2018

RSS Feed for this category

Chronicle AM: Trump Nixed Israeli MedMJ Exports, Duterte Faces ICC Investigation, More... (2/8/18)

Israeli Prime Minister says he barred medical marijuana exports because of Donald Trump, the International Criminal Court begins a "preliminary examination" of the Philippines' bloody drug war, and more.

Israeli PM Netanyahu says he barred medical marijuana exports at Trump's request. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Lawmakers Shame Regulators Over Medical Marijuana Program. A joint legislative oversight committee tore into state medical marijuana czar Christian Bax on Monday. The Joint Administrative Procedures Committee used four separate unanimous votes to clarify its displeasure with rules and regulations promulgated by the Office of Medical Marijuana Use. Lawmakers are also unhappy that the office failed to respond to more than a dozen letters from lawmakers over the past four months identifying problems with the rules.

Nebraska Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Nebraska poll has 77% of respondents saying they would support allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana. Some 52% said they would definitely vote yes, while 22% would probably vote yes, and 3% were undecided but leaning toward yes. The poll comes as the legislature ponders a bill that would allow voters to weigh in on a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana.

Texas Sees First Dispensary, But CBD Only. Compassion Cultivation opened Thursday in Austin. It's the first dispensary to open under the state's CBD cannabis oil medical marijuana law. The state saw its first cannabis oil delivery to a patient earlier this week.

Harm Reduction

Iowa Needle Exchange Bill Advances. A three-member panel of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a bill that would legalize needle exchanges in the state. Senate File 219 now heads for a vote of the whole committee.

San Francisco Regulators Back Safe Injection Site. The city's Health Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a resolution supporting supervised injection services. The resolution endorses the recommendations of the Safe Injection Services Task Force, which calls for safe injection sites in the city. The matter does not need to go before the Board of Supervisors. The first two supervised injection sites could open as soon as July 1, Health Director Barbara Garcia said.

International

International Criminal Court Begins Moving on Philippines Drug War Complaints. The ICC has begun "preliminary examinations" to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to establish a case before the court in connections with the thousands of killings perpetrated in the course of President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs. The preliminary examination is the first step in the ICC prosecution process. Duterte said he welcomed the examination because he is "sick and tired of being accused," a spokesman said.

Israel Put Hold on Medical Marijuana Exports Because of Trump, Netanyahu Says. The Israeli prime minister said President Trump called him and expressed his objection to marijuana exports. Netanyahu nixed exports earlier this week, putting potential export earnings of $1 to $4 billion a year at risk.

Lesotho Becomes First African Nation to Allow Legal Marijuana Cultivation. Lesotho has granted the first licenses for commercial marijuana cultivation, but the licenses are restricted to two foreign-owned companies. On Tuesday, Corix Bioscience announced that it received "the first license issued by the Government of Lesotho that enables them to import and export cannabis and cannabis resin in various forms." The product would be exported to any country that permits it.

Six States That Could Pass Marijuana Initiatives This Year [FEATURE]

While marijuana reform efforts continue at an excruciatingly slow pace in state legislatures -- Vermont became the first state to free the weed at the statehouse just last month -- the initiative and referendum process continues to serve as a direct popular vote alternative to the crap shoot that is trying to get a pot bill through two houses and signed by a governor.

There are at least six states with a serious shot at legalizing either recreational marijuana or medical marijuana via the initiative process this year. In one state, a medical marijuana initiative has already qualified for the ballot; in another, plentiful signatures have already been handed in for a legalization initiative; in three others, signature gathering campaigns are well underway; while in the last, a legalization initiative hasn't been officially filed yet, but already has serious financial backing.

By the time we get past election day, we should be looking at a legalization victory in at least one more state and medical marijuana victories damned near anywhere an initiative manages to get on the ballot. In the last election cycle, marijuana reform initiatives won in eight out of nine contests.

Here are the 2018 contenders:

1. Michigan -- Legalization

The Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has already completed a petition campaign and handed in more than 365,000 raw signatures in November for its legalization initiative. It hasn't officially qualified for the ballot yet, but it only needs 250,000 valid voter signatures to do so, meaning it has a rather substantial cushion. If the measure makes the ballot, it should win. There is the little matter of actually campaigning to pass the initiative, which should require a million or two dollars for TV ad buys and other get-out-the-vote efforts, but with the Marijuana Policy Project on board and some deep-pocketed local interests as well, the money should be there. The voters already are there: Polling has shown majority support for legalization for several years now, always trending up, and most recently hitting 58% in a May Marketing Resource Group poll.

2. Missouri -- Medical

New Approach Missouri's Right to Medical Marijuana initiative would legalize the use of medical marijuana for specified medical conditions and create a system of taxed and regulated medical marijuana cultivation, distribution, and sales. The campaign is well into its signature gathering phase and reported this week that it already has 175,000 raw signatures. It only needs 160,000 verified valid voter signatures, but has set a goal of 280,000 raw signatures to provide a comfortable cushion. Signature gathering doesn't end until May 6. There is no recent state polling on the issue, but medical marijuana typically polls above 80% nationally.

3. New Mexico -- Legalization

The Land of Enchantment has a unique path to a popular vote on marijuana legalization: A measure before the legislature, Senate Joint Resolution 4, would, if approved, take the issue directly to the voters in November. New Mexicans would vote on a constitutional amendment to legalize weed, and if they approved it, the legislature would meet next year to promulgate rules and regulations. The measure passed one Senate committee on Friday, but still faces another Senate committee vote, a Senate floor vote, and action in the House, and the clock is ticking. Supporters have only about two weeks to move this bill before the session ends. If it can get before the voters, it could win: A poll last week had support at 61%.

4. Ohio -- Legalization

Responsible Ohio tried to legalize marijuana in 2015 via a "pay to play" initiative that would have created a growers' oligopoly limited to cash-heavy early supporters who financed the entire campaign. Ohio voters didn't buy that, so some of the players are back again with what they're calling the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Amendment. It hasn't been officially filed yet, but would reportedly have a "free market" approach to a system of taxed and regulated cultivation, distribution, and sales, and it would allow for personal cultivation. Organizers say they have $3 million already for signature gathering and campaigning. They will need 305,592 valid voter signatures and they have a goal of July 4 for getting them.

5. Oklahoma -- Medical

The Oklahoma medical marijuana initiative, State Question 788, has already qualified for the ballot and will go before the voters during the June 26 primary election. The initiative legalizes the use, cultivation, and distribution of medical marijuana to qualified patients. A January Sooner poll had support at 62%, a fairly low level of support for medical marijuana, which typically polls above 80% nationwide. But this is Oklahoma.

6. Utah -- Medical

The Utah Medical Cannabis Act would allow patients with certain qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana. It limits the numbers of dispensaries and growers, and patients could only grow their own if they reside more than 100 miles from the nearest dispensary. Patients could not smoke their medicine, but they could vaporize it. The Utah Patients Coalition is currently in the midst of its signature gathering campaign. It needs 113,000 verified voter signatures by April 15, and it has the money in the bank, including $100,000 from the Marijuana Policy Project, to get it done. A series of polls last year had support levels ranging from 69% to 78%.

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Bills Popping Up, HRW Calls on Philippines to Support UN Inquiry, More... (2/1/18)

With the legislative season gearing up in the states, marijuana bills are everywhere. And Human Rights Watch has a message for the Philippine government.

Marijuana Policy

Alaska Bill Would Seal Public Records of Past Marijuana Convictions. Rep. Harriet Drummond (D-Anchorage) has filed House Bill 316, which would seal public records for past marijuana possession convictions. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Georgia Bills Would Amend State Constitution, Codes to Legalize Marijuana. Lawmakers in Atlanta have not one, but two, marijuana legalization measures to deal with this year. Senate Resolution 614 proposes amending the state constitution to legalize it, while Senate Bill 344 would amend the state code to allow for the legalization and regulation of marijuana businesses. Since the measures are in the form of amendments to the constitution, they must first pass the General Assembly and then they would go to the voters on the November 2018 ballot.

Maine House Fails To Pass Short-Term Moratorium on Retail Marijuana Sales. The House has failed to extend a moratorium on recreational marijuana sales that expired today. Supporters had said that extending the moratorium would send a strong signal to would-be entrepreneurs that legal sales are still on hold, but failure to pass it will have little effect, since retail operations can't happen until there is a regulatory framework in place. It's now been more than 13 months since voters approved legalization.

New Mexico Bill to Legalize Marijuana Introduced. State Rep. Javier Martinez (D-Albuquerque) on Wednesday filed House Bill 312, which would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana. Advocates don't expect the bill to pass this year, but said it would advance the conversation.

New Jersey Assembly Sees Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Trenton) has filed a marijuana legalization bill, Assembly Bill 1348, that would allow a single household to grow up to 12 plants. The bill would also set a limit of 80 retail marijuana outlets in the state. If it passes the Assembly, it would need to be reconciled with a legalization bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 380, that doesn't allow home grows and does not cap the number of shops.

San Francisco to Wipe Out Thousands of Old Marijuana Convictions. City District Attorney George Gascon announced Wednesday that the city will retroactively apply the state's marijuana legalization to past marijuana cases going back to 1975. He said more than 3,000 misdemeanor cases dating back decades will be dismissed and sealed.

Medical Marijuana

Maine Governor Agrees to Delay New, More Restrictive Medical Marijuana Rules. Gov. Paul LePage (R) has agreed to delay the implementation of new, more restrictive rules that were set to go into effect Thursday. They would have allowed surprise inspections of caregivers and shut down markets for infused edibles, tinctures, and lotions. Now, the governor is giving the legislature another three months to draft a new law. "While I believe strongly that the medical marijuana program needs improved and increased regulation, waiting until May to ensure we do not create unnecessary confusion and complication is a reasonable approach," LePage said in a letter Wednesday.

Utah Medical Marijuana Bills Advance. Two bills taking the state down the path toward allowing medical marijuana advanced in the legislature Wednesday. House Bill 197 would allow marijuana cultivation for research purposes, while House Bill 195 would establish a "right to try" for terminally ill patients. Both bills were filed by Rep. Brad Daw (R-Orem). They passed the House Health and Human Services Committee and now head for a House floor vote. Meanwhile, an initiative for a full-blown medical marijuana program is now in the signature gathering phase.

Industrial Hemp

Indiana House Unanimously Passes Industrial Hemp Legalization Bill. The House on Wednesday approved House Bill 1137 on a vote of 90-0. The bill would allow farmers in the state to grow industrial hemp crops -- if the federal government issues the necessary permits and waivers. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Drug Testing

Maine Employee Drug Testing Bill Filed. Sen. Amy Volk (R-Scarborough) has filed a bill that would usher in a sweeping overhaul of the state's employee drug testing laws, giving employers new powers to test and discipline workers for drug or alcohol use. The bill is backed by GOP lawmakers and Gov. Paul LePage (R). The bill would remove probable cause requirements for drug tests and eliminate provisions mandating that employers provide access to drug treatment.

South Dakota Senate Panel Approves Bill Requiring Drug Tests for Legislators. Two days after a committee in the House voted to kill the bill, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-3 to approve House Bill 1133, which would require legislators to submit to drug testing. The full Senate will now take up the bill.

Vermont Legislature Considers Saliva Test Ahead of Marijuana Legalization. The House Committee on Transportation is pondering whether to look into a saliva test for drivers as the state faces looming legalization. Legislators are also proposing a per se THC blood limit of .05 nanograms per milliliter. But as the Vermont ACLU noted, the presence of THC does not necessarily indicate impairment.

International

Human Rights Watch Calls on Philippines Government to Support UN Inquiry into Drug War Killings. The Philippine government should urgently support the creation of a United Nations-led investigation into the thousands of killings linked to its "war on drugs," Human Rights Watch said Thursday. A UN-led probe would both help clarify the disparity in official and independent estimates of killings in the anti-drug campaign and facilitate accountability for unlawful deaths. "The glaring disparity between the Philippine government's official death toll and those of credible independent observers underscores the urgent need for a UN-led independent investigation into killings since the drug war began in June 2016," said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. "The government should welcome a UN effort to establish an impartial and verifiable death toll as a crucial first step in accountability for wrongful deaths."

Chronicle AM: FL Voting Init Qualifies for Ballot, NYC Sues Big Pharma Over Opioids, More... (1/24/18)

More than a million Floridians would regain their right to vote in November after an initiative qualfied for the ballot, California small pot growers sue to stop concentration in the industry, New York City sues opioid manufacturers and seeks half a billion in damages, and more.

A Florida initiative that would restore the voting rights of felons is headed for the November ballot. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

California Growers' Group Sues to Block Huge Grow Operations. The California Growers Association, which represents small marijuana cultivators, filed suit in Sacramento Tuesday to block state rules it fears could open the way for huge commercial marijuana operations, driving its members out of business. Although the state has put a moratorium on large marijuana grows, state regulators are allowing businesses to acquire an unlimited number of licenses for smaller grows, which could lead to monopolization of the industry and have "a devastating effect" on small growers.

Maine GOP, Governor Seek to Delay Legalization Implementation. Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage (R) and legislative Republican leaders said Tuesday they want to extend a moratorium on the launch of legal pot businesses in the state until January 2019 and they will refuse to support a bill now before lawmakers that would extend the moratorium only until April 18. Voters approved marijuana legalization in November 2016. The proposed April 18 moratorium bill was unanimously approved by the Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee last week, and is likely to come up for a vote Thursday on the Senate floor.

Massachusetts Marijuana Sanctuary State Bill Filed. Last Friday, Reps. Dave Rogers (D-Cambridge) and Mike Connolly (D-Cambridge) filed a bill that would prevent state and local authorities from cooperating with federal authorities attempting to enforce federal marijuana laws against state-legal marijuana businesses. The Refusal and Compliance Act would prevent police from handing over people in compliance with state marijuana laws unless federal authorities have a warrant.

Medical Marijuana

Another Utah Poll Shows Strong Support for Medical Marijuana Initiative. A new poll from the Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah's Hinckley School of Politics has support for a proposed medical marijuana initiative at 76%. That's nearly identical to the 75% approval polled in October. The poll comes as the Utah Patients Coalition, which is sponsoring the initiative, moves toward completing its signature-gathering campaign.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York City Sues Big Pharma Over Opioid Crisis. The city filed suit against a handful of opioid manufacturers Tuesday in Manhattan Supreme Court. The lawsuit aimed at "corporate drug pushers" seeks $500 million from Johnson & Johnson, Cephalon, Purdue Pharma, Teva, and Janssen. The city saw more than a thousand opioid overdose deaths last year.

Asset Forfeiture

Alabama Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Rep. Arnold Moore filed a bill Tuesday to curb the widespread use of civil asset forfeiture. House Bill 287 would effectively end civil asset forfeiture by requiring a criminal conviction before seizing someone's property.

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia Takes Step Toward Approving Safe Injection Sites. City officials announced Tuesday that they would allow a safe injection site as part of an effort to stem the rising tide of opioid overdose deaths. The city won't operate the site itself, but is now preparing to solicit operators interested in setting up such a site. There are no sanctioned safe injection sites in the US, although a number of other cities, including Denver, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle are considering them.

Voting Rights

Florida Initiative to Restore Voting Rights to Felons Qualifies for Ballot. The Voting Restoration Amendment, which would restore voting rights to more than a million Floridians with felony records, has qualified for the November ballot. Campaigners led by Floridians for Fair Democracy gathered more than the 799,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, state figures showed Tuesday. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the measure will need 60% of the vote to pass.

Chronicle AM: Trump Opioid Commission Member Calls It a "Sham," Good MI Pot Poll, More... (1/23/18)

Trump renews the opioid crisis emergency even as an opioid commission member calls it "a sham," things are looking up for Michigan marijuana legalizers, the French parliament will take up drug decriminalization, and more.

Presidential opioid commission member Patrick Kennedy calls it "a sham" and "a charade." (nationalcouncil.org)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new Detroit News-Local 4 poll finds that 56.6% of respondents support a marijuana legalization initiative that is likely to be on the November ballot. The initiative from the Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has already handed in signatures and is awaiting verification of signature validity by state officials.

Medical Marijuana

Congressional Budget Deal Retains Protections for State Legal Medical Marijuana. The short-term budget deal approved by Congress Monday retains the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which bars the Justice Department from using its funds to go after medical marijuana patients and operations in states where it is legal. But the continuing budget resolution is only in effect until February 8.

Indiana Senate Panel Advances CBD Bill. The Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee voted 7-2 Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 52, which would legalize CBD cannabis oil containing less than 0.3% THC. The state already has a CBD law, but that law is limited to epilepsy patients who are registered with the state. This bill would open up CBD use to anyone with a medical conditions.

New Jersey Governor Orders Review of State's "Constrained" Medical Marijuana Program. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) Tuesday ordered a 60-day review of the state's medical marijuana program, which he called "constrained." He said he would consider allowing home deliveries, allowing purchases beyond the current two-ounce limit, and expanding the number of dispensaries, but he did not mention expanding the list of qualifying medical conditions.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Trump Administration Extends Opioid Emergency. The Trump administration has announced a 90-day extension of its declared opioid crisis emergency. The emergency was set to expire Tuesday. But the administration has done little to demonstrate it takes the crisis seriously. It has allocated no new funds, failed to launch a public awareness campaign, and has left key drug policy positions unfilled.

Trump's Opioid Commission is a "Sham," Member Says. Former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy has called the commission "a sham" and "a charade" in an interview with CNN. "This and the administration's other efforts to address the epidemic are tantamount to reshuffling chairs on the Titanic," said Kennedy. "The emergency declaration has accomplished little because there's no funding behind it. You can't expect to stem the tide of a public health crisis that is claiming over 64,000 lives per year without putting your money where your mouth is."

Drug Testing

Nebraska Bill Would Require Drug Tests for Unemployment Benefits. State Sen. Joni Albrecht (R-Thurston) has filed Legislative Bill 712, which would allow some people seeking unemployment benefits to be drug tested. Failure to take or pass a drug test would make the person ineligible for benefits until he or she passes the drug test. Albrecht said she filed the bill on behalf of employers who want a drug-free work force. The bill got a hearing Monday, but no action was taken.

South Dakota Bill Would Require Drug Tests for Lawmakers. State Rep. Tim Goodwin (R-Rapid City) has filed a bill, House Bill 133, that would require all legislators to undergo drug tests within two weeks of being sworn into office. A positive drug test or a refusal would be reported to the presiding officer of the lawmaker's chamber for discipline. The move comes as the legislature ponders harsher penalties for meth offenses, and Goodwin said Tuesday that if lawmakers want to send people to prison for "a long period of time, we should all be clean ourself [sic]."

International

France Parliamentary Report Recommends Decriminalizing All Drug Use. A new parliamentary report is recommending a pair of options for modernizing the country's drug laws, including the decriminalization of drug use and possession. One proposal calls for fining drug possessors and charging them with a crime if they don't pay the fine. The other proposal calls for drug use and possession to be downgraded to a civil offense ("la contravention"), with fines, but no possibility of a criminal charge. Parliament will now have to decide which approach it wants to take.

Russian Presidential Candidate Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Presidential candidate and former reality TV star Ksenia Sobchak is calling for the legalization of marijuana. She said legalizing weed could help solve "the narcotics epidemic" in the country. "I myself don't use it, but I don't drink vodka by the bottle, either," she told state-run RIA Novosti news agency. "I don't really understand why drinking vodka in enormous quantities is considered normal in our country, but using marijuana is not, though it has far fewer consequences, even from the perspective of crime statistics," she added.

Medical Marijuana Update

An effort to undo racial inequities faces a challenge in Ohio, Oklahomans will go to the polls to vote for medical marijuana in June, three members of the Kettle Falls Five win a major court victory, and more.

Ohio

On Tuesday, a lawsuit challenged "racial quotas" in the medical marijuana program. A company that failed to win a slot in the state's medical marijuana program has filed a lawsuit claiming it lost out because of "an unconstitutional racial quota." PharmaCann Ohio Inc. said it finished 12th out of more than a hundred applicants for 12 cultivation licenses on the state's application ranking system, but that it lost out because a state quota system requires 15% of those licenses to go to minority-owned groups. That requirement gave an unfair boost to companies that scored lower in the rankings, the company argued, saying the racial requirement violates the Constitution's 14th Amendment equal protection clause.

Oklahoma

Last Thursday, an election date was set for the medical marijuana initiative. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) announced that a medical marijuana initiative will go before the voters during the June 26 primary election. The initiative will be Question 788 on the June ballot. It would create a full-fledged state medical marijuana system, and patients would be allowed to grow up to six mature plants themselves.

Pennsylvania

Last Thursday, the state okayed its first dispensary. State regulators announced they had approved the state's first dispensary to begin selling medical marijuana once it becomes available from a licensed grow. The Keystone Canna Remedies dispensary in Bethlehem was the first out of the gate. The dispensary will open later this month for educational workshops and registration assistance, but doesn't expect to have product on hand until mid-February. Regulators said they expected more dispensaries to open in coming weeks.

Washington

Last Wednesday, three Kettle Falls Five members saw their convictions vacated and charges dismissed. Three members of a Washington state family prosecuted for growing medical marijuana for themselves have seen their convictions vacated at the request of federal prosecutors. The feds said congressional bans on using Justice Department funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana programs made it impossible for them to continue with an appeal.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.

Chronicle AM: AG's Pot Move Sparks Outrage, VT House Votes to Legalize, More... (1/5/18)

The attorney general's war on marijuana proves unpopular, legalization proves popular (again), Vermont moves forward on a legalization bill, and more.

the Pew Poll over time
Marijuana Policy

Sessions' Marijuana Shift Generates Bipartisan Opposition. Attorney General Sessions' announcement that he was rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors to generally leave state law-abiding marijuana operations alone, has ignited a firestorm of opposition, including high-ranking Republican elected officials. Among them are Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), both representing legal pot states, and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), representing a medical marijuana state. Less surprisingly, Democratic senators and representatives, as well as state government officials, have also denounced the move.

New Pew Poll Finds Six in 10 Americans Support Legalization. A Pew poll released Friday has support for marijuana legalization at 61%, nearly double the 32% who supported it only seven years ago in 2010. All demographic groups reported in the poll had majority support for legalization, except for two: Republicans at 43% and white evangelical Christians at 38%.

Vermont House Passes Legalization Bill (With No Sales). Ignoring the hubbub emanating from the nation's capital, the House on Thursday approved a bill that would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but would not allow taxed and regulated sales. Instead, a task force appointed by the governor would study the issue and report back by December 15. The measure, House Bill 511, now goes back to the Senate, which already approved it last year. Gov. Phil Scott (R), has said he is comfortable with the bill and has signaled he will sign it. That would make Vermont the first state to legalize pot through the legislative process.

Medical Marijuana

Three Kettle Falls Five Members See Convictions Vacated, Charges Dismissed. Three members of a Washington state family prosecuted for growing medical marijuana for themselves have seen their convictions vacated at the request of federal prosecutors. The feds said congressional bans on using Justice Department funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana programs made it impossible for them to continue with an appeal.

Oklahoma Will Vote on Medical Marijuana Initiative in June. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) announced Thursday that a medical marijuana initiative will go before the voters during the June 26 primary election. The initiative will be Question 788 on the June ballot. It would create a full-fledged state medical marijuana system, and patients would be allowed to grow up to six mature plants themselves.

International

Turkish Interior Minister Says Police Should Break Drug Dealers' Legs. In the latest iteration of 21st Century drug war thuggery, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has called for the imposition of physical violence on some drug sellers. "If a dealer is near a school, the police have a duty to break his leg," he said. "Do it and blame me. Even if it costs five, 10, 20 years in jail -- we'll pay." Well, hey, at least he isn't calling for them to be killed, as in Malaysia, or actually killing them, as in Indonesia, and to a much greater extent, the Philippines.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Top Ten US Drug Policy Stories of 2017 [FEATURE]

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Tens of thousands die of drug overdoses, hundreds of thousands get arrested for drugs, yet marijuana is seeing boom times. As we bid adieu to 2017, here are the year's drug policy highlights:

Drug overdoses killed record numbers of Americans in 2017. (Wikimedia)
1.The Opioid Crisis Deepens, With Overdose Deaths at an All-Time High

The country's opioid crisis showed no signs of abating in 2017, with the Centers for Disease Control estimating 66,000 overdose deaths this year, up from 63,000 in 2016. To be clear, only about two-thirds of fatal drug overdoses are linked to heroin and prescription opioids, but opioid overdoses surged in 2016 by 28%. It's too early for final data on 2017 overdoses, but there is little reason to doubt that opioids were driving the increase this year. The high levels of overdose deaths have led to a fall in US life expectancy for the past two years, only the third time that has happened in the past century. Policy efforts to curtail the problem have sometimes included regressive moves to up drug sentences, and have generally given only limited consideration to the needs many patients have to access these substances. But public health measures like naloxone distribution and "Good Samaritan" non-prosecution policies have also advanced.

2. Fentanyl is Killing More and More People

The powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl and its analogs are implicated in an increasingly large number of opioid overdose deaths. While deaths involving prescription opioids are decreasing, fentanyl-related deaths have increased by an average of 88% a year since 2013. Illicitly imported fentanyl from labs in China or Mexico is mixed with heroin with lethal results: Half of the increase in heroin-related overdose deaths is attributable to heroin cut with fentanyl, the CDC reported in September. There were nearly 20,000 deaths attributable to fentanyl and other illicit opioids in 2016; the 2017 numbers are likely to be even worse.

3. Key Federal Drug Policy Positions Remain Unfilled, and Kellyanne is In Charge

The Trump administration has not nominated anyone to head the DEA, and the agency is currently being led by Acting Administrator Robert Patterson after Chuck Rosenberg, the acting administrator when Trump took office, resigned in September, saying he didn't want to work with the administration any longer. Similarly, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) is without a permanent head after Trump's nominee, Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Tom Marino went down in flames in October in the wake of reports he steered a bill through Congress that impeded the DEA from going after pharmaceutical drug distributors. Neither the White House nor anyone else seems very interested in filling the position, in part, perhaps, because earlier in the year, Trump floated the notion of cutting ONDCP's budget by nearly 95%. But not to worry: Trump pollster, counselor, and apologist Kellyanne Conway is now leading the administration's fight against opioids -- even though she has no public health experience whatsoever.

So far, Attorney General Sessions' bark is worse than his bite when it comes to marijuana policy. (senate.gov)
4. Attorney General Sessions Revives the Federal War on Drugs…

Under President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder presided over a ratcheting down of harsh federal drug prosecutions and sentences, but current Attorney General Jeff Sessions is doing his best to undo those reforms. In May, Sessions announced that he had directed federal prosecutors to seek the most severe penalties possible in drug cases, including mandatory minimum sentences.

5. …But Fails to Implement a War on Weed, So Far

For all the wailing, gnashing of teeth, and dire predictions of a Sessions war on weed, it hasn't happened yet. The attorney general has made no secret of his dislike for the demon weed, but that has yet to translate into any firm policy positions or federal crackdowns on marijuana in states where it is legal, for either medical or recreational use. Congressional action continues to bar the use of Justice Department funds to go after medical marijuana, although the future of that law after January 22nd remains in doubt. But there was no bar on going after state-legal recreational marijuana, yet it didn't happen. Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee in November that the Obama-era Cole memo remains in effect. That memo directs prosecutors to pretty much leave state-legal marijuana alone except for specified concerns, such as the involvement of youth, violence, or diversion. Later in November, Sessions said the Justice Department was still examining the Cole memo, so all is not safe, but today legal marijuana is still standing.

6. Legal Marijuana's $10 Billion Dollar Year

In December, marijuana market watchers Arcview Market Research estimated that retail marijuana sales would hit $10 billion in 2017, up 33% over 2016. But that's just the beginning, Arcview said. With huge recreational markets such as California (pop. 39 million) and Canada (pop. 36 million) coming online next year, the group expects North American sales to top $24.5 billion by 2021. It's hard even for a pot-hating attorney general to get in front of that economic juggernaut.

7. Pot is More Popular than Ever

Just ask Gallup. The venerable polling firm has been tracking support for marijuana legalization since 1969, when it was at just 12%. In its latest poll, from October, Gallup now has support for marijuana legalization at 64%. What is really impressive is the rapid increase in support in the past 20 years: In 1996, support was at 25%; by 2012, it had doubled to 50%; and it's gained another 14 points in the five years since. Other pollsters are reporting similar current levels of support for marijuana legalization. And this could be another reason the attorney general hesitates to crack down on weed.

8. No State Legalized Weed, But 2018 Should Be Different

After 2016 saw marijuana legalization initiatives win in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada -- losing only in Arizona, closely -- anticipation was high that 2017 would see more states come aboard. It didn't happen. There are two explanations for this: First, it was an off-off election year and no initiatives were on the ballot, and second, it's hard to move controversial legislation though the state house. Still, the Vermont legislature actually passed a legalization bill, only to see it vetoed by a Republican governor, and that governor now says he is ready to sign a legalization bill. That could happen as early as next month. Likewise, a number of other states saw legalization bills make serious progress, and we could see those efforts come to fruition in places like Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. And 2018 will most likely see at least one legalization initiative. Activists in Michigan have already handed in signatures and should have enough of a cushion to qualify for the ballot.

9. Safe Injection Sites in the US Draw Ever Nearer

The harm reduction intervention has been proven to save lives, increase public health and public safety, and get hardcore drug users in touch with medical and social service help, and the message is finally on the verge of getting though in the US. At least two major West Coast cities, San Francisco and Seattle, are advancing plans to open such facilities -- although not without staunch opposition -- and, under the progressive leadership of young Mayor Svante Myrick, Ithaca, New York, is making similar plans.

10. The War on Drugs Rolls On

Despite the legalization of medical and/or recreational marijuana in various states, despite various sentencing reforms at the state and federal level, despite the growing recognition that "we can't arrest our way out of this problem," the drug war just keeps on going. The FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report in November, and while the numbers are from 2016, this year's numbers are unlikely to be any better. More than 600,000 people got arrested for marijuana offenses in 2016, down from a peak of nearly 800,000 in 2007, but still up by 75,000 or 12% over 2015. It's the same story with overall drug arrests: While total drug arrest numbers peaked at just under 1.9 million a year in 2006 and 2007 -- just ahead of the peak in prison population -- and had been trending downward ever since, they bumped up again last year to 1.57 million, a 5.6% increase over 2015.

Medical Marijuana Update

Congress extended Rohrabacher-Blumenauer protections for another few weeks, the VA will now let doctors discuss -- but not recommend -- medical marijuana, a Utah poll has strong support for a medical marijuana initiative, and more.

National

Last Wednesday, the VA unveiled new rules that let doctors talk about, but not recommend, medical marijuana. Under a new VA directive, doctors can "discuss with the veteran marijuana use, due to its clinical relevance to patient care, and discuss marijuana use with any veterans requesting information about marijuana." But they can't recommend it: "Providers are prohibited from completing forms or registering veterans for participation in a state-approved marijuana program."

Last Thursday, Congress extended medical marijuana protections through January 19. With its vote for a temporary spending bill, the Congress also reauthorized the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment barring the use of Justice Department funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. But it's only until January 19 when the temporary funding bill expires. "Patients around the country who rely on medical marijuana for treatment -- and the businesses that serve them -- now have some measure of certainty," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. "Our fight, however, continues to maintain these important protections in the next funding bill passed by Congress."

Hawaii

Last Friday, the state approved medical marijuana for ALS patients. State Department of Health officials announced that they have added Amyothropic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, to the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. Hawaii now joins 18 of the 29 medical marijuana states that recognize ALS as a qualifying condition.

Michigan

On Tuesday, nearly 50 Lansing dispensaries were told they would have to close. City Attorney Jim Smiertka said that his office has identified 48 businesses that may be dispensaries operating in violation of city ordinances and state law. He sent each a cease and desist order last Friday, warning them they faced a $1,000 a day fine if they don't close their doors. December 15 was the last day the city accepted applications for dispensary licenses and also the last day the state offered license applications for those businesses. Under an executive order issued by Mayor Virg Bernero, dispensaries that didn't apply for licenses by that date must shut down.

Utah

Last Thursday, a new poll showed strong support for a medical marijuana initiative. A new UtahPolicy poll finds nearly three-quarters (73%) of respondents support a proposed medical marijuana initiative. That figure includes 61% of people who describe themselves as "very active" Mormons. The church opposes the initiative. The initiative will go on the November 2018 ballot if petitioners can come up with 113,000 valid voter signatures by the spring.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: New CA Pot and Driving Laws, IL Black Heroin Problem, More... (12/27/17)

Getting caught using marijuana while driving will soon net you a $70 ticket in California, the Urban League charges that black heroin and opioid problems in Illinois don't get enough attention, pilots will soon face DOT testing for prescription opioids, and more.

people lining up to buy heroin in Chicago, 2016 (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

New California Pot and Driving Laws Go into Effect Next Week. As the state enters the legal marijuana commerce era on January 1, residents and visitors should be aware of two bills related to marijuana and driving that go into effect on that date. Senate Bill 65, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) in September, makes consuming marijuana while driving an infraction punishable by a $70 ticket. Another measure, Senate Bill 94, makes it illegal to possess an open container of cannabis or a cannabis product in an operating motor vehicle.

New Mexico Lawmaker to Try Again on Legalization Initiative Bill. State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) has been trying to legalize marijuana for several years now and is vowing to get back to work on it when the legislature convenes next month. Ortiz y Pino has pre-filed a bill, Senate Joint Resolution 4, that would allow legalization to be put to a popular vote if approved by a two-thirds vote of the legislature. This year, a similar bill died in committee, but Ortiz y Pino is undaunted.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Urban League Charges Black Addiction and Deaths Get Short Shrift. In a new paper, Whitewashed: The African-American Opioid Epidemic, the Urban League finds that blacks make up a disproportionate amount of opioid overdose deaths in the state, but are less likely to get help because Cook County, where two thirds of the state's black population resides, has a relative scarcity of clinics offering buprenorphine. The report notes that such facts are too often missing in the debate over heroin, which is focused primarily on white users in rural and suburban areas. It also finds that while suburban areas have reacted by trying to guide users into treatment instead of jail, a hard-nosed drug war approach remains the rule in Chicago's poor neighborhoods.

Drug Testing

DOT to Begin Screening for Four Powerful Opioids in Pilot Drug Tests. Beginning January 1, the Department of Transportation will begin screening for four powerful prescription opioids in random drug tests of pilots, both private and commercial. They are hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and oxymorphone. That includes pharmaceuticals such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Percodan, Vicodin, Lortab, Nelco, and Dilaudid.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, Vaping, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School