Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: Mexico Legalizes MedMJ, China Bans More Synthetic Opioids, More... (6/20/17)

New Jersey pols look to legalize pot next year, Vermont pols look to legalize it this week, China bans more synthetic opioids, Mexico officially embraces medical marijuana, and more.

Medical marijuana is now officially legal in Mexico, but rules and regulations will take some time.
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a legalization measure, Senate Bill 3195, on Monday. The testimony was largely favorable, including from a former state Republican Committee head, the head of a doctors' organization favoring legalization, and from a long-time municipal prosecutor. "I believe by legalizing and regulating it and discouraging, officially as official government policy, like we do with tobacco and alcohol, we will be far better off than the status quo," prosecutor J.H. Barr told the committee. No vote was taken. The bill is strongly opposed by Gov. Chris Christie (R), but he'll be gone in January.

Vermont Legislators Will Try to Get Weed Legalized in Special Session This Week. Gov. Phil Scott (R) vetoed the legalization bill in May, saying he had public safety concerns. Supporters of legalization have come back with a bill that now has stiffer penalties for drugged driving, smoking pot in cars with kids, providing pot to kids, and selling pot in school zones -- all in a bid to win the governor's support. The bill does not include "impairment testing mechanism" requested by Scott, largely because there are no marijuana breathalyzers on the market. Scott has declined to comment on the revised bill. The special session begins Wednesday.

Harm Reduction

Boston Ponders Supervised Injection Sites. With six people a day dying of opioid overdoses in the city so far this year, the city council has set a hearing next Monday to explore the potential impact of supervised injection sites. The move comes after the Massachusetts Medical Society urged state officials to open at least two of the facilities.

International

China Bans Synthetic Opioids Linked to US Overdose Deaths. China announced on Monday that it is banning the ultra-potent synthetic opioid U-47700 and three others. The DEA says China is the chief source of synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and carfentanil, which China has already banned. U-47700, MT-45, PMMA, and 4,4-DMAR will be added to the country's list of controlled substances as of July 1, said Deng Ming, deputy director of the National Narcotics Control Commission.

Mexico Legalizes Medical Marijuana. President Enrique Pena Nieto issued a decree on Monday officially legalizing medical marijuana in the country. Legislation authorizing medical marijuana sailed through the Senate in December and passed the lower house on a 347-7 vote in April. Now, the Ministry of Health will be tasked with drafting and implementing rules and regulations.

Chronicle AM: Roger Stone Wants to Legalize, MA Regulation Battle, More... (6/19/17)

The politics of marijuana regulation continue to roil Massachusetts, Trump adviser and political trickster Roger Stone has formed a legalization lobbying group, the government of the Republic of Georgia backs away from harsh pot sentences, and more.

What is political trickster Roger Stone up to? (alternet.org)
Marijuana Policy

Trump Associate Roger Stone Forms Legalization Lobbying Group. Longtime political trickster and Donald Trump associate Roger Stone announced last Friday that he has formed the United States Cannabis Coalition for the express purpose of legalizing marijuana. He will be joined by former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura (I), as well as both Democratic and Republican political strategists. "I am going to be working with a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, progressives and libertarians, liberals, and conservatives to persuade the president to keep his campaign pledge," Stone said, "and to remind the president that he took a strong and forthright position on this issue in the election." During the campaign, Trump said marijuana legalization should be a state issue and that he was "100%" behind medical marijuana.

Massachusetts Senate Plan Would Not Raise Taxes. State Sen. Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville) last Friday released the Senate's plan to implement marijuana legalization, a sharp contrast with the House bill that would raise the tax rate on marijuana from 12% to 28% and allow local elected officials to ban pot businesses. Jehlen's bill would keep the tax rate at the 12% envisioned by last fall's successful initiative. "A high tax rate is not the will of the voters," she said after releasing the outline of the Senate bill. "You want to start low enough to make the legal market catch hold." The two bills should pass their respective houses and go to conference committee later this month.

Mobile Retreats from Decriminalization Ordinance. Mobile, Alabama, Mayor Sandy Stimpson has requested that discussion of a municipal ordinance to decriminalize marijuana possession be withdrawn from the agenda for Tuesday's city council meeting. The reason for the withdrawal is unclear, but the topic has been controversial with law enforcement and city staff.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Regulations Take Another Key Step. The Legislative Council, which serves as the legislature's governing body between sessions, last Friday approved draft rules from the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the Department of Health, and the Medical Marijuana Commission aimed at regulating the state's nascent medical marijuana system. The state will begin accepting applications for licenses to operate marijuana cultivation centers and dispensaries June 30.

New Mexico Nixes Medical Marijuana for Opioid Addiction, Alzheimer's. Rejecting the recommendation of the state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board, Secretary of Health Lynn Gallagher declined to add opioid use disorder and Alzheimer's as qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.

International

After Protests, Georgia Marijuana Reform Bill Filed. The government has filed a bill in parliament that would end prison sentences for the possession, cultivation, or sale of less than 70 grams (a bit more than a quarter-pound) of marijuana. The move comes after mass protests last weekend over the arrests of two rappers on what are widely believed to be trumped-up marijuana charges for releasing videos critical of police. The bill would also slash by nearly half prison sentences for marijuana offenses involving larger quantities.

Chronicle AM: MJ Policy Keeps Northeast Busy, Major Louisiana Sentencing Reforms, More.... (6/16/17)

Marijuana policy continues to roil statehouses across the Northeast, a US senator and a congressman file identical medical marijuana protection bills, Louisiana -- the lock 'em up state -- enacts comprehensive sentencing reforms, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts to Get New Legalization Rewrite Bill on Monday. After criticism and errors in the text force the House leadership to pull its marijuana legalization rewrite bill this week, House committee chair Rep. Mark Cusack (D-Braintree) said a redrafted version of the bill would be released on Monday, with debate expected in the House on Wednesday. At issue are tax rates and a governance model for the industry.

New Jersey Arresting More People Than Ever for Marijuana, ACLU Report Finds. Marijuana arrests have climbed steadily in the state in recent years, with black residents three times more likely than whites to be targeted. The report, which analyzed FBI Uniform Crime Report and U.S. Census data from 2000 to 2013, comes as lawmakers are making a push to legalize marijuana in the state. The report found a steady increase in marijuana arrests over that period, from 19,607 in 2001 to 24,067 in 2013.

Rhode Island Legalization Advocates Offer Compromise Bill. Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston), along with Regulate Rhode Island, have outlined a compromise bill that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana starting July 1, 2018, with an advisory board to study the effects of legalization and report to the General Assembly next year on setting up a taxed and regulated system of marijuana commerce. Assembly leaders are pushing a bill that would defer legalization until a legislative commission studies the issue.

Vermont Governor Says Legalization Deal Still Possible. Gov. Phil Scott said Thursday an agreement with legislators on marijuana legalization is still possible this year. Scott vetoed the legalization bill last month, citing concerns about drugged driving and children. "We are still negotiating," Scott said. "They understand... what my reservations are in terms of what they're planning, but I still think it's workable." If an agreement is reached, House Republicans would have to agree to suspend the rules of the veto session to allow a vote on the pot bill. They do not sound very interested in that, but Scott has said that if he can reach agreement on a bill, he will try to persuade his GOP colleagues to allow a vote.

Medical Marijuana

Corey Booker, Steve Cohen File Identical Medical Marijuana Protection Bills. Tennessee Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen has filed House Resolution 2920, "to extend the principle of federalism to drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana." New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker has filed a companion bill, Senate Bill 1374, in the upper chamber.

Michigan Lawmakers File Medical Marijuana Billboard Ad Ban Bills. State Sen. Rick Jones (R) and Rep. Andy Schor (D) have filed identical bills that would effectively ban billboard for medical marijuana businesses. The bills are Senate Bill 463 and House Bill 4767. They are not yet available on the state legislative web site.

Pennsylvania Governor Warns Session Against Interfering with Medical Marijuana. In a sharply worded letter, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) warned Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to interfere with medical marijuana in the state. "For a lot of patients, this is the only medicine that works. So for him to go after medical cannabis is kind of flying in the face of science and the facts," said a spokesman for the governor.

Criminal Justice

Louisiana Enacts Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reforms. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) on Thursday signed a package of 10 bills that shrink sentences, mostly for nonviolent offenders, and expand parole and probation and reentry opportunities for offenders. The state has the highest proportion of its population behind bars of any state, but Edwards predicts that the new laws will see the state's prison population falling by as much as 10% in the next decade. The bills are House Bills 116, 249, 489, 519, 680 681 and Senate Bills 16, 139, 220, 221. They can be viewed at the state legislative website.

International

British Columbia Court Throws Out Mandatory Minimums for Marijuana Producers. The BC Court of Appeals last week threw out the mandatory minimum sentence for people caught producing more than six marijuana plants, saying the law mandating it was unconstitutional. "I note that a six-month sentence is typical for a first-time trafficker involved in a relatively sophisticated commercial dial-a-dope operation. Imposing that sentence on a 19-year-old student or a migraine sufferer who is growing six plants intending to share them with friends would, in my view, be abhorrent to most Canadians," the trial court judge held, instead giving the man a suspended sentence. The government appealed, and lost last week.

Chronicle AM: Federal CARERS Act Refiled, RI Legalization Commission Bill Advances, More... (6/15/17)

A bipartisan group of senators reintroduce the CARERS Act to protect medical marijuana in the states, marijuana legalization is keeping legislators busy in the Northeast, New York GOP senators want more drug war to fight opioids, and more.

Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is among a bipartisan group of senators who reintroduced the CARERS Act today. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legal MJ Rewrite Bill Delayed By Errors, Concern at High Tax Rates. House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) has postponed a vote on the legislature's rewrite of the marijuana legalization law approved by voters last fall after errors in the drafting of the bill and the high tax rate proposed -- 28% -- drew protests from Democratic lawmakers. "I think there are certain things that we have to clear up, so because of that, I think it's important that with a bill of this mag that we try to get it right or close to right this first time, so I'd rather do that than try to rush it through," DeLeo said, adding that there was a consensus among Democrats on the basics of the bill.

New Jersey Legalization Bill Gets Hearing Monday. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Monday morning on Senate Bill 3195, which legalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana and sets up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. The Drug Policy Alliance has expressed "concern" that the bill "does not include essential components to create a fair and equitable marijuana market in New Jersey." Such legislation must include polices to repair past harms to minority communities, DPA said.

Rhode Island Legalization Study Commission Bill Passes House. A bill that creates a legislative commission to study marijuana legalization -- instead of just legalizing it -- passed the House Wednesday night. House Bill 551A now heads to the Senate. Regulate Rhode Island, the main advocacy group for legalization, has said it will not participate in the commission, which it describes as a delaying tactic.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Bill to End Federal Prohibition of Medical Marijuana Reintroduced in US Senate. US Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Corey Booker (D-NJ), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) reintroduced a bill Thursday that would end the federal prohibition of medical marijuana. Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also signed on to the legislation as original cosponsors. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (or CARERS) Act of 2017 would allow individuals and entities to possess, produce, and distribute medical marijuana if they are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. It would also open up avenues to medical marijuana research and allow physicians employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states where it is legal. The bill also proposes excluding cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana, from the federal government's definition of "marijuana."

