Breaking News:Dangerous Delays: What Washington State (Re)Teaches Us About Cash and Cannabis Store Robberies [REPORT]

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Study of Pot Shop Robberies Points to Need for SAFE Banking Act Now [FEATURE]

As the lame duck congressional session ticks down toward its final days, not only have prospects for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's marijuana legalization bill faded into misty nothingness, even the more incremental but much clamored-for effort to provide state-legal marijuana businesses with access to the banking system remains undone.

marijuana shop robbery in Seattle (KOMO screen grab)
Despite being passed on multiple occasions in the House, the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996) has not managed to get a vote in the Senate, either as a standalone bill or attached to an omnibus appropriations bill. While Schumer and his pro-legalization Senate allies blocked consideration of the bill earlier in the session as they tried to build support for the further-reaching legislation, this week it was Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who kept it out of the annual defense appropriations bill.

While Congress dithers, marijuana retailers, especially in the West, have been paying the price of having to operate with extremely limited access to the banking sector. As a new report from StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter) executive director David Borden demonstrates, that price is paid not only in stolen cash and traumatized employees and customers, but sometimes in lost lives. The report, Dangerous Delays: What Washington State (Re) Teaches Us About Cannabis Store Robberies analyzes some 165 armed robberies of marijuana shops in the state beginning in 2017, including a spate of nearly 100 reported robberies in a 4 ½ months beginning in late 2021.

"While SAFE was stalling in the Senate [last year], Washington State's cannabis community was in the grip of an unprecedented surge in armed robberies of cannabis stores," the report notes. "This occurrence, which began in November 2021 and lasted 4 ½ months, saw nearly 100 reported robberies affect roughly 80 cannabis stores, and ended with three people dead."

One of those killed was a marijuana shop employee; two were armed robbers.

The data on robberies comes from a unique resource, the "Uncle Ike's i502 Robbery Tracker." Uncle Ike's is a Seattle-area marijuana shop chain that has seen two of its stores victimized, one in White Center in 2018 and one in Lake City in 2021. Its list is compiled from media reports, police reports, and direct communication with store robbery victims.

The study analyzed robberies by whether they targeted cash or product or both; and for those that targeted cash, whether they aimed only at cash registers (front of the store) or safes (back of the store). It also examined the relationship between robbery targets and levels of aggression by robbers.

"Our analysis confirms that cash dominates as the target for cannabis store robberies," the report's executive summary says. "Product also plays an important role, but almost always in combination with cash; whereas cash on its own gets targeted in roughly 50 percent of the time, during the incidents for which we could determine what was targeted. Most burglaries, by contrast, appear to only target product."

The report also concluded that:

  • Based on current incentives, there is little reason to believe that robberies targeting the back of a store will continue (as opposed to burglaries), or continue at the same level, if cash is removed from the equation. The great majority of such robberies are aimed at accessing cash in the safe, and without cash or with much less of it, that will no longer be lucrative.
  • There will also be much less incentive to target the cash register at the front of the store, in the absence of strong profits there. Those are roughly half of the documented front-store robberies on Uncle Ike's. There's little reason to believe that front-store robberies targeting only cash will continue in that scenario.
  • Data finds few examples of product-only robberies (as opposed to burglaries which are mainly product-only). That may suggest product alone does not provide enough incentive to sustain interest in doing robberies, particularly because burglary is a viable option to obtain the same product.

"Given what happened in Washington -- which could happen again -- it would be wholly unjustifiable for Congress to again put off enacting some form of the SAFE Banking Act," said Borden. "But there will be more left to do after Congress passes SAFE, for the robberies problem to be thoroughly addressed," Borden continued. "One remaining piece is to specifically greenlight purchase transactions, which is how cash enters the system. The current language of SAFE explicitly addresses only depository banking."

While the prospects for passage of the SAFE Banking Act grow dimmer each day, there remains the chance that the SAFE Banking Act Plus, which Schumer has been negotiating for the past several months and which also includes social equity provisions demanded by activists and some lawmakers, could move as a standalone measure before the session ends.

