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Chronicle AM: Bernie Sanders Criminal Justice Proposals, British Drug Deaths at All-Time High, More... (8/19/19)

Bernie Sanders rolls out a radical criminal justice reform package, marijuana legalization initiatives get moving in Arizona and South Dakota, Atlanta rejects expansion of drug-free commercial zones, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Initiative Details Released. The Arizona Dispensaries Association last Friday released details of their proposed marijuana legalization initiative, the Smart and Safe Act. Supporters will need 237,645 valid voter signatures by July 2, 2020, to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. The act would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by people 21 and over, allow adults to grow up to six plants each (with a maximum of 12 per home), and provide for expungement of past pot convictions. Employers and property owners would have the right to forbid use at their workplaces and on their property. Marijuana sales would carry a 16% excise tax.

South Dakota Legalization Initiative Advances One Step. State Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) last Friday filed an official explanation of a proposed initiative to legalize marijuana. The initiative would legalize adult use through a constitutional amendment and require the legislature to pass legislation creating rules for medical cannabis and hemp. Organizers will have until November 3 to come up with16,961 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering. Secretary of State Lawrence Denney (R) announced last Friday that an initiative to legalize medical marijuana has been approved for signature gathering. The measure would allow qualified patients to possess up to four ounces and grow up to six plants. It also would protect medical marijuana production facilities and medical marijuana dispensaries from civil forfeitures and penalties under state law and make it illegal to discriminate against registered medical marijuana users in education, housing or employment. Organizers have until April 30, 2020, to gather some 55,000 valid voter signatures, with at least 6% of voters from all 18 state legislative districts signing on.

Criminal Justice

Bernie Sanders Unveils Proposal for Massive Overhaul of Criminal Justice System. Democratic presidential contender Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) on Sunday unveiled a sweeping plan aimed at cutting the country's prison population in half and eliminating "institutional racism and corporate profiteering" in the criminal justice system. The proposal seeks to reform the nation's prisons, police departments, courts, drug laws and treatment of people who have mental illnesses. Sanders is calling for an end to cash bail, solitary confinement, the death penalty, and civil asset forfeiture while at the same time looking to legalize marijuana and safe injection sites for hard drug users, among other proposals.

Atlanta Kills Expansion of Drug-Free Commercial Zones. The city council's Public Safety/Legal Administration Committee voted last Tuesday to kill an ordinance that would expand the geographic boundaries of Atlanta's Drug-Free Commercial Zones. Those are areas where there are heightened penalties for drug crimes and where drug offenders can be banished from returning. Opponents of the expansion cited research showing the zones exacerbate racial disparities in drug policing.

International

England, Wales Drug Overdose Deaths Hit All-Time High. The British Office of National Statistics has released drug-related death numbers for 2018 and reports there were 4,359 drug-related deaths in England and Wales last year, the highest number and the highest percentage increase (16%) since the series started in 1993. Between 2017 and 2018, there were increases in the number of deaths involving a wide range of substances, though opiates, such as heroin and morphine, continued to be the most frequently mentioned type of drug. Deaths involving cocaine doubled between 2015 and 2018 to their highest ever level, while the numbers involving new psychoactive substances (NPS) returned to their previous levels after halving in 2017.

Mexico's Top Court Demands Action on Medical Marijuana Regulation. After months of delays, the country's supreme court last week ordered the health ministry to issue regulations within six months on medical marijuana use. The court said the government's failure to act had put rights at risk for patients, including children. The health ministry said it would comply with the court order. The ruling comes as the country is moving toward recreational marijuana legalization.

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

Chronicle AM: Cory Booker Plans Mass Drug Prisoner Clemencies, CA Safe Injection Site Bill Delayed, More... (6/20/19)

Cory Booker wants to grant clemency to thousands of federal drug prisoners, a pair of drug reform amendments pass the House, the Russians move to start cultivating marijuana and opium, and more.

Sen. Cory Booker vows to grant clemency to thousands of drug war prisoners if elected president. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

House Approves Amendments Stripping DEA Funding and Pushing FDA to Regulate CBD. The House on Thursday approved two amendments to appropriations bills, one that would transfer $5 million from the DEA to an opioid treatment program and one that directs the Food and Drug Administration to set regulations for using CBD in foods and dietary supplements. The former amendment was authored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said: "I offer this amendment because ending the war on drugs has to mean changing our priorities in order to keep all communities safe and healthy. The best way we do that is by offering people the help and support they need before arrest and criminalization should be considered in the first place."