Kentucky Lawsuit Challenges State's Medical Marijuana Ban. Three Kentuckians who say they have used marijuana to ease health problems have filed a lawsuit in state court charging that banning medical marijuana violates their constitutional privacy rights. The suit names as defendants Gov. Matt Bevin (R) and Attorney General Steve Beshear (D).

Rhode Island Governor Proposes Medical Marijuana Expansion. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has proposed a budget amendment that calls for "no less than six licensed compassion centers" and increased licensing fees that would generate $1.5 in revenues for the state's general fund. There are three existing dispensaries, which would each be allowed to open one more store front, plus the three additional ones proposed.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Republicans Want More Drug War to Fight Opioids. A Republican Senate task force says that adding funding for addiction treatment is good, but that it's time to increase heroin penalties "to get dealers off the street." The senators are proposing charging dealers with murder if one of their customers dies and increasing penalties based on the weight of the drugs sold. Assembly Democrats rejected the idea, calling the approach one that's been "tried and failed." The Assembly killed a similar approach last year.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's pretty quiet on the corrupt cop front week, except for one drug-gobbling Tennessee cop and Burritogate in Tulsa. Let's get to it:

In Ripley, Tennessee, a former Ripley police officer was sentenced last Friday to four years' probation after turning up as a suspect in an undercover drug investigation. Stephen Michael Kirkpatrick wasn't the intended target, but information developed in the investigation led to him being charged on numerous counts. He pleaded guilty to two counts of official misconduct, 13 counts of cocaine possession, one count of marijuana possession, one count of meth possession, and one count of misuse of official information.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a Tulsa County jail guard was arrested last Friday after deputies found drugs hidden inside a burrito he brought into the jail. Guard Kevin Mayo, 20, went down after the burrito turned out to be filled with marijuana, methamphetamine, and prescription pain pill. He is charged with possession of contraband in a jail, conspiracy to commit a felony, possession of both marijuana and methamphetamine, possession of a schedule II drug, and possession of drug paraphernalia. He is now on unpaid leave and in jail.

Medical Marijuana Update

Despite everything, Attorney General Sessions has medical marijuana on his mind, Florida lawmakers approve a no-smoking medical marijuana implementation bill, Vermont's governor signs a medical marijuana expansion bill, and more.

National

On Monday, it was reported that Attorney General Sessions asked Congress to let him go after medical marijuana. Attorney General Sessions sent a letter to Congress last month asking leading members to reject a federal law letting medical marijuana states set their own policies. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to the Justice Department budget bars the use of federal funds to prevent states "from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana." In a letter urging congress members to walk back the amendment, Sessions said the law would "inhibit [his department's] authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act." Hat tip to Tom Angell at MassRoots, who first obtained the letter.

Arizona

Last Thursday, the state attorney general asked the state Supreme Court to reinstate a ban on campus medical marijuana. Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) has asked the state Supreme Court to review an appeals court ruling that struck down a ban on medical marijuana on college campuses. The state is arguing that the legislature had the right to alter the voter-approved medical marijuana law so that college students with medical marijuana cards could face felony arrests for possession of any amount of marijuana.

Connecticut

Last Friday, the state took another step toward adding more qualifying conditions. Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle Seagull announced that she would follow a recommendation from the Medical Marijuana Program Board of Physicians to include three new conditions among the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. They are hydrocephalus with intractable headaches, intractable migraines, and trigeminal neuralgia. Seagull will now draft a new regulation by the end of the month, and after that, there will be a 30-day public comment period, then a review by the office of the attorney general, and then the approval of the Regulation Review Committee of the General Assembly. The whole process could take another year.

Florida

Last Friday, the medical marijuana implementation bill passed the legislature. Lawmakers used a special session to come to an agreement on how to handle medical marijuana. Under the proposal approved by the legislature, which Gov. Rick Scott (R) says he will sign, the state will gain an additional ten medical marijuana operators within four months. Each operator can operate up to 25 dispensaries across the state. But the bill also bans the smoking of medical marijuana even though the constitutional amendment approved by voters last November expressly included a provision that allows smoking. That has led Orlando lawyer John Morgan, who largely bankrolled the amendment, to vow to sue the state over the no-smoking provision.

Vermont

Last Thursday, the governor signed a medical marijuana expansion bill. Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed into law Senate Bill 16, which expands the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The new conditions added are Parkinson's disease, Crohn's disease, and PTSD. The new law also increases the number of dispensaries in the state from four to five.

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

Chronicle AM: Sessions Sought Free Rein on MedMJ, VT Legalization Still Alive, More... (6/14/17)

Lots of marijuana policy news today, plus GOP Rep. James Sensenbrenner files a bill to reauthorize the Second Chance Act.

Marijuana Policy

California Pot Shops Could Sell Both Recreational and Medical Marijuana Under New Proposal. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and state legislators proposed Monday to allow medical and recreational marijuana to be sold by the same shops. The move was one of dozens of new regulations aimed at merging the medical and recreational marijuana industries contained in budget bills released Monday.

Nevada Lawsuit That Threatens July 1 Sales Date Still Alive. A Carson City district court judge on Tuesday denied the state's motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by liquor distributors seeking a cut of the action in the state's emerging legal marijuana industry. The liquor distributors have won a temporary restraining order holding up the implementation of the state's marijuana sales law until their lawsuit is settled. The distributors claim the state's regulations for licensing marijuana distributors are arbitrary and unfair. This means the state's early July 1 legal sales goal is in jeopardy.

Nevada Governor Signs Three Pot Bills, Vetoes One. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) has signed a bill setting a 15% wholesale tax on both medical and recreational marijuana (Senate Bill 478), and bills adjusting medical marijuana regulations (Senate Bill 344 and Assembly Bill 422), but vetoed a bill that would have allowed those convicted of past marijuana-related crimes involving an equal or lesser amount of what's now legal to have that crime vacated from their criminal records (Assembly Bill 259).

Rhode Island Legislature to Vote on Study Bill, But Advocates Say No Thanks. Marijuana legalization supporters said Wednesday they will not participate in a legalization study commission if it is approved by the General Assembly, calling it "a flawed delay tactic." Instead, Regulate Rhode Island is calling on legislative leaders to vote on a bill that would legalize personal possession and cultivation, but include no immediate plans for taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

Vermont Governor, Legislative Leaders Move Toward Compromise on Legalization. After Gov. Phil Scott (R) vetoed the legalization bill, Senate Bill 16, he said he didn't oppose legalization in principle, but had concerns about youth use and impaired driving. He also said he wanted a study commission in the bill to have more time to examine how the state could implement legal marijuana commerce. Now, legislative leaders say they have come up with compromise language that addresses his concerns, including tougher penalties for selling to children and longer sentences for smoking in a car when a child is present. A spokesman for the governor said "We're making good progress toward an agreement." Legislators will need Republicans to waive a rule to bring the issue up for consideration during a looming special session, but Scott said if an agreement on the bill could be reached, he would seek to persuade Republican legislators to allow it to be taken up.

Medical Marijuana

Attorney General Session Asked Congress to Let Him Go After Medical Marijuana. Attorney General Sessions sent a letter to Congress last month asking leading members to reject a federal law letting medical marijuana states set their own policies. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to the Justice Department budget bars the use of federal funds to prevent states "from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana." In a letter urging congresspeople to walk back the amendment, Sessions said the law would "inhibit [his department's] authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act." Hat tip to Tom Angell at MassRoots, who first obtained the letter.

Reentry/Rehabilitation

Rep. Sensenbrenner Files Second Chance Act Reauthorization Bill. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner( R-WI) has filed House Resolution 2899 to reauthorize the Second Chance Act of 2007. That law provides funding to state, local, and tribal governments that are working to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for people getting out of jail or prison.

America, We Can Fix This: 24 Ways to Reduce Opioid Overdoses and Addiction [FEATURE]

Drugs, mainly opioids, are killing Americans at a record rate. The number of drug overdose deaths in the country quadrupled between 1999 and 2010 -- and compared to the numbers we're seeing now, those were the good old days.

Some 30,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2010. According to a new estimate from the New York Times, double that number died last year. And the rate of increase in overdose deaths was growing, up a stunning 19% over 2015.

The Times' estimate of between 59,000 and 65,000 drug overdose deaths last year is greater than the number of American soldiers killed during the entire Vietnam War, greater than that number of people killed in the peak year for car crash deaths, greater than the number of people who died in the year the AIDS epidemic peaked, and higher than the peak year for gun deaths.

In the first decade of the century, overdoses and addiction rose in conjunction with a dramatic increase in prescription opioid prescribing; since then, as government agents and medical professionals alike sought to tamp down prescribing of opioids, the overdose wave has continued, now with most opioid OD fatalities linked to illicit heroin and powerful black market synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and carfentanil.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says we are in the midst of "the worst drug overdose epidemic in history," and it's hard to argue with that.

So, what do we do about it? Despite decades of failure and unintended consequences, the prohibitionist reflex is still strong. Calls for more punitive laws, tougher prosecutorial stances, and harsher sentences ring out from state houses across the land to the White House. But tough drug war policies haven't worked. The fact that the overdose and addiction epidemic is taking place under a prohibition regime should make that self-evident.

More enlightened -- and effective -- approaches are now being tried, in part, no doubt, because today's opioid epidemic is disproportionately affecting white, middle class people and not the inner city black people identified with heroin epidemics of the past. But they are also being tried because for the past quarter-century an ever-growing drug reform movement has articulated the failures of prohibition and illuminated more effective alternatives.

The drug reform movement's most powerful organization, the Drug Policy Alliance, this spring published A Public Health and Safety Approach to Problematic Opioid Use and Overdose, which lays out more than two dozen specific policy prescriptions in the realms of addiction treatment, harm reduction, prevention, and criminal justice that have been proven to save lives and reduce dependency on opioids. These policy prescriptions are doable now -- and some are being implemented in some fashion in some places -- but require that political decisions be made, or that forces be mobilized to get those decisions made. Some would require a radical divergence from the orthodoxies of drug prohibition, but that's a small price to pay given the mounting death toll.

