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

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

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

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

Psychedelics

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

Harm Reduction

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

Santa Cruz Needle Exchange Hit With NIMBY Lawsuit, Mexico Supreme Court Okays Legalization Vote Delay, More... (12/11/20)

The Mexican Supreme Court grants another extension on its deadline to end marijuana prohibition, the Oakland city council will next week take up a measure calling on the state to decriminalize psychedelics, and more.

The Oakland City Council has psychedelics on its mind. (Creative Commons)
Heroin and Prescription Opioids

South Carolina Lawmakers File Slew of Bills to Fight Opioid Epidemic. Lawmakers have filed a package of bills aimed at the opioid epidemic, including H. 3362, which would require Medicaid plans to pay for opioid treatment; H. 3363, which would treat criminal offenses involving synthetic opioids like those involving heroin; and H. 3364, which would allow authorities to charge the seller of a drug involved in a fatal overdose to be charged with manslaughter.

Psychedelics

Oakland City Council Will Vote Next Week on Resolution Calling on State to Decriminalize Psychedelics. The city council will take a resolution pushed by Decriminalize Nature that calls on the state to decriminalize psychedelics and let cities and counties allow "healing ceremonies" where people could use those drugs. Decriminalize Nature was inspired to look beyond local measures after state Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) announced plans to file a statewide psychedelic decrim bill.

Harm Reduction

Santa Cruz, California, Needle Exchange Program Sued by NIMBY Neighbors. The Harm Reduction Coalition of Santa Cruz County has now been hit with a lawsuit over its needle exchange program by unhappy neighbors. The group's needle exchange program "poses a serious threat to the health and safety of the citizens of Santa Cruz County," the plaintiffs argue, and have led to a "significant" number of discarded needles. The Harm Reduction Coalition has long refuted that charge, saying it has removed thousands of needles from the area.

International

Mexican Supreme Court Grants Another Extension to Marijuana Legalization Deadline, Allowing Final Vote to Take Place Next Year. After the Chamber of Deputies requested a delay in a looming vote on the marijuana legalization bill, citing the complexity of the bill, the Supreme Court on Thursday extended the deadline by which the government must act to end marijuana prohibition. The latest deadline was December 15; it has now been pushed back to the end of the spring legislative session in April.

Mexico Senate Approves Marijuana Legalization, SD Cops Seek to Void Legalization Vote, More... (11/23/20)

A CDC study finds that marijuana legalization is linked to declining teen marijuana treatment rates, an EU court throws out France's ban on CBD, and more.

Mexico is poised to become the world's largest legal marijuana market.
Marijuana Policy

Teen Marijuana Treatment Admissions Fell Sharply in States That Legalized, Federal Report Shows. A peer-reviewed research report released last Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds steep declines in teens sent to drug treatment for marijuana use in states that have legalized it. But medical marijuana legalization appeared to have no impact on teen drug treatment admissions for marijuana use. "Consistent with prior research on medical marijuana and adolescent marijuana use, medical legalization status does not appear to correspond to treatment admission trends," the study says. "Notably, however, 7 of 8 states with recreational legalization during the study period fall into the class with the steepest level of admissions decline."

South Dakota Sore Loser Cops File Suit to Overturn Marijuana Legalization. Pennington County (Rapid City) Sheriff Kevin Thom and state Highway Patrol Superintendent Rick Miller have filed a lawsuit seeking to void the state's voter-approved recreational marijuana constitutional amendment. The lawsuit filed last Friday argues that the measure should be considered a revision of the constitution, not an amendment, and that it violates the state constitution by addressing multiple topics. South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, the group behind the initiative, says it is confident it will be upheld.

International

Australia Study Finds Strong Support for Pill Testing. A long-running election study by the Australian National University finds that nearly two-thirds of the public support the harm reduction tactic of pill testing at music festivals. Some 63% favored the idea even though governments across the country have largely refused to implement it despite high-profile drug-related deaths at those festivals.