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Bumped to Next Year. A bill that would have allowed San Francisco to launch a pilot safe injection site program has been bumped to next year by its sponsors. AB 362 passed the Assembly earlier this year, but after the Senate referred it to three different committees for review, Assemblywoman Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) and Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) pulled the bill, saying they needed more time to build alliances to ensure passage next year.

Sentencing Policy

Cory Booker Says He Will Grant Clemency to Thousands of Drug Prisoners. New Jersey senator and 2020 presidential candidate Corey Booker said Wednesday that he is elected, he will grant clemency to nonviolent drug offenders currently sitting in federal prisons. His clemency plan could affect more than 17,000 prisoners in three categories: those doing time for marijuana, those whose sentences would have been reduced if the criminal justice overhaul signed by President Donald Trump last year were applied retroactively, and those affected by the disparity between sentences for possession of crack versus powder cocaine.

International

Official Death Toll in Philippines Drug War Reaches 6,600. The official death toll in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs has reached 6,600, the Philippines National Police reported Thursday. That's up from just under 5,000 in November 2018. Duterte has recently acknowledged both that despite his efforts, drug use has increased in the country, and that the poor are feeling the brunt of the crackdown. Human rights groups put the toll much higher, some as high as 30,000, with killings divided between police and shadowy vigilante groups.

Russian Duma Approves Cultivation of Opium, Other Psychoactive Plants. Citing Western sanctions that threaten its supplies of opioids and other medications, the Russian parliament has approved a bill to allow the cultivation of psychoactive plants, including marijuana and opium poppies. The bill must still be approved by the Federation Council and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

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

Chronicle AM: DE Legalization Bill Advances, Opioid Maker InSys Pays Out Big Time, More... (6/6/19)

Delaware could be the next state to legalize marijuana if it hurries, Brazil's rightist president approves regressive new drug laws, Colombia's disarmed FARC rebels are starting to pick up their guns again, an opioid manufacturer pays out bigtime for bribing doctors to prescribe its fentanyl product, and more.

Vancouver's InSite
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote.The House Revenue and Finance Committee has approved a marijuana legalization bill, HB 110, on Wednesday. The measure now heads for a House floor vote. The bill would establish a state-licensed industry but would bar home cultivation. The bill calls for the state to collect a 15% tax on retail sales price of marijuana, as well as licensing fees. The legislative session ends June 30.

Maine Regulators Adopt Provisional Rules, Send Them to Legislature. Nearly three years after residents voted to legalize marijuana, the state Office of Marijuana Policy has released draft rules, which are now up for review by the legislature. This is the third attempt to get rules adopted to allow the state to get its marijuana industry going. The first two were vetoed by then Gov. Paul LePage (R).

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana House Approves Allowing Patients to Inhale, But Not Smoke. The House voted unanimously to approve HB 358, which would allow patients to inhale -- but not smoke -- their medicine. The bill had stalled in the Senate, but was revived after legislators included a "metered-dose inhaler" in the definition of acceptable devices. The measure now goes to the governor's desk.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

InSys Therapeutics to Pay $225 Million for Bribing Docs to Prescribe Its Fentanyl Product. Opioid manufacturer Insys Therapeutics has agreed to pay $225 million to end civil and criminal investigations into charges it used bribery to get doctors to illegally prescribe its highly addictive fentanyl spray, Subsys. The company also agreed to plead guilty to five counts of mail fraud and admitted that its speaker program "to increase brand awareness" was actually "a vehicle to pay bribes and kickbacks to targeted practitioners."

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia Study Finds Community Support for Safe Injection Site. A Drexel University study published Thursday finds that a majority of residents and business owners in the city's Kensington neighborhood support opening a safe injection site there. The Philadelphia-based nonprofit Safehouse is working toward getting one open in the neighborhood. "We're vindicated that the people who are most affected believe that it’s needed," said Ronda Goldfein, Safehouse vice president and secretary and executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania. "We recognize that we need multiple sites, but let's be realistic that we need to put our first site where the need is greatest."

