Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: TX MJ Prosecutions Halved, Random Drug Tests for Truck Drivers to Double, More... (1/3/20)

New York's governor vetoes a bill easing access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction for Medicaid patients, but not for patients with private insurance; Illinois sold $3.2 million worth of marijuana on day one of legalization, and more.

Truck drivers will face a doubled chance of undergoing a random drug test this year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Sold $3.2 Million Worth of Weed on Day One of Legalization. On the first day of legal marijuana sales, retailers racked up 77,000 transactions totaling $3.2 million. Among those first day customers was Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, who was spotted buying gummies at a dispensary, which generated applause from other customers.

Texas Marijuana Prosecutions Drop by Half Since Hemp Legalization. Since lawmakers legalized hemp last year, the inability of police officers, drug dogs, and field drug tests to differentiate between non-psychoactive hemp and marijuana has resulted in a 50% decline in marijuana possession prosecutions. Some agencies that still pursue charges are having to spend significantly more money on private labs that can tell the difference.

Drug Testing

Truck Driver Random Drug Testing Rate Set to Double This Year. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced on December 26 that trucking companies will have to double the random drug testing of their drivers, from 25% of drivers each year to 50%. That will cost the industry an estimated $50 million to $70 million each year. The increase in testing rates was triggered by the amount of positive drug tests passing the 1% mark, which in turn was likely triggered by the Department of Transportation adding four semisynthetic opioids -- oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone and hydromorphone -- to its federal drug-testing program in 2018, as well as the spread of marijuana legalization.

Drug Treatment

New York Governor Vetoes Bill to Ease Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioids for Medicaid Patients. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has outraged activists by vetoing a bill intended to make it easier for poor residents on Medicaid to access medication-based treatment for opioid addiction -- while at the same time signing a similar bill that does expand access to these medications for people on private insurance. Both bills ban the use of prior authorizations by insurance companies, which takes time and resources and prevents some people from getting the treatment at all. Both bills passed in July, but Cuomo didn't act on them until now. "After six months of pleading for a signature, Governor Cuomo callously vetoed the bill to expand lifesaving treatment to thousands of low-income New Yorkers grappling with substance use disorders," said Jasmine Budnella, drug policy coordinator for the New York chapter of the group Voices Of Community Activists & Leaders (VOCAL-NY).

Chronicle AM: IL Legal Marijuana Sales Begin, FDA Bans Flavored Vape Cartridges, More... (1/2/20)

Legal marijuana sales get underway in Illinois, the Italian Supreme Court gives the okay to personal marijuana cultivation, Colombia wants to resume aerial spraying of coca crops with herbicides, and more.

People lined up by the hundreds in Chicago on New Year's Day to buy state-legal marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Initiative Campaign Sues Over Early Deadline. The Make It Legal Florida marijuana legalization initiative campaign filed a lawsuit Tuesday charging that the state's new law regarding initiatives violates their rights by imposing a "stealth deadline" that effectively shortens the signature gathering period by a month. The campaign is seeking another month to submit petition signatures. The campaign has until February 1 to come up with 766,000 valid voter signatures, but says the new law creates a "stealth deadline" of January 2 to submit signatures to county supervisors for verification.

Illinois Governor Pardons 11,000 Marijuana Offenders Just Ahead of Legalization. Gov. JB Pritzker (D) on Tuesday issued more than 11,000 pardons to people with low-level marijuana possession convictions. The move came one day ahead of the commencement of legal marijuana sales in the state.

Illinois Marijuana Legalization, Sales Now in Effect. The first legal marijuana sales in the state began at 6:00am New Year's Day, with hundreds of people lined up at shops in Chicago and its suburbs. That makes Illinois the 11th state to legalize marijuana, and the first to also legalize sales through the legislative process as opposed to via an initiative.

Oklahoma Activists File Revised 2020 Marijuana Legalization Measure to Protect Medical Program. The activists behind a marijuana legalization initiative filed in December have withdrawn it and replaced it with a new initiative, State Question 808, that contains revised language aimed at protecting the state's existing medical marijuana program. The new initiative specifies that a 15% excise tax on sales would not apply to medical marijuana and says only existing medical marijuana dispensaries would be eligible for recreational licenses for the first two years after implementation.

Virginia Prosecutor Announces His Office Will Not Pursue Marijuana Possession Cases. Incoming Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Steve Descano used his first day on the job Thursday to announce that his office will not prosecute low-level marijuana possession cases. But the local judiciary is not cooperating: One judge has already rejected Descano's guidance and denied a motion to dismiss one such case, saying each case needs to be reviewed individually.

Vaping

FDA Announces Ban on Flavored Vaping Cartridges. The US Food and Drug Administration on Thursday issued a policy prioritizing enforcement against certain unauthorized flavored e-cigarette products that appeal to kids, including fruit and mint flavors. Under this policy, companies that do not cease manufacture, distribution and sale of unauthorized flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes (other than tobacco or menthol) within 30 days risk FDA enforcement actions. The only vaping cartridges that will be allowed are those with tobacco and menthol flavors.

International

Colombia Proposes Resumption of Aerial Spraying of Coca Fields. The Ministry of Justice on Monday published a draft law that would allow for the aerial spraying of herbicides on coca fields. The previous government ended such spraying four years ago, citing health concerns. The new proposal also calls for the creation of an independent agency that would oversee complaints related to aerial spraying including any potential impacts on rural communities.

Italian Supreme Court Rules Growing a Little Marijuana at Home Not a Crime. The Supreme Court ruled on December 27 that growing small amounts of marijuana for personal use is not a crime. The court held that "at home, small-scale cultivation activities are to be considered excluded from the application of the penal code." It's unclear just what qualifies as "small-scale cultivation." The case before the court involved two plants.

Chronicle AM: Portland Decriminalize Nature Signature Gathering Gets Underway, More... (12/24/19)

Portland, Oregon, sees a psychedelic decriminalization initiative begin signature gathering, and more.

Decriminalize Nature movement logo
Psychedelics

Portland, Oregon, Activists Begin Gathering Signatures for Psychedelics Decriminalization Measure. The activist group Decriminalize Nature Portland has begun the task of gathering some 38,000 valid voter signatures by July 6 to put a municipal initiative on the ballot to decriminalize a number of psychedelics, including magic mushrooms and ayahuasca. The measure would bar the use of city funds to enforce any laws against the personal use and cultivation of natural psychedelics.

International

Dublin Takes a Step Toward Opening a Safe Injection Site. What could be Ireland's first safe injection site has moved a step closer to reality as a Dublin planning appeals tribunal has overruled city council planners and approved a facility on the city's inner south side. The NGO Merchants Quay Ireland had moved to set up the first such site in the country after a 2017 law allowed drug users to be exempt from drug possession charges at a designated safe injection site, but Dublin city planners had blocked the move, citing NIMBY concerns from local residents and businesses.

Chronicle AM: Trinidad & Tobago Legalizes, Trump Says He Can Ignore Congress's Medical Marijuana Protections, more... (12/23/19)

No marijuana brews for Oregonians, Trinidad & Tobago legalizes possession and cultivation, Trump asserts the power to enforce federal drug laws in medical marijuana states, and more.

View from old Fort George, Trinidad & Tobago, where marijuana has just been legalized. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Bans Marijuana-Infused Alcoholic Drinks. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has ruled that as of January 1, beer and other alcoholic drinks may not contain either THC or CBD. An agency spokesman cited concerns raised by the US Food and Drug Administration about potential liver damage from CBD. "We've wanted to address the issue of CBD getting into alcohol and because there are a lot of unknown unknowns about the effect of taking CBDs," Mark Pettinger said Friday. "There's very little scientific evidence. People are using them for wellness, but how they interact with other substances, not a lot is known."

Medical Marijuana

Trump (Again) Says He Can Ignore Medical Marijuana Protections Passed by Congress. For the third time, President Trump has asserted the right to ignore a provision in a spending bill passed by Congress that protects state medical marijuana programs from federal interference. "Division B, section 531 of the Act provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds made available under this Act to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories," Trump wrote in a signing statement. "My Administration will treat this provision consistent with the President's constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the laws of the United States." Although the statement signals that Trump believes he can enforce federal drug laws against medical marijuana programs, there is no sign so far that that he plans to do so.

Alabama Commission Votes to Recommend Medical Marijuana Legislation. The Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission voted Friday to recommend legislation that would legalize marijuana for persons with diagnosed medical conditions. The bill would allow for a full-fledged medical marijuana program complete with dispensaries. Medical marijuana products would have to be grown in-state. But the draft bill does not allow for smokable or edible medical marijuana, nor would it allow patients to grow their own. A medical marijuana bill passed the state Senate last year but died without a House floor vote.

International

Trinidad & Tobago Marijuana Legalization Now in Effect. President Paula-Mae Weekes has signed a bill legalizing the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana and the cultivation of up to four plants by adult. The law went into effect Monday. The law does not allow for legal marijuana commerce, but a bill that would do so is now being considered by a joint select committee which will report to parliament in February.

Bad Precedent: When the Fourth Amendment Doesn't Apply [FEATURE]

Criminal Court & Legal Affair Investigative Journalist Clarence Walker can be reached at [email protected].

The Fourth Amendment should have protected suspected Indianapolis methamphetamine dealer Paul Huskisson when DEA agents without a search warrant and without any exigent circumstances, such as fear of imminent danger or injury to officers, flight of the suspect, or destruction of evidence, raided Huskisson's home, discovered pounds of meth, and arrested him for it.

Under the Fourth Amendment's exclusionary ule, when such evidence is unlawfully gathered the evidence cannot be used by the government in criminal cases.

But in a stunning blow to the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, that same unlawful seized evidence was indeed used in court against him, and Huskisson now sits in federal prison serving a 20-year sentence in FCI Lexington Kentucky.

In a 2019 decision, a three-judge panel of the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago; two of the justices, appointed by Clinton, including one appointed by Donald Trump, invoked a rarely used legal argument known as independent source doctrine to get around the Fourth Amendment violation, creating a floodgate of legal implications that has defense attorneys and legal scholars concerned.

