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Chronicle AM: AK Okays Pot Social Consumption, Trump Slashes Drug Czar Budget, More... (3/13/19)

Alaska gives final approval for on-site consumption at pot shops, San Francisco approves pot smoking at events where people like to smoke pot, President Trump ponders designating Mexican cartels as terrorists, South Dakota legislators come up short in a bid to override the veto of a hemp bill, and more.

The drug czar's office is on the budgetary cutting block again.
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Social Consumption Gets Final Approval. Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer (R) Tuesday signed off on new regulations allowing on-site marijuana use in retail pot shops, the final step in approving social consumption in the state. This makes Alaska the first state to approve such use statewide. Consumers can’t bring their own but will have to purchase the pot on-site and consumption areas will have to be ventilated and separated from other parts of the store. The first on-site consumption should come by mid-July, state officials said.

New York Black Lawmakers Won’t Vote for Legalization Without Racial Equity. Black lawmakers are demanding that racial equity provisions be written into any legalization bill or they won’t vote for it. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) mentioned racial injustice in pot law enforcement in calling for legalization, but lawmakers representing minority communities say his proposal doesn’t go far enough in addressing how racial inequities would be repaired.

San Francisco to Allow Pot Smoking at Events Where People Like to Smoke Pot. Seems like common sense. The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to create a special permit to allow people to sell and smoke marijuana at public events that have traditionally seen a lot of pot smoking, such as the 4/20 celebration on Hippie Hill and the Outside Lands music festival, both in Golden Gate Park. The ordinance gives the Office of Cannabis the authority to grant temporary waivers to the city’s tough no-smoking laws.

Hemp

South Dakota Lawmakers Fall Short on Bid to Override Hemp Bill Veto. After Gov. Kristi Noem (R) vetoed a bill to legalize industrial hemp production over the weekend, lawmakers sought to override the veto. In votes Tuesday, the House supported the override on a 55-11 vote, but the Senate came up short, voting 20-13 to override when it needed 24 votes to be successful.

Drug Policy

Trump’s Drug Budget Again Slashes Funding for Drug Czar’s Office. For the second year in a row, the White House’s proposed drug budget for Fiscal Year 2020 virtually zeroes out funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar’s office). Congress restored the funding for ONDCP last year, allotting it slightly more than $120 million, about the same as the previous year. But this year’s proposed budget allocates only $14.9 million.

Foreign Policy

Trump Thinking “Very Seriously” About Designating Mexican Drug Cartels as Terrorists. In an interview published Tuesday in Breitbart News, President Trump is thinking “very seriously” about designating Mexican drug cartels as terrorists. "We are. We are," Trump said. "We're thinking about doing it very seriously. In fact, we've been thinking about it for a long time. . . . As terrorists - as terrorist organizations, the answer is yes. They are."

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Senate Approves Good Samaritan Expansion Bill. The Senate on Tuesday approved a bill, SB 106, that would clarify the state’s 2013 Good Samaritan law to specify that the people who actually suffer drug overdoses have the same legal immunity from criminal charges as the people who call for help. The bill now heads to the House.

Chronicle AM: NJ Legal Pot Deal Reached, Key UN Body Calls for Global Drug Decrim, More... (3/12/19)

Marijuana and medical marijuana bills are seeing action in the states, South Dakota's governor vetoes an industrial hemp bill, a key UN organization calls for global drug decriminalization, and more.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) says he has reached an agreement with key legislators to legalize weed by month's end. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill to Allow Social Consumption Filed. State Rep. Jonathan Singer (D) and cosponsors filed House Bill 1230 last Friday. The bill would pave the way for legal marijuana “tasting rooms” beginning in January. The bill would also allow hotels, spas, and other businesses to apply for cannabis licenses. A similar bill was vetoed by Gov. John Hickenlooper last year, but now the governor is the more marijuana-friendly Jared Polis.