International

Brazil's Bolsonaro Approves Regressive Drug Policy Changes. Brazil's ultra-rightist President Jair Bolsonaro has approved drug legislation passed earlier this year that toughens penalties for drug traffickers and requires drug users to undergo drug treatment at private or religious centers.

Colombia's Disarmed FARC Rebels Are Picking Up Their Guns Again. As many as a third of fighters in the FARC, which disbanded following a 2016 peace agreement, have taken up arms again, according to a military intelligence report. More than 2,000 of the FARC's 6,000 fighters have joined dissident FARC groups, many of which are operating in coca-growing regions. That's up a dramatic 30% since December. Disarmed FARC rebels were supposed to have been reintegrated into society, but that has been stymied by violence and discrimination. At least 139 former FARC members have been killed since disarming. "It doesn't help the government's case for reinsertion that many of the productive projects are failing to take off, their former comrades continue to be stigmatized by the ruling party, and a record number of killings of former FARC members remains uninvestigated and unpunished," Sergio Guzmán, director of Colombia Risk Analysis said.

Chronicle AM: A Call for DEA to Suspend Enforcement Actions, Italy's War on Weed, More... (5/13/19)

Civil rights and civil liberties groups join drug and sentencing reformers in calling for a moratorium on DEA enforcement actions, residents of Cowtown takes to the streets in support of legal weed, Italy's hard right interior minister picks a fight with low-THC marijuana sales, and more.

The DEA needs to end enforcement operations until Congress can see if they're doing more harm than good, groups demand. (dea.gov
Marijuana Policy

Hundreds March for Marijuana Legalization in Fort Worth. Hundreds of people marched through downtown Fort Worth Saturday afternoon in support of legalizing marijuana and CBD. The event began with a rally that included speakers, voter registration tables, live music and food trucks. That was followed by a march to the Tarrant County Courthouse and back. The march comes as the Texas legislature is considering hemp, CBD, and pot decriminalization bills.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Appeals Court Rules You Can't Smoke Medical Marijuana in a Parked Car. The state Court of Appeals ruled last Thursday that the state's medical marijuana law does not allow smoking marijuana in public places -- and that includes parked cars. The ruling reinstated the misdemeanor convictions of two cardholders caught toking up near a Mesa music festival.

Harm Reduction

Oakland Moves Toward a Safe Injection Site. Mayor Libby Schaaf (D) and Councilwoman Nikki Fortunate Bas filed a resolution with the city council last Thursday supporting AB 362, which would allow San Francisco to open a safe injection site, and asking that the bill be amended to include Oakland.

Law Enforcement

ACLU, NAACP Among Groups Calling for Suspension of DEA Enforcement Activities. The ACLU and NAACP have joined drug and sentencing reform groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance and the Sentencing Project in calling for a suspension of DEA enforcement activities until Congress can review their effectiveness. In a letter sent to the House Appropriations Committee last month, the groups wrote that the DEA is "emblematic of how the drug war has been a devastating failure" when drug use should be seen as a public health issue. "In short, the DEA is the lead entity executing the war on drugs," the letter says. "If we are ever to treat drugs as a health issue, not a criminal issue, then the DEA's enforcement activities must be suspended until an oversight hearing is done on this program by the House Judiciary Committee."

International

Italian Interior Minister Vows to "Go to War" Against Legal Marijuana. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who also heads the country's neofascist League Party, has vowed war on legal marijuana dispensaries. "From today, I'll go to war on cannabis street by street, shop by shop, neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city," said Salvini. Salvini is attacking not marijuana as we know it, but pot products made with exceedingly low levels of THC (under 0.2%), which are legal under the country's 2016 hemp law. Salvini's move could cause problems for his party's coalition with the populist Five Star movement, which has been considering a proposal to implement broader legalization of the drug.

Chronicle AM: TX House Approves No Jail for Pot, HI Bill to End Civil Forfeiture Goes to Governor, More... (4/30/19)

There's too much pot in Oregon and the Senate is doing something about it, the Texas House passes a quasi-decrim bill, a study of an underground American safe injection site finds good things, and more.

