Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: AG Nominee Addresses Sentencing, OH Sees First MMJ Dispensary, More... (1/16/19)

William Barr addresses concerns about his sentencing policy history, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) reiterates his call to pass a legalization bill, Ohio sees its first medical marijuana dispensary, and more.

The Buckeye State sees a landmark day. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Governor Renews Call for Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) used his State of the State address Tuesday to renew his call for marijuana legalization. “By legalizing adult-use marijuana – first and foremost – we can reverse the inequality and unfairness left from years of failed drug policies and shift public safety resources to where they can do the most good,” he said. He also called for the expungement of past pot possession arrests. “We must ensure that those with a past mark on their records because of a low-level offense can have that stain removed, so they can move forward to get a stable job or an education,” he said. A legalization bill is already very near the finish line, but Murphy and legislators are still haggling over issues such as tax rates.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Dispensary Sales Begin Today. A Sandusky dispensary initiated the era of legal medical marijuana sales in the Buckeye State on Wednesday, making its first sale to a card-carrying woman who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Four other dispensaries have received their final licenses but have not opened yet. Eventually, there should be 56 dispensaries statewide.

South Carolina Legislators Unveil Medical Marijuana Bill. A pair of Republican legislators, state Sen. Tom Davis and Rep. Peter McCoy, on Tuesday filed a medical marijuana, the Compassionate Care Act (S 366). “This is South Carolina, not California or Colorado, and what the vast majority of people in our state want is a socially conservative medical marijuana law, one that provides medical patients truly in need with relief but draws a bright line against recreational use by imposing strict penalties,” Davis said.

Sentencing

Attorney General Nominee Defends Harsh Sentencing But Says He is Open to Sentencing Reform. During his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, Trump's nominee for attorney general, William Barr, defended his role in harsh mandatory minimum sentencing practices in the 1980s and 1990s but said he is now open to sentencing reforms, such as the Fair Sentencing Act, which passed Congress last month. "From my perspective, the very draconian penalties on crack were put in place initially because when the crack epidemic first hit, it was like nuclear weapons going off in inner cities," Barr told Sen. Dick Durbin (D–Ill.). "The initial reaction was actually trying to help those communities. Over time, those same leaders are now saying to us, 'This is devastating. Generations of us have been incarcerated.' And we should listen to the same people we were listening to before."

5 Things We Now Know After 5 Years of Legal Marijuana in Colorado [FEATURE]

It's been five years since the era of legal marijuana sales began in Colorado, and that's been enough time to begin to be able to see what sorts of impact the freeing of the weed has had on the Rocky Mountain State. From the economy and the fiscal health of the state government to law enforcement and public safety, legalizing marijuana has consequences.

Denver's skyline (Creative Commons)
Thanks to marijuana sales reports and tax revenue reports from the state Department of Revenue, as well as a legislatively mandated biennial report from the Division of Criminal Justice, we can see what some of those consequences are.

1. They sure buy a lot of weed in Colorado, and the state's coffers are filling up with marijuana tax revenues. Total marijuana sales in the state were more than $683 million in 2014—the year legal sales began—and have since more than doubled to more than $1.4 billion last year. Since legalization, the amount of legal weed sold in the state has now topped $6 billion. That's created nearly 20,000 jobs, and it has also generated more than $900 million for the state government in marijuana taxes, licenses, and fees. Tax revenues have increased every year since legalization and those dollars help fund public school projects, as well as human services, public affairs, agriculture, labor and employment, judicial affairs, health care policy, transportation and regulatory affairs. Pot revenues still only account for one percent of state revenues, but every $900 million helps.

2. Marijuana arrests are way down, but black people are still getting busted disproportionately. Even though pot is legalized, there are still ways to get arrested on a marijuana charge, such as possessing more than an ounce or selling or growing unlicensed weed. Still, arrests have declined dramatically, dropping by 56 percent during the legalization era. Both possession and sales offenses declined, but arrests for unlawful production were up markedly, reflecting the state's continuing fight to eliminate the black market. The age group most likely to get busted was 18-20-year-olds, who can only legally use or possess marijuana if they have a medical card. They are getting busted at a rate 30 times that of adults. Arrests are way down among all ethnic/racial groups, but black people are still getting arrested for pot at a rate nearly twice that of whites.

3. Legalization has not led to more traffic fatalities. While the number of car drivers in fatal wrecks had marijuana in their systems has increased dramatically, the report notes that “detection of cannabinoid in blood is not an indicator of impairment but only indicates presence in the system.” Marijuana DUIs were up three percent, but fatal traffic accidents involving marijuana-impaired drivers actually decreased by five percent.

4. Use rates are up slightly among adults, but not among teens. The number of adults who reported using marijuana in the past 30 days has increased by 2 percent, with nearly one-fifth of men reporting past month use. That's almost double the number of women reporting past month use. These are high rates of use compared to the nation as a whole, but the state has always had relatively high use rates, even dating back before legalization. (There is a chicken and egg question here: Do Coloradans like to smoke pot because weed is legal or is weed legal because Coloradans like to smoke pot?) But what about the kids? Well, the kids are alright. Marijuana use rates among middle and high school students have been unchanged since legalization, and so have graduation rates.

5. Emergency room visits linked to marijuana increased. Some 575 people presented to hospitals with marijuana-related problems back in 2000, but that number jumped to more than 3,500 by 2016. Emergency room visits and calls to poison control centers were both up. It's important to note, however, that the vast majority of marijuana-related ER visits are related to panic or anxiety reactions and end with the patient eventually calming down and going home. Marijuana ER visits are not life-The rise is also likely a function of new, naive users, especially of edibles, biting off more than they can chew.

Chronicle AM: IL, NY Governors Embrace Pot, PA Bid to Punish Drug Using Pregnant Women, More... (1/15/19)

William Barr suggests he'll keep hands off of state-legal marijuana, New York's governor unveils his marijuana legalization plan, government witnesses in the El Chapo trial undercut Trump's drug justification for his border wall, and more. 

Governors are seeing dollar signs in marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

US Attorney General Nominee Says He Supports Federal Pot Prohibition, But Won't Go After State Law-Compliant Operations. During his confirmation hearing Tuesday, attorney general nominee William Barr said he would support banning marijuana “everywhere,” but that he did not want to “upset settled expectations” in states that have already legalized marijuana. “I’m not going to go after companies that have relied on the Cole Memorandum,” Barr told the committee. “However, we either should have a federal law that prohibits marijuana everywhere, which I would support myself because I think it’s a mistake to back off marijuana. But if we want a federal approach, if we want states to have their own laws, let’s get there and let’s get there the right way.”

Ilinois Governor Reiterates Pledge to Legalize Marijuana. In his inaugural address Monday night, incoming Gov. JB Pritzker (D) confirmed that he will indeed move ahead with a plan for marijuana legalization. “In the interests of keeping the public safe from harm, expanding true justice in our criminal justice system, and advancing economic inclusion, I will work with the legislature to legalize, tax and regulate the sale of recreational cannabis in Illinois,” Pritzker said. A placeholder bill has already been filed in the Senate.

New York Governor Unveils Marijuana Legalization Plan. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Tuesday unveiled his plan to legalize marijuana in the state. His plan calls for a 22% tax on wholesale sales and a per-gram tax on growers. It would also set up licensing programs for growers, distributors, and retailers, with growers barred from opening retail shops. The plan would allow cities and counties the option of banning marijuana sales in their jurisdictions. Cuomo also vowed to institute expungement for past pot possession convictions.

Pregnancy

Pennsylvania Senator Wants to Punish Women Who Use Drugs While Pregnant. Late last month, the state Supreme Court ruled that pregnant women who use drug cannot be charged with child abuse because a fetus is not a child. That was too much for state Sen. Don White (R-Indiana County), who issued a press release Monday announcing plans to file a bill that would allow the state to punish them. "Regardless of what the court may rule, a mother's responsibility begins before her child is born and that should not be erased by a perceived ambiguity in the law," White said in a press release. The move is opposed by the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which said the issue is much more complex.

The Border

Government Witnesses in El Chapo Trial Testify That They Trafficked Drugs Through Tunnels, Ports of Entry, Not Over Wall-less Border. Sinaloa cartel members testifying as government witnesses at the trial of imprisoned cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman testified that most of the drugs they smuggled into the US came in fishing boats, trains, semi-trucks, and passenger vehicles entering the country at ports of entry. They testified that they've also used tunnels under the border, but none testified that they pushed drugs across an unwalled border. 

Chronicle AM: RI Governor Ready to Legalize Weed, Myanmar Opium Crop Drop, More... (1/14/19)

Rhode Island's governor is ready to hop on the pot legalization bandwagon, Vermont solons are moving to legalize pot commerce, Ohio's governor rolls out a response to the opioid crisis, and more.

Opium production is down in Myanmar, the UNODC says. But synthetics are on the rise. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Governor Proposes Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) is proposing marijuana legalization as part of her budget plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Her proposal would allow for regulated marijuana commerce but would ban home cultivation and place limits on the potency of products available for sale. The proposal would also limit the amount of THC in edibles to do more than 5 milligrams per serving. Raimondo has been slow to jump on the legalization bandwagon but said the state should now move in that direction because most of its neighbors are.