Minnesota Senate Committee Kills Legalization Bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday killed a bill that would have legalized marijuana on a 6-3 vote along party lines. SF 619 would have allowed adults to use, possess, grow, and buy marijuana from licensed retailers.

New Jersey Governor, Key Lawmakers Announce Agreement on Legalization Bill. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and legislative leaders announced Tuesday that they had reached agreement on a bill to legalize marijuana. They also announced that they planned to pass the bill on March 25. "I believe that this legislation will establish an industry that brings fairness and economic opportunity to all of our communities while promoting public safety by ensuring a safe product and allowing law enforcement to focus their resources on serious crimes," the governor said.

New York Legalization Bid Hits Bump. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Monday that it is now unlikely that marijuana legalization will be included in the state budget, which is due this month, suggesting that there are roadblocks remaining on the path to legalization. "I’m no longer confident marijuana will be done in the budget," Cuomo told reporters at the Capitol, adding that legislative leaders are still far apart on a path forward. "I’ve had discussions with them on it. There is a wide divide on marijuana. I believe ultimately we can get there, and we must get there," he said. "I don’t believe we get there in two weeks. And also that’s what the legislative leaders have said."

Washington Senate Approves Expungement Bill. The Senate on Monday approved SB 5605, which would expunge some 69,000 past convictions for misdemeanor marijuana possession in the state. A companion measure is moving in the House.

Medical Marijuana

Earl Blumenauer Reintroduces Veterans Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is back once again with a bill that would allow doctors at the Veterans Administration to recommend medical marijuana to veterans. HB 1647 is similar to bills that Blumenauer has sponsored for the past several years but were blocked by intransigent House Republican leaders. This year, though, the Democrats control the House.

Michigan Adds Cerebral Palsy to List of Qualifying Conditions. The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs announced Monday that it had added cerebral palsy to the list of qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana. It rejected adding chronic aggressive behavior after panel members unanimously recommended denial.

New Mexico Medical Marijuana Access Expansion Bill Passes Senate. The Senate on Monday approved SB 406, which would allow for onsite consumption of medical marijuana at dispensaries, allow people living on Indian land to grow their own, and create civil protections for patients for schooling, child custody, and medical care. A similar bill was vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez (R) last year, but she’s gone now.

Hemp

South Dakota Governor Vetoes Hemp Bill. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) on Monday vetoed HB 1191, which would have legalized industrial hemp production in the state. In her veto message, she said it could be a first step toward legalizing marijuana and that it could make law enforcement’s job more difficult. The bill passed the House overwhelmingly but passed the Senate by a margin just short of veto-proof. It’s not clear yet whether the legislature will attempt an override.

International

Key UN Organization Calls for Global Drug Decriminalization. The UN Chief Executives Board (CEB), representing 31 UN agencies including the Office on Drugs and Crime, had adopted a position calling on member states to adopt science-based, health-oriented approaches to drug policy—namely decriminalization. The policy shift came in January, but was not publicly announced.

Israel’s Netanyahu Says He’s Open to Marijuana Legalization. Faced with a party that advocates marijuana legalization gaining momentum in the weeks before national elections, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he was looking into legalizing it himself. Younger voters have been drifting toward support for the Zehut Party before the April 9 elections.

UN Reports Methamphetamine Production Skyrocketing in Southeast Asia. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported Monday that methamphetamine production in Southeast Asia is booming, with prices dropping and usage expanding even as seizures hit record highs. "Data on seizures, prices, use, and treatment all point to continuing expansion of the methamphetamine market in East and Southeast Asia," said Tun Nay Soe, the agency's inter-regional program coordinator. "The shift to methamphetamine has affected even countries traditionally known to have a relatively large market for heroin, such as China and Malaysia,” he added. “In Malaysia, the number of methamphetamine users detected by law enforcement authorities surpassed that of heroin users for the first time in 2017." 

Chronicle AM: AZ Pot Poll, SD Hemp Passes, IA Needle Exchange Bill Advances, More... (3/7/19)

An Arizona poll has its first majority for marijuana legalization, the South Dakota legislature passes a hemp bill, an Iowa bill to allow needle exchanges is moving, and more.