But if it doesn't move, the marijuana shops will remain at risk. There are steps that can be taken to ameliorate that risk, the report says.

"Security, worker training, and likely other factors, will continue to have importance for cannabusinesses, regardless of what happens with SAFE or further measures," the report states. "In the meanwhile, the cannabis community in other states can help, by duplicating the tracking effort pioneered in Washington by Uncle Ike's." Also, stores should improve employee training "with respect to emphasizing the reasons for cooperating with robbers and how to avoid escalating tensions in robbery situations."

States, for their part, should "provide funding for security measures to small and midsize cannabis stores," the report adds, and at the state and federal level, regulators should "review their policies with an aim toward facilitating greater adoption of electronic payment for cannabis stores."

Or Congress could just legalize marijuana.

12/16 report launch webinar:

Fed Judge Gives DOJ Only One-Month Extension in Safe Injection Site Case, More... (12/8/22)

Moves are afoot to rein in Oregon's underground marijuana production, an Iowa law is blocking health authorities from including fentanyl test strips in harm reduction boxes, and more.

Illegal marijuana grow in Jackson County, Oregon. (Jackson County SO)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon 1Bill Would Double Penalties for Illicit Marijuana Grows. Faced with massive unpermitted marijuana growing—police have seized 105 tons of weed this year—and a rising chorus of complaints from police, legal growers, and neighbors, lawmakers have prepared a draft bill that would double maximum prison sentences and fines for unlawful manufacture of more than 100 plants and possession of more than two pounds in public or eight pounds at home. Under the proposed bill, the maximum sentence would jump from five years to 10 and the maximum fine  would jump to $250,000. The bill would also punish property owners for environmental damage and prohibit the use of water (which is owned by the state) for unlicensed marijuana grows. Voters approved legalization in 2014, at least partly on the grounds it would reduce illegal grows, but legalization proponents now say illicit grows will be a problem until the plant is legalized nationwide.

Harm Reduction

Federal Court Gives Justice Department One Month to Respond in Philadelphia Safe Injection Site Case. A federal judge has given the Justice Department just a one-month extension before it has to respond in a lawsuit about the legality of a proposed Philadelphia safe injection site. The Trump administration Justice Department sued to block Safehouse from opening in 2019, and the Biden Justice Department has continued the case while seeking repeated extensions as it talked with Safehouse But when Justice asked for another extension, Safehouse balked at the requested two-month delay, and the judge subsequently cut that request in half. Once it comes, the Justice Department's response should shed some light on whether the agency will or will not continue to challenge the legality of safe injection sites. The department said in February it was evaluating the sites, including discussions about appropriate "guardrails" for them, but with yet another extension request this month, Safehouse's patience is growing thin. "Safehouse did not consent to today’s DOJ request for more time," the group said the day of the filing, noting that the case "has been pending for almost four years." As the group noted, "more than 3,600 lives have been lost in Philadelphia to the opioid overdose crisis" while the case has been ongoing.

Iowa Law Blocks Fentanyl Test Strips from Being Included in Harm Reduction Boxes. The Polk County (Des Moines) Health Department is adding harm reduction boxes at its office and urgent care locations around the city. The boxes will include tourniquets, cotton filters, and needle disposal containers, but not fentanyl test strips, which are considered drug paraphernalia under state law. The Health Department said it supports changing that law, but that has not happened yet. Lawmakers in at least five other states—Alabama, Georgia, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Wisconsin—have taken that action this year.  

Medical Marijuana Update

The Nevada Supreme Court protects workers who use medical marijuana, the District of Columbia moves to radically reform its medical marijuana program, and more.

Minnesota

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Program Adds New Qualifying Conditions. The state Department of Health has announced it is adding irritable bowel syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder to the list of qualifying medical conditions for the state's medical marijuana program. The changes will go into effect on August 1, 2023. "We are adding the new qualifying conditions to allow patients more therapy options for conditions that can be debilitating,"said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. Two other conditions, gastroparesis and opioid use disorder were not approved.

