Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Medical Marijuana Update

Michigan's unlicensed dispensaries get a break, New Jersey is set to expand its medical marijuana program, and more.

Michigan

Michigan Unlicensed Dispensaries Can Stay Open Until Year's End. Medical marijuana dispensaries will be able to continue operating until at least December 31 as they await state licenses, the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation announced Tuesday. Some 40 dispensaries have received state licenses so far; another 98 await licenses.

New Jersey

New Jersey Senate Health Committee Votes in Support of Medical Marijuana Expansion. The Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee voted Monday to expand the state's medical marijuana program. But advocates had concerns: "Today's vote in support of expanding New Jersey's medical marijuana program is a step in the right direction," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "However, we have concerns about the impact of this legislation on patients, as it will transfer oversight of medical marijuana from the New Jersey Department of Health, which has a long established, patient-centered program, to a new and relatively undefined commission."

Utah

Utah Medical Cannabis Act Revised Again. A bill aimed at replacing the voter-approved Prop 2 medical marijuana law has now been revised for a third time as legislators prepare to meet in special session to pass it. The newest version removes renter protections for patients, but increases the number of license for "cannabis pharmacies." Under the bill, a central pharmacy would ship marijuana to local health departments for patients to pick up, or patients could use the "cannabis pharmacies."

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

Chronicle AM: First Step Act Fight Continues, MI Gets Legal Marijuana December 6, More... (11/28/18)

Senate Republicans are trying to find a way to keep the First Step Act alive, marijuana use and possession becomes legal in Michigan next week, and more.

Will the First Step Act get a Senate vote this year? And if it does, will it pass? Stay tuned. (ussc.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Marijuana Legalization Goes into Effect December 6. As of a week from tomorrow, it will be legal to possess and use small amounts of marijuana. But it will probably take until sometime in 2020 for pot shops to open for business. The state says it will start taking business applications late in 2019.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Unlicensed Dispensaries Can Stay Open Until Year's End. Medical marijuana dispensaries will be able to continue operating until at least December 31 as they await state licenses, the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation announced Tuesday. Some 40 dispensaries have received state licenses so far; another 98 await licenses.

Psychedelics

Oregon Attorney General Approves Psilocybin Ballot Measure Language. An initiative that would allow licensed medical professionals to administer psilocybin for therapeutic purposes has had its ballot language approved. The next step is signature-gathering to get the measure on the 2020 ballot. The measure will need 140,000 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Drug Treatment

Massachusetts Federal Court Judge Orders Jail to Provide Methadone. A federal court in Massachusetts granted a preliminary injunction this week, requiring that the plaintiff in the case be provided continued access to methadone treatment for his opioid use disorder while incarcerated. The ruling requires a jail in Essex County to provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to a man who is about to be sentenced for conduct that occurred two years ago, before he first started his recovery. The court held that the plaintiff is likely to succeed on his claim that the jail's refusal to provide methadone treatment violates both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the 8th Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

Sentencing Reform

Senate Republicans Seek Way to Get Sentencing Reform Bill Moving Again. Senate Republicans are pondering changing the First Step Act (S.2795) to make it more palatable for some conservatives, but which could blow up the bipartisan compromise that supports the bill as is. Some of the changes being discussed include tightening the safety valve provision, getting tougher on fentanyl offenders, and backing away from an ending the "stacking" regulation, which adds more time to sentences of people convicted of drug offenses while possessing a firearm. President Trump, meanwhile, continues to push Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring the bill to a Senate vote.

Georgia Nightmare: Jailed Four Months for Possession of Cotton Candy [FEATURE]

A Georgia woman has filed a federal lawsuit after she spent nearly four months in jail because a roadside drug test administered by untrained police officers falsely identified a bag of cotton candy as methamphetamine.

Meth or cotton candy? Georgia cops couldn't tell the difference. (Creative Commons)
Monroe County resident Dasha Fincher filed the lawsuit in mid-November against Monroe County, the two deputies who arrested her, and the company that makes the drug test. The lawsuit argues that the Monroe County Sheriff's Office was reckless and negligent and violated her civil rights.

According to the lawsuit, the car Fincher was riding in was pulled over on New Year's Eve 2016 because of a dark window tint, the deputies said, even though they later admitted the windows were legal. Deputies Cody Maples and Allen Henderson spotted a large open plastic bag inside the vehicle, and Fincher explained that it was cotton candy.

The deputies didn't believe Fincher and used a roadside field drug test which they said indicated there was meth in the bag. She was then arrested, hauled off to jail, and charged with meth trafficking and possession of meth with intent to distribute. Her bond was set at $1 million, which she was unable to come up with, so she sat in jail for the next four months.

In March 2017, Georgia Bureau of Investigation lab test results revealed that the substance was not an illegal drug, but Fincher sat in jail for another month before prosecutors finally dropped the charges.

The lawsuit says the drug test is the Nark II, manufactured by North Carolina-based Sirchie Acquisitions. That particular field drug test is known for producing errant results. In Georgia alone, police using the Nark II to field test drugs have wrongfully arrested at least 30 people, including a man with breath mints (positive for crack), a teacher with Goody's Headache Powder (positive for cocaine), and a couple with vitamins (positive for ecstasy).

In all those cases, as in Fincher's, lab test results from the Bureau of Investigation found no presence of illegal substances. But in all those cases, the exonerating results came only weeks or months later, after the harm to innocent Georgians had already been done.

The Nark II is still in wide use in Georgia. The manufacturer, Sirchie, defends itself by saying: "Our NARK presumptive drug tests are presumptive only. All samples should be sent to a crime lab for confirmation." But too many Georgia law enforcement agencies clearly don't bother to wait for confirmation before making life-changing arrests. And the state of Georgia doesn't even require police officers to be trained on how to do the tests. As a result, innocent Georgians are being wrongfully arrested and jailed. And now, perhaps, at least one of these law enforcement agencies, will have to pay for its wrongdoing.

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

Chronicle AM: NJ Legalization Bill Advances, NYC Times Square Ads Target Governor Over Overdoses, More... (11/27/18)

New Jersey's marijuana legalization bill is finally moving, activists in New York City target the governor over safe injection sites, South Korea becomes the first East Asian nation to approve medical marijuana, and more.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/times-square-overdose-campaign-november-2018-200px.jpg
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Bill Advances. The long-awaited marijuana legalization bill, S2703, is moving in the legislature. It was voted out of a joint committee on Monday, with a 7-4 vote in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and a 7-3 vote in the Assembly Budget Committee. Now the bill goes to the Senate and Assembly floors for any amendments and final votes. The measure would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults and set up a statewide system of taxed and regulated production and sales.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Senate Health Committee Votes in Support of Medical Marijuana Expansion. The Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee voted Monday to expand the state's medical marijuana program. But advocates had concerns: "Today's vote in support of expanding New Jersey's medical marijuana program is a step in the right direction," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "However, we have concerns about the impact of this legislation on patients, as it will transfer oversight of medical marijuana from the New Jersey Department of Health, which has a long established, patient-centered program, to a new and relatively undefined commission."

Harm Reduction

Times Square Billboards Urge New York Governor to "Give the Gift of Life" by Authorizing Overdose Prevention Centers. Advocates and family members who have lost loved ones to overdose blasted Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in a series of electronic billboards that began airing throughout Times Square on Giving Tuesday, pressing the Governor to "Give the Gift of Life" this holiday season by authorizing Overdose Prevention Centers. The centers, also known as safer consumption spaces (SCS), are a proven tool for preventing unnecessary and tragic overdose deaths. As overdose deaths continue to increase across New York -- a New Yorker dies every 6 hours of a preventable overdose -- advocates in the EndOverdoseNY coalition are calling on Governor Cuomo to show his leadership and take immediate action to establish Overdose Prevention Centers.

International

South Korea Becomes First East Asian Nation to Approve Medical Marijuana. The South Korean National Assembly has voted to approve an amendment to the country's drug laws that will pave the way for the use of medical marijuana by prescription. Potential patients would be required to apply to the Korea Orphan Drug Center and approval would be granted on a case-by-case basis.