European Union Court Rules French Ban on CBD Is Illegal. The European Union's Court of Justice ruled last Thursday that France's ban on CBD products is invalid. CBD doesn't qualify as a narcotic drug because "it does not appear to have any psychotropic effect or any harmful effect on human health," the court held. Under French law, only hemp seeds and fiber -- not the flower containing CBD -- are legal. France's law violated EU law on the free movement of goods, and the French need to modify their hemp law, the court said. "The national court must assess available scientific data in order to make sure that the real risk to public health alleged does not appear to be based on purely hypothetical considerations," the court wrote. "A decision to prohibit the marketing of CBD, which indeed constitutes the most restrictive obstacle to trade in products lawfully manufactured and marketed in other [EU] member states, can be adopted only if that risk appears sufficiently established."

Mexican Senate Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate voted overwhelmingly last Thursday to approve a marijuana legalization bill. The bill passed 82-18, with seven members not voting. The congress is under pressure from the national Supreme Court to get legalization done before the end of next month, and the measure now heads to the Chamber of Deputies, where it is also expected to pass. Final passage of the bill would make Mexico the world's largest legal marijuana market.

How the 6th Amendment Helped a Texas Man Overturn His Meth Trafficking Conviction [FEATURE]

Criminal Court & Legal Affair Investigative Journalist Clarence Walker can be reached at [email protected].

A Fifth Circuit appeals court reversed a recent drug conviction against an Austin, Texas man based on the prosecutor's  illegal use of an "out-of-court" hearsay statement made by a snitch who told a DEA agent that the defendant had purchased a substantial amount of methamphetamine from another person. Federal prosecutors never brought the snitch forward to testify at trial that Coy Jones had, in fact, done a drug deal. Instead, prosecutors allowed a DEA agent to testify to the jury that the snitch had told the agent that the deal had gone down, and that Jones was in possession of big-time dope. The appeals court mandate in Jones case was issued on May 19, 2019. 

Federal District Judge Sam Sparks erred by allowing certain testimony in the Coy Jones case. (UScourts.gov)
Following four days of testimony, a jury in the Western District of Texas in Austin convicted Coy Jones in October 2017. On January 29, 2018, federal judge Sam Sparks gave Jones, a Native American, 30 years in a federal joint for methamphetamine trafficking and gun-related charges as a result of an alleged witness (the snitch) -- who never appeared in court, and whom Jones never got a chance to confront and cross-examine, as required by law under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.

The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides that "in all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the "right" to be confronted by the witnesses against him." Under the statute, accused defendants are given the opportunity to face prosecution witnesses against them in order to dispute the witnesses' testimony. This guarantee applies to both statements made in court, including statements made outside of court that are offered as evidence during trial. 

In a lengthy ruling, the Fifth Circuit said: "The government has therefore failed to meet its burden to show harmless error as to Jones' conviction for possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine and possession of a firearm." Here, the court added, "the inadmissible evidence was highly incriminating. Jones denied possessing the drugs and no drugs were found in his possession and no officer witnessed a drug transaction on May 3,2017.

Attorney Santosh Aravind successly appealed Coy Jones' conviction.
"We hold that Jones' rights under the Confrontation Clause were violated when a law enforcement officer testified, he knew Jones had a large amount of methamphetamine because of what the officer was told by a confidential informant. We therefore vacate Jones convictions and the related revocation of his supervised release and remand for a new trial,” the Fifth Circuit panel said. 

A DEA agent testified in open court about what the snitch allegedly told him about Jones meeting up with another narcotics dealer, which amounted to unsubstantiated hearsay. Although police never saw Jones purchase drugs, they and prosecutors relied on the words of the undercover snitch who said he made calls to other individuals who, in turn, told him the transaction had taken place. So, at this point, the government used double hearsay to convict Coy Jones.

"Everyone deserves the right to confront their accusers in court," retired criminal defense attorney Craig Washington told Drug War Chronicle.

But no such confrontation took place in this case. Federal prosecutors Matt Harding and Daniel Guess argued the use of "out-of-court" hearsay testimony by the informant was only to explain the officers" investigative tactics during the investigation.