Nevada

Nevada Supreme Court Rules Workers Fired for Off-Duty Medical Marijuana Use Can Sue Former Employers. The state's highest court ruled Thursday that workers who are medical marijuana patients can sue their former employers if they have been fired for off-duty marijuana use. The ruling came in the case of Jim Roushkolb, a registered patient who used medical marijuana to ease PTSD, anxiety, and other mental health issues arising from a 1995 assault. His former employer, Freeman Expositions, fired him in 2018 after he tested positive for THC in the wake of a workplace incident where a plexiglass sheet fell and shattered. All employees at the scene were ordered to take drug tests, and Roushkolb was fired even though the company knew he was a medical marijuana patient.

Ohio

Ohio Bill Would Expand Medical Marijuana Access. A measure that has already passed the Senate, Senate Bill 261, would add new qualifying conditions but more importantly would also let doctors recommend medical marijuana for any condition they deem necessary. Proponents are now trying to get in through the House in what is left of the state legislature's lame-duck session . "I think that that’s the best path we can go on,"said bill sponsor Sen. Nicki Antonio (D-Lakewood). "I think there’s a lot of value in being able to have this treatment opportunity available to people as an alternative to all kinds of things that may have other side effects."

District of Columbia

DC Council Approves Bill to Eliminate License Caps, Promote Equity, Provide Tax Relief, More. The city council on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a bill that broadly reworks the city's medical marijuana program. The measure needs to pass a second reading at a yet unspecified date before going to the mayor's desk. The bill would eliminate caps on licenses for marijuana businesses, provide tax relief to operators, encourage greater social equity, create new businesses categories for on-site consumption lounges, and provide a pathway for current gray market "gifting" operators to enter the licensed market. The Medical Cannabis Amendment Act would also codify that adults can self-certify as medical marijuana patients. The bill was carried by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) on behalf of Mayor Muriel Bowser (D).

Marijuana Banking Language Again Bumped from Approprations Bill, DC MedMJ Reforms, More... (12/7/22)

Marijuana is legal in Missouri as of tomorrow, Indiana voters are ready for marijuana legalization, and more.

Access to banking services for state-legal marijuana businesses remains stalled on Capitol Hill. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

SAFE Banking Act Language Excluded from Defense Spending Bill. The effort to somehow pass legislation that would provide state-legal marijuana businesses with access to the banking system has been thwarted once again as SAFE Banking Act language was excluded from the 2023 defense reauthorization bill. While Democratic Senate leadership, which had been holding out for a full legalization bill, blocked earlier efforts to attach the language to various appropriations bills, this time, Republican Senate leadership was the obstacle, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) criticizing Democrats for trying to include the banking provision. "We're talking about a grab bag of miscellaneous pet priorities, like making our financial system more sympathetic to illegal drugs, or permitting reform in name only that's already failed to pass the Senate earlier this year," McConnell said in a floor speech. "If Democrats wanted these controversial items so badly, they had two years to move them across the floor." 

Indiana Poll Has Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization. For years, marijuana reform has gone nowhere in the Republican-dominated state legislature, but a new poll shows how out of touch the lawmakers are with their constituents. A Ball State University poll has support for legalization at 56 percent and support for medical marijuana at 85 percent. Only 15 percent of respondents did not think it should be legal in either case.

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Goes into Effect Tomorrow. As of Thursday, December 8, possession of up to three ounces of marijuana by adults will no longer be a crime. This after voters last month approved Amendment 3. There's just one hitch: While adults can legally possess the herb, they won't be able to buy it at a dispensary without a medical marijuana card until next year. That is when existing medical marijuana dispensaries will be able to acquire comprehensive licenses allowing them to sell to any adult. The result will be a short-term boon for the state's black and gray market marijuana sellers. State residents will be able to grow up to six plants on their own beginning in February, but they will have to register with the state and pay $150 for the privilege.