Chronicle AM: Trump Pressures McConnell on Sentencing Reform, NJ Marijuana Bill Gets Hearing, More... (11/26/18)

The president wants to see criminal justice reform move in the Senate, New Jersey lawmakers take up marijuana legalization today, and more.

Mitch McConnell is getting pressured by the president to move on the First Step Act. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Governor-Elect Says Legalize It. Incoming Democratic Governor Tim Walz says it's time for the state to get on the legalization bandwagon. "I just think the time is here and we're seeing it across the country," he said. "Minnesota has always been able to implement these things right." Wise's Democratic allies control the state House, but Republicans control the Senate.

New Jersey Legislature Takes Up Legalization Bill. Hearings are underway at the statehouse for the long-awaited marijuana legalization bill, S2703. The bill would legalize up to an ounce for adults and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana production and distribution. The bill sets a 12% tax rate on marijuana sales, which includes the state's 6.625% sales tax, but also would allow localities to seek up to 2% in additional marijuana taxes.

North Dakota Lawmaker Will File Decriminalization Bill. In the wake of November's failed legalization initiative, one lawmaker says he will file a decriminalization bill during the coming legislative session. State Rep. Shannon Roers Jones (R-Fargo) said her bill would probably decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce. Possession is currently a Class B misdemeanor.

North Dakota Initiative Campaigners Will Try Again in 2020. Legalize ND, the folks behind November's failed legalization initiative says it will be back in 2020. Group leader David Owen said he is "100% certain" the group will try again but with some changes. Next time, the proposal will contain provisions for tax revenues from sales and limits on how much individuals can grow and possess. This year's initiative lost 59%-41%.

Law Enforcement

Detroit Narcs Try to Arrest Each Other in Drug Bust Gone Awry. It was Keystone Cops in the Motor City earlier this month when a group of undercover Detroit narcs posing as drug dealers attempted to arrest another group of undercover Detroit narcs posing as drug buyers. The end result: A shouting match and shoving and punch-throwing brawl among more than two dozen armed police officers. "This is probably one of the most embarrassing things I've seen in this department," Detroit Police Chief James Craig said Monday. Two Detroit police officers were killed in a similar incident in 1986.

Sentencing Reform

Trump Urges McConnell to Act on Criminal Justice Reform. In a tweet last Friday, President Trump urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to allow a prison and sentencing reform bill, the First Step Act (S.2795) to be voted on in the Senate. McConnell said last week there wasn't time to get the measure through this session, but he has faced intense lobbying pressure, not only from the president but also other Republican senators and the religious right. "Really good Criminal Justice Reform has a true shot at major bipartisan support," Trump said in the tweet. "@senatemajldr Mitch McConnell and @SenSchumer have a real chance to do something so badly needed in our country. Already passed, with big vote, in House. Would be a major victory for ALL!"

International

French National Assembly Approves Fines for Drug Use. The National Assembly last Friday approved a bill that introduces a fixed fine of 200 Euros for the use of drugs, and marijuana in particular. Since 1970, illegal drug use has been subject to up to a year in prison and up to a 3,750 Euro fine, but such sentences were rarely imposed, especially for marijuana. Some ministers on the left criticized the measure as disproportionately affecting poor young people and condemned the lack of involvement of health authorities.

Thai National Assembly Gives Preliminary Approval to Legal Medical Marijuana, Kratom. The National Legislative Assembly has accepted "in principle" amending the country's drug law to allow for the medicinal use of five substances, including marijuana and kratom. Under the amended law, the Office of the Narcotics Control Board will be assigned to designate areas to be used for the production of the drugs and the quantity to be produced.

Chronicle AM: NJ Legalization Bill Unveiled, UT MedMJ Fight Continues, More... (11/23/18)

New Jersey embraces industrial hemp and moves toward passing a marijuana legalization bill, New York's governor says a legalization bill will likely pass there next year, and more.

Hemp is coming to New Jersey. (votehemp.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Bill Finally Unveiled. Lawmakers on Wednesday unveiled the latest version of a marijuana legalization bill, S2703. The bill would legalize up to an ounce for adults and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana production and distribution. The bill sets a 12% tax rate on marijuana sales, which includes the state's 6.625% sales tax, but also would allow localities to seek up to 2% in additional marijuana taxes.

New York Governor Says Recreational Marijuana Bill Will Pass Sometime in 2019. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Wednesday that he expects his state to legalize marijuana next year, but he offered few details beyond that. "We now have a working group that is putting together a piece of legislation that would do it, because the devil is in the details: How do you do it, where do you do it, what are the ages, etc.? What is New Jersey doing? What has Massachusetts done?" Cuomo said. "So that legislation is being crafted. I expect it to be introduced next year. The when and the how we're not clear."

Medical Marijuana

Utah Medical Cannabis Act Revised Again. A bill aimed at replacing the voter-approved Prop 2 medical marijuana law has now been revised for a third time as legislators prepare to meet in special session to pass it. The newest version removes renter protections for patients, but increases the number of license for "cannabis pharmacies." Under the bill, a central pharmacy would ship marijuana to local health departments for patients to pick up, or patients could use the "cannabis pharmacies."

Industrial Hemp

New Jersey Governor Signs Industrial Hemp Bill. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has signed into law S3145, which will establish a pilot program for research and cultivation of hemp. The bill had received nearly unanimous support in the legislature. "This pilot program is a win for local farmers who need a diversity of opportunities to compete in the global agriculture market," said state senator Declan O'Scanlon. "Hemp is growing in value as a cash crop, and I am sure the New Jersey economy, and our farmers will benefit from this pilot program."

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Two California cops go down for faking drug buys that never happened, a former Memphis cop heads to prison for offering to escort a load of drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

In Visalia, California, two Visalia police officers were arrested last Friday for allegedly falsifying police reports about controlled drug buys that never actually occurred. Officer Bryan Ferreira was hit with 38 felonies, while Officer Shane Logan was hit with 22. The pair came under the suspicion of Tulare police this past spring, who reported their suspicions to Visalia brass. The officers have been on leave since May.

In Norfolk, Massachusetts, a state prison guard was arrested Monday on charges he was smuggling opioids into the prison. Guard Steven Frazier, 29, went down after a "cooperating witness" met him in a parking lot and provided him with Suboxone, synthetic cannabinoids, and $2,500 for his efforts. Federal agents arrested him at that meeting. He is charged with one count of conspiracy to possess a controlled substance with intent to distribute.

In Colorado Springs, Colorado, a former El Paso County sheriff's deputy was sentenced last Wednesday to six months in prison for smuggling methamphetamine hidden in food into the jail. Steven D'Agostino was arrested after a woman dropped off a container of KFC for him and investigators found a balloon with 7.5 grams of meth in the mashed potatoes.

In Memphis, Tennessee, a former Memphis police officer was sentenced Monday to 10 years in federal prison after he and a partner were caught up in a sting where they escorted what they thought was a load of drugs in return for $9,000 each. Kevin Coleman had pleaded guilty in August to drug conspiracy and official extortion. A second officer charged in the case, Terrion Bryson, pleaded guilty earlier this month and is awaiting sentencing.

Medical Marijuana Update

A Pennsylvania patient challenges the federal gun ban, an Ohio court has thrown out the state's law requiring racial justice in licensing, and more.

Indiana

Indiana Poll Finds Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. Even in red-state Indiana, they like their medical marijuana, a new poll finds. The poll from Ball State University finds that 81% of Hoosiers believe marijuana should be legal for medical reasons. The poll had support for full legalization at only 39%.

Kansas

Kansas Governor-Elect Supports Medical Marijuana. Laura Kelly, the Democrat who won a surprise victory in conservative Kansas, is ready to take the state down the path toward legal medical marijuana. "I think that there is some momentum in the legislature to pass, to legalize medical marijuana," she said. "I think we would do it Kansas-style, where it would be well-regulated. With a supporter in the governor's mansion, legislators no longer have to worry about coming up with supermajorities to overcome a gubernatorial veto."

