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Chronicle AM: Rand Paul Slams Jeff Sessions, Guatemala Poppy Conflict Grows Violent, More... (5/16/17)

Marijuana legalization efforts look stalled in Connecticut and Rhode Island, Rand Paul joins the chorus of critics of Attorney General Sessions' drug war crackdown, the California Senate approves a bill to end sentencing enhancements for prior drug convictions, and more.

Kentucky libertarian GOP Sen. Rand Paul says return to harsh drug war will disproportionately harm black communities.
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Dems Put Legalization Language in Budget Bill. Democrats have included marijuana legalization language in their budget recommendations, while conceding they don't have enough votes in their own caucus to pass the measure. The measure needs 76 votes to pass, but not all 79 Democrats are on board. They said they included the language to spur further conversations and to help balance the state budget. Legalization bills have been defeated in two committees this year.

Rhode Island Bill to Create Legalization Study Commission Gets Vote Today. The House Judiciary Committee was set to vote today on a measure that would create a legislative commission to study marijuana legalization. The move is not supported by legalization proponents, who charge it is a delaying tactic. Foes were set to rally at the statehouse at noon today to urge a legalization vote this year.

Drug Policy

Rand Paul Slams Sessions' Return to Hard Core Drug War. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) slammed Attorney General Sessions' new sentencing guidelines in a CNN op-ed Monday. Last Friday, Sessions instructed federal prosecutors to charge defendants with the most serious possible offense carrying the longest possible prison sentence. "The attorney general's new guidelines, a reversal of a policy that was working, will accentuate the injustice in our criminal justice system," Paul wrote, adding that the "war on drugs" disproportionately affects young black men. "I want to go the opposite way from the attorney general," Paul said.

Senate Bill to Reauthorize Drug Czar's Office Funding Filed. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has filed Senate Bill 1123, which would reauthorize funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). The move comes after the Trump administration suggested cutting funding for the office by 95%. This bill does not actually fund ONDCP; it merely authorizes funding it. Actual appropriations levels would be set later in the budget process.

Sentencing

California Senate Approves Bill to End Sentence Enhancements for Prior Drug Convictions. The Senaate approved the RISE ACT (Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements), Senate Bill 180, on a party line vote Monday. The bill would repeal a three-year mandatory enhancement for prior drug convictions that are added to any new conviction. Today, someone convicted for sale or possession for sale of a miniscule amount of drugs, can face 3-5 years plus an additional three years in jail for each prior conviction for similar drug offenses.

International

Guatemala Border Communities Clash Over Cartel-Tied Opium Crops. The Guatemalan government has declared a state of emergency in the Ixchiguán and Tajumulco municipalities of the San Marcos department near the border with Mexico after community members engaged in armed battles between themselves and the Guatemalan military. The villagers are fighting over poppy crops, with one village aligned with the Jalisco New Generation cartel and the other aligned with the Sinaloa cartel. Videos of the conflict show the villagers heavily armed.

Chronicle AM: DE Legalization Bill Advances, NH Decrim Bill Passes, More... (5/11/17)

A legalization bill in Vermont awaits the governor's signature, and so does a decrim bill in New Hampshire, Trump names an anti-reform drug commission, Senate Democrats signal their concerns over Trump drug policies, and more.

New England is happening! A Vermont legalization bill is on the governor's desk, so is a New Hampshire decrim bill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Revenue and Finance Committee on Wednesday approved House Bill 110, which would allow people 21 and over to possess marijuana and buy it from marijuana shops, which would be limited to 75. There is no provision for people to grow their own. The bill now goes to the House floor.

New Hampshire Legislature Approves Decriminalization Bill. With approval by the Senate on Thursday, a decriminalization bill is now headed to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu (R). House Bill 640 would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil infraction. It is currently a misdemeanor.

Pennsylvania Poll for First Time Has Majority for Legalization. For the first time, the Franklin and Marshall College Poll is reporting a majority of Keystone Staters favoring marijuana legalization. The poll had support at 56%, a whopping 16-point increase over the last time Franklin and Marshall asked the question in June 2015. But only 44% of Republicans supported it, and the GOP has huge majorities in the state legislature.

