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Chronicle AM: Feds Warn on Marijuana Health Risks, Philly Drug Test Backlog, More... (8/30/19)

Federal officials issue a warning on marijuana for teens and pregnant women, the Philadelphia DA deals with a drug sample testing crisis, Colombian FARC dissidents pick up their guns again, and more.

A Dutch cannabis cafe. A pilot program to begin in 2021 will see legal suppliers for the shops in 10 cities. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Officials Issue Warning on Marijuana for Teens, Pregnant Women. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned jointly Thursday against marijuana use by adolescents and pregnant women. Azar, a former pharmaceutical company executive, called marijuana "a dangerous drug," while Adams warned that "this isn't your mother's marijuana" because of higher THC levels.

Oklahoma Poll Shows State Not Ready to Support Legalization. State voters approved medical marijuana last year, but a new poll suggests legalization may be a bridge too far. A new SoonerPoll found that 59% opposed legalization for non-medical use, with 50.5% strongly opposed.

Law Enforcement

Philadelphia Drug Sample Testing Backlog Means DA Will Prosecute Fewer Low-Level Cases. Faced with a backlog of thousands of untested drug samples, District Attorney Larry Krasner's office has announced an "emergency protocol" to suspend the automatic testing of new samples for low-level drug cases. That means the number of low-level drug cases the DA's office prosecutes each year should be reduced because without testing to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a white powder is actually a controlled substance, prosecutors have no case.

International

Colombia FARC Dissidents Take Up Arms Again. Three years after an historic peace agreement between the leftist guerrillas of the FARC and the Colombian state, dissident FARC leaders announced Thursday that they were rejoining the path of armed struggle. Saying the rightist government of President Ivan Duque has betrayed the accord, the dissidents led by Ivan Marquez (Luciano Marin) said they were ready for a "new stage of fighting." They cited the murders of more than a hundred former FARC members and labor activists, as well as the government's failure to provide sustainable development assistance to areas formerly under their control. "The state has not fulfilled its most important obligation, which is to guarantee the life of its citizens and especially avoid assassinations for political reasons," Marquez. Marquez said his group would work with the ELN, another leftist guerrilla army. The number of dissidents affiliated with Marquez is estimated at around 2-3,000. The civil war with the FARC that began in 1964 left more than 220,000 people dead.

Ten Dutch Cities Will Participate in Legal Marijuana Supply Pilot Program. Beginning in 2021, cannabis cafes in 10 Dutch cities will be supplied with legally grown marijuana under a pilot program aimed at solving the country's "back door problem," where marijuana is allowed to be sold but there is no legal source of supply. The ten cities selected for the program are Arnhem, Almere, Breda, Groningen, Heerlen, Hellevoetsluis, Maastricht, Nijmegen, Tilburg and Zaanstad. In those towns, all cannabis cafes must obtain their supply from legally regulated growers. That's why bigger cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam opted out: They have large numbers of cannabis cafes and authorities worry problems could arise if they all abandoned their illicit suppliers simultaneously.

Chronicle AM: CA Acts to Boost Struggling Cannabis Industry, WV Students Face Drug Tests, More... (6/17/09)

California officials are cutting legal operators some slack in a bid to boost the marijuana industry, Virginia's attorney general calls for marijuana decriminalization, West Virginia is demanding students seeking free community college tuition undergo drug testing, and more.

State officials are easing up on permitting to give the legal industry some breathing room. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

In Bid to Boost Legal Cannabis Industry, California Plans to Extend Provisional Permits for Growers and Sellers. State officials plan to extend the period that marijuana growers and sellers can operate with provisional licenses by five more years, giving them more time to get in compliance with stricter rules required for regular permits. The state's legal industry is having a hard time getting off the ground in the face of high taxes and stiff regulatory hurdles. Only 208 growers have obtained regular, annual licenses and another 1,532 are operating with provisional permits. That's a tiny fraction of all marijuana growers in the state. Similarly, only 39 marijuana retailers have regular licenses, with another 2,751 operating on provisional or temporary permits.