Fifth Circuit judges concurred that the trial judge in Jones' case shouldn't have allowed prosecutors to elicit the snitch's hearsay testimony from the DEA agent about what he was told concerning the alleged drug purchase that Jones supposedly made with another suspect.

When Jones attorney Santosh Aravind objected at trial to the snitch's testimony and other detailed information the officers received from the missing witness against Jones, the judge overruled Aravind's timely objection, agreeing with the prosecutors that  the officers' references to what the informant told them was more to explain the officers' actions rather than vouch for the truth about what the informant said. 

Prior to trial, Jones' attorney Santosh Aravind filed a 403 motion to force the government prosecutors to disclose the identity of the informant. In response, prosecutors argued against identifying and bringing forth the informant because "the informant only gave a tip, and that the informant was not on the scene on any of this and would not be a fact witness." 

The Arrest of Coy Jones

The long, winding road to Coy Jones' federal conviction was the result of a hearsay statement by a "streetwise snitch." The showdown encapsulated a cast of dubious characters on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. On this eventful day in Jones' life, DEA agent Royce Clayborne received a tip from his prize-winning informant.

The informant told Claiborne that a drug deal would go down at a Valero gas station in Travis County, Texas. The DEA surveillance team, along with Austin police officers, observed Jones arrive in a vehicle. Jones parked next to a truck driven by a roommate of Fredy Cruz-Ortiz. DEA agents initially targeted Cruz-Ortiz, not Jones, because Cruz-Ortiz was the ring-leader of a meth trafficking ring. DEA agents and Cedar Park Detective Michelle Langham would later testify that they observed Coy Jones make a gesture to the other driver. Following the gestures, both vehicles drove off simultaneously.

 DEA agents had no direct knowledge that a drug deal had gone down until the informant told agent Claiborne by phone that a transaction had taken place and that the drivers had left the Valero parking lot. Officers immediately followed both vehicles as they headed towards County Road 213. This area is a lightly traveled rural road. When both vehicles briefly passed out of view and then reappeared into sight, Detective Langham spotted both drivers on County road 213 talking. When Jones and the other man departed, they drove off in different directions. 

Keep in mind, at this point, the officers never saw a dope exchange between Coy Jones and the other man he met on the night of May 3, 2017 nor did officers see Jones in a drug transaction on two prior occasions when he met with the alleged meth dealer. And on that night, the officers never saw Jones with a gun. They only had suspicions about drugs based on the tip from the informant.

The unidentified man, who was suspected to be the roommate of the meth ringleader identified as Cruz-Ortiz, was not  followed or stopped after his separate encounters with Jones. Officers instead continued to follow Jones as he finally turned onto County road 201. Detective Langham dispatched a sheriff's deputy to stop Jones by using a pretext traffic violation. 

When the deputy activated his emergency red light to pull over Jones' vehicle, Jones' vehicle sped up, accelerating up to 90 miles per hour with the officers in hot pursuit. The chase lasted for at least two miles.

During the ensuing chase, none of the officers or agents saw Jones throw a weapon from his vehicle, yet when Jones' vehicle came to a screeching halt both windows rolled down. With guns drawn, officers arrested Jones and searched his vehicle, but no drugs or firearms were found.

Where is the Dope?

Unable to find dope on Coy Jones--either in or around his vehicle -- the officers grew increasingly frustrated. 

Perhaps the officers should have freed Coy Jones because they did not have an iota of evidence that he was guilty of a crime, right? 

But these hounds smelled blood.

"Let's get a K-9 out here," an officer said. Officers used the K-9 dog to retrace the route of the road that Jones and the officers had traveled during the chase. After 'one to two' hours of searching, officers discovered an unloaded pistol in a 'cactus patch'. Then, finally, on the opposite side of the road, approximately 'a half mile' from where the gun was found, an officer recovered a zip lock bag containing 982 grams of methamphetamines.

