then drop the charges."

Clare County Prosecutor Michelle Ambrozaitis largely agreed with Saltzman. While she said a possession of marijuana charge was justified because of the expired card, she added: "However, our goal is to ensure that individuals who utilize medical marijuana are doing so legally. As such, Mrs. Saltzman was encouraged to obtain her medical marijuana card and if she did so, the case would be dismissed. She did obtain her medical marijuana card, and the case was dismissed."

Clare County Sheriff John Wilson didn't comment on whether his deputy should have arrested Saltzman and said he agreed with the prosecutor's decision to dismiss the case after she renewed her medical marijuana card, but stuck to his guns on Saltzman's criminality: "This person was illegally in possession of marijuana," he said.

Michigan will vote on legalizing marijuana in November. If advocates had managed to get it on the ballot in 2016, Saltzman and others like her would not have been subject to arrest. She is calling on her fellow Michiganders to vote to legalize it.

"I'm hoping that we all learn a lesson from this and that we make amends, and people will get out and vote for it," Saltzman said. "We are the ones that have to stand up. We are the people, and we just have to fight for our rights."

One can hope that most Michigan police officers and even Deputy Gruno now would be more discriminating than this. But they might not. Until the people do fight -- and win -- Michigan will see more pointless arrests under the prohibition laws.

Watch Saltzman tell her story here:

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A small-town Ohio police chief ODs on drugs he stole from his own department, a veteran Baltimore cop gets nailed for peddling pills, a TSA worker goes down for participating in a cocaine conspiracy, and more. Let's get to it:

In Kirkersville, Ohio, the cause of death for the Kirkersville police chief was announced on Monday. Chief James Hughes Jr., 35, died of "acute fentanyl intoxication" after using drugs he stole from his department's evidence room. Police searching his home found packages of heroin, fentanyl, and LSD strewn about his living around, as well as three syringes, one containing traces of a powerful opioid, and another containing fentanyl.

In Oklahoma City, a now-former Cleveland Police volunteer reserve officer was arrested July 27 after being caught with nearly 160 pounds of marijuana. Terry Browne, 33, was fired immediately after being arrested. He now faces drug trafficking charges.

In Baltimore, a Baltimore police officer was arrested last Wednesday on drug trafficking charges after Baltimore County police officers observed him making a drug deal in a suburban parking lot. Officer Spencer Moore, a 14-year veteran of the department, and another man were detained, and police found three pill bottles containing over a hundred oxycodone pills in Moore's car. He is charged with possession with the intent to distribute a narcotic, possession of a controlled dangerous substance, and obtaining a prescription by fraud. He is being held without bail at the Baltimore County Department of Corrections.

In Baker, Louisiana, a now-former probation officer was convicted last Thursday of taking money to rig a city worker's drug test. Peron McCastle, 56, went down after he was recorded telling the worker the test had come back positive, but he had reported it as negative. He then demanded an unspecified sum of money from the worker. He was convicted of public bribery and is looking at up to five years in state prison.

In Pueblo, Colorado, a now-former state prison guard was sentenced last Wednesday to 60 days in jail for smuggling methamphetamine to a prisoner with whom she was romantically involved. Sarah James, 25, had pleaded guilty last month to a misdemeanor count of possession of contraband. She went down after she was caught coming to work with two packages of meth and a love letter to the inmate in her lunchbox. She admitted to being paid $2,000 on each of three occasions she had smuggled drugs into the jail.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, a former Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer was sentenced Tuesday to 25 years in federal prison for participating in a cocaine trafficking conspiracy that introduced large quantities of the drug into North Carolina cities. Jamie Blunder, 50, was convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy and firearms charges. Blunder wasn't accused of trafficking drugs at his airport job, but he did use his TSA position to avoid police detection while traveling.

Medical Marijuana Update

Show Me State voters will vote on three different medical marijuana initiatives, Oklahoma finally gets some livable temporary medical marijuana rules, and more.

Illinois

Illinois Governor Signs Bill Allowing Medical Marijuana Administration in Schools. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has signed into law a bill that requires public schools to allow the parents of sick children to administer medical marijuana to them at school. The law allows parents to administer "cannabis-infused products" if both the child and the parents have been approved under the state's medical marijuana law.

Missouri

Missouri Will Vote on Not One, Not Two, But Three Medical Marijuana Initiatives. The secretary of state's office last Thursday certified three different medical marijuana initiatives for the November ballot. There is a constitutional amendment from New Approach Missouri, as well as a constitutional amendment from Find the Cures and an easier to amend statutory initiative from Lowell Pearson, a Jefferson City attorney.

Ohio

Ohio Awards First Medical Marijuana Processing Licenses. The state Department of Commerce last Friday issued seven provisional licenses to aspiring medical marijuana processors. This is just the first round of licensing for processors; the state could license up to 40 such operations.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Health Board Approves New Medical Marijuana Rules. The Board of Health last Wednesday adopted new rules to govern the state's medical marijuana system. The new rules amend or totally revoke the original proposed rules, which included a ban on the sale of smokeable marijuana, a requirement that a pharmacist be present at dispensaries, and a requirement that women of childbearing age take a pregnancy test before using medical marijuana. Also gone are guidelines that limited THC levels.

