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Trump Again Calls for Death Penalty for Drug Dealers, Peru Coca Crop Up, More... (9/19/22)

California's governor signs another batch of marijuana bills, a Pennsylvania doctor and medical marijuana patient sues over the ban on medical marijuana patients buying handguns, and more.

Peyote buttons. The Native American Church is asking Congress for help to preserve the psychoactive cactus. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Signs Another Batch of Marijuana Bills. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Sunday signed into law 10 marijuana bills, including a bill to allow interstate marijuana commerce, a bill to provide employment protections for marijuana users, a bill to make it easier to seal records of prior marijuana convictions, and a bill barring localities from banning medical marijuana deliveries. For too many Californians, the promise of cannabis legalization remains out of reach," Newsom said. "These measures build on the important strides our state has made toward this goal, but much work remains to build an equitable, safe and sustainable legal cannabis industry. I look forward to partnering with the legislature and policymakers to fully realize cannabis legalization in communities across California."

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Doctor Who Is Medical Marijuana Patient Sues ATF, FBI After Being Denied Right to Purchase Handgun. Dr. Matthew Roman, a registered medical marijuana patient, was turned down for a handgun purchase after truthfully telling the clerk that he had a medical marijuana card. The clerk, in compliance with federal law, refused to make the sale. Roman has now filed a federal lawsuit against the ATF and the FBI. In 2011, ATF issued a statement clarifying that a 1968 law barring anyone who uses an "unlawful" substance indeed applies to medical marijuana users even in states where it is legal. Roman's suit argues that "this strict, rigid, blanket prohibition violates the fundamental constitutional rights of tens of thousands of non-violent, law-abiding citizens, and thus violates the Second and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution." In 2016, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the plaintiff in a similar case.

Drug Policy

At Ohio Campaign Rally, Trump Again Calls for Death Penalty for Drug Dealers. The defeated former president used a campaign rally for Ohio Republicans in Youngstown Saturday to reiterate his call to execute drug dealers. Painting an oratorical portrait of a country awash in crime, he said that "much of the crime wave is caused by drug dealers who during the course of their lives, will kill an average of 500 American citizens not to mention the destruction of millions of American families who are so devastated by drugs. It's an invasion of crime," he added. "And remember much of the crime that we talk about is caused by drugs. And I'm calling for the death penalty for drug dealers and human traffickers." Trump falsely claimed that the death penalty for drug dealers would "reduce drug distribution and crime in our country by much more than 75 per cent. That's in one day

"Every place that has a real death penalty ... they don't have any people dying of drugs. I mean, literally nobody, because these drug dealers are smart," he said. "They say ‘you know what, if I want to keep doing drugs, if I'm going to continue to sell them, I'm not doing them in China. I'll go someplace else like how about the United States of America where nothing happens?’ We would reduce crime in our country by much more than 75 per cent in one hour. In one hour, the day it's passed, it's got to be meaningful, but you would reduce it in one hour," he claimed. "I say it because it's very hard. Nobody ever talks this way. Nobody talks about the death penalty. It's a horrible thing to say. Even for me, it's a horrible thing."

The remarks were met with cheers from the crowd, which also cheered a Q-Anon anthem played at the rally's end and raised their arms in a one-finger Q-Anon salute to it. Trump was campaigning for Republican senatorial candidate JD Vance, who he said was "kissing my ass" to maintain his support It is not clear what Vance's position on the death penalty for drug dealers is.

Psychedelics

Native American Church Leaders Ask Congress for Money to Support Peyote Cultivation and Preservation. Leaders of the Native American Church, whose members can lawfully use the psychoactive cactus peyote, held multiple meetings with members of Congress last week in a bid to garner federal funding for efforts to preserve the limited habitats where peyote can be grown. The supply of peyote is limited and under strain, and Native American Church members want assistance to ensure that it remains available for future generations. Peyote is a slow-growing crop that takes 10 years to mature, and it is stressed by climate change, unsustainable agricultural practices, and increase non-Native use of the hallucinogen.Specifically, church leaders and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) are lobbying lawmakers to allocate $5 million in funding from USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program or Interior’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs to provide compensation to landowners who agree to convert their property to protected peyote habitats.