WSNC 90.5 radio host of 'The Public Morality Show,' Byron Williams, condemned the decision in Huskisson's case in a scathing article published in the Winston-Salem Journal.

"Do we want to become a nation where obtaining a warrant before entering someone's home is optional?"

"The ends cannot justify the means," Williams said.

Here's how we got here:

The Bust

According to court documents and case testimony, the raid on Paul Huskisson had its genesis in the February 5, 2016 arrest by DEA agents of one Anthony Hardy on assorted meth charges, including conspiracy. Desperate to cut a deal, Hardy confessed his role in a dope smuggling scheme, even leading DEA agents to a cache of drugs and guns. Hardy implicated two other men, one of whom was Huskisson, who was previously unknown to the DEA.

And Hardy had plenty to say about Huskisson. He told DEA agents that he had scored substantial amounts of meth from him at least six times in the previous five months for $8,000 a pound, that he had purchased meth both at Huskisson's house and at a business owned by one of Huskisson's family member called 'No Limit' LLC, and that Huskisson was expected to receive a shipment of "10 to 12 pounds" the following day.

Hardy then took his snitching to the next level by volunteering to do a controlled buy for the DEA. DEA Special Agent Michael Cline prompted Hardy to call Huskisson on a recorded phone call to set up a buy to ensure Huskisson would sell dope to him, and Huskisson agreed to sell "10 to 12 pounds." After several more recorded calls, the pair agreed to meet at night on February 6, at Huskisson's place.

With undercover DEA agents already in place near Huskisson's house, Agent Cline tailed Hardy's car as he drove to 612 Laclede Street, where Huskisson lived, arriving 5:30 or 5:45 p.m. Hardy went into the house, and the assembled DEA agents waited. Half an hour later, Cline spotted a car pull into Huskisson's driveway and watched two men (later identifed as Jezzar Terraz-Zamarron and Fred Aragon) exit the visible vehicle carrying a cooler and enter the house.

Ten minutes later, a nervous Anthony Hardy came out the door and gave a prearranged signal to DEA Agent Cline to indicate he'd seen the meth. On that signal, DEA agents armed with high-powered weapons stormed the home, forcing the men inside onto the floor. Meanwhile Cline faked arresting Hardy to disguise Hardy's role as an informant. While milling around in Huskisson's home like characters readying for the next act, DEA agents and Indiana State Police investigators observed in the kitchen in plain sight an open cooler with 'ten saran-wrapped packages of meth.

All three men were arrested.

Paul Huskisson was subsequently indicted for possession with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine in violation of the federal statute 21 U.S.C. 841(a).

When those DEA agents entered Huskisson's home and found the meth they had no search warrant whatsoever that allowed them to legally be there. They didn't bother to get one "until later," Cline testified at trial.

An Effort to Have the Evidence Thrown Out

Before going to trial, Huskisson's attorney filed a motion to suppress the drug evidence, arguing the drugs were found only after the DEA entry team entered Huskisson's house without a search warrant and without any exigent circumstances -- a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment's requirement for lawful searches. He also argued that DEA agents had included that tainted evidence, that fruit of the poisonous tree, into the affidavit for the search warrant that they obtained after the fact from a judge, "an hour or so later."

DEA agent Michael Cline was unable to testify at the motion hearing, so Indiana State Police investigator Noel Kinney substituted for Cline. Pertaining to the warrant obtained after agents rushed into the house, Kinney testified inconsistently regarding the ex post facto warrant, contradicting himself badly about the intent of the search and other government evidence.

Under questioning by defense attorney John L. Tompkins, Kinney first testified the task force's original plan was to apply for a warrant even if Huskisson refused consent to search, and no matter whether law enforcement saw evidence of drug activities in the house.

"Depending on the conversation with Mr. Huskisson, and, if he granted consent to search, we would continue the search of the residence," Kinney testified.

"What would've happened if Mr. Huskisson hadn't given consent," defense attorney Tompkins, asked.

"If he didn't give consent, we would've secured the residence and obtained a search warrant," Kinney said.

This testimony strongly suggests that DEA agents intended to enter the house and search for drugs without a warrant.

Belatedly realizing the incriminating implications of his testimony, Kinney then offered another alternative, claiming the plan was to apply for a warrant only if the DEA found meth in Huskisson's home -- and if Huskisson had refused consent to search.

At this point, Huskisson's attorney seized the moment to pounce on Kinney.

"So, if you didn't get consent you was going to start the process of obtaining a warrant?" Tompkins asked incredulous.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/judge-jane-magnus-stinson.jpg
Judge Jane Magnus Stinson
"Yes," Kinney replied.

"So, no part of the plan was to obtain a warrant prior to entry into Huskisson's residence?" Thompson asked, again.

"That's correct, yes," the investigators' replied.

Despite the testimony about the warrantless search, US District Court Judge

Jane Magnus-Stinson ruled against throwing out the evidence against Huskisson, holding that independent source doctrine in essence trumped the Fourth Amendment.

On Appeal

Based in part on the evidence developed through the warrantless search, Huskisson was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in federal prison in 2017. Both men arrested with Huskisson on February 6, 2016, were also convicted and sent to prison. Huskisson's lawyers immediately appealed his conviction.

Filing a counter appeal, government prosecutors argued that the issuance of the warrant after the illegal entry of Huskisson's home by (DEA Agents) was based on an independent source for the meth evidence, thus making independent source doctrine applicable. Independent source doctrine in criminal cases creates an exception to the Fourth Amendment's exclusionary rule.

Independent search doctrine and the exception to the exclusionary rule was created in a 1988 US Supreme Court case, Murray v. United States (487 U.S. 533), with the opinion authored by arch-conservative jurist Justice Antonin Scalia. In that case, police in Boston had probable cause to stop two vehicles carrying marijuana as they exited a warehouse. Police then forced entry into the warehouse without a warrant and saw several wrapped bales that they suspected were drugs.

After seeing the bales, the officers left the warehouse and got a warrant based on their suspicion that more drugs were stored in the building. But in the affidavit for that search warrant, the police never mentioned that they had already entered the warehouse without a warrant and saw only stacked bales.

Still, Scalia ruled for the police, holding that the Fourth Amendment doesn't require the exclusion of evidence found during a warrantless illegal search if that evidence is also found during a later search with a valid search warrant.

Another case, this one on probable cause for searches, also came into play as appeals court judges pondered the issues before them in Huskisson's case. In 2010, judges of that same 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals held in a case involving drugs stored in an apartment, United States v. Etchins that's even though police illegally entered the apartment without a warrant and without the consent of the resident and remained in the apartment until a warrant was issued hours later, that "because the officers' search relied on a later-arriving warrant based on information sufficiently unrelated to the initial entry, the evidence discovered in Etchin's apartment was untainted by the officers' illegal behavior. "We therefore conclude that the district court properly denied the defendants' motions to suppress and, finding no error in the sentences imposed, we affirm."

Even as it denied Etchins' appeal, the appeals court conceded that "we do not doubt that the officers' warrantless entry violated the Fourth Amendment, but probable cause existed to search Etchins' apartment when officers unlawfully entered the first time. Therefore, the evidence discovered in Etchins' apartment was untainted by the officers' illegal behavior."

Relying mostly on Murray, but also on Etchins, on June 5th 2019, the 7th Circuit found that although Drug Enforcement (DEA) agents should've obtained a search warrant prior to entering Huskisson's home to get the dope, yet the panel insisted the unlawful evidence was still admissible under independent source doctrine, and that prior probable cause had already been established, tilting their decision in favor of the police.

The 7th Circuit concluded that prior evidence of police informant Anthony Hardy's initial admissions to DEA agent Michael Cline about his drug-dealing history with Huskisson, including Hardy's nine phone calls to Huskisson to set up the meth deal including Hardy's pre-bust signal to Cline at the scene were sufficient for probable cause prior to the officers entering Huskisson's home.

Paul Huskisson, currently serving 20 years at FCI Lexington. (Facebook)
Another key point the justices took into consideration was Hardy's story of drugs he saw in Huskisson's house after Hardy arrived, which, taken together, justified the resort to independent source doctrine because the DEA had already established probable cause against Huskisson without a warrant in hand.

"Though the government should not profit from its bad behavior, neither should it be placed in a worse position than it would otherwise have occupied," the panel held.

These same judges weren't even swayed by the glaringly inconsistent statements made by the police sergeant who testified agents planned to search Huskisson's house without a warrant even if he refused to consent to a search. Rejecting

Huskisson's appeal, the justices affirmed his conviction on federal drug charges in Indianapolis as result of the DEA investigation.

In effect, the appeals court held that police had established probable cause that Huskisson was dealing drugs, so the illegal search was okay. But probable cause should only give law enforcement the ability to obtain a search warrant, not give the police automatic permission to enter someone's home without one.

Still, the panel was critical of the DEA. "We do not condone this illegal behavior by law enforcement; the better practice is to obtain a warrant before entering a home. Ordinarily, the evidence found here would be excluded. But, because the government had much other evidence of probable cause, and had already planned to apply for a warrant before the illegal entry; therefore, the evidence is admissible."

Troubling Precedents

Legal scholars and defense attorneys are troubled by the line of cases that resulted in allowing illegally seized evidence to be used in criminal prosecutions.

"There are so many examples of police taking advantage of loopholes in Supreme Court doctrines that it must be incentivizing police in some cases to conduct illegal searches where they would otherwise seek a warrant," Ryan W. Scott, professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law in Bloomington, told the Chronicle.

Washington, DC-based criminal defense attorney and appellate expert Steve Leckar, explained how the problem is rooted in the 1988 Supreme Court decision in Murray.

"Here's the problem," Leckar told the Chronicle. "In Murray, the US Supreme Court said independent source doctrine can be used."

Professor Scott concurred in pointing to Murray.

"The Supreme Court's answer in Murray was that police ( like the agents in Huskisson's case) still should prefer to obtain a warrant up front because then the police wouldn't have to bear the additional burden of establishing that both the showing of probable cause and their decision to seek a warrant were totally independent of the evidence the police recovered," he said.