Virginia Attorney General Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization and Expungement, and Eventual Legalization. Attorney General Mark Herring has called for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, as well as expungement for old marijuana offenses, with an eye toward eventual legalization. "The human and social costs are enormous, in addition to the millions of dollars it costs Virginia taxpayers," Herring wrote in an op-ed Saturday. "And the negative consequences of the current approach fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color."

Medical Marijuana

Gallup Poll Finds Americans Want CBD OTC. Americans familiar with CBD want it sold over the counter without a prescription by a margin of 61% to 33%, according to a Gallup poll released last Friday. More than a third (36%) of respondents were not familiar with CBD. When they are included, the figure for support for OTC CBD declined to 39%.

Drug Policy

California's Santa Clara County Will Stop Prosecuting People for Minor Drug Offenses. The Santa Clara County (San Jose) District Attorney's Office announced last Friday it will stop prosecuting most minor drug offenses. Only people who already have two drug offenses will be prosecuted under the new policy. "We are drawing a line between public health and public safety," said Brian Buckelew, a Supervising Deputy District Attorney. "If there's no other criminality, if someone is arrested with a meth pipe, or personal use methamphetamine, that person needs treatment. But should that person get treatment in the criminal justice system at great expense to the taxpayers? We have concluded they should not."

Drug Testing

West Virginia Students Will Have to Pass Drug Test to Get Free Tuition at Community Colleges. Students who are expecting free college tuition under the West Virginia Invests program will be required to pass drug tests in order to be eligible. That's after the state Community and Technical College System's board approved the move at a meeting last Thursday. While the law creating the program demanded drug testing, it did not specify which drugs should be tested for. The board decided to test for THC, marijuana's high-inducing ingredient, alongside opiates, oxycodone, hydrocodone, cocaine, amphetamines and other drugs. The policy went through no public comment period, and even one board member questioned why marijuana was on the list.

Chronicle AM: IL Set to Legalize Marijuana, Honduran President Targeted in US Drug Probe, More... (5/31/19)

Illinois is set to be the next legal marijuana state, a federal appeal court has ordered the DEA to move promptly on marijuana rescheduling, the Honduran president is the target of a federal drug and money laundering probe, and more.

Thurgood Marshall Courthouse, 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals
Marijuana Policy

Federal Court Orders DEA to 'Promptly' Consider Marijuana Rescheduling. The US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has overruled a district court that threw out a case brought by medical marijuana patients and drug reformers seeking to overturn marijuana's status as a Schedule I drug. While the appeals court agreed with the lower court that plaintiffs had not exhausted all administrative remedies, it held that the circumstances of the case were unique. "[W]e are troubled by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)'s history of dilatory proceedings," US Circuit Judge Guido Calabresi wrote for the majority. "Accordingly, while we concur with the District Court's ruling, we do not dismiss the case, but rather hold it in abeyance and retain jurisdiction in this panel to take whatever action might become appropriate if the DEA does not act with adequate dispatch."

Illinois Will Be the Next State to Legalize Marijuana. The House today approved the legalization bill, Amendment 2 to HB 1438, Friday afternoon. The Senate approved it on Wednesday. Gov. JB Pritzker pushed the bill and said he will sign it into law. "The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation," he said in a Twitter post. "This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance."

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate on Thursday passed a medical marijuana expansion bill that increases the number of cultivators, sets up a regulatory commission, and gets rid of taxes on medicinal marijuana by 2025. Although the bill has already passed the House, it was amended in the Senate, so the House will have to approve those changes.

Asset Forfeiture

Alabama Legislature Passes Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. With a final vote in the House on Thursday, the legislature has approved SB 191, which would impose mandatory reporting requirements on civil asset forfeitures in the state. The measure now goes to the desk of Gov. Kay Ivey (R).

Drug Testing

Louisiana Traffic Wreck Drug Testing Law Advances. The House on Thursday approved HB 138, which would allow police officers to seek drug tests in crashes involving serious bodily injury. Current law only allows drug testing in wrecks that result in fatalities. The bill now heads to the Senate for final approval.