Ohio

Ohio Court Rules Racial Justice Requirement for Grow Licenses Unconstitutional. An Ohio district court has ruled unconstitutional the state's "racial quota" for selecting medical marijuana business licenses. The state's medical marijuana law requires 15% of all licenses to be awarded to businesses owned by racial minorities, and the state awarded two of 12 available licenses to minority-owned firms even though they scored lower than other applicants. One of the applicants who did not get a license sued. The ruling could prompt the state to award a provisional license to the plaintiff in order to make the case go away.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Doctor and Medical Marijuana Patient Sues for Right to Own a Gun. A Philadelphia physician who is also a medical marijuana patient filed a lawsuit in federal court last Thursday challenging a federal law that prevents him from owning a firearm because he uses medical marijuana. Dr. Matthew Roman was blocked from buying a gun earlier this year when he honestly answered a question about marijuana use. Roman's lawsuit claims that the blanket prohibition against marijuana users violates the constitutional rights of tens of thousands of nonviolent, law-abiding American citizens. The filing, in US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, claims the law violates both the Second and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution.

Utah

Utah Medical Marijuana Backers Threaten to Sue Over Mormon Church Involvement in Bill to Replace Prop 2. Medical marijuana supporters said last Thursday they are exploring legal action to challenge the legislature's move to replace the voter-approved Prop 2 medical marijuana initiative "at the behest" of the Mormon Church. Even though voters approved Prop 2 this month, lawmakers plan to meet in a December special sessions to replace the measure with a proposal more acceptable to opponents, including the church. "Although initiative statutes may be amended or repealed by the Legislature, the almost immediate extreme undermining of numerous provisions of Proposition 2 at the behest of The Church of Jesus Christ is anti-democratic and contemptuous of the... recognition in the Utah Constitution that the people are to have the power to enact legislative changes," attorney Rocky Anderson, former Salt Lake City mayor, wrote.

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

Chronicle AM: MA First Day MJ Sales Draws Crowds, Afghan Opium Crop Down, More... (11/21/18)

People lined up to buy legal marijuana in Massachusetts Tuesday, Connecticut's governor says legalization is a priority for him, Afghan opium production is down, but still at high levels, and more.

Afghan opium cultivation is down 20% this year, but is still the second highest figure on record. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Governor Says Legalization a Priority. Incoming Gov. Ned Lamont (D) said Monday he intended to make marijuana legalization a priority next year. "We're going to have a legislative session. It's going to be one of the priorities we got," Lamont said. "It's something I would support, and I don't want the black market controlling marijuana distribution in our state. I think that's a lousy way to go. Canada, Massachusetts, others are doing it," he added. "That's going to lead to some enforcement things. In the meantime, we enforce Connecticut laws."

Massachusetts' First Day Legal Pot Sales Draws Crowds. Hundreds of marijuana lovers lined up before dawn Tuesday to be among the first people on the East Coast to be able to legally purchase recreational marijuana. The crowds brought gridlock to Leicester's Main Street as they gathered to buy weed. By noon there was an approximately three-hour wait in the cold, wet weather to get inside.

International

UNODC Says Afghan Opium Production Drops, But Still at High Levels. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported Wednesday that opium cultivation in Afghanistan is down 20% this year compared to 2017, but was still the second-highest measure of poppy cultivation since UNODC starting monitoring in 1994. UNODC cited a severe drought and declining opium prices for the decline.

Mexico's President Presents Plan for National Guard to Fight Drug War. President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) on Tuesday submitted a bill for a new national guard to replace the military in the fight against organized crime. The bill would create a force 50,000 strong drawn from the ranks of the armed forces and police, but critics point out to failed previous reorganizations of the anti-drug apparatus as well as warning the move could further militarize the country's drug war.

Chronicle AM: NJ Legalization Bill Hearings, Anti-Marijuana Rep Sees the Light, More... (11/20/18)

New Jersey will finally start moving on a marijuana legalization bill, a leading congressional foe of legalization changes his tune, and more.

Staunch anti-marijuana Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) has seen the light. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

Leading Anti-Marijuana Congressman Changes His Tune. Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), a longtime staunchly anti-marijuana politician, has changed his tune. In an editorial in STAT News Tuesday, Kennedy came out for federally descheduling marijuana. "I believe we must implement strong, clear, and fair federal guidelines. To do that requires us to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and legalize it at the federal level," Kennedy wrote, citing benefits to public health and racial justice.

New Jersey Legalization Hearings Set for Next Week. After months of delay, marijuana legalization will finally get rolling in the state legislature. Legislative leaders announced Tuesday that separate Senate and Assembly committees are set to meet together next Monday for a hearing, with a vote expected that day. The bill is S2703. There is not yet complete agreement between legislative leaders and Gov. Phil Murphy (D) on some issues, particularly taxation, but Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said he didn't want to wait any longer.

New York Legislator Forecasts Marijuana Legalization Next Year. Empire State legislators will move on marijuana next year said Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo). She said that a series of public hearings on the issue have made two points: "One, that it really is time for the legalization of adult use and, two, that it also is the time to eliminate the records of these people, many of who are black and brown, that have been criminalized," she said.

International

Greece Issues First Medical Marijuana Licenses. On Monday, Greek authorities issued the first two licenses to private companies to grow medical marijuana in the country. The move comes after the country legalized medical marijuana last year and then lifted a ban on growing and producing it in March of this year. Another 12 licenses will be issued by the end of this year, the Economy and Development Ministry said.

Chronicle AM: Judiciary Committee Change, Massachusetts Marijuana Sales, More... (11/19/18)

There's a changing of the guard at the top of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a Pennsylvania medical marijuana patient sues over gun access, a new report finds fake and counterfeit drugs killing tens of thousands each year in Africa, and more.

Massachusetts will see its first marijuana stores open this week. (Sondra Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Graham to Replace Anti-Marijuana Hardliner Grassley as Head of Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced last Friday that he is stepping down as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He will be replaced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who, while not exactly a friend of marijuana law reform, is not nearly as oppositional as Grassley. While Grassley has stifled marijuana bills during his tenure as chair, Graham has cosponsored bills to protect legal medical marijuana states from federal interference, reschedule marijuana, and remove CBD from the list of banned substances. (Grassley has also been a champion late in his career for enacting at least modest criminal justice and sentencing reform.)

Massachusetts's First Marijuana Stores to Open Tuesday. Slightly more than two years after voters approved marijuana legalization, the state's first retail marijuana outlets are set to open their doors tomorrow. The state Cannabis Control Commission announced last Friday that retail shops in Leicester and Northampton had received final sign-offs to start selling recreational weed.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Poll Finds Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. Even in red-state Indiana, they like their medical marijuana, a new poll finds. The poll from Ball State University finds that 81% of Hoosiers believe marijuana should be legal for medical reasons. The poll had support for full legalization at only 39%.

Pennsylvania Doctor and Medical Marijuana Patient Sues for Right to Own a Gun. A Philadelphia physician who is also a medical marijuana patient filed a lawsuit in federal court last Thursday challenging a federal law that prevents him from owning a firearm because he uses medical marijuana. Dr. Matthew Roman was blocked from buying a gun earlier this year when he honestly answered a question about marijuana use. Roman's lawsuit claims that the blanket prohibition against marijuana users violates the constitutional rights of tens of thousands of nonviolent, law-abiding American citizens. The filing, in US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, claims the law violates both the Second and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution.

Harm Reduction

Opioid Reversal Drug Company Gouged Taxpayers With 600% Price Increase. A new report from the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations finds that a pharmaceutical company "exploited the opioid crisis" to gouge taxpayers by increasing the price of its overdose reversal drug by 600% between 2014 and 2017. The report found that the company Kaléo raised the price of its drug EVZIO from $575 in 2014 to $4,100 in 2017. EVZIO is an auto-injector form of the drug naloxone. The price hikes cost taxpayers more than $142 million over the past four years in Medicare and Medicaid charges.