Oklahoma Governor Signs Revised Emergency Rules for Medical Marijuana. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) on Monday signed a revised set of emergency regulations to govern medical marijuana use in the state. The first attempt at emergency rules blew up in Fallin's and the state Health Department's face, being widely criticized for provisions banning the sale of medical marijuana, requiring a pharmacist to be present in dispensaries, and requiring that women "of child-bearing age" undergo a pregnancy test. None of those provisions remain in the new rules, which Fallin called "very basic" and a good basis for developing a comprehensive regulatory regime.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Dispensaries Now Offering Buds. For the first time since state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries opened their doors in the state, patients can buy dried flowers from plants grown under the legal system. At least 16 dispensaries in the state were offering buds as of last Wednesday, with more certain to follow as harvest season looms. But under state law, the buds cannot be smoked -- only vaped.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: Colombia's New President Vows Drug Crackdown, ND Pot Init Lives, More... (8/8/18)

The Northern Mariana Islands could be the first US territory to legalize weed, a North Dakota legalization initiative looks like it will probably make the ballot, Colombia's new president vows to resort to old prohibitionist drug war policies, and more.

Newly installed Colombian President Ivan Duque vows a drug crackdown. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization Bill Passes Northern Mariana Islands House. The Northern Marianas Islands House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 20-178, on an 18-1-1 vote. The bill legalizes the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, but also for adult use. People can possess up to an ounce and grow a limited number of plants, and the bill creates a regime for legal, regulated, and taxed production and sales. It now goes before the territory's Senate. If it passes, the Northern Marianas would be the first US territory to legalize marijuana.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Likely to Make Ballot, State Officials Say. State election officials have told Marijuana Moment that the organizers of a marijuana legalization initiative have very likely come up with enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The group, LegalizeND, submitted about 18,700 raw signatures; it needs 13,452 valid voter signatures to qualify. The elections office is currently finishing the signature verification process and will announce on August 13 whether the measure qualified.

Congressional Bar on DC Regulated Sales Leading to Distribution Arrest Surge, Report Finds. More than 900 people were arrested for marijuana offenses in the nation's capital last year, a jump of 37% over 2016 figures, according to new data from the DC Metro Police. Pot arrests bottomed out at 323 in 2015, the first full year of legalization. Prior to legalization, the vast majority of arrests were for possession, but since then, distribution and possession with intent to distribute account for the majority of pot arrests. Analysts pointed to the congressional bar against the District allowing legal, regulated sales as being behind both the overall jump in arrests and the increasing percentage of sales and possession with intent arrests.

International

Colombia's New President Takes Office, Vows Drug Crackdown. Ivan Duque, a conservative ally of former President Alvaro Uribe, was installed as president Tuesday. He immediately pointed to the expansion of coca production, corruption, and the violence of drug trafficking groups as problems he will address. "The time has come for us to unite to confront all illegalities," including drug trafficking and production, he said. "We will be effective in the eradication and substitution of illegal crops, accompanied by productive opportunities" for farmers and a crackdown on drug traffickers, Duque promised. "Building peace, Colombians, means to defeat the drug cartels," he said.

Chronicle AM: OK Legalization Init Looks Less Likely, Ted Cruz Attack Backfires, More... (8/7/18)

The Oklahoma marijuana legalization initiative has far fewer signatures than organizers claimed last week, marijuana is seeping into congressional and senatorial campaigns, and more.

Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke raked in big campaign bucks after Ted Cruz accused him of being a drug legalizer. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Ted Cruz Attack Ads Backfire as Beto O'Rourke Has Huge Fundraising Weekend. Incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R) last Friday released a trio of ads attacking Democratic challenger Rep. Beto O'Rourke, including one that claimed O'Rourke said "we should consider legalizing all narcotics, including heroin." O'Rourke supports marijuana legalization and, as an El Paso city council member, called in 2009 for a discussion about ending the drug war, including drug legalization, which is distinct from endorsing drug legalization. In the wake of the Cruz attack ads, though, O'Rourke reported raising $1.2 million over the weekend from some 39,000 grassroots contributions.

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Looks Less Likely. Last week, Green the Vote, the group behind the State Question 797 legalization initiative, claimed it had more than 132,000 raw signatures -- slightly more than the number of valid voter signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot -- but the group admitted Tuesday morning that the actual raw signature count was actually around 75,000. The deadline for handing in signatures is Wednesday. "I've been working 24 hours a day to bring in those signatures to try to make up for it so that I wouldn't be letting you down, and I understand I have let you down," Green the Vote's Isaac Caviness said. "No matter what -- if we have the signatures, if we don't have the signatures -- I have let you down, and I accept that."

Wisconsin US Rep. Sean Duffy Slams Democratic Opponents Over Marijuana Legalization. Incumbent Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) is attempting to use support for marijuana law reform as a cudgel with which to attack his Democratic opponents. Both 7th District Democratic primary contenders, Margaret Engebretson and Brian Ewart, have come out in support of marijuana legalization. When asked about his reaction, Duffy responded thusly: "I'm the father of eight kids and as a former prosecutor and now a congressman, I see what's happening in America with a drug epidemic, from opioids to meth to heroin. I think marijuana is a gateway drug to these other drugs," Duffy said.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Governor Signs Revised Emergency Rules for Medical Marijuana. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) on Monday signed a revised set of emergency regulations to govern medical marijuana use in the state. The first attempt at emergency rules blew up in Fallin's and the state Health Department's face, being widely criticized for provisions banning the sale of medical marijuana, requiring a pharmacist to be present in dispensaries, and requiring that women "of child-bearing age" undergo a pregnancy test. None of those provisions remain in the new rules, which Fallin called "very basic" and a good basis for developing a comprehensive regulatory regime.