International

Peru Reports Coca Crop Grew by 30 Percent Last Year. The area devoted to coca cultivation increased by more than 30 percent last year, reflecting rising coca cultivation in the country ever since 2015. Ricardo Soberon, head of the drug agency DEVIDA, said cultivation had reached 200,000 acres in 19 coca zones, up from 14 in 2020. Soberon said Peruvian producers were responding to high demand from the United States and Europe. "How can we act to reduce the supply if there is a growing demand to buy cocaine," he asked, pointing out that at a kilo of cocaine goes for $1100 in Peru, but nearly $45,000 in London or Paris. 

(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 Book Review: Opium's Orphans

Chronicle Book Review: Opium's Orphans: The 200-Year History of the War on Drugs by P.E. Caquet (2022, Reaktion Books, 400 pp., $35.00 HB)

The history of drug prohibition is increasingly well-trodden territory, but with Opium's Orphans, British historian P.E. Caquet brings a fascinating new perspective embedded in a sweeping narrative and fortified with an erudite grasp of the broad global historical context. Although Asian bans on opium pre-dated 19th Century China (the Thai monarchy announced a ban in the 1400s), for Caquet, the critical moment in what became a linear trajectory toward global drug prohibition a century later came when the Qing emperor banned opium in 1813 and imposed severe penalties on anything to do with it, including possessing it. Precisely 100 years later, after two Opium Wars imposed opium on the empire followed by decades of diplomatic wrangling over how to suppress the trade (and for moralizing Americans, how to win favor with China), the 1913 Hague Opium Convention ushered in the modern war on drugs with its targeting not just of opium (and coca) producers or sellers but also of mere users for criminal prosecution. It urged countries to enact such laws, and they did.

What began at the Hague would eventually grow into an international anti-drug bureaucracy, first in the League of Nations and then in United Nations bodies such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the International Narcotics Control Board. But it is a global prohibition regime that has, Caquet writes, straight-jacketed itself with an opium-based perspective that has proven unable or unwilling to recognize the differences among the substances over which it seeks dominion, reflexively resorting to opium and its addiction model. Drugs such as amphetamines, psychedelics, and marijuana don't really fit that model -- they are the orphans of the book's title -- and in a different world would be differently regulated.

But Opium's Orphans isn't just dry diplomatic history. Caquet delves deep into the social, cultural, and political forces driving drug use and drug policies. His description of the spread of opium smoking among Chinese elites before it spread into the masses and became declasse is both finely detailed and strangely evocative of the trajectory of cocaine use in the United States in the 1970s, when it was the stuff of rock musicians and Hollywood stars before going middle class and then spreading among the urban poor in the form of crack.

Along the way, we encounter opium merchants and colonial opium monopolies, crusading missionary moralists, and early Western proponents of recreational drug use, such as Confessions of an English Opium Eater author Thomas De Quincey and the French habitues of mid-19th Century hashish clubs. More contemporaneously, we also meet the men who achieved international notoriety in the trade in prohibited drugs, "drug lords" such as Khun Sa in the Golden Triangle, Pablo Escobar in Colombia and El Chapo Guzman in Mexico, as well as the people whose job it is to hunt them down. Caquet notes that no matter how often a drug lord is removed -- jailed or killed, in most cases -- the impact on the trade is negligible.

For Caquet, drug prohibition as a global phenomenon peaked with the adoption of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Coming as it did amidst a post-World War II decline in drug use around the world, the treaty criminalizing coca, cocaine, opium and opioids, and marijuana seemed to ratify a successful global prohibitionist effort. (In the US, in the 1950s, when domestic drug use was at low ebb, Congress passed tough new drug laws.) But before the decade was over, drug prohibition was under flamboyant challenge from the likes of LSD guru Timothy Leary and a horde of hippie pot smokers. The prohibitionist consensus was seeing its first cracks.

And the prohibitionist response was to crack down even harder, which in turn begat its own backlash. Drug use of all sorts began rising around the world in the 1960s and hasn't let up yet, and the increasingly omnivorous drug war machine grew right along with it, as did the wealth and power of the illicit groups that provided the drugs the world demanded. As the negative impacts of the global drug war -- from the current opioid overdose crisis in the US to the prisons filled with drug offenders to the bloody killing fields of Colombia and Mexico -- grew ever more undeniable, the critiques grew ever sharper.