Vermont Legislators Prepare Bill to Allow Marijuana Sales. The Senate Judiciary Committee is planning to introduce a bill that would legalize marijuana commerce in the state. The state legalized marijuana possession last year but did not include a system of taxed and regulated sales. This bill would tax sales at 10%, with a 1% local option tax. The state's Marijuana Advisory Commission had recommended a 26% tax and funneling much of the tax revenues into the departments of public safety and health to pay for new enforcement and prevention efforts, but Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) wants the revenues to go into the general fund. He says the bill could pass the Senate within a month, but it faces a rockier path in the House.

Kratom

Utah Bill Would Regulate—Not Ban—Kratom. State Sen. Curt Bramble (R-Provo) has filed SB 58, the “Kratom Consumer Protection Act.” The bill would create regulations about how the substance is sold in the state and would bar the sale and distribution of adulterated kratom.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Ohio Governor Confronts Opioid Crisis. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed an executive order Monday to create RecoveryOhio, an initiative aimed at confronting the state's opioid crisis. He appointed Alisha Nelson, who oversaw drug abuse policy in the attorney general's office to work"every day with a single-minded focus of fighting the drug epidemic," according to the executive order.

International

UN Says Opium Cultivation Down in Myanmar, Cites Rise of Synthetics. Opium cultivation in Myanmar declined for the fourth year in a row last year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said last Friday. UNODC said the 2018 crop was 10% smaller than the previous years. The agency also said the decline was due to a growing regional market in synthetic drugs. 

Medical Marijuana Update

The Arizona Supreme Court will take up the vexing question of whether hashish should be considered medical marijuana, Ohio's first dispensary opens, a South Carolina medical marijuana bill has been filed, and more.

Arizona

Arizona Supreme Court Will Hear Appeal on Lower Court Ruling Hash Isn't Medical Marijuana. The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of Rodney Jones, who was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for possessing hash even though he was a registered medical marijuana patient. An appeals court upheld his conviction, saying the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law is “silent” on the issue.

Arkansas

Arkansas Regulators Approve 32 Companies to Sell Medical Marijuana, The state Medical Marijuana Commission voted unanimously last Thursday to approve 32 companies to sell medical marijuana. The commission has divided the state into eight zones, with each zone getting four dispensaries.

Ohio

Ohio Dispensary Sales Begin Today. A Sandusky dispensary initiated the era of legal medical marijuana sales in the Buckeye State on Wednesday, making its first sale to a card-carrying woman who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Four other dispensaries have received their final licenses but have not opened yet. Eventually, there should be 56 dispensaries statewide.

South Carolina

South Carolina Panel Advances Resolution Calling for Medical Marijuana Research. A legislative panel has advanced a resolution urging Congress to allow more research on medical marijuana. The measure asks Congress to "take immediate and additional steps to promote and actively pursue scientific research and testing into the potential use of cannabis to treat other medical conditions and illness by removing the federal statutory and regulatory barriers that prevent these scientific endeavors." The resolution now advances to the full Senate Medical Affairs Committee for consideration.

South Carolina Legislators Unveil Medical Marijuana Bill. A pair of Republican legislators, state Sen. Tom Davis and Rep. Peter McCoy, on Tuesday filed a medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Care Act (S 366). “This is South Carolina, not California or Colorado, and what the vast majority of people in our state want is a socially conservative medical marijuana law, one that provides medical patients truly in need with relief but draws a bright line against recreational use by imposing strict penalties,” Davis said.

Tennessee

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Coming Soon. State Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) and Rep. Ron Travis (R-Dayton) announced Thursday that they are working on a final draft of a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state. The bill would create a new government commission to regulate the industry and allow qualifying patients to buy medical marijuana at state-licensed dispensaries.

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

Chronicle AM: WA Sees First Pot Pardons, AZ Supreme Court to Hear Hash Case, More... (1/11/19)

Washington's governor signs the first pot pardons there, Arkansas regulators approve licenses for 32 dispensaries, the Arizona Supreme Court will decide whether hash is medical marijuana, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Washington Governor Signs First Pot Possession Pardons. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed the first marijuana possession pardons on Wednesday. The move came five days after he announced plans to pardon up to 3,500 one-time pot offenders with no other criminal record.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Supreme Court Will Hear Appeal on Lower Court Ruling Hash Isn't Medical Marijuana. The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of Rodney Jones, who was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for possessing hash even though he was a registered medical marijuana patient. An appeals court upheld his conviction, saying the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law is “silent” on the issue.

Arkansas Regulators Approve 32 Companies to Sell Medical Marijuana, The state Medical Marijuana Commission voted unanimously Thursday to approve 32 companies to sell medical marijuana. The commission has divided the state into eight zones, with each zone getting four dispensaries.

South Carolina Panel Advances Resolution Calling for Medical Marijuana Research. A legislative panel has advanced a resolution urging Congress to allow more research on medical marijuana. The measure asks Congress to "take immediate and additional steps to promote and actively pursue scientific research and testing into the potential use of cannabis to treat other medical conditions and illness by removing the federal statutory and regulatory barriers that prevent these scientific endeavors." The resolution now advances to the full Senate Medical Affairs Committee for consideration.

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Coming Soon. State Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) and Rep. Ron Travis (R-Dayton) announced Thursday that they are working on a final draft of a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state. The bill would create a new government commission to regulate the industry and allow qualifying patients to buy medical marijuana at state-licensed dispensaries.

Hemp

Texas House Committee Recommends Passing Hemp Legislation. The House Committee on Agriculture and Livestock released an interim report this week that recommends state lawmakers enact legislation to legalize and regulate commercial hemp farming statewide. The committee argues that hemp cultivation and processing could be beneficial for Texas farmers.

Chronicle AM: Blumenauer Files HB 420, MI Civil Forfeiture Bills Filed, More... (1/10/19)

The head of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus has been busy, a Massachusetts panel recommends allowing pot cafes, a bipartisan Kentucky medical marijuana is filed, bipartisan Michigan asset forfeiture reform bills get filed, and more.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has hit the ground running in the new Congress. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Blumenauer Announces Co-Chairs of Congressional Cannabis Caucus for 116th Congress. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a leading advocate for cannabis policy reform and founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, today announced the launch of the Caucus for the 116th Congress. The Caucus leadership team includes Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who will become the first woman of color to Co-Chair the Caucus; Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), who newly joins the leadership team; and returning Co-Chair, Rep. Don Young (R-AK-At-Large). The bipartisan Caucus provides a forum for members of the U.S. House of Representatives to discuss, learn, and work together to establish a better and more rational approach to federal cannabis policy.

Blumenauer Files Bill to Treat Marijuana Like Alcohol -- House Bill 420. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has filed a bill to treat marijuana like alcohol by removing it from the list of controlled substances. Although it is not yet up on the congressional website, the bill will be numbered HB 420 in a nod to cannabis culture. The bill would put the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives in charge of regulating marijuana.

Massachusetts Panel Recommends Marijuana Social Consumption Sites. The Cannabis Advisory Board's public safety subcommittee voted Wednesday to allow on-site consumption of marijuana at designated cafes. The subcommittee also voted to allow delivery services. The Advisory Board is just that: it makes recommendations to the Cannabis Control Commission, but the Commission is not bound by its decisions.

Virginia Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Delegate Steve Heretick (D-Norfolk) has filed a marijuana legalization bill, HB 2371. It would legalize the possession and sale of marijuana by adults and would decriminalize pot possession for minors. The bill would also allow for limited home cultivation. Marijuana would be regulated by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. A bill with bipartisan support to legalize medical marijuana was filed Wednesday. SB 80 would set up a fully functioning production and distribution system and allow for home cultivation, but its prospects for passage this year are dim. House Majority Floor Leader John Carney has said he would not call for a vote on it if the Senate didn't support it, and Republican Senate President Robert Stivers is still calling marijuana "a gateway drug" that has no medicinal value other than "it makes you feel good."

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Bills to End Civil Asset Forfeiture Filed. A pair of bills to end civil asset forfeiture in the state, HB 4001 and HB 4002, were filed with bipartisan support Wednesday. The bills would require a criminal conviction before property valued at less than $50,000 could be permanently seized. Laws would also be tightened for seizures involving larger sums of money. The bills were rolled out with Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield joining Democrats, including Attorney General Dana Nessel, to back the bills.

International

Canada's Black Market Weed is Cheaper, More Prevalent Than Legal Weed. Stats Canada has reported that Canadians bought twice as much black market marijuana last year as legal marijuana, and paid less for it. The average price for a gram of legal pot last year was $9.70 per gram, while black market grams were going for $6.51. Stats Canada blamed legal pot shortages, delivery delays, and issues with delivery web sites.

Does Kratom Kill? [FEATURE]

Kratom, an herbal drug derived from a Southeast Asian tree that acts somewhat like an opioid, has become increasingly popular in recent years. Hundreds of thousands of people use it for energy and pain relief in small doses and as a substitute for or to get off of opioids such as heroin or prescription pain pills in larger doses.

kratom capsules (Creative Commons)
It is legal under federal law, although even though the DEA announced in 2016 it planned to criminalize it by placing it on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act -- a move it was forced to walk back following a loud public outcry. It is currently available online, as well as retail outlets across the country -- except in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia, all of which have criminalized it at the state or municipal level.