Detective Langham testified at trial that both the gun and the meth were found in an area "where the sheriff's deputy lost sight of Jones as he sped down County road 201."

DEA agents interrogated Coy Jones on the same night he was arrested.  When agents accused him of intentionally fleeing to avoid being caught with the methamphetamines and the gun, Jones explained that he was attempting to avoid an individual who tried to fight him at the Valero. 

On Appeal

Attorney Santosh Aravind appealed Coy Jones' conviction based on these four key points:

1.The District Court erred by admitting evidence of Jones' prior conviction.

2. Testimony regarding the confidential informant (aka snitch) violated Jones' rights under the Confrontation Clause.

3. The District Court erred by not ordering disclosure of the identity of the confidential informant.

4, The evidence was insufficient to support the jury's verdict.

During the trial, as stated, Jones' attorney objected multiple times to the prosecutor's use of information from a snitch that was spoken to in court by a DEA agent. To determine whether the Sixth Amendment (Confrontation Clause) had been violated, the Fifth Circuit focused on the exchange of testimony between the prosecutor and DEA agent Royce Clayborne.

Prosecutor: "Based on the information you had received; Coy Jones received a large amount of methamphetamines."

Defense Attorney: "Objection hearsay."

Judge: "That objection is overruled."

Prosecutor: "Why did you follow Coy Jones as opposed to the other guy?"

Agent Clayborne: "Well, we knew Coy Jones had just received methamphetamines."

Clayborne further told the prosecutor that their purpose there forward was to stage a traffic stop of the vehicle driven by Coy Jones and arrest him. 

During cross-examination, defense attorney attacked Agent Clayborne's knowledge of whether Jones obtained meth from another person at the Valero.

Defense attorney: "[You] did not see any interaction between Mr. Jones and the person in the silver truck, right?"

Agent Clayborne: "That's correct."

Defense: "But you did not know that, right? You had not seen anything. You had not seen an exchange of methamphetamines or money."

Clayborne: "But I knew it was."

Defense: "You believed it, but you did not know it."

Realizing Clayborne's testimony created doubts as to whether he saw the drug deal go down between Jones and the other guy in the silver truck, the prosecutor took the agent on re-direct examination.

Prosecutor: "The defense confronted you about when you said you knew a drug deal had gone down, but that you had not seen anything; how did you know that a drug deal occurred?"

Clayborne: "Once we saw (other officers included) what looked like a drug deal; I made a phone call to my confidential source (the snitch) who got back to me -- and said the deal had happened."

Prosecutor: "Based on that information, you decided to stop Coy Jones?"

Clayborne: "That's correct."

Bottom Line

Coy Jones' case exemplifies how federal prosecutors flagrantly violate the law in drug cases. Here, prosecutors violated Jones' constitutional rights to a fair trial and to have the right to confront his accuser(s) in court. The accuser was a police informant who prosecutors failed to bring forward to testify about what he did or did not see. Prosecutors knew beforehand that they were bypassing the constitutional limits of the Confrontation Clause, which enshrines the use of the Sixth Amendment to confront accusers(s). The trial court judge was equally responsible for the reversal of Jones conviction because Jones trial lawyer made timely objections to the judge about the prosecutors not bringing forth the "drug informant" to testify to the jury of whether he saw Jones do a dope deal.

Trapped in the system, unable to make bail, Coy Jones was bullied into pleading guilty all over again to the same charges that the Fifth Circuit had reversed in his favor. A federal judge gave Jones only eight years this time around on November 1, 2019.

Jones attorney, Santosh Aravind told the Drug War Chronicle that "if the case would've been retried, then it's likely the government would have to bring in the actual informant to testify." Prosecutors had already figured they could win the case outright if the informant testified in open court during a new trial for Jones. 

Attorney Craig Washington viewed the situation differently. Washington said the new plea raises the possibility that Coy Jones pleaded guilty to crimes that amount to "Fruit of the Poisonous tree." Under this doctrine the law says that "if the evidential tree is tainted, so is its fruit.”