In recent years, the UN anti-drug bureaucrats have been forced to grudgingly accept the notion of harm reduction, although they protest bitterly over such interventions as safe injection sites. For them, harm reduction is less of an erosion of the drug war consensus than all that talk of drug legalization. As Caquet notes, perhaps a tad unfairly, harm reduction doesn't seek to confront drug prohibition head-on, but to mitigate its harms.

The man is a historian, not a policymaker, and his response to questions about what to do now is "I wouldn't start from here." Still, at the end of it all, he has a trio of observations: First, supply reduction ("suppression" is his word) does not work. Sure, you can successfully wipe out poppies in Thailand or Turkey, but they just pop up somewhere else, like the Golden Triangle or Afghanistan. That's the infamous balloon effect. Second, "criminalization of the drug user has been a huge historical blunder." It has no impact on drug use levels, is cruel and inhumane, and it didn't have to be that way. A century ago, countries could have agreed to regulate the drug trade; instead, they tried to eradicate it in an ever-escalating, never-ending crusade. Third, illicit drugs as a group should be seen "as a historical category, not a scientific one." Different substances demand different approaches.

Opium's Orphans is a fascinating, provocative, and nuanced account of the mess we've gotten ourselves into. Now, we continue the work of trying to get out of that mess.

AZ Churches Sue Feds Over Ayahuasca Seizures, Schumer's Legalization Bill Coming Within Days, More... (7/20/22)

Indonesia's Constitutional Court rejects medical marijuana but calls for "immediate" study, DC Mayor signs bill providing workplace protections for marijuana users, more.

Weed will be on the Senate's mind next week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Hearing on Marijuana as Filing of Legalization Bill Looms. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism has scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday on "Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms." The hearing, led by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a strong proponent of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's pending legalization bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, comes amid word that the bill will drop any day now. Schumer has blocked incremental marijuana reforms, such as the SAFE Banking Act, saying he wants a full-blown legalization bill.

Kentucky Democrats Announce Plan for Legalization Bill. Frustrated by the failure of the Republican-controlled state legislature to act even on medical marijuana, state Democrats announced Thursday they will be filing legislation to legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use. They said they would fill "LETT's Grow" bills in both house. LETT is short for Legalizing sales, Expunging crimes, Treating medical needs, and Taxing sales. "Our legislation is the comprehensive plan that Kentuckians deserve, and it builds on what's worked in other states while avoiding their mistakes," said Rep. Roberts of Newport. "This would be a boon for our economy and farmers alike, plus give state and local governments a major new source of revenue."

DC Mayor Signs Bill Providing Workplace Protections for Marijuana Users, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has signed into law a bill that most employers from firing or refusing to hire workers because they use marijuana. The bill would "prohibit employers from firing, failing to hire, or taking other personnel actions against an individual for use of cannabis, participating in the medical cannabis program, or failure to pass an employer-required or requested cannabis drug test, unless the position is designated safety sensitive or for other enumerated reasons." There are exceptions for police, safety-sensitive construction workers, people whose jobs require a commercial drivers' license, and people who work with children or medical patients. The new law must still be approved by Congress before it can go into effect.

Psychedelics

Arizona Churches Sue Over Seizure of Sacramental Ayahuasca. Two Arizona churches, the Arizona Yagé Assembly and the Church of the Eagle and the Condor, have filed suit in federal court over the seizure of ayahuasca, a key element in their religious practice, by federal agencies. In separate lawsuits, the two churches charge that the federal government has violated the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion, citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That law bars the government from burdening the exercise of religion unless there is a compelling government interest and only if that action if the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

The Church of the Eagle and the Condor says that US Customs and Border Protection has been seizing and destroying its ayahuasca since 2020. The churches say drinking ayahuasca is "an essential mode of worship" for members, but federal agencies say any possession of ayahuasca, a Schedule I substance, violates the Controlled Substances Act. "The church and its members are aware that their sacrament is proscribed by law, but they have partaken in their sacrament both before and after the United States made a credible threat of enforcement of the CSA against them," the suit says. "Plaintiffs are violating and intend to continue to violate applicable law, rather than compromise or terminate their sincerely held religious beliefs and practices."