With the DEA out of the way, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took up the regulatory mantle, issuing various recalls for contaminated kratom products and attempting to rein in the booming kratom market. In November 2017, the FDA issued a hair-on-fire press release about the "deadly risks" of kratom use, warning that some 36 deaths nationwide were "associated" with the Southeast Asian herb. In March 2018, the FDA revised the number of deaths "associated" with kratom to 44.

Those numbers were savaged by the American Kratom Association, representing both users and sellers, in a policy report released in response to the FDA claims. That report examined the 33 cases for which information was available and found that the vast majority of them involved the use of multiple drugs, and in none of the cases was kratom shown to actually be responsible for the death.

For example, one case cited by the FDA involved an individual who drank alcohol, smoked heroin and took Xanax and Narco as well as kratom on the evening of his death. In another case cited by the FDA, the cause of death was not even an overdose but the suicide by hanging by a person with alcohol and benzodiazepines in his system, as well as a history of mental health issues.

In yet another case the FDA called kratom-related, the victim was a 300-pound man who died of pulmonary thromboemboli caused by deep vein thrombosis, who, in addition to having kratom in his system, had also consumed opioids, benzodiazepines, cannabinoids, oxycodone, fluoxetine, norfluxoetine, trazodone, alprazolam, nordiazepan, and gabapentin.

"None of the case reports released to date support the evidentiary standard required by the CSA to prove there is a risk to the public health that relies primarily on the FDA claim of ‘numerous deaths associated with kratom,'" concluded report author Jane Babin.

Now, new research reported in a January 2 letter in the New England Journal of Medicine casts further doubt on the FDA's contentions about dangerousness. In that study, researchers at the University of Colorado examined 15 kratom-related deaths in the state and found that in all but one other opioids were present.

"When cases are considered kratom-only deaths, there really should be additional testing done, because in all of the cases we examined, we found other drugs involved when we did more comprehensive testing," said lead researcher Dr. Andrew Monte, an associate professor of emergency medicine.

Although the evidence that kratom is a killer is weak, Monte told it likely increases the risk of overdose when mixed with other drugs, but not when used alone. That led him to support a ban on the drug, although he acknowledged it could help people trying to get off opioids.

"It's probably worth examining what therapeutic role this may have," he said. "This may be a very good, reasonable option for opioid withdrawal for some patients."

In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of Americans are deciding for themselves that it works for them.

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

Medical Marijuana Update

A new year and state legislatures are getting back to work. Medical marijuana is on the agenda.

New Hampshire Lawmaker Files Pair of Medical Marijuana Bills. Rep. Renny Cushing (D) has filed two bills related to medical marijuana. HB 366 would add opioid addiction as a qualifying condition, while HB 364 would allow patients and caregivers to grow their own medicine.

New York Bills Would Allow Medical Marijuana Smoking, Use at Schools. Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D) has pre-filed SB 490, which would allow patients to smoke their medicine, but bar smoking anyplace where tobacco smoking is banned, while Sen. Brian Benjamin (D) has pre-filed SB 219, which would allow designated caregivers to administer medical marijuana to patients on school grounds or school-sponsored events.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Prefiled. State Rep. Rosalyn Henderson-Myers (D-Spartanburg) has pre-filed a medical marijuana bill, HB 3081. The bill would allow patients to possess and consume -- but not grow -- marijuana. It would also allow licensed shops to cultivate and sell medical marijuana and require them to use laboratories for testing.

Texas Sees a Dozen Medical Marijuana Bills Filed. The session hasn't even opened yet, and there are 12 medical marijuana bills already pre-filed. Two to watch are SB 90, a standard medical marijuana bill, and SB 209, which would allow for the home cultivation of medical marijuana.

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

Chronicle AM: Drug Czar's Office Shuttered in Shutdown, DC Full Pot Legalization Bill Filed, More... (1/9/19)

The federal government shutdown shutters the drug czar's office, Trump again mischaracterizes the nature of border drug smuggling, New Jersey's highest court lends a hand to drug court graduates seeking expungement, and more.

closed down in the shutdown
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Lawmaker Files Expungement Bill. Rep Renny Cushing (D) has filed a bill, HB 399, that would let people with convictions for possessing less than three-fourths of an ounce of weed before September 2017 have their records cleared. That date is when the state law decriminalizing pot possession went into effect.

DC Lawmaker Files Full Legalization Bill. Councilmember David Grosso (I) has reintroduced the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act, which would allow the city to establish a system of retail marijuana sales. Such a move has been blocked by House Republicans, and its prospects this year remain uncertain, but Grosso is moving ahead anyway.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Lawmaker Files Pair of Medical Marijuana Bills. Rep. Renny Cushing (D) has filed two bills related to medical marijuana. HB 366 would add opioid addiction as a qualifying condition, while HB 364 would allow patients and caregivers to grow their own medicine.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota Lawmaker Files Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck) has filed House Bill 1286, which would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. He filed a similar bill in 2017 that passed the House, but got zero votes in the Senate after it was opposed by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who remains in office but has refused so far to comment on this year's bill.

Drug Policy

Trump Once Again Misstates How Drugs Cross the Border With Mexico. In his oval office speech Tuesday night making his case for a border wall, President Trump once again mischaracterized the nature of drug smuggling across the Mexican border. While he was correct in stating that the vast majority of drugs coming into the country come through Mexico, his own DEA reported in November that "only a small percentage" of heroin and other drugs comes through areas outside of ports of entry.

Federal Government Shutdown Shutters Drug Czar's Office. Among the casualties of the shutdown is the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). If the shutdown continues up to the end of the month, funding for important grant programs involving law enforcement and prevention could be jeopardized.

Expungement

New Jersey Supreme Court Eases Requirements for Drug Court Graduates. The state Supreme Court ruled 7-0 Tuesday that drug offenders who have successfully completed a court-ordered treatment program do not have to prove that expunging their criminal records of those offenses is in the public interest. Instead, the high court ruled, the burden to demonstrate that the public interest requirement was not met should fall on the state. "In light of the rigorous monitoring that is the hallmark of drug court, as well as the new law's overall policy in favor of expungement for successful graduates, we find that participants are entitled to a rebuttable presumption that expungement is consistent with the public interest," the court held.

Of All People: The DEA Demolishes One of Trump's Main Claims About the Border Wall

As the president attempts to make his case for a wall on the US-Mexico border, one of his main selling points is that the wall would reduce the flow of illicit drugs into the country. Of all people, it's not our favorite agency that has rebutted the claim.

That agency is the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which in its 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment released just two months ago makes clear that at best Trump is uninformed and at worst that he is lying to the American people.

The vast majority of drugs smuggled into the US from Mexico come through ports of entry. (Creative Commons)
"Remember drugs. The drugs are pouring into this country. They don't go through the ports of entry. When they do, they sometimes get caught," Trump claimed at a Rose Garden news conference last Friday.

It's not a new claim for the president; it has been a pillar of his claim that there is a "crisis" on the border. But repeating a false claim doesn't make it any less false. What is true, as the DEA reports, is that the southwest border "remains the primary entry point for heroin into the United States," but it is not being lugged across the desert via a wall-less border.

According to the DEA, "the majority of the flow is through POVs [privately owned vehicles] entering the United States at legal ports of entry, followed by tractor-trailers, where the heroin is co-mingled with legal goods. Body carriers represent a smaller percentage of heroin movement and they typically smuggle amounts ranging from three to six pounds taped to their torso, or in shoes and backpacks."

To be clear, the body carriers the DEA is talking about are people coming through ports of entry -- not across an open border. The agency reported that only "a small percentage of all heroin seized" along the border was seized between ports of entry.

It's the same thing with fentanyl. According to the DEA, which says fentanyl imports are split between China and Mexico, Mexican drug traffickers "most commonly smuggle multi-kilogram loads of fentanyl concealed in POVs before trafficking the drugs through Southwest Border ports of entry." In the San Diego sector, which saw the biggest fentanyl seizures, 74 percent off seizures were from cars at ports of entry. In the Tucson sector, which had the next highest fentanyl seizure numbers, that figure was 91 percent.

Claiming that building a border wall would reduce the flow of drugs into the country is probably not the biggest lie Trump and his allies have told about the wall, but it is patently false.

Chronicle AM: FL Formerly Incarcerated Can Now Register to Vote, NY MMJ Bills, More... (1/8/19)

It's a landmark day for voting rights in Florida, New York sees a pair of bills filed to expand medical marijuana access, and more.

medical marijuana (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Prefiled. State Rep. Rosalyn Henderson-Myers (D-Spartanburg) has prefiled a medical marijuana bill, HB 3081. The bill would allow patients to possess and consume -- but not grow -- marijuana. It would also allow licensed shops to cultivate and sell medical marijuana and require them to use laboratories for testing.