Law Enforcement

Honduran President Targeted by US Prosecutors in Drug Trafficking Probe. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have targeted Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez in an investigation into large-scale drug trafficking and money laundering, according to court documents. The president's brother, Juan Antonio Hernandez, has been charged in the case, and the court documents show prosecutors won email search warrants against the president and several people close to him.

Chronicle AM: CT Legalization Could Get Vote Soon, Chinese Fentanyl Will Keep Coming, More... (5/16/19)

A federal bill to protect immigrants working in the marijuana industry gets filed, the Oregon Senate approves a marijuana interstate commerce bill, the San Antonio DA is no longer prosecuting picayune drug possession cases, RAND says China will have a hard time stopping fentanyl, and more.

A deadly dose of fentanyl. China won't be able to stop exports, a RAND report says. (DEA.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New Congressional Bill Aims to Resolve Marijuana Industry Border Issues. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) on Tuesday filed a bill which would clarify that using marijuana in compliance with state or foreign law, or working in the legal industry, wouldn't disqualify people from entering the US. The legislation, the Maintaining Appropriate Protections for Legal Entry (MAPLE) Act, updates a bill Blumenauer filed in December to protect Canadians working in the marijuana industry from being denied entry to the US. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Connecticut Could See Marijuana Legalization Vote in Next Three Weeks. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said Wednesday that the legislature could vote on legalizing marijuana in the next three weeks instead of pushing it into a special session. The regular session ends on June 5. Aresimowicz said the General Law Committee is making progress is melding together multiple bills into a single measure. "It looks as though we may have a bill that could be ready for action," Aresimowicz said. "We have the entire next week to do all these major bills and get them up to the Senate in a time that would be appropriate for action."

Oregon Senate Approves Marijuana Interstate Commerce Bill. The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would allow the governor to negotiate agreements with other states to export and import marijuana products across state lines. SB 582 now goes to the House.

Hemp

Texas Senate Unanimously Approves Hemp Bill. The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved HB 1325, which would legalize the farming of industrial hemp in the state. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

Higher Education

Senate Democrats File Bill to Protect Students with Drug Convictions from Losing Federal College Aid. Four Senate Democrats, including presidential contenders Cory Booker (NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) have filed a bill to streamline the federal student financial aid application process, which would also remove the question about prior drug convictions. The drug conviction question has cost thousands of students access to loans and grants since it was added to the form in a 1998 reform of the Higher Education Act.

Law Enforcement

Houston Police Investigation into Fatal Botched Drug Raid Now Goes to Prosecutors. The Houston Police Department has ended its investigation into a January drug raid that left a middle-aged couple dead after a Houston narcotics officer apparently lied on a search warrant that a heroin buy had taken place at their home. Police found no heroin, and only personal use amounts of marijuana and cocaine. Two of the officers involved have already resigned. "The Houston Police Department has completed the criminal investigation and the officer-involved shooting investigation regarding the incident at 7815 Harding Street on January 28, 2019," Chief Art Acevedo said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "Today, each of these separate investigations have been turned in to the Harris County District Attorney's Office."

San Antonio DA Has Quit Prosecuting Miniscule Drug Possession Cases. Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzalez has confirmed that his office is no longer prosecuting drug possession cases where the amount involved is less than a quarter gram. The policy has been in place since early this year. "I've got to make the decision as the top law enforcement officer in this county to make the best uses of the manpower that I have and the limited resources that I have," said Gonzales.

International

China Unlikely to Curb Fentanyl Exports in Short-Term. A new RAND Corporation report that examines China's pharmaceutical industry warns that it is unlikely to be able to curb fentanyl exports in the near future. "China's leaders recognize that they have a problem and appear committed to seeking solutions," report coauthor and Rand analyst Bryce Pardo said. "But it is unlikely that they can contain the illicit production and distribution of fentanyl in the short term because enforcement mechanisms are lacking. Producers are quick to adapt, impeding Chinese law enforcement's ability to stem the flow to global markets."

Mexican Drug Cartels Now Make Their Own Cocaine, Colombia Says. Colombian police report that drug traffickers are now exporting not just refined cocaine but also cocaine base, which they say means Mexican drug cartels must be operating their own laboratories to refine the drug themselves. The move comes after the Colombian government imposed tighter restrictions on precursor chemicals for refining raw coca into cocaine. Mexican authorities say they have seen no evidence of cocaine labs, though.