International

Indonesia High Court Rejects Medical Marijuana But Calls for Immediate Study. The Constitutional Court on Wednesday nixed a judicial review of the country's drug law that could have opened the door for medical marijuana. Three mothers of children with cerebral palsy backed by civil society groups had sought the review, arguing that marijuana could be used medicinally to treat medical conditions. The court held there was insufficient research to rule in favor of the plaintiffs, but called on the government to "immediately" conduct research on the medicinal use of the herb… The results of which can be used to determine policies, including in this case the possibility of changing the law," said judge Suhartoyo.

MT Legal Marijuana Sales Begin, IRS Denies Tax Exempt Status to Iowa Ayahuasca Church, More... (1/3/22)

You can now buy two ounces of weed at a time in Oregon instead of only one, New Hampshire lawmakers will try to override the governor's veto of a medical marijuana bill, and more.

Moving to Montana soon? Now you can buy pot there -- if you're in the right county. (Gmark1/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Legal Marijuana Sales Begin. On New Year's Day, the state became the latest to allow legal recreational marijuana sales. The move comes more than a year after voters approved a pair of complementary marijuana legalization initiatives in November 2020 with 57 percent of the vote. But it's not on sale everywhere in the state: Under the law, counties where majorities voted for legalization can have pot shops, but in counties where majorities voted against the initiative cannot allow the shops unless the matter is approved in a county-wide vote.

Oregon Doubles the Amount of Marijuana People Can Buy. On December 28, the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission approved new rules that include raising the amount of marijuana that people can purchase on a single occasion from one ounce to two ounces. That went into effect on New Year's Day. The state will now also allow home delivery of marijuana across city and county lines.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Lawmakers to Take Up Vetoed Medical Marijuana Bill. Legislators will try this week to override Gov. Chris Sununu's veto of a bill that would have allowed nonprofit medical marijuana treatment centers to organize as for-profit businesses. In his veto message, Sununu said he vetoed the bill because it would create monopolies that could dominate the marketplace if and when recreational marijuana is legalized. The bill passed the Senate with a veto-proof majority, but passed the House on a voice vote, leaving it unclear whether there is a veto-proof majority there.

Ayahuasca

IRS Denies Tax Exempt Status to Iowa Ayahuasca Church. The Iowaska Church of Healing has lost its bid to win tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. The church holds a "Sacrament of Ayahuasca" where its members use the hallucinogen for spiritual and physical healing, although its leader says he has never conducted such ceremonies at his home or anywhere else in the state. The church applied for tax-exempt status in January 2019.

FL Decrim Bill, UAE Drug Reform, Guide for Psychedelic Churches, More... (11/29/21)

The Chacruna Institute releases a guide for psychedelic churches, the Justice Department says the Bureau of Prisons short-changed up to 60,000 First Step Act prisoners on their earned-time credits, and more.

Dubai skyline (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Kentucky Lawmaker Pre-Files Marijuana Legalization Bills for 2022. State Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D) announced Monday that she is pre-filing two parallel bills to legalize marijuana. One bill would proceed along the statutory legislative route, while the other would ask legislators to approve a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, which would then go before the voters. "I am sponsoring these bills for several reasons, any one of which should be enough for them to become law," Kulkarni said. "First, current cannabis statutes have needlessly and tragically ruined many lives, especially people of color who have suffered because of unequal enforcement. Second, thousands of citizens, from cancer patients to veterans suffering from PTSD, should have the right to use something that gives them the mental and physical relief they deserve without relying on stronger, potentially addictive medicine. Third, cannabis decriminalization would give the state a much-needed source of reliable revenue without raising current taxes a single cent."

Psychedelics

Chacruna Institute Releases Guide to Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Best Practices for Psychedelic Plant Medicine Churches. The Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines has released its comprehensive Guide to RFRA and Best Practices for Psychedelic Plant Medicine Churches. This free publication aims to inform churches using psychedelic plant medicine as a sacrament on how to better establish their operation and rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

"This Guide is written to simply explain the laws and basic information needed by a psychedelic plant medicine church to make informed decisions and understand its rights and risks by operating in the United States," said Allison Hoots, member of Chacruna's Council for the Protection of Sacred Plants. The guide is a comprehensive resource on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and how a church using psychedelic plant medicine as sacrament can be informed by the law in terms of its operation and establishing its rights under RFRA. Download it here.

