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2020

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Chronicle AM: MO MJ Init Launches, SD Unlawful Ingestion Bill, More... (1/31/20)

A Georgia bill would result in quasi-decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, a South Dakota bill would amend the state's unique felony internal possession law to only make it a misdemeanor, and more.

South Dakota, where testing positive for illicit drugs can be charged as a felony. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Georgia Marijuana Bill Would Remove Threat of Jail Time for Simple Possession. Lawmakers are considering a bill that would remove the possibility of jail time for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Under HB 550, possession would remain a misdemeanor. Possession of more than an ounce is a felony (!) and would remain so under the bill. It is currently before the House Judiciary Committee.

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Launches. Missourians for a New Approach has kicked off a signature gathering campaign that aims to put a marijuana legalization initiative in the form of a constitutional amendment on the November ballot. The measure would allow people 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of weed purchased from a legal retailer and/or grow up to three plants. The campaign has until mid-May to come up with 160,000 valid voter signatures.

Criminal Justice

South Dakota Lawmaker Proposes Softening State's Unique Unlawful Ingestion Law. It's the only state in the country to make a felony out of testing positive for an illicit drug, and now state Sen. Craig Kennedy (D-Yankton) has filed a bill to change that. SB115 would change ingestion to a Class 1 misdemeanor for the first two offenses and a Class 6 felony if a person is convicted of ingestion for a third time within 10 years. A misdemeanor ingestion conviction would include a mandatory minimum 10-day jail sentence. Kennedy also filed SB114 to incentivize treatment over the criminal justice system for people facing felony ingestion charges.

Chronicle AM: NM MJ Legalization Bill Filed, San Francisco Heroin/Fentanyl ODs Double, More... (1/24/20)

A New Mexico marijuana legalization bill backed by the governor has been filed, Montana activists file a second legalization initiative, San Francisco authorities report a doubling of heroin and fentanyl overdose deaths last year, and more.

Heroin and fentanyl overdose deaths doubled in San Francisco last year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Sees Second Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed. The activist group MontanaCan filed a marijuana legalization initiative, Ballot Issue 13, on Monday. That makes two potential legalization initiatives that could be on the ballot in November. The MontanaCan initiative would legalize marijuana for people 18 and up and cap the tax rate at 5%. That contrasts with the New Approach Montana initiative, which sets the age of consumption at 21 and the tax rate at 20%. Both are waiting to be cleared for signature gathering.

New Hampshire Legislature Has Marijuana On Its Mind. As the legislative session gets underway, lawmakers are confronting at least a dozen marijuana bills that have already been filed. Some have to do with medical marijuana, including one that would allow patients to grow their own medicine. Similar legislation has passed the General Assembly in previous years, only to be vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu (R). Also on the agenda is a marijuana legalization bill, HB 1686, which was set for a public hearing Friday. That bill would legalize the possession of up to ¾ ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of up to six plants, but does not envisage a legal commercial market.

New Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Reps. Javier Martínez (D-Albuquerque) and Antonio "Moe" Maestas (D-Albuquerque) filed marijuana legalization legislation, HB 160, on Thursday. The bill would create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, as well as emphasizing social equity and local entrepreneurship. There would be a 9% excise tax on sales. The bill heads first in the House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee and then in the House Judiciary Committee. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) is pushing for the bill to be passed during the current 30-day legislative session.

Austin, Texas, City Council Walks Away from Marijuana Arrests. The city council approved a resolution Thursday directing city police to not spend city funds on newly necessary lab tests to distinguish marijuana from low-THC hemp. The measure passed unanimously, and effectively ends arrests and prosecutions for small-time pot busts in most cases.

Chicago Housing Authority Relaxes Policy on Evicting Marijuana Users. The Chicago Housing Authority has relaxed its hardline approach to marijuana after the state legalized weed this year. Under federal law, people living in subsidized housing are subject to eviction for any drug law violations, and the CHA last year sent letters to its 63,000 households warning that families could be evicted for marijuana violations. But under pressure from Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D), the CHA has revised its policy to now say that each marijuana complaint would lead to "consideration of relevant facts on a case-by-case basis."

Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Reservation Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization in March. Members of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation will vote on legalizing medical and recreational marijuana and allowing alcohol in casinos in May. The move comes after council members voted in favor of a referendum earlier this month.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

San Francisco Opioid Overdose Deaths Doubled Last Year. Preliminary statistics gathered by city officials show that overdose deaths involving heroin, fentanyl, or the two drugs together hit 290 last year, more than double the 134 reported in 2018. Of those 290 deaths, 234 resulted from fentanyl alone. Just a decade ago, the number of city residents who overdosed on fentanyl and/or heroin was only 17. "It's devastating. It's awful. It's the most deadly epidemic that we've seen in our city since the HIV/AIDS crisis was killing thousands of people," said Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the Tenderloin district where the opioid crisis has hit the city hardest. "It is painful that this is not something being talked about every day at City Hall."

Drug Testing

Iowa Bill Would Make Cheating on a Drug Test a Crime. A bill that would make it a misdemeanor crime to cheat on a drug or alcohol test in a private-sector workplace has passed its first legislative hurdle, being approved Thursday by a Senate Commerce subcommittee. SSB 3013 is being advanced by business interests concerned about the use of synthetic urine and urine additives to beat drug tests.

Taking It to the Streets: States That Could Vote on Marijuana in November [FEATURE]

Last year wasn't a great one for advancing marijuana legalization at the state level. Despite high hopes for New Jersey and New York, state legislatures in Trenton and Albany couldn't quite get their acts together and promising efforts petered out. Illinois was the only state to approve marijuana legalization in 2019.

Power to the people. Right on.
It's tough to push a legalization bill through the state legislative process. A single recalcitrant committee head can kill a bill, and even committed proponents can fail to reach agreement, squabbling over issues such as taxation, which agencies will have regulatory power, and ensuring social justice in the industry. And so the bill ends up dying. Of the 11 states that have so far legalized marijuana, only Illinois and Vermont have done it via the legislature, and in Vermont, they only legalized possession and cultivation, not a taxed and regulated market.

It could be different this year because this is an election year, and that means residents of a number of states will or could have a chance to vote directly on whether to legalize marijuana without having to wait for the politicos at the state house to support the will of the people.

In the case of marijuana prohibition, it is state legislatures that refuse to act that are out of step with the times. National opinion polls, such as Gallup and Pew, show support for legalization nationwide in the mid-60s, and even in states where legislatures haven't yet approved full medical marijuana, let alone legalization, there is majority support for freeing the weed. In Georgia, for instance, 55 percent say legalize it, and in Texas, the figure is 53 percent.

While there are serious prospects for legalization at the state house in a handful of state this year -- think Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, and Rhode Island -- a number of other states are seeing marijuana legalization or medical marijuana initiative campaigns get underway, and a couple of states in each category have already qualified for the ballot.

That an initiative campaign is underway is no guarantee it will make it onto the ballot -- a well-funded legalization initiative in Florida just came up short on signatures for this year -- but it is a signal that it could be. Here's where things stand on 2020 marijuana reform initiatives as of mid-January.

States Where Marijuana Legalization Will Be on the Ballot

New Jersey. A constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana is on the ballot. It would legalize the possession, cultivation, processing, transport, and distribution of marijuana under the purview of the already-existing Cannabis Regulatory Authority, with sales subject to the state's sales tax.

This is not a citizens' initiative -- the state doesn't have those -- but a legislative one. After the governor and the legislature couldn't manage to come to agreement on a legalization bill last year, the state's elected officials punted, instead passing a resolution in December that refers the question to the state's voters.

Prospects for passage in November appear good. The most recent polling -- now nearly a year old -- had support for legalization at 62 percent and trending upward over previous years.

South Dakota. With support from the Marijuana Policy Project and the New Approach PAC, Constitutional Amendment A has qualified for the November ballot. It would legalize the personal possession of up to an ounce and the cultivation of up to three plants by adults, as well as setting up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales. The measure would also compel the legislature to come up with regulations for medical marijuana and hemp by 2022.

The state has some of the harshest pot laws in the country, including a draconian "internal possession" law that criminalizes testing positive for marijuana, even if it was consumed in a legal marijuana state.

It could also be a tough nut to crack. While the campaign says the initiative has "significant support among a majority of voters," it has not publicly released any polling data, and there are no recent polls on voter attitudes toward weed. What is known is that this socially conservative rural state is the only one to twice defeat a medical marijuana initiative. A medical marijuana initiative is also on the ballot this year (see below), leading to the prospect that voters there could "split the difference," showing their reformist bona fides by finally approving medical marijuana, but leaving approval of legalization for another day.

States Where Marijuana Legalization Could Be on the Ballot

Arizona. Four years after a marijuana legalization initiative was narrowly defeated, there are not one, not two, but three different campaigns trying to put legalization on the ballot this year. They have until July 2 to come up with the requisite number of valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. Two of them need 237,645 valid signatures to qualify; the third, which has a higher bar as a constitutional amendment, needs 356.467.

The best positioned initiative is the industry-led Smart and Safe Arizona Act, which would legalize the use, possession, and cultivation of marijuana and allow for a system of state-regulated sales with a 16% excise tax. Those tax revenues would fund education, public health, and infrastructure programs. The campaign says it already has 100,000 raw signatures and expects to hand in 400,000 by June to ensure it has enough valid signatures to get past 237,645.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce is promoting the Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative, which would also legalize adult-use possession, use, and cultivation and tax sales at 16%, but rather than aiming directly at voters, its organizers are hoping to persuade the legislature to vote to put it on the ballot.

And then there's the Marijuana Legalization, Ban on Taxes, and Automatic Pardons Initiative, which would legalize the use of marijuana, provide automatic pardons to people convicted of marijuana-related charges, and prohibit the government from taxing or regulating marijuana commerce. This is a constitutional amendment requiring 356,467 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. It's the brainchild of a group called Relegalize All Drugs, which is also circulating a Legalization of All Drugs Initiative.

If one or more of these measures make the ballot, the polling looks promising, if not overwhelmingly favorable. A February 2019 poll had support for legalization at 52 percent; a September poll had it at 50 percent; and a November poll had it at 54 percent. Initiative campaign organizers aren't really comfortable, though, unless they're polling in at least the high 50s months out because they expect opposition campaigns to eat into earlier support.

Arkansas. Arkansans for Cannabis Reform is gathering signatures for a pair of initiatives, the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment to allow the use of recreational marijuana and the Arkansas Marijuana Expungement Amendment, which would let people convicted of marijuana offenses to petition courts for relief, including release from prison and expungement of their convictions.

Also, a single individual, William Barger, filed the Arkansas Recreational Marijuana Initiative, which would similarly free the weed, but does not appear to be doing much.

Initiatives in Arkansas this year need 89,000 valid voter signatures by July 3 to qualify for the ballot, but that will be an uphill battle. As of January, the Arkansans for Cannabis Reform Group reported it had only 10,000 raw signatures and $10,000 in the bank. It really needs about 120,000 raw signatures to have a cushion for ones that could get thrown out as invalid. It is getting token support from the Marijuana Policy Project, but not staffing or funding.

There is no recent formal polling of support for legalization.

Missouri. With support from the national New Approach PAC, Missourians for a New Approach has filed a constitutional amendment, the Marijuana Legalization Initiative, that would allow people 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of weed purchased from a legal retailer and/or grow up to three plants. The initiative has been cleared for signature gathering, but organizers are still deciding whether to move ahead on what would be a costly effort. If they do, they have until mid-May to come up with about 160,000 valid voter signatures.

Another constitutional amendment, the Marijuana Legalization and Expungement Initiative, is a product of Colorado-based cannabis educator Mark Pedersen. It would legalize marijuana by removing all state restrictions on its cultivation, possession, consumption, and sales -- regardless of age -- and legally allow driving under the influence of marijuana. It would also destroy all state records of nonviolent marijuana-related crimes. It, too, has been cleared for circulation.

Voters just approved medical marijuana in 2018, and there is no recent polling we know of on the issue (although the Marijuana Policy Project recently claimed "polls indicate there is broad support"), but let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Signature gathering hasn't even gotten underway, and the clock is ticking.

Montana. In mid-January, activists with New Approach Montana filed a pair of marijuana legalization initiatives with the state attorney general's office. One is a constitutional initiative that would set 21 as the legal age when people can use marijuana, while the other is a statutory initiative that would set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. It also includes a provision for individuals to grow up to four plants. Both initiatives have until June 27 to qualify for the November ballot, but the constitutional initiative faces a higher signature gathering hurdle than the statutory initiative. The former will need 50,000 valid voter signatures, while the latter will need only 25,000.

The national New Approach PAC and the Marijuana Policy Project are backing the campaign, which is prepared to spend up to $3 million. A May 2019 poll had support for legalization at just 51 percent, suggesting that they're going to need every cent of that money to get over the top.

Nebraska. Filed in August 2018 by Bill Hawkins of the Nebraska Hemp Company and Fred Shoemaker, the Nebraska Cannabis Legalization Initiative would create a constitutional right for people to grow, sell, and use any part of the cannabis plant.

The measure has been cleared for signature gathering, and proponents have until July 2nd to come up with enough valid voter signatures -- but because of a bizarre feature in state law, they wont know what that figure is until that July 2nd deadline, when it must exceed 10% of voters registered on that date.

There has been no recent polling on Cornhusker support for marijuana legalization.

North Dakota. The campaign committee ND for Freedom of Cannabis Act has filed a proposed constitutional initiative to legalize marijuana and allow for up to 12 plants for personal cultivation. It has until February 10th to come up with 26,904 valid voter signatures. The group said last month it is "roughly about halfway" to getting the 30,000 raw signatures it's seeking.

That's not the only game in town, though. The group Legalize ND has filed a marijuana legalization initiative that was approved for signature gathering in December. Now, the group needs 13,500 valid voter signatures by July 6 to get the measure on the 2020 ballot. It would allow any person over the age of 21 to use, possess, and transport up to two ounces of prepared marijuana, but it would ban home growing of the plant.

Oklahoma. State activists backed by the national New Approach PAC have filed State Question 808, which would allow people 21 and over to possess, cultivate, and purchase marijuana from licensed retailers. Possession would be capped at one ounce, and individuals could grow up to six plants.

A previous version of the measure was withdrawn after objections from the medical marijuana community, but this version specifies that a 15% excise tax on sales would not apply to medical marijuana and says only existing medical marijuana dispensaries would be eligible for recreational licenses for the first two years after implementation.

Once the measure is cleared for signature gathering, proponents will have 90 days to come up 177,598 valid voter signatures. If the latest survey data -- an August 2019 poll -- is any indication, the measure face an uphill battle if it qualifies for the ballot. That poll had opposition to legalization at 50 percent.

States Where Medical Marijuana Will Be on the Ballot

Mississippi. Ballot Initiative 65 is on the November ballot. If approved, it would allow patients with any of 22 specified medical conditions to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

The most recent polling data is a year old, but it's very encouraging: That poll had support for legalizing medical marijuana at 67 percent.

South Dakota. Maybe the third time will be the charm. South Dakota is the only state to twice defeat medical marijuana initiatives, in 2006 and by an even bigger margin in 2010.Initiated Measure 26, another New Approach-supported campaign, would allow patients from a list of qualifying conditions possess up to three ounces and grow up to three plants, as well as create a system of dispensary sales.

We couldn't find any recent public polls on local attitudes, but the Marijuana Policy Project said recently that polling suggests it holds "majority support among South Dakota voters."

States Where Medical Marijuana Could Be on the Ballot

Idaho. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition has filed a medical marijuana initiative that would set up a system of licensed dispensaries, growers, processors, and testers, as well as allowing qualified patients to possess up to four ounces. Patients could not grow their own medicine unless they qualify under a hardship exemption, for physical, financial, or geographic reasons. In that case, they could grow up to six plants.

The coalition needs to gather 55,057 valid voter signatures by May 1 to qualify for the ballot. If it manages to make the ballot, the most recent polling, from March 2019, suggests it could win. That Idaho Weekly poll had 73 percent either "strongly" or "somewhat" supporting medical marijuana, with only 26 opposed.

Nebraska. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana is sponsoring the Nebraska Medical Marijuana Constitutional Amendment, which would give Nebraskans the right to grow, consume, and purchase marijuana for medical reasons, subject only to "reasonable laws, rules, and regulations."

This is another effort supported by the New Approach PAC and the Marijuana Policy Project. It has until July 2 to come up with a signature count equal to 10 percent of registered voters on that date, a figure estimated to be around 122,000. Back in July 2019, organizers said they had already collected 15,000 without using any paid signature gatherers, but they've been mum since then.

Although the most recent polling is ancient -- from 2017 -- the numbers are good: 77 percent said they would vote "yes" on a medical marijuana initiative. That's a good place to start from.

Chronicle AM: MT Legalization Initiatives, NJ Forfeiture Reform, More... (1/14/20)

Montana activists have rolled out a pair of marijuana legalization initiatives, a Colorado bill aims to protect workers who use marijuana during their time away from work, New Jersey becomes the latest state to reform its civil asset forfeiture laws, and more.

Could legal marijuana be coming to Big Sky Country? Stay tuned. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill Would Protect Employees Who Use Marijuana on Their Own Time. State Rep. Jovan Melton (D-Aurora) has filed a bill, HB 20-1089, to protect workers who use marijuana when they're off the clock. The bill would block businesses from firing employees for engaging in legal activities on their own time, even if such activities are only legal under state law. He anticipates having to make some compromises to address expected objections from the business community.

Montana Activists File Pair of Marijuana Initiatives. Activists with New Approach Montana filed a pair of marijuana legalization initiatives with the state attorney general's office Tuesday. One is a constitutional initiative that would set 21 as the legal age when people can use marijuana, while the other is a statutory initiative that would set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. It also includes a provision for individuals to grow up to four plants. Both initiatives have until June 27 to qualify for the November ballot, but the constitutional initiative faces a higher signature gathering hurdle than the statutory initiative. The former will need 50,000 valid voter signatures, while the latter will need only 25,000.

Tennessee Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Rick Staples (D-Knoxville) filed a marijuana decriminalization bill, HB 1610, on Monday. The bill would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, but it would also authorize counties to hold referendum elections to allow marijuana growing, manufacturing, delivery and retail sales within their boundaries.

Asset Forfeiture

New Jersey Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday (D) signed into law a bill mandating comprehensive disclosure and transparency requirements for the system of civil asset forfeiture. Under the bill, county prosecutors will submit quarterly reports to the Attorney General detailing seizure and forfeiture activities by law enforcement agencies within their county. The new law will also require specifying the law enforcement agency involved in a confiscation; date, description, and details of a seizure; the amount of funds or estimated value of a property; the alleged criminal offense associated with a seizure; and whether the defendant was charged with an offense and if those charges were ultimately dismissed or the defendant was acquitted, among other information.

Chronicle AM: Another MORE Act Vote, Austin Decrim, FL Init Shifts to 2022, More... (1/13/20)

The MORE Act should get another committee vote this week, the Florida marijuana legalization initiative campaign has shifted its sights to 2020, Illinois' governor sketches out criminal justice reforms, and more.

Austin, Texas (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

MORE Act Set for Another Congressional Committee Vote Wednesday. The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3884) goes before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Wednesday. The bill would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act's schedules and encourage states to expunge prior low-level convictions. It has already passed the House Judiciary Committee and the House Small Business Committee has waived jurisdiction, leaving five committees to go.

Florida Marijuana Legalization Initiative Effort Shifts to 2022. Sunshine State residents will not vote on a marijuana legalization initiative this year after the Make It Legal Florida campaign announced it was giving up on efforts to get the measure on the 2020 ballot. The campaign cited a looming February 1 deadline for signature gathering. The state had certified only 295,000 valid voter signatures on Monday; less than 40% of the total needed. The signatures it has already gathered are valid for two years, and the campaign said it will use them for a 2022 effort.

Florida Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. On the same day an initiative campaign called it quits for 2020, state Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) filed SB 1860, a bill that would legalize marijuana for adult use and replace the current vertical integration structure by allowing growers to wholesale to independent processors or retailers. The bill would also expunge low-level criminal records and study the impact of home-grown marijuana.

Austin, Texas, May End Marijuana Arrests and Fines. In the wake of hemp legalization and the wrench that has thrown into enforcing marijuana laws, the Austin city council will consider a resolution next week that would effectively end arrests and fines for simple marijuana possession. City Council Member Gregorio Casar introduced the resolution last Friday. It would bar the city of Austin from using funds to develop testing procedures for THC or pay for lab tests in minor possession cases and direct police to not take any enforcement actions against people solely suspected of marijuana possession. In July, Travis County (Austin) prosecutors dropped dozens of marijuana cases, but Austin police have continued to arrest people for minor pot busts anyway.

Criminal Justice

Illinois Governor Sketches Out Criminal Justice Reform Plans. Gov. JB Prtiztker (D) laid out plans for criminal justice reform last Thursday. He and Lt. Gov. Julia Stratton (D) said they would "work to end cash bail for low-level crimes, push drug offenders towards treatment, and reduce mandatory sentencing" as part of a Justice, Equity, and Opportunity Initiative. The two said they wanted to build a "fair" criminal justice system and cited current racial bias, especially in the war on drugs.

Chronicle AM: MS MedMJ Initiative Qualifies for Ballot, DPA Executive Director to Step Down, More... (1/9/20)

A search for a permanent new executive director is underway at the Drug Policy Alliance, Mississippians will vote on a medical marijuana initiative this year, New York's governor vows to legalize marijuana this year (again), and more.

Pharmacies are suing doctors now.
Marijuana Policy

New York Governor Pledges to Legalize Marijuana This Year. In his annual State of the State speech Wednesday night, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) vowed to legalize marijuana by year's end. He said the same thing last year, but a bill never got through the legislature before the session ended. Now he's ready to give it another go: "For decades, communities of color were disproportionately affected by the unequal enforcement of marijuana laws," Cuomo said in his address. "Let's legalize adult use of marijuana."

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Initiative Qualifies for 2020 Ballot. A medical marijuana initiative has officially qualified for the November 2020 ballot. The measure will now be known as Ballot Initiative 65 and was formally filed with the legislature on Tuesday, as required by state election law. The Mississippians for Compassionate Care campaign needed 86,000 valid voter signatures to qualify; it came up with 106,000. The initiative would allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for certain medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis and others. The Department of Health would regulate the program, including centers that would sell the drug.

New Hampshire House Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bills. The House on Wednesday approved a pair of bills aimed at making medical marijuana available to more patients. One bill added insomnia to the list of qualifying conditions, while the other added opioid use disorder. The latter carries a requirement that certifying doctors have specialized knowledge in addiction treatment. Efforts to add anxiety and Lyme Disease were stripped from the bills before passage.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Major Drugstore Chains Sue Doctors over Liability for Opioid Epidemic. Drugstore chains including CVS, Walgreen Co., Walmart, Rite Aid and other major pharmacy chains are suing doctors across northeast Ohio, claiming that prescribers should bear responsibility for the opioid crisis, not the chains. The chains are being sued by Cuyahoga and Summit counties, and in court papers filed Monday, they argued that the doctors should have to pay part of the penalty if the drugstore chains are found liable at trial.

Drug Policy

Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno Resigns as Drug Policy Alliance Head. Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, announced Wednesday that she will step down on March 6 to assume a new position with her former employer, Human Rights Watch. DPA's board of directors is actively discussing the process for identifying its next permanent leader and will announce next steps in coming weeks. Meanwhile, Richard Burns, who has experience as a long-time executive director and interim ED in many settings, including most recently at Lambda Legal, will step in as interim ED of DPA.

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

Chronicle AM: MD Marijuana Poll, USAID Bolivia Mission, Atlanta PD Disbands Dope Squad, More... (1/8/20)

The Atlanta Police are shutting down their dope squad to concentrate on violent crime, the Florida legislature and state attorney general try to block a marijuana legalization initiative, and more.

downtown Atlanta (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legislature and Attorney General Seek to Block Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) and the House and Senate have asked the state Supreme Court to reject a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. They filed a brief with the court Monday arguing that the initiative should be invalidated because it doesn't fully inform voters that marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Because of federal pot prohibition, the initiative would not "permit" marijuana legalization and thus deceives the voters, the motion argued.

Maryland Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Gonzales Maryland poll released Tuesday has support for marijuana legalization at nearly 57%, with 38% opposed and 5% undecided. Democrats (65.5%) and independents (59%) both support it, but only 39% of Republicans do.

Foreign Policy

Trump Sending Aid Mission to Bolivia After Evo's Ouster. In the wake of the ouster of former Bolivian President Evo Morales after disputed elections late last year and his replacement with a temporary right-wing government, the Trump administration will send an assessment team to La Paz this week to discuss the possible resumption of foreign aid. Morales expelled USAID from the country in 2013, accusing it of political interference. His replacement, Interim President Jeanine Anez, seeks improved relations with the US and a tougher line on coca farmers. Morales is a former coca grower union leader. The White House also announced Monday it was lifting a longtime ban on foreign aid imposed on Bolivia for failing to cooperate in US anti-drug efforts. Morales threw the DEA out of the country in 2008.

Law Enforcement

Atlanta Police Disband Narcotics Unit, Will Focus on Violent Crime Instead. The Atlanta Police Department will disband its narcotics unit and reassign its officers to other units in a move to emphasize fighting violent crime. The department isn't ignoring drugs, it said, but is "de-centralizing its Narcotics Unit in recognition that the violence that surrounds this trade should be the focus of the entire Department, not just one team."

Chronicle AM: South Dakota MJ Legalization Vote, Mexico's Toll of Disappeared, More... (1/7/20)

The MORE Act gets another push, there will be no decriminalization of marijuana in New Jersey during the lame duck session, a South Dakota marijuana legalization initiative qualifies for the ballot, and more.

South Dakotans will vote on both medical marijuana and marijuana legalization initiatives in November. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Small Business Committee Moves Marijuana Bill Forward. The House Small Business Committee has waived jurisdiction over the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3884), making it the second House committee in the 116th Congress to advance legislation to end federal marijuana prohibition. The bill passed in the House Judiciary Committee in November. It would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and incentivize states to facilitate the expungement of criminal records related to low-level marijuana offenses, among other changes.

New Jersey Senate President Says No Decriminalization During Lame Duck Session. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) said Monday that lawmakers will not pass a bill to decriminalize marijuana during the lame duck session, which ends next Tuesday. "It's not getting done in lame duck," Sweeney said. After a legalization bill stalled last year, Sweeney had insisted that decrim could get done during this short session, but there is little evidence it was a top priority for any Democratic leaders. A binding voter referendum on whether to legalize marijuana will be on the November ballot.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Qualifies for Ballot. Secretary of State Steve Barnett said Monday that a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by New Approach South Dakota has qualified for the November ballot. The measure would legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana, as well as require the state legislature to pass laws regarding hemp. South Dakotans will also be voting on an initiative to legalize the medical use of marijuana.

International

Mexico's Toll of the Disappeared Doubles, According to Government Figures. The government on Monday issued new figures on the number of people gone missing in the country, the vast majority of them victims of the country's prohibition-related violence. As recently as last June, the government put the toll at about 40,000, but it now says the number is 61,000. Nearly 98% of the missing have disappeared since then-President Felipe Calderon sent the army into the streets to fight cartels.

Chronicle AM: IL Legal Marijuana Sales Begin, FDA Bans Flavored Vape Cartridges, More... (1/2/20)

Legal marijuana sales get underway in Illinois, the Italian Supreme Court gives the okay to personal marijuana cultivation, Colombia wants to resume aerial spraying of coca crops with herbicides, and more.

People lined up by the hundreds in Chicago on New Year's Day to buy state-legal marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Initiative Campaign Sues Over Early Deadline. The Make It Legal Florida marijuana legalization initiative campaign filed a lawsuit Tuesday charging that the state's new law regarding initiatives violates their rights by imposing a "stealth deadline" that effectively shortens the signature gathering period by a month. The campaign is seeking another month to submit petition signatures. The campaign has until February 1 to come up with 766,000 valid voter signatures, but says the new law creates a "stealth deadline" of January 2 to submit signatures to county supervisors for verification.

Illinois Governor Pardons 11,000 Marijuana Offenders Just Ahead of Legalization. Gov. JB Pritzker (D) on Tuesday issued more than 11,000 pardons to people with low-level marijuana possession convictions. The move came one day ahead of the commencement of legal marijuana sales in the state.

Illinois Marijuana Legalization, Sales Now in Effect. The first legal marijuana sales in the state began at 6:00am New Year's Day, with hundreds of people lined up at shops in Chicago and its suburbs. That makes Illinois the 11th state to legalize marijuana, and the first to also legalize sales through the legislative process as opposed to via an initiative.

Oklahoma Activists File Revised 2020 Marijuana Legalization Measure to Protect Medical Program. The activists behind a marijuana legalization initiative filed in December have withdrawn it and replaced it with a new initiative, State Question 808, that contains revised language aimed at protecting the state's existing medical marijuana program. The new initiative specifies that a 15% excise tax on sales would not apply to medical marijuana and says only existing medical marijuana dispensaries would be eligible for recreational licenses for the first two years after implementation.

Virginia Prosecutor Announces His Office Will Not Pursue Marijuana Possession Cases. Incoming Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Steve Descano used his first day on the job Thursday to announce that his office will not prosecute low-level marijuana possession cases. But the local judiciary is not cooperating: One judge has already rejected Descano's guidance and denied a motion to dismiss one such case, saying each case needs to be reviewed individually.

Vaping

FDA Announces Ban on Flavored Vaping Cartridges. The US Food and Drug Administration on Thursday issued a policy prioritizing enforcement against certain unauthorized flavored e-cigarette products that appeal to kids, including fruit and mint flavors. Under this policy, companies that do not cease manufacture, distribution and sale of unauthorized flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes (other than tobacco or menthol) within 30 days risk FDA enforcement actions. The only vaping cartridges that will be allowed are those with tobacco and menthol flavors.

International

Colombia Proposes Resumption of Aerial Spraying of Coca Fields. The Ministry of Justice on Monday published a draft law that would allow for the aerial spraying of herbicides on coca fields. The previous government ended such spraying four years ago, citing health concerns. The new proposal also calls for the creation of an independent agency that would oversee complaints related to aerial spraying including any potential impacts on rural communities.

Italian Supreme Court Rules Growing a Little Marijuana at Home Not a Crime. The Supreme Court ruled on December 27 that growing small amounts of marijuana for personal use is not a crime. The court held that "at home, small-scale cultivation activities are to be considered excluded from the application of the penal code." It's unclear just what qualifies as "small-scale cultivation." The case before the court involved two plants.

Chronicle AM: Portland Decriminalize Nature Signature Gathering Gets Underway, More... (12/24/19)

Portland, Oregon, sees a psychedelic decriminalization initiative begin signature gathering, and more.

Decriminalize Nature movement logo
Psychedelics

Portland, Oregon, Activists Begin Gathering Signatures for Psychedelics Decriminalization Measure. The activist group Decriminalize Nature Portland has begun the task of gathering some 38,000 valid voter signatures by July 6 to put a municipal initiative on the ballot to decriminalize a number of psychedelics, including magic mushrooms and ayahuasca. The measure would bar the use of city funds to enforce any laws against the personal use and cultivation of natural psychedelics.

International

Dublin Takes a Step Toward Opening a Safe Injection Site. What could be Ireland's first safe injection site has moved a step closer to reality as a Dublin planning appeals tribunal has overruled city council planners and approved a facility on the city's inner south side. The NGO Merchants Quay Ireland had moved to set up the first such site in the country after a 2017 law allowed drug users to be exempt from drug possession charges at a designated safe injection site, but Dublin city planners had blocked the move, citing NIMBY concerns from local residents and businesses.

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