Vermont Legalization Bill Awaits Governor's Action. In a historic move, the legislature has approved Senate Bill 22, which would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana possession and allow for limited cultivation by people 21 and over, as well las creating a commission to study the best ways to tax and regulate marijuana commerce in the future. Now the question is whether Gov. Phil Scott (R) will sign the bill into law. He has expressed concerns about drugged driving, but also said he thinks legalization is "inevitable." He says he will "review" the bill and did not commit to vetoing it.

Medical Marijuana

Calls Grow for Florida Special Session to Deal With Medical Marijuana. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has joined a growing number of people calling for a special legislative session to come up with rules for the state's voter-approved medical marijuana amendment. Senate President Joe Negron has also said the legislature should be responsible for crafting the rules. The session ended earlier this week without the legislature reaching agreement on how to regulate medical marijuana. If the legislature doesn't come back into session to deal with the issue, it will be left up to the state Health Department.

Drug Policy

Trump Names Members of Commission to Combat Drug Addiction. President Trump has named the members of his new commission to combat drug addiction, and the list of names is heavy with opponents of marijuana legalization. The members are New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D), Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), Project SAM co-founder and former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy, and former Deputy Director for Demand Reduction at the Office of National Drug Control Policy Dr. Bertha Madras.

Senate Dems Send Letter Raising Concerns on Trump's Opioids, Marijuana Policy. Six Senate Democrats this week sent a letter to the acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) saying they were concerned with the administration's "open hostility" to legal marijuana states and possible budget cuts they said could aggravate the opioid crisis. "We appreciate any sincere efforts to combat substance use disorders. We are concerned that this administration may revert to a policy that focuses on the criminal justice system over public health efforts," the letter reads. The senators referenced Trump's threat to radically defund ONDCP, as well as the repeal of other Obama-era policies responding to the opioid epidemic. "A meaningful effort to combat substance use disorders must focus on the full implementation of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, adequate funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and improving the Affordable Care Act by expanding access to mental health and substance use disorder services and health insurance," the letter says. Repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) would be "a major step backwards in the prevention and treatment of drug addiction," they wrote. "We are very concerned that this administration will exacerbate the opioid epidemic rather than alleviate it," the letter said. And then, there's pot: "We are also concerned by the administration's open hostility to state policies legalizing or decriminalizing the possession and use of medical or recreational marijuana," the senators wrote. "Particularly given the severity of the ongoing opioid use epidemic, federal resources should be targeted at providing comprehensive substance use disorder programs and cutting off the flow of deadly drugs rather than interfering with state regulatory regimes for marijuana," the letter said.

International

Medical Marijuana Now Available in Chilean Pharmacies. Pharmacies in Santiago will begin selling medical marijuana this week, a first for Latin America. Chile legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2015, but until now, patients could only obtain it by importing it or from a small number of dedicated farms set up by a charity. The Congress is currently debating a bill that would allow people to grow their own.

Trump Threatens to Defy Congress to Go After Medical Marijuana

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

Congress moved to protect medical marijuana by including in its stopgap federal spending bill a provision barring the Justice Department from using federal funds to go after the drug in states where medical marijuana is legal, but now, President Trump says that doesn't matter.

The president wants to ignore the will of Congress when it comes to funding for medical marijuana enforcement. (Gage Skidmore)
Even though Trump signed the spending bill into law last Friday, he included a signing statement objecting to numerous provisions in the bill -- including the ban on funds to block the implementation of medical marijuana laws in those states.

Despite those state laws, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which also does not recognize "medical marijuana."

The president said he reserved the right to ignore that provision and left open the possibility the Trump administration could go after the 29 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico where medical marijuana use is allowed.

"Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories," Trump noted in the signing statement. "I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

The language suggests that Trump could give Attorney General Jeff Sessions his go ahead when it comes to enforcing marijuana policy. Sessions has vowed to crack down on marijuana and has scoffed at arguments for its medical use as "desperate."

"I reject the idea that we're going to be better placed if we have more marijuana," Sessions told law enforcement officials in an April speech. "It's not a healthy substance, particularly for young people."

But the language also sets up a potential power struggle with Congress, which, under the Constitution, has the sole power to appropriate funds for federal government operations.