Drug Policy

Florida Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Decriminalize All Drugs. State Rep. Dotie Joseph (D) has filed a drug decriminalization bill, the "Collateral Consequences of Convictions and Decriminalization of Cannabis and All Drugs Act" (House Bill 725). The bill would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a violation punishable by no more than a $50 fine and automatically expunge past arrest and conviction records if the offense is more than a year old. The bill adds that the legislature prioritizes "rehabilitative health intervention in lieu of criminalization for personal usage of controlled substances, including but not limited to stimulants including cocaine, methamphetamine, opioids, heroin, fentanyl, depressants or benzodiazepines, and other addictive controlled substances." To that end, charges "associated with the personal usage and possession of controlled substances that do not involve production, distribution or sale shall be decriminalized in favor of civil fines and referral for drug rehabilitation."

Sentencing

Justice Department Finds Federal Bureau of Prisons Failed to Apply Earned Time Credits to First Step Act Prisoners. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz has released a report charging that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) failed to properly credit up to 60,000 federal prisoners with time served under the First Step Act's recidivism programs. "We are concerned that the delay in applying earned time credits may negatively affect inmates who have earned a reduction in their sentence or an earlier placement in the community," Horowitz wrote in the report. Under the First Step Act, inmates who completed a recidivism program could receive time-served credit, but the BOP told the inspector general the credits were not applied becausethey "must be negotiated with the national union because it would create changes to conditions of employment, including determinations and application of earned time credits for inmates, for Unit Team staff working in BOP institutions who are bargaining unit employees," according to the report.

International

United Arab Emirates Enacts Drug Reforms. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has dramatically amended its drug laws to allow for drug treatment instead of prison for first-time offenders. The new law mandates the creation of specialized treatment and rehabilitation units throughout the country, where judges can place offenders instead of in prison. The new law also changes the UAE's stance toward foreigners who get caught carrying food items or other products containing drugs (mainly marijuana). Under the old law, deportation was mandatory in such cases, but now people caught with such items will face no charges, but the items will be seized. The new law also increases penalties for some repeat offenders and imposes a mandatory minimum five-year sentence for anyone "who induced, incited or facilitated drug use for another person." The new law goes into effect January 2.

CT Becomes Latest State to Legalize Marijuana, DEA Denies FL Church's Ayahuasca Exemption, More... (6/23/21)

House Democrats look to end the ban on legal marijuana sales in the nation's capital, the Rhode Island Senate approves a marijuana legalization bill, and more.

The InSite safe injection site in Vancouver. The Los Angeles city council supports a similar effort in California. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

House Democrats File Bill to End DC Marijuana Sales Ban. House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Subcommittee Chairman Mike Quigley (D-IL) filed a wide-ranging bill Wednesday that would lift the ban on legal marijuana sales in the District of Columbia, as well as providing protection to financial institutions doing business with state-legal marijuana firms. The ban, in the form of a rider to the annual DC appropriations bill in Congress, was imposed in 2014, with the effort led by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), before city residents even voted for marijuana legalization later that year. It has remained in place ever since.The move comes even though President Biden specifically did not remove the congressional rider banning sales in his budget proposal last month. The bill is set to be voted on in the subcommittee Thursday, with the full Appropriations Committee taking it up next Tuesday, setting up a potential conflict with the Biden administration.

Connecticut Legalizes Marijuana. Gov. Ned Lamont (D) on Tuesday signed a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 1201, making the state the 19th to end marijuana prohibition and the fourth to do this year, after New Mexico, New York, and Virginia. The bill legalizes the possession of up to one and a half ounces by people 21 and over, as well as setting up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce with strong social equity provisions. The law takes effect on July 1, when using recreational marijuana becomes legal, but marijuana business licenses are not expected to be issued until the end of next year.

Rhode Island Senate Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The state Senate voted Tuesday night to approve an amended version of Senate Bill 568, which would legalize the possession, purchase, and cultivation of cannabis for personal use for adults 21 and older.The bill would also create a Cannabis Control Commission to regulate the legal marijuana market, tax marijuana sales at 20%, and create a social equity program to aid communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition. A House marijuana legalization bill filed at the end of May remains stuck in the House Judiciary Committee. The clock is ticking: The session ends in one week on June 30.