Medical Marijuana

DC Council Approves Bill to Eliminate License Caps, Promote Equity, Provide Tax Relief, More. The city council on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a bill that broadly reworks the city's medical marijuana program. The measure needs to pass a second reading at a yet unspecified date before going to the mayor's desk. The bill would eliminate caps on licenses for marijuana businesses, provide tax relief to operators, encourage greater social equity, create new businesses categories for on-site consumption lounges, and provide a pathway for current gray market "gifting" operators to enter the licensed market. The Medical Cannabis Amendment Act would also codify that adults can self-certify as medical marijuana patients. The bill was carried by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) on behalf of Mayor Muriel Bowser (D).

Colombia Senate Approves Weed Legalization, DOJ Seeks Delay in Philly Safe Injection Site Case, More... (12/6/22)

An Ohio marijuana legalization bill gets a hearing, a Filipino father wins a small measure of justice for his young son killed in Rodrigo Duterte's drug war, and more.

Legal marijuana is one vote away in the Colombian legislature.
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets House Hearing. A pair of legislators, Reps. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) and Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland) have sponsored a marijuana legalization bill,  House Bill 382, which got a hearing in the House Finance Committee Monday, but no vote. The bill would legalize the possession of up to 5 ounces by people 21 and over, as well a authorizing a marijuana regulatory agency within the Commerce Department to oversee licensing and regulation of marijuana production and sales. There are only a few weeks left in the legislative session, so the bill's prospects are clouded, but the p.air are also supporting a ballot initiative from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. That initiative is currently before the legislature. If lawmakers fail to pass it, it would then go to the voters provided campaigners gather a second set of signatures.

Harm Reduction

Justice Department Asks Court for More Time in "Complex" Safe Injection Site Case. In a case where the Trump Justice Department sought (so far, successfully) block a Philadelphia safe injection site from operating, the Biden Justice Department is now asking a federal court for more time to respond in a lawsuit aimed at settling the legality of such sites in the United States. The group behind the safe injection site, Safehouse, had agreed to earlier delay requests but said it "did not consent" to this one and planned to file an opposition motion Tuesday. Justice said Monday that it "believes an additional two months are necessary to permit careful consideration of the government’s harm reduction and public safety goals.The discussions to date, which have involved coordination among multiple constituencies addressing a novel and complex subject matter, have been and continue to be productive,"it said, noting that DOJ had a status conference with Safehouse attorneys last month and "provided an update"to the court. Safehouse argued that Justice has had enough time and that people are dying of overdoses every day while the department dithers. While the Philadelphia site remains blocked for now, authorities in New York City opened the first officially sanctioned safe injection sites in the country last year. The Biden Justice Department did not seek to shut it down.

International

Colombian Senate Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate on Tuesday approved a marijuana legalization bill on a 56-3 vote. The measure has already won initial approval in the Chamber of Representatives, but more votes are still required before it becomes law. Under the bill, authorities would have six months to set rules for the legal marijuana market. The bill would amend the constitution to support "the right of the free development of the personality, allowing citizens to decide on the consumption of cannabis in a regulated legal framework"and would mitigate "arbitrary discriminatory or unequal treatment in front of the population that consumes." The bill has won seven legislative votes, but because it is a constitutional amendment, it must be debated and voted on eight times over two calendar years. The next calendar year starts in less than a month.

Philippine Family Allowed to Correct Death Certificate Killed in Duterte's Drug War. An appeals court has granted Rodrigo Baylon's petition to modify the death certificate for his nine-year-old son, Lenin, who was killed by stray bullets in an operation where police in Caloocan City killed two women drug suspects. Lenin's official death certificate falsely claimed that he died from bronchopneumonia. The Reuters news agency has identified at least 14 other cases of drug war victims deaths' being falsely attributed to natural causes. Baylon's effort to correct his son's death certificate was rejected by a lower court in 2019, but the Court of Appeals agreed with him and ordered the cause of death changed to "gunshot wound," a ruling Baylon called "a small victory." Tens of thousands of people were killed in the bloody drug unleashed by then-President Rodrigo Duterte after he took office in 2016. 