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

Does Microdosing Psychedelics Really Improve Your Life?

Microdosing psychedelics has been a thing for awhile now. It is the practice of ingesting drugs such as LSD or psilocybin (the stuff that puts the magic in magic mushrooms) in amounts too small to create a psychedelic experience in a bid to improve focus and creativity, boost mood, or quell anxiety.

LSD blotters. How much is a microdose? (Creative Commons)
Microdosing has developed a laudatory literature -- see Ayelet Waldman's 2017 A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life and Michael Pollan's 2018 How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence -- but next to no serious scientific study.

Until now. In findings first presented at the June Beyond Psychedelics conference in Prague (and to be published as three separate research papers later this year), University of Toronto researchers offered fascinating insights into the how, why, and results of using small amounts of psychedelics for therapeutic effects.

In a research announcement, cognitive neuroscientist and study coauthor Thomas Anderson said his interest in the topic was sparked when reviewed the scientific literature and found plenty of anecdotal reports but a lack of scientific research on the practice.

"There's currently a renaissance going on in psychedelic research with pilot trials and promising studies of full-dose MDMA (ecstasy) use for post-traumatic stress disorder and of psilocybin use within healthy populations or to treat depression and end-of-life anxiety," said Anderson. "There hasn't been the same research focus on microdosing. We didn't have answers to the most basic epidemiological questions -- who is doing this and what are they doing?"

Anderson and a team of researchers decided to do something no one had done before: ask the users themselves about their experiences. The researchers identified microdosing communities on Reddit and other social media forums and sent them an anonymous online survey asking about the quantity and frequency of their psychedelic use, reasons for microdosing, effect on mood, focus and creativity, and the benefits and drawbacks of the practice. The survey generated 1.390 initial responses, with 909 respondents answering all questions. Two-thirds of the respondents were either current or past microdosers.

"We wanted to ensure the results produced a good basis for future psychedelic science," Anderson said.

What they found was that microdosers reported positive effects, including improved focus and productivity, better connection with others, and reductions in migraines. Quantitatively, microdosers scored lower than non-microdosers on scales measuring negative emotionality and dysfunctional attitude.

Microdosers did report some drawbacks to the practice, but those were related more to the illegal status of psychedelics than to the practice itself.

"The most prevalently reported drawback was not an outcome of microdosing, but instead dealt with illegality, stigma and substance unreliability," says Anderson. "Users engage in black market criminalized activities to obtain psychedelics. If you're buying what your dealer says is LSD, it could very well be something else."

The survey did help clarify the frequency of microdosing -- most respondents reported using every three days, while a smaller group did it once a week -- and just what constituted a microdose.

"Typical doses aren't well established," said Anderson. "We think it's about 10 mcg or one-tenth of an LSD tab, or 0.2 grams of dried mushrooms. Those amounts are close to what participants reported in our data."

But accurate dosing was another problem area: "With microdoses, there should be no 'trip' and no hallucinations. The idea is to enhance something about one's daily activities, but it can be very difficult to divide a ½-cm square of LSD blotting paper into 10 equal doses. The LSD might not be evenly distributed on the square and a microdoser could accidentally 'trip' by taking too much or not taking enough," Anderson said.

"The goal of the study was to create a foundation that could support future work in this area, so I'm really excited about what these results can offer future research," he explained. "The benefits and drawbacks data will help ensure we can ask meaningful questions about what participants are reporting. Our future research will involve running lab-based, randomized-control trials where psychedelics are administered in controlled environments. This will help us to better characterize the therapeutic and cognitive-enhancing effects of psychedelics in very small doses."

Eventually, the science will catch up to the practice. In the meantime, microdosers are going to microdose. Anderson has a scholarly caution for them: "We wouldn't suggest that people microdose, but if they are going to, they should use Erlich reagent (a drug testing solution) to ensure they are not getting something other than LSD."

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

WATCH: Armed Mexican Drug Cartel Convoy Occupies Mountain Highway with Police Nowhere in Sight

In what looks to be a clear cartel show of force, a video circulating this past week on Mexican social media shows a convoy of dozens of vehicles and scores of uniformed and heavily-armed men stopped on a mountain highway in the state of Jalisco. They appear totally unconcerned about presenting an armed challenge to the Mexican state, and with good reason -- there is no sign of a police or military presence anywhere.

The video, which first popped up on messaging services such as WhatsApp before being picked up by Mexican news web sites, appears to show members of what is now arguably the most powerful drug cartel in the county, the CJNG (Jalisco New Generation Cartel). The CJNG first formed in 2009, but has risen to preeminence in the country's bloody cartel landscape in the wake of the capture and extradition to the United States of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, head of the long-running Sinaloa Cartel, which has since splintered in his absence.

In the video, the suspected cartel member who filmed the footage and a companion talk about the cartel and show other men wearing shirts bearing the CJNG initials. The scores of gunmen, many wearing military-style uniforms and helmets, others wearing pasamontañas (balaclavas), are relaxed and jovial as they casually stroll along the federal highway. Accordion-tinged music blares from car radios.

"Cartel Jalisco," one masked gunman says, pointing to himself. "We're just here on patrol," says another. The videographer describes one group of five men as "los guapos del cartel" (the good-looking guys of the cartel).