Ayahuasca

DEA Denies Religious Use Exemption to Florida Ayahuasca Church. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has officially denied the Soul Quest Church's request for a religious exemption allowing it to continue to legally provide ayahuasca, a substance containing the Schedule I drug DMT, for religious purposes. The church has been distributing ayahuasca and other substances to paying customers and gained unwanted scrutiny after a man died during an ayahuasca retreat in 2018. After that death, the DEA ordered the church to shut down its ayahuasca distribution, but the church has refused, instead fighting the order in the courts. Now, after the DEA decision, a federal judge is expected to rule soon on that decision, which could end the church's run. The church is relying on a generous interpretation of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, under which both peyote use by the Native American Church and ayahuasca use by the Brazil-based church the Union of the Vegetable has been allowed. 

rfra

Harm Reduction

Los Angeles City Council Endorses Statewide Safe Injection Site Bill. The city council on Tuesday approved a resolution supporting a bill that would legalize pilot safe injection sites in a number of California cities, Senate Bill 57. The support comes as the city faces a drug overdose crisis, especially among the homeless, for whom the overdose rate jumped 33% in the first six months of last year. The bill has already passed the state Senate and is now before the Assembly Public Safety and Health committees. Even if the bill were to become law, it faces possible federal obstacles. When harm reductionists in Philadelphia sought to open a safe injection site, the Trump administration successfully blocked them in federal district court. The Biden administration has not made clear what its stance on the issue is.

AL Becomes Latest MedMJ State, MS Supreme Court Throws Out Voter-Approved MedMJ Initiative, More... (5/17/21)

Ohio medical marijuana regulators expand the list of qualifying conditions, West Virginia medical marijuana regulators ponder allowing patient home grows, Kenyan Rastafaris petition seek to have their marijuana use legalized, and more.

The Mississippi Supreme Court. It just threw out a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative. (mississippi.org)
Medical Marijuana

Alabama Becomes Newest Medical Marijuana State. With the signature of Gov. Kay Ivey (R) on Senate Bill 46, medical marijuana is now set to become legal in the state. The new law allows the use of medical marijuana for a set of specified medical conditions and creates the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to oversee how marijuana is grown.

Kansas Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. A medical marijuana bill, House Substitute for Senate Bill 158, has been approved by the House Federal and State Affairs Committee after it approved several amendments. This is the second time the committee has approved the reform proposal for this session. But in March, the House sent the bill back to the committee for further consideration.

Mississippi Supreme Court Voids Voter-Approved Medical Marijuana Law. The state Supreme Court last Friday threw out a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, ruling that it did not meet the state's requirement that 20% of signatures come from each of five congressional districts. The problem is that the state has only had four congressional districts since the 2000 census, and legislative efforts to redress the issue have yet to succeed. Three justices strongly dissented, saying that the secretary of state has rightfully put the measure on the ballot. "The Mississippi Supreme Court just overturned the will of the people of Mississippi," Ken Newburger, executive director for the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, said in a statement. "The Court ignored existing case law and prior decisions. Their reasoning ignores the intent of the constitution and takes away people’s constitutional right. It’s a sad day for Mississippi when the Supreme Court communicates to a vast majority of the voters that their vote doesn’t matter."

Ohio Medical Marijuana Panel Approves Three New Qualifying Conditions. A panel of the Ohio Medical Board has added three new qualifying conditions allowing state residents to use medical marijuana: arthritis, chronic migraines and complex regional pain syndrome, all of which fall into the existing category of chronic or intractable pain.

West Virginia Regulators Considers Allowing Patients to Grow Their Own. The West Virginia Medical Cannabis Advisory Board is considering a possible recommendation to allow state medical marijuana patients to grow their own plants. Patient advocates cited the cost of buying medical marijuana dispensaries and obstacles to access for residents who do not live near dispensaries. A decision will come some weeks down the road.

International

Kenyan Rastafaris File Petition Seeking to Legalize Marijuana. The Rastafarian Society of Kenya has filed a petition challenging the constitutionality of the country's drug laws and seeking the suspension of that section of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1994 dealing with marijuana when it comes to Rastafaris. "The Petitioners aver that followers/believers of the Rastafari faith use bhang or cannabis by either smoking, drinking, eating, bathing and/or burning of incense for spiritual, medicinal, culinary and ceremonial purposes as sacrament as the ultimate of manifesting their religion as a Rastafari to meditate and or reason with others in order to connect with their God," the petition said.