"Once the Fifth Circuit granted a new trial, prosecutors shouldn't have been able to use the same evidence that was overturned in the first place to get Coy Jones to plead guilty to it."

Prosecutors have not responded to the Drug War Chronicle’s inquiry about Washington’s allegations as of this writing.

Meanwhile inmate Coy Jones#63245-280 is serving his prison sentence at FCI in Three Rivers, Texas. Although his projected release date is in 2024, the word in the legal arena is that another round of appeals will hit the court by the end of this year or early 2021.

Drug War reporter Clarence Walker can be reached at: [email protected]

Medical Marijuana Update

Missouri and Virginia see their first medical marijuana sales, a Mississippi medical marijuana initiative campaign gets in trouble with the Trump campaign, and more.

Massachusetts 

Massachusetts High Court Rules Workers' Compensation Doesn't Cover Medical Marijuana Costs. The state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled Monday that health insurance providers are not required to cover the costs of medical marijuana for people who receive worker's compensation benefits. The court held unanimously that the state's medical marijuana law was crafted to avoid exposing insurers to any potential federal prosecution. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Mississippi

Trump Campaign Demands Mississippi Activists Quit Saying He Supports Medical Marijuana Initiative. Although President Trump has repeatedly said he supports medical marijuana, his campaign has mailed a cease and desist letter to Mississippians for Compassionate Care after it used his name, image, or likeness in support of Initiative 65. "President Trump has never expressed support for Initiative 65, and his campaign demands that you immediately cease and desist all activities using the President’s name, image, or likeness in support of the legalization of medical marijuana in Mississippi,"the letter stated. The campaign had recently sent out mailers urging voters to "Join President Trump" in supporting medical marijuana in the state. The campaign responded thusly: "President Trump has clearly stated on multiple occasions that he supports medical marijuana. That is all that we’ve shared – the truth,"said Mississippians for Compassionate Care Communications Director Jamie Grantham.

Mississippi Mayor Seeks to Block Medical Marijuana Initiative. Even as early voting is underway on the Initiative 65 medical marijuana measure, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler filed papers with the state Supreme Court seeking to knock the measure off the ballot on the grounds that its signature-gathering did not comply with the state constitution. The campaign, however, said the lawsuit was bogus: "The Secretary of State properly qualified Initiative 65 under the same constitutional procedures used for every other successful voter initiative,” Jamie Grantham, spokeswoman for Mississippians for Compassionate Care, said in a statement. “The lawsuit from the City of Madison is meritless."

 

Missouri

Missouri Sees First Medical Marijuana Sales. Legal medical marijuana went on sale for the first time in the state over the weekend. The first dispensaries opened in St. Louis county, one in Ellisville and one in Manchester. The state has already approved 65,000 patients to use medical marijuana.

Nebraska

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Legalization Activists Get Working on 2022. After qualifying for the 2020 ballot and then getting stiffed by the state Supreme Court, which held that the initiative embraced more than one subject, the two state senators who lead Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana Anna Wishart and Adam Morfeld, recently filed new petition language with Secretary of State Bob Evnen for voters to consider for the 2022 ballot. The new language is simple and straightforward: "Persons in the State of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes." Now, they will have to recreate the successful 2020 signature-gathering campaign to get back on the ballot in 2022.

New Mexico

New Mexico Judge Orders State Health Department to Loosen Medical Marijuana Reciprocity Rules. First Judicial District Court Judge Matthew Wilson in Santa Fe ruled last Tuesday that reciprocal medical marijuana patients can buy, possess and use medical marijuana in New Mexico, regardless of whether their identification matches the state where their medical recommendation to use cannabis came from. His order will also allow New Mexicans to get a recommendation to use medical marijuana from another state and become a reciprocal patient in New Mexico. 

South Dakota

South Dakota Poll Has Narrow Lead for Marijuana Legalization, Big Lead for Medical Marijuana. A Sioux Falls Argus-Leader/KRLO-TV poll has support for the Constitutional Amendment A marijuana legalization initiative at 51%, with 44% opposed, and only 5% undecided. The same poll also asked respondents about the Measure 26 medical marijuana initiative and shows it with a much larger lead, with 74% supporting it only 23% opposed, with 3% undecided.