Attorney Leckar said the line of decisions is deeply concerning. "This ruling gives police a green light to enter homes unannounced without a warrant, with the risk of confronting armed citizens," he noted. "Decisions like this allow the police to bust into people's homes' willy-nilly with little fear of being held accountable in a civil lawsuit," Leckar added.

He also worries that as officers become more aware of how independent source doctrine can be used to get around the exclusionary rule, they may be incentivized to create a story filled with half-truths to create questionable probable cause in order to make a warrantless entry into a person's residence or place of business.

Leckar was also critical of the appeals court panels' reasoning. "The problem with this court's decision is the belief the police shouldn't be put in a worse position, but the fact of the matter is the officers identified no reason that prevented them from getting a warrant within a timely manner," he argued. "They said they were going to get a warrant, but that's easy to say. What evidence was there of that?"

"Why bother getting a warrant right away if you can just conduct the search illegally, confirm that you were right, and then get the evidence admitted anyway?" Professor Scott added. "To be clear, independent source doctrine affects only the admissibility of evidence; it doesn't mean the police are legally free to enter the homes of suspected drug dealers without a warrant," he explained.

Huskisson is appealing to the US Supreme Court. Its his last hope, but his prospects there are cloudy at best.

Journalist Clarence Walker Jr. wishes Drug War Chronicle readers and everyone a safe, wonderful, blessed Christmas and prosperous New Year in 2020.

Any comments? Reach Clarence Walker at: [email protected]

Chronicle AM: SD MMJ initiative Qualifies for Ballot, New Zealand Pill Testing Study, More... (12/20/19)

South Dakota voters will get to decide on okaying medical marijuana next year, Chicago legal sales are set to begin January 1, New Zealand's government pays for a pill-testing study, and more.

Chicago legal marijuana sales will begin January 1, despite concerns over diversity. (Creative Commons)
Trump Administration Moves to Deny Asylum Over Misdemeanor Marijuana Offenses. As part of its crackdown on immigration, the Trump administration has proposed changing immigration policy to prevent people convicted of various misdemeanor and felony offenses from claiming asylum in the US. That would include any marijuana offense except for a first offense involving possession of less than 30 grams. The proposal is open to public comment through January 21.

New Mexico Poll Show Very Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Change Research has support for marijuana legalization in the Land of Enchantment at a whopping 73%. This just a month ahead of a legislative special session where the governor is expected to back a legalization bill.

Vermont House Speaker Says Majority of Lawmakers Back Legalizing Marijuana Sales. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) said Thursday that there is enough support in her chamber to pass a marijuana sales legalization bill this year. But Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D) has said the legislation isn't a priority in his chamber. On Thursday, he said the Senate is in "wait and see mode" on what changes the House may make.

Chicago City Council Rejects Delay; Legal Marijuana Sales Will Begin January 1. At a contentious meeting Wednesday night, the city council rejected a bid to delay marijuana sales until July 1. The move came a day after a council committee approved the delay, citing complaints that minorities were losing out on ownership of city marijuana businesses. Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) opposed the delay, saying diversity could be addressed without delaying the sales rollout.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Qualifies for November 2020 Ballot. For the third time, state voters will have the opportunity to legalize medical marijuana via the ballot box. Secretary of State Steve Barnett (R) announced Thursday that a medical marijuana initiative, Initiated Measure 26, has qualified to appear on the November 2020 ballot. The measure is supported by New Approach South Dakota and the Marijuana Policy Project.

International

New Zealand Government Will Fund Pill-Testing Study. The New Zealand government has funded a study to research pill-testing at music festivals, marking the first time such a study will have been done in the country. Under current law, festival promoters can be charged for allowing recreational drug use at their events, but authorities have at times turned a blind eye to the harm reduction practice and the national police approve of the study. It will be conducted by a criminology team from the Victoria University of Wellington.

Chronicle AM: SAFE Banking Act Challenge in Senate, FL Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming, More... (12/19/19)

A bipartisan pair of senators file a pair of marijuana bills, a key Senate Republican is demanding changes to the House-passed SAFE Banking Act, and more.

Marijuana is getting more attention at the Capitol these days. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Banking Committee Chair Wants Changes in SAFE Banking Act. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), head of the Senate Banking Committee, said Wednesday he opposes the SAFE Banking Act in its present form. The act has passed the House and is now before the committee. Crapo said he wants some changes, including a two percent THC limit on products in order for businesses to qualify for access to the banking system, which would effectively deny access to all sectors of the industry except hemp and CBD products. Crapo also floated denying banking access to companies selling high-potency vaping devices or products, such as edibles, that may appeal to children.

Senators Gardner and Warren File Marijuana Bills for Immigrants and Veterans. Democratic presidential contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner have teamed up to file a pair of bills aimed at protecting immigrants and veterans who work in the marijuana industry. One bill would adjust current immigration policy to clarify that working in the industry would not be grounds for denying naturalization. The second bill would bar the Department of Veterans Affairs from denying housing loans to veterans who work in the industry.

Florida State Senator to File Legalization Bill. One of the Sunshine State's biggest legislative advocates for marijuana reform is ready to file a legalization bill in the coming session. Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) said he wants the legislature to legalize marijuana so the legislature could vet the proposal, instead of allowing legalization to occur via an initiative. He said he expected to have the bill filed within two weeks.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Tennessee deputy goes on a bizarre crime spree, a California cop gets busted for the fondling the breasts of a dead overdose victim, and more. Let's get to it:

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, a Hamilton County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Tuesday on 44 criminal charges, including 25 felonies, for actions he took in the course of official duties. Deputy Daniel Wilkey faces charges of rape, extortion, stalking and assault. In one case, he found a woman in possession of a small amount of marijuana. He offered not to arrest her if she would would allow him to baptize her in his underwear. The woman said she felt she had no choice but to agree, so she went with him into the lake, where he stripped to his underwear and submerged her in the lake with his hands on her back and her breasts. He is charged with stalking, assault, extortion, and false imprisonment in that case. In another case, he faces felony rape and misdemeanor assault charges for performing a body cavity search on a black motorist he pulled over.

In Los Angeles, an LAPD officer was arrested last Thursday for allegedly fondling the breasts of a woman who had died of a drug overdose. Officer David Rojas, 27, allegedly "touched the woman's breast" when alone with the body while on the October 20 call. He was arrested by LAPD's Internal Affairs Division after it reviewed his body camera footage. He is charged with one felony count of having sexual contact with human remains.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, a state prison guard was arrested Monday on charges he smuggled marijuana into the prison. Jordan Davis, 22, was charged with one felony count of furnishing, possession or delivering prohibited articles. He got caught trying to smuggle 12 grams of marijuana and 17 grams of tobacco that were wrapped in plastic and hidden inside his pants.

In New York City, a former NYPD sergeant pleaded guilty November 27 to running drugs for the notorious Nine Trey Blood gang. Ex-cop Arlicia Robinson admitted transporting more than 100 grams of heroin from the Bronx to Manhattan last July. Robinson was indicted in November 2018 on three narcotics counts. It's not clear from the reporting which one she copped to.

Chronicle AM: DC MJ Sales Appear Blocked Again, RI Senate Leader Says No Legalization Next Year, More... (12/18/19)

It looks like Congress will once again block the District of Columbia from taxing and regulating legal marijuana sales, a key Rhode Island senator just says no to legalizing pot there next year, and more.

Congress still blocking DC from full legalization
Marijuana Policy

Indiana Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Ogden Dunes) filed a marijuana decriminalization bill Monday. She said it was appropriate because neighboring Illinois and Michigan have already legalized marijuana. Her bill would make possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana a ticketable infraction with a small fine and no jail time; instead of a misdemeanor crime with penalties of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for a first offense. The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site. The ten-week Indiana legislative session begins January 6.

Rhode Island Senate Leader Says No Marijuana Legalization Next Year. Senate President Dominic Ruggiero (D) said Tuesday there would be no marijuana legalization bill passed in the legislature next year. "No," he said when asked whether 2020 would be the year it happens. "I want to see what is happening in Massachusetts. I am not crazy about the medical marijuana program in this state. I don't think people have a handle on it... If we can't handle medical marijuana, there is no way we can enforce the laws for legalization." Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has said she plans to propose legalization in her upcoming state budget -- as she did last year, only to see the proposal die in the General Assembly.

Washington, DC, Likely Won't Get Legal Marijuana Sales Next Year. On Monday, House Democrats unveiled their 2020 appropriations bill for the District of Columbia, and the bill continues the ban on DC creating a regulated and taxed market for legal marijuana. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) criticized the bill and said the District should have the same right to implement marijuana legalization as anywhere else in the country: "Well it's just another reason why we have to march towards statehood," she said. "Until we are autonomous and a state just like everyone else in America, we can always have this interference from Congress!"

The Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2019 [FEATURE]

As the clock ticks down toward 2020, it's worth taking a moment to look back and reflect on what has gone on in the world of drug policy this year. From marijuana to psychedelics to the lingering overdose crisis to the emergence of a new vaping-related illness, a lot happened. Here are ten of the biggest highs and lows of 2019, in no particular order:

It was a big year for marijuana in Congress. Less so in the states.
1, For the First Time, Marijuana Legalization Wins a Congressional Vote

In November, the House Judiciary Committee made history when it approved the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3384). The bill would effectively legalize marijuana at the federal level by removing it from the Controlled Substance Act's drug schedules. It would also require federal courts to expunge prior convictions and conduct resentencing hearings for those still doing federal marijuana time. And it would assess a five percent tax on marijuana sales to create a fund to aid to people and communities most impacted by prohibition.

There's a good chance the MORE Act will get a House floor vote before the end of this Congress, but even if it does, its prospects in Sen. Mitch McConnell's Senate are dim at best. Still, step by step, Congress by Congress, the end of federal marijuana prohibition is drawing nearer.

2. Marijuana Banking Bill Passes the House

In September, the House passed the SAFE Banking Act, which would allow state-legal marijuana businesses to get access to banking and other financial services. The vote was 321-103, with near unanimous support from Democrats, as well as nearly half of Republicans.