The InSite safe injection site in Vancouver. An underground American SIJ is producing good results, a study finds. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Senate Approves Temporary Freeze on Marijuana Production. Faced with chronic oversupply of marijuana from licensed growers, the Senate on Monday approved SB 218, which would freeze marijuana production at current levels for the next two years. While the state will not issue new licenses to growers, current growers will be able to renew their licenses. The bill now heads to the House.

Texas House Approves Quasi-Decriminalization Bill. The House on Monday voted 98-43 to approve HB 63, which would remove the threat of jail time for people caught with an ounce of marijuana or less. Under the bill, such people would be charged with a Class C misdemeanor but face a fine of $500 instead of arrest and jail time. Bill sponsor Joe Moody (D) had originally had small-time possession as an infraction but restored it to misdemeanor status in a bid to win votes. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Baltimore Judges Deny State's Attorney's Request to Dismiss Thousands of Marijuana Convictions. Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced in January plans to throw out nearly 5,000 marijuana possession convictions, but has been thwarted by rulings last Friday by two city judges. The jurists held that Mosby's order failed to show how those convicted faced significant collateral consequences and that the request amounted to a "blatant conflict" because Mosby represents the state. The judges also criticized Mosby for having earlier asked police to crack down on drug dealers and users in West Baltimore. Mosby said she is planning her next moves.

Asset Forfeiture

Hawaii Legislature Approves Ban on Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bill that would end civil asset forfeiture in the state won final approval last Friday and has been sent to the desk of Gov. David Ige (D). HB 748 would allow asset forfeiture only in felony cases where the owner has already been convicted of a criminal charge.

Harm Reduction

Secret American Safe Injection Site Saved Lives, Study Says. There are no officially permitted legal safe injection sites operating in the US, but one underground site has seen some 9,000 injections and 26 overdose events reversed by naloxone, according to research presented at the 26th International Harm Reduction Conference in Portugal. There were no fatal overdoses at the site. "My hope as a scientist is that we can really try them in the US, that we could perhaps pilot a larger scale operation that we can pilot and evaluate," said Dr. Barrot Lambdin, who presented the results. "We're seeing data from the site that is very positive."

Chronicle AM: ND Gets First MMJ Dispensary, MI Asset Forfeiture Package Moving, More... (3/4/19)

No legal pakalolo for Hawaii this year, North Dakota sees its first medical marijuana dispensary, asset forfeiture reform advances in Michigan, and more.

The British Labor Party is calling for pilot safe injection sites like this one in Vancouver. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Hawaii Legalization Bill Dies. A legalization bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English (D) and cosponsored by half the Democrats in the Senate died last Friday after the Senate Health Committee did not schedule a meeting to hear any bills that day. Friday was the deadline for bills to be considered by the full Senate, so the inaction effectively killed the bill.

Vermont Senate Approves Legalizing Marijuana Sales. The state Senate last Friday approved S.54, which would establish a taxed and regulated market for legal marijuana sales. The bill now goes to the House. This is the sixth time the Senate has passed a tax and regulate proposal, only to see them die in the House. But this year, 40 House members are supporting H. 196, a separate legalization bill that is slightly different from the Senate bill.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Cleared for Signature-Gathering. The secretary of state's office last Friday approved a medical marijuana initiative for signature gathering. The initiative would "amend the Nebraska Constitution to provide the rights to use, possess, access, and safely produce cannabis, and cannabis products and materials, for serious medical conditions as recommended by a physician or nurse practitioner," according to the ballot title. To qualify for the ballot, 10% of registered voters must sign the petition. It must also have signatures from at least five percent of registered voters in at least 38 out of the state's 93 counties.

North Dakota's First Medical Marijuana Dispensary Opens. The state's first dispensary opened last Friday in a mini-mall in Fargo. Voters approved medical marijuana in November 2016, but it took the state more than two years to create a regulatory structure.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan House Approves Asset Forfeiture Reform Package. Two weeks after the state Senate passed an asset forfeiture reform package that would end civil forfeiture unless the assets are worth more than $50,000, the House has now passed a similar package. The two bodies will meet in conference committee to hash out minor differences before sending the legislation to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D).