Virginia

Virginia Sees First Medical Marijuana Sales. Legal medical marijuana went on sale for the first time in the state over the weekend. Dharma Pharmaceuticals opened its doors to registered patients on Saturday morning. The shop was seeing patients by appointment only as a coronavirus precaution.

(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.

AZ, MT Marijuana Legalization Polls, NM MedMJ Reciprocity Expansion, British Drug Deaths Up, More... (10/15/20)

The Drug Policy Alliance is in a new push to move the MORE Act, there are new polls on the Arizona and Montana marijuana legalization initiatives, and more. 

Turnout is going to be crucial for the Arizona and Montana marijuana legalization initiatives. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Drug Policy Alliance & JustLeadershipUSA Lead Extensive Coalition of Organizations Representing Directly Impacted People in Calling on Congress to Support Marijuana Reform. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA) Thursday led a group of 34 organizations founded and led by people directly impacted by the country’s criminal legal system in urging members of Congress to support comprehensive marijuana reform by passing the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3884) when it comes up for a vote on the House floor following the November 2020 election.. They sent a letter to Congress that argues that ending marijuana prohibition through the MORE Act is critical to addressing extensive racial disparities within the criminal legal system and providing economic relief for the communities that have borne the brunt of these draconian drug policies, creating a clear pathway for them to participate and benefit from the legal marijuana economy.

Arizona Polls Have Marijuana Legalization Initiative with Majority Support. Two new polls have Proposition 207: The Smart & Safe Arizona Act at over 50% support. A poll from OH Predictive Insights has the measure winning 55% to 37%, while a new Monmouth University poll has it winning 56% to 36%, up five points from a previous Monmouth poll last month.

Montana Poll Has Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Leading, But Still Under 50%. A new Montana poll has the  I-190 and CI-118 marijuana legalization initiatives with 49% support from likely voters, with 39% opposed, 10% undecided, and 2% saying they will not vote on the initiatives. That means the initiatives must pick up at least one out of five undecided voters to get over the top.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Judge Orders State Health Department to Loosen Medical Marijuana Reciprocity Rules. First Judicial District Court Judge Matthew Wilson in Santa Fe ruled Tuesday that reciprocal medical marijuana patients can buy, possess and use medical marijuana in New Mexico, regardless of whether their identification matches the state where their medical recommendation to use cannabis came from. His order will also allow New Mexicans to get a recommendation to use medical marijuana from another state and become a reciprocal patient in New Mexico. 

International

England and Wales Had Record High Fatal Drug Overdose Levels Last Year. The British Office for National Statistics reported Thursday that drug-related deaths hit a record high last year in England and Wales. There were 4,393 drug-poisoning deaths in England and Wales in 2019, compared with 4,359 in 2018, the highest number since comparable records began in 1993. The rate of drug deaths for men actually declined, but that for women increased.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.

Medical Marijuana Update

Things are heating up in Mississippi as Election Day nears, the New Jersey legislature approves a medical marijuana telemedicine bill, and more.

Mississippi

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Initiative Hearings Coming. The state secretary of state's office will host the first of five public hearings about the medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot, Initiative Measure 65, and its legislatively sponsored alternative, Alternative Measure 65A, on Wednesday in Oxford. The hearings will feature presentations from speakers both for and against Initiative Measure No. 65 and Alternative Measure No. 65A. All public hearings will be conducted in accordance with all state guidelines regarding COVID-19.

Medical Groups Urge Mississippi Voters to Reject Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Mississippi State Medical Association and the American Medical Association released a memo this week calling on voters to reject the medical marijuana initiative, saying the ballot is inherently confusing. They also accused petitioners of being driven by a desire for profit.