As Steve Bell, a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington told Bloomberg News, the signing statement signals a desire to usurp power from Congress.

"It is the constitutional prerogative of the Congress to spend money and to put limitations on spending," said Bell, a former staff director of the Senate Budget Committee and an aide to former Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico. "This is an extremely broad assertion of executive branch power over the purse."

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a primary sponsor of the rider who is also a Trump supporter, threatened to take the matter to the Supreme Court if necessary to protect medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal thought they had some protection, thanks to the congressional budget action, but in typical Trumpian fashion, the president's signing statement has once again introduced doubt and uncertainty, leaving at risk not only patients and providers, but also traditional limits on executive authority.

Chronicle AM: Trump Budget Slashes ONDCP, ACHA Leaves Millions Without Treatment, More... (5/5/17)

The Trump administration wants to slash funding for the drug czar's office by 95%, the American Health Care Act approved in the House Thursday would leave millions without access to drug treatment, and more.

ONDCP faces massive cuts under the Trump budget. But it's early.
Marijuana Policy

Michigan 2018 Legalization Campaign Gets Underway. Backers of a proposed initiative to legalize pot next year launched their campaign on Friday. The initiative is backed by in-state activists and the Marijuana Policy Project, and needs 252, 000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot. A similar effort in 2016 came up short after state officials moved to tighten timelines for signature-gathering.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Senate Approves Amended House Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate on Thursday gave its okay to a heavily-amended House Bill 1397, sending the measure back to the House for final approval. Senate bill sponsor Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming) offered and the Senate approved a "delete all" amendment basically replacing the House text. Among the changes: limiting growers to five retail facilities, allowing the Health Department to grant 10 new licenses this year, and a provision to add five more licenses for every 75,000 patients. The legislative session ends on Monday, so the House must act quickly.

Drug Policy

White House Proposes Massive Cut in Drug Czar's Office Funding. The Trump administration's Office of Management and Budget has released a document that calls for a 95% cut in funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Under the proposal, funding would be slashed from $388 million to $24 million, with up to 33 employees laid off. The budget would also eliminate grants for programs including the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program and the Drug-Free Communities Support program. The OMB says the budget document is preliminary, not final.

Drug Treatment

House Passes Health Care Reform Bill That Would End Access to Treatment for Millions. The House passed the American Health Care Act (ACHA) on Thursday, placing addiction treatment opportunities for millions at risk. As the Drug Policy Alliance noted, "millions of people would lose treatment coverage under this bill and efforts to end the opioid crisis will be put in grave jeopardy." As a result, the advocacy group warned, "people struggling with problematic substance use could relapse to riskier opioid and other drug use behaviors that increase risk for developing costly medical conditions, contracting and transmitting blood-borne disease, and experiencing life-threating overdose." The bill now goes to the Senate.

International

UN Investigator on Executions Rebukes Philippines Over Drug War Killings. United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions rebuked the government of President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday, saying world leaders have recognized that a bloody-handed approach doesn't work, can compound social problems, and "can foster a regime of impunity infecting the whole justice sector and reaching into whole societies, invigorating the rule of violence rather than law." Some 7,000 to 9,000 people have been killed in Duterte's drug war since he took office last year.

Congress Will Give the DOJ Exactly Zero Dollars to Go After Medical Marijuana

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

The bipartisan congressional budget agreement to keep the federal government operating through September contains exactly no money for the Justice Department to wage war on medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The agreement reached Sunday instead explicitly bars the use of federal funds to go after medical marijuana.

You're safe -- sort of -- at least until September. (Sandra Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
And it sends a strong message to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an avowed foe of marijuana and loosening marijuana laws, who told reporters in a February Justice Department briefing that while states "can pass the laws they choose," it remains "a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not."

The budget agreement eliminated funding for medical marijuana enforcement by adopting the language of an amendment that has been successfully used since 2014 to keep the feds out of medical marijuana states. Known originally as the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment and now as the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment, the measure bars the Justice Department from spending money to prevent states from "implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."

The budget language lists the states that have medical marijuana laws, but curiously enough, does not include Indiana and North Dakota, both of which recently adopted medical marijuana laws. At this point, the omission is considered an error, not evidence of malign intent toward those two states.