The vote came although some civil rights and drug reform groups had called for it to be put off until more comprehensive marijuana or criminal justice reform, such as the MORE Act (see above) could be enacted. They argued that passage of a narrowly targeted financial services bill could erode momentum toward broader reforms. The MORE Act did win a House Judiciary Committee vote, but has yet to get a House floor vote.

And while SAFE passed the House, it must still get through the Senate, where it is not clear whether it will be allowed to a vote, much less whether it can pass. A companion version of SAFE, S.1200, was introduced in April by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Gardner (R-CO) and a bipartisan group of 21 original cosponsors. It currently has 33 total cosponsors. In September, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) said his committee would take up the cannabis banking issue this year and is working on preparing a new bill, but now it's December and little has happened.

3. Legalization in the States Didn't Have a Great Year

At the beginning of 2019, prospects looked good for as many as a half-dozen states to get legalization bills passed, but the year turned out to largely be a dud. Hopes were especially high in New Jersey and New York, where Democratic governors supported legalization, but it didn't come to pass this year in either state. In Albany, they'll be back at it next year, but in Trenton, it looks like the legislature is going to punt, opting instead to put the issue directly to the voters next year in a legislative referendum.

One state did make it all the way to the finish line: Illinois. After a legalization bill sailed through the legislature in the spring, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed it into law in late June. With that signature, Illinois became the first state to create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce through the legislative process, rather than through a voter initiative. (Vermont's legislature legalized possession and cultivation but not sales in early 2018.)

Getting bills through a state legislature is hard work, and it sometimes takes years. Still, that hard work that didn't quite make it over the top this year, is laying the groundwork for legalization in places like New Jersey and New York -- and maybe more -- next year. And next year is an election year, which means initiative campaigns that can bypass legislative logjams will be in play. There are already active campaigns in Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota and South Dakota, although none have yet qualified for the ballot. Look for 2020 to be a better year when it comes to freeing the weed.

4. Pot Prohibition Isn't Dead Yet: Despite Legalization, Marijuana Arrests Up in Latest FBI Crime Report

In late September, the FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report for 2018, and once again, marijuana arrests were on the rise -- despite legalization in 11 states and DC, and decriminalization in 15 more states. There were some 663,367 marijuana arrests in 2018, up from 659,700 in 2017 and 653,249 in 2017. In all three years, simple possession cases accounted for about nine out of ten pot busts. Before 2016, marijuana arrests had been going down for more than a decade. Clearly, there is still work to do here.

5. US Supreme Court Unanimously Reins in Asset Forfeiture

In a February victory for proponents of civil libertarians, the US Supreme Court ruled in Timbs v. Indiana that the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause applies to states, thereby prohibiting state and local governments from collecting excessive fines, fees and forfeitures. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion. "The protection against excessive fines guards against abuses of government's punitive or criminal law-enforcement authority," Ginsburg wrote. The case involved the seizure of a $42,000 Land Rover over a drug sale of $225.

There was more progress on the asset forfeiture front on the state level, too: Bills to either end civil asset forfeiture entirely or to restrict it passed this year in Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan, and North Dakota, and in September, a South Carolina circuit court judge ruled civil asset forfeiture unconstitutional, setting up a fight in state appeals courts there.

6. Thousands of Federal Drug Prisoners Go Free Under First Step Act

President Trump signed the First Step Act into law at the end of last year, but the sentencing reform measure's true impact was felt in July, when the Bureau of Prisons released more than 3,000 prisoners and reduced the sentences of nearly 1,700 more. Almost all of those released were drug offenders. The First Step Act was aimed at redressing harsh sentences for federal prisoners excluded from the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced -- but did not eliminate -- the infamous crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, but which did not include prisoners sentenced before its passage. Three states -- Florida, South Carolina and Virginia -- accounted for a whopping 25 percent of sentence reductions, and more than 90 percent went to African-American men.

A movement to decriminalize natural psychedelics emerged this year. (Greenoid/Flickr)
7. Psychedelic Decriminalization Becomes a Movement

After emerging in 2018, the movement to decriminalize natural psychedelics mushroomed this year. In May, voters in Denver narrowly approved the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative, making clear that they wanted to "deprioritize, to the greatest extent possible, the imposition of criminal penalties on persons 21 years of age and older for the personal possession of psilocybin mushrooms." The measure also "prohibits the city and county of Denver from spending resources on imposing criminal penalties on persons 21 years of age and older for the personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms."

That surprise victory sparked interest across the country, and the following month Oakland followed suit, only this time it was the city council -- not the voters -- who decriminalized magic mushrooms and other natural psychedelics. In September, Chicago became the next city to get on board, with the city council unanimously passing an advisory resolution expressing support for research on the potential use of psychoactive plants and pledging support for adult use of the substances. Meanwhile, activists in three more major cities -- Berkeley, Dallas, and Portland -- were pushing psychedelic decriminalization measures, either through ballot initiatives or city council actions. By December, Decriminalize Nature, the group behind the movement, reported that more than 100 cities across the country are now seeing efforts to open up to psychedelics.

And it's not just cities. In two states, psychedelic reformers have filed initiatives aimed at the November 2020 ballot. In the Golden State, the California Psilocybin Mushroom Initiative, which would decriminalize the possession, use, and gifting of magic mushrooms and the chemical compounds -- psilocybin and psilocin -- has been cleared for signature gathering. It has until April 21 to come up with 623,212 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. Just across the border to the north, the Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative, which would allow magic mushrooms to be grown with a license, and would allow for therapeutic use of psilocybin, is in the midst of signature gathering. It needs 112,020 valid voter signatures by July 2 to make the ballot. The Oregon measure in October got a nice $150,000 donation from Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps.

8. Overdose Deaths Decline Slightly, But Are Still Way Too High

In July, the CDC reported 2018 drug overdose death numbers and found that they had declined from 2017's record high of more than 70,000 to just under 68,000, a five percent decrease. The latest data from CDC, which measured drug deaths in the 12-month period ending in April 2019 showed deaths at 67,000, suggesting that the decline continues, but at a glacial pace. Still, the number of overdose deaths is about seven times higher than it was in 1995, at the start of the prescription opioid epidemic.

The recent decline has been driven by a decrease in heroin and prescription opioid overdoses, although overdoses involving the synthetic opioid fentanyl increased, as did those involving the stimulant drugs cocaine and methamphetamine. Many overdoses involved more than one drug, with benzodiazepines often implicated.

If some researchers are right, fentanyl overdoses could balloon to an even higher level, if distribution of the highly potent substance takes hold in the western US. Most users take fentanyl unknowingly, after it's been used to cut street heroin or counterfeit pills.

9. Vaping-Linked Illness Emerges, Sparking Broad Anti-Vaping Backlash

In the summer, reports of vaping or e-cig users being struck down by a mysterious, lung-damaging condition began to emerge. By the end of October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported more than 1,600 cases of lung-damaged vapors, with the death toll rising to 34. (That number has since risen to 47.) The CDC also gave the condition a name: e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury (EVALI).

A likely culprit soon emerged: black market THC vaping cartridges contaminated with new additives, particularly thinners including propylene glycol (PG) and polyethylene glycol (PEG), vitamin E acetate, and medium chain triglycerides (MCT oil). The FDA has begun investigating vitamin E acetate, while public health officials in New York have found the substance in a majority of seized vape cartridges there. The FDA also announced in August that it is proposing adding propylene glycol as a "respiratory toxicant" in its list of harmful tobacco product ingredients.

While the CDC and the FDA responded to the outbreak with recommendations targeting the suspect products, elected and public health officials in a number of states responded by going after not black market marijuana vaping cartridges but legal flavored tobacco vaping products.

Massachusetts banned all vaping products, Michigan banned flavored nicotine products, New York banned flavored e-cigarettes, Oregon banned all flavored vaping products for six months, as did Rhode Island, while Washingtonissued a four-month ban on flavored vaping products. President Trump threatened to move toward a national ban on flavored vaping products, but has since changed course, even making an anti-prohibitionist argument to do so.

In its latest update, the CDC reports the number of EVALI cases has risen to nearly 2,300 and the death toll has climbed to 47. But unlike those state governments that reacted with flavored vaping bans, the CDC takes a different approach: It points the finger strongly at vitamin E acetate, recommends that people not use THC vaping products at this point -- especially if obtained informally or in the black market -- and also warns people not to add any products to vaping cartridges that are not intended by the manufacturer.

10. Safe Injection Sites Win an Important Preliminary Legal Battle

In a case involving a proposed safe injection site in Philadelphia, a federal judge ruled that it would not violate federal law. With the backing of city officials and former Gov. Ed Rendell (D), the nonprofit group Safehouse pressed forward with plans for the facility even though the Justice Department had warned that it would not allow any safe injection sites to move forward. The Justice Department sued in February to halt the project, arguing that it violated the federal "crack house law."

But US District Judge Gerald McHugh ruled that the "crack house" provision of the Controlled Substances Act does not apply to the group's bid to assist opioid users. "No credible argument can be made that facilities such as safe injection sites were within the contemplation of Congress" when that body wrote the law in 1986 or amended it in 2003, McHugh wrote. "I cannot conclude that Safehouse [the safe injection site] has, as a significant purpose, the objective of facilitating drug use. Safehouse plans to make a place available for the purposes of reducing the harm of drug use, administering medical care, encouraging drug treatment and connecting participants with social services."

While the Justice Department has appealed the ruling, it is a good omen, and the case is being carefully watched in cities such as Denver, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, all of which are pursuing similar plans.

Chronicle AM: New Pot Polls Look Good, Pot Initiative Action, Dutch Push for Legal Ecstasy, More... (12/17/19)

Protections for state-level marijuana legalization programs gets stripped from a federal funding bill, two new polls have strong national support for legalization, a Dutch political party is pushing for the legalization of Ecstasy and soft drugs, and more.

As the year comes to an end, there's a lot of action on the state-level marijuana legalization front. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Majority of Americans Support Marijuana Legalization, Two More Polls Show. Two new polls show solid majorities for marijuana legalization. A Fox News poll has 63% supporting legalizing "the recreational use of marijuana at the national level," while a Marist/NPR/PBS poll had 62% saying legalizing marijuana is "a good idea." That's in line with most polls in recent years.