The release of the video came just days after federal officials announced they had arrested a local CJNG leader in the disappearance of three Italian citizens in January, leaving some to speculate that the video was a response to the state's actions and was intended to demonstrate the group's power.

The CJNG now controls large chunks of western and central Mexico, especially mountainous regions like the Sierra de Nayarit, where the video was allegedly filmed. It is currently engaged in turf wars with rival drug factions in several states and announced just last week that it is going after la plaza (the franchise -- control of the local drug trade) in the state of Morelos.

Beyond the day-to-day brutality of its involvement in the country's drug wars, which left a record 29,000 dead last year and more than 200,000 dead since the federal government deployed the military against the cartels to bring peace and security in 2006, the CJNG is also responsible for notorious acts of violence this year, including the kidnapping, torture, and murder of three Guadalajara film students and the attempted assassination of Jalisco Labor Secretary Luis Carlos Najera.

Responding to the video, Jalisco Interior Secretary Roberto Lopez Lara said authorities were attempting to authenticate it, but moved to reassure residents. "The state has the security of all residents of Jalisco under control," he said.

The video tells a different story. It's a story all too familiar to Mexicans, who have by now endured more than a decade of drug prohibition-related violence, corruption, and impunity. That's why President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador is talking about doing something entirely different: ending the drug war.

Here's the video:

Chronicle AM: Key NJ Pol Now Supports Legal Pot, UK Drug Deaths Spark Criticism, More... (8/6/18)

New Jersey's assembly speaker gets behind marijuana legalization, Ted Cruz attacks Beto O'Rourke as a drug legalizer, record-breaking British drug deaths spark a critique of government drug policy, and more.

Fentanyl deaths nearly doubled last year in Great Britain. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Key New Jersey Politico Now Supports Marijuana Legalization. Assembly Speaker Chris Coughlin (D-Middlesex), a key player in the legislature, said Friday he supported making the state the next one to legalize marijuana. Both Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) have both been more enthusiastic about legalization than Coughlin up until now. "For folks who don't want to legalize it, I understand their view. But I would ask, are we satisfied with the status quo," Coughlin said on his regular "Speak to the Speaker" radio program. "Use of marijuana is still a constant. Three out of five drug arrests are for marijuana. African Americans are three times more likely to get arrested for marijuana," Coughlin said. "We're trying to address those things and I think, if you got the right bill, we'll go ahead and try to pass it."

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Awards First Medical Marijuana Processing Licenses. The state Department of Commerce on Friday issued seven provisional licenses to aspiring medical marijuana processors. This is just the first round of licensing for processors; the state could license up to 40 such operations.

Drug Policy

Ted Cruz Attack Ad Slams Beto O'Rourke as Drug Legalizer. With the underdog Democrat nipping at his heels -- a recent poll has the Texas senate race as a statistical dead heat -- incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz is using an ad that accuses O'Rourke of being a drug legalizer. "Beto O'Rourke said we should consider legalizing all narcotics, including heroin," says one ad running in Lubbock. The O'Rouke campaign said that is not true -- that O'Rourke supports marijuana legalization and says we need a larger discussion about ending the war on drugs. The campaign also warned supporters more than a month ago such attacks would be forthcoming. "It is these kinds of mischaracterizations of our positions, preying on the fears and anxieties of our fellow Texans, that they will try to use as they have used in the past," O'Rourke said on June 29.

International

British Drug Deaths at Record High (Again), Fentanyl Toll Doubles. The British government has reported 3,756 drug deaths in 2017, making the year the fifth in a row to see increases in drug deaths. The 2017 figure is the highest since comparable records began in 1993. The most dramatic drug death increases were around fentanyl and its analogs, which nearly doubled in the space of a year.

British Reform Advocates Rip Government Policies over Drug Deaths. "After five years of record or near-record drug-related deaths, the UK Government has nowhere left to hide. They are responsible for vulnerable people dying in droves, because they are blocking, or refusing to fund, measures proven to save lives in other countries," said Martin Powell of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation. "No one has ever died from an overdose in a supervised drug consumption room or heroin prescribing clinic, anywhere. In Portugal -- where drug use is decriminalized -- the drug death rate is less than a tenth of ours. So Government claims that these deaths are all the result of an aging population of drug users is a lie. The Government must fully fund drug treatment, stop criminalizing people who use drugs, and allow supervised drug consumption rooms now. Longer term, all political parties should back legal regulation of the drug market to take it out of the hands of criminals, save lives, reduce crime, and protect our communities." Also commenting was Rose Humphries of the Anyone's Child Project, who lost two sons to heroin overdoses: "It upsets me to see the figures for drug deaths at record levels year after year. The government is complicit in these deaths because it will not try the successful measures that work in other countries to reduce drug deaths and crime. Those of us in the Anyone's Child campaign can see the evidence of what works -- including legally regulating drugs. Why can't the government?" she asked.

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

Chronicle AM: Three MO MedMJ Inits Qualify for Ballot, House Panel Queries Big Pharma, More.... (8/3/18)

Oregon's US Attorney fires a warning shot over pot, three different Missouri medical marijuana initiatives qualify for the November ballot, a House panel wants answers on opioids from three big pharmaceutical companies, and more.