It should be noted that the budget move does not necessarily mean medical marijuana operators are now free and clear of potential federal attention. Federal prosecutors could attempt to go after such operations by arguing that they are somehow not in compliance with state laws.

Still, the move was greeted with studied approval by medical marijuana supporters, who are now calling for marijuana to be removed from the Controlled Substances Act.

"Medical marijuana patients and the businesses that support them now have a measure of certainty," said Oregon US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a founding member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. "But this annual challenge must end. We need permanent protections for state-legal medical marijuana programs, as well as adult-use."

It is time to "amend federal law in a manner that comports with the available science, public opinion, and with America's rapidly changing cultural and legal landscape," agreed Justin Strekal, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

The best way to do that, Strekal said, is "removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act so that states possess the flexibility to engage in their own marijuana regulatory policies how best they see fit."

Adding restrictive amendments to the Justice Department budget bill has served in recent years to block the feds from interfering in medical marijuana states, but is only a stopgap measure. The amendments have to be renewed each fiscal year, and there is always a chance they could fail. That's why activists and the industry want the certainty that would be provided by either changing the federal marijuana laws or by making the funding ban permanent.

"Medical cannabis patients in the US can rest easy knowing they won't have to return to the black market to acquire their medicine," said Jeffrey Zucker of the marijuana business strategy firm Green Lion Partners. "Operators can relax a bit knowing their hard work isn't for naught and their employees' jobs are safe."

But only until September -- and that's why it's not quite time to get comfortable, he said.

"While this is great as a continuing step, it's important for activists and the industry to remain vigilant and getting cannabis federally unscheduled and truly ending the prohibition of this medicinal plant," Zucker said.

In the meantime, medical marijuana is protected in the 29 states where it is legal. But adult-use legal marijuana, legal in eight states, is not under the purview of the budget agreement and is still theoretically at risk from a Sessions Justice Department.

But even Sessions, a fire-breathing foe of the weed, increasingly seems disinclined to make good on earlier vows to go after legal pot. Like Donald Trump discovering that health care reform is "complicated," Jeff Sessions is apparently coming to understand, as he reportedly told Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper's chief of staff last week, that the Obama administration's toleration of state-legal marijuana legalization under specified conditions is "not too far from good policy."

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: No Fed $$$ for Anti-MedMJ, MA Docs Call for Safe Injection Sites, More... (5/2/17)

Congress won't fund federal medical marijuana enforcement in states where it's legal, the Massachusetts Medical Society calls for a pilot safe injection site, a Wisconsin federal judge throws out that state's "cocaine mom" law, and more.

Chris Christie is back to attacking marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

Chris Christie Accuses Democrats of Wanting to "Poison Our Kids" With Pot to Raise Tax Revenues. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Monday criticized efforts to legalize marijuana and claimed Democrats were willing to "poison our kids" to get marijuana tax revenues. A reference to a recent report saying the state could earn $300 million in pot taxes set him off. "This is the part that liberals love the most: We can tax it. Sweet Jesus, we can tax it! More money for us!" Christie exclaime. "I can say this now because I'm not running for anything again: $300 million is nothing. We have a $35.5 billion budget; $300 million is a rounding error. I'm sorry. It's true. Think about it, that's 1 percent, less than 1 percent, of the entire state budget for a year. And we're going to poison our kids for 1 percent more money that they can spend on some God awful, stupid program that they can put in the mailer and send out and say, 'I delivered $300 million more for this.'" There's more, too; just click on the link.

Medical Marijuana

Congress Rolls Out Interim Budget With No Funding for Medical Marijuana Enforcement. The budget bill crafted by Congress to keep the federal government working in the short term includes the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment language barring the spending of federal dollars to enforce federal pot prohibition in states that have legalized medical marijuana. The language is only good through September, though.

Federal CBD Bill Filed. US Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) on Monday filed House Resolution 2273, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD-rich plants from the definition of marijuana. It's been referred to the House Judiciary, Financial Services, and Energy and Commerce committees.