There could be hemp fields in South Dakota next year if the governor stays out of the way. (votehemp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has First Time Majority for Legalization. A new OH Predictive Insights poll has support for marijuana legalization in the state at 52%, the first time the poll has registered a majority for freeing the weed. In two 2016 OH Predictive Insights polls, only 43% supported legalization.

Maryland Legalization Bills Get Hearing. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on two marijuana bills Wednesday. HB 656, sponsored by Del. Eric Luedtke (D), would allow adults 21 and older to grow, possess, and purchase marijuana. Legal possession would be limited to one ounce of buds and five grams of concentrate, and individuals could grow up to four plants at a time. HB 632, sponsored by Del. David Moon (D), would amend the state constitution to legalize marijuana for adult use -- which would require voters to approve the measure via a ballot question. No votes were taken, and supporters said they were aiming at 2020, but laying the groundwork now.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to approve HB 136, which would legalize the use of medical marijuana in the state, but not in its smokable form.

Hemp

South Dakota Hemp Bill Passes But Faces Possible Veto. The state Senate voted Wednesday to approve HB 1191, which would legalize industrial hemp farming, on a vote of 21-14. The bill has already passed the House but will have to go back there to approve changes made in the Senate. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) doesn't like it, but legislators are hopeful enough of her concerns were addressed that she won't veto it. If she does, hemp will have to pick up three more yes votes in the Senate; it passed the House overwhelmingly.

Harm Reduction

Iowa Needle Exchange Bill Advances. A bill that would add the state to the list of 40 others that allow the harm reduction measure advanced just ahead of a critical deadline Wednesday, meaning it stays alive for the rest of the session. SF 500 would authorize a pilot program in five cities for five years.

Chronicle AM: Hemp Moving in Red States, NJ to Expand Needle Exchange Programs, More... (2/13/19)

Hemp is hopping in the heartland, the effort to undo Florida's ban on smokable medical marijuana advances, New York City ponders barring pre-employment drug tests for marijuana, and more.

It's starting to feel like it'll be hemp fields from sea to shining sea. (VoteHemp.org)
Marijuana Policy

New York City Bill Would Ban Pre-Employment Marijuana Drug Testing. Councilman Jumaane Williams filed a bill Wednesday that would bar employers from testing job applicants for marijuana as a condition of employment. The bill is part of a broader package of marijuana reform legislation before the city council. "As we’re jettisoning toward legalization, it doesn't make sense that this would be something that would prevent someone from getting gainful employment," Williams said. "If you ingest weed in whatever manner a month ago, I'm not sure how that prevents you from doing your job now," he added.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Legislature Advances Plan to Allow Smokable Medical Marijuana. Committees in both the House and the Senate approved bills that would allow patients to smoke their marijuana, although the House plan would limit it to pre-rolled joints with filters. A less restrictive Senate bill to allow smoking, SB 182, passed out of the Innovation, Industry, and Technology Committee Tuesday. Movement on the bills suggests lawmakers could pass the legislation before a March 15 deadline set by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

Kentucky Senate Sees Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. Stephen West (R-Paris) has filed SB 170 to legalize medical marijuana in the state. Companion legislation, HB 136, was introduced last month.

Hemp

Mississippi Hemp Bill Advances. An effort to legalize industrial hemp cultivation in the state got a big boost Tuesday when Rep. Dana Criswell (R-Olive Branch successfully offered an amendment to bill modifying the state's drug schedules, HB 1547, to include allowing hemp cultivation. The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

Nebraska Moving to Legalize Hemp Production. Lawmakers and state agency officials are working together to craft an industrial hemp bill. A hearing was held Tuesday on LB 657, which solons and farmers touted as a means of helping diversifying crops. The Agriculture Department testified that it supported legalizing hemp production but was concerned about proper regulations.