House-Passed Marijuana Amendments Stripped from Congressional Spending Bills. A number of marijuana-related provisions, including one that would have provided protection for tribal and state-legal recreational marijuana, have been stripped from large-scale spending legislation after negotiations with the Senate. Negotiators did agree to keep a long-running rider that protects state-level medical marijuana programs.

Kentucky Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. State Rep. Cluster Howard (D-Jackson) has pre-filed a bill to legalize marijuana and use tax revenues to fund the state's retirement system. All license and wholesale tax revenues would go either to the Kentucky Employees Retirement System (75%) or the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System (25%). The bill would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults and set up a system of state-regulated cultivation, processing, testing, and sales.

Florida Marijuana Legalization Initiative Falls Short on Signatures. The Regulate Florida campaign to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the 2020 ballot has fallen short. On Monday, the campaign conceded that it would not make a January 1 deadline for handing in signatures. A second legalization initiative, sponsored by Make It Legal Florida, is still alive.

New Jersey Legislature Approves 2020 Marijuana Legalization Referendum. Large majorities of lawmakers on Monday approved a proposed ballot question on whether to legalize marijuana. That means voters will decide the issue in November 2020. They also approved a bill to expunge records for low-level drug offenses.

North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering. Secretary of State Al Jaeger (R) on Monday approved the Legalize ND marijuana legalization initiative for signature gathering. Now, the group needs 13,500 valid voter signatures by July 6 to get the measure on the 2020 ballot. It would allow any person over the age of 21 to use, possess, and transport up to two ounces of prepared marijuana, but it would ban home growing of the plant.

Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed. Sooner State activists have filed a marijuana legalization initiative, State Question 806, that would legalize the personal possession and cultivation of marijuana, as well as set up a system of state-regulated and -taxed sales. Organizers have until September 4 to come up with 178,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2020 ballot.

International

Dutch Coalition Party to Push for Legalizing Ecstasy, Soft Drugs The D66 Party, a member of the governing coalition, is moving to legalize soft drugs and Ecstasy in a bid to reduce drug crime and health harms. The party is asking Dutch celebrities to support a national manifesto on which it is working. Current drug policy is failing and "no longer tenable", according to the D66. "We have to face the reality: people use drugs in the Netherlands. It is important that we not label these people as criminals, but focus on providing information," the party said. "In the manifesto we opt for a regulated drug market, such as regulation of ecstasy. Only in this way can we minimize health risks and tackle drug crime."

Chronicle AM: CA Initiative Would Legalize Magic Mushroom Sales, Senate GOP Cartel Bill, More... (12/16/19)

The latest version of California's psilocbyin decriminalization initiative turns it into a legalization initiative, a group of Senate Republicans file a bill to treat drug cartels like terrorist organizations, and more.

Under the latest language in California's magic mushroom initiative, you could buy them at a store. (CC)
Psychedelics

California Psilocybin Decriminalization Initiative Now a Legalization Initiative. The latest version of the California Psilocybin Decriminalization initiative includes language that would legalize the production and sale of magic mushrooms, as well as decriminalizing their possession and use. "The personal, spiritual, religious, dietary, therapeutic, and medical use of Psilocybin Mushrooms by adults, including but not limited to the cultivation, manufacture, processing, production of edible products and extracts (with or without solvents) derived from Psilocybin Mushrooms, distribution, transportation, possession, storage, consumption, social consumption, on-site consumption, public events, farmers' markets, and retail sale, whether or not for profit, shall be lawful in this state and is a matter of statewide concern," the initiative now says.

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Police Used $400K In Asset Forfeiture Funds to Boost Their Own Pay and Benefits, Audit Finds. A federal audit of Indiana law enforcement's use of federal asset forfeiture funds has found that police unlawfully used nearly $400,000 of those monies to increase their own pay and benefits. The federal "equitable sharing program" that distributes the funds does not allow police to use those monies for such expenses.

Kansas Lawmakers Punt on Asset Forfeiture Reform, Seek Review Instead of Passing Legislation. After an audit this past summer criticized law enforcement for taking advantage of vague asset forfeiture laws, lawmakers debated whether to enact legislation to remedy the situation. Now, they've decided not to act this year, but to instead ask a judicial advisory group to review any potential changes. The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony last month on several measures, including one to require a conviction before property is seized, but opted to send the bills to the Kansas Judicial Council, an advisory committee in the judicial branch. Chairman Blaine Finch said the council would be able to study the bills more extensively than the Legislature would.

Foreign Policy

Senate Republicans File Bill to Impose Sanctions on Drug Cartels. Led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), a group of nine Republican senators last week filed the Significant Transnational Criminal Organization Designation Act, legislation that would subject certain foreign criminal organizations like drug cartels to sanctions, including immigration, financial and criminal penalties. The process would be similar to the system used for designating entities as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs). Passage of the bill would allow the federal government to impose on the most significant Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) the same sanctions that apply to FTOs.

International

Thai Justice Minister to Speed Up Kratom Decriminalization. Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin says he will speed up the decriminalization of kratom. He said the Justice Ministry has formed a committee to study kratom-based medicines. "I will proceed with this project as soon as possible because legalization will truly benefit society," he said. Although kratom is not considered a scheduled drug by UN treaties, it has been illegal in Thailand since 1943, with possession punishable by up to a year in jail.

Zambia Legalizes Marijuana Production, But for Export and Medical Purposes Only. The government has approved a proposal to legalize marijuana production, but it will be restricted to exports and medical purposes. The government wants a $250,000 annual license fee from companies wishing to get into the business. Approval came last Wednesday during a cabinet meeting.

Chronicle AM: NJ MJ Referendum Set to Advance, Dirty Detroit Narcs, MA Pot Vaping Resumes, More... (12/13/19)

Italy legalizes hemp and CBD products, Trinidad and Tobago moves toward marijuana decrim, New Jersey legislators are busy on two fronts, and more.

New Jersey legislators are making progress on two different fronts this week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senators Demand Update from DEA On Marijuana Growing Applications. A group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have sent a letter to the DEA, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) demanding that they provide an update on efforts to expand the number of authorized marijuana grows for research purposes. The letter notes that DEA announced more than three years ago that it would begin approving additional research grows, but has yet to issue any new licenses. The agency says the volume of new applications requires that it develop alternate rules before issuing any new licenses.

Massachusetts Pot Shops Okayed to Resume Sales of Some Vaping Products. The state's Cannabis Control Commission has amended a November ban on marijuana vaping products, now allowing stores to sell them but only if they are manufactured after this date and have been tested for contaminants.

New Jersey Legislature Holds Hearing on Marijuana Referendum. Legalization supporters outnumbered foes Thursday as the legislature held hearings in both chambers on whether to put a constitutional amendment on the November 2020 ballot letting voters decide on whether to free the weed. Votes on the measure are expected in both houses on Monday.

Expungement

New Jersey Drug Expungement Bill Headed for Monday Vote. After an Assembly committee passed a bill, A-5981, Thursday without hearing any testimony, the measure heads for floor votes in both houses on Monday. The bill would make it easier for people to rid their records of minor drug and other offenses. Under its "clean slate" provision, all prior non-serious crimes could be sealed after a decade, while those involving smalltime marijuana or hashish possession could be expunged immediately. For minor drug offenses that occur after the bill is passed, a judge would immediately remove them from a person's record.

Foreign Policy

Senate Committee Passes Resolution for Sanctions Against Philippine Officials Involved in Imprisonment of Drug War Critic Sen. Leila de Lima. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved the Free Leila resolution (Senate Resolution 142), which calls for the applications of sanctions under the Magnitsky Act against Philippines officials responsible for "orchestrating the arrest and prolonged detention" of Filipina drug war critic Sen. Leila de Lima. The resolution also calls for sanctions against members of the security forces and Philippine officials responsible for extrajudicial killings during President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war. The resolution is non-binding but signals strong revulsion toward the behavior of the Duterte government.

Law Enforcement

Detroit Narcs Accused of Corrupt Policing. A raid on the Detroit Police Department's narcotics unit in August has uncovered dirty dealing there. Investigators have found a half-dozen instances of narcs stealing money from alleged drug dealers and two where drugs were planted on suspects. One former narc was arrested the day of the raid on federal charges he took bribes from a drug dealer, and Chief James Craig said he's looking at the unit that the officer was assigned to. "Sadly, as we continue our probe, we think it's going to grow in terms of magnitude," Craig said.

International

Italy Legalizes Hemp, CBD Products. Parliament this week legalized the production and sale of cannabis products containing less than 0.5% THC. The law will go into effect January 1. Former rightist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had vowed to shut down shops selling what the Italians call "cannabis light," but now parliament has thwarted that effort.

Trinidad and Tobago Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill. The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana. People caught with more than 30 but less than 60 grams would pay a fixed fine. The bill would also allow for the personal cultivation of up to four plants and provide a pathway for expungement of previous small-time marijuana offenses. The bill now heads for a Senate vote later this month. But it also contains provisions that would impose new penalties against possession and distribution of other substances, such as LSD, MDMA and ketamine.

Is This the Worst State in America on Drug Policy? [FEATURE]

With endless miles of farmland shading into ever higher and drier terrain as one moves West, then on to the Badlands and then the Black Hills, South Dakota has a certain austere beauty. Not so in its approach to drugs. When it comes to drug policy, it is one of the ugliest places in the country.

South Dakota's Badlands. The state is a pretty bad land for drug users, too. (Creative Commons)
The staunchly conservative state holds the dubious distinction of being the only state to twice defeat a medical marijuana initiative (although activists are giving it another shot this year, and a more wishful legalization initiative, too). And it is being sued by the state ACLU over the forced drug testing of toddlers and arrestees alike.

South Dakota also boasts the nation's only law making ingestion -- not possession -- of a controlled substance a felony, which helps explains the reflex resort to drug testing arrestees: A positive drug test becomes a prosecutable offense. While 10 other states have ingestion laws on the books, none of them make it a felony.