Florida House Passes Medical Marijuana Implementing Bill. The House on Tuesday approved a medical marijuana regulation measure, House Bill 1397, after altering several provisions opposed by patients and the industry. The measure removes the ban on using low-THC marijuana products in public, increases the number of dispensaries to 17 statewide, and allows patients to only have to see a doctor once every seven months to get renewed. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Baltimore Cops Begin Investigating Overdoses in Bid to Nail Dealers. A task force of five Baltimore police detectives have begun investigating drug overdoses in an effort to build criminal cases against drug dealers. But with 800 fatal overdoses in the city las year, five detectives may not be able to keep up. The state lacks a law allowing prosecutors to charge dealers in the death of an overdose victim, but prosecutors say there exists "a wide range" of ways they can bring related charges.

Harm Reduction

Massachusetts Docs Call for Supervised Drug Consumption Sites. The Massachusetts Medical Society has endorsed lobbying state and federal policymakers to allow the state to begin a safe injection site pilot program. At the group's annual meeting last Saturday, the membership adopted a policy calling for "a pilot supervised injection facility program in the state, to be under the direction and oversight of the state" as well as wider use of naloxone and more treatment for substance use disorder. The policy calls for the organization to lobby for a federal exemption and state legislation to allow such a facility.

Law Enforcement

Federal Judge Blocks Wisconsin "Cocaine Mom" Law. A US district court judge in Madison ruled last Friday that the state's "cocaine mom" law, which allows the state to detain a pregnant woman suspected of drug or alcohol abuse, is so vague as to be unconstitutional. The law is "void for vagueness," Judge James Peterson held. "Erratic enforcement, driven by the stigma attached to drug and alcohol use by expectant mothers, is all but ensured." The law allowed the state to treat fetuses like children in need of protection if the "expectant mother habitually lacks self-control in the use of alcohol beverages, controlled substances or controlled substance analogs, exhibited to a severe degree, to the extent that there is a substantial risk that the physical health of the unborn child, and of the child when born, will be seriously affected or endangered." But Peterson ruled that such terminology is not "amenable to reasonably precise interpretation."

International

Uruguay Begins Registering Users to Buy Pot in Pharmacies. The first country to legalize marijuana took another step toward implementing that decision on Tuesday as it opened a registry for people who wish to buy marijuana from pharmacies beginning in July. All potential pharmacy pot customers must register before availing themselves of the service. Pot will go for about $1.30 a gram, with each user limited to 10 grams per week.

Chronicle AM: CBS Poll: 61% Say Legalize It, Philly Mayor Says Legalize It, More... (4/25/17)

Support for marijuana legalization is at an all-time high in the CBS poll, Philadelphia's mayor joins the legalization chorus, Massachusetts drops more than 20,000 tainted drug convictions, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New CBS Poll Has Legalization Support at All-Time High. A New CBS poll has support for marijuana legalization at 61%, up an impressive five points over the same poll last year. Even more people -- 71% -- want the federal government to butt out of marijuana policy in states where it is legal.

DC Activists Arrested for 4/20 Capitol Hill Joint Giveaway. Eight DC-based marijuana reform activists were arrested last Thursday on the capitol grounds after police raided their "joint session" where the planned to give away joints to anyone with a valid congressional ID. Only two of the activists, including lead gadfly Adam Eidinger, were actually charged, but those charged now face local marijuana charges in DC. Police had recommended federal charges.

Philadelphia Mayor Calls for Legalization. Mayor Jim Kenney (D) has come out in favor of freeing the weed. "The real solution to this is legalizing it in the state of Pennsylvania as they did in Colorado," said Mayor Kenney. "We won't have to use police resources in these kinds of activities and actions." The mayor's comments came as he responded to questions about a Saturday raid on a marijuana "smokeasy" where 22 people were arrested.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Legislature Approves Last-Minute CBD Expansion Bill. In the space of four hours early last Saturday, the legislature saw a CBD cannabis oil bill introduced, considered, and approved by both houses. The bill would allow a sunsetted CBD law to continue to be in effect.

Maryland Begins Open Enrollment for Patients. People who want to register as medical marijuana patients can now do so, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission has announced. The commission has further information at its website, mmcc.maryland.gov.