Harm Reduction

New Jersey to Expand Needle Exchange Programs. State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said this week that the state will enhance services at seven existing needle exchange programs and open new ones in the months to come. The plan is part of a broader effort to address opioid addiction and its side effects. 

Chronicle AM: FL MedMJ Moves, CA Safe Injection Site Bill Filed, More... (2/5/19)

Florida courts and the legislature are both dealing with the legislature's previous efforts to mess with the voter-approved medical marijuana amendment, a pot legalization bill gets a hearing in New Hampshire, a Virginia trooper and a drug suspect are killed in the drug war, and more.

There's a battle over smokable medical marijuana in Florida. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Guam's Governor Supports Marijuana Legalization Bill. Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has come out in support of a marijuana legalization measure, Bill 32-35, the Guam Cannabis Industry Act of 2019. Her move came after meeting with bill author Sen. Clynt Ridgell last Friday, but her support is not surprising; she’s been in favor of legalization for some time. The bill would allow adults to possess and grow their own marijuana, as well as create a system of legal marijuana commerce.

New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. A bill to legalize marijuana, HB 481, got a public hearing Tuesday. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton), is opposed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Bill to End Ban on Smoking Gets Twisted. A bill from Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) that would end the ban on smoking medical marijuana, SB 182, was so altered in the Senate Health Policy Committee Monday that Brandes now says it would be worse for patients that doing nothing at all. At the behest of Chairwoman Gayle Harrell (R-Port St. Lucie), the committee voted to require that patients seeking to use smokable marijuana get a second opinion from a physician and to mandate that doctors would only be able to order smokable marijuana if it were the only route of administration that would benefit the patient. Brandes says the bill “will have to be significantly amended” before he would send it to the Senate floor for a full vote.

Florida Judge Again Strikes Down Cap on Dispensaries. For the second time in a month, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers has struck down a state law capping the number of dispensaries a medical marijuana business can operate. The limit on the number of storefronts was not contained in the state’s successful medical marijuana amendment but imposed by the legislature in 2017. In her opinion, Gievers harshly criticized the legislature and state health officials for failing to comply with the amendment. "The evidence clearly and conclusively establishes beyond any doubt that conveniently located medical marijuana dispensaries (as opposed to vehicle delivery, the only allowed alternative means of dispensing) promote authorized users’ improved access to medical marijuana products and related information and services, at lower cost, and promote public safety (the stated goals for regulation in the amendment)," Gievers wrote in Friday’s ruling.

Hemp

Mississippi Lawmakers Reject Move to Let Farmers Grow Hemp. The House Drug Policy Committee on Monday rejected on a tie vote an amendment that would have changed state law to allow farmers to grow hemp in the state. Congress last year approved the production of hemp in pilot programs.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Gets Hearing. The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony Monday on HB 1286, which seeks to end civil asset forfeiture in the state. Law enforcement officials testified against ending civil forfeiture but appeared open to transparency and reporting requirements in the bill.

Harm Reduction

California Legislature to Consider Allowing Pilot Overdose Prevention ProjectsState Assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman (D-Stockton) and State Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) on Monday filed a bill to allow the City of San Francisco to pilot and evaluate an “overdose prevention site” program. These sites would allow drug users could consume illegal drugs, including heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine, under the supervision of staff trained to prevent and treat drug overdose and to help steer people who use drugs into drug treatment, housing, and other medical and social services. The bill is AB 362.

Law Enforcement

Virginia Trooper, Suspect Killed in Drug Raid. State Trooper Lucas Powell was shot and killed Monday night as he participated in a drug raid by the Piedmont Regional Gang and Drug Task Force in Cumberland County. The person whose home was being raided and who killed Powell, Corey Johnson, was then shot and killed by police.

International

Mexico to Try New Tactics in Search for Those Missing in Drug War. Mexican officials said Monday they have a new plan to search for the more than 40,000 people who have gone missing amidst the country’s drug wars. The government will create a new forensic institute and work more closely with families and international groups, interior ministry undersecretary for human rights Alejandro Encinas said at a press conference. In addition to the 40,000 missing, there are some 26,000 unidentified bodies in the forensic system, he said.