Nebraska

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Advocates Submit Language for 2022 Ballot. After the state Supreme Court deprived voters of a chance to choose to legalize medical marijuana this year, the group behind the effort, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, on Monday submitted petition language aimed at getting the issue on the 2022 ballot. Five Supreme Court judges ruled that the 2020 initiative, which had already qualified for the ballot, unconstitutionally dealt with more than one subject. The new language keeps it simple: "Persons in the State of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes," is all it says.

New Jersey

New Jersey Legislature Approves Medical Marijuana Telemedicine Bill. The Assembly last Thursday approved A-1635/S-619, which would allow health care practitioners to remotely authorize the use of medical marijuana via telemedicine. The bill had already passed the Senate and now goes to the desk of Gov. Phil Murphy (D).

Federal MJ Research Bill Wins Committee Vote, MA Report on Racial Sentencing Disparities, More... (9/10/20)

The federal Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2019 is heading for the House floor, New Jersey Republican party leaders come out hard against marijuana legalization, and more.

A marijuana research bill heads for a House floor vote after winning a committee vote Wednesday. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Key House Committee Advances Marijuana Research Bill. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Wednesday voted unanimously by voice vote to advance HR 3797, the Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2019. The bill would "amend the Controlled Substances Act to make marijuana accessible for use by qualified marijuana researchers for medical purposes, and for other purposes." The bill would remove all limits on the number of research entities that could be federally approved to grow or distribute marijuana and require the Department of Health and Human Services to report to Congress within five years on a review of marijuana research and whether it should be rescheduled. The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

New Jersey Republicans Formally Oppose Marijuana Legalization Initiative. GOP leaders from all 21 counties in the state unanimously backed a resolution Thursday opposing the legislatively sponsored marijuana legalization referendum that will appear on the November ballot. The Republican County Chairmen's Association called on its on their supporters to vote it down. "Pro-pot legislators may not care about the damage that legal pot will do to our children, families, schools and neighborhoods, but as an organization deeply dedicated to promoting a healthy and safe New Jersey, my chairmen colleagues and I felt obligated to speak out against the ballot question," Hudson County Republican Chairman Jose Arango said.

Drug Policy

New Report Highlights Racial Disparity in Massachusetts Drug and Weapons Charges. Researchers at Harvard Law School released a report Wednesday that finds Black and Latino defendants are more likely than White ones to be imprisoned for drugs and weapons crimes and more likely to get longer sentences than White ones. The study was sought by the chief justice of the state's highest court, and found that racial disparities in sentencing length are largely because Black and Latino tend to be initially charged more harshly for crimes that "carry longstanding racialized stigmas." The disparities remain even "after controlling for charge severity and additional factors," according to the report from the law school's Criminal Justice Policy Program.

Drug Testing

Supreme Court of Ohio Gives Employers the Green Light to Drug Test At-Will Employees Under Direct Observation When the Employees Give Broad Consent. The state's highest court has ruled that if an employer has a substance abuse policy that requires workers to undergo random suspicionless drug testing and workers sign a consent form allowing "any testing necessary," they implicitly agreed to allow "direct observation" testing and have no privacy claim. "Direct observation" testing mean having someone watch workers as they provide a urine sample to be tested.

DC Natural Psychedelic Initiative Qualifies, DPA Federal Drug Decrim Push, More... (8/10/20)

Residents in the nation's capital will vote on whether to effectively decriminalize natural psychedelics, the Arizona pot legalization initiative survives a legal challenge, the Drug Policy Alliance pushes for federal drug decriminalization, and more.

Decriminalize Nature DC street signs
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative Fends Off Legal Challenge. The Smart and Safe Arizona marijuana legalization initiative has survived a legal challenge from foes. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Smith ruled late Friday that the measure's summary did not mislead voters and the measure can be on the ballot. "At 100 words, the summary also cannot include everything," he wrote. "That is why the full initiative must accompany the petition. This initiative is plain: It wants to legalize recreational marijuana," the judge wrote. "That is the principal provision. It is unlikely electors signing these petitions would be surprised by cascading effects of legalizing a formerly illegal substance."