Montana House Approves Medical Marijuana Regulatory Bill. The House on Monday approved Senate Bill 333, which will set up a tax and regulatory structure for medical marijuana in the state. The Senate approved the bill, with amendments, last week, but the House now has to hold one more vote before sending the bill to the governor.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Allocates $200 Million to Fight Heroin and Opioid Abuse. Budget legislation just signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) devotes some $200 million to fighting the state's opioid crisis. About $145 million will go to in- and out-patient treatment services, $6 million will fund the use of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, and the balance will go to prevention.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Researchers and Advocates Join March for Science. Dozens of drug and public health policy researchers and advocates took part in last Saturday's March for Science in downtown Los Angeles. "I can't believe I have to march for objective reality," one sign at the march read. The scientists of all stripes marched to demand that policy be made on empirical evidence, a demand increasingly fraught as science faces the Trump administration.

Drug Testing

Maine GOP Lawmakers Are Back With Another Welfare Drug Testing Bill. Packaged as part of a campaign against welfare fraud, a new welfare drug testing bill has been filed in Augusta. The bill would require screening of welfare applicants, with those who have drug felonies or who are suspected of drug use being required to undergo drug testing.

Law Enforcement

Massachusetts Drops 21,000 Tainted Drug Convictions. The Supreme Judicial Court last Thursday vacated some 21,587 drug convictions after prosecuting attorneys said they would be unable or unwilling to prosecute them. The convictions are all tainted by links to a disgraced state chemist who admitted faking test results in 2013.

International

US Offers to Help Fund Mexico Opium Eradication. US Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs") William Brownfield said in an interview last Friday that the US has offered Mexico help in eradicating opium poppies. "We would be prepared to support (opium eradication efforts) should we reach a basic agreement in terms of how they would do more and better eradication in the future," Brownfield said. "That is on the table, but I don't want you to conclude that it's a done deal, because we still have to work through the details," he added. Mexico supplies the vast majority of heroin consumed in the US.

Chronicle AM: Trump Signs Unemployment Drug Test Bill, WVA MedMJ Bill House Vote, More... (4/3/17)

President Trump signs a bill that will expand the drug testing of people seeking unemployment benefits, the West Virginia House is taking up medical marijuana, Colorado legislators have crafted a plan to deal with any federal attack on recreational marijuana, and more.

President Trump has signed a bill undoing Obama administration rules limiting unemployment drug testing. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill Seeks to Avoid Thwart Possible Fed Crackdown by Classifying Legal Marijuana as Medical. In what the Associated Press called "the boldest attempt yet by a US marijuana state to avoid federal intervention in its weed market," the legislature is considering Senate Bill 17-192. The bill would allow retail marijuana licenses to be transferred into medical marijuana licenses. The measure has already passed out of the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee and the Senate Finance committee and has a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Michigan Hash Bash Draws 10,000+. Ann Arbor's annual celebration of marijuana drew the largest crowd in years this past weekend, with more than 10,000 people showing up to light up and voice support for marijuana legalization. Michigan nearly became the first Midwest state to put legalization to a vote last year -- coming up just short on signature gathering -- and activists there are vowing to try again in 2018.

Kansas City Voters to Decide on Decriminalization Tomorrow. Residents of Kansas City, Missouri, will vote Tuesday on whether to approve the Question 5 decriminalization ordinance. Under the proposal, people 21 and over caught with less than an ounce would face no more than a $25 ticket.

Wichita Pot Defelonilization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway. Wichita activists hope the second time is the charm. A successful 2015 defelonization initiative was stuck down by the state Supreme Court on a technical issue. Now, the activists say they are preparing a new campaign to put the issue on the August municipal ballot. Under their proposal, small-time pot possessors would face a misdemeanor charge and a maximum $50 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Governor Signs a Dozen Medical Marijuana Bills. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law a dozen bills aimed at regulating the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. Bills that actually modified the law required a two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature. For a complete list of the bills and what they do, click on the link.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Gets House Hearing Today. After a delay over the weekend at the request of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, the House is taking up the medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 386, today. Shott was expected to introduce an amendment during today's hearing before a vote is taken.

Drug Testing

Trump Signs Unemployment Drug Testing Bill Into Law. President Trump last Friday signed into law a bill sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that will allow states to expand the pool of unemployment benefits applicants who can be drug tested. The bill undid an Obama administration rule that limited unemployment drug testing to professions where drug screenings are the norm. The bill passed Congress with no Democratic support in the Senate and only four Democrats in the House.