International

Fake and Counterfeit Drugs Are Killing Thousands in Africa, Report Finds. A new European Union-funded report finds that tens of thousands of Africans are dying because of fake and counterfeit drugs. Fake or substandard anti-malarial drugs alone were linked to anywhere between 64,000 and 158,000 deaths each year, the report found. The fake drugs are especially entrancing to the region's poor, who often cannot afford prescribed drugs and turn to the streets to buy cheaper alternatives. "So this is a criminal activity, you can focus on and try to find the source of this. The problem is also the access of the real medicine, the cost to buy them is too high so poor people are just despaired (they despair) to find something, anything that they think could help them," said Ruth Dreifuss, Chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

Mexico Supreme Court Rejects Law Regulating Tr0ops Fighting Drug Cartels. In a 9-2 decision last Thursday, the nation's highest court threw out a new law aimed at regulating the use of the military to fight drug cartels. The law was meant to set out rules of engagement for the armed forces in their fight with organized crime, but human rights groups warned it could clear the way for more military human rights abuses. The court ruled that Congress does not have the power to legislate on "domestic security" and only the executive can dispatch troops. The court ruling came a day after incoming security minister Alfonso Durazo said there was "no way" to withdraw the military from the fight because it is more trustworthy than the police.

McConnell Puts Kibosh on Sentencing Reform [FEATURE]

Prospects for a major federal sentencing reform bill brightened on Wednesday with President Trump's announcement that he would support the effort, but by week's end, those prospects dimmed as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told the president he wouldn't bring the bill to a floor vote this year.

[Update: McConnell is facing pressure from the religious right as well as from the president to allow a vote.]

The grinch who stole sentencing reform. (Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)
The bill is known as the First Step Act. The House passed a version of this spring, but the House version was limited to reforms on the "back end," such as slightly increasing good time credits for federal prisoners and providing higher levels of reentry and rehabilitation services.

The Senate bill crafted by a handful of key senators and pushed hard by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner incorporates the language of the House bill, but also adds actual sentencing reforms. Under the Senate bill:

  • Thousands of prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 (the date of the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced, but did not eliminate sentencing disparities) would get the chance to petition for a reduced sentence.
  • Mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses would be lowered.
  • Life sentences for drug offenders with three convictions ("three strikes") would be reduced to 25 years.

Even though the bill has been a top priority of Kushner's and had the support of numerous national law enforcement groups and conservative criminal justice groups, as well as the support of key Democrats, such as Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), McConnell told Trump at a White House meeting Thursday that there wasn't enough time in the lame-duck session to take it up.

"McConnell said he didn't have the time, that's his way of saying this isn't going to happen," said Michael Collins, interim director of the Drug Policy Alliance's (DPA) Office of National Affairs. "McConnell was a roadblock under Obama and he's a roadblock now. He likes to hide behind the process but I think he just doesn't like or care about this issue."

McConnell's move upset what should have been a done deal, said Collins.

"Once First Step passed the House, some key figures on the Senate side, such as Sens. Durbin and Grassley, said it wouldn't move without sentencing reform, and then Kushner facilitated negotiations between the Senate and the White House and they reached broad agreement this summer," he recounted. "Then the question was can we get this to the floor? McConnell sat down with Grassley and Durbin and said after the elections, and Trump agreed with that. The idea was that if Trump would get on board, McConnell would hold a vote, would whip a vote. He wanted 60 votes; there are 60 votes. Then McConnell said the Senate has a lot to do. At the end of the day, it's up to McConnell. When Trump endorsed people thought it would move McConnell, but he just poured cold water on it."

If McConnell sticks to his guns, then sentencing reform will be dead in this Congress. And as long as Mitch McConnell remains Senate Majority Leader, he is likely to be an impediment to reform.

"McConnell is the obstacle -- it's not Tom Cotton (R-AR) or Jeff Sessions -- it's McConnell, and he's going to be there next year and the year after that," said Collins. "He is the prime obstacle to criminal justice reform, even though a lot of groups on the right are in favor of this. Since he isn't going to listen to us, it's going to be up to them to figure this out."

"If McConnell doesn't prioritize this, it doesn't happen," said Kara Gotsch, director of strategic initiatives for the Sentencing Project, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group. That's a shame, she said, because "I'm optimistic both parties would support this if they got the chance."

There is a possible upside: Failure to pass limited criminal justice reform this year could lead to a bill next year that goes further than limited sentencing reforms.

"It's been a long, hard slog to get to where we are," said Collins, "but now some people are saying this compromise stuff gets us nowhere and we should be doing things like enacting retroactivity for sentencing reforms, eliminating all mandatory minimums for drug offenses, and decriminalizing all drugs."

"My job is to continue to beat the drum for change," said Gotsch. "It's always hard, and we don't get those opportunities a lot. Momentum doesn't come very often, regardless of who is in power, and we can't let these small windows close without doing our best to move the ball forward. This has been my concern for 20 years -- the conditions these prisoners face, the injustice -- and we will keep pushing. The federal prison system is in crisis."

The federal prison population peaked at 219,000 in 2013, driven largely by drug war prosecutions, and has since declined slightly to about 181,000. But that number is still three times the number of federal prisoners behind bars when the war on drugs ratcheted up under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. There is still lots of work to be done, but perhaps next time, we demand deeper changes.

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

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of both Drug War Chronicle and Drug Reporter.

Chronicle AM: NJ Gov Still Ready to Legalize It, Court Rejects OH MedMJ Racial Justice Provision, More... (11/16/18)

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is still committed to marijuana legalization, the Albany DA announces an end to low-level pot prosecutions, an Ohio court throws out a racial justice requirement in the state's medical marijuana licensing plan, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Governor Reiterates Support for Legalization. In remarks to the state League of Municipalities Thursday, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said he remains in favor of marijuana legalization. "I remain equally committed to sensible legislation to legalize adult use of marijuana, and to continue to expand our medical marijuana program, which can also be an important tool for fighting our opioid epidemic…. "Legalization is the right thing to do, for safer communities, for protecting our kids, for erasing the stain that is keeping so many of our fellow New Jerseyans from a better future. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of New Jerseyans agree. We should listen to them. I am ready to work alongside the Legislature, and each of you, to get this done."

Albany NY DA Stops Prosecuting Low-Level Pot Cases. Albany County District Attorney David Soares has announced that as of December 1, his office will no longer prosecute anyone accused of possessing up to two ounces of marijuana. "We've been feeling the need to make this change for quite some time," Soares told reporters. But Soares warned that he would still prosecute low-level charges when someone is smoking in public, in a vehicle, or in front of children.

Vermont Advisory Commission Recommends 26% Marijuana Tax. A subcommittee of the governor's Marijuana Advisory Commission has recommended that if marijuana commerce is legalized, there should be a 20% excise tax on retail sales in addition to the state's 6% sales tax. The subcommittee also recommended earmarking marijuana tax revenues to the state education fund.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Governor-Elect Supports Medical Marijuana. Laura Kelly, the Democrat who won a surprise victory in conservative Kansas, is ready to take the state down the path toward legal medical marijuana. "I think that there is some momentum in the legislature to pass, to legalize medical marijuana," she said. "I think we would do it Kansas-style, where it would be well-regulated. With a supporter in the governor's mansion, legislators no longer have to worry about coming up with supermajorities to overcome a gubernatorial veto.

Ohio Court Rules Racial Justice Requirement for Grow Licenses Unconstitutional. An Ohio district court has ruled unconstitutional the state's "racial quota" for selecting medical marijuana business licenses. The state's medical marijuana law requires 15% of all licenses to be awarded to businesses owned by racial minorities, and the state awarded two of 12 available licenses to minority-owned firms even though they scored lower than other applicants. One of the applicants who did not get a license sued. The ruling could prompt the state to award a provisional license to the plaintiff in order to make the case go away.