New York Bills Would Allow Medical Marijuana Smoking, Use at Schools. Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D) has pre-filed SB 490, which would allow patients to smoke their medicine, but bar smoking anyplace where tobacco smoking is banned, while Sen. Brian Benjamin (D) has pre-filed SB 219, which would allow designated caregivers to administer medical marijuana to patients on school grounds or school-sponsored events.

Voting Rights

Florida Formerly Incarcerated Can Now Sign Up to Vote. As of today, Floridians with felony convictions who have served their sentences can now register to vote. This is the result of state voters' November approval of Amendment 4, which passed with 64% of the vote. "This is a historic moment," said Melba Pearson, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

Chronicle AM: Denver Psilocybin Init Advances, WA Governor to Pardon Pot People, More... (1/7/19)

The Denver magic mushroom initiative campaign hands in signatures, medical marijuana bills proliferate in Texas, Washington's governor announces plans to pardon small-time pot offenders, and more.

Decriminalize Denver handed in thousands of signatures for its municipal psilocybin initiative Monday. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut House Speaker Vows to Work on Legalization. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D) has said he would support marijuana legalization and work with his caucus to advance it. "I think we should legalize it," he said. "I will work with my caucus to get there, but it needs to be done in a responsible fashion that mirrors our medical marijuana program." The Senate president and the governor-elect have also said they are ready to end pot prohibition this year.

Massachusetts Commission Report Lists 19 Steps to Toughen Driver Drug Testing. A special commission has issued a report recommending 19 steps lawmakers should take to open the way for tougher drug testing of drivers in the wake of marijuana legalization there. One recommendation was to train more than 300 drug recognition experts; another was to expand the state's implied consent law for driving while intoxicated to include impairment due to drugs.

Washington Governor Will Pardon Small-Time Pot Possessors. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said last Friday he plans to pardon thousands of people convicted of personal pot possession charges. He said he would create an expedited process so some 3,500 people could apply for and receive pardons without having to go to court or hire a lawyer.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Sees a Dozen Medical Marijuana Bills Filed. The session hasn't even opened yet, and there are 12 medical marijuana bills already prefiled. Two to watch are SB 90, a standard medical marijuana bill, and HB 209, which would allow the home cultivation of medical marijuana.

Kratom

Utah Bill Would Keep Kratom Legal. State Sen. Curt Bramble (R-Provo) has said he will sponsor a bill to keep kratom legal after hearing from the herb's supporters. "I view this kind of in the same vein as medical marijuana," he said. "I've had people tell me kratom is an alternative for addictive opiates and that's what convinced me." He said his bill will keep kratom legal in its "pure" form, but not if "adulterated" with other additives.

Psychedelics

Denver Magic Mushroom Initiative Hands in Signatures. Organizers with Decriminalize Denver handed in more than 8,000 raw signatures Monday for their municipal magic mushroom initiative. The measure would make psilocybin and the mushrooms that contain it the lowest law enforcement priority and would bar the use of city funds to impose penalties on users or possessors. The measure needs 4,726 verified signatures to make it to the ballot.

Chronicle AM: Federal Marijuana Bill Filed, Ciudad Juarez Drug War Killings Surge, More... (1/4/19)

Wow, that was fast: The first marijuana bill of the new Congress has already been filed, an Arizona sheriff finally hops on board the naloxone train, Ciudad Juarez drug war killings are way up, and more.

Deputies in Pima County, Arizona, will finally start carrying the overdose reversal drug naloxone. (pa.gov)
Marijuana Policy

The New Congress Just Saw Its First Marijuana Bill Filed. That didn't take long. Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Don Young (R-AK) on Thursday reintroduced the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act. The bipartisan bill would protect state medical marijuana programs from federal interference and open the way for doctors at the Veterans Administration to recommend medical marijuana. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website, but you can view last year's version here. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is expected to file the Senate version soon.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Georgia Joins List of States Suing Opioid Makers for Fueling Drug Crisis. Georgia has now become the latest of more than 30 states that have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for what they say is their role in fueling the opioid crisis. The state is suing nine opioid makers and distributors in state court for what it calls racketeering and for creating the crisis. "We have over a 1,000 Georgians that died last year, more Georgians dying every day. We have over 1,000 Georgians right now that are suffering from an opioid misuse disorder," said Attorney General Chris Carr. The state is seeking both monetary damages to repay it for costs incurred fighting the epidemic, as well as punitive damages.

Harm Reduction

Arizona's Pima County Sheriff Finally Gets on Board With Deputies Carrying Naloxone. Pima County, home to the state's second largest city, Tucson, has gotten with the program and the sheriff's department will now issue the overdose reversal to deputies. Deputies in eleven of the state's 15 counties already carry it. Department officials had previously argued it was necessary for deputies because paramedics already carried it and because it might become unstable in the Arizona summer heat, but Sheriff Mark Napier admitted Wednesday that medical experts had told him the worse that could happen was that it might not work.

International

Mexico's Ciudad Juarez Had Nearly 1,250 Murders Last Year. The border city just across the Rio Grande from El Paso saw a big spike in murders last year, most of them drug prohibition-related. The state attorney general's office reported 1,247 killings last year, a big increase from the 772 people killed in 2017 and nearly triple the number killed in 2014. Most of the violence is related to the revival of the Juarez Cartel and to the defection of a key Los Aztecas leader to La Linea. Los Aztecas are also in the midst of internal factional strife. But wait, there's more: There's also a factional fight within Los Artistas Asesinos (Assassin Artists), a street enforcement gang with links to the Sinaloa Cartel, which is also working in the area.

Chronicle AM: James Carroll Approved as Drug Czar, Tijuana's Bloody 2018, More... (1/3/19)

Pennsylvania lawmakers are moving on marijuana legalization, the Trump administration finally gets a permanent drug czar, Tijuana saw a bloody year last year, and more.

Colombian coca farmers have been busy expanding their crop, and the US is concerned. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Get Moving on Legalization. On Wednesday, legalization proponent Sen. Daylin Leach (D) revealed that he and Sen. Sharif Street (D) are in the final stages of preparing a bill to legalize marijuana. On Thursday, Rep. Jake Wheatley Jr. (D) sent out a cosponsorship memo seeking support for a soon-to-filed House bill he described as "the most comprehensive legalization legislation to date."

Drug Policy

Senate Approves James Carroll as Drug Czar. James Carroll, who has been acting head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) since February, was confirmed as director Wednesday in one of the last acts of the lame duck Senate. Now, after nearly two years without a drug czar, the White House finally has a top drug policy advisor other than Kellyanne Conway.

Foreign Policy

Pompeo "Concerned" Over Colombia Coca Cultivation Increase. In a meeting with Colombian President Ivan Duque Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US is deeply concerned about rising levels of coca cultivation there. He also said the US would work with Colombia to cut production in half within five years.

International

Tijuana Saw 2,500 Murders Last Year as Drug Wars Raged. The state attorney general's office released a year-end report on December 31 saying that Tijuana had seen 2,499 registered homicides in 2018, but more bodies were found before day's end, bringing the toll past 2,500. The report said about 85% of the killings were related to the drug trade, especially a turf war between the New Generation Tijuana Cartel (aligned with the New Generation Jalisco Cartel) and the Sinaloa Cartel. But some of the killings are a result of factional fights within the Sinaloa Cartel over lucrative street-level markets and smuggling routes to the US.

Medical Marijuana Update

One federal agency begins to move on allowing hemp-based CBD products, Florida's legal battle over medical marijuana takes another twist, and more.

National

FDA Begins Process of Allowing Hemp-Based CBD Products. After President Trump signed the 2018 farm bill into law Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a press release pledging to pursue means of allowing businesses to legally market products containing hemp or non-psychoactive cannabinoids, such as CBD. FDA also asserted its right to regulate such products. "In view of the proliferation of products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived substances, the FDA will advance new steps to better define our public health obligations in this area," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said. "We'll also continue to closely scrutinize products that could pose risks to consumers."

Delaware

Delaware Judge Rules Fired Medical Marijuana User Can Sue Former Employer. A factory worker fired from his job after failing a drug test can sue his former employer, Superior Court Judge Noel Primos ruled on Monday. Jeremiah Chance claims his firing violated the anti-discrimination provision of the state's medical marijuana law and that he was targeted for retaliation after pointing out safety issues with railroad ties manufactured by the Kraft Heinze plant in Dover. The company had argued that the anti-discrimination clause was preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act, but the judge disagreed. The law does "not require employers to participate in an illegal activity... but instead merely prohibits them from discriminating based upon medical marijuana use," Primos wrote.

Florida

Florida Legal Battle Over Medical Marijuana Takes Another Turn. A state appeals court this week agreed to stay a circuit court judge's ruling that the legislature and the Department of Health violated the state's voter-approved medical marijuana amendment. The ruling comes in a case involving a Tampa marijuana grower, which challenged caps placed on the number of medical marijuana licensees. While the 1st District Appeals Court approved the stay, it also said its final decision on the case would be "expedited."

Oregon

Oregon to Allow Medical Marijuana Deliveries in Areas That Ban Dispensaries. State regulators have approved medical marijuana deliveries in areas where dispensaries are banned effective December 28. The rules were approved last week after patient advocates voiced concern about rules that limited access to medical marijuana.