Show Me State voters will be voting on three separate medical marijuana initiatives in November. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon US Attorney Says Marijuana Industry There Is Out of Control. Oregon US Attorney Billy J. Williams fired a warning shot across the bow of the state's pot industry on Thursday. Responding to a High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) report this week that accused the state's marijuana growers of overproduction, Williams minced few words: "The recent HIDTA Insight Report on marijuana production, distribution, and consumption in Oregon confirms what we already know -- it is out of control," he said. "The industry's considerable and negative impacts on land use, water, and underage consumption must be addressed immediately. State officials should respond quickly and in a comprehensive manner to address the many concerns raised by this assessment," said Williams. "To date, we've seen insufficient progress from our state officials. We are alarmed by revelations from industry representatives, landowners, and law enforcement partners describing the insufficient and underfunded regulatory and enforcement structure governing both recreational and medical use. A weakly-regulated industry will continue to detract from the livability and health of communities throughout the state."

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Governor Signs Bill Allowing Medical Marijuana Administration in Schools. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has signed into law a bill that requires public schools to allow the parents of sick children to administer medical marijuana to them at school. The law allows parents to administer "cannabis-infused products" if both the child and the parents have been approved under the state's medical marijuana law.

Missouri Will Vote on Not One, Not Two, But Three Medical Marijuana Initiatives. The secretary of state's office on Thursday certified three different medical marijuana initiatives for the November ballot. There is a constitutional amendment from New Approach Missouri, as well as a constitutional amendment from Find the Cures and an easier to amend statutory initiative from Lowell Pearson, a Jefferson City attorney.

Oklahoma Health Board Approves New Medical Marijuana Rules. The Board of Health on Wednesday adopted new rules to govern the state's medical marijuana system. The new rules amend or totally revoke the original proposed rules, which included a ban on the sale of smokeable marijuana, a requirement that a pharmacist be present at dispensaries, and a requirement that women of childbearing age take a pregnancy test before using medical marijuana. Also gone are guidelines that limited THC levels.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

House Panel Presses Drug Companies on Opioid Crisis. The leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have sent letters to three companies that manufacture opioids requesting they appear before the committee to answer questions about how they marketed opioids and whether they ignored evidence of abuse of their products. The companies are Insys Therapeutics, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, and Purdue Pharma. The letters make no mention of ensuring that chronic pain patients continue to receive adequate supplies of opioids.

Chronicle AM: NY Gov Endorses Marijuana Legalization, States Ask Congress to Help on Banking, More... (8/2/18)

New York's governor gets behind marijuana legalization, the National Conference of State Legislatures wants Congress to fix the legal pot industry's banking problems, and more.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) gets on board with marijuana legalization. (Pat Arnow/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

State Legislatures Ask Congress to Help Marijuana Businesses Access Financial Services. The National Council of State Legislatures approved a directive Wednesday calling on Congress to help legal marijuana businesses gain access to banking and financial services. The policy directive will help guide the council's lobbying activities in Washington.

New York Governor Endorses Marijuana Legalization, Forms Working Group. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Thursday that he has formed a working group to draft legislation to legalize marijuana. Cuomo said he hoped the legislature would consider a legalization bill in the next session. The legislation will be based on the findings of a multi-agency study headed by the state Health Department that was released last month. "As we work to implement the report's recommendations through legislation, we must consider all aspects of a regulated marijuana program, including its impact on public health, criminal justice, and state revenue, and mitigate any risks associated with it," he said.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Dispensaries Now Offering Buds. For the first time since state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries opened their doors in the state, patients can buy dried flowers from plants grown under the legal system. At least 16 dispensaries in the state were offering buds as of Wednesday, with more certain to follow as harvest season looms. But under state law, the buds cannot be smoked -- only vaped.

Why Marijuana Will Play a Major Role in the Next Two National Elections [FEATURE]

Last week, the San Jose Convention Center hosted the National Cannabis Industry Association's (NCIA) 2018 Cannabis Business Summit and Expo. More than 7,000 marijuana industry players and hopefuls crammed into exhibition halls and conference rooms for the three-day confab, located squarely in the heart of the world's largest legal marijuana market -- California.

The variety of stuff on display was mind-boggling: Armored cars, safes, "California compliant" marijuana delivery vans, multi-thousand-dollar extraction devices of gleaming metal and shining glass, lighting systems, cooling systems, myriad forms of packaging, business management systems, POS systems, cannabis industry talent headhunters, greenhouses, modular grow fixtures, insurance companies, law firms, real estate firms -- vegan CBD gummies -- and much, much more. And while a few tie-dyes could be spotted in the crowds, they were few and far between.

While for most attendees the expo was all about business, the legal marijuana business still has to ponder the specter of federal marijuana prohibition actually being enforced. And even at the state level -- where the industry can make money -- it is still constrained by the annoying fact that adult use marijuana is only legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. One panel of experienced marijuana watchers zoomed in on the politics of pot law reform to try to divine what the near future holds -- not so much for the industry, but in terms of consolidating the political victories that have already seen marijuana move from the back alleys to, well, shiny big city convention centers.

The discussion among panelists NCIA director of governmental relations Mike Correia; Jolene Forman, staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance; and John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management and a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institute, covered a variety of topics and sketched the outlines of what pot politics could look like and achieve between now and the 2020 elections.