Here are 24 concrete policy proposals that can save lives and reduce addiction right now. All the facts and figures are fully documented in the heavily-annotated original. Consult it if you want to get down to the nitty-gritty. In the meantime:

Addiction Treatment

1. Create Expert Panel on Treatment Needs: States should establish an expert panel to address effective treatment needs and opportunities. The expert panel should evaluate barriers to existing treatment options and make recommendations to the state legislature on removing unnecessary impediments to accessing effective treatment on demand. Moreover, the panel should determine where gaps in treatment exist and make recommendations to provide additional types of effective treatment and increased access points to treatment (such as hospital-based on demand addiction treatment). The expert panel must also set evidence-based standards of care and identify the essential components of effective treatment and recovery services to be included in licensed facilities, especially with regards to medication-assisted treatment, admission requirements, discharge, continuity of care and/or after-care, pain management, treatment programming, integration of medical and mental health services, and provision of or referrals to harm reduction services. The expert panel should identify how to improve or create referral mechanisms and treatment linkages across various healthcare and other providers. The panel should establish clear outcome measures and a system for evaluating how well providers meet the scientific requirements the panel sets. And, finally, the expert panel should evaluate opportunities under the ACA to expand coverage for treatment.

2. Increase Insurance Coverage for Medication-Assited Treatment (MAT): Seventeen state medical plans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) do not provide coverage for methadone or buprenorphine for opioid dependence. Moreover, the Veterans Administration's (VA's) insurance system has explicitly prohibited coverage of methadone and buprenorphine treatment for active duty personnel or for veterans in the process of transitioning from Department of Defense care. As a result, veterans obtaining care through the VA are denied effective treatment for opioid dependence. Insurance coverage for these critical medications should be standard practice.

3. Establish and Implement Office-Based Opioid Treatment for Methadone: Currently, with a few exceptions, methadone for the treatment of opioid dependence is only available through a highly regulated and widely stigmatized system of Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs). Moreover, several states have imposed moratoriums on establishing new OTPs that facilitate methadone treatment despite large, unmet treatment needs for a growing opioid-dependent population. Patients enrolled in methadone treatment in many communities are often limited to visiting a single OTP and face other inconveniences that make adherence to treatment more difficult. Initial trials have suggested that methadone can be effectively delivered in office-based settings and that, with training, physicians would be willing to prescribe methadone to their patients to treat their opioid dependence. Office-based methadone may help reduce the stigma associated with methadone delivered in OTPs as well as provide a critical window of intervention to address medical and psychiatric conditions. Office-based opioid treatment programs offering methadone have been implemented in California, Connecticut, and Vermont.

4. Provide MAT in Criminal Justice Settings, Including Jails/Prisons and Drug Courts: Individuals recently released from correctional settings are up to 130 times more likely to die of an overdose than the general population, particularly in the immediate two weeks after release. Given that approximately one quarter of people incarcerated in jails and prisons are opioid-dependent, initiating MAT behind bars should be a widespread, standard practice as a part of a comprehensive plan to reduce risk of opioid fatality. Jails should be mandated to continue MAT for those who received it in the community and to assess and initiate new patients in treatment. Prisons should initiate methadone or buprenorphine prior to release, with a referral to a community-based clinic or provider upon release. In addition, drug courts should be mandated to offer participants the option to participate in MAT if they are not already enrolled, make arrangements for their treatment, and should not be permitted to make discontinuation of MAT a criterion for successful completion of drug court programs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will no longer provide federal funding to drug courts that deny the use of MAT when made available to the client under the care of a physician and pursuant to a valid prescription. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals agrees: "No drug court should prohibit the use of MAT for participants deemed appropriate and in need of an addiction medication."

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) can help.
5. Offer Hospital-Based MAT: Emergency departments should be mandated to inform patients about MAT and offer buprenorphine to those patients that visit emergency rooms and have an underlying opioid use disorder, with an appointment for continued treatment with physicians in the community. Hospitals should also offer MAT within the inpatient setting, and start MAT prior to discharge with community referrals for ongoing MAT.

6. Assess Barriers to Accessing MAT to Increase Access to Methadone and Buprenorphine: A number of known barriers prevent MAT from being as widely accessible as it should be. The federal government needs to reevaluate the need for and effectiveness of the OTP model and make necessary modifications to ensure improved and increased access to methadone. And, while federal law allows physicians to become eligible to prescribe buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid dependence, it arbitrarily caps the number of opioid patients a physician can treat with buprenorphine at any one time to 30 through the first year following certification, expandable to up to potentially 200 patients thereafter. Moreover, states need to evaluate additional barriers created by state law, including, among others, training and continuing education requirements, restrictions on nurse practitioners, insurance enrollment and reimbursement, and lack of provider incentives.

7. Establish and Implement a Heroin-Assisted Treatment Pilot Program: Heroin-assisted treatment (HAT) refers to the administering or dispensing of pharmaceutical-grade heroin to a small and previously unresponsive group of chronic heroin users under the supervision of a doctor in a specialized clinic. The heroin is required to be consumed on-site, under the watchful eye of trained professionals. This enables providers to ensure that the drug is not diverted, and allows staff to intervene in the event of overdose or other adverse reaction. Permanent HAT programs have been established in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, with additional trial programs having been completed or currently taking place in Spain, Belgium and Canada. Findings from randomized controlled studies in these countries have yielded unanimously positive results, including: 1) HAT reduces drug use; 2) retention rates in HAT surpass those of conventional treatment; 3) HAT can be a stepping stone to other treatments and even abstinence; 4) HAT improves health, social functioning, and quality of life; 5) HAT does not pose nuisance or other neighborhood concerns; 6) HAT reduces crime; 7) HAT can reduce the black market for heroin; and, 8) HAT is cost-effective (cost-savings from the benefits attributable to the program far outweigh the cost of program operation over the long-run). States should consider permitting the establishment and implementation of a HAT pilot program. Nevada and Maryland have introduced legislation of this nature and the New Mexico Legislature recently convened a joint committee hearing to query experts about this strategy.

8. Evaluate the Use of Cannabis to Decrease Reliance on Prescription Opioids and Reduce Opioid Overdose Deaths: Medical use of marijuana can be an effective adjunct to or substitute for opioids in the treatment of chronic pain. Research published last year found 80 percent of medical cannabis users reported substituting cannabis for prescribed medications, particularly among patients with pain-related conditions. Another important recent study reported that cannabis treatment "may allow for opioid treatment at lower doses with fewer [patient] side effects." The result of substituting marijuana, a drug with less side effects and potential for abuse, has had profound harm reduction impacts. The Journal of the American Medical Association, for instance, documents a relationship between medical marijuana laws and a significant reduction in opioid overdose fatalities: "[s]tates with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws."Another working paper from the RAND BING Center for Health Economics notes that "states permitting medical cannabis dispensaries experienced a 15 to 35 percent decrease in substance abuse admissions and opiate overdose deaths." There is also some emerging evidence that marijuana has the potential to treat opioid addiction, but additional research is needed.

Harm Reduction

9. Establish and Implement Safe Drug Consumption Services: States and/or municipalities should permit the establishment and implementation of safe drug consumption services through local health departments and/or community-based organizations. California and Maryland have introduced legislation to establish safe drug consumption services, and the City of Ithaca, New York has included a proposal for a supervised injection site in their widely-publicized municipal drug strategy. In Washington State, the King County Heroin an Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force has recommended the establishment of at least two pilot supervised consumption sites as part of a community health engagement program designed to reduce stigma and "decrease risks associated with substance use disorder and promote improved health outcomes" in the region that includes the cities of Seattle, Renton and Auburn.

10. Maximize Naloxone Access Points, Including Lay Distribution and Pharmacy Access, As Well As Immunities for Prescription, Distribution and Administration:Naloxone should be available directly from a physician to either a patient or to a family member, friend, or other person in a position to assist in an overdose, from community-based organizations through lay distribution or standing order laws, and from pharmacies behind-the-counter without a prescription through standing order, collaborative agreement, or standardized protocol laws or regulations. Though some states, including California, New York, Colorado and Vermont, among others, have access to naloxone at each of these critical intervention points, many others only provide naloxone through a standard prescription. Civil and criminal immunities should be provided to prescribers, dispensers and lay administrators at every access point. In addition, all first responders, firefighters and law enforcement should be trained on how to recognize an overdose and be permitted to carry and use naloxone. Naloxone should also be reclassified as an over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Having naloxone available over-the-counter would greatly increase the ability of parents, caregivers, and other bystanders to intervene and provide first aid to a person experiencing an opioid overdose. FDA approval of OTC naloxone is predicated on research that satisfies efficacy and safety data requirements. Pharmaceutical companies, however, have not sought to develop an over-the-counter product.88 Federal funding may be needed to meet FDA approval requirements.

11. Provide Dedicated Funding for Community-Based Naloxone Distribution and Overdose Prevention and Response Education: Few states provide dedicated budget lines to support the cost of naloxone or staffing for community-based opioid overdose prevention programs. The CDC, however, reports that, between 1996 and 2014, these programs trained and equipped more than 152,280 laypeople with naloxone, who have successfully reversed 26,463 opioid overdoses.89 Without additional and dedicated funding, community-based opioid overdose prevention programs will not be able to continue to provide naloxone to all those who need it, and the likelihood of new programs being implemented is slim. A major barrier to naloxone access is its affordability and chronic shortages in market supply, 90 which overdose prevention programs, operating on shoestring budgets, can have a difficult time navigating.

12. Improve Insurance Coverage for Naloxone: Individuals who use heroin and other opioids are often both uninsured and marginalized by the healthcare system.91 States should insure optimal reimbursement rates for naloxone to increase access to those who need it most – users themselves.

Overdose reversal drugs need to be made much more widely available -- and affordable. (health.pa.gov)
13. Provide Naloxone to Additional At-Risk Communities: People exiting detox and other treatment programs as well as periods of incarceration are at particularly high risk for overdose because their tolerance has been substantially decreased. After their period of abstinence, if they relapse and use the same amount, the result is often a deadly overdose. States should require overdose education and offer naloxone to people upon discharge from detox and other drug treatment programs and jails/prisons. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has declared that prescribing or dispensing naloxone is an essential complement to both detoxification services as well as medically supervised withdrawal. Vermont passed legislation making naloxone available to eligible pilot project participants who are transitioning from incarceration back to the community. In addition, there are other programs/studies that provide naloxone to recently released individuals on a limited basis, including in San Francisco, California, King County, Washington and Rhode Island.

14. Encourage Distribution of Naloxone to Patients Receiving Opioids: Physicians should be encouraged to prescribe naloxone to their patients and opioid treatment programs should inform their clients about naloxone, if prescribing or dispensing an opioid to them. Pharmacists should similarly be encouraged to offer naloxone along with all Schedule II opioid prescriptions being filled, for syringe purchases (without concurrent injectable medication), and for all co-prescriptions (within 30 days) of a benzodiazepine (such as Valium™, Xanax™ or Klonopin™) and any opioid medication. The Rhode Island Governor's Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force found that offering naloxone to those prescribed a Schedule II opioid or when co-prescribed a benzodiazepine and any opioid would have reached 86% of overdose victims who received a prescription from a pharmacy prior to their death, and could have prevented 58% of all overdose deaths from 2014 to 2015.