(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.)

Philadelphia's Maverick Prosecutor Takes Aim at the War on Drugs [FEATURE]

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner made waves last week by reportedly saying he is "very close" to implementing a policy that would decriminalize the possession of all drugs, but that was just the latest salvo in the former criminal defense and civil rights lawyer's war on the war on drugs.

Philadelphia's progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner (KrasnerforDA.com)
Since taking office in January 2018, Krasner has made a number of policy moves that are helping to cement his reputation as one of the country's most radical prosecutors, and he's doing it in one of America's largest cities. His progressive approach didn't come out of nowhere, though.

Krasner's decades of experience in the defense bar -- as opposed to rising through the ranks of prosecutors -- have provided him with a unique perspective on the social and racial impacts of the drug war, one deeply at odds with the law-and-order views of most DAs. For 30 years, Krasner represented the poor, the oppressed, and the brutalized, filing civil rights and police brutality lawsuits.

He often represented protestors and activists, including 400 people arrested at the 2000 Republican National Convention, AIDS activists, and members of the Black Lives Matter movement. He helped hundreds of imprisoned on false charges by a notoriously corrupt drug squad. And he sued the Philadelphia police dozens of times in civil rights and police brutality cases. This is not the career path of your average DA.

In an early sign that a new era is at hand, one of Krasner's first acts was to demand the resignations of 31l ine prosecutors and supervisors he saw as obstructionist and to see them escorted from the building to ensure they didn't take anything with them other than personal effects. Krasner said he made the quick move on the advice of Houston's reformist DA, Kim Ogg, who told him that when she gave inherited personnel two weeks' notice she would be asking for resignations, recalcitrant employees deleted massive amounts of emails, wiped hard drives, and took other steps to sabotage her efforts.

Critics called his move a purge, but for Krasner, it was lessons learned: "We had some awareness from working as attorneys in this city -- and interacting with people [in the office] -- of who was really never going to get with this program," he says. "I felt we couldn't take the risk that there might be some effort at sabotage here."

Krasner got national attention the following month when he issued a revolutionary memo on prosecuting policies designed to "end mass incarceration and restore balance to sentencing." The memo said prosecutors must decline certain charges, namely marijuana possession and prostitution. The ban on pot prosecutions held regardless of weight, and included not charging for paraphernalia or for getting caught buying weed. The ban on prostitution prosecutions applied to anyone who had fewer than three previous prostitution convictions; those with three or more convictions could be charged and sent to a special problem-solving court set up to get prostitutes out of the life.

Philadelphia had already decriminalized small time marijuana possession in 2014, but police continued to arrest people for larger amounts and under a rarely used state law making it a crime to purchase the drug. Krasner's memo brought a further decline to already dramatically shrinking marijuana arrests numbers, mainly by ending the prosecutions for buying it.

Arrests for that offense haven't completely vanished, as police continue to make them despite knowing they won't be prosecuted, but 2018 saw a 30 percent decline in such busts. Still, racial disparities persist: Blacks made up 85 percent of all arrested pot buyers.

The memo more broadly called for plea bargains to have the lightest sentences possible under state guidelines and, most dramatically, mandated that prosecutors assess how much the defendant's incarceration would cost and why it was worth spending public money on it.

He has worked assiduously to ensure that city residents who unlawfully had cash or property seized under a city asset forfeiture program deemed unconstitutional by the court are made whole. His office is administering a $3 million fund for victims of the city's lawless practices, which saw thousands of people lose their homes, cars, cash, and other property to profit-driven policing and prosecutions.

"What happened was that there was a 'keep what you kill' approach," Krasner said. "And all that it did was incentivize prosecutors to always try to take grandma's house, always try to take a working person's car, and often to do it simply because someone's nephew did something illegal out of the basement. And the owner, who may have been at church, didn't know."

Most recently, a May 1 interview that Krasner did for Axios on HBO that will air next month was teased by with the headline "Scoop: Philly prosecutor may stop charging drug users as criminals" and this lede: "Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, one of the most progressive district attorneys in the country, told 'Axios on HBO' that he is 'very close' to implementing a policy that would relax the penalties for drug possession laws."