Biden Signs Marijuana Research Bill into Law [FEATURE]

The White House announced last Friday that President Biden (D) had signed into law the bipartisan Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act (HR 8454). The signing was historic; it marked the first time a president has signed a standalone marijuana reform bill into law. Some marijuana reform measures have been passed before, but only as part of much broader appropriations bills.

In a historic move, President Biden has signed a standalone marijuana reform bill into law. (whitehouse.gov)
With lead sponsors Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), head of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in their respective chambers, the bill passed by unanimous consent, first in the House and then late last month in the Senate.

The aim of the bill is to facilitate research on marijuana and its potential health benefits. The bill will accomplish this by streamlining the application process for scientific marijuana studies and removing existing barriers for researchers that frequently slow the research process. It will broaden marijuana research by allowing both private companies and research universities to seek DEA licenses to grow their own marijuana for research purposes.

The bill calls on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to study potential therapeutic benefits of the plant, which could have an impact on a rescheduling review Biden ordered in October. But that HHS mandate also includes language requiring research on how marijuana may affect one's ability to drive and the impact of its use on teenage brains.

"Today marks a monumental step in remedying our federal cannabis laws," said Blumenauer and Cannabis Caucus co-chairs Dave Joyce (R-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Brian Mast R-FL) in a statement after the signing."We celebrate the enactment of this critical and long-overdue legislation, and we know there is much more to do to remedy the ongoing harms of the failed war on drugs."

Among the bill's cosponsors in the Senate was Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA). Both he and Sen. Feinstein have been among the Senate's most ardent drug warriors going well back into the last century. While this bill is fairly conservative -- it does not directly address rescheduling marijuana or take up the question of access to financial services, let alone legalization -- that both Feinstein and Grassley back it is a sign of how far we've come.

"I've heard directly from Iowans who are desperately in search of treatment options for conditions like child epilepsy," Grassley said in a statement "Unfortunately, many families have resorted to using untested, unregulated derivatives from the marijuana plant as a last resort to treat these conditions. Since 2015, I've pushed to expand medical research into marijuana derivatives such as cannabidiol to better understand their benefits and potential harms. This research is a critical step toward ensuring safe and effective therapies are also consistently regulated like any other prescription drug."

"There is substantial evidence that marijuana-derived medications can and are providing major health benefits," Sen. Feinstein said in a statement. "Our bill will make it easier to study how these medications can treat various conditions, resulting in more patients being able to easily access safe medications. We know that cannabidiol-derived medications can be effective for conditions like epilepsy. This bill will help refine current medical CBD practices and develop important new applications. After years of negotiation, I'm delighted that we're finally enacting this bill that will result in critical research that could help millions," she added.

Now is the time to press for more reform, said Blumenauer.

"Finally, the dam is starting to break," he said in a separate statement. "The passage of my Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act in the House and Senate represents a historic breakthrough in addressing the federal government's failed and misguided prohibition of cannabis."

"As we have seen in state after state, the public is tired of waiting for the federal government to catch up. Nearly half of our nation's population now live in states where adult-use of cannabis is legal. For far too long, Congress has stood in the way of science and progress, creating barriers for researchers attempting to study cannabis and its benefits. At a time when more than 155 million Americans reside where adult-use of cannabis is legal at the state or local level and there are four million registered medical marijuana users with many more likely to self-medicate, it is essential that we are able to fully study the impacts of cannabis use."

"The passage of this legislation coming just weeks after the change in President Biden's posture towards cannabis is extraordinarily significant. We must capitalize on this momentum to move subsequent common-sense House-passed bills like the SAFE Banking Act, which finally allows state-legal dispensaries to access banking services and reduce their risk of violent robberies."