Federal Legislation

DPA attorney Forman pointed to three pieces of federal marijuana legislation:

  • The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, S. 3032, sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) with five Republican and four Democratic cosponsors. The bill would modify the Controlled Substances Act so that it would not apply to people acting in compliance with state laws in states where it is legal.
  • The Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, S. 3174, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The bill would federally decriminalize marijuana by removing it from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
  • The Marijuana Justice Act, S. 1689, sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and cosponsored by a virtual who's who of Democratic 2020 presidential contenders, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). It would remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act and eliminate federal criminal penalties for marijuana commerce.

While both the Schumer bill and the Booker bill would decriminalize marijuana, the STATES Act, which would only apply in places it's already legal, is more likely to gain traction, said Forman, a position seconded by Correia.

"The STATES Act is most likely to move," said Correia, who spends his days haunting the corridors of power on Capitol Hill as he lobbies for the industry. "Congress is incremental."

Movement could come faster if Democrats take the House or Senate, he said. "Maybe the Democrats will be more aggressive," Correia suggested, drawing a comparison with movement on gay and lesbian issues in recent years.

Not so fast, said Hudak, noting that key congressional committee chairs have bottled up marijuana bills so far. "Until both parties stop putting in foes of reform in leadership positions, there will be no progress," he said. "And it's not just the GOP." (Until a few months ago he might have been referring to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who represents the world's largest legal pot market but who only dropped her opposition to legalization last May in the face of a primary challenge and is only beginning to shed last century's prohibitionist ideology.)

There is no reason for Democrats to put enemies of reform in leadership positions, Hudak said. "Cannabis is already a Democratic core value."

"Marijuana legalization could pass Congress right now," Correia argued, "but it doesn't get any hearings; it doesn't get any votes."

If Congress Fails to Act

DPA's Forman explained that while it is now clear that states have the right to not criminalize marijuana and not enforce federal prohibition, a hostile Justice Department could still potentially wreak havoc.

"What is untested in the courts is whether federal preemption could block regulation," she said. In other words, it's possible that the Justice Department could blow up states' ability to tax and regulate the industry.

Forman noted that medical marijuana states are currently protected from Justice Department interference by the repeated passage of amendments to spending bills blocking the DOJ from using its funds to go after medical marijuana where it is legal.

"We need the same for adult use," she said.

Without legislation protecting marijuana, "the executive branch can do things, it could be more aggressive," said Hudak. But he added that doing so would have a price. "That could affect the department's working relationship with the states," he warned.

Correia thought Justice Department meddling was unlikely, despite Jeff Sessions' druthers. "It makes zero sense politically to interfere," he argued, pointing to marijuana's popularity in opinion polls.

Hudak pointed out a possible flip side to a hostile executive power. "A reform-minded president could do a lot," he said, perhaps thinking of the Obama administration's Cole memo laying out how federal prosecutors would lay off legal marijuana in the states. Despite Sessions having nullified the Cole memo, it still seems to be largely the approach of the land.

The 2018 Midterms

"This is an exciting year for cannabis policy politics," said Hudak, pointing to the example of Texas, where progressive Democratic challenger and legalization advocate Rep. Beto O'Rourke is closing in on incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R).

"Beto is getting close to Cruz, and the whole time, he's screaming about his support for cannabis reform. That's transformational," he said. "Politicians lag behind; they've been terrified of this issue. Now it's politically beneficial. If you're against cannabis, the best thing to do is shut up about it. Nobody is with you."

It's still an uphill battle in Texas, though. Cruz is leading O'Rourke by 8.4 points in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. But that's only half as much as Cruz's 16-point victory in his 2012 Senate race, and O'Rourke has three more months to move up. And just today, a new Texas Lyceum poll had Cruz leading only 41% to 39%, well within the poll's margin of error.

According to Correia, trying to work with Republicans on Capitol Hill has led to lessons learned: "We see no point in trying to work with the GOP any longer," he said. "We'll be giving money to challengers in competitive races. The Democrats are thinking about this; they will run on marijuana."

The 2020 Election

It looks like marijuana is going to be a popular issue in 2020 -- or at least the people thinking about running for the Democratic presidential nomination seem to think so.

"Potential Democratic candidates are getting their names on big pot bills," Forman noted.

Marijuana is also likely to be on state ballots in 2020, and that will be good for Democrats, said Hudak.

"There will be more initiatives, and those drive Democratic turnout," he argued. "In 2012, Democrats in Colorado voted for cannabis -- and for president, too. Democratic politicians are seeing this."

But Correia said the current president could be a wild card here (as in so many other places): "Trump might just decide to steal the issue, to take it off the table."

Given that Trump has signaled support for the STATES Act, and given Trump's willingness to adopt any position if he thinks it brings him political gain, that's not impossible. And it would take some immeasurable oomph out of Democratic sails.

The Next States to Legalize

Michigan will vote on a legalization initiative in November, and there will be efforts in Arizona and Ohio in 2020, the panelists said. But grassroots initiatives could also bubble up in places like North Dakota and Oklahoma, both of which saw serious efforts this year that will almost certainly not make the November ballot but do lay the groundwork for the next cycle.

Vermont became the first state to free the weed via the legislative process (although it does not allow retail sales), but Correia sketched out how the next couple of years could see Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island fall in line behind it. By the time November 2020 rolls around, most of New England and the mid-Atlantic states could be legal, with Illinois and Michigan creating a major toehold in the heart of the Midwest.

When it comes to marijuana policy and ending pot prohibition, it looks to be a very interesting and fruitful next couple of years.

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

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana policy had a slow week, but the fight over Oklahoma's new voter-approved medical marijuana law continued, and Detroit set some regulations.