The 6 Worst Governors When it Comes to Marijuana Policy [FEATURE]

It's a fundamental of our political system that governors play a critical role in shaping policy at the state level—and even beyond. Governors can use their position as a bully pulpit to advance their agenda, they can use their budget proposals or empower commissions to shape legislation, and they have the power to kill legislation they don't like with their veto pens.

And because Congress has so far refused to act to end federal marijuana prohibition, the role of state governors in marijuana policy is even more important. While they can't simply wave a magic wand to enact their desires, gubernatorial support or opposition can make or break a marijuana reform bill.

With public opinion having shifted dramatically in favor of marijuana legalization—an October Gallup poll had support nationwide at 66 percent, including even a majority of Republicans—and several years worth of legalization to look at in pioneering states such as Colorado and Washington, more and more governors are getting on the legalization bandwagon.

Last week, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) released its 2019 US Governors Scorecard. It gave each governor a letter grade from A to F based on a combination of legislative history, policy positions taken, and public comments on the issue. NORML was pretty happy with what it found.

“There exists unprecedented political support among U.S. governors for marijuana policy reform,” the group noted, pointing to A grades going to nine governors, all of them Democrats. That's up dramatically from the two A grades handed out just last year. Similarly, seven governors, six of them Democrats, saw their grades improve over last year.

Several newly elected Democratic governors, such as Ned Lamont of Connecticut, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, and Tim Walz of Minnesota actively campaigned on a pledge to legalize marijuana, while re-elected New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also broken dramatically toward legalization. It's a winning issue for Democrats.

But support for legalization is “more partisan than ever before,” NORML points out. “While almost half of all Democratic governors are now on record in support of adult use regulation, no Republican governors publicly advocate for this policy.”

NORML graded 46 governors, saying it had insufficient data to grade the other four. Of the 23 Republican governors only five (22 percent) received a passing grade of C or higher, while among the 23 Democratic governors all but one (96 percent) got at least a C. Of the nine governors getting an A, all were Democrats. Of the four governors getting an F, all were Republicans.

Here are the governors graded the worst by NORML. The list contains the four governors graded F as well as the two governors graded D-. They are all Republicans.

1. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey: D-. Ducey opposed a 2016 marijuana legalization initiative, saying “I don't know how we make ourselves a stronger state or a better place through this initiative. Almost everything outside of our economy and education that I have to deal with in this state has a common culprit of drug abuse and addiction.” After the measure was narrowly defeated, he said. “Fortunately, Arizona is a place where common sense can still work. We fought very hard and we won this round.”

2. Idaho Gov. Brad Little: F. Little just took office this month, but is on record opposing marijuana legalization and supports only the most limited of pilot programs permitting the use of CBD, but not its broader legalization. He has also expressed concern that allowing hemp cultivation—which is now legal under federal law—would serve as “camouflage for the marijuana trade.”

3. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant: D-. While he allowed an extremely limited CBD bill to become law, that law provides no in-state supply for those products, and he remains vocally opposed to marijuana legalization: "We're not going to consider it in Mississippi as long as I'm governor," he said. At least he's term-limited out in 2020.

4. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts: F. A firm foe of marijuana legalization, Ricketts has complained bitterly about neighboring Colorado's legal marijuana regime, saying it imposed a burden on western Nebraska law enforcement (which is presumably forced to sit on the side of highways coming out of Colorado and pull over people looking for pot). Ricketts also opposes medical marijuana absent any firm study by the Food and Drug Administration. He and his fellow Cornhuskers have apparently forgotten that the state was once a leader in progressive pot policy, having decriminalized it during that first wave in the 1970s.

5. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine: F. DeWine just took office this month, but as state attorney general he declined to comment on whether the Justice Department should go after medical marijuana users and providers in the state. When running for governor, he opposed a statewide initiative that would have diverted many low-level drug users from prison and came out firmly “against the legalization of recreational marijuana,” even falsely claiming that its legalization in other states had led to increased use among youth.

6. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem: F. Noem hasn't been in office long enough to do any damage, but she thinks marijuana is “a gateway drug” and vowed that “As governor, I will oppose all attempts to legalize marijuana.” She has the distinction of governing over the only state in the country that makes it a crime to have used marijuana.  

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

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

Hemp

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Industrial Hemp

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

Drug Testing

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Marijuana Legalization Advances in the States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Industrial Hemp Becomes Federally Legal

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

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

8. Here Come the 'Shrooms

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

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

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

Here Comes Hemp: Congress Votes to Unchain a Billion-Dollar Industry [FEATURE]

The Senate on Tuesday and the House on Wednesday gave final approval to the massive 2018 Farm Bill, including a provision that will end an eight-decade ban on industrial hemp, that non-psychoactive but extremely useful member of the cannabis family. President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.

The sun rises on a new chapter for hemp in America (votehemp.org)
Even though you could smoke a hemp joint the size of a telephone pole and get nothing more than a cough and a headache, for decades the DEA has refused to recognize any distinction between hemp and marijuana that gets you high. That meant that American farmers could not legally produce hemp for a hemp products industry worth $820 million last year and expected to break the billion-dollar mark this year.

That's right: Thanks to a federal court case brought against the DEA more than a decade ago, farmers in countries where hemp is legal can export it to the US, and companies in the U.S. can turn that hemp into a variety of products ranging from foods to clothing to auto body parts to building materials and beyond, but US farmers can't grow it. That's about to change.

"For too long, the outrageous and outdated ban on growing hemp has hamstrung farmers in Oregon and across the country," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). "Hemp products are made in America, sold in America, and consumed in America. Now, hemp will be able to be legally grown in America, to the economic benefit of consumers and farmers in Oregon and nationwide."

Wyden and fellow Oregonian Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) teamed up with Kentucky Republican Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell to sponsor the bill and guide it through Congress. McConnell's role as Senate Majority Leader certainly didn't hurt the bill's prospects.

As well as guiding the bill forward, McConnell took to the Senate floor on various occasions to support it. In his statement on the passage of the farm bill, he touted "the new opportunities available with the full legalization of industrial hemp."

"Finally we are recognizing industrial hemp for the agricultural product it is," Merkley said. "This is a cash crop that hasn't been allowed to meet its full economic potential because of outdated restrictions. When I visited a hemp farm mid-harvest, I saw firsthand the enormous potential of this diverse crop under the limited 2014 farm bill. This full legalization provides economic opportunity for farmers across rural Oregon and rural America -- good for jobs, good for our communities, and just good common sense."

The bill defines hemp as cannabis with 0.3 percent THC or less by dry weight and removes it from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Regulatory authority over hemp moves from the DEA to the Agriculture Department. The definition of hemp in the bill includes all parts of the plant and specifically lists cannabinoids, including CBD, that are removed from control of the CSA. The bill also includes funding and authorization for research and authorizes crop insurance for hemp farmers.

The inclusion of CBD has the potential of greatly expanding the size of the legal hemp industry. Hemp-based CBD wellness products -- a category that didn't exist five years ago -- already account for nearly a quarter of the domestic hemp market, and the Hemp Business Journal predicts they will account for nearly $650 million worth of sales by 2022, becoming the single largest sector of the hemp market.

It's been more than 40 years since Jack Herer ignited the marijuana movement's interest in hemp with The Emperor Wears No Clothes: Hemp and the Marijuana Conspiracy. Herer is long gone -- he died at age 70 in 2010 -- but the movement he launched has now reached the promised land. The single most ridiculously unjustifiable aspect of federal marijuana prohibition has been killed; now it's time to finish the job by ending federal marijuana prohibition.

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