"One of the things we're looking at is essentially diverting all possession of drugs cases," he said in the interview. "Possession is different than dealing. It's different than carrying a bunch of drugs that you intend to sell or deliver later… We are talking about people who are using drugs, the vast majority of them suffering from addiction. I do not see value in convicting people like that, thereby making it harder for them to get a job."

The Axios interview garnered lots of attention, but Axios -- and many of the outlets that ran with the story -- oversold it as Krasner endorsing drug decriminalization. Even Krasner isn't quite ready to go that far, although it's an approach that has worked in Portugal for nearly 20 years.

Instead, Krasner spokesman Ben Waxman said late last week that Axios got the story wrong. Krasner was talking diversion, not decriminalization, Waxman said. Diversion means people charged with drug possession could enter a treatment program and, if they successfully completed it, end up with no prison time and no criminal record. Decriminalization means they wouldn't be arrested and charged in the first place. "The Axios piece really conflated a bunch of different stuff," Waxman said. "I don't think they understood the difference between diversion and decriminalization."

Axios is sticking to its guns, though. "Axios went to extraordinary lengths to clarify the specifics of this story with Krasner's team, as well as other experts, to ensure the article's accuracy given the complexity and nuances of the topic," a spokesperson wrote in a statement. "This interview was recorded on video. We stand by our reporting."

Meanwhile, drug diversion is already going on in Philadelphia -- last year almost half of the 5,458 arrests for drug possession ending up in already existing diversions programs -- so Krasner was actually talking about expanding existing programs. That's a good thing, but not nearly as sexy or sensational as drug decriminalization.Still, Larry Krasner has been a model of what a progressive prosecutor can do, and he's got time to do more. But maybe he should take a couple weeks off and visit Portugal.

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

Chronicle AM: CA Cities Sue State Over Pot Deliveries, Fed Bill Targets Chinese Fentanyl, More... (4/8/19)

A Hawaii decriminalization bill nears passage, some California cities are suing the state over being forced to allow marijuana deliveries, the 3rd Circuit clarifies the law on intent to distribute, and more.

A bipartisan federal bill targeting Chinese fentanyl production has been filed. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Cities That Restrict Marijuana Sales Sue State Over Allowing Deliveries. Twenty-four cities that ban legal marijuana sales filed suit against the state last Thursday, arguing that allowing home deliveries in those locales violates the state's marijuana laws. The lawsuit comes after the California Bureau of Cannabis Control adopted a rule in January that permits state-licensed companies to deliver marijuana in cities that ban pot shops.

Florida Legalization Bill Killed. A bill that would have legalized marijuana in the Sunshine State is dead. HB 1117, filed by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D) was killed in the House Judiciary Committee, where, he said, "It got no hearing, no debate, no vote. Just like they always do."

Hawaii Senate Committee Approves Decriminalization Bill. The Senate Ways and Means Committee has approved a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to three grams of marijuana, HB 1383. The bill has already passed out of the House and two other Senate committees and now heads for a Senate floor vote. If it passes there, it will then go to a conference committee to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Organizers to Try Again in 2020. Legalize ND, the folks behind the failed 2018 legalization initiative, will be back in 2020, the group said last Thursday. Organizers said they hoped to have initiative language in place by mid-summer. The new measure will include possession limits, growing limits, taxes on sales, banning of edible gummies, packaging and licensing requirements and wouldn't allow any type of advertising of products.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Governor Signs Omnibus Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has signed SB 406 into law. The bill makes broad changes in the state's medical marijuana program, including allowing medical marijuana in schools and allowing licensed manufacturers to process home-grown marijuana. And it allows for reciprocity with other medical marijuana states and protects workers who are medical marijuana patients.

Prosecution

Third Circuit Tosses Heroin Dealer's Conviction, Clarifies Law on Intent to Distribute. The US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out the conviction of a heroin dealer, ruling that a conviction for intent to distribute 1,000 grams or more of heroin must be based on evidence that the defendant possessed or distributed that quantity at a single time and not based on adding up several smaller possessions and distributions during the indictment period.