Michigan

Detroit City Council Votes to Cap Dispensary Numbers. The city council voted Tuesday night to limit the number of dispensaries that can operate in the city to 75. The measure also regulates the commercial cultivation, processing, testing, distribution, and sale of medical marijuana and imposes limitations on the size, location, and operations of medical marijuana businesses.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Health Officials Revise Proposed Medical Marijuana Rules. The Department of Health last Friday released new proposed medical marijuana rules that remove some of the most criticized provisions of its first swing at the issue. The rules no longer ban the sale of smokable marijuana or require female patients to get a pregnancy test (!). The department also ditched a rule that limited the amount of THC in marijuana products.

Oklahoma Health Board Considering New Rules for Medical Marijuana. The state Board of Health is meeting Wednesday to try once again to come up with regulations for the state's voter-approved medical marijuana program. The revised guidelines now eliminate a ban on the sale of smokable marijuana and a requirement that a pharmacist be present in every dispensary. The new rules also drop the requirement that women of child-bearing age take a pregnancy test before using medical marijuana.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: Yet Another Good News Pot Poll, Colombia's Santos Rips Drug War, More... (8/1/18)

Another national poll has a solid majority for marijuana legalization, Manhattan quits prosecuting most small-time pot cases, Colombia's outgoing president takes a parting shot at drug prohibition, and more.

Outgoing Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has some parting words for the war on drugs. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Yet Another Poll Has a National Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Harris Insights and Analytics has support for marijuana legalization at 57% and support for medical marijuana at a whopping 85%. The poll is in line with numerous recent polls showing majorities for marijuana legalization.

Manhattan Prosecutor Quits Prosecuting Small-Time Marijuana Cases. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office's new policy of not prosecuting most small-time marijuana cases went into effect today. People will not be arrested for possessing small amounts or smoking in public, but could still get busted for sales or if there is a public safety threat.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit City Council Votes to Cap Dispensary Numbers. The city council voted Tuesday night to limit the number of dispensaries that can operate in the city to 75. The measure also regulates the commercial cultivation, processing, testing, distribution, and sale of medical marijuana and imposes limitations on the size, location, and operations of medical marijuana businesses.

Oklahoma Health Board Considering New Rules for Medical Marijuana. The state Board of Health is meeting Wednesday to try once again to come up with regulations for the state's voter-approved medical marijuana program. The revised guidelines now eliminate a ban on the sale of smokable marijuana and a requirement that a pharmacist be present in every dispensary. The new rules also drop the requirement that women of child-bearing age take a pregnancy test before using medical marijuana.

International

Colombia's Santos Directs Parting Shot Against War on Drugs. Outgoing Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has ripped into the global war on drugs in an opinion piece in the Americas Quarterly. "The War on Drugs has taken too many lives: The cure has been worse than the disease. In Colombia, we have paid a very high price for it, perhaps the highest of any nation," Santos warned. "The time has come for the world to take a moment of sober reflection. We must study, seriously and rigorously, the efforts that have been made around the world to regulate the drug trade, in order to learn from our successes, as well as our difficulties and failures," added the Nobel Prize winner.

Ghana Drug Control Board Member Calls for Drug Decriminalization. Michael Addo, deputy executive secretary of the Ghanaian Narcotics Control Board, called Tuesday for drug decriminalization, saying that the country was wasting resources imprisoning drug users and calling for alternative sanctions for them. He also called for the strengthening of drug treatment and rehabilitation efforts.

Italian Health Minister Says Government Will Expand Medical Marijuana Program. Health Minister Giulia Grillo said Tuesday that the government will ramp up its medical marijuana program. She said the government will explore licensing private companies to produce marijuana and that she would "make every effort to make medical cannabis available" in pharmacies alongside other prescription drugs.

Chronicle AM: PA Pot Bill Coming, Philippines Police Vow "Surgical, Chilling" Drug War, More... (7/31/18)

A Pennsylvania lawmaker will file a marijuana legalization bill, Canada moves toward roadside saliva drug testing, the Philippines police vow more drug war, and more.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war will continue.(Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Lawmaker to File Legalization Bill. Citing a recent report from state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale that legalizing marijuana could create more than half a billion annually in tax revenues for the state, Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) says he will introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. "States from coast to coast have embraced legalization and those states are reaping the economic and criminal justice benefits," Wheatley said in a statement. "It is time Pennsylvania joins with those states in leaving behind the ugly stigma of marijuana."

Dark Web

Imprisoned Silk Road Founder Sees Some Charges Dismissed. Federal prosecutors in Maryland have dismissed an indictment against imprisoned Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht. The indictment contained the only charge that Ulbricht ever engaged in a murder-for-hire scheme. Despite the fact that those charges were never proven, or even tried, they were cited by his sentencing judge in handing down a draconian double life without parole sentence for online drug dealing. Ulbricht is currently appealing his sentence to the US Supreme Court.

International

Canada Set to Approve First Device for Testing Drivers' Saliva for Weed. The federal Justice Department has approved the first device designed to drug test drivers' saliva for the presence of marijuana. Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould has now given a 30-day notice of a ministerial order to approve the Draeger DrugTest 5000, produced by a company based in Germany. The device is already approved in other countries, including the United Kingdom and Germany.