Utah Medical Marijuana Backers Threaten to Sue Over Mormon Church Involvement in Bill to Replace Prop 2. Medical marijuana supporters said Thursday they are exploring legal action to challenge the legislature's move to replace the voter-approved Prop 2 medical marijuana initiative "at the behest" of the Mormon Church. Even though voters approved Prop 2 this month, lawmakers plan to meet in a December special sessions to replace the measure with a proposal more acceptable to opponents, including the church. "Although initiative statutes may be amended or repealed by the Legislature, the almost immediate extreme undermining of numerous provisions of Proposition 2 at the behest of The Church of Jesus Christ is anti-democratic and contemptuous of the... recognition in the Utah Constitution that the people are to have the power to enact legislative changes," attorney Rocky Anderson, former Salt Lake City mayor, wrote.

Mexico's Supreme Court Effectively Legalizes Marijuana Possession, Cultivation, and Use [FEATURE]

In an earth-shaking development, Mexico's Supreme Court ruled last Wednesday that the country's prohibition of marijuana use, possession, and personal cultivation is unconstitutional. The decision came in a pair of cases challenging the ban on weed, and because these rulings mark the fifth time the court has ruled similarly, the opinions are now legal precedent in the country.

The high court in Mexico City based its decision on constitutional protections of individual autonomy.

"The fundamental right of the free development of the personality allows adults to choose -- without any interference -- what recreational activities they desire to undertake and protects all the activities necessary to make that choice… The effects of marijuana consumption do not justify an absolute prohibition of its use," the court held.

But the court also noted explicitly that the right to grow, possess, and consume marijuana "is not absolute and the consumption of certain substances can be regulated."

That means it will be up to lawmakers to come up with rules around the legal use of marijuana, as well as any move toward a regulated, legal marijuana market in the country. And that is likely to happen: Parties backing President-Elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), who is supportive of marijuana legalization and open to considering broader legalization, control absolute majorities in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

In its rulings, the high court ordered the federal health regulatory agency, COFEPRIS, to authorize the use of marijuana by adults who choose to do so, but it also added: "albeit without allowing them to market it, or use other narcotics or psychotropic drugs."

Mexico has already decriminalized both pot possession and the possession of personal use amounts of other illicit drugs.

Coming less than two weeks after Canada's marijuana legalization came into effect, the striking decision by the Mexican Supreme Court is only going to add to the pressure to advance federal marijuana legalization here in the US.

"This is extraordinary because it is taking place in one of the countries that has suffered the most from the war on drugs," said Hannah Hetzer, senior international policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "With marijuana already legal in Canada, now both of the US's neighbors will have legal marijuana, making the US federal government's prohibition of marijuana even more untenable."

If the Democrats take control of the House this week, expect to see a strong push for federal legalization, along the lines that Congressional Cannabis Caucus founder Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) laid out earlier this month. If the Republicans retain control of the Senate, as is widely expected, the upper chamber would be a tougher nut to crack -- but GOP senators may want to reflect on the fact that, according to the most recent Gallup poll, support for legalizing weed is at an all-time high of 66 percent, and even 53 percent of Republican voters now are on board.

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

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of both Drug War Chronicle and Drug Reporter.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Los Angeles sheriff's deputy gets caught in a brazen ripoff, a Maryland prison guard is the last of 16 to head to prison for their roles in a massive racketeering scheme, and more.

In Kingman, Arizona, a Mohave County jail guard was arrested last Tuesday for allegedly smuggling heroin and other contraband into the county jail. Guard Ashley Desiree Aquino, 24, went down after someone informed authorities a guard was smuggling drugs. Upon questioning, Aquino admitted smuggling the drugs. She faces various charges including promoting prison contraband.

In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a former Rutherford County narcotics detective was arrested last Wednesday for stealing a riding lawnmower and official misconduct. Former Lt. Jason Mathis allegedly stole the mower from the sheriff's impound lot. He's charged with theft of property over $2,500 and felony official misconduct.

In Los Angeles, an LA County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Thursday for allegedly claiming to be executing an official search warrant in order to rob a marijuana warehouse. Deputy Marc Antrim and two others stole 600 pounds of pot and two safes containing $100,000 in cash from the distribution warehouse. Federal prosecutors allege that Antrim and his co-conspirators "were &armed and falsely portrayed themselves to be LASD deputies executing a search warrant or conducting other official business at the warehouse." Warehouse workers called police, but when LAPD officers arrived, Antrim "falsely represented that he was conducting a legitimate search," and the LAPD officers left. Antrim is also suspected of stealing 31 handguns from a safe at Compton City Hall and assault rifles from the Sheriff's Department. It's not clear what the exact federal charges are.

In Baltimore, a former state prison guard was sentenced last Friday to six years in federal prison for his part in a racketeering ring where prison guards were bribed to smuggle in contraband. Jessica Vennie was convicted of smuggling in narcotics and using a cell phone to communicate with inmates about what they wanted to be smuggled. Vennie is one of 77 people convicted in the scheme and the last of 16 guards to be sentenced.

Medical Marijuana Update

There's a push in Congress to provide protections for veterans who want to use medical marijuana, and more.

National

Bipartisan Lawmaker Group Files Three Veterans' Medical Marijuana Bills. A bipartisan group of legislators on Wednesday announced plans to file a trio of bills aimed at making the Department of Veterans Affairs a more marijuana-friendly agency. The Department of Veterans Affairs Policy for Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018 would clarify the already existing policy of protecting patients who discuss their marijuana history. The Department of Veterans Affairs Survey of Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018 would conduct a nationwide survey of all veterans and VA healthcare providers regarding medicinal cannabis. And the Department of Veterans Affairs Medicinal Cannabis Education Act of 2018 would have the VA work with medical universities to further develop medicinal cannabis education programs for primary healthcare providers.

Connecticut

Connecticut Adds Chronic Neuropathic Pain to List of Qualifying Conditions. The General Assembly's Regulations Review Committee has agreed that chronic neuropathic pain associated with degenerative spinal disorders is eligible for treatment with the drug. That makes it the 31st specific condition considered a qualifier for medical marijuana.

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

Chronicle AM: "Dozens" of Underground Safe Injection Sites in Seattle, NJ Pot Votes Coming, More... (11/15/18)

A local activist reveals that "dozens" of unpermitted safe injection sites are operating in the Seattle area, New Jersey legislative leaders say marijuana legalization will see votes this month, and more.

Vancouver's (legal) Insite safe injection site (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

GAO Scolds DEA over Marijuana Eradication Program. In a report released Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over failings in its marijuana eradication program. GAO charged that DEA failed to collect sufficient documentation from state and local law enforcement agencies that partnered with DEA in the program, a fault that could prevent DEA from accurately assessing program performance. Furthermore, DEA "has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals," the report found.

New Jersey Legislative Leaders Say Vote on Marijuana Legalization Coming This Month. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney said Wednesday the legislature would move on marijuana legalization this month. Coughlin said he had the votes in committee to pass legislation, while Sweeney said he needed help from Gov. Phil Murphy (D) to pick up necessary votes in the Senate. "The only way something like this gets passed legislatively is if all three of us work together," Sweeney said. "If (the governor's office is) not going to lobby any votes for us then it won't get done."

Wisconsin Legislator Will Be Back With a Legalization Bill Next Year. State Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) said Wednesday that she will once again file a marijuana legalization bill when the legislature convenes in January. Sargent has filed legalization bills every year since 2014 but has renewed momentum after voters in 16 counties and two towns voted for legalization in non-binding referenda in the midterms. "The facts clearly show that legalization is right for Wisconsin and that the most dangerous thing about marijuana is that it's illegal," she said.

Harm Reduction

"Dozens" of Underground Safe Injection Sites Are Operating in the Seattle Area. Harm reduction activist Shilo Jama has told a local media outlet that "dozens" of unpermitted safe injection sites are operating in Seattle and surrounding King County. "They're slowly developing their own culture and their own service. It's a lot like the speakeasies of old where you've got to know someone to be invited in. You need the password or some kind of information that you're not, kind of, out to get them," Jama said. Seattle and King County authorities are moving toward officially allowing such facilities, but local harm reduction activists aren't waiting.