Utah Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Killed in House Committee. A bill that would reform asset forfeiture practices in the state breezed through the Senate only to die last Friday in a House committee after the DEA and Utah narcotics officers blasted the bill. SB 109 would have required law enforcement to file cases only in state court to prevent police from giving cases to the feds to avoid state laws.

International

British Labor Party Calls for Safe Consumption Site Pilot Programs. The Labor Party has come out will a call for pilot programs for safe consumption sites. Calls for their introduction have grown louder as the United Kingdom grapples with its own overdose death crisis. Some 4,678 people died of drug overdoses in the kingdom last year.

Faced with Fentanyl, Is It Time for Heroin Buyers' Clubs? [FEATURE]

In the past few years, the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl and its derivatives have been the primary driver of the drug overdose death epidemic. A wave of addiction that began with prescription opioids two decades ago and morphed into one driven by heroin after the crackdown on pain pills one decade ago has now clearly entered a third phase: the era of fentanyl.

Pharmaceutical heroin. (Creative Commons)
Beginning in about 2014, fentanyl-related overdose death rates skyrocketed as Chinese chemical manufacturers and Mexican drug distribution gangs began flooding the country with the cheap, easily concealable narcotic—and not through unwalled borders but through points of entry and package delivery services, including the U.S. Postal Service. By 2017, fentanyl was implicated in some 28,000 overdose deaths, more than either heroin or prescription opioids, and involved in nearly half of all overdose deaths.

The responses have ranged from the repressive to the pragmatic. Some state and federal legislation seeks a harsher criminal justice system response, whether it's increasing penalties for fentanyl trafficking or charging hapless drug sharers with murder if the person they shared with dies. In other cases, the opioid epidemic has emboldened harm reduction-based policies, such as the calls for safe injection sites in cities such as Denver, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Just a couple of hours up the road from Seattle, Vancouver, British Columbia, has been grappling with the same wave of opioid addiction and now, the arrival of fentanyl. And it has arrived with a real wallop: According to the British Columbia Coroner’s Service, fentanyl was implicated in 85 percent of overdose deaths in the province last year, up from only four percent just six years earlier. And with the arrival of fentanyl and, in 2016, its cousin, carfentanil, overdose deaths in B.C. jumped more than four-fold in that same period, from 333 in 2012 to 1,489 in 2018.

But while American cities are just now moving toward opening safe injection sites, Vancouver has had them for years, part of the city’s embrace of the progressive Four Pillars strategy—prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement—of dealing with problems around drug misuse and addiction. In fact, more than a dozen safe injection sites are now operating in the city, as well as a couple of programs that involve providing pharmaceutical grade heroin or other opioids to hard-core addicts who have proven unamenable to traditional forms of treatment.

Such harm reduction programs have not prevented all overdose deaths, but they have radically reduced the toll. B.C. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe has estimated that without those programs, B.C. would have seen triple the number of fatal overdoses.

Vancouver has been on the cutting edge of progressive drug policy reforms for the past 20 years, and now, faced with the fentanyl crisis, some researchers are proposing a radical next step: heroin buyers’ clubs.

In a report published last week, the B.C. Center on Substance Use, which has strong ties to the provincial government, called for the clubs as part of a broader plan for "legally regulated heroin sales in B.C." to protect users from fentanyl-adulterated heroin and cut the profits of organized crime.

The proposal "is inspired by cannabis compassion clubs and buyers' clubs, both of which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s in response to the AIDS epidemic," the authors note.

"The compassion or buyers' club would function as a cooperative (or ‘co-op’), as an autonomous and democratic enterprise owned and operated by its members," the report explains. "A member-driven purchasing cooperative is an arrangement among businesses or individuals whereby members agree to aggregate their demand in order to purchase a certain product at a lower price from a supplier," it continues. "By aggregating their purchase orders and relevant resources, members are able to take advantage of volume discounts, price protection, shared storage and distribution facilities and costs, and other economies of scale to reduce their overall purchasing costs."

It wouldn't exactly be the Dallas Buyers Club, the 2013 film that portrayed unorthodox methods of obtaining AIDS medications in the 1980s. There would be some structure: To be accepted into the club, people addicted to opioids would have to undergo a medical evaluation, and once admitted to the club, they would still have to buy their own heroin, but with many advantages over buying black market dope. The main advantage would be that they would be receiving pure, pharmaceutical grade heroin (known as diacetylmorphine in countries where it is part of the pharmacopeia)—not an unknown substance that is likely to contain fentanyl.