South Carolina

South Carolina Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new poll from Benchmark Research finds that nearly three-quarters of South Carolinians are ready for medical marijuana. The poll had support at 72%, with even 63% of Republicans behind it. Medical marijuana bills last year won some committee votes, but were unable to advance.

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Chicago DEA agent gets caught helping a Puerto Rican drug cartel, an L.A. Customs agent gets convicted of big-time drug trafficking, a Pennsylvania police chief's heroin habit gets him in trouble, and more.

In Elizabeth Borough, Pennsylvania, the former police chief was arrested December 19 for stealing thousands of baggies of heroin from the department's evidence room. Timothy Butler, 42, was the police chief until the day of his arrest, when he resigned. Butler went down after officers complained he was interacting with a person who possessed heroin and that person told investigators he was making controlled drug buys for the chief, which investigators found unlikely. When confronted, Butler admitted the thefts and said he was addicted. He is charged with theft, obstruction of justice, drug possession, and prohibited acts.

In Chicago, a DEA agent was arrested December 20 for allegedly helping a Puerto Rico-based drug trafficking organization. Agent Fernando Gomez, 41, a former Evanston, Illinois, police detective, joined the DEA to help further a "narcotics conspiracy," prosecutors said. While still with the Evanston Police, Gomez sent guns obtained from drug dealers to a Puerto Rican man who is a member of La Organizacion de Narcotraficantes Unidos. He is also accused of helping the group smuggle drugs into New York. He faces federal drug, conspiracy, and firearms charges.

In Yulee, Florida, a former Georgia narcotics officers was arrested on December 20 on charges he was leading a meth distribution ring. Jason Kelly Register, a former Camden County Sheriff's Office and Darien Police narcotics officer, went down as part of a joint state-federal undercover investigation into meth trafficking in the area and was arrested along with 29 others. Department in McIntosh County. He is charged with conspiracy to traffic methamphetamine, sale of methamphetamine, and using a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

In Los Angeles, a federal customs agent was convicted December 15 of hiring a trucker to smuggle large quantities of drugs from Los Angeles to Chicago. Customs and Border Protection Agent Manuel Salas, 52, a 25-year veteran of the department, went down after the trucker was stopped in New Mexico and drugs were discovered. He then implicated Salas and his wife, who was found guilty of money laundering for accepting cash deposits for the drugs from the trucker. Salas himself was convicted of drug trafficking and conspiracy charges. He's looking at a minimum of 10 years in federal prison.

In Atlanta, a former state prison guard was sentenced December 21 to seven years and eight months in federal prison for taking money from an inmate to smuggle meth and marijuana into the Hays State Prison. Tiffany Cook, 34, went down after another inmate ratted her out and she was searched as she arrived at work. Prison officials found 118 grams of meth and 150 grams of marijuana inside her bra and vagina. She pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and introducing contraband into a prison.

Chronicle AM: Federal Marijuana Cases Decline, Oregon Ponders MJ Exports, More... (1/2/19)

Federal marijuana prosecutions are dropping as more states legalize, Oregon ponders legal marijuana exports, a South Carolina poll shows strong support for medical marijuana, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Prosecutions Are Declining. In a year-end report from the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that while overall drug prosecutions increased during Fiscal Year 2018, marijuana prosecutions were down. "Drug crime defendants, who accounted for 28 percent of total filings, grew two percent, although defendants accused of crimes associated with marijuana decreased 19 percent," Roberts wrote.

New York Governor Vows Marijuana Legalization in Inaugural Address. Gov Andrew Cuomo (D) used his inaugural address Tuesday to reiterate his support for legalizing marijuana. "When they write the history books and ask what did we do -- in the face of anger and division, when people were disillusioned, let New York's answer be that in this defining moment we brought healing and light and hope and progress and action," he said. "That New York led on legalizing recreational marijuana, bringing justice and new economic opportunity not for rich corporations, but for the poor communities that paid too high a price for too long." He also promised to propose "the most progressive agenda this state has ever seen, period" within a hundred days, and included marijuana legalization as part of that.

Oregon Ponders Becoming First State to Export Legal Marijuana. The Craft Cannabis Alliance, led by Adam Smith, is working with legislators on a plan to let the state start exporting marijuana to other legal pot states by 2021. Under draft language for a proposed bill, the state would allow wholesalers to ship across state lines to other legal pot states once the governor had signed a pact with the importing state to allow those deliveries. But any proposed bill to allow such sales faces obstacles at the federal level, where marijuana is still illegal.

Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new poll from Benchmark Research finds that nearly three-quarters of South Carolinians are ready for medical marijuana. The poll had support at 72%, with even 63% of Republicans behind it. Medical marijuana bills last year won some committee votes, but were unable to advance.

Chronicle AM: NH Legal Pot Push Begins, Russia Plans for Poppies, More... (12/31/18)

Marijuana bills aimed at the new year begin popping up, Pennsylvania's highest court rules for pregnant drug users, Russia ponders its own poppy crop, and more.

Citing sanctions from the West, Russia is moving to grow its own medicinal poppy crops. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Legalization Bill Ready to File. A group of state lawmakers have agreed on language for a bill that would allow for legal marijuana commerce and let adults possess up to an ounce of weed and grow up to six plants. The bill has not yet been formally filed. Legalization efforts in previous years have been thwarted in the Republican-dominated legislature, but Democrats retook control in the November elections, Still, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has vowed to veto any legalization bill that reaches his desk.

Virginia Decriminalization Bill Ready to Go. When the legislature convenes next week, it will have a decriminalization bill waiting for it. Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) has pre-filed SB 997, which would decriminalize the possession of up to a quarter-ounce of weed and provide for a maximum $50 civil penalty. Under current state law, getting caught with a joint carries a jail sentence of up to 30 days and a $500 fine. Similar bills have been filed in previous sessions, but never made it out of committee.

Pregnancy

Pennsylvania High Court Rules Drug-Using Pregnant Women Can't Be Charged With Child Abuse Under State Child Protection Law. In an opinion issued last Friday, the state Supreme Court held that the state's child protection law does not apply to pregnant women. The court ruled that the law doesn't include fetuses or unborn children and said victims protected by the law must be children.

International

Russia Moves Towards Allowing Medicinal Opium Crops. The Russian government last week approved a draft bill that would allow the country to produce medicinal opium crops. Government officials said the bill was needed to reduce its dependence on foreign countries that supply raw opium to government factories because some of those countries have imposed sanctions on the country. "In order not to leave our population without strong painkillers, we must be self-sufficient," health minister Veronika Skvortsova told reporters. "We need to produce drugs in a full cycle -- from substances to their medicinal form." The bill still needs to be approved by parliament and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

Thai Government Approves Medical Marijuana, Kratom. The Thai ruling junta last week approved a bill legalizing medical marijuana, becoming the first country in Southeast Asia to do so. The bill also regularizes the status of kratom, which comes from there. The bill becomes law once it is approved by the monarchy.

The Year in Drugs II: Good, Bad, and Ugly Global Drug Policy in 2018 [FEATURE]

(See our Top Domestic Drug Stories of 2018 piece here.)

It's been a year we couldn't wait to put behind us, but as 2018 comes to an end, we can look back on some advances on the international drug policy front, as well as continued brutal and regressive responses from some quarters. Here are 10 of the global drug policy stories that shaped the year, for better or worse:

Iranian drug executions have come to a screeching halt in one of the good news stories of 2018. (handsoffcain.info)
1. Drug Death Penalty Reforms Cause Massive Drop in Executions

Early this year, it became official: Iran had reformed its death penalty statutes to radically reduce the number of people facing execution for drug offenses, and it had done so retroactively, saving the lives of thousands already on death row. By mid-year, it was clear that the move was having an impact, as human rights observers reported a 99% reduction in drug executions, with only one person being executed for drugs as of June, compared to more than a hundred during the same period in 2017.

2. Canada Becomes the First G8 Country to Legalize Marijuana

Justin Trudeau pledged that he was elected prime minister, his government would legalize marijuana. It didn't happen as fast as he would have liked, but the Liberals' legalization bill passed parliament in June and went into effect on October 17. So far, the sky has not fallen.

3. Medical Marijuana Earns Growing Acceptance

The year began with Thailand announcing a plan to allow medical marijuana and ended with Thailand approving it and becoming the first Southeast Asian country to do so. But in the meantime, Israeli pharmacies began selling medical marijuana in April, Zimbabwe legalized it in May, and Portugal and Luxembourg followed suit in June. In November, Great Britain joined the club, and Greece issued its first medical marijuana production licenses. Late in the year, in South Korea, the National Assembly approved an amendment to the country's drug laws that will pave the way for the use of medical marijuana by prescription, and New Zealand also approved it in December Not a bad year for medical marijuana.