Chronicle AM: Trump Endorses Prison Reform Bill, Cities Call for MJ Rescheduling, More... (11/14/18)

President Trump has given his endorsement to a limited bipartisan prison reform bill, the National League of Cities calls for marijuana rescheduling, and more.

President Trump has given his endorsement to the First Step Act. (Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

National League of Cities Calls For Federal Marijuana Rescheduling. The National League of Cities, representing more than 19,000 cities, towns, and villages across the country, has passed a pair of resolutions on marijuana policy. The first calls on the Trump administration and Congress to "resolve the conflict between state and federal cannabis laws" and "provide guidance to financial institutions that results in the cannabis market having access to the federally regulated banking system," while the second calls for marijuana to be removed from the list of Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Lawmaker Group Files Three Veterans' Medical Marijuana Bills. A bipartisan group of legislators on Wednesday announced plans to file a trio of bills aimed at making the Department of Veterans Affairs a more marijuana-friendly agency. The Department of Veterans Affairs Policy for Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018 would clarify the already existing policy of protecting patients who discuss their marijuana history. The Department of Veterans Affairs Survey of Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018 would conduct a nationwide survey of all veterans and VA healthcare providers regarding medicinal cannabis. And the Department of Veterans Affairs Medicinal Cannabis Education Act of 2018 would have the VA work with medical universities to further develop medicinal cannabis education programs for primary healthcare providers.

Law Enforcement

Trump Endorses Prison Reform Bill. In a press conference Wednesday, President Trump gave his support to a limited prison and sentencing reform bill, the First Step Act (HR 5682). The bill invests heavily in anti-recidivism efforts and lowers some mandatory minimum sentences, but has not gone as far as some Democrats would like. In the House, 57 Democrats voted against it because it did not more substantially address sentencing reform. Now, in the Senate, it will face opposition from some conservative Republican senators, but the president's endorsement should help propel it forward.

Chronicle AM: Fed Sentencing Reform Bill Looms, HHS Recommends Kratom Ban, More... (11/13/18)

Congress could move on both sentencing reform and industrial hemp in the lame duck session, HHS recommends banning kratom, Thailand moves to legalize and regulate both kratom and medical marijuana, and more.

Despite spending $8 billion to suppress the poppy crop, the situation in Afghanistan is "worse than ever," a new report finds.
Sentencing Reform

Federal Sentencing Reform Bill Set to Advance. Key senators have reached a tentative agreement on a major criminal justice reform bill that is being supported by presidential advisor and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. The proposed legislation would boost rehabilitation efforts for federal prisoners and give judges more discretion when sentencing nonviolent offenders, particularly for drug offenses. The measure has support from both liberal and conservative groups, ranging from the ACLU to the Fraternal Order of Police and groups supported by the Koch brothers.

Marijuana Policy

Michigan Prosecutors Start Dropping Marijuana Cases. Local prosecutors are beginning to announce the dropping of charges in pending marijuana cases after voters last week voted to legalize the drug. Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said last Friday that "there will no longer be any prosecutions for possession or use of marijuana" in his jurisdiction, and other DAs are expected to follow suit.

Texas Lawmaker Files Marijuana Decriminalization Bill. State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) has prefiled a marijuana decriminalization bill for the 2019 legislative session. "Civil penalty legislation is the first thing I've filed on the first day of filing for the 86th Session. There's been an incredible swell of bipartisan support since last session, and the official Texas Republican and Democratic platforms both approve of this kind of reform now," Moody said in a press release. "I'm optimistic that this will be the session we finally see smarter, fairer marijuana laws in Texas."

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Adds Chronic Neuropathic Pain to List of Qualifying Conditions. The General Assembly's Regulations Review Committee has agreed that chronic neuropathic pain associated with degenerative spinal disorders is eligible for treatment with the drug. That makes it the 31st specific condition considered a qualifier for medical marijuana.

Industrial Hemp

McConnell Says Hemp Provision Will Be in Farm Bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Friday that completing work on a new farm bill is a top priority and that a provision to fully legalize hemp cultivation will be included.

Kratom

HHS Recommends Banning Kratom. The Department of Health and Human Services has recommended that kratom be placed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. HHS sent a letter to the DEA saying that two chemicals in the herbal supplement should be Schedule I. The recommendation is in line with past public statements from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who calls kratom "an opioid" and says it has been "associated" with dozens of deaths.

International

Thai Congress Proposes Legalizing Kratom, Medical Marijuana. The National Legislative Assembly has officially proposed allowing the licensed use of medical marijuana and kratom. The two drugs would be placed in a legal category that would allow their licensed possession and distribution. The Health Ministry will review the proposal before submitting it to the cabinet, which could amend it before returning it to the legislature. The entire process could be completed by year's end.

Foreign Policy

Afghan Opium Problem "Worse Than Ever," Inspector General's Report Finds. Despite the US spending more than $8 billion to reduce opium cultivation in Afghanistan, the problem is "worse than ever," a new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) finds. "No counterdrug program undertaken… by the United States, its coalition partners, or the Afghan government resulted in lasting reductions in poppy cultivation or opium production," the report stated.

Good Riddance! Drug Reformers Applaud Sessions’ Departure from DOJ [FEATURE]

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced out of office Wednesday after less than two years in office, and while there is intense concern about the impact the move could have on ongoing investigations of Trump campaign and administration misdeeds, for drug and criminal justice reform advocates that concern is leavened by joy and relief at the forced exit of a man who staunchly promoted harsh and repressive drug and criminal justice policies.

Jeff, we hardly knew ye. (senate.gov)
Even as marijuana reform spread across the land and support for the tough sentencing practices of last century's drug war waned, Sessions strode bravely backward as attorney general. Among the lowlights of his tenure:

  • He escalated the war on drugs by ordering federal prosecutors to seek the toughest charges and sentences for drug offenses, a harsh return to some of the worst excesses of the drug war, one quite out of the mainstream of even Republican sentencing policy thinking these days.

  • He escalated the war on drugs by undoing Obama-era restrictions on federal asset forfeiture and restarting destructive asset forfeiture practices. His actions on asset forfeiture basically gave state and local law enforcement agencies a green light to evade state forfeiture laws by handing cases off to the feds in return for a massive cut of the proceeds.

  • He at least formally reversed the Obama administration's "live and let live" approach to marijuana reforms in the states, undoing the Cole memo that directed federal prosecutors to leave state law-compliant pot operations alone. But Sessions' anti-marijuana crusade ended up a quixotic quest, with even President Trump suggesting an openness to legal weed and leaving Sessions spinning in the wind.

  • He ignored harm reduction principles and best practices aimed at reducing drug overdoses and the spread of blood-borne disease by threatening to crack down on safe injection sites, facilities where drug users can shoot up under medical supervision that also serve as a nexus between problematic users and treatment and social services.

  • He undermined the work of the department's Civil Rights Division, particularly by moving to end the use of consent decrees that subject police departments troubled by brutality or discrimination to federal oversight.

Even some key Republican senators rejected his retrograde approach on marijuana and sentencing reform and have criticized his resort to civil asset forfeiture. While in the Senate, Sessions was one of the biggest obstacles to sentencing reform, and since he left, bipartisan support for drug policy reform has continued to grow. It's probably too much to expect progressive policies from anyone Trump appoints to replace Sessions, but it's hard to see getting someone more regressive.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) minced no words in its assessment of Sessions.

"Attorney General Jefferson Sessions was a national disgrace," said NORML director Erik Altieri. "NORML hopes that he finds the time during his retirement to seek treatment for his affliction of 1950s reefer madness."

The Trump administration needs to replace Sessions with someone more in tune with popular sentiment on marijuana, added NORML deputy director Paul Armentano.