15. Expand Good Samaritan Protections: "Good Samaritan" laws provide limited immunity from prosecution for specified drug law violations for people who summon help at the scene of an overdose. But, protection from prosecution is not enough to ensure that people are not too frightened to seek medical help. Other consequences, like arrest, parole or probation violations, and immigration consequences, can be equal barriers to calling 911. States with Good Samaritan laws already on the books should evaluate the protections provided and determine whether expansion of those protections would increase the likelihood that people seek medical assistance.

16. End the Criminalization of Syringe Possession: Syringes should be exempt from state paraphernalia laws in order to provide optimal access to people who inject drugs. Twenty-two states criminalize syringe possession. Thus, even if there is a legal access point, such as pharmacy sales, paraphernalia laws still permit law enforcement to arrest and prosecute individuals in possession of a syringe. Public health and law enforcement authorities should not be working at cross-purposes.

17. Reduce Barriers to Over-The-Counter Syringe Sales and Permit Direct Prescriptions of Syringes: While the non-prescription, over-the-counter sale of syringes is now permitted in all but one U.S. state, access is still unduly restricted.States should evaluate the potential barriers to accessing syringes over-thecounter and implement measures to improve access. Moreover, doctors should be permitted to prescribe syringes directly to their patients, a practice few states currently permit.

18. Authorize and Fund Sterile Syringe Access and Exchange Programs; Increase Programs: States should explicitly authorize and fund sterile syringe access and exchange programs, and states that have already authorized them should evaluate how to increase the number or capacity of programs to ensure all state residents – whether in urban centers or rural communities -- have access to clean syringes, as well as evaluate any possible barriers to access such as unnecessary age restrictions.

19. Provide Free Public, Community-Level Access to Drug Checking Services: Technology exists to test heroin and opioid products for adulterants via GC/MS analysis, but it has so far been unavailable at a public level in the US (aside from a mail-in service run by Ecstasydata.org). Making these services available in the context of a community outreach service or academic study would lower the number of deaths and hospitalizations and also allow for real-time tracking of local drug trends.

Prevention

20. Establish Expert Panel on Opioid Prescribing: Though the CDC has issued guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain, the guidelines are voluntary and are likely to exacerbate disparities in treatment that already exist. Research has shown, for example, that African Americans are less likely than whites to receive opioids for pain even when being treated for the same conditions. Moreover, the CDC guidelines only address prescribing practices for chronic pain, not prescribing practices more broadly. States should accordingly establish an expert panel to undertake an assessment as to whether prescribing practices, such as co-prescriptions for benzodiazepines and opioids or overprescribing of opioids, have contributed to increased rates of opioid dependence, and, if so, the expert panel should develop a plan to address any such linkages as well as any treatment disparities. The plan must account for the potential negative effects of curtailing prescribing practices or swiftly reducing prescription opioid prescribing volume. A task force in Rhode Island found that while changes in opioid supply can have the intended effect of reducing availability of abuse-able medications, they have also been linked to an increase in transition to illicit drug use and in more risky drug use behaviors (e.g., snorting and injecting pain medications). The plan must also account for chronic pain patients, particularly those already underserviced, and not unduly limit their access to necessary medications. Finally, to the extent prescribing guidelines are issued as part of the plan, they should be mandatory and applied across the board.

21. Mandate Medical Provider Education: States should mandate that all health professional degree-granting institutions include curricula on opioid dependence, overdose prevention, medication-assisted treatment, and harm reduction interventions, and that continuing education on these topics be readily available.

22. Develop Comprehensive, Evidence-Based Health, Wellness, and Harm Reduction Curriculum for Youth: State education departments, in conjunction with an expert panel consisting of various stakeholders that ascribe to scientific principles of treatment for youth, should develop a comprehensive, evidence-based health, wellness, and harm reduction curriculum for use in schools that incorporates scientific education on drugs, continuum of use, and contributors to problematic drug use (e.g., coping and resiliency, mental health issues, adverse childhood experiences, traumatic events and crisis), as well as how reduce harm (e.g., not mixing opioids with benzodiazepines). Education departments should also establish protocols and resources for early intervention, counseling, linkage to care, harm reduction resources, and other supports for students.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

23. Establish Diversion Programs, Including Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD): LEAD is a pre-booking diversion program that establishes protocols by which police divert people away from the typical criminal justice route of arrest, charge and conviction into a health-based, harm-reduction focused intensive case management process wherein the individual receives support services ranging from housing and healthcare to drug treatment and mental health services. Municipalities should create and implement LEAD programs and states and the federal government should provide dedicated funding for such programs. Various other forms of diversion programs exist and can be implemented should LEAD prove unsuitable to a particular population or municipality.

24. Decriminalize Drug Possession: Decriminalization is commonly defined as the elimination of criminal penalties for drug possession for personal use. In other words, it means that people who merely use or possess small amounts of drugs are no longer arrested, jailed, prosecuted, imprisoned, put on probation or parole, or saddled with a criminal record. Nearly two dozen countries have taken steps toward decriminalization. Empirical evidence from the international experiences demonstrate that decriminalization does not result in increased use or crime, reduces incidences of HIV/AIDs and overdose, increases the number of people in treatment, and reduces social costs of drug misuse. All criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of controlled substances for personal use should be removed.

Chronicle AM: FL Solons Reach MedMJ Accord, CO Gov Signs Asset Forfeiture Bill, More... (6/12/17)

Florida lawmakers finally reach agreement on implementing the medical marijuana constitutional amendment, Colorado's governor signs an asset forfeiture reform bill, and more.

Faced with large protests, Georgia's prime minister says he will hurry up with drug reform. (IPN screengrab)
Marijuana Policy

House Effort to Help Marijuana Businesses With Banking Thwarted. Two Florida representatives, Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) and Darren Soto (D-Orlando), filed an amendment to the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017 that would have eased federal restrictions on banking services for marijuana businesses. The bill was approved by the House last Thursday, but not before the House Rules Committee stripped the amendment from the bill.

Colorado Governor Signs Bills Limiting Plant Counts, Caregivers. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) last Thursday signed into law House Bill 17-1220, which limits personal cultivation to 12 plants per residence unless a local government allows more, and House Bill 17-1221, which says that only caregivers can grow plants for other people and sets up a grant program to fund police efforts to prosecute crimes related to black market weed.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Takes Another Step Toward Adding More Qualifying Conditions. Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle Seagull announced last Friday that she would follow a recommendation from the Medical Marijuana Program Board of Physicians to include three new conditions among the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. They are hydrocephalus with intractable headaches, intractable migraines, and trigeminal neuralgia. Seagull will now draft a new regulation by the end of the month, and after that, there will be a 30-day public comment period, then a review by the office of the attorney general, and then the approval of the Regulation Review Committee of the General Assembly. The whole process could take another year.

Florida Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Implementation Bill. Lawmakers used a special session to come to an agreement on how to handle medical marijuana last Friday. Under the proposal approved by the legislature, which Gov. Rick Scott (R) says he will sign, the state will gain an additional ten medical marijuana operators within four month. Each operator can operate up to 25 dispensaries across the state. But the bill also bans the smoking of medical marijuana even though the constitutional amendment approved by voters last November expressly included a provision that allows smoking. That has led Orlando lawyer John Morgan, who largely bankrolled the amendment, to vow to sue the state over the no-smoking provision.

Vermont Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. Phil Scott (R) last Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 16, which expands the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The new conditions added are Parkinson's disease, Crohn's disease, and PTSD. The new law also increases the number of dispensaries in the state from four to five.

Asset Forfeiture

Colorado Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) last Friday signed into law a civil asset forfeiture reform bill, House Bill 17-1313, which blocks state and local law enforcement from handing forfeiture cases off to the feds if the total value of the seized property is less than $50,000. In cases prosecuted by the federal government, the local law enforcement agency receives 80% of the proceeds, while under state law, the proceeds go to a general fund. Under the new law, police must also report all asset forfeitures and how they were used to the state.

International

Facing Mass Protests, Georgian Prime Minister Vows to Soften Harsh Drug Policies. After large crowds gathered in the capital Tbilisi to protest the arrest of two rappers who claim police planted drugs on them, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili unexpectedly weighed in a vowed to soften the country's drug laws. "I call on the parliament to accelerate the work [on the issue of softening drug legislation] in order at last to adopt a modified and humane law for the fall session in line with European standards," said in a statement published on the government website.

Chronicle AM: LA County Deputies to Carry Naloxone, Florida MedMJ Bill Advances, More... (6/9/17)

New York lawmakers are beginning a new push for marijuana legalization, the Florida Senate has passed a medical marijuana implementation bill, LA County Sheriff's deputies begin carrying the overdose reversal drug Naloxone, and more.

The LA County Sheriff's Department becomes the largest police agency in the land to carry Naloxone. (pa.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New York Lawmakers Prepare Legalization Effort. State Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) and Rep. Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo), along with advocates organized by the Drug Policy Alliance, will hold a press conference Monday to announce the reintroduction of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, Senate Bill 3040 and its Assembly companion, Assembly Bill 3506. The legislation would establish a legal market for adult-use cannabis in the state, with marijuana taxed and regulated in a fashion similar to how alcohol is regulated for adults over 21.

Rhode Island Legal MJ Backers Propose Compromise. Lawmakers trying to salvage a marijuana legalization effort have proposed a two-stage process where marijuana possession would be legalized first, but the legalization of marijuana commerce would come later. The proposal from Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) and Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) does not have the support of state Senate and House leaders, though. They are supporting a rival bill that would delay legalization by creating a legislative commission to study the issue.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Attorney General Asks State Supreme Court to Reinstate Ban on Campus Medical Marijuana. Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) has asked the state Supreme Court to review an appeals court ruling that struck down a ban on medical marijuana on college campuses. The state is arguing that the legislature had the right to alter the voter-approved medical marijuana law so that college students with medical marijuana cards could face felony arrests for possession of any amount of marijuana.

Florida Senate Passes Law Implementing Medical Marijuana. The state Senate on Friday approved a bill that would implement the state's constitutional amendment expanding the use of medical marijuana on a vote of 28-8. A similar bill fell apart during the legislature's regular session, but now, during a special session, it is moving. It must still past the House and be signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott (R) to become law. The bill would cap the number of medical marijuana cultivation operations at 25 statewide and it would not allow for the smoking of medical marijuana.

Harm Reduction

Los Angeles County Deputies to Start Carrying Naloxone. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is about to become the largest law enforcement agency in the US to equip its members with the life-saving opioid overdose reversal drug. Some 600 Naloxone spray kits are being handed out this week, and the department plans to get the kits in the hands of 3,000 of its deputies by year's end.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Drug War Violence Roils Reynosa, RI MJ Commission Expanded, More... (6/8/17)

A Rhode Island legislative commission studying marijuana legalization gets an expanded membership, including more seats favorable to legalization, cartel infighting leaves a bloody toll in Reynosa, British public health experts call for festival pill testing, and more.