Canadian Senate
4. The Philippines Drug War Continues, But Pressures Mount…

The bloody drug war of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte continued apace in 2018, with a death toll now put at 12, 000 (20,000 by some estimates), but Duterte has come under increasing pressure both domestically and internationally. In February, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch aimed broadsides at the Philippines even as the International Criminal Court began "preliminary examinations" of whether there is sufficient evidence to bring a case before the court. In March, activists called out drug war human rights abuses at the embassy in Washington, DC. By July, an unbowed Duterte was vowing to continue a "relentless and chilling" drug war even as national human rights groups said he was using it as a cover for assassinating political opponents. In September, he unleashed an attack on a second drug war critic, Senator Antonio Trillanes, after last year imprisoning critic Senator Leila de Lima on trumped up drug charges. She is still imprisoned.

5.. ...and the Rot Spreads in the Region

Following the lead of the Philippines, other countries in the region have also embraced drug war thuggery and human rights abuses. In May, the Bangladeshi opposition warned of a wave of police killings of drug suspects, and within weeks, more than a hundred were killed and 20,000 arrested, even as evidence emerged that the crackdown was being used to hide political assassinations. The situation was fraught enough that the UN human rights head and even the US State Department expressed concern. Drug war killings were also reported in Indonesia, although there were mixed signals about moves toward reforms there, and Sri Lanka vowed to begin hanging drug dealers. Paradoxically though, a Malaysian court's imposition of a death sentence on a man for providing cannabis oil to patients now appears to have resulted in a moratorium on the death sentence and could end the death penalty in its entirety in the county.

6. The US President Aligns Himself With Global Drug War Authoritarians

President Donald Trump was a baleful presence on the global drug policy stage this past year, sympathizing with drug war authoritarians such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, as well as drug death penalty countries such as China and Singapore. He said early in the year he wants to execute all drug dealers and admires the Singapore approach (mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking), a statement that moved more than 150 organizations to condemn his call. At year's end, he was singing a similar tune with a ghoulish call for more Chinese drug executions. In between, he went to the United Nations to try to gin up a reinvigorated global drug war.

coca leaves drying by highway
7. South Africa Legalizes Marijuana

In a case brought by three marijuana users, the country's Constitutional Court ruled that the private possession, cultivation, and consumption of marijuana is legal. "It will not be a criminal offense for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption," Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo wrote in his ruling. It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public and to sell and supply it. The ruling did not set allowable quantities, with the court saying parliament had two years to come up with a new law that reflected the ruling.

8. Glimmers of Hope in Mexico

then-President Felipe Calderon unleashed the latest chapter of the country's drug wars, bringing violence to levels not seen before in the country, Mexico is showing signs it is ready for change. The death toll from prohibition-related violence is higher than ever, and that is impelling a psh for change, most notably with the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is very open to finding exits from the drug war, whether it's legalized opium production in Guerrero, granting amnesty for non-violent drug trafficking offenders, or legalizing marijuana. And speaking of legalizing marijuana, the Mexican Supreme Court in November struck down the ban on marijuana possession, cultivation, and use. Now, Lopez Obrador's governing MORENA Party has filed a bill to legalize marijuana sales. Tackling the violence, may be a bit more difficult.

9. Colombia Sees a Record Coca Crop as US Cocaine Deaths Rise

Efforts to reduce coca cultivation and cocaine production in the country after the peace agreement with the FARC rebels have not gone well, and that's causing rising worry in Washington. In June, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that 2017 production was at an all-time high, prompting expressions of concern from the drug czar's office and support from President Trump for new rightist Colombian President Ivan Duque's "head-on fight against drug trafficking." That could include a renewed resort to aerial fumigation, even drones, as well as forced eradication of coca crops, leading to renewed conflict in cultivation zones. Meanwhile, cocaine is now the third leading cause of drug overdose deaths, trailing only fentanyl and heroin.

Vienna International Centre, home to the UN drug agencies
10. Historic UN Cannabis Review Hits Last-Minute Procedural Delay

In June and again in November, the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) of the World Health Organization (WHO) met to consider the evidence on cannabis (marijuana) and its placement in the UN drug scheduling system, which determines whether or what level of control the UN drug conventions mandate that countries maintain for the substance. The conventions specify that substances should receive such an evaluation before being scheduled, but that never happened for marijuana. Observers believe the process should lead to marijuana being moved to a less restrictive schedule than it is in currently -- if the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) votes to adopt such a recommendation from ECDD.

That didn't happen when, earlier this month, WHO voted to delay release of ECDD's recommendations until January, for unexplained reasons. That may mean they get taken up at the main annual CND meeting in Vienna in March, rather than December's intersessional. The delay seems unusual, and probably political, but its intent is unclear.

The next few months may tell. In the meanwhile, ECDD says that CBD shouldn't be scheduled at all. But that didn't stop the US FDA from saying that treaties require it be scheduled, even though they also think it shouldn't be.

Chronicle AM: AZ Groups Want Needle Exchange, DE Judge Rules for Fired MedMJ User, More... (12/24/18)

A Delaware judge says a medical marijuana user fired for failing a drug test can sue his former employer, Arizona public health advocates want the governor to approve needle exchanges, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Incoming House Rules Committee Chairman Becomes Cosponsor of Marijuana Justice Act. What a difference an election makes! Outgoing House Rules Committee Chair Pete Sessions (R-TX) reliably blocked any marijuana reform legislation, but things are going to be different under incoming Chair Jim McGovern (D-MA). McGovern has already said he is "not going to block marijuana amendments like my predecessor has done," and now he has just signed on as a cosponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act (HR 4815).

Indiana Governor Not Down With Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) has made it clear he will oppose any legislative moves to legalize marijuana. "I'm just not willing to look at that, especially since it is illegal right now according to the federal government," Holcomb said.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed. Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) has filed a statement on the language of an initiative to legalize marijuana, the first step in the process of getting the measure on the ballot. According to the attorney general's statement, the measure would allow anyone 21 and over to grow, possess, use, and sell marijuana. Localities would be barred from taxing or regulating marijuana businesses. And, the attorney general says, "it forbids prosecutions for driving under the influence of ingested marijuana," but the language of the initiative only bars prosecution for "consumed cannabis metabolites."

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Judge Rules Fired Medical Marijuana User Can Sue Former Employer. A factory worker fired from his job after failing a drug test can sue his former employer, Superior Court Judge Noel Primos ruled on Monday. Jeremiah Chance claims his firing violated the anti-discrimination provision of the state's medical marijuana law and that he was targeted for retaliation after pointing out safety issues with railroad ties manufactured by the Kraft Heinze plant in Dover. The company had argued that the anti-discrimination clause was preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act, but the judge disagreed. The law does "not require employers to participate in an illegal activity... but instead merely prohibits them from discriminating based upon medical marijuana use," Primos wrote.

Oregon to Allow Medical Marijuana Deliveries in Areas That Ban Dispensaries. State regulators have approved medical marijuana deliveries in areas where dispensaries are banned effective December 28. The rules were approved last week after patient advocates voiced concern about rules that limited access to medical marijuana.

Drug Testing

Utah Bill Would Criminalize Using Fake Urine to Pass Drug Tests. Under a bill already approved by an interim legislative committee, it would be "a criminal offense to distribute, possess, or sell an adulterant or synthetic urine;" or "to defraud an alcohol or drug test using an adulterant, bodily fluid of another person, or bodily fluid expelled or withdrawn before collection for the test." The measure would make violations a misdemeanor.

Harm Reduction

Arizona Public Health Advocates Urge Governor to Legalize Needle Exchange Programs. In a letter delivered last week to Gov. Doug Ducey (R), more than 30 organizations involved in public health and addiction recovery called on him move to legalize the proven harm reduction intervention. "Arizona has fallen behind in its response to this national crisis, states like North Carolina, Indiana, and Kentucky have all implemented syringe service legislation and are seeing the benefits in their communities," the letter says. "Too many lives are on the line to continue with the status quo."

Chronicle AM: AK OKs Pot Social Clubs, Vancouver Ponders "Safe Supply" of Hard Drugs, More... (12/21/18)

Vancouver ponders another cutting-edge drug policy move, Alaska okays on-site pot consumption space rules, the president signs the farm bill legalizing hemp, and more.

From Amsterdam to Alaska? Dutch-style on-site consumption spaces win approval in Juneau. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Approves Rules for On-Site Marijuana Consumption. The state's Marijuana Control Board on Thursday approved rules for businesses that want to offer on-site consumption of pot products. Now, businesses that want in will have to apply for a special onsite use endorsement and come up with plans for meeting ventilation and other standards for on-site use. This makes Alaska the first state to develop a regulatory framework for on-site use at the state level.

Medical Marijuana

FDA Begins Process of Allowing Hemp-Based CBD Products. After President Trump signed the 2018 farm bill into law Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a press release pledging to pursue means of allowing businesses to legally market products containing hemp or non-psychoactive cannabinoids, such as CBD. FDA also asserted its right to regulate such products. "In view of the proliferation of products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived substances, the FDA will advance new steps to better define our public health obligations in this area," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said. "We'll also continue to closely scrutinize products that could pose risks to consumers."

Industrial Hemp

Trump Signs Farm Bill, Final Step to Making Hemp Legal. President Trump signed the 2018 farm bill into law Thursday, the final step in the legalization of hemp. The hemp provision of the farm bill, championed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), received bipartisan support and now ends a ban going back more than seven decades.