With 33 states now recognizing the medical use of cannabis, and with 10 states having legalized the use and sales of marijuana for all adults, it is pivotal that the next US Attorney General be someone who recognizes that most Americans want cannabis to be legally regulated and that they oppose any actions from the Justice Department to interfere with these state-sanctioned efforts," he said.

The Drug Policy Alliance echoed that call.

"While Trump's dismissal of Sessions raises questions about the president's motivations, the Justice Department and Senate should seize this opportunity to right Sessions' wrongs," said DPA executive director Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno. "The US public understands that the drug war has failed spectacularly and needs to be replaced with a health-centered approach. It is critically important that the next attorney general be committed to defending basic rights and moving away from failed drug war policies."

Jeff Sessions: A man whose time has come -- and gone.

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

Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of both Drug Reporter and Drug War Chronicle.

Chronicle AM: NYC Marijuana Busts Way, Way Down; New Federal Fentanyl Sentences in Effect, More... (11/9/18)

New York City marijuana possession arrests plummet (finally), Utah patients will have some legal protection beginning next month, federal fentanyl sentences just increased, and more.

a lethal dose of fentanyl (DEA.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan US Attorneys Warn That Federal Prohibition Remains in Force. In a joint statement released Thursday, US Attorneys for Michigan Matthew Schneider and Andrew Birge warned that even though voters there legalized marijuana on Tuesday, "marijuana continues to be an illegal drug under federal law" and that they "will not unilaterally immunize anyone from prosecution for violating federal laws simply because of the passage of Proposal 1." That said, the federal prosecutors then conceded "our offices have never focused on the prosecution of marijuana users or low-level offenders" and that "as we weigh the interests in enforcing a law, we must also consider our ability to prosecute with our limited resources."

Arrests for Low-Level Marijuana Possession have Decreased 90 Percent Following New NYPD Marijuana Guidelines. Arrests for low-level marijuana possession have plummeted 90 percent since new NYPD marijuana enforcement guidelines took effect in September. There were 151 arrests for low-level marijuana in the entire city of New York in September 2018, less than 10 percent of the 1,500+ arrests last September and 3 percent of the 4,300+ arrests that took place in September 2010. However, racial disparities in enforcement still persist, with Blacks and Latino people comprising around 80 percent of the 1,000 summonses issued for marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Patients Will Have Legal Protections Beginning December 1. Although it could take months or years for the state to get a medical marijuana cultivation and distribution system up and running, medical marijuana patients will win some protections from arrest and prosecution beginning on December 1. That's because the Prop 2 initiative approved by voters includes an "affirmative defense" provision protecting them from a criminal conviction. It doesn't explicitly protect patients from arrest, but the hope is that with little likelihood of a successful prosecution, police will have little incentive to actually arrest patients.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Harsher Federal Penalties for Selling Fentanyl-Laced Drugs Are Now in Effect. New federal sentencing guidelines that went into effect November 1 significantly increase the possible prison sentence faced by people who sell heroin or cocaine laced with fentanyl. The new guidelines "create a four-level enhancement for a defendant who knowingly misrepresents or knowingly markets as another substance a mixture containing fentanyl or a fentanyl analog," which translates into sentences nearly twice as long as previously. While the guidelines only apply to someone who intentionally sought to deceive buyers, the realities of the federal criminal justice system -- where the vast majority of cases end with plea bargains -- mean that prosecutors will rarely have to prove the intent to deceive.

Chronicle AM: Sessions Out at DOJ, MA Pot Shop Sales to Begin in Mere Days, More... (11/8/18)

Jeff Sessions is no longer the attorney general, elections have consequences in New York and DC, and more.

A prohibitionist dinosaur bites the dust. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Marijuana Sales Likely Only Days Away After Regulators OK Labs. The state Cannabis Control Commission has cleared two licensed marijuana testing laboratories for operations, paving the way for sales to begin within a matter of days. CDX Analytics and MCR Labs received "commence full operations" notices Wednesday. The move is critical since pot shops can only sell marijuana that has been tested for purity and potency.

New York's Path to Legalization Just Got a Whole Lot Easier. Democrats took control of the state Senate in Tuesday's elections, removing a Republican-controlled Senate as a major obstacle to pushing a legalization bill through the legislature. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who also won a third term in the elections, is now a proponent of legalization, and Democratic lawmakers in Albany have already proposed bills that would legalize weed. Marijuana should move next year at the statehouse.

DC Could Finally Allow Legal Pot Sales After Democrats Take House. With Democrats back in control of the House after Tuesday's elections, the path has become more promising for the District of Colombia to embrace full commercial legalization of marijuana. DC residents voted for legalization in 2014, but the Republican House has consistently blocked any moves toward creating a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. At a post-Election Day news conference, Mayor Muriel Bowser reiterated her commitment to establishing a regulatory scheme for marijuana sales early next year. City council members cautioned, though, that removing congressional riders and setting up a legal weed market in the city could take at least a year.

Law Enforcement

Jeff Sessions Out as Attorney General. Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned at President Trump's request Wednesday after less than two years in office. Sessions pursued an aggressive agenda to escalate the war on drugs by ramping up sentencing for drug offenses, restarting destructive asset forfeiture practices, and threatening crackdowns on marijuana legalization and supervised consumption services. Sessions also undermined the work of the Department's Civil Rights Division, opposing steps to hold police accountable for abuses, including killings of African Americans. Trump appointed Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general and will now select a new AG, who must be approved by the Senate.

Green Wave Update: Marijuana Initiatives Go Three for Four in Midterms, and More [FEATURE]

The expansion of legal marijuana continued apace in Tuesday's elections, with medical marijuana initiatives winning in Missouri and Utah and recreational marijuana winning in Michigan. The only loss for weed came in North Dakota, where voters approved medical marijuana two years ago but weren't ready to take the next step this year.

a glorious day in Michigan (and Missouri and Utah) (Creative Commons)
Michigan becomes the 10th state to legalize marijuana and the first one in the Midwest. With Missouri and Utah now joining the ranks, medical marijuana is now legal in 32 states.

In Michigan, the Proposal 1 legalization initiative was winning with 55.8 percent of the vote, with 96 percent of the vote counted as of Wednesday morning. The measure will legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in Michigan for adults aged 21 and older. It allows for the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and cultivation of up to 12 plants for personal use, while also establishing a legal framework for the licensing and regulation of marijuana businesses and products.

"The passage of Proposal 1 is a major milestone for marijuana policy reform in the US," said Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and campaign director for the Yes on 1 campaign. "Michigan will be the first state in the Midwest to end marijuana prohibition and replace it with a system in which marijuana is regulated for adult use. Adults will no longer be punished for consuming a substance less harmful than alcohol, and rather than having to resort to the illegal market, they will be able to access it safely and legally from licensed businesses. In addition to the public health and safety benefits associated with regulating marijuana, the state will have a significant new stream of tax revenue. Michigan is going to demonstrate that regulating marijuana works, and it will set a strong example for other states in the region and around the country."

"Western and northeastern states have led the way on legalizing marijuana, but the victory in Michigan powerfully demonstrates the national reach of this movement," said Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which through its lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, helped fund and played a significant role in drafting the initiative. "With such overwhelming public support for marijuana legalization, even including majorities of Republicans and older Americans, there's only so long that the federal government can continue to hold out."

In the past decade, Michigan has seen more than 200,000 marijuana arrests, the vast majority (84 percent) for simple possession. Those arrests won't be happening anymore.

In Missouri, two of three medical marijuana initiatives won. Amendment 3, which would have imposed a 15 percent tax and set up a research institute benefiting its author, was easily defeated, while Amendment 2 had 65.5 percent support, and Proposition C had 56.5 percent. Amendment 2 was backed by both MPP and DPA.

"Thanks to the unflagging efforts of patients and advocates, Missourians who could benefit from medical marijuana will soon be able to use it without fear of being treated like criminals," said MPP's Schweich. "We hope lawmakers will implement the measure efficiently and effectively to ensure qualified patients can gain access to their medicine as soon as possible."