And now, a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative finds that South Dakota jails more people per capita than any other state, that almost half of all arrests are drug- or alcohol-related (compared to 29 percent nationally), and that people of color -- in this case, primarily Native Americans -- are disproportionately arrested at a rate far above the national average.

According to the report, South Dakota jailed 2,888 people per 100,000, nearly twice the national average of 1,506, and narrowly edging out Mississippi, which had 2,814 per 100,000. (Other states that jailed more than one out of 50 of their residents were Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.)

But jail is just the gateway to the incarceration complex, and when it comes to long-term stays behind bars, South Dakota displays the same sort of worrying numbers. According to the ACLU of South Dakota, the state's prison population has increased more than five-fold since the beginning of the drug war era 50 years ago. And despite 2013 reforms designed to reduce the prison population, it stubbornly stays near an all-time high reached in 2017.

In fact, new prison admissions spiked upward by 49 percent between 2015 and 2018. These numbers are largely attributable to drug prosecutions, with nearly one in three prisoners doing time for drugs in 2015, up from one in four the year before.

As the ACLU noted, "This increase was driven almost entirely by a rise in the number of people whose most serious offense was unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance."

That's right -- South Dakota is spending millions of dollars to incarcerate people not for drug dealing, not for drug possession, but for having used drugs and still having traces of them in their system.

And it's doing so in a stunningly racially disproportionate manner. Native Americans make up only 7 percent of the state's population but constitute nearly one-third (31 percent) of the state prison population. Similarly, the state has a tiny African American population (2 percent), but black South Dakotans made up 8 percent of the prison population. The imprisonment rate for both African Americans and Native Americans was seven times that of the state's overwhelmingly white population. For the state's Latino population, the imprisonment rate was three times that of whites.

In a press release in October, the state ACLU reported that it's just as bad in the state's jails, with Native Americans making up roughly half of all jail admissions and accounting for the majority of all drug- and alcohol-related arrests in the state. The group noted that Native Americans between ages 15 and 64 are jailed at 10 times the rate of white people in South Dakota.

"It's time to come to terms with the significant racial disparities that are so ingrained in our criminal legal system," said said Libby Skarin, ACLU of South Dakota policy director. "This is not something that can be mitigated by solely reducing the number of arrests in South Dakota. Our elected officials need to acknowledge the realities of these racial disparities and commit to tackling them head-on."

State leaders grasp that there is a problem here. The state legislature has set up an interim study group to examine the state's approach to drug offenses, which met for the first time in August. The group includes legislators, law enforcement, court administrators, the South Dakota attorney general and the secretary of the Department of Corrections, but not public health officials or actual drug users.

The panel heard even more disturbing numbers about drug prosecutions. There were 2,104 people convicted of drug possession statewide last year, a more than five-fold increase from 2009, even though drug use levels have remained relatively stable over that period. That is leading panel members to wonder about the role of local prosecutors in generating such large increases in prosecutions.

"Though drug use is undoubtedly a serious issue, we can't incarcerate our way out of addiction," said the ACLU's Skarin, "The enormous amount of money South Dakota spends on jailing people for drug-related offenses is disproportionate and causes more harm than good to individuals struggling with addiction, their families and their communities."

That's why the ACLU is supporting initiatives such as reclassifying ingestion as a misdemeanor.

"Reclassifying ingestion as a misdemeanor and investing the resulting savings of state funds in diversion and treatment programs designed to combat addiction would go a long way in helping to solve the underlying problems leading to drug abuse," Skarin said.

Pennington County (Rapid City) public defender Eric Whitcher is on the same page as the state ACLU. He told the interim panel that 73 of his last 100 drug possession cases involved only trace amounts of not enough of the drug to be able to be weighed and that if such cases were not charged as felonies, his office could operate with significantly fewer felony prosecutors.

"We are an outlier," Whitcher said of South Dakota. "We are creating more felonies for the same conduct than our neighboring states. What impact does that have on their lives?"

Dropping ingestion from a felony to a misdemeanor would be a step in the right direction, but it's an awfully small step. South Dakota has a long, long way to go to get on the right side of drug policy, and no natural beauty can hide that.

West of the Mississippi, Meth -- Not Fentanyl -- Is the Deadliest Drug [FEATURE]

According to a report released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released last week, while fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine continue to account for most fatal drug overdoses in the Eastern US, it's a very different story once you cross the Mississippi River. Throughout the Western US, more people are dying from methamphetamines than those other three drugs.

crystal methamphetamine (Creative Commons)
The report, which examined the more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, identified fentanyl as the deadliest drug nationwide, followed by heroin. Between them, the two opioids accounted for about 60 percent of all fatal overdoses. The third leading killer drug, cocaine, was involved in slightly more than 20 percent of overdoses. Meth came in fourth, accounting for 13.3 percent of overdoses nationwide.

Of the five geographic regions in the report east of the Mississippi, fentanyl was the leading killer, with heroin and cocaine alternating in second and third places. Meth never made it higher than fifth place among killer drugs in the East. It didn't even make the top 10 in Region 1 (New England) or Region 2 (New York and New Jersey), was in 7th place in Region 3 (the Mid-Atlantic states), and 5th place in Region 4 (the South) and Region 5 (the Midwest).

In the West, though, Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska) was the only region where meth wasn't the leading cause of overdose deaths. There, it came in second behind fentanyl. But from Houston to Honolulu and San Diego to Sioux Falls, meth reigned supreme. In both Region 7 and Region 6 (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas), meth accounted for more than one-fifth of all overdose deaths, while in Region 8 (Northern Plains and Rockies), it accounted for more than a quarter of all ODs. In Region 9 (Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada) and Region 10 (Pacific Northwest and Alaska), meth was responsible for more than a third of all ODs.

Overall, the East has a significantly higher rate of drug overdose deaths. The age-adjusted death rate per 100,000 ranges from a low of 9.1 in the Southeast to a high of 22.5 in New England, while in the West, all regions except Region 7 had death rates of 1.7 or lower.

Clearly, many, many more drug users per capita are dying in the east, and the situation there, especially with fentanyl, requires and deserves serious attention. If some researchers are right, the western US is at risk of developing bigger fentanyl problems too, which could balloon opioid overdoses to even greater levels. Nevertheless, if anything is to be done about drug overdose deaths in the western US, dealing with methamphetamine is a key issue.

Chronicle AM: MLB Drug Testing Accord, US Charges Former Mexican Top Cop for Cartel Bribes, More... (12/12/19)

Major League Baseball and its players' union have reached a drug testing agreement, Wisconsin's GOP Senate leader kills a medical marijuana bill, and more.

Major League Baseball players will no longer be tested for marijuana, but now will be tested for opioids. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Residents Want Marijuana Legalization, Poll Finds. The annual Kansas Speaks survey, conducted by Fort Hayes State University, finds that 63% of respondents either "strongly support" or "somewhat support" legalizing and taxing marijuana for adult use. Only 26% "somewhat oppose" or "strongly oppose" it. The state doesn't even have legal medical marijuana yet.

Medical Marijuana

Wisconsin GOP Senate Leader Snuffs Out GOP Medical Marijuana Bill. Republicans Rep. Mary Felzowski and Sen. Kathy Bernier tried Wednesday to get a medical marijuana bill moving, only to be shot down by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald once again rejected the bill, saying he personally opposed and that he didn't think it would pass the GOP-controlled Senate.

Drug Testing

Major League Baseball, Players Union Agree on Drug Testing Policy. Major League Baseball and the players' union have agreed on a new drug testing policy that will add opioid testing for major leaguers and will not punish either minor or major league players for marijuana use. The move comes five months after the death of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs from an opioid overdose.

International

US Charges Former Mexican Top Cop with Taking Sinaloa Cartel Bribes. The US has charged former Mexican federal police overseer Genaro Garcia Luna with taking millions of dollars in bribes from Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel. He was arrested Monday in Texas after being indicted last week by a federal grand jury in Brooklyn on three counts of cocaine trafficking conspiracy and one count of making false statements for helping the cartel operate "with impunity" in Mexico. Garcia Luna served as Mexico's secretary of public security from 2006 to 2012 and has been living in the United States since 2012. If convicted, he faces a minimum of 10 years in prison and the maximum of a life sentence.

How to Legalize Ecstasy -- and Why [FEATURE]

Every weekend, hundreds of thousands of young club- and concert-goers buy and consume black market pills and powders they hope are MDMA, the methamphetamine relative with a psychedelic tinge known on the streets as Ecstasy or Molly. A tiny percentage of them -- a few dozen each year in the United States or Britain -- die. It doesn't have to be that way.

Ecstasy pills (Erowid.org)
Granted, those numbers are miniscule when compared with the tens of thousands who die each year in the US using opioids, benzos, and stimulants like cocaine and meth, much less from the legal substances alcohol and tobacco. But that relative handful of deaths could almost certainly be eliminated by bringing Ecstasy in from the cold -- making it legal and regulated instead of subjecting its users to black market Russian roulette.

And now somebody has a plan for that. The British Beckley Foundation, which has been advocating for research into psychoactive substance and evidence-based drug policy reform for the past two decades, has just released a new report, Roadmaps to Regulation: MDMA, that takes a good, hard look at the drug and charts a path to a saner, less harmful way of handling Ecstasy than just prohibiting it, which, the report notes, "has never meaningfully disrupted its supply, nor its widespread use."

That's because, despite it being illegal, for many, many people, Ecstasy is fun. And the Beckley report does something rare in the annals of drug policy wonkery: it acknowledges that. "Hundreds of thousands of people break the law to access its effects, which include increased energy, euphoria, and enhanced sociability," the report says.

The authors concede that Ecstasy is not a harmless substance, and take a detailed dive into acute, sub-acute, and chronic harms related to its use. They point to overheating (hyperthermia) and excess water intake (hypnoatraemia) as the cause of most Ecstasy deaths, and they examine the debate over neurotoxicity associated with the drug, very carefully pointing out that "there is evidence to suggest that heavy use of MDMA may contribute to temporary impairments in neuropsychological functions."