Harm Reduction

JAPA Issue Focuses on Naloxone. The March-April issue of the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association is devoted to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. It contains nearly 30 letters, research reports and research notes on issues related to pharmacists and naloxone. The articles appear to be all open access, too. Click on the link to check 'em out.

Chronicle AM: Federal Marijuana Reform Bills Filed Today, DEA Scorched on Seizures, More... (3/30/17)

The Congressional Cannabis Caucus is getting down to business, yet another poll shows strong (and increasing) support for marijuana legalization, Trump names an acting drug czar, a California safe injection site bill is moving, and more.

The DOJ's inspector general is not impressed with DEA asset forfeiture practices. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New General Social Survey Poll Shows Jump in Support for Legalization. Support for marijuana legalization surged last year, according to new data released by the General Social Survey. The poll has support for legalization at 57% in 2016, up five points from 2014.

Package of Federal Marijuana Reform Bills, Including Legalization, Filed Today. The Congressional Cannabis Caucus flexed its muscles Thursday as members of Congress filed a package of bills aimed at creating a "path to marijuana reform" at the federal level and protecting and preserving marijuana laws in states where it is legal. Two Oregon politicians, Sen. Ron Wyden (D) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D) led the charge, announcing a bipartisan package of three bills, including a marijuana legalization bill reintroduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), as well as a pair of bills aimed at cleaning up "collateral issues" such as taxes, regulation, banking, asset forfeiture, descheduling, research, and protection for individuals. Click on the link to read our feature story and see more about the bills.

Vermont Legalization Bill Hits Snag. The effort to legalize marijuana took a detour Tuesday when the House leadership indefinitely postponed a vote on House Bill 170 after it became apparent it didn't have enough votes to pass. The bill isn't dead, but it has now been sent to the House Human Services Committee, where it will sit until the leadership thinks it has come up with enough votes to pass.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Tax Bill. The Senate voted 31-1 Wednesday to approve House Bill 1580, which would impose a 4% tax on medical marijuana at each transaction. The tax would be levied on growers' sales to dispensaries and again on dispensaries' sales to individuals. The tax would sunset in 2019 after raising an estimated $3.6 million. The bill had already passed the House, but was sent back there for a concurrence vote after amendments were added in the Senate.

Colorado Legislators Vote to Rein In Medical Marijuana Home Grows. The state Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to approve House Bill 17-1220, which would limit the number of medical marijuana plants grown at a single residence to 12. Under current law, up to 99 plants are allowed. The bill now heads to the governor's desk.

West Virginia Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate voted Wednesday night to approve Senate Bill 386, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana for specified medical conditions. The bill now heads to the House of Delegates.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Report Scorches DEA Over Asset Forfeitures. The Justice Department inspector general's office has released a report on DEA cash and asset seizure practices that warns the way DEA operates may pose a risk to civil liberties. The report noted that most seizures result from direct observation by DEA agents or local police, leading to concerns about the potential for racial profiling. The report examined a hundred asset forfeiture cases, and found that fewer than half advanced ongoing investigations. "When seizure and administrative forfeitures do not ultimately advance an investigation or prosecution, law enforcement creates the appearance, and risks the reality, that it is more interested in seizing and forfeiting cash than advancing an investigation or prosecution," the report said.

Drug Policy

Trump Nominates Richard Baum as Acting Drug Czar. The president has nominated Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) veteran and Georgetown University adjunct professor Richard Baum to be acting drug czar. While some of Baum's remarks over the years have drawn controversy, he is generally viewed by insiders as having a public policy approach as opposed to a drug warrior approach.

Harm Reduction

California Bill to Allow Supervised Injection Sites Advances. A bill that would create a five-year exemption from the state's drug laws to allow for the operation of supervised injection facilities advanced in the Assembly last week. The Assembly Health Committee voted 9-4 to approve Assembly Bill 186. The bill now goes to the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Bills Filed in DC Today Are "Path to Marijuana Reform" [FEATURE]

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

The Congressional Cannabis Caucus flexed its muscles Thursday as members of Congress filed a package of bills aimed at creating a "path to marijuana reform" at the federal level and protecting and preserving marijuana laws in states where it is legal.