Drug Testing

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Florida School District's Suspicionless Drug Testing of Substitute Teachers. A three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected a constitutional challenge to the Palm Beach County School Board's policy requiring substitute teachers to undergo suspicionless drug testing. Federal courts have generally held drug testing to be a search under the Fourth Amendment and barred drug testing by government entities, but have carved out exceptions for students, people involved in safety-sensitive positions, and law enforcement personnel. Although this case doesn't appear to fall into any of those categories, the appeals court nonetheless ruled in the district's favor. "We think that the School Board has a sufficiently compelling interest in screening its prospective teachers to justify this invasion of the privacy rights of job applicants, and thus conclude that the School Board has not violated the constitutional mandate barring unreasonable searches and seizures," said the 54-page opinion, written by Judge Stanley Marcus and joined by Chief Judge Ed Carnes and Judge David Ebel. "As we see it, ensuring the safety of millions of schoolchildren in the mandatory supervision and care of the state, and ensuring and impressing a drug-free environment in our classrooms, are compelling concerns."

International

Vancouver Looks to Pioneer "Safe Supply" for Hard Drug Users. The city council met Thursday to discuss the Mayor's Overdose Emergency Task Force report and how and whether to implement its 23 specific recommendations for action. One key recommendation is to find a location in or near the epicenter of the city's Downtown Eastside hard drug scene for "a clinical space where we could evaluate and enroll people" for a "low-barrier dispersal program for pharmaceutical opioids." Supporters are using the phrase "safe supply" to describe the concept aimed at reducing skyrocketing overdose deaths linked to illicit fentanyl.

Chronicle AM: NYC Mayor Backs Legal Weed, Report Chides DEA & Drug Companies on WV Opioids, More... (12/20/18)

A report from congressional Democrats explores the economic benefits of marijuana legalization, a report from the House Energy and Commerce Committee scolds the DEA and drug distributors over massive shipments of opioids to West Virginia, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio climbs on board the legalization bandwagon, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Congressional Democrats Release Report On Marijuana Legalization's Economic Benefits. Democratic members of the congressional Joint Economic Committee released a report Tuesday emphasizing the economic benefits legal marijuana can bring at both the state and federal levels. The report is The National Cannabis Economy, and it predicts marijuana sales revenues will jump from $8 billion last year to $23 billion by 2022. "It's time we legalize marijuana, but at the minimum, we must reduce the conflicts between federal and state laws so that the industry can continue to create jobs and bolster state economies," Senator Martin Heinrich, (D-NM), the ranking member of the panel, said in a press release. "This conflict hurts small businesses and constrains the economic benefits of legal cannabis -- an industry that is estimated to reach $11 billion in sales this year and $23 billion by 2022. But in order to realize the benefits, we must act on legislation such as the STATES Act to help these businesses thrive."

West Hollywood, California, Approves Cannabis Cafes, Consumption Lounges. The city announced Wednesday that it had approved licenses for eight edibles-only consumption cafes an eight consumption lounges where marijuana can be smoked, vaped, drunk, or eaten. The businesses now have a year to obtain a West Hollywood business license and a place to operate. The move could nearly double the number of consumption lounges nationwide: there are seven such facilities in San Francisco, one in Oakland, and one in Denver.

New York City Mayor Backs Marijuana Legalization. Just days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said he wants to legalize marijuana next year, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio hopped on board the legal pot train, saying it represents "a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get a historic issue right for future New Yorkers." De Blasio's remarks came as the Mayor's Task Force on Cannabis Legalization released a report recommending that the city tax sales, automatically expunge old pot possession offenses, and work to ensure "diverse participants" get a shot in the legal industry.

Brooklyn, New York, District Attorney Throws Out Hundreds of Old Pot Convictions. Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzales appeared in court Wednesday to vacate outstanding warrants related to low-level pot offenses, as well as expunging past misdemeanor pot convictions. "To fail to address these past convictions would be hypocritical and it would be to turn a blind eye on all the harm caused by marijuana enforcement in prior years," Gonzalez said.

Pennsylvania Governor Suggests He Could Get Behind Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said Wednesday that it's time for the state to consider legalizing marijuana. "More and more states are successfully implementing marijuana legalization," he noted, adding that it's time for "a serious look" at doing it. The statements mark a change of heart for Wolf, who previously had shied away from legalization talk.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Legal Battle Over Medical Marijuana Takes Another Turn. A state appeals court this week agreed to stay a circuit court judge's ruling that the legislature and the Department of Health violated the state's voter-approved medical marijuana amendment. The ruling comes in a case involving a Tampa marijuana grower, which challenged caps placed on the number of medical marijuana licensees. While the 1st District Appeals Court approved the stay, it also said its final decision on the case would be "expedited."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Congressional Report Scolds DEA, Drug Distributors on Flood of Opioids to West Virginia. Massive shipments of prescription opioids to West Virginia -- 20.8 million pounds opioids sent to one town of 3,000 over a ten-year period, for example -- reflect failures by the DEA and drug distribution companies to conduct effective oversight of their customers and failures to recognize obvious red flags, a bipartisan report from the House Energy and Commerce Committee found. These lapses helped make the state "the epicenter of the nation's opioid epidemic and the state with the highest drug overdose death rate in the country," the report said. And it's not just West Virginia: "Taken all together, the Committee's report outlines a series of missteps and missed opportunities that contributed to the worsening of the opioid epidemic in West Virginia," the report said. "While focused on a narrow part of West Virginia, the report raises grave concerns about practices by the distributors and the DEA nationwide."

In Rare Show of Bipartisanship, Senate Passes Prison and Sentencing Reform Bill [FEATURE]

In a rare display of bipartisanship, the Senate on Tuesday approved a major prison and sentencing reform bill, the First Step Act (S.3649) on a vote of 87-12. The bill now goes back to the House, which is expected to pass it easily, and then to the desk of President Trump, who has vowed to sign it.

Give Chuck Grassley some kudos for shepherding the passage of the bill. (senate.gov)
Introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), the bill added significant sentencing reform provisions to a prison reform bill passed earlier by the House.

"The First Step Act will help keep our streets safe and it offers a fresh start to those who've put in the work to get right with the law while paying their debt to society," Grassley said on the Senate floor after the vote. "It also addresses unfairness in prison sentencing and revises policies that have led to overcrowded prisons and ballooning taxpayer expenses."

"I think we showed something which most American people wouldn't have believed -- that a bipartisan group of Senators from across the political spectrum could tackle one of the toughest political issues of our day, assemble an array of support -- left, right, and center -- from members of the Senate as well as organizations devoted to law enforcement as well as civil rights, and at the end of it have something we all felt was a fair product to send over to the House, which I hope will act on this very quickly," Durbin said. "It is, however, the first step. We've got to start thinking about the second step. And we need the help of all of our colleagues when shaping that."

In addition to the prison reform language, the bill's key sentencing provisions include:

  • Retroactivity for the Fair Sentencing Act (the 2010 law that reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity), allowing the potential release of around 2,600 people;
  • Expansion of the "safety valve" allowing judges more discretion to sentence beneath mandatory minimum sentences;
  • Reform of the "three strikes" law, reducing the "second strike" mandatory minimum of 20 years to 15 years, and reducing the "third strike" mandatory minimum of life-in-prison to 25 years;
  • Eliminate "stacking" for firearm offenses, meaning that prosecutors cannot add sentencing enhancements to individuals who may possess a firearm while committing their first federal offense.

"Passing these reforms has been a team effort years in the making," Grassley continued. "It couldn't have been done without the stalwart commitment by a somewhat unlikely cadre of colleagues and advocates. We've had to compromise to make this possible, to seek to understand the other's point of view. In doing so, I think we made the bill better. And we accomplished something of historic significance that will reduce crime, make our system more just, and improve lives for generations to come."

The First Step Act was backed by a number of law enforcement groups, including the nation's largest police group, as well as 172 former federal prosecutors and sheriffs from 34 states across the country. The National Governors Association, which represents the governors of all 50 states, praised the bill. A broad coalition of conservative and progressive groups along with a host of business leaders and faith-based organizations also support the First Step Act.

For progressives and drug reformers, though, the bill is indeed only a first step. It does nothing, for example, to address the plight of people sentenced to life in prison for drug offenses, and that leaves reformers offering only qualified praise.

"The Senate's version of the legislation, while far from perfect, includes crucial sentencing reforms that safely reduce the footprint of the federal criminal justice system from the front end," said Ed Chung, vice president for Criminal Justice Reform at the Center for American Progress. "Additionally, the Senate added important checks on the US Department of Justice as it creates a risk and needs assessment and a system of programs and education in the Bureau of Prisons."

"This is a bittersweet moment," said Michael Collins, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. "The bill represents progress and we should celebrate the release of thousands of people serving disproportionately long sentences, but at the same time the bill leaves far too many people behind. It's a tough compromise for us and we must keep fighting for much deeper systemic changes."

The Year in Drugs I: The Top Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2018 [FEATURE]

This is a year that just about everybody is eager to see come to an end, but when it comes to drug policy, 2018 hasn't been half-bad, at least in the US. (Check back next week for our Top International Drug Policy Stories.)

We've seen marijuana legalization spread further, we're on the verge of seeing Congress pass major sentencing reform legislation, and the ban on domestic hemp cultivation is coming to an end, among other things.

A lot went on in drug policy in 2018. Here are eight stories that helped define the year:

1. Overdose Deaths Remain Unconscionably High But Appear to Have Leveled Off

That's enough fentanyl to kill you. It killed thousands this year. (dea.gov)
The nation's fatal drug overdose crisis is far from over, but it now looks like it at least didn't get any worse this year. Driven in large part by the rise of fentanyl, overdose deaths reached a stunning 72,000 in 2017, a figure ten times the number in 1980 and double that of only a decade ago.

But preliminary reports on the 2018 overdose numbers suggest that this may be the year the crisis began to ease. In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released provisional data showing that overdose deaths had declined for six straight months, dropping 2.8 percent from their 2017 peak. That report also found that opioid overdose deaths had declined by 2.3 percent.

With both heroin and prescription opioid deaths declining, fentanyl has emerged as the most common drug involved in overdoses, being implicated in about a quarter of all drug overdose deaths. While the apparent decline in opioid overdose deaths this year is good news, the recent increases in cocaine and methamphetamine overdose deaths is not. And while any break in a years-long climb in overdose deaths is certainly welcome, another 70,000 or so Americans will still have died from them this year. We have a long, long way to go.

2. Safe Injection Sites Draw Nearer, But Feds Fire Warning Shots

Safe injection sites -- also known as supervised consumption sites, among other names -- where drug users can consume their doses under medical supervision and with an opportunity to engage with social services are a proven harm reduction intervention. More than a hundred cities around the world, mainly in Europe, Canada, and Australia have resorted to such facilities as a means of providing better outcomes, not only for drug users but also for the communities in which they live.

There are no legally permitted safe injection sites in the United States (although some underground ones are reportedly operating in Seattle, and there may be more in hiding), but this year saw mounting pressure and serious efforts to get them up and running in a number of American states and cities. It also saw mounting resistance from federal officials.

At the state level, California, Colorado, Missouri, and New York all saw safe injection site bills filed. Only the bill in California made it out of the legislature, but to the great frustration of reformers, it was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who cited long outdated beliefs about substance use in his veto message. Still, the fact that bills are being filed shows the issue is gaining momentum.

The momentum is even stronger among a handful of major cities. Denver, New York City, Philadelphia, and Seattle have all taken steps to clear the way for safe injection sites this year, although none are yet in place.

While like California's Gov. Brown, some state and local level political figures are hesitant to embrace them, a major reason none is yet in place is federal hostility. As the clamor for the facilities grows louder, so does opposition from the Trump administration. As Denver publicly pondered opening one, the local DEA and the US Attorney loudly warned they would be illegal, and the Philadelphia US Attorney did the same thing. Early in the year, the DEA in Washington issued a warning against safe injection sites, and in August, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein authored an op-ed in the New York Times issuing similar dire threats.

3. A Major Federal Sentencing Reform Bill Is Set to Pass

A rare example of bipartisanship on the Hill. (Creative Commons)
The first major federal sentencing reform bill in eight years is now one vote away from passing Congress. The bill, known as the First Step Act (S.3649), is the culmination of years of work by the likes of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), and includes prison reform language as well as provisions that would reduce sentences for certain drug offenses. It very nearly died earlier this month when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced he would not bring it to a Senate floor vote, but under broad pressure, including from President Trump, McConnell relented, and the bill passed the Senate Tuesday

The sentencing reforms include retroactivity for the Fair Sentencing Act (the 2010 law that reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity), allowing the potential release of around 2,600 people; expansion of the "safety valve" allowing judges more discretion to sentence beneath mandatory minimum sentences; reform of the "three strikes" law, reducing the "second strike" mandatory minimum of 20 years to 15 years, and reducing the "third strike" mandatory minimum of life-in-prison to 25 years.

The late word is that the bill will pass the House easily, but that hasn't happened as of this writing. If and when it does, the country will have taken a significant step toward a more just and humane federal criminal justice system. The passage has also drawn major media attention as a rare example of bipartisanship in Washington today.

4. Marijuana Legalization Advances in the States

At the beginning of the year, marijuana for adult recreational use was legal in eight states, all in the West or New England and all thanks to the initiative process. As 2018 comes to a close, that number has jumped to ten, with Vermont in January becoming the first state to legalize it through the legislature and Michigan in November becoming the first Midwest state to legalize it.

The initiative process is available in only half the states, and when it comes to legalizing weed, the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. A legalization initiative in conservative Nebraska went down to defeat this year, and remaining initiative states like the Dakotas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Arkansas are among the most socially conservative and least likely to free the weed. But prospects are rosier in initiative states Arizona, Missouri, and Ohio. We are likely to see pot on the ballot in all three in 2020.

Vermont remains the sole state to legalize it legislatively, but a handful of states edged ever closer close this year. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) wanted pot legalized in his first 100 days. That didn't happen, and legalization hasn't gotten through the legislature yet, but there is a small chance it could still happen this year and a very good chance it will be a done deal by early next year. Legislatures throughout the Mid-Atlantic states and Northeast grappled with the issue, laying the groundwork for next year and the year beyond, and just this week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called for legalization next year. The long march continues.

5. Marijuana Is Still Federally Illegal, But the Crackdown Never Came

As the year comes to end, legal weed is still here and Jeff Sessions isn't. President Trump's first attorney general was an avowed foe of marijuana (as well as drug and criminal justice reform in general), but despite rescinding the Obama-era Cole memo, which basically told federal prosecutors to leave state law-abiding pot businesses alone, the much-feared crackdown on the industry never came.

Federal prosecutors, for the most part, continue to view legal marijuana businesses as a low priority, especially when faced with much more serious drug problems, such as the opioid overdose epidemic. But Sessions was also undercut by his own boss, who in April arranged a deal with Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in which he agreed to support a bill protecting states that have broken with federal pot prohibition in return for Gardner's allowing Justice department appointments to move forward.

This year saw a plethora of federal marijuana reform bills, but with Republican leadership in both houses firmly opposed, the Capitol was where marijuana reform went to die. With Democrats in control of the House next year, things promise to be different next year, although the GOP-led Senate will remain an obstacle. But with pot consistently polling in the 60s, those Republican senators may grudgingly start coming on board.

6. Marijuana Legalization is Nice, But We Need Social Justice, Too

This year saw social justice concerns around marijuana legalization move front and center in two distinct ways: demands for the expungement of marijuana arrest records for people whose offenses are no longer crimes and demands for restorative racial justice from communities that have suffered the brunt of the war on drugs.

The year started with two major West Coast cities, San Francisco and Seattle, leading the way on expungement. The, in September, California became the first state to put state-level automatic expungement into effect. Delaware and Rhode Island, which have both decriminalized but not legalized pot, also passed expungement bills this year. Expungement is also a contentious issue in the ongoing battle to get legalization passed in New Jersey.

After a half-dozen years of legalization and well-heeled white guys making bank off legal weed, the call for racial justice, whether in terms of set-asides to guarantee minority participation in the industry or for funding streams aimed at restoring drug war-ravaged communities, is growing too loud to be ignored. This is an ongoing struggle now being played out not only in pot-legal states, but especially in states on the cusp of legalization. Moving forward, it's likely that every successful state legalization bill is going to have to address issues of social and racial justice. As they should.

7. Industrial Hemp Becomes Federally Legal

The sun rises on the American domestic hemp industry. (votehemp.org)
Finally, the absolutely most ridiculous aspect of federal marijuana prohibition is dead. Recreational marijuana's country cousin, hemp can't get anyone high, but is extremely useful in a broad range of industries, from foods to textiles and beyond. Thanks to a lawsuit from hemp interests more than a decade ago, hemp could be imported for American firms to use in their products, but because the DEA refused to recognize any distinction between hemp and recreational marijuana, American farmers were forced to stand on the sidelines as their competitors in China, Canada, and other countries raked in the rewards.

But having a hemp-friendly senator from a hemp-friendly state allowed hemp legalization to move this year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) actually fought for the hemp bill, shepherding it into the must-pass farm appropriations bill and keeping it in there through negotiations with the House. President Trump has signed the farm bill, including the hemp provision, into law.

8. Here Come the 'Shrooms

Initiative campaigns to legalize or decriminalize the use and possession of psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms began popping up in 2018. Actually, the first state-level initiative came last year in California, but this past summer it failed to qualify for the fall ballot.

Right now, there are two psilocybin initiatives in the signature-gathering phase, a municipal initiative in Denver that would decriminalize the use, possession, and cultivation of psilocybin-containing mushrooms, and the statewide Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative, which would decriminalize possession of psilocybin, allow magic mushrooms to be grown with a license, and would allow for therapeutic use of psilocybin. The Denver initiative would go before voters in May 2019, while the Oregon initiative aims at the 2020 election.

If psilocybin initiatives follow the pattern set by marijuana legalization initiatives, the first time may not be the charm. But more will follow.

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