Foreign Policy

Bipartisan Bill Targets China Over Fentanyl. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) led a bipartisan group of senators in filing a bill that would slap sanctions on China if it fails to live up to its recent promise to regulate fentanyl as a controlled substance. The Fentanyl Sanctions Act allots $600 million to law enforcement and intelligence officials to identify producers and traffickers of the drug and would block access to US markets for Chinese chemical and pharmaceutical companies if they are caught producing the drug.

Chronicle AM: Feds Move Against Philly Safe Injection Site, MA Heroin OD Death Case, More.... (2/6/19)

Pushback against marijuana legalization emerges in Illinois and New York, the federal prosecutor in Philadelphia has moved to block a supervised injection site, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will decide on whether an involuntary manslaughter charge is appropriate in a heroin overdose death case, and more.

Massachusett's highest court will decide if sharing heroin with someone who ODs is involuntary manslaughter. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Catholic Bishops Oppose Marijuana Legalization. The bishops in charge of all six of the state’s Catholic dioceses have unsurprisingly come out against efforts in the state legislature to legalize marijuana. "As lawmakers consider this issue, it is important to remember they are not only debating the legalization of marijuana, but also commercialization of a drug into an industry the state will profit from," the bishops said in a statement. "In seeking the common good, the state should protect its citizens."

New York PTA Opposes Marijuana Legalization. The New York State Parent Teacher Association has Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) and the legislature's push to legalize marijuana.  is urging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers to rethink their push to legalize adult-use marijuana. "In 2017 the American Medical Association stated that marijuana is a dangerous drug, a serious public health concern and that the sale of marijuana for recreational use should not be legalized," State PTA Executive Director Kyle Belokopitsky said in a statement. "We need to listen to experts on this and must do more to protect our children from substance use disorders. This is the wrong move for New York state, our children and their families." The bill the governor has proposed requires New Yorkers to be at least 21 years of age to consume marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Backers File Proposed Language. A group calling itself Nebraskans for Sensible Marijuana Laws submitted its proposed language for a medical marijuana ballot initiative Tuesday. If approved for signature gathering, the initiative will need about 130,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2020 ballot. The move comes after the state legislature has refused for years to pass legislation, but initiative organizers say they would prefer to achieve their goals by passing Legislative Bill 110, which is pending this session.

Asset Forfeiture

Hawaii Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to approve SB 1467, which would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. The bill now goes to the Senate Ways and Means Committee before heading to a Senate floor vote. 

Harm Reduction

Eastern Pennsylvania US Attorney Files Lawsuit to Block Philadelphia Supervised Injection Site. US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William McSwain announced at a Wednesday morning news conference that he had filed a lawsuit aimed at blocking Philadelphia from becoming the first city in the nation to host a supervised injection site. His lawsuit asks a federal judge to declare such a facility illegal under federal law. McSwain said that by seeking a civil ruling before the site became operational, his office could avoid having to resort to making criminal arrests and prosecutions and/or forfeiture proceedings. McSwain's move comes after city officials have spent more than a year preparing to get a site up and running.

Sentencing

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to Decide on Appropriate Penalty for Supplying Heroin in Overdose Cases. The state's highest court will decide whether a UMass-Amherst student who jointly procured heroin with a friend who subsequently overdosed and died from the drug can be charged with involuntary manslaughter based on wanton or reckless conduct and drug distribution. In oral arguments Monday, the student's attorneys noted that while other had been charged with involuntary manslaughter in overdose deaths, their client had not injected the victim with heroin, supplied him with other drugs, or knew of any prior overdoses. The court is not expected to rule on the case for four or five months.

Chronicle AM: Federal Marijuana Cases Decline, Oregon Ponders MJ Exports, More... (1/2/19)

Federal marijuana prosecutions are dropping as more states legalize, Oregon ponders legal marijuana exports, a South Carolina poll shows strong support for medical marijuana, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Prosecutions Are Declining. In a year-end report from the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that while overall drug prosecutions increased during Fiscal Year 2018, marijuana prosecutions were down. "Drug crime defendants, who accounted for 28 percent of total filings, grew two percent, although defendants accused of crimes associated with marijuana decreased 19 percent," Roberts wrote.