For First Time, CDC Recommends Pill-Testing; NH Supreme Court Psilocybin Religious Freedom Ruling, More... (12/24/20)

One Maryland lawmaker already has a marijuana legalization bill ready to go, the CDC recommends harm reduction programs use pill-testing (drug checking), and more.

Psilocbyin mushrooms. The New Hampshire Supreme Court okayed their possession for religious use. (Greenoid/Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Lawmaker Pre-Files Marijuana Legalization Bill. Delegate Jazz Lewis (D) has pre-filed a marijuana legalization bill, HB 0032, that would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to two ounces of pot and up to 15 grams of concentrates. It appears to have no provision for home cultivation, but does envisage a legal, regulated marijuana market, a social equity program, and expungement of past convictions.

Psychedelics

New Hampshire Supreme Rules for Religious Freedom to Use Psychedelic Mushrooms. The state Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned the conviction of a New Hampshire man for possession of psilocybin mushrooms after he argued that his arrest conflicted with the Native American-based religion he practices. Jeremy D. Mack was a card-carrying member of the Oratory of Mystical Sacraments branch of the Oklevueha Native American Church. Mack was a minister in the church. "We have long recognized that in Part I, Article 5 [of the state constitution], there is a broad, a general, a universal statement and declaration of the ‘natural and unalienable right’ of ‘every individual,’ of every human being, in the state, to make such religious profession, to entertain such religious sentiments, or to belong to such religious persuasion as he chooses, and to worship God privately and publicly in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience and reason,’" wrote Supreme Court Justice James Bassett.

Harm Reduction

CDC Recommends Pill-Testing. For the first time in its history, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended using services to check people's drugs for potency and contaminants. The recommendation came in a December 17 health advisory in which the CDC approved of harm reduction groups establishing drug-checking (or pill-testing) programs "[i]mprove detection of overdose outbreaks" involving drugs often adulterated by the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Chronicle AM: Denver Votes for Mushroom Decrim, Ivanka Trump Comments on Colombia Policy, More... (5/9/19)

Denver's magic mushroom decriminalization initiative comes from behind to win, Ivanka Trump voices support for crop substitution in Colombia, the Alabama legislature is busy, and more.

magic mushrooms (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alabama House Committee Rejects Decriminalization Bill. The House Health Committee voted Wednesday to kill HB 96, which would have decriminalized the possession of five grams or less of marijuana. Several committee members worried that decriminalizing would let people get caught with pot multiple times and never have to go to drug court.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate on Thursday approved a restrictive medical marijuana bill, SB 236. The bill allows for medical marijuana use for specified conditions if other treatments are not working. At least two physicians must sign off on the recommendation, and patients must submit to random drug testing. The bill now goes to the House.

Psychedelics

Denver Decriminalizes Magic Mushrooms. Hours after numerous media outlets (including us) had the Denver magic mushroom initiative going down to defeat Tuesday night, it managed a near-miraculous last-minute comeback to squeak out a victory by a margin of 50.56% to 49.44%, late Wednesday afternoon, according to unofficial Denver Election Division results. With passage of I-301, the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative, voters have told the city they want 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."

Foreign Policy

Ivanka Trump Is Interested in Supporting Crop Substitution Programs in Colombia, first daughter and presidential adviser Ivanka Trump is interested in US support for for a UN-monitored crop substitution program for coca farmers, according to Colombia's vice-president. Under Trump, the US has refused to support such programs, which are part of the peace treaty between the FARC and the Colombian government, because they employ some former FARC guerrillas. Even though the FARC transitioned from guerrilla army to political party in 2017, the US still labels it a terrorist organization. Trump officials have insisted on forcibly eradicating and fumigating coca crops, a strategy widely considered ineffective.

International

Canada Grants More Exemptions for Religious Groups to Import Ayahuasca. Health Canada has granted three more exemptions for religious groups in Ontario and Quebec to import the psychoactive brew ayahuasca. It had granted exemptions in 2017 to the Eclectic Centre for Universal Flowing Light and the Beneficient Spiritist Center Uniao do Vegetal. Now, Health Canada announces it has granted three more exemptions, to the Ceu da Divina Luz do Montreal, the Église Santo Daime Céu do Vale de Vida in Val-David, Quebec, and the Ceu de Toronto. "These exemptions provide these applicant's designated members, senior members and registrants with the authority to possess, provide, transport, import, administer and destroy Daime Tea (ayahuasca), as applicable, when carrying out activities related to their religious practice, subject to the terms and conditions of the exemption," said Health Canada spokesperson Maryse Durette.