Philippines Police Vow "Surgical and Chilling" Drug War. Philippine police vowed Monday to revamp and ratchet up their fight against crime and drugs just a week after President Rodrigo Duterte promised to keep the bloody campaign going. "Surgical and chilling will be the trademark of the reinvigorated anti-illegal drugs and anti-criminality campaign," police chief Oscar Albayalde told a news conference. Tends of thousands of purported drug dealers and users have been killed in Duterte's crusade, which is now under preliminary investigation by the International Criminal Court.

Watch: Jeff Sessions Acknowledges States Have the Right to Pass Their Own Marijuana Laws

Even as he defended federal marijuana prohibition, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions last Thursday conceded that states have the right to pass their own marijuana laws.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions (senate.gov)
Sessions, an avowed foe of marijuana legalization, has moved to rescind Obama-era guidance to prosecutors that gave some protection to state-legal marijuana operations, but the reality on the ground is that even when given a green light by the Justice Department to go after state-legal marijuana, federal prosecutors in those states are largely leaving it alone.

Sessions has also been left isolated by President Trump, who has signaled support for legislation that would end federal marijuana prohibition.

Last Thursday, Sessions was in Massachusetts, where voters in 2016 approved marijuana legalization and where sales in pot shops are expected to begin sometime this year. A reporter asked Sessions about his stance on legalization.

"We'll enforce the federal law; the federal law remains the law of the land," he replied. "Personally, my view is that the American republic will not be better if there are marijuana sales on every street corner, but states have a right to set their own laws and will do so, and we will follow the federal law," he said.

After the press conference, a Department of Justice spokesperson told MassLive.com the comments did not represent a shift for Sessions. This is true: Sessions remains committed to federal marijuana prohibition, but he can't seem to get his US attorneys in states where marijuana is legal to do much about it. And now, he's at least admitting that states have the right to craft their own pot laws.

Here's the video:

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Chronicle AM: Feds Cracking Down on Fentanyl OD Deaths, OK Revises MedMJ Rules, More... (7/30/18)

A bill to protect marijuana-using federal workers in states where it is legal is filed, federal prosecutors are going hard after dealers linked to fatal fentanyl overdoses, the Republic of Georgia ends administrative punishments for marijuana use, and more.

The feds are meting out stiff sentences to dealers of fentanyl whose product kills people. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Federal Bill Would Block Federal Government from Firing Workers for Positive Pot Test Results in States Where It Is Legal. US Reps. Charlie Crist (D-FL) and Drew Ferguson (R-GA) filed the "Fairness in Drug Testing Under State Law Act" last Thursday. The bill would protect federal workers from being fired for testing positive for marijuana if they reside "in a state where that individual's private use of marijuana is not prohibited." The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Campaign in Final Days of Signature-Gathering. Green the Vote announced Sunday that it now has more than 132,000 raw signatures aimed at earning a place on the ballot for its legalization initiative, State Question 797. The group needs about 124,000 valid voter signatures and has until August 8 to hand in more signatures. The rule of thumb is that 20% to 30% of raw signatures may be found invalid, meaning Green the Vote can't really rest easy until it has around 180,000 raw signatures. Even if the group comes up with enough valid signatures, it would still face timeline to being approved for the November ballot because it is bumping up against deadlines for getting the measure approved by the governor and the state supreme court.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Health Officials Revise Proposed Medical Marijuana Rules. The Department of Health last Friday released new proposed medical marijuana rules that remove some of the most criticized provisions of its first swing at the issue. The rules no longer ban the sale of smokable marijuana or require female patients to get a pregnancy test (!). The department also ditched a rule that limited the amount of THC in marijuana products.

Asset Forfeiture

Coalition of Public Policy Groups Calls on House to Limit Civil Asset Forfeiture. A broad coalition of public policy organizations last Thursday submitted a letter to the US House of Representatives, urging members of Congress to limit civil asset forfeiture through amendments to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Industries (CJS) appropriations bill. "Current law allows law enforcement to confiscate property from innocent Americans without charging anyone with a crime," the letter says. "When citizens object, they encounter a system that is stacked against them procedurally and that treats them as presumptively guilty. This unpopular practice, known as civil forfeiture, is an affront to property rights and civil liberties and must be banned or reformed as soon as possible, but the immediate priority should be to amend the CJS appropriations bill when it is considered in the House of Representatives in order to roll back the Department of Justice's unjustified expansion of this practice. Click on the link to a see a list of the signatory groups.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

The Feds Are Prosecuting Fentanyl Overdose Deaths as Homicides in Crackdown on Opioid Dealers. Federal prosecutors are increasingly treating fentanyl overdose deaths as homicides as they crack down by punishing opioid dealers with ever more severe prison sentences. They are using charges that carry lengthy mandatory minimum sentences. In one case, a dealer charged with distributing fentanyl that resulted in the overdose of a New Hampshire man got a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence. Federal fentanyl prosecutions have nearly tripled, with 51 cases in FY 2016 to 181 in FY 2017. Last year, 95 people nationwide received federal prison sentences for distributing drugs resulting in death or serious injury, nearly double the number in 2014, according to the US Sentencing Commission.

International

Georgia Constitutional Court Outlaws All Punishment for Marijuana Consumption. The Constitutional Court ruled Monday that people can no longer be hit with administrative punishments, such as fines, for using marijuana. The decision goes into effect immediately and comes eight months after the same court abolished criminal penalties for marijuana use. Using marijuana is "an action protected by the right to a person's free development," the court held. Cultivation and distribution of marijuana remain criminal offenses.

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