New York Governor Vows Marijuana Legalization in Inaugural Address. Gov Andrew Cuomo (D) used his inaugural address Tuesday to reiterate his support for legalizing marijuana. "When they write the history books and ask what did we do -- in the face of anger and division, when people were disillusioned, let New York's answer be that in this defining moment we brought healing and light and hope and progress and action," he said. "That New York led on legalizing recreational marijuana, bringing justice and new economic opportunity not for rich corporations, but for the poor communities that paid too high a price for too long." He also promised to propose "the most progressive agenda this state has ever seen, period" within a hundred days, and included marijuana legalization as part of that.

Oregon Ponders Becoming First State to Export Legal Marijuana. The Craft Cannabis Alliance, led by Adam Smith, is working with legislators on a plan to let the state start exporting marijuana to other legal pot states by 2021. Under draft language for a proposed bill, the state would allow wholesalers to ship across state lines to other legal pot states once the governor had signed a pact with the importing state to allow those deliveries. But any proposed bill to allow such sales faces obstacles at the federal level, where marijuana is still illegal.

Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new poll from Benchmark Research finds that nearly three-quarters of South Carolinians are ready for medical marijuana. The poll had support at 72%, with even 63% of Republicans behind it. Medical marijuana bills last year won some committee votes, but were unable to advance.

Chronicle AM: Weed on the Ballot in 4 States This Election Day, OH Sentencing Reform, Too, More... (11/6/18)

Marijuana policy initiatives are on the ballot in four states today, so is sentencing reform in Ohio, the FDA approves a powerful new opioid, El Chapo goes on trial in New York, and more.

Do your civic duty today. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana on the Midterm Ballot Today. It's not just about control of the Congress. Four states are seeing statewide marijuana policy initiatives: In Michigan and North Dakota, legalization is on the ballot; in Missouri and Utah, medical marijuana in on the ballot. Also, a number of Ohio localities are voting on decriminalization, and in Wisconsin, a number of localities will be voting on non-binding referenda on whether to legalize marijuana. Come back tomorrow for results.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

FDA Approves Opioid Pain Reliever 1,000 Times Stronger Than Morphine. The Food & Drug Administration has approved a new opioid pain reliever that is a thousand times stronger than morphine and ten times stronger than fentanyl. The new drug, Dsuvia, will be used as a fast-acting alternative to intravenously administered opioids in hospitals. Critics warned that the new drug could be abused, but FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that it will only be used with "very tight restrictions."

Law Enforcement

El Chapo Goes on Trial in New York City. Longtime Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has gone on trial in New York City this week. El Chapo was extradited to the US in 2017 after escaping from a Mexican prison and being recaptured months later, and now faces a 17-count federal indictment for his role heading the cartel, including money laundering, firearms, and multiple murder charges. Although El Chapo has been out of circulation for more than a year, the Sinaloa Cartel remains arguably the most powerful of Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

Sentencing

Ohio Votes on Whether to Defelonize Drug Possession Today. Voters in the Buckeye State will have a chance to approve the Issue 1 sentencing reform initiative. The initiative would move most drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors. It would also allow some nonviolent offenders to receive 25% sentence reductions and would also prohibit jail time as a sentence for using or possessing drugs until the third offense within 24 months. Come back tomorrow for results.

International

Israeli Finance Minister Criticizes Delay in Approving Medical Marijuana Exports. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon blamed the Public Security Ministry for foot-dragging on allowing exports of the herb, thus "harming Israel's economy, farmers and local industry," and called for the cabinet to act to approve exports and advance legislation. "For more than six months, the Public Security Ministry has been preventing the plan from being put on the cabinet's agenda, thereby harming Israel's economy, farmers and local industry," Kahlon wrote in a memo Monday to the cabinet secretary. "During these months a number of countries around the world, including Australia and Canada, began to export medical cannabis."