No let up in prohibition-related violence along the Rio Grande. (Borderlands Beat/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Legalization Commission Gets Expanded. The House Judiciary Committee has voted to expand the membership of a commission studying legalization by adding five more people. The five new members will add heft to the commission's pro-legalization contingent. They include the head of the local NAACP branch, a representative of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, a criminal defense attorney, and the director of the local chapter of Direct Action for Rights and Equality. This brings the size of the commission to 22. The panel would report recommendations on legalizing marijuana to the General Assembly by March 2018.

Drug Policy

Wisconsin Seeks to Keep Locking Up Pregnant Women Suspected of Drug Use Despite Court Ruling. The state Department of Justice has asked the 10th US Circuit of Appeals to let it continue to apply a law allowing it to detain pregnant women it suspects of drug use even though a US district court judge struck it down in April. State officials first sought an emergency stay to block the ruling while they appeal, but when that was denied Monday, on Tuesday they asked to continue to apply the law to pending cases while it appeals the denial to the US Supreme Court.

International

British Public Health Group Calls for Pill Testing at Festivals. Citing the danger of "serious health harm" from stronger ecstasy in the UK, the Royal Society for Public Health is calling for a program to allow festival goers to test their drugs on site. The society reported than a one-off pill testing pilot program last year resulted in 18% of people bringing their drugs in deciding to through them in the garbage after they turned out to be counterfeit or adulterated.

Mexico Drug War Violence Continues to Roil Reynosa. At least 50 people have been killed in the past month in the Mexican border town of Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, according to unofficial counts in local media. Most of the dead are reportedly gunmen from rival factions of the Gulf Cartel, who are fighting for control of local drug trafficking routes, but at least one civilizan -- a taco cart vendor -- is among the dead.

The Marijuana Economy Dwarfs Ten of America's Most Popular Food and Drink Staples

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Marijuana is legal in eight states and the District of Columbia, and medical marijuana is legal in nearly 30 (although often under quite restrictive regulatory schemes). Between the two, legal weed is generating total annual sales of between $4 billion and $4.5 billion.

But legal marijuana sales are dwarfed by sales in the black market, which according to a recent report in Marijuana Business Daily, accounts for about ten times the size of the legal market, or about $45 billion to $50 billion.

That's still only about half the size of the legal beer and tobacco market, and it's more than it might be when legalization ultimately drops prices, which most observers expect. Nevertheless, it is nothing to sneeze at, and it puts marijuana well ahead of some major American economic sectors. Here are ten products or services already being surpassed by pot, with the first five being smaller than the legal market and the second five being smaller than the estimated overall market, including both licit and illicit markets. Some of these industries could hope for synergistic effects, though.

1. Girl Scout cookies

Thin Mints are the hands-down winner when it comes to Girl Scout cookies, accounting for 25% of all sales, but that's only around $200 million. All told, Americans shelled out $776 million for the treats last year. That's a lot of cookies, but that's less than one-quarter of the size of the legal pot market.

2. Tequila

Shots with lime and salt, margaritas, Tequila sunrises... Americans gulp down a huge volume of the Mexican agave concoction every year, but the $2.3 billion in annual tequila sales is only half the size of the legal marijuana market. Of course, tequila is only a fraction of the alcohol industry, which still rocks compared to weed. Beer sales alone are more than $100 billion a year.

3. Music streaming services

Who doesn't love music and want it handy on all their devices? Music streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, and Amazon Music Unlimited are big, big, big, but at about $2.5 billion in annual sales, only half as big as legal weed.

4. Erectile dysfunction medication

Viagra and Cialis can't stand up against legal marijuana, either. There's a huge potential market out there, with an estimated 52% of men experiencing erectile dysfunction at some point in their lives, but annual sales for the two drugs combined is still only $2.7 billion.

5. Frozen pizza

From Tombstone to California Pizza Kitchen, take-home store-bought frozen pizzas are a traditional favorite of millions of Americans. And now, we're finally reaching sales parity with legal pot. Frozen pizzas account for $4.4 billion in sales each year, very near the amount spend on legally purchased marijuana.

6. Ice cream

Retail ice cream sales come to $5.1 billion a year, just barely exceeding the high-end estimate for legal pot sales, but barely one-tenth the size of the estimated black and legal marijuana markets. That's still a lot of scoops, though.

7. Movie tickets

Let's go to the movies! Even though movie tickets aren't exactly cheap, people still pay for that theatrical cinematic experience to the tune of $11.1 billion in ticket sales per year (not counting snacks). That's only about a quarter of the size of the overall pot market. Being stoned on weed could make some of those lame loser movies more palatable.

8. The NFL

Pro football is a monster, dominating sports TV, radio, and internet for half the year and generating $13.3 billion in annual revenues. At the rate legal marijuana markets are expanding (just wait for California!), legal pot sales alone could surpass NFL revenues within just a few years, and the total estimated market is more than three times what the league is bringing in.

9. Gambling

Pot is bigger than Vegas? Yep. And Reno and Atlantic City and all those casinos everywhere combined. Make no mistake -- gambling is big business, with Americans burning through $34.6 billion a year, according to the American Gambling Association, but Americans are burning through even more weed, and we'd wager that's going to go up, too.

10. Daycare for kids

Daycare for kids isn't exactly inexpensive and it's an issue for millions of American working families. According to IBISWorld's market research, that's a $48 billion hit on the family budget. It's an awful lot of money. It's also more or less the amount Americans are spending on pot right now.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Veterans Administration secretary hints at openness to medical marijuana for PTSD, Arkansas regulators are ready to accept applications, Florida lawmakers are ready to move forward on implementing the will of the voters, and more.

National

Last Wednesday, the VA secretary said he's open to medical marijuana for PTSD. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said he is open to expanding the use of medical marijuana to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder in states where it is legal. There may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful and we're interested in looking at that and learning from that," Shulkin said during a press conference. "Right now, federal law does not prevent us at VA to look at that as an option for veterans... I believe that everything that could help veterans should be debated by Congress and by medical experts and we will implement that law."

Arkansas

On Tuesday, tstate regulators finalized the process for medical marijuana applications. The state Medical Marijuana Commission finalized the process for accepting applications for medical marijuana growers and sellers. The move comes after the commission developed a more detailed scoring system for ranking applicants. The application period will open June 30 and go on for 90 days. The commission will distribute 32 dispensary licenses and five cultivation facility licenses.

Florida

Last Friday, the governor vetoed medical marijuana research projects. Gov. Rick Scott (R) used his line-item veto power to kill three line items that would have provided more than $3 million dollars to the Moffitt Cancer Center and the University of Florida for medical marijuana research. In his veto message, Scott wrote that the institutions had plenty of money to fund the research on their own.

On Wednesday, lawmakers reached agreement on implementing medical marijuana. Lawmakers came to agreement on how to implement the state's voter-approved medical law. Under the agreement, 10 new growers will be licensed this year, with five licenses going to previous applicants, five going to new applicants, and at least one reserved for a black farmer. The state current licenses only seven commercial grows. The agreement also caps the number of dispensaries each grower can operate at 25.

Oregon

Last Friday, a bill to let medical growers sell limited amounts on the recreational market advanced. A bill that seeks to reshape the state's medical marijuana program so it can coexist with legal recreational marijuana is advancing. House Bill 2198, which would let medical growers sell up to 20 pounds in the recreational market in a bid to stay viable, passed the Joint Committee on Marijuana Regulation last Friday and is now before Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A North Dakota sheriff was letting meth suborn him, a Florida sheriff's deputy was tweaked on steroids, and more. Let's get to it:

In Fessenden, North Dakota, the former Wells County sheriff was arrested last Tuesday on bribery and methamphetamine charges. Johnny Zip Lawson, 41, is accused of consuming meth provided by a local man in exchange for not investigating break-ins and burglaries in the area that may have been committed by that man. He is charged with conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, methamphetamine, a Class A felony, and bribery-unlawful influence of public servants, a Class C felony. He was also charged with three Class A misdemeanors: providing false information to a law enforcement officer, neglect of duty and ingesting a controlled substance, methamphetamine.

In Bridgeport, Connecticut, a Fairfield police detective was arrested last Friday for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars' worth of heroin and Oxycontin from the department's evidence room. Detective Stephen Rilling, 40, is accused of signing out heroin, Oxycontin, and cocaine for "testing," but consuming the drugs himself. He is charged with third-degree computer crime, second-degree larceny by defrauding a public community, possession of narcotics, second-degree forgery, tampering with evidence and false entry by an officer or agent of a public community.

In Daytona Beach, Florida, a Volusia County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Friday on accusations that he stole money and a synthetic steroid from a driver during a traffic stop. John Braman, 24, went down after body-camera video showed him taking money out of the driver's wallet. Prosecutors said body camera video showed at least two more cases of Braman ripping off motorists and that investigators found steroids and syringes in Braman's car. He is charged with theft, official misconduct, and possession of a controlled substance.

Chronicle AM: NYT Says ODs at Record High, WI Gov Advances Medicaid Drug Testing, More... (6/7/17)

Drug overdoses are at an all time high, drug war dinosaur senators want to return to harsh sentencing, Wisconsin's GOP governor moves forward with first in the nation plan to drug test Medicaid applicants, and more.

Fatal drug overdoses totaled nearly 60,000 last year, the New York Times reports. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut House Debates Legalization, But There is No Vote. The House debated the pros and cons of marijuana legalization Tuesday night, but Democratic leaders then ended debate without any vote. They said a legalization bill would have failed in the House, but the debate could increase the chances of legalization being included as part of a budget bill, although observers describe that prospect as "a long shot."

Wichita Reduces Pot Penalties. The city council voted Tuesday to adopt an ordinance that would reduce the penalty for possession of up to 32 grams (slightly more than an ounce) of marijuana to $50 plus court costs.

ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance Sue Southern California City Over Pot Cultivation Ordinance. The ACLU of California and the Drug Policy Alliance are suing Fontana, claiming that the city's marijuana ordinance conflicts with rights granted to all Californians under Proposition 64. Under Prop. 64, every Californian 21 or older has a right to cultivate up to six marijuana plants for personal use. But the law also says cities or counties can ban outdoor gardens and "reasonably regulate" indoor grows.Fontana -- a city of 200,000 people that sits 50 miles east of Los Angeles -- passed an ordinance in January that requires residents who want to cultivate up to six plants inside their home to first get a $411 permit from the city and not have any drug convictions within the past five years, a policy the groups describe as both illegal and "egregious."

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Finalizes Process for Medical Marijuana Applications. In a meeting Tuesday, the state Medical Marijuana Commission finalized the process for accepting applications for medical marijuana growers and sellers. The move comes after the commission developed a more detailed scoring system for ranking applicants. The application period will open June 30 and go on for 90 days. The commission will distribute 32 dispensary licenses and five cultivation facility licenses.