Two Oregon politicians, Sen. Ron Wyden (D) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D) led the charge, announcing a bipartisan package of three bills, including a marijuana legalization bill reintroduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), as well as a pair of bills aimed at cleaning up "collateral issues" such as taxes, regulation, banking, asset forfeiture, descheduling, research, and protection for individuals.

"The federal government must respect the decision Oregonians made at the polls and allow law-abiding marijuana businesses to go to the bank just like any other legal business," Wyden said in a statement. "This three-step approach will spur job growth and boost our economy all while ensuring the industry is being held to a fair standard."

The three bills in the package have not yet been assigned bill numbers, but are:

The Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act (Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act) -- Remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act; impose an excise tax regime on marijuana products; allow for the permitting for marijuana businesses; and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.

The Small Business Tax Equity Act -- Create an exception to Internal Revenue Code section 280E that would allow businesses compliant with state laws to claim deductions and credits associated with the sale of marijuana. Currently, under 280E, people and businesses cannot claim deductions or credits for the sale of Schedule I or Schedule II substances. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, is a cosponsor of Wyden's Senate bill and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida, is sponsoring companion legislation in the House.

Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act -- Remove federal penalties and civil asset forfeiture for individuals and businesses complying with state law; ensure access to banking, bankruptcy protection, research and advertising; expunge the criminal records for certain marijuana-related offenses; end requirement for residents of marijuana-legal states to take a marijuana drug test for positions in the federal civil service; and ease barriers for medical marijuana research.

Congressional Cannabis Caucus member Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) (wikimedia)
The three-bill package is just the latest pot law reform effort in Congress this year. At least five other bills have already been filed, and lawmakers are also planning to reintroduce the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which blocked the Justice Department from funding enforcement efforts against state-legal medical marijuana programs, and the McClintock-Polis amendment, which would similarly block enforcement against state-legal adult use programs. That later amendment came up just eight votes short last year.

The moves come against a backdrop of increasing acceptance of marijuana and marijuana legalization. Twenty-nine states now allow marijuana for qualified patients and eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized adult use. Public opinion polls now consistently show pot legalization with majority support; the latest came this week when the General Social Survey pegged support for legalization at 57% in 2016, up five points from just two years earlier.

Groups supporting marijuana legalization pronounced themselves pleased.

"The first time introduction of this particular piece of legislation in the US Senate is another sign that the growing public support for ending our failed war on cannabis consumers nationwide is continuing to translate into political support amongst federal officials," said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri, "With marijuana legalization being supported by 60% of all Americans while Congress' approval rating is in the low teens, ending our country's disastrous prohibition against marijuana would not just be good policy, but good politics."

Congressional Cannabis Caucus member Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO)
"This is commonsense legislation that will eliminate the growing tension between federal and state marijuana laws," Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. "Voters and legislatures are rolling back antiquated state marijuana prohibition policies, and it's time for Congress to step up at the federal level. States are adopting laws designed to improve public safety by replacing the illegal marijuana market with a tightly regulated system of production and sales. The federal government should be working to facilitate that transition, not hinder it."

"If we are truly going to move our nation towards sensible marijuana policies, the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act is paramount. Annually, 600,000 Americans are arrested for nothing more than the possession of small amounts of marijuana and now is the time for Congress to once and for all end put an end to the national embarrassment that is cannabis prohibition," said Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director. "Passing this legislation would end the current conflict between state and federal laws and allow the states to implement more sensible and humane marijuana policies, free from the threat of federal incursion."

Not everybody was happy. Former White House drug policy advisor Kevin Sabet, who now heads the anti-legalization Smart Approaches to Marijuana, told The Cannabist that more marijuana legalization would have negative consequences.

"While we don't want to see folks locked up or given criminal records for smoking pot, we support federal laws against marijuana," Sabet wrote in an e-mail. "We need to end, not expand the special interest big marijuana lobby. We can't ignore the fact that today's legalized marijuana -- and the accompanying industry -- is damaging to public health. States that have legalized marijuana continue to see a black market for the drug, increased rates of youth drug use, continued high rates of alcohol sales and interstate trafficking."

But Sabet's is an increasingly lonely voice in the wilderness.

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