Study: Charging People With Murder for Drug Overdose Deaths "Bad Criminal Justice Policy" [FEATURE]

As the nation grapples with the deadliest drug crisis in its history -- more than 72,000 people died of drug overdoses last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- prosecutors across the country have rushed to embrace the use of "drug-induced homicide" charges as a means of combating the problem. That means charging the people who sold the fatal dose -- or sometimes just the people who shared it -- with murder or manslaughter and sending them away to prison for lengthy terms.

Drug-induced homicide charges are a regression to the lock 'em up policies of last century's drug war. (ussc.gov)
Faced with a public clamor to "do something," prosecutors are resorting to this facile, politically popular tactic in order to "send a message" of toughness to dealers in a bid to break the back of the epidemic. But a new study, "America's Favorite Antidote: Drug-Induced Homicide in the Age of the Overdose Crisis" concludes that the practice is worse than ineffective -- it's actually counterproductive.

Such prosecutions are "bad law and bad criminal justice policy" that have only worsened the opioid crisis that has taken tens of thousands of American lives, writes Leo Beletsky, associate professor of law and health sciences of the Northeastern University School of Law.

Beletsky notes that while the strategy dates back to 1986, in an atmosphere of moral panic set off by the death of NBA player Len Bias of an overdose from cocaine given to him by a friend, it has really taken off in recent years as the country lives through what he calls the "worst drug crisis in US history." Now, more than half the states have some form of drug-induced homicide law, while others are considering amending them to include fentanyl.

But the prosecutions amount to little more than "policy theater" rooted in the punitive approach long favored in the country's war on drugs, Beletsky argues. That is an unsuccessful approach that has largely failed to reduce drug use or stem the flow of drugs into the country, he notes.

Beletsky's study looked at data from 263 drug-induced homicide prosecutions between 2000 and 2016. One of the most striking findings was that, while such prosecutions are supposedly aimed at drug dealers, at least half of those charged were family members or partners.

"In many jurisdictions, it is enough to have simply shared a small amount of your drugs with the deceased to be prosecuted for homicide," he notes.

Another striking -- yet completely unsurprising -- finding is that when he applied his data to what he called "existing racially disparate patterns of drug law enforcement," he found evidence of racial differences in the application of drug-induced homicide laws as well. Such selective enforcement resulted in "gaping disparities between whites and people of color."

But the most bitter irony can be found in the impact of such laws on actual overdose deaths. Even though opioid overdose reversal drugs such as naloxone are now in wide use, many friends, fellow users, and family members are reluctant to call for emergency help because they fear the legal repercussions, even if they didn't provide the lethal drugs.

"Police involvement at overdose scenes may result in arrests on drug, parole violation, weapons, and other charges," wrote Beletsky. "It may also lead to loss of child custody, violation of community supervision conditions, and other legal consequences rooted in the pervasive stigmatization of substance use, but not directly linked to criminal law. Research suggests that fear of police contact and legal detriment is actually the single most important reason why people who witnessed overdoses do not seek timely emergency medical help," he concludes. "Aside from crowding out evidence-based interventions and investments, these prosecutions run at complete cross-purposes to efforts that encourage witnesses to summon lifesaving help during overdose events."

Rather than "tougher" policy responses to drug use such as the resort to drug-induced homicide charges, policymakers should be subjecting failed punishment-oriented policies to rigorous scrutiny while instead developing a "population-based" health policy emphasizing treatment and diversion from the criminal justice system, he suggested.

"A system that relies on the instrument of punishment to regulate the behavior of people affected by severe SUD (Substance Use Disorder) fundamentally misconstrues the nature of addiction," Beletsky writes. "The established scientific consensus predicts that individuals affected by addiction will substantially discount -- or totally disregard -- legal risks and threats of punishment as a matter of course. This scientific construct has yet to be translated into US jurisprudence, however."

"Drug-induced homicide prosecutions and other similar punitive approaches to the opioid crisis, such as curbing prescriptions and subjecting patients to drug testing regimes, have crowded out public health strategies that have been proven to work in limiting the deleterious impacts of widespread opioid use," he writes.

"The bottom line," Beletsky writes, "is that, when it comes to policies that hold the most empirical promise for addressing the overdose crisis, we know what to do; we just are not doing it."

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