There are, indeed, moves afoot to get the SAFE Banking Act passed during the remainder of the lame duck session, but time is running short and the clock is ticking.

NJ Pot Lounges One Step Closer, DEA Sets Psychedelic Drug Production Quotas, More... (12/5/22)

Kansas's Democratic governor wants medical marijuana this coming year, the DEA announces new, higher research quotas for various psychedelics and marijuana, and more.

The DEA is upping the research quota for various psychedelics, including psilocyn, found in magic mushrooms. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Marijuana p.ove Rules for Public Cannabis Consumption Areas. The state's Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) approved rules for"public cannabis consumption areas" last Friday. That is a first step toward allowing marijuana smoking lounges to open in the state, and it is one that social justice requires, said CRC Chair Dianna Houenou. "Equitable access to cannabis means everyone who wishes to consume has some place they can do that—legally, safely, and responsibly," Houenou said. "When regulated properly, cannabis consumption areas can strengthen the industry, while giving people more choices on where they consume." Under the rules just proposed, neither alcohol nor tobacco could be sold or consumed at such facilities and food could not be sold, but people could bring their own or have it delivered to the site.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Governor Reinforces Call for Medical Marijuana as Legislative Priority. Gov. Laura Kelly (D) last Friday reinforced the notion that she wants to make passage of a medical marijuana law a top legislative priority "This legislative session, we need to legalize medical marijuana so that Kansans with severe illnesses no longer have to suffer,"she said. "Providing this relief is long overdue, so let’s work together to get this done. Medical marijuana is one of five priorities she has identified, along with investing in mental health resources, expanding Medicaid, protecting first responders, and providing tax relief.

Psychedelics

DEA Announces How Much Marijuana, MDMA, Psilocyn, LSD, Mescaline, 5-MeO-DMT, MDA, 2-CB Can Be Produced for Research In 2023. The DEA has set production quotas for research drugs for 2023 and it is pushing those numbers up as it responds to increasing scientific and medical interest in the compounds. The agency is "committed to ensuring an adequate and uninterrupted supply of controlled substances in order to meet the estimated legitimate medical, scientific, research, and industrial needs of the U.S., for lawful export requirements, and for the establishment and maintenance of reserve stocks," the DEA said. For marijuana, the DEA recommended the production of 14,770 pounds, more than twice the amount authorized for this year, while quote numbers for psilocyn would go from the original 8,000 grams to 12,000 grams, 5-MeO-DMT from 6,000 to 11,000, MDMA from 8,200 to 12,000 grams, MDA from 200 to 12,000 grams, and 2-CB from 25 to 5,100 grams.

NV On-Site Pot Smoking Lounges, Mexican President Wants to Know Where "La Barbie" Is, More... (12/2/22)

Sen, John Hickenlooper (D-CO) has filed a bill to prepare for federal marijuana legalization, the Nevada Supreme Court rules in favor of a medical marijuana patient fired for off-duty use, and more.

Edgar Valdez Villarreal, "La Barbie," in custody in Mexico in 2012. (CNN screen grab)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Bill to Create Commission to Prepare for Legalization Filed. Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) on Thursday filed the Preparing Regulators Effectively for a Post-Prohibition Adult-Use Regulated Environment Act (PREPARE) Act, which would direct the attorney general to set up a commission to make recommendations for how federally legal marijuana should be regulated. "A decade after Colorado pioneered marijuana legalization, Americans overwhelmingly support the same at the federal level,"Hickenlooper said in a press release. "This bipartisan, bicameral framework, based on Colorado’s Amendment 64 Task Force, will replicate our success nationally." Companion legislation has been filed in the House."