Club members could inject the drug at a designated location—the report suggests that existing safe injection sites could be used—or take small amounts of the drug with them for consumption at home. The report also calls for each club to include related services, such as overdose response training, access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, and options for members to access social services such as detox, rehab, and other treatment options.

Not only could buyers' clubs create a safer, cheaper heroin-using experience for members, the report argues, but they could also erode the black market and its tendency to produce more potent drugs—the so-called Iron Law of Prohibition.

"Fentanyl adulteration in the illicit drug supply is a predictable unintended consequence of drug prohibition," the report concludes. "The same forces that pushed the market away from relatively bulky opium towards heroin, a more concentrated opioid that was easier to transport clandestinely, have continued to push the opioid market to increasingly potent synthetic opioids, including a range of fentanyl analogs. A cooperative could undermine the illegal market wherever it is set up."

Such a plan faces legal and political challenges in Canada, but those can be overcome if the provincial and federal governments get on board. Obstacles to such a plan being rolled out in the United States are even greater, especially given an administration hostile toward harm reduction in general that would most likely view legal heroin sales as anathema.

But here in the U.S., we're a decade or so behind Vancouver when it comes to progressive drug policies, so it's time to get the conversation started. After all, these sorts of approaches to the problem are likely to be more effective than throwing addicts in jail or building boondoggle border walls. 

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

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.

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.

Chronicle AM: Feds Warn on Denver Safe Injection Site, It's J-Day in Michigan, More... (12/6/18)

Michigan became the first legal marijuana state in the Midwest today, the feds send a shot across the bow of an effort to get a safe injection site up and running in Denver, cartel violence challenges Mexico's new president, and more.

[Errata: This article initially reported incorrectly that driving under the influence of marijuana under MIchigan's legalization law would result in a ticket. DUI remains a felony in Michigan.]

Today Michigan becomes the first legal marijuana state in the Midwest.
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Marijuana Legalization Now in Effect. As of today, it is legal to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants in Michigan. There is no public smoking allowed and driving under the influence remains a crime. The state's system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales, however, is not expected to be up and running until 2020. [This article initially reported incorrectly that marijuana DUIs would result in getting a ticket. DUI remains a felony in Michigan.]

New Yorkers Want to Legalize Marijuana to Fix the Subway. Lawmakers are eyeing legal marijuana tax revenues as a means of helping to modernize New York City's subway system. Subway officials say they'll need $40 billion to upgrade, and legal weed could help. "The biggest issue we hear about as elected officials is the state of the subway system," said Corey Johnson, the New York City Council speaker. "To be able to tie these things together is something that could be highly impactful and potentially transformative."

Harm Reduction

Denver DEA, US Attorney Warn City on Safe Injection Sites. As city and county officials move toward establishing a safe injection site for drug users, representatives of the federal government are warning that they are illegal and anyone involved could be looking at years in federal prison. In a joint statement, the feds were blunt: "Foremost, the operation of such sites is illegal under federal law. 21 U.S.C. Sec. 856 prohibits the maintaining of any premises for the purpose of using any controlled substance. Potential penalties include forfeiture of the property, criminal fines, civil monetary penalties up to $250,000, and imprisonment up to 20 years in jail for anyone that knowingly opens, leases, rents, maintains, or anyone that manages or controls and knowingly and intentionally makes available such premises for use (whether compensated or otherwise). Other federal laws likely apply as well." The feds also argued that safe injection sites don't actually produce claimed harm reduction benefits and that "these facilities will actually increase public safety risks" by "attracting drug dealers, sexual predators, and other criminals." Those claims are, at best, debatable.

International

Mexican Cartel Gunmen Kill Six Cops in Deadliest Attack of the AMLO Era. In the deadliest attack since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) took office last Saturday, gunmen of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel attacked police transporting a prisoner in Jalisco state, leaving six police officers dead. The attackers came in three vehicles and escaped, setting up roadblocks of burning vehicles they had commandeered. AMLO came into office pledging to quell widespread cartel violence.

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