But they also point out that most of the problems with Ecstasy are artifacts of prohibition: "Our evidence shows that many harms associated with MDMA use arise from its unregulated status as an illegal drug, and that any risks inherent to MDMA could be more effectively mitigated within a legally regulated market," they write.

The most serious harmful effect of treating Ecstasy use and sales as a criminal matter is that users are forced into an unregulated, no-quality-control black market and they don't know what they're getting. Tablets have been found with as little as 20 milligrams of MDMA and as much as 300 milligrams. And much of what is sold as MDMA is actually adulterated with other substance, including some much more lethal ones, such as PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine) and PMMA (paramethoxymethamphetamine). This is how people die. As the authors note:

"The variability in MDMA potency and purity is a direct result of global and national prohibitionist policies. Recent developments around in situ drug safety testing are an attempt to mitigate the risks of such variability. These risks, such as overdose and/or poisoning, are by no means inevitable or inherent to the drug. If MDMA were clinically produced and legally distributed, users would be assured of the product content and appropriate dosage and be able to make more informed decisions regarding their MDMA use. In this way the principal risks we associate with MDMA use would be greatly reduced."

But the report also addresses a whole litany of other prohibition-related harms around Ecstasy that exacerbate the risks of its use. From making users less likely to seek medical help for fear of prosecution to making venues adopt "zero tolerance" policies that actually increase risks (such as drug dog searches that encourage users to take all their drugs at once before entering the venue) to the rejection of pill testing and other harm reduction measures, prohibition just makes matters worse.

In addition to harms exacerbated by prohibition, there are harms created by prohibition. These include "a lucrative illegal MDMA market that generates wealth for entrenched criminal organizations," the saddling of young users with criminal records, the risk that people who share or sell drugs among their friends could be charged as drug dealers, and the development of black markets for new psychoactive substances (NSPs), many of which are more dangerous than Ecstasy. Also not to be forgotten is the loss of decades of research opportunities into the therapeutic use of MDMA, research that was showing tremendous potential before the drug was prohibited in the mid-1980s.

Prohibition of Ecstasy is not only not working but is making matters worse. So what should we do instead? Beckley is very clear in its conclusions and recommendations. First, these preliminary steps:

  • Reschedule MDMA from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act (the Misuse of Drugs Regulations in Britain) in order to reduce barriers to research and to improve our understanding of its physiological effects.
  • "Decriminalize the possession of MDMA and all drugs to remove the devastating social and economic effects of being criminalized for drug possession or limited social supply."
  • Use decriminalization to comprehensively roll out drug safety testing (pill testing) and other proven harm reduction measures.

Once those preliminary steps are done, it's time to break big:

  • Award licenses to selected pharmaceutical manufacturers to produce MDMA under strict manufacturing requirements.
  • Allow licensed MDMA products to be sold at government licensed MDMA outlets. The report suggests pharmacies in the first instance.
  • For harm reduction purposes, retail outlet staff would need to be specially trained to educate users on the risks associated with MDMA.
  • Users who wish to purchase licensed MDMA products would be required to obtain a "personal license" to do so. Such a license would be granted after an interview with trained sales staff demonstrates that the would-be user understands the risks and how to reduce them.
  • Develop adults-only MDMA-friendly spaces where the risks associated with the drug can be combatted with the full panoply of harm reduction measures.
  • "User controls" to encourage responsible MDMA use. These would include "a strictly enforced age limit, pricing controls, mandated health information on packaging and at point of sale, childproof and tamperproof packaging, a comprehensive ban on marketing and advertising, and a campaign to minimize the social acceptability of driving under the influence of MDMA and to promote alternatives such as designated drivers."
  • "Sales of MDMA would be permitted to adults over 18 years of age. Prohibitive penalties would be in place to restrict underage sales."
  • Education campaigns focusing on MDMA safety and responsible use that would cover sales outlets and schools and universities. Such campaigns would include information about how to recognize and manage adverse events related to MDMA products.
  • Monitor and evaluate the impact of these changes to continue an evidence-based approach and allow feedback into policymaking.

There you have it, a step-by-step plan to break with prohibitionist orthodoxy and create a legal, regulated market for a popular recreational drug. Whether you or I agree with every plank of the plan, it is indeed a roadmap to reform. The evidence is there, a plan is there; now all we need is the political pressure to make it happen somewhere. It could be the United Kingdom, it could be the United States, it could be the Netherlands, but once somebody gets it done, the dam will begin to burst.

Chronicle AM: US Afghan Opium Fiasco, New Zealand LSD Microdosing Trials, More... (12/11/19)

Expungements for past minor pot offenses are beginning in Chicago, clinical trials on LSD microdosing are about to get underway in New Zealand, Kentucky's new Democratic governor moves to restore voting rights for ex-felons, and more.

The opium poppy defeated all American efforts to suppress it in Afghanistan, US officials have conceded. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois' Largest County Begins Marijuana Expungements. Cook County (Chicago) State's Attorney Kim Foxx filed the first motions Wednesday to expunge past low-level marijuana convictions under provisions of the state's marijuana legalization law. The law allows for people convicted of possession of under 30 grams prior to legalization to have their records referred for pardon and expungement, providing they were nonviolent offenses. People convicted of possession of more than 30 grams or who committed a violent offense will have to have their convictions reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Hundreds of thousands could see their convictions cleared.

Vermont Should Legalize Marijuana Sales, Top Health Official Says. Cynthia Seivwright, director of the state Department of Health’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs, said Monday allowing legal marijuana sales in the state would better protect public health than current policy does. The state has legalized possession and cultivation, but not sales. "Without the regulation, we don’t know what’s in it," Seivwright said. "We can’t control the potency of it. We can’t control the access, and we definitely don’t want children and adolescents to have access to it….We at the Health Department support a regulated system."

Psychedelics

New Zealand to Host First Clinical Trial on LSD Microdosing. Researchers at the University of Auckland have received final approval for clinical trials on the effects of microdosing. The researchers aim to discover whether microdosing can have positive effects on mood, creativity, and awareness. "Users report improvements in mood, wellbeing, improved attention and cognition, so those are the things we will be measuring… We’ll be giving microdoses on very tightly controlled prescriptions to take at home — it’ll be a more realistic assessment of what microdosing actually does," said lead researcher Suresh Muthukumaraswamy

Foreign Policy

Documents Show US Officials Said Almost Everything They Did to Fight Opium in Afghanistan Backfired. In a cache of confidential government interviews and other documents obtained by the Washington Post, dozens of American military and political officials admitted that their efforts to dismantle the Afghan opium economy did not work, and in many cases made things worse. The Post reported that "of all the failures in Afghanistan, the war on drugs has been perhaps the most feckless."

Sentencing Policy

Kentucky Governor to Restore Voting Rights to 100,000 Ex-Felons. Gov. Andy Beshear (D) vowed during his inaugural address Tuesday to restore voting rights to Kentuckians with felony convictions. That could mean as many as 100,000 new voters for the Bluegrass State. Kentucky is one of only two states that have lifetime bans on voting for ex-felons (the other is Iowa). Beshear is finishing work started by his father, Steve, who while governor back in 2015 issued an executive order to restore voting rights to 100,000 convicted felons. But that order was suspended by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin days after taking office in 2016.

Chronicle AM: House Resolution Condemns Racist Drug War, Prison Racial Disparities Shrink, More.... (12/10/19)

Michigan legal pot sales are off to a hot start, a House resolution demands Congress apologize for racist drug war, a new report finds declining racial disparities in incarceration, and more. 

The Wolverine state is embracing legal marijuana if early sales figures are any indication. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Major League Baseball on Verge on Okaying Marijuana Use. The league has already abandoned testing for marijuana for the major leagues, but now it and the players' union have reportedly agreed to remove it from the list of banned substances for minor leaguers as well as part of a wider deal involving opioid use in baseball. Until now, minor league players had been subject to a 25-game suspension for the first positive pot test, 50 games for the second, 100 games for the third, and a lifetime ban for a fourth offense. This isn't a done deal yet, but both sides said they hoped it would be by year's end.

Michigan Legal Marijuana Sales Off to Roaring Start. After only eight days of legal marijuana sales, Michiganders have bought more than $1.6 million worth of weed. And that's in only five retail shops already open in the state. Three of those shops either sold out their inventory or had only limited supplies of marijuana products. That $1.6 million in sales brought in more than $270,000 for the state in the form of marijuana excise and sales taxes. The state House Fiscal Agency estimates that once the legal marijuana market is fully established, sales will approach $950 million annually, with the state taking in $152 million in pot taxes each year.

Drug Policy

Lawmakers File Resolution Demanding Congress Apologize for Racist War on Drugs. House members led by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) introduced a House resolution on Friday calling on Congress to admit that the war on drugs has been a racially biased failure, provide justice to those negatively impacted by it and apologize to communities most impacted under prohibition. The resolution says "the House of Representatives should immediately halt any and all actions that would allow the War on Drugs to continue." It has 20 sponsors, including Karen Bass (D-CA), who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus.

Sentencing Policy

Racial Disparities in Incarceration Narrow, But Black People Still More Likely to Be Imprisoned, Study Finds. A new report from the Council on Criminal Justice finds that racial disparities in incarceration rates shrank between 2000 and 2016, but that blacks were still five times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. The black-white imprisonment ratio dropped from 8.3-to-1 in 2000 to 5.1-to-1 in 2016. On a less positive note, black defendants are getting longer state prison sentences even as the number of arrests or incarcerations among black people steadily decreases.

Chronicle AM: OR Drug Decriminalization Initiative, ND Marijuana Legalization Initiative, More... (12/6/19)

A second North Dakota pot legalization initiative has submitted language to state officials, the Beckley Foundation publishes a report on getting to legal Ecstasy, and more.