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Proposes Federal All-Drug Decriminalization, Releases New Legislative Framework. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) released a new federal legislative proposal Dismantling the Federal Drug War: A Comprehensive Drug Decriminalization Framework, which provides a roadmap to effectively end the criminalization of people who use drugs and begin repairing the harm drug law enforcement has caused to communities of color. The DPA model decriminalization legislation -- the Drug Policy Reform Act -- takes the first steps in dismantling the punitive apparatus built up over the past 50 years. To begin refocusing federal drug policies, the legislation shifts the authority for classifying and regulating controlled substances from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The legislation eliminates criminal penalties for all possession of personal-use quantities of controlled substances, and shifts federal resources away from futile enforcement strategies to supportive initiatives to protect the public health and safety.

Methamphetamine

Senators Feinstein and Grassley File Methamphetamine Response Act. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) last Thursday introduced the Methamphetamine Response Act, a bill declaring methamphetamine an emerging drug threat which would require the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to develop, implement and make public a national plan to prevent methamphetamine addiction and overdoses from becoming a crisis.

Psychedelics

Washington, DC, Natural Psychedelics Initiative Qualifies for the Ballot. The DC Board of Elections announced last Wednesday that Initiative 81, the Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act of 2020, has qualified for the November ballot. The act would effectively decriminalize the use and possession of natural psychedelics by making the enforcement of laws against them the lowest priority.

International

World Anti-Doping Association to Shorten Punishments for Recreational Drug Offenses. Beginning next January, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) will no longer issue long suspensions for athletes testing positive for recreational drugs out of competition. Instead of being banned for two years, the athletes will now be banned for one to three months. "If the athlete can establish that any ingestion or use occurred out of competition and was unrelated to sport performance, then the period of ineligibility shall be three months," WADA's new code says. "In addition, the period of ineligibility calculated... may be reduced to one month if the athlete or other person satisfactorily completes a substance of abuse treatment program approved by the Anti-Doping Organization."

British Tory Drug Reform Group Calls for Rescheduling Psilocybin. The Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group (CDPRG) has published a new report with the Adam Smith Institute outlining the potential medical benefits of psilocybin and urging the UK Home Office to reschedule the compound for research purposes. The not-for-profit group also urges the Home Office to reduce regulatory restrictions on the compound to allow for research into its medical efficacy. The report is Medicinal use of psilocybin: Reducing restrictions on research and treatment.

Colombia's Former President Uribe Placed on House Arrest During Investigation of Ties to Drug Cartels, Paramilitary Groups. Last Thursday, President Ivan Duque announced that former President Alvaro Uribe will be held in custody as the Supreme Court investigates allegations of witness tampering. Uribe, president of Colombia from 2002 to 2010, has long been accused of criminal activities, including having ties to drug cartels and paramilitary groups. He is currently accused of being a founding member of a rightist paramilitary group involved in the decades-long conflict between the government and leftist rebels.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.

Medical Marijuana Update

All the medical marijuana news is from the Keystone State this week. 

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules Counties Can Ban Probationers from Using Medical Marijuana. The State Supreme Court ruled Thursday that counties may not ban people on probation or parole from using medical marijuana if they are registered in the state medical marijuana program. In a unanimous decision, the court noted that people in the program are immune from “arrest, prosecution or penalty in any manner” under state law, even if they are under a court’s supervision. “In Pennsylvania, as elsewhere, the political branch has decided to permit patients — including probationers — to use medical marijuana for specified, serious medical conditions, upon a physician’s certification,” the court said in its opinion.

Pennsylvania Bill Would Require Police to Prove Actual Impairment Before Charging Medical Marijuana Patients With DUI. A Republican state senator, Camera Bartolotta, has filed a bill aimed at protecting medical marijuana patients from being prosecuted for driving under the influence. The bill does so by exempting patients from the state's DUI law, which requires only the presence of marijuana metabolites to garner a DUI ticket. Instead, police would have to prove that the patient driver is actually impaired.

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