Nevada Awards 20 Provisional Licenses for Marijuana Consumption Lounges. The state's marijuana regulatory agency, the Cannabis Compliance Board, has issued 20 provisional licenses for marijuana consumption lounges, with half of them reserved for social equity applicants. The licenses were handed out via a random drawing. Social equity licensees who have a nonviolent marijuana conviction and who live in an underprivileged neighborhood are eligible for discounted fees. The board approved consumption lounges in June and estimates that an additional 40-45 licenses will be issued.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Program Adds New Qualifying Conditions. The state Department of Health has announced it is adding irritable bowel syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder to the list of qualifying medical conditions for the state's medical marijuana program. The changes will go into effect on August 1, 2023. "We are adding the new qualifying conditions to allow patients more therapy options for conditions that can be debilitating,"said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. Two other conditions, gastroparesis and opioid use disorder were not approved.

Nevada Supreme Court Rules Workers Fired for Off-Duty Medical Marijuana Use Can Sue Former Employers. The state's highest court ruled Thursday that workers who are medical marijuana patients can sue their former employers if they have been fired for off-duty marijuana use. The ruling came in the case of Jim Roushkolb, a registered patient who used medical marijuana to ease PTSD, anxiety, and other mental health issues arising from a 1995 assault. His former employer, Freeman Expositions, fired him in 2018 after he tested positive for THC in the wake of a workplace incident where a plexiglass sheet fell and shattered. All employees at the scene were ordered to take drug tests, and Roushkolb was fired even though the company knew he was a medical marijuana patient.

Ohio Bill Would Expand Medical Marijuana Access. A measure that has already passed the Senate, Senate Bill 261, would add new qualifying conditions but more importantly would also let doctors recommend medical marijuana for any condition they deem necessary. Proponents are now trying to get in through the House in what is left of the state legislature's lame-duck session . "I think that that’s the best path we can go on,"said bill sponsor Sen. Nicki Antonio (D-Lakewood). "I think there’s a lot of value in being able to have this treatment opportunity available to people as an alternative to all kinds of things that may have other side effects."

Foreign Policy

Mexican President Wants to Know Whereabouts of "La Barbie, Convicted Cartel Chief Now Missing from American Prison. Notorious drug kingpin Edgar Valdez Villarreal, nicknamed La Barbie for his fair complexion and blond hair, was sentenced to 49 years in US federal prison in 2018, but now no longer appears in the Bureau of Prisons databases that have details of all prisoners doing time in federal prisons, and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador wants to know where he is. "What is happening in the United States with Mr. Villarreal is strange," López Obrador said during a press conference on Wednesday. "Someone has made it known that he is no longer in the registry of prisoners and we want to know where he is." López Obrador asked Washington for transparency and said the situation needed to be clarified as quickly as possible. "There is no reason for him to leave prison because his sentence is for many years, unless there has been an agreement." While the explanation for La Barbie's absence could be as innocent as that he is hospitalized for a medical condition, there is rising speculation that he may have struck a deal with US authorities around the looming trial in New York of former Mexican Secretary of Public Security Genaro Garcia Luna, who is accused of collaborating with drug cartels. La Barbie was arrested in 2012 in an operation orchestrated by Garcia Luna and has repeatedly accused him of working with the cartels.

RI Recreational Marijuana Sales Begin, Berkeley Could Decriminallize LSD, More... (12/1/22)

A global coalition is calling on UN drug bureaucracies to condemn the sudden resumption of drug executions in Saudi Arabia, a new Gallup poll has continuing high support for marijuana legalization, and more.

Legal pot sales for adults have begun in Rhode Island. (Sondra Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll Finds Support for Marijuana Legalization Steady at 68 Percent. A new Gallup poll finds that support for marijuana legalization remains at a record high 68 percent for the third year in a row. It's a remarkable evolution in public opinion over the past half-century, with support at a measly 12 percent in 1969, rising to 31 percent in 2000, and achieving majority support in 2013. In every Gallup poll since 2016, at least 60 percent have supported legalization.

Rhode Island Recreational Marijuana Sales Have Begun. As of today, five existing medical marijuana dispensaries are now "hybrid" stores, selling recreational as well a medical marijuana. The first sale was shortly after 5 a.m., when Mother Earth Wellness in Pawtucket opened its doors.