Britain's Beckley Foundation has published a report that is a roadmap to legal, regulated Ecstasy markets. (Erowid.org)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Submits Language. A group that wants to legalize marijuana has submitted its initiative language to state election officials for their approval. Legalize ND's initiative would legalize the possession of up to two ounces by people 21 and over, allow localities to opt out of allowing marijuana sales, and ban personal cultivation. It would also impose a 10% excise tax on marijuana sales. State officials now have seven days to review the initiative and decide whether to approve it for circulation. Once that happens, the group would have to come up with 13,452 valid voter signatures by July 6, 2020, to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

Ecstasy

Beckley Foundation Issues Report on Creating a Legal, Regulated Market for MDMA. The Britain-based Beckley Foundation has published an innovative report, Roadmaps to Regulation: MDMA, that maps out how a strictly regulated market for MDMA products could work. The report covers the risks and harms associated with MDMA use as well as setting out the benefits of alternative, non-prohibitionist policies for the future.

Drug Decriminalization

Oregon Drug Decriminalization Initiative Begins Signature Gathering.Signature gathering has begun for an initiative that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. The 2020 Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act (Initiative Petition #44) needs 112,020 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. Proponents said they would see how signature gathering goes for the next month before deciding whether to press forward.

Chronicle AM: Yang on Safe Injection Sites, Bloomberg on Marijuana, More... (12/5/19)

Michigan pot shops see high demand on opening day, Democratic contenders stake out drug policy positions, Maine finally has all pot business applications ready, and more.

Andrew Yang wants to decriminalize opiates and fund safe injection sites like this one in Vancouver. (vch.ca)

Marijuana Policy

Michael Bloomberg Backs Decriminalization as Marijuana Views Evolve Amid Presidential Run. Faced with criticism over his past positions on marijuana, former New York City mayor and Democratic presidential contender Michael Bloomberg has now come out in support of decriminalization, which still leaves him lagging behind most of the Democratic pack. "He believes no one should have their life ruined by getting arrested for possession, and, as a part of his reform efforts that drove incarceration down by 40 percent, he worked to get New York State laws changed to end low-level possession arrests," a spokesman said. "He believes in decriminalization and doesn’t believe the federal government should interfere with states that have already legalized."

Maine Says All Marijuana Licenses are Now Available. More than three years after voters legalized marijuana, the state has finally made available all applications for marijuana cultivation, products manufacturing and retail facilities. That means the state could see pot shops open by the spring.

Michigan Pot Shops Forced to Impose Purchase Limits as Demand Overwhelms. High customer volume is forcing marijuana retailers to limit purchases so there will be enough weed to go around. The four shops that opened Sunday saw combined sales of $221,000 that first day. Each of the four shops has had to turn customers away, too. Some customers waited as long as four hours to get inside.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Senator Introduces Bill Providing Broad Employment Protections to Medical Marijuana Users. A bill recently introduced by state Sen. Lori Berman (D) Would provide various protections to job applicants and employees who use medical marijuana. The measure is Senate Bill 962.

Harm Reduction

Andrew Yang Calls for Investments in Safe Injection Sites. Entrepreneur and Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang says he supports government funding for safe injections sites as part of an effort to counter the country's overdose epidemic. "I would not only decriminalize opiates for personal use but I would also invest in safe consumption sites around the country," Yang said Thursday.

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

Chronicle AM: NH Senate Panels Kill Legal Pot, MMJ Expansion Bills; Fed Agency Eases Hiring Rules, More... (12/4/19)

The US Virgin Islands could be moving toward marijuana legalization, but New Hampshire isn't--at least for now. 

The New Hampshire Senate is not ready to go further with legal pot or expanding medical marijuana. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Senate Committee Votes to Kill Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Democratically-led Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to effectively kill a House-approved bill, HB 481, that would have legalized marijuana. The committee recommended that the full Senate send the bill to interim study, a polite way of killing it. If the Senate approves the recommendation next year, legalization backers would have to start over in 2021.

US Virgin Islands Ponders Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Albert Bryan is considering legalizing marijuana as a means of propping up the government employees' pension system with an estimated $20 a year in annual pot tax revenues. He is moving to add recreational legalization to a medical marijuana bill that is already being considered by lawmakers. Marijuana taxes would be set at a whopping 30%, expungement would be included, and so would language recognizing Rastararians' sacramental use.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Senate Committee Votes to Kill Medical Marijuana Expansion. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 3-1 to recommend killing SB 175, which would dramatically expand the number of patients who could receive medical marijuana. Currently, only people with a handful of qualifying conditions are eligible for medical marijuana.

Employment

Federal Agency Issues Policy to Improve Hiring Conditions for People With Drug Convictions. The National Credit Union Administration has adopted a new policy that makes it easier for people with past drug convictions and other simple crimes to be employed by credit unions. Under the old policy, anyone with a past criminal offense was barred "from participating in the affairs of an insured credit union," but now, exemptions have been carved out for a number of minor offenses including simple drug possession. "Offering second chances to those who are truly penitent is consistent with our nation's shared values of forgiveness and redemption," the NCUA said. 

Chronicle AM: New Zealand Marijuana Legalization Referendum Coming, SD Hemp Fight, More... (12/3/19)

South Dakota lawmakers are moving toward trying again to legalize industrial hemp, New Zealand provides information on a coming marijuana legalization referendum, and more.

Hemp

South Dakota Lawmakers Vote to Try Again on Hemp Legalization. Legislators voted 10-1 Monday to try again next year to legalize industrial hemp. This year, the legislature passed a hemp bill, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who warned it would open the way to marijuana legalization. Lawmakers in the Senate fell four votes short of overriding her veto. 

International

Brazil Approves Medical Marijuana Rules. The country's pharmaceutical regulator, Anvisa, on Tuesday approved regulations for medical marijuana-based products but blocked a proposal to allow it to be grown in-country. Brazilian companies that seek to manufacture marijuana-based products will have to import their inputs from abroad. The new rules will be published in the official gazette shortly and will go into effect 90 days after that.

New Zealand Releases Information on Looming Marijuana Legalization Referendum. A government website with information on a pending voter referendum to legalize marijuana has gone live. The government has promised a public vote on the Cannabis Legalization and Control Bill it drafted (the final draft will come early next year). Voters will be asked a straight Yes/No question: Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalization and Control Bill? A firm election date hasn't been set yet, but it must happen by November 21, 2020 at the latest.

Chronicle AM: CA Magic Mushroom Initiative Seeks Signatures, MI Legal Pot Sales Begin, More... (12/2/19)

Michigan's era of legal marijuana sales begins, a California magic mushroom decriminalization initiative is cleared for signature gathering, and more.

Will magic mushrooms be on the California state ballot next year? Stay tuned. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan's First Day of Legal Pot Sales Sees Lines of Customers Hundreds of People Long. The era of legal recreational marijuana sales took off with a boom Sunday as would-be customers formed lines hundreds of people long to purchase their newly legal weed. Some shops limited sales amounts in a bid to save some for later customers and in Ann Arbor lines remained long outside shops all day.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Wisconsin Bill Package Seeks to Address Opioid Epidemic. Legislators have filed or will file seven different bills as part of the state's ongoing Heroin, Opioid Prevention (HOPE) Agenda, which has already seen 30 bills passed during the past five years. One bill would start Medicaid coverage of acupuncture, which would require federal approval. Another one would require the Medical Examining Board to issue guidelines for treating neonatal abstinence syndrome. A third bill would continue a law giving immunity from some drug crimes to people who seek help for others suffering overdoses, and to the people receiving help if they complete a drug treatment program. Another bill would create a registry of approved recovery residences, while yet another would extend provisions of the state's prescription drug monitoring program.

Psychedelics

California Psilocybin Mushroom Initiative Cleared for Signature Gathering. An initiative that would decriminalize the possession, use, and gifting of magic mushrooms and the chemical compounds—psilocybin and psilocin—has been cleared for signature gathering. Decriminalize California, the group behind the initiative, has until April 21 to come up with 623,212 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

International

British Drug Treatment Providers Call for Radical Drug Policy Reforms. Major drug treatment providers are calling on the next government to be "brave and radical" in changing drug laws they describe as "not fit for the modern world." Britain's largest treatment provider, Change Grow Live, called for an independent commission to revamp "incredibly outdated" drug laws Change Grow Live was joined by Addaction, Turning Point and Humankind. The four are responsible for the vast majority of drug treatment support in the United Kingdom. They urge the next government to take whatever policy prescriptions the commission would produce, up to an including drug decriminalization.

Chronicle AM: NJ Governor Now Calls for Pot Decrim, MA Bans Flavored Vaping Products, More... (11/27/19)

Mexico responds to President Trump's move to designate cartels as terrorist organizations, Massachusetts becomes the first state to ban flavored vaping products, and more. 

No flavored vapes for Massachusetts residents. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Governor Calls for Decriminalization as Interim Measure. With little chance of marijuana legalization until a proposed November 2020 voter referendum, Gov. Phil Murphy (D), a legalization proponent, has now announced he supports decriminalization as a short-term solution. In a Tuesday statement, Murphy said decriminalization "cannot be our long-term solution" but would provide "critical short-term relief" until voters weigh in next November. "Maintaining a status quo sees roughly 600 individuals, disproportionately people of color, arrested in New Jersey every week for low-level drug offenses is wholly unacceptable," Murphy said.

Foreign Policy

Trump Says He Will Designate Mexican Drug Cartels as Terrorists. President Donald Trump said Tuesday he will designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations. "They will be designated ... I have been working on that for the last 90 days. You know, designation is not that easy, you have to go through a process, and we are well into that process," Trump said. The move comes after nine US citizens were killed by suspected cartel members in northern Mexico earlier this month. Earlier, Trump offered in a tweet to help Mexico "wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth" in the aftermath of that attack.

Vaping

Massachusetts Bans Flavored Tobacco, Vaping Products. The state has become the first to ban the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products, including menthol cigarettes after Gov. Charlie Baker (R) signed the ban into law. Flavored vaping products are banned immediately, while the ban on menthol smokes goes into effect on June 1.

International

Mexico Rejects US Interventionism in Wake of Trump Designating Cartels Terrorists. Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Wednesday rejected US "interventionism" after US President Donald Trump said he was working on designating Mexican drug trafficking organizations as terrorists. Lopez Obrador said he was sending his foreign minister to Washington to lead talks after the Thanksgiving holiday. "Cooperation, yes, intervention, no," Lopez Obrador said in a morning news conference when asked about Trump’s comments.

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