In North Dakota, the cold wind of prairie conservatism and the Red Wave that swamped Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) was strong enough to overwhelm the Measure 3 legalization initiative. It managed to garner only 40.5 percent of the vote. Measure 3 was a grassroots effort with little outside support and strong and deep-pocketed opposition.

In Utah, despite the machinations of the Mormon Church and the state's Republican political establishment, which sought to blunt support for Proposition 2 by promising to pass some sort of medical marijuana bill later this year, voters weren't willing to wait. Prop 2 had 53.2 percent of the votes, with 76 percent of precincts reporting. Even in Deep Red Utah, medical marijuana wins.

Drug reformers pronounced themselves pleased with the results and pressed for federal action to end marijuana prohibition.

"This is yet another historic election for the movement to end marijuana prohibition. Voters have once again sent a message loud and clear that it is time to legalize and regulate marijuana," said MPP executive director Steve Hawkins. "Marijuana has now been legalized for adult use in one out of every five states, so I think it's safe to say federal laws are in need of an update. We hope the results of this election will inspire Congress to finally start addressing the tension that exists between state and federal marijuana laws in our nation."

But wait, there's more. Voters in a number of Wisconsin localities, including the population centers of Madison and Milwaukee, overwhelmingly approved non-binding referenda calling for marijuana legalization, while voters approved decriminalization in five out of six Ohio cities where it was on the ballot, including Dayton.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates embracing marijuana legalization (and broader drug reform), including Gavin Newsom (CA), Jared Polis (CO), J.B. Pritzker (IL), and Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM), all emerged victorious. The last two are especially notable since, as chief executives of as yet pot prohibitionist states, they can guide their states to legalization.

And in one of the sweeter outcomes of the Democrats' retaking of the House, one of the biggest obstacles to marijuana reform in Congress, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), lost to Democrat Colin Allred, a supporter of marijuana reform. As chairman of the House Rules Committee, Sessions repeatedly blocked reform measures from advancing. But his time has come and gone.

All in all, election day was a pretty good day for weed.

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

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of both Drug Reporter and Drug War Chronicle.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana initiatives win in Missouri and Utah, the FDA approves the first marijuana-based drug, and more.

National

First FDA-Approved Marijuana-Based Drug Now Available by Prescription. As of last Thursday, the marijuana-based drug Epidiolex is now available by prescription in all 50 states. The FDA approved the drug in June, but manufacturer GW Pharmaceuticals had to wait for the DEA to reclassify its compounds out of Schedule I before it could begin selling it. That has now happened. Epidiolex is used for treating a rare form of epilepsy and a genetic brain dysfunction called Dravet syndrome, both of which can cause seizures.

Iowa

Iowa Regulators Reject Bid to Raise THC Cap on New Medications. The state's Medical Cannabinoid Board voted unanimously last Friday to rebuff an effort to raise the 3% THC cap on new medications. Proponents argued that more THC is more effective in treating some conditions, while critics worried that lifting the limit could encourage abuse. "I'd like to get another year or two under our belts and see how people respond with the current THC cap," said board member Lonny Miller, a family physician from Creston.

Missouri

Missouri Votes to Legalize Medical Marijuana. Two of three medical marijuana initiatives won on Tuesday. Amendment 3, which would have imposed a 15 percent tax and set up a research institute benefiting its author, was easily defeated, while Amendment 2 had 65.5 percent support, and Proposition C had 56.5 percent. Amendment 2 was backed by both the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance.

Utah

Utah Voters Approve Medical Marijuana. Despite the machinations of the Mormon Church and the state's Republican political establishment, which sought to blunt support for Proposition 2 by promising to pass some sort of medical marijuana bill later this year, voters weren't willing to wait. On Tuesday, Prop 2 had 53.2 percent of the votes, with 76 percent of precincts reporting. Even in Deep Red Utah, medical marijuana wins. Under this measure, people with designated qualifying conditions can obtain a medical marijuana recommendation from a doctor, but patients whose conditions aren't listed have to go through a more rigorous process. Patients won't be allowed to smoke their medicine, either. It remains to be seen what will happen with medical marijuana in the legislature.

[Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of the organization that publishes this newsletter.]

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

Chronicle AM: Three of Four MJ Inits Win, Mexico Legal MJ Bill, FL Felony Disenfranchisement Repealed, More... (11/7/18)

Three out of four marijuana initiative pass, so does restoring the vote to ex-felons in Florida, but Ohio drug defelonization fails.

Marijuana Policy

 

Michigan Becomes First Midwest State to Legalize Marijuana. The Proposal 1 legalization initiative had 55.8 percent of the vote with 96 percent of the vote counted as of Wednesday morning. The measure will legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in Michigan for adults aged 21 and older. It allows for the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and cultivation of up to 12 plants for personal use, while also establishing a legal framework for the licensing and regulation of marijuana businesses and products.

North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Measure Fails. The Measure 3 legalization initiative was decisively defeated. It managed to garner only 40.5 percent of the vote. Measure 3 was a grassroots effort with little outside support and strong and deep-pocketed opposition.

Ohio Towns and Cities Vote to Decriminalize Pot Possession. Five out of six Ohio localities that had decriminalization measures on their local ballots approved them. Decriminalization won overwhelmingly in Dayton, Fremont, Norwood, Oregon, and Windham. It lost in only one town: Garrettsville.

Wisconsin Voters Approve Non-Binding Marijuana Advisory Questions. Voters in localities across the state signaled their support for medical marijuana, marijuana legalization, and decriminalization in a series of local non-binding advisory questions. In all 10 counties one city where voters were asked if marijuana should be legal, they said yes, by margins of better than two-to-one. Medical marijuana got even stronger support, and in Racine, a question on decriminalization won by a margin of two-to-one.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Votes To Legalize Medical Marijuana. Two of three medical marijuana initiatives won. Amendment 3, which would have imposed a 15 percent tax and set up a research institute benefiting its author, was easily defeated, while Amendment 2 had 65.5 percent support, and Proposition C had 56.5 percent. Amendment 2 was backed by both the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance.

Utah Voters Approve Medical Marijuana. Despite the machinations of the Mormon Church and the state's Republican political establishment, which sought to blunt support for Proposition 2 by promising to pass some sort of medical marijuana bill later this year, voters weren't willing to wait. Prop 2 had 53.2 percent of the votes, with 76 percent of precincts reporting. Even in Deep Red Utah, medical marijuana wins. Under this measure, people with designated qualifying conditions can obtain a medical marijuana recommendation from a doctor, but patients whose conditions aren't listed have to go through a more rigorous process. Patients won't be allowed to smoke their medicine, either. It remains to be seen what will happen with medical marijuana in the legislature.

Sentencing

Ohio Drug Defelonization Initiative Defeated. Voters soundly rejected Issue 1, which would have made drug possession felonies into misdemeanors, by a margin of 65 percent to 35 percent. The move, aimed at reducing the state's prison population, was opposed by prosecutors, judges, coroners, and Republican Gov. John Kasich. Issue 1 had other proposals as well: reducing prison sentences by up to 25 percent for most prisoners if they complete educational, work or rehabilitative programs. Probation violations that weren't new crimes would not have resulted in prison.

Voting Rights

Florida Votes to Restore Voting Rights to Felons. There will be nearly 1.5 million potential new voters in the Sunshine State for the next election after voters Tuesday approved Amendment 4, which restores voting rights for people in the state convicted of felonies as long as they have completed their sentences, although anyone convicted of murder or felony sex offenses would be excluded. About 9.2 percent of the state voting-age population.

International

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. A key ally of incoming President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday filed a bill to legalize marijuana cultivation and sales. Senator Olga Sanchez Cordero, who is expected to be named interior secretary, filed the General Law for the Regulation and Control of Marijuana. The move comes just days after the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition of marijuana for personal use is unconstitutional.

[Drug Policy Alliance is a publisher of the organization that publishes this newsletter.]

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