Gorsuch on Grass: Where Does Trump's Supreme Court Pick Come Down on Marijuana? [FEATURE]

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

Where does Donald Trump's pick for the Supreme Court come down on weed? The record is pretty sparse.

Neil Gorsuch hasn't made any known public pronouncements about marijuana policy, and despite his tenure on the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, he hasn't ruled in any cases that directly take up the issue.

But he has ruled on some marijuana cases, and he didn't go out of his way to support freeing the weed in them. And there's at least one marijuana-related case he's ruled on that demonstrates a disquieting deference to law enforcement.

In Feinberg et al. v. IRS, Gorsuch ruled against a Colorado dispensary that sought not to report data about its operation to the IRS because marijuana remains illegal under federal law and it feared incriminating itself. But in passing, he offered some commentary on the legal weirdness of state-legal but federally illegal marijuana commerce.

"This case owes its genesis to the mixed messages the federal government is sending these days about the distribution of marijuana. Officials at the Department of Justice have now twice instructed field prosecutors that they should generally decline to enforce Congress's statutory command when states like Colorado license operations like THC. At the same time and just across 10th Street in Washington, D.C., officials at the IRS refuse to recognize business expense deductions claimed by companies like THC on the ground that their conduct violates federal criminal drug laws. So it is that today prosecutors will almost always overlook federal marijuana distribution crimes in Colorado but the tax man never will."

And he marveled at the federal government's contortions as it sought to accommodate commerce in a substance it considers illegal.

"Yes, the Fifth Amendment normally shields individuals from having to admit to criminal activity. But, the IRS argued, because DOJ's memoranda generally instruct federal prosecutors not to prosecute cases like this one the petitioners should be forced to divulge the requested information anyway. So it is the government simultaneously urged the court to take seriously its claim that the petitioners are violating federal criminal law and to discount the possibility that it would enforce federal criminal law."

Gorsuch also pointedly noted the provisional nature of the Obama administration's decision to work with -- instead of against -- the states experimenting with marijuana legalization.

"It's not clear whether informal agency memoranda guiding the exercise of prosecutorial discretion by field prosecutors may lawfully go quite so far in displacing Congress's policy directives as these memoranda seek to do. There's always the possibility, too, that the next... Deputy Attorney General could displace these memoranda at anytime."

This is, of course, something of which the marijuana industry and legalization advocates are painfully aware and explains much of the movement's agonizing over the nomination of pot foe Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL). A single signature on a new policy memorandum at the Justice Department could throw the industry into chaos.

As Tom Angell notes at the MassRoots blog, Gorsuch ruled in a 2010 case, US v. Daniel and Mary Quaintance, that a couple charged with federal marijuana distribution offenses couldn't use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense because their claims weren't sincere.

"Numerous pieces of evidence in this case strongly suggest that the [couple's] marijuana dealings were motivated by commercial or secular motives rather than sincere religious conviction... "The record contains additional, overwhelming contrary evidence that the [couple was] running a commercial marijuana business with a religious front."

In other words, if you're trying to run a real marijuana ministry, don't be selling weed.

But it's a 2013 case, Family of Ryan Wilson v. City of Lafeyette and Taser International , that raises disturbing implications that go beyond marijuana policy into the broader realm of police use of force. In that case, Gorsuch held that a police officer's fatal tazing of Wilson, who was fleeing a marijuana arrest, was "reasonable."

"[T]he illegal processing and manufacturing of marijuana may not be inherently violent crimes but, outside the medical marijuana context, they were felonies under Colorado law at the time of the incident... And Officer Harris testified, without rebuttal, that he had been trained that people who grow marijuana illegally tend to be armed and ready to use force to protect themselves and their unlawful investments."

As Angell noted, that ruling in particular had the National Urban League tweeting its concern and calling for close scrutiny of Gorsuch's record within hours of Trump's announcement of his selection.

Overall, Gorsuch hasn't provided a whole lot of hints about how he might rule on cases revolving around the conflict between state and federal marijuana, although he has shown he's aware of it. Any members of the Senate Judiciary Committee representing states where medical or recreational marijuana commerce is legal might want to be asking for some clarification when his confirmation hearings come around.

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