Harm Reduction

Ohio House Approves Fentanyl Test Strip Decriminalization Bill. The House on Wednesday approved a bill to try to reduce drug overdose deaths by decriminalizing the possession of fentanyl test strips, House Bill 456. Ohio saw 5,204 people die of drug overdoses in 2020, 81 percent of them involving fentanyl. Similar legislation has been filed in the Senate.

Psychedelics

Berkeley Health Commissioners Recommend Decriminalization of Use of Hallucinogens, Including LSD. The Bay area city's health commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to recommend that the city council decriminalize the use of psychedelics, and they did not limit themselves to natural psychedelics, explicitly embracing the decriminalization of LSD as well. The city is now in line to become the first to decriminalize LSD if the city council approves it. Fifteen cities across the country have decriminalized natural psychedelics, but those measures excluded synthetic psychedelics such as LSD.

International

Global Coalition Calls on International Bodies to Condemn Saudi Arabia Drug Executions. The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, Harm Reduction International, and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty along with 32 other NGOs have called on the International Narcotics Control Board and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to act on urgent measures in response to the series of drug-related executions carried out by the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia since November 10, 2022. The groups called on both organisms to seek confirmation from the Saudi government of the status of dozens of people on death row and at imminent risk of execution and to demand that the Saudi government immediately halt all drug-related executions. The Saudi government had halted drug executions in January 2020, but suddenly and without warning resumed them on November 10 and announced 20 such executions on November 24. 

Another Poll Shows Supermajority for Marijuana, OH Fentanyl Test Strip Bill Moving, More... (11/30/22)

A push is on to get marijuana on the ballot in Ohoi next year, the UNODC warns Bolivia about synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, and more.

Fentanyl test strips can save lives. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: Nearly Three in Four Likely Voters Support "Ending the Federal Ban" on Marijuana, Other Federal Reforms. A new poll from the progressive-leaning Data for Progress finds 74 percent of likely voters say that they "support ending the federal ban on marijuana." Eighty-five percent of Democrats, along with 74 percent of Independents and 63 percent of Republicans, endorsed repealing federal prohibition. Similar levels of support were evidenced for allowing state-legal marijuana programs "lawful access to US financial systems," not barring workers in the marijuana industry from accessing federal benefits, and not removing people from federally assisted housing in jurisdictions where marijuana is legal.

Ohio Advocates Push to Get Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization Measure on 2023 Ballot. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has begun signature gathering to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the November 2023 ballot. The campaign now has about eight weeks to collect 130,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. In the meantime, under a court settlement, the legislature will take up the measure in January, and i-- it fails to pass it, it will go before voters—provided the campaign has come up with the required signatures. The initiative would allow people 21 and over to possess and consume marijuana, which would come with a 10 percent sales tax.

Harm Reduction

Ohio Fentanyl Test Strip Decriminalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill to try to reduce drug overdose deaths by decriminalizing the possession of fentanyl test strips, House Bill 456, won a final House committee vote Monday before heading to a House floor vote Wednesday. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kristin Boggs(D-Columbus)described the change as "one more avenue"to avoid overdose.  Ohio saw 5,204 people die of drug overdoses in 2020, 81 percent of them involving fentanyl. Similar legislation has been filed in the Senate.

International

UN Says Growth of Bolivian Coca Crop Slows but Warns of Synthetic Drugs. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the European Union warned Bolivia about the presence of synthetic drugs in the national market even as they acknowledged a slow-down in the increase of coca production. UNODC said coca cultivation had increased 4 percent in 2021, the lowest increase in recent years, but the Bolivian government challenged that figure, saying there had actually been a slight decrease. But fentanyl was also on the UNODC's mind: "There were seizures of synthetic drugs including fentanyl, an opioid that causes a large number of deaths in Europe. There is a national market. This is a problem for us and it will be for Bolivia", said Trolls Wester, UNODC Bolivia representative.

Drug War Issues

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