Florida Lawmakers Reach Agreement on Implementing Medical Marijuana. Lawmakers on Wednesday came to agreement on how to implement the state's voter-approved medical law. Under the agreement, ten new growers will be licensed this year, with five licenses going to previous applicants, five going to new applicants, and at least one reserved for a black farmer. The state current licenses only seven commercial grows. The agreement also caps the number of dispensaries each grower can operate at 25.

Oregon Bill to Let Medical Growers Sell Up to 20 Pounds in Recreational Market Advances. A bill that seeks to reshape the state's medical marijuana program so it can coexist with legal recreational marijuana is advancing. House Bill 2198, which would let medical growers sell up to 20 pounds in the recreational market in a bid to stay viable, passed the Joint Committee on Marijuana Regulation last week and is now before Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Times Investigation Finds Drug Overdose Deaths Reached All-Time High in 2016. The New York Times published on Monday an investigative report that found that drug overdose deaths last year reached an all-time high, suggesting that the country's long-term opioid crisis continues to worsen and that younger age groups in the U.S. are experiencing record numbers of opioid overdoses than in the past. The Times looked at preliminary overdose data for 2016 provided by hundreds of state and local health authorities, concluding: "Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50, and all evidence suggests the problem has continued to worsen in 2017." The report estimates that more than 59,000 people died from a drug overdose in 2016 -- an increase of 19% from 2015. The report does not elaborate on which drugs are behind the estimated jump in overdose deaths last year, nor does the report indicate which age groups under 50 saw the largest increase in overdose deaths over prior years.

Senate Drug Warriors Feinstein and Grassley Prepare Bill With Tough New Penalties for Synthetic Opioids. The senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are preparing a bill that would create tough new penalties for people caught with synthetic opioids. A draft of the bill would give the attorney general the power to ban all kinds of synthetic drugs and it would impose a 10-year maximum sentence on people caught selling them for a first offense. A second offense would see the sentence double. The bill would penalize people selling drugs at a low level in the US, critics said.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Submits Request to Drug Test Medicaid Applicants. Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Wednesday officially submitted a request for a federal waiver to become the first state in the country to drug test applicants for Medicaid benefits. Walker said the plan would provide drug addicts with treatment and make them employable. "Healthy workers help Wisconsin employers fill jobs that require passing a drug test," Walker's administration said in a press release Wednesday announcing the waiver. But critics called the notion a waste of money and an insult to people who need Medicaid.

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Restricts Forfeiture, Rejects College Drug Test Bid, More... (6/6/17)

The Supreme Court makes two good drug policy-related rulings in one day, the California Assembly approves both a marijuana "sanctuary" bill and a supervised injection site bill, last-ditch efforts to free the weed in Connecticut hit a bump, and more.

The Supreme Court rules favorably on two drug policy-related issues. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

California Assembly Passes Marijuana "Sanctuary" Bill. The Assembly has approved Assembly Bill 1578, which would prohibit state resources from being used to help enforce federal marijuana laws that conflict with state law. The bill from Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) now goes to the state Senate.

Connecticut Legalization Measure Still Stalled. The last-ditch effort to get legalization passed through the budget process broke down early Monday just minutes before a press conference announcing a compromise was to be announced. Rep. Melissa Ziobron (R-East Haddam) complained that she didn't see a copy of the legalization amendment until just minutes earlier, when she learned that Rep. Josh Elliot (D-Hamden) and other Democrats had been crafting the measure since last Friday. "This isn't about headlines. This isn't about a news conference," Ziobron said. "This is about what's good for the state of Connecticut, and doing it last-minute, doing it in a way that is not bipartisan, is very worrisome and should be for every single person in this state."

Nevada Republicans Kill Governor's Pot Tax Bill. A bill supported by Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) that would have imposed a 10% tax on recreational marijuana sales has been defeated in the Senate after Republicans refused to support it because of unrelated budget issues. The vote was 12-9 in favor, but because it was a budget bill, it needed a two-thirds majority, or 14 votes, to pass.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Governor Uses Line-Item Veto to Kill Medical Marijuana Research Projects. Gov. Rick Scott (R) used his line-item veto power to kill three line items that would have provided more than $3 million dollars to the Moffitt Cancer Center and the University of Florida for medical marijuana research. In his veto message, Scott wrote that the institutions had plenty of money to fund the research on their own.

Asset Forfeiture

Supreme Court Restricts Asset Forfeiture in Drug Cases. In a decision handed down Monday, the US Supreme Court has moved to restrict prosecutorial efforts to seize money or goods from drug defendants. In Honeycutt v. US, brothers Terry and Tony Honeycutt were convicted of selling methamphetamine precursor chemicals, and the feds then swooped in to seize $200,000 of the estimated $270,000 profits from the sales. But they then sought to seize the remaining $70,000 from Terry Honeycutt, who was only an employee at his brother's hardware store, and that crossed a line, the court said. "Congress did not authorize the government to confiscate substitute property from other defendants or coconspirators," Sotomayor said. "It authorized the government to confiscate assets only from the defendant who initially acquired the property and who bears responsibility for its dissipation."

Drug Testing

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Appeal from Missouri Tech College That Wanted to Drug Test All Students. The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal from the State Technical College of Missouri of an appeals court ruling that its mandatory drug testing policy is unconstitutional when applied to all students. Lower courts had upheld mandatory suspicionless drug testing of only a handful of the school's disciplines where safety was a key element. "This case establishes -- once and for all -- that under the Fourth Amendment, every person has the right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure, including college students," the ACLU, which filed the class-action lawsuit in 2011, said in a statement Monday.

Harm Reduction

California Assembly Passes Supervised Injection Sites Bill. The Assembly last Thursday approved Assembly Bill 186, which would allow for the provision of supervised drug consumption sites. The pioneering harm reduction measure sponsored by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) now moves to the state Senate. "California is blazing a new trail toward a policy on drug addiction and abuse that treats it as the medical issue and public health challenge that it is, and not as a moral failing," said Talamantes Eggman. "We are in the midst of an epidemic, and this bill will grant us another tool to fight it -- to provide better access to services like treatment and counseling, to better protect public health and safety, and to save lives."

Chronicle AM: NH Decrim Goes to Governor, VA Secretary Open to MedMJ for PTSD, More... (6/1/2017)

A decriminalization bill is heading to the New Hampshire governor's desk, Vermont's governor holds out hope for a legalization bill, Trump's opioid addiction commission will meet in a couple of weeks, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Nevada Pot Shop Rollout Could Be Delayed By Lawsuit. A state district court judge on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the state Department of Taxation from enforcing a Wednesday deadline for license applications for the state's program to get legal marijuana sales off to an early start. The order came in response to a lawsuit from the Independent Alcohol Distributors of Nevada, who complain that the ballot measure that legalized weed in the state gave liquor wholesalers exclusive rights to distribution licenses for the first 18 months of sales. Distributors are those responsible for transporting marijuana from grows and production facilities to dispensaries.

New Hampshire Legislature Gives Final Approval to Decriminalization Bill. The House on Thursday voted to accept Senate changes to House Bill 640, which will decriminalize the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu (R) is expected to sign the bill into law within the next couple of weeks.

North Dakota Legalization Signature Drive Will Begin in Fall. Proponents of a 2018 legalization initiative campaign say they will begin a signature gathering campaign in the fall, once students return to classes. A core group of individuals is working on a draft to be submitted to the secretary of state's office later this summer.

Vermont Governor Says Talks Continue on Marijuana Legalization Bill. Gov. Phil Scott (R) said Wednesday he thought it was still possible to pass a marijuana legalization bill during a two-day veto session set for later this month. Republican legislative leaders have said they wouldn't allow a parliamentary maneuver necessary to pass a revised legalization bill, but Scott said that if his public safety concerns are addressed, he could reach out to GOP leaders.

Medical Marijuana

VA Secretary Says He's Open to Medical Marijuana for PTSD. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Wednesday said he is open to expanding the use of medical marijuana to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder in states where it is legal. "There may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful and we're interested in looking at that and learning from that," Shulkin said during a press conference. "Right now, federal law does not prevent us at VA to look at that as an option for veterans... I believe that everything that could help veterans should be debated by Congress and by medical experts and we will implement that law."

Drug Policy

Trump Addiction Commission Set to Meet June 16. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) has announced that the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis will hold an inaugural meeting on June 16. The commission, which is loaded with drug policy conservatives, is charging with providing "advice and recommendations for the President regarding drug issues." The meeting will be at 12:30pm ET and will be available for public viewing via live stream.

International

Peru Takes First Casualties in Offensive in Key Coca Growing Region. A week after Peru announced that security forces were entering the region known as the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM) in a bid to suppress the coca crop in the country's largest coca growing region, two policemen were killed in an ambush by presumed drug traffickers Wednesday. Police said they were killed in the Luricocha district, where traffickers have allegedly allied themselves with remnants of the Shining Path guerrillas.

Canada Tories Want to Remove Home Grow Provisions From Legalization Bill. Conservatives in parliament are criticizing a provision in the legalization bill that would allow adults to grow up to four marijuana plants per household. "Is there any easier way to get marijuana than if your parents and everybody have got plants in the kitchen?" Tory justice critic Rob Nicholson, a former attorney general, asked in a speech to the House. Another Tory MP, Marilyn Gladu, warned that children could eat the plants. "Kids eat plants all the time because their parents do not put them up in the cupboard,” she said, ignorant of the fact that THC in marijuana plants must be heated in order to convert non-psychoactive THCA to THC, the stuff that gets people high.

SD Attorney General Foiled in Bid to Prosecute Tribal Marijuana Industry Consultant

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) thought he had the perfect case to help burnish his tough-on-pot prosecutorial credentials as he eyes the governorship in the socially conservative state. It didn't work out that way, though.

Eric Hagen, who was set to be sacrificed on the altar of Jackley's ambitions, walked free last week after a jury in Flandreau refused to convict him of a marijuana trafficking conspiracy for his company's efforts to advise the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe on a marijuana cultivation operation and resort.

The tribe last year had announced plans for the operation after tribes across the country received an unsolicited okay from the federal government to pursue marijuana operations and hired Hagen's Colorado-based Monarch America to help get the operation up and running. But facing mixed signals -- including threats of possible raids -- from federal officials and staunch opposition from state and local officials, the tribe tore up its plants last fall.

State officials got what they wanted, the tribe gave up its plans, Monarch America closed up shop on the reservation, and the matter appeared to be settled. But nine months later, as Jackley geared up for his 2018 gubernatorial run, he brought marijuana trafficking charges against Hagen and Monarch Vice President Jonathan Hunt.

The move came even though state attorneys general can't prosecute non-Indians for crimes on reservations. In a novel move, Jackley argued that his office did have jurisdiction to prosecute victimless crimes committed by non-Indians.

Facing up to ten years in state prison, Hunt copped to one count of conspiracy in August and agreed to testify against his business partner, but Hagen decided to fight and went to trial beginning last Friday. As a witness, Hunt testified that he did not think he was really guilty of crime, but accepted a plea bargain because he didn't want to risk a prison sentence.

At the trial, jurors had to decide whether Hagen possessed or intended to possess marijuana and whether he engaged in a conspiracy. The state's case took a blow when Santee Sioux tribal officials, including Chairman Tony Reider, testified that it was the tribe's marijuana, not Hagen's, and that Hagen and Hunt were merely consultants.

Defense attorney Mike Butler also successfully challenged the conspiracy claim, noting in arguments and questions to witnesses that there was nothing secret about the tribe's plans. As Butler noted, the tribe and Monarch America had been very open about their plans and had invited media, lawmakers, and even the FBI to tour the grow operation.

Butler also alluded to the political subtext behind Jackley's prosecution of the consultants. "My client and Mr. Hunt are collateral damage," he said.

The jury agreed, finding Hagen not guilty after only two hours of deliberation Wednesday.

Hagen is a free man, but his company must now be rebuilt, and the Sioux Falls native is calling out Jackley for attempting to ride to higher political office on his back.

"He tanked our company by spreading lies and rumors," Hagen said. "It was 100% politically motivated. This was simply a media ploy for Jackley because he's running for governor in 2018."

Flandreau, SD
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Connecticut top narc gets nailed for stealing dope, an NYPD officer get nailed for peddling dope, a Hawaii cop gets a wrist-slap for "promoting" dope, and more. Let's get to it:

In New Orleans, an Orleans Parish sheriff's jail employee was arrested last Thursday after she was caught in the act smuggling heroin and other drugs into the parish jail. Ciboney Parker, 23, went down after jail authorities recorded phone calls made between her, an inmate, and the inmate's girlfriend setting up a delivery. She got popped when she showed up at work with the drugs. She is now charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin, possession of schedule IV drugs (tramadol) and bringing contraband into a correctional facility.

In New York City, an NYPD officer was arrested last Thursday for allegedly peddling drugs on the street in Queens while off duty. Officer Jose Sierra got popped for selling drugs to a man on 111th Street in Corona. He is a five-year veteran of the force.

In Fairfield, Connecticut, the Fairfield Police Department's lead narcotics detective was arrested last Friday on charges he stole heroin and other drugs seized during police operations. Detective Steven Rilling, 40, is charged with third-degree computer crime, second-degree larceny, second-degree forgery, possession of narcotics, false entry by an officer or agent of a public community and tampering with evidence. Rilling only stole drugs from cases in which he was involved, police said.

In Honolulu, a former Honolulu police officer was sentenced Tuesday to 60 days in jail on multiple drug charges. Alan Ahn got into trouble when police raided his girlfriend's house after undercover officers bought drugs there. While he was looking at up to years, he copped a plea, admitting to "promotion" of cocaine, marijuana, and painkillers. He must also do four years' probation.

Medical Marijuana Update

Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Grassley file a CBD research bill, Detroit has been moving against unpermitted dispensaries, and more.

National

Last Thursday, a pair of prohibitoinist senators filed a CBD research bill. Two of the Senate's most ardent prohibitionists, International Narcotics Control caucus leaders Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) filed a bill to expand research into the medical benefits of cannabidiol and marijuana. The bill has not yet been assigned a number, nor is the text available on the congressional website, but the text can be viewed here. Feinstein authored a similar bill last session that went nowhere.

Arkansas

On Tuesday, state regulators delayed voting on final rules for another week. The state Medical Marijuana Commission needs another week to finalize some rules, commission Chairwoman Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman said. If it indeed finalizes rules next week, applications for medical marijuana businesses will open up on June 30.

Michigan

As of Monday, Detroit has closed 167 unpermitted dispensaries, with more to come. The city's crackdown on illegally operating dispensaries has seen 167 of them shuttered since the campaign began last year, and another 51 are in line to be closed in coming weeks, according to Detroit corporation counsel Melvin Butch Hollowell. The city had identified 283 illegally operating dispensaries and has a goal of reducing the number of dispensaries in the city to 50.

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

Chronicle AM: Senators' Sessions Forfeiture Letter, Canada Legalization Debate, More... (5/31/17)

A bipartisan group of US senators has sent Attorney General Sessions a letter asking him to rein in federal civil asset forfeiture, the Rhode Island House is voting on a pot legalization study commission, the Canadian parliament begins debating the government's legalization bill, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Senate Votes to Make Marijuana Use in Cars an Infraction. The state Senate on Tuesday approved Senate Bill 65, which would prohibit the use of marijuana in automobiles because of concerns over drugged driving. The bill would make the offense a violation, punishable by no more than a fine. The bill now goes to the Assembly.

Rhode Island House to Vote Today on Legalization Study Commission. The House is set to vote today on a bill creating a 17-member panel to "conduct a comprehensive review and make recommendations regarding marijuana and the effects of its use." The commission would have until March 1, 2018 to report its findings to the General Assembly. Adopting the bill effectively blocks legalization in the state until next year at the earliest. This measure is supported by anti-reform state Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and Smart Approaches to Marijuana. If the measure passes the House, it then goes to the Senate.

Wisconsin Decriminalization Bill Gets Lone Republican Supporter. Legislative proponents of marijuana decriminalization held a press conference on Tuesday to rally support for a bill that would remove criminal penalties for possession of 10 grams or less. Three Democratic cosponsors were joined by Republican Rep. Adam Jarchow (District 28) at the presser, where they conceded their bill was unlikely to pass this year, but was intended to get the ball rolling.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Regulators Delay Voting on Final Rules for Another Week. The state Medical Marijuana Commission needs another week to finalize some rules, commission Chairwoman Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman said Tuesday. If it indeed finalizes rules next week, applications for medical marijuana businesses will open up on June 30.

Asset Forfeiture

Bipartisan Group of Senators Ask Session to Rein In Asset Forfeiture. Six US senators have sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to change Justice Department policy on civil asset forfeiture. "We encourage the Department of Justice to revise its civil asset forfeiture practices to reflect our nation's commitment to the rule of law and due process," Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Angus King (I-ME) wrote to Sessions. "We encourage the Department of Justice to revise its civil asset forfeiture practices to reflect our nation's commitment to the rule of law and due process." Noting that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had recently expressed skepticism about the practice, they added: "You need not wait for Supreme Court censure before reforming these practices, and, in any event, the Department of Justice should err on the side of protecting constitutional rights."

International

Canada Begins Debating Government's Marijuana Legalization Bill. Parliamentary debate on the C-45 legalization bill got underway Tuesday. Supported by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the bill is expected to pass, making Canada the second country after Uruguay to legalize marijuana.

South African Opioid Substitution Program Underway. The city of Tshwane and the University of Pretoria are collaborating on a pilot opioid substitution therapy (OST) program in seven clinics in central Pretoria and Tshwane townships. Doctors are prescribing drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine to be consumed under direct supervision of health workers. The program also links patients to counseling and job skills, as well as testing for HIV and Hep C.

Chronicle AM: Israel Decrim Now in Effect, VT MJ Advocates Seek Path Forward, More... (5/30/17)

There may be hope, albeit slim, for legalization yet this year in Vermont, Israeli marijuana decriminalization has gone into effect, South Carolina becomes the 31st hemp state, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Keeping Hope Alive in Vermont. Marijuana legalization advocates met last Friday with members of Gov. Phil Scott's (R) staff to discuss possible revisions in the marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 22, that could make it palatable enough to Scott to make him put away his veto pen. Scott vetoed the bill last week, saying he was not philosophically opposed to legalization, but wanted tougher penalties for using marijuana around children and a delay in the deadline for a legislative commission to study legalizing marijuana commerce. The current bill would only legalize personal possession and cultivation.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit Has Closed 167 Unpermitted Dispensaries; More to Come. The city's crackdown on illegally operating dispensaries has seen 167 of them shuttered since the campaign began last year, and another 51 are in line to be closed in coming weeks, according to Detroit corporation counsel Melvin Butch Hollowell. The city had identified 283 illegally operating dispensaries and has a goal of reducing the number in the city to 50.

Hemp

South Carolina Becomes 31st Hemp State. Gov. Henry McMaster (R) has signed into law House Bill 3559, which establishes a state hemp program that will award 20 licenses to farmers to grow and harvest hemp fields of up to 20 acres each. The bill passes the House unanimously and the Senate with a single "no" vote.

International

Trump Budget Would Cut in Half Mexican Drug War Aid. The administration's proposed budget for next year would cut almost in half foreign aid payments to Mexico, most of which goes to the police and military to wage the drug war south of the border. The budget does include $1.6 billion for building the border wall, though.

Israel Marijuana Decriminalization Has Gone Into Effect. As of this week, marijuana possession is decriminalized in Israel. People caught in possession of 15 grams or less will face a $280 fine for a first offense and a $560 fine for a second offense. Third time offenders will be investigated for drug offenses and have the violation added to their criminal records, while fourth-time offenders will face arrest.

How Many States Will Legalize Marijuana This Year? [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

In the euphoric aftermath of marijuana legalization victories in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada last November, the marijuana blogosphere was alive with predictions about which states would be next to free the weed. Extract listed 10 states, MerryJane went big with 14 states, the Joint Blog listed five states, Leafly homed in on six states, and Weed News went with seven states. AlterNet got into the act, too, with "The Next 5 States to Legalize Marijuana."

But unlike the first eight states, which all legalized it via the initiative and referendum process, for legalization to win this year, it would have to be via a state legislature. Yet here we are, nearing the halfway point of 2017, and we're not seeing it. And we're unlikely to see it for the rest of this year. The states that had the best shots are seeing their legislative sessions end without bills being passed, and while bills are alive in a couple of states -- Delaware and New Jersey -- they're not likely to pass this year either.

To be fair, we have seen significant progress in state legislatures. More legalization bills have been filed than ever before, and in some states, they are advancing like never before. In Vermont, a bill actually got through the legislature, only to fall victim to the veto pen. But actually getting a legalization bill past both houses of a legislature and a governor has yet to happen.

And while there is rising popular clamor -- buoyed by favorable opinion polls -- for state legislatures to end pot prohibition, the advocacy group most deeply involved in state-level legalization efforts, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), understands the difficulties and intricacies of working at the state house. While it has worked hard, it made no promises for victory this year, instead saying it is committed to "ending prohibition in eight more states by 2019."

That MPP list doesn't include initiative states, of which we could see a handful next year. MPP is already involved in Michigan, where legalization is polling above 50%, and first-stage initiative campaigns are already underway in Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, and the Dakotas. It would be disappointing for reform advocates if they have to wait until November 2018 and the popular vote to win another legalization victory, and given the progress made in state houses this year, they hope they won't have to. Still, legalization at the state house is proving a tough row to hoe.

Drug War Chroniclethought the best prospects were in Connecticut, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Here's what's happened so far:

Connecticut. Legalization isn't quite dead yet this year, but it is on life support. A legalization bill died in the General Assembly after getting several hearings this year, but failing to even get a vote in the judiciary and public safety committees. In a last-ditch move, Assembly Democrats this month included marijuana legalization in their budget recommendations as a means of addressing budget problems, but they conceded they don't have enough votes in their caucus to pass it and said they added legalization merely "to spur conversation." The dour figure of Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) and his hints of a veto didn't help.

Maryland. A Senate legalization measure, Senate Bill 927, and its House companion, House Bill 1186, both got committee hearings, but neither could get a vote out of disinterested committee chairs. A bill that would have amended the state constitution to legalize personal possession and cultivation, Senate Bill 891, suffered the same fate. The General Assembly is now adjourned until January 2018.

New Mexico. Hopes for legalization this year in the Land of Enchantment crashed and burned back in February, when a measure to do just that, House Bill 89, died an ignominious death in the House Business and Industry Committee. Four out of five committee Democrats joined all five committee Republicans to bury it on a 9-1 vote. And the legislature killed a decriminalization bill, too, before the session ended. Again, a veto threat-wielding governor in the background, Susana Martinez (R), didn't help.

Rhode Island. Although a full third of House members cosponsored the legalization measure, House Bill 5555, the House Judiciary Committee this month failed to vote on it, instead passing House Bill 5551, which punts on the issue by instead creating a commission to study marijuana legalization and report back in March 2018. That bill now awaits a House floor vote.

Vermont. The Green Mountain State became the first to see a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 22, approved by the legislature, only to see it vetoed last week by Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who cited concerns about drugged driving and youth access. Scott did leave the door open for a modified bill to win his approval this year, but that would require legislators to agree on new language and get it passed during a two-day "veto session" next month, which in turn would require Republican House members to suspend some rules. That's looks unlikely, as does the prospect of a successful veto override. But it's not dead yet.

When it comes to pot, New England is hot.
For reform advocates, it's a case of the glass half full.

"This is still a historic time," said Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "For the first time, we saw a state legislature pass a bill removing all penalties for the possession and consumption of marijuana by its citizens. We've had great victories in the past 10 years, but they've all been through the initiative process. Now, with the polls continuing to show majorities favoring outright legalization, legislators are feeling more emboldened to represent their constituents, but it won't happen overnight."

"We've seen bigger gains than any other year in history," said MPP Communication Director Mason Tvert. "There's never been a legislature in all our history that passed a law making marijuana legal for adults, and now one did. That's pretty substantial."

But Tvert conceded that legalization via the state house is a course filled with obstacles.

"In Rhode Island, the leadership is still holding it up, although it looks like it will pass a legalization study commission," he said. "In Delaware, a bill passed easily in committee, but it needs two-thirds to pass the House, and that's tough to do in the first year. In Vermont, last year, we had the governor, but not both houses of the legislature; this year we had the legislature, but not the governor," he elaborated.

"That's the nature of representative democracy and the structure of government in the US," Tvert said. "It requires a lot of pieces to fall into place."

"One of the biggest obstacles we face is the demographics of those chair those legislative committees," said NORML's Strekal. "They tend to skew toward older, more prohibitionist age brackets, but as these turn over to a new generation of legislators and elected officials, we should be able to get more of those bills out of committee, like we just saw in Delaware."

Tvert pointed to an example of the committee chair bottleneck in the Lone Star State.

"It's one thing to lose on a floor vote in the House," he said. "It's another thing to have a whip count showing you could win a floor vote, and you can't get a vote. That was the case in Texas with both medical marijuana and decriminalization. They had immense support and couldn't get votes."

Despite the vicissitudes of politics at state capitals, marijuana reformers remain confident that history is on their side.

"This is a situation where times are changing and people are becoming increasingly impatient," said Tvert. "When you have people's lives negatively affected by prohibition and obvious solutions staring you in the face, it's understandable that some people get antsy, but we've seen some pretty significant developments this year, and there will be more to come."

Tvert compared the legalization situation now with medical marijuana a few years back.

"With medical marijuana, we won in five initiative states between 1996 and 2000 before Hawaii became the first legislative medical marijuana state," he noted. "Since then, there've been nine more initiative states and 14 more legislative states. Now, we've seen eight states legalize in through initiatives in 2012 and 2016, Once this gets through one state legislature, the floodgates will open."

NORML's Strekal was taking the long view.

"In the grand scheme of things, this movement is chugging along much faster than other issues have advanced historically," he said. "It's important to keep in mind how far we've come."

But marijuana legalization is still a work in progress, and we've still yet to see that first legislative state fall. Maybe next year.

Chronicle AM: France Marijuana Decrim, PA High Court Reins in Forfeiture, More... (5/26/17)

France is moving toward marijuana decriminalization, perhaps as early as September, Vermont legalization supporters still hold out hope, and more.

Vive la France!
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Senate Committee Votes to Establish Commission to Study Marijuana Legalization. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to approve House Bill 215, which would create a 22-member commission to study"the possible impacts of changing state policy to treat marijuana in a manner similar to the way the state deals with alcohol and shall study the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana including the specific issues related to growing, selling, taxing, limiting use, advertising, promoting, and otherwise regulating marijuana and marijuana-infused edible products." The bill has already passed the House and now heads for the Senate floor.

Vermont Legalization Supporters Seek Compromise. In the wake of Gov. Phil Scott's (R) veto of the Senate Bill 22 legalization measure, supporters are seeking to find a compromise that will make the governor comfortable signing off on legalization. Scott said he wanted more aggressive penalties for driving under the influence or smoking in front of children and clearer and harsher penalties for selling and providing marijuana to minors. But Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Richard Sears (D-Bennington), a legalization supporter, said while compromise was possible, it might not happen if Republicans don't agree to suspend legislative rules to allow the legislation to move more quickly during a two-day summer session.

Medical Marijuana

Prohibitionist Senators File CBD Research Bill. Two of the Senate's most ardent prohibitionists, International Narcotics Control caucus leaders Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) filed a bill to expand research into the medical benefits of cannabidiol and marijuana Thursday. The bill has not yet been assigned a number, nor is the text available on the congressional website, but the text can be viewed here. Feinstein authored a similar bill last session that went nowhere.

Asset Forfeiture

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Reins in Prosecutors on Civil Asset Forfeiture. In a unanimous decision Thursday, the state's highest court ruled that before seizing a property, prosecutors must prove it played a significant role in committing a crime, and it's value must be proportionate to the offense. The ruling came in the case of a 72-year-old Philadelphia woman whose $54,000 home and used minivan were seized in 2012 after her son was investigated for selling small amounts of marijuana. Her case has now been sent back to the lower courts to be decided in compliance with this ruling.

Sentencing

Hakeem Jeffries Files Federal Drug Charge Expungement Bill. US Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) has filed House Resolution 2617, which would allow first-time, low-level, nonviolent drug possession offenders a change to expunge their convictions and clean up their records upon completion of court imposed probation. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

International

France Could Decriminalize Marijuana Possession as Soon as September. Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said Wednesday that the ministry is set to issue new rules under which someone caught with small amounts of pot would be cited and fined -- not arrested. The new rules could be in place "within three or four months," he said. Collomb's boss, newly-inaugurated President Emmanuel Macron had campaigned in favor of decriminalization and described marijuana prohibition as "posing a security problem."

Chronicle AM: DEA Lied About Honduras Incident, Not Guilty Verdict in SD MJ Case, More... (5/25/17)

A joint report from the Justice and State inspector generals' finds that the DEA lied and covered up the facts in a 2012 Honduran raid that left four innocent civilians dead, Peruvian security forces prepare to enter forbidden territory in the country's coca heartland, the South Dakota attorney general's ploy to win political advantage by prosecuting a pot consultant fails, and more.

Authorities in Honduras have discovered their first domestic coca plantation. (deamuseum.org)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legislature Passes Bill to Fund the Implementation of the Marijuana Legalization Initiative and Change the Agency That Will Regulate Marijuana for Adult Use. The Senate on Thursday passed Legislative Document 243 unanimously "under the hammer," without debate or a roll call vote, sending it to Gov. Paul LePage (R) for final approval. The House passed it "under the hammer" on Wednesday. The bill would transfer the authority to oversee adult-use marijuana from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations within the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS). The Bureau would be responsible for licensing adult-use marijuana businesses and creating and enforcing regulations. LD 243 also allocates $200,000 to the Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation and $1.4 million to DAFS to implement Question 1.

South Dakota Attorney General Foiled in Bid to Prosecute Pot Consultant for Personal Political Advantage. A jury in Flandreau acquitted a marijuana business consultant of conspiracy to possess and marijuana possession Wednesday. Eric Hagen, president of Colorado-based Monarch America, had contracted with the Flandreau Sioux tribe to assist it in developing a marijuana grow operation and resort, a plan that was abandoned by the tribe in the face of mixed signals from the federal government and staunch opposition from state officials. Led by Attorney General Marty Jackley (R), who is eying the state's governor's office, the state nine-months later charged Hagen and a business partner, even though they never possessed or controlled any marijuana. It took a juror just two hours to find Hagen not guilty. Hagen immediately accused Jackley of ruining his company through a politically motivated prosecution. "He tanked our company by spreading lies and rumors," Hagen said. "It was 100 percent politically motivated. This was simply a media ploy for Jackley because he's running for governor in 2018."

International

Peruvian Forces Set to Enter Key Coca Cultivation Area. Security forces are preparing to enter the lawless Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro River valleys (VRAEM) coca growing areas for the first time as part of a plan to eradicate half the country's coca supply by 20121. The area, where an estimated 125,000-150,000 acres of coca is grown is remote, on the far side of the Andes, and the trade there is protected by armed rebel groups and drug trafficking organization. "It has to be done slowly, but it has to be done," Peru's drug czar Carmen Masias told a news conference.

Hondurans Bust First Coca Plantation. For years, Honduras has been a key transshipment point for cocaine headed from South America toward North American markets, but now Honduran authorities report finding their first domestic coca growing operation. They busted the field containing an estimated 7,000 plants last month in the mountainous region of Esquipulas del Norte. "We have confirmed through toxicological exams that we're dealing with coca plants. This is the first time we've confiscated a coca plantation in Honduras," prosecutor Carlos Morazan said. "At the site, we found a laboratory with tools and precursor chemicals for making coca paste and for processing the drug up to its final power form," Morazan added.

DOJ Report Says DEA Lied About Fatal Honduran Drug Raid. In 2012, a botched drug raid in Honduras led to the shooting deaths of four civilians, including a teenage boy, as they floated along a river. Now, a report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General finds that the DEA lied when it claimed the victims were cocaine traffickers who had shot first and that DEA agents were only present as advisors. The report says the DEA failed to properly investigate, blocked attempts to find the truth, and stuck with an inaccurate version of events despite the efforts of Congress and the Justice Department